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The Heart Beats in Binary

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My friend always worried too much about money. He’s dead now, and I really don’t think it makes a difference to him any more, but his AI ego to this day still bothers me with his tirades of how wastefully and irresponsibly I spend my money. It’s my money; why should a stupid computer care how I spend it?

Bradley, the dead one, had this really annoying phrase that he used to say, which thankfully his AI hasn’t repeated. If it did, I’d rip out its transistors in a second. Bradley would say this, “Ralph,” that’s me, “you piss through money like water.” The vulgarism didn’t bug me so much as did the thought that I needed cash the way I need water. So far as I know, life was around for millions of years before certain animals started bartering food and sex for the really important things like soft chunks of shiny metal and pieces of paper with dead capitalists on them. They say that when the interCred system finally comes on line, money will again be useless except as bookmarks—as if any one reads books, anymore. It is all the same in the end, a useless middle man between working and wanting, but Bradley wouldn’t have enjoyed saving up credits. Haggling over a digit on a computer screen just isn’t as satisfying as getting into an actual fist fight over a fallen dollar.

Bradley’s AI insists that the latter incident never happened, but I was there, and Bradley almost broke the guy’s nose

So my whole problem is this money thing—what a hang-up to have. All I think the stuff is good for is to get what I want, and if I want something useless, well then, that is my prerogative. Bradley was a tightwad, in my humble opinion. He was into virtual reality, and knew more about it than Warner New Media, but he never had any of his own equipment until the Cornell Group gave him a grant for about a million dollars. He wouldn’t have spent that grant on the stuff either if the guys at Cornell hadn’t insisted, and I mean really insisted, that he get the VR equipment. The system he ended up getting was nice enough, but it wasn’t top of the line. Bradley, however, surprised everyone when he described how he would begin to soup the thing up.

Ironically, it didn’t start out with the AI module. Old Bradley and I added that, and I guess that was how the whole thing got out of control. Most VR servers, the big commercial centers to which every home system connects for a price, have their AI’s, those sweetly voiced “hostesses” who ask for the credit card number, but it was unusual for a small set up to get one. It would have cost Bradley big money if we hadn’t designed it ourselves, the cheap bastard.

For weeks, Bradley worked on the hardware while I started writing the code. That is what I did for him for the past thirteen years—write software for his inventions. He was great at electronics, but he didn’t know his Basic from his C++. I still write stuff for his AI. The program worked so well I hardly know Bradley’s gone. When it came time to start loading in the algorithms of Bradley’s personality, all he had to do was answer forty or so questions and the software did the rest. God, I swear that machine started to sound like Bradley after that, with loud grunts and condescending sighs erupting from the bowels of its circuitry.

It didn’t speak yet, that came later, but we began work on the interface, then, because that is where the money is. Bradley created headgear and gloves, and while there was nothing new in that for a VR machine, even I had to admit that he had designed the best ones on the market, even today. They were light and slim, and it looked as though the person wearing the equipment was going out for a spin in a sports car. The gloves felt like standard leather driving gloves, and the headgear was little more than dark sunglasses, earphones, and two small disks that rested on either side of the temples. Through those disks, the user could taste, smell, and even get tactile information in the fake and virtual world.

The idea that life can be duplicated and processed virtually by a computer has always worried me slightly, for after all a program can only be as good as its code. I create code; Lord knows it could be better. It pays the rent, though, and if the people want it, who am I to disappoint them. Still, I had never felt very comfortable strapping myself into a VR machine, even with Bradley’s cruising gear. I couldn’t very well leave the program untested, though, so with much trepidation, I belted myself in to try out my software for the first time.

Some people tell me that they can’t figure out exactly when the go from hard reality to soft virtual. I think they’re crazy. There is no black in the virtual world, just deep grey, which is only as dark as the lenses on the glasses are when the machine is off. Most people think they see black because of the contrast, but I’m not so easily fooled; it always looks as if it is going to rain in the virtual world.

Anyway, I played around a little with some games, just to see how well response time was. The baseball game was a too sluggish; the ball popped in and out of view when I tried throwing fast balls, but the Frisbee game worked well. I could put different spins on the disc, and, a couple of times, my computer opponent missed my throws. It never matched a real game in the real world, however.

Linking with a VR server was the important test, where the money would be made. Bradley and I toiled for weeks on the handshaking protocols, so all I really had to do to hook up into one was say the phone number, each digit appearing in ether before my virtual eyes. The system confirmed my choice and warped me through the fiber optic network toward my destination, a server in L.A. Visually, the warp felt disorienting, with beams of multi-colored lights shooting into my eyes, but the kids who used this stuff were conditioned to that. They wouldn’t enjoy it if it didn’t make them just a little sick.

“Welcome to Paradise,” chimed a synthVox while the turquoise and pink letters floated just slightly out of my apparent reach. “Please choose amongst the following options or hold for further instructions.” I’ll admit that I’ve entered these systems enough to not need directions, but I was certainly not addicted to the things. To speed the process up, I choose option one, Virtual Chat. For ten minutes, it only costs thirty bucks. I don’t even want to mention how much the other options cost. At the prompt, I entered Bradley’s credit number; after all, it was his machine I was testing.

“On the line is Gina, Cori, and Donna,” the synthVox intoned cheerfully, affording a view of each program that I could choose. Why, I wonder, do all these women have names that end in vowels? I chose the Cori program for no particular reason other than her Mets cap, and I think that Fate, if not an actual god, is the fifth force of physics. There was no rhyme or reason in this test other than it had to run smoothly so Bradley and I could cash in. The choices I make that should have no bearing on life tend to shake the foundations into pieces, but I digress.

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November 1993 © Jonathan Russell

MacPhoenix: Creative: Stories

Read on: WebSpace | Lounge | Tech | Portal | Blog | Swag | About

Creative-Types: c  l  a  r  i  t  y | Jim | Jonathan | rich(e)rich | Scott

Projects: Lingua Shapta