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2206 : Window Onto A New World Book I in The Threshold

Chapter XVI – The Solid Time Of Change

By

Christopher Stewart ★ Bookcast Edition – June 2012


Copyright © 2012 by Christopher Stewart

★ All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may not be reproduced or used in any manner whatsoever without the express written permission of the author except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

★ Bookcast Edition - June 2012

★ This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author's imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.


Chapter XVI

The Solid Time Of Change « The more I reflect on the matter and the more I believe that's what we are, in essence. We're these incredibly intricate structures of information, endowed with self-representation. In fact, very likely, information is intrinsically able of self-representation, and very likely, everything is information. That would “explain” where awareness comes from. It would not be an emerging propriety of complex structures. It would merely be the fundamental building block, what we intrinsically are, and what everything is. It would not be that living beings come to be, and then awareness somehow emerges in some of them, and not in others. It would just be that, fundamentally, we are awareness, and awareness becomes how it sees itself. That would explain the whole universe, its inception, and its constant expansion. From merely a single recognition, a potentially endless series of recognitions would automatically occur, in a fashion similar to a chain reaction, as each recognition would create additional information, which would represent itself in turn and sustain the process indefinitely. Empty space could have created the whole universe just by acknowledging, “I am everything !” » – Excerpted from Bernard Sturn's diary entry for 16.1.2197


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B

ernard Sturn marvelled at the star-studded sky as he sat alone in the quiet darkness

of the observatory. Resting on the floor, near the middle of the empty room, his back supported against a side of the console via which the largest Veshtari telescope was monitored and controlled, he was peering through an unopacified wall panel and appreciating the pause. The sting in his eyes was gradually subsiding. Again, he had spent most of the artificial night viewing and responding to video mails, which were clogging his inbox increasingly frequently. He still wasn't done. After the welcome intermission, he would have to resume the necessary yet sometimes tedious activity. And thus, each and every one of the remaining messages seemed like one more reason to delight in the magnificence of the brightly ornamented heavens. The space engineer couldn't recall precisely how it had begun, but all-nighters had insidiously become a regular feature of his routine. He had grown accustomed to them, even to the point of not minding their weight anymore. In fact, at such times, as his sight allowed, he would generally go for the entire period without taking even a single respite. Absorbed in his explorations, he would then be scared out of his wits by colleagues walking unannounced into the lab at the start of a new work day. Occasional, minimal doses of sleep were sufficient for him to stay on purpose, as he found most of his occupations energizing rather than burdensome. Watching video clips was not always one of the uplifting processes though, and so he tended to let the less important communications pile up until clearing up the accumulated clutter was undelayable. It sporadically demanded many long hours, and once in a while, a whole nocturnal shift. The thought made him aware that he would have to return to the chore soon enough. However, as his eyes were still sore and he could still use some relaxation, he pursued his reflections. Over the years, the physicist had learned the hard way that there were transition phases, or at any rate that's how he referred to them. During these episodes, life required him to plough forward at all costs, no matter how exhausted he was, and no matter which obstacles he was facing, lest part of the efforts he had invested in the endeavour, if not all of them, would be cruelly wiped out overnight by circumstances ostensibly coming from beyond his sphere of influence. Strangely, he had come to associate them with the notion of electronic quantum leaps, inasmuch as only two possible outcomes were permitted, either all the way, or none at all. And if the lessons had been heart wrenching, at the very least he had profited immensely from developing the ability to recognize the exacting passages, even in the absence of obvious indicators, such as deadlines for instance. Thus the researcher knew that, despite all outward appearances, he was actually in the midst of one of those stages. He could have stopped to rejoice at the recent confirmation of his sentiments, like most of those who had hoped for the changes that were sweeping Ovel were manifestly doing. The Threshold

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He could have decided to take the situation at face value, and just bask in the vindication of so many years of unyielding perseverance. After all, the Progressives had won their gamble. Richard Ramsay had been defeated at long last, and not only as leader of the Federation but also as representative of Neo Apollonia. The Conservatives had still managed to keep fifty-seven seats in the Global Chamber, however, the three parties of the Coalition had a combined total of sixty-seven. Jake Harvey and his cohorts would form the next government. Yet, there could be recounts or defections. The three-seat majority was frail, and a catastrophe was not out of the question. Any significant discord emerging between the Greens, the Neolits, and the Liberals, for instance over the composition of the Cabinet, could thrust the planet into a political impasse. And more convincing than all the potential disasters was the feeling that the drama had not been fully played out, and the promptings of the inner voice repeating that he should toil ahead. The pundit mused that, unsurprisingly, Aeira was sharing that very same perspective. She had emphasized in her latest transmission that it was too early for the two of them to take their eyes off the proverbial ball. Crucial progress had evidently been made, but she had insisted that their common task was not completely discharged, and his own experience corroborated her assertion. The gifted elder had suggested that this dreaded maybe state would likely prevail until Inauguration Day. Still, she had also provided reassurance, inside information obtained from the future Chancellor himself, and the divulgations had comforted the scholar that plans were unfolding pretty much as intended. Following his victory, in one of their private sessions, Harvey had told his prescient mentor how the three chiefs had established that he would run for the Chancellery. She had thus discovered about the deal they had struck regarding their respective functions in the Global Administration. That alone augured rather well as it meant they had settled one of the most probable sources of disagreement. The scientist deemed unfortunate that Edward Rogers would handle the purse strings, yet if that was the sacrifice needed to guarantee stability, then he could live with it. And moreover, the charismatic tricenarian had declared that, although he was proud of his achievement, he would only be satisfied when the New Light Party would have assumed control of the Federation, on its own, without having to rely on the collaboration of any other organization. Given the determination the new Ovelian ruler had shown over the course of his career, he wouldn't rest on his laurels. Who knew, the man could even accomplish the lofty objective. Or so Sturn had no difficulty believing. In light of those findings, the physicist reckoned that he would have to maintain the rhythm for a few more weeks before certainty would come. Then, and only then, he would allow himself to slow down the pace. For the moment, he was compelled to strive and sustain the process his friend the soothsayer and him had set into motion. { How many years has it been already ? } he wondered, but he quickly dismissed the thought. Ultimately, the answer was irrelevant. The cost in time was of little importance, rising to the challenge solely was. And he was confident he could do it again. He had conquered a lot worse in the past. Recalling the message of the uncannily vernal looking priestess, the project director pondered another bit of news she had also stressed. The Councillors considered the Community to be indebted The Threshold

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to the secessionists for their assistance during the last days of the campaign. Despite not being able to demonstrate beyond all doubts that the ASN had effectively pushed for the Progressives as they had proposed, the foremost disciples had decided to uphold their part of the bargain. Whether or not Aaren and his companions had instructed the sovereignist movements to support the Coalition, there seemed to be a correlation between the location of the gains of the Neolits, and that of the nationalist strongholds within the Federation. Therefore, the Council had estimated that the religious order had everything to win by nurturing its connections to the Alliance. After all, the fundamental purpose of the Church was the improvement of the conditions of all Ovelians, and not merely the perennity of this or that political or social structure. Because of his responsibilities towards Harvey and his cohorts, the space engineer was torn by the prospect. On one hand, he was committed to their success. Nonetheless, he was mischievously keen to work with the Milagenian and help the independentists stir up some trouble for the newly elected officials. A rebel at heart, the Veshtari was far more inclined to defend autonomy than any centralization effort. He could readily recognize that some issues, such as addressing the increasingly worrying environmental crisis properly, and managing drinking water supplies equitably, required a planetary perspective and concerted action. But while he manifestly had learned to bear with them, any man-made governance or artificially imposed hierarchy, irrespective of their forms, irked him to some extent. Even the authority of the Community indisposed him at times, yet he could tolerate the constraints as long as the position afforded him to get closer to his own goals. In the end, he was at liberty to escape the limitations if he so wished. Still, well aware of the price he would have to pay, he didn't so wish. Regrettably, the public speaker couldn't assert as much insofar as his professional situation was concerned. Nowhere else were the means of developing SAVIA available, at least, to the best of his knowledge. The possibility of interference from the RDA, and even from the Global Government itself, constantly loomed on the horizon. Ever since he had left the University, the reputation he had established for himself when he had revolutionized space travel with his nuclear fusion engine had brought him substantial freedom. However, his enjoyment of the otherwise exceptionally favourable circumstances was undermined by the ever present misgivings that some ill-informed superior would suddenly restrict his creativity. And the anxiety was more pronounced in periods of change, as the department would adjust its architecture, reassign bureaucrats, or nominate new administrators. This was such a time. An additional transition, and the quadragenarian thought that it surely contributed to the general mood of apprehension he was under. His former boss had been given the lead of the team whose mission was to thoroughly explore the discontinuity. As consequence of the promotion, although his colleague would stay in the vicinity and friendship wasn't the most suitable expression to qualify their relationship, the physicist would definitely miss the regular interactions with the person he had grown fondest of on the radioactive orb. Still, more significantly, he had to adapt to a new supervisor. Overall, there were no appearances of threats of any kind, yet the scientist was annoyed. Exchanges had been cordial, and there had been no mention of plans to alter anything The Threshold

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in how projects were handled. His first impressions had been positive. The designation was obviously not indicative of a wider reorganization, or in any event, if such a process was underway, he had not been notified of it. However, whether or not it was merely the overly respectful demeanour which aroused his suspicions, his radar was buzzing around the new director. { Aeira has confirmed that the Cerberus is sensing danger nearing me } he further recollected, { better to be doubly vigilant } he mused stoically. Once again, his reflections reminded the weary researcher that his chore awaited him. There was mail to respond to. He picked up his uDev and stood up, commanding the device to opacify the transparent wall panel, before heading out of the dark room. The technicians of the observatory were about to start their shift, and considering the subjects he had to cover, preparing some of his replies privately seemed preferable. Still, he figured he could safely formulate his answer to the prophetess in some vague, cryptic manner, and she would no doubt precisely understand. Walking on autopilot in the empty corridors, on his way to his office at a good pace, he browsed to the latest message of the prescient lady and fingered the tiny touchscreen to trigger the recording, after mustering all the enthusiasm he could. –

« Thank you, thank you, thank you my dear friend ! » Sturn began, holding the gadget in front of him below his line of sight so that he had to slightly bow his head to fully face the embedded camera, « I'm so very glad of having heard the wonderful... surprises you had for me this morning » he promptly noted with genuine appreciation, pausing for a second to review his ideas, « you've probably guessed that I'm not completely at liberty to discuss things here... hmm... I hope you'll be able to figure out my ramblings » he chuckled as he resumed, « in fact, I know you will » the tall pundit immediately commented, as he peered around to ascertain that nobody was hearing him, « okay... first I totally agree with you regarding... hmm... persistence » he declared following some hesitation, as a proper word finally occurred to him, « you have validated my sentiments... and the timing seems right too... I can assure you of my participation » he stressed, pondering the next point, « I find the news about... our man, fantastic ! We're right on track ! » the public speaker submitted cheerfully, once more briefly looking up and seeing the road was clear, « he obviously has the attitude we were hoping for » he remarked in satisfaction, « okay, what's next ? » he wondered aloud, remaining quiet for a while as he advanced, alone on the floor, « please tell the guardian I confirm his... reading of the situation... » the space engineer requested pensively, « and I'm eager to learn what Oliv – » he almost pronounced Romero's given name, noticing just in time, « what... our beloved administrator will find about my new... » he interrupted his communication again, as he struggled to find an appropriate phrasing, « well, I'm sure you know who » the amused scholar hinted, confident that he had already revealed enough, « though I really don't see why she should bother to research the boy's background » he argued, skeptical, « I can't think of any reason to worry as far as he is concerned » he stated, visibly at peace with the matter, « and we'll be back after this short

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staircase break » he announced out of a sudden, as a presenter would, touching the small screen to suspend the recording. The doctor of physics only had one level to climb down, and yet he rushed as if in the middle of an emergency, clutching the handheld firmly so the repeated impacts wouldn't knock the fragile gadget from his grasp. So utterly absorbed in his intellections as to be oblivious to his surroundings, he nearly ran into a security agent as he turned the corner out of the stairwell.

– –

« Whoa ! » exclaimed the scientist, barely avoiding the collision. « Good morning professor Sturn ! » eventually greeted the startled patroller, freezing on the spot a little while longer, and ultimately relaxing and smiling at the hurrying man. « Good morning ! » chortled the former teacher in response, merely glancing at the guard as he hastened away, « sorry ! » he apologized in a raised, buoyant voice as he kept going, continuing his reply soon after, « and... we're back ! » he proceeded in humour, « where was I ? Oh, yeah... I don't really worry about... him » the project director reiterated, « but I can't wait to find out about... you know who » he mentioned cryptically again, « thus far, our interactions have been okay » he opined, remembering some of the encounters, « but we really haven't addressed any of the potentially contentious issues yet » the researcher proposed, « apart from the investigation regarding the – » he commenced, checking there was no one around before completing the thought, « the spying incident » he suggested carefully, grinning at the prospect of helping Mayr meddle in the affairs of the Federation, « that reminds me, I was also very pleased to hear about the decision of the Councillors » the quadragenarian shared in a more solemn fashion, hushing the last word, « I'll be sure to transmit the good news to our friend, although at this stage I'm not quite sure why the communications still have to go through me » he finally emphasized.

Having reached his office, the pundit paused the recording again. After commanding his uDev to unlock the door, he entered the room and approached his desk. As he was about to sit, it occurred to him that he had instructed Evans to meet him at the software lab at the beginning of the day. The hour was still early, and considering the relative privacy the location offered, he reckoned he might as well finish the chore over there. He had booked the place for the morning, and no one else but his assistant would disturb him, so he immediately went out. Walking in the empty corridor, he quickly reviewed the points he had covered in his message to the prescient woman, and recalled why he had originally ended up in the observatory. « Sorry about that jump cut » the illustrious public speaker resumed, « I just remembered one final thing I wanted to tell you... I think you'll like it very much » he declared, his eyes glimmering, « I've checked recent solar activity data and the correlation is impressive » he reported enthusiastically, « there have been historical peaks in the weeks prior to election day... exceptionally high numbers of sunspots and flares » the space engineer explained, The Threshold

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amazed as he recollected the magnitude of some of the measurements, « the Celestials are definitely doing all they can to help us » he asserted, displaying a vindicated expression, stopping for a few seconds as he prepared to terminate the communication, « and on that note, I'll leave you to your day... it's always a pleasure to see you and to hear your angelic voice » he added in an almost flirtatious tone, « take care wise lady ! » he signed off. The physicist progressed towards the lab where the computers and servers reserved for his own use were situated. As he sent the video to the priestess, he was surprised by an unexpected sight in his inbox, an email from the personal address of the Chancellor to-be himself. –

[ Bernard, First, in my name and in that of my colleague leaders of the Coalition, I want to thank you for your invaluable collaboration during the elaboration of our Colonization Program. Your brilliant presentations have definitely helped us understand the significance of the discovery, and have opened our eyes to the extraordinary opportunities that it offers us. It is this inestimable knowledge that has inspired us to come up with a plan that the population has obviously welcomed with great hope and enthusiasm, and that we believe has had a decisive impact in the outcome of the electoral campaign. Please accept our most sincere expressions of gratitude, and rest assured we consider ourselves to be greatly indebted to you. You may not realize it, but an important part of our victory belongs to you. ]

Sturn grinned as he read the statement, { if only you knew } he reflected, filled with delight and more than a touch of pride, once again acknowledging the breadth of the manifestation powers the seer and him could summon when they concerted their efforts. [ In these inspiring times, as we get ready to rise to the many challenges our young administration is facing, we look forward to keep working with you as we further develop the program and bring it to fruition. And now that I'm done with the syrupy formal part, I have a question. During my morning meditation I've had this vision of a space station being completely operated by artificial intelligences. I've been informed that you're currently building an AI, and I was wondering if the idea was perhaps too far-fetched, or if your creation could eventually be implemented onboard our stations. It seems to me this could greatly improve their efficiency as well as reduce operational costs. I'd love to know your take on this. You can count on my discretion regarding this question, as I trust I can count on yours. Best regards, The Threshold

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JH ]

The former teacher decided to respond immediately, reckoning that the matter could be dealt with rather quickly. He thumbed the reply icon as he kept walking, but then hesitated as he started typing, not quite certain how to address his correspondent. Finally supposing that formality would probably be interpreted more as a mark of respect than as a sign of distance, he proceeded with the answer. –

[ Mister Chancellor, I find words can scarcely do justice to the extent of my elation as I realize the signification of the incredible tour de force your Coalition has accomplished, as I witness the doors that have thus been open, and as I imagine where those doors lead to It is with great pleasure that I receive your praise and gratitude Please also transmit my appreciation to Miss Bauer and Mr. Rogers, and let me take this opportunity to congratulate all three of you on your historical victory, which is even more significant given the record turnout I feel it is a privilege to be associated with such a tremendous and unprecedented achievement Once again let me assure you of my – ]

The science popularizer had reached the lab and needed to stop in order to gain access to the secure room. He promptly checked that his message had been saved and unlocked the door using his handheld. Once inside, he located the closest flat surface, the worktable nearest to the entrance, and sat on it as he resumed writing. [ entire cooperation as we conduct the colonization efforts to success As far as your question about AI is concerned, I'd rather not use the present medium to discuss the details of such classified information, even to you I'm afraid, as I personally deem it unsafe But I can tell you that the application you mention is certainly at the top of the list, and is one of the main motivations behind the whole endeavour I should also point out that our stations are designed for this eventuality, and indeed, large parts of their operation are already automated, if not yet “intelligently overseen” as such by artificial means We can arrange a meeting to further explore the question, should you wish to >>> B.Sturn ]

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The researcher sent the communication right away, and placed his device on the desk, to his left. He took a moment to stretch his back and relax, and after staring blankly at the servers arrayed alongside the wall across the area for about a minute, he wondered what time it was, and picked up his uDev to find out. He had matters to settle with Mayr, and he figured he could also notify him of the decision of the Council before Evans would arrive. He thus commanded the gadget to prepare to capture another video mail, and once again fingered the touchscreen as he proceeded. –

« Good morning Aaren » began the pundit, « or whatever time of the day it is wherever you currently are » he quickly rephrased, « hmm... I'm waiting for a colleague to join me, and I don't have much time... so I'll get right to the point » he noted, apprehensive about the possible early appearance of the software developer, « or rather, to the points... there are a few things I'd like to discuss » the physicist stressed, marking a brief pause and then diving in, « okay... I'm happy to report that the Councillors intend to abide by their word and cooperate with your Alliance » he announced in a solemn voice, « I thank you in their name for your help in the victory of the Coalition, the support of the independentists has certainly been determining in the outcome » he tentatively observed, not convinced of the statement, before he halted for a second to consider what he would address next, « that being said, I need to talk about... hmm... let's call it the incident at Pefki Park » the scholar went on after inhaling loudly, visibly concerned, « you haven't replied to my questions regarding my potential disclosures... when I was interviewing Frank » he reiterated to the Milagenian in an almost reproving manner, « listen, sorry if I have to insist, but I really need to know, please understand that my job might be at stake here, Aaren » he pleaded in a warmer tone, appealing to the other's sympathy, « I really need to know what you've heard, and I need to know who else might also have heard by now » the quadragenarian resolutely kept on enumerating his ills, « do you still have the recordings ? » he inquired anxiously, « if so, delete them... please » he requested immediately, « we wouldn't want them to fall into the hands of – »

The scientist suddenly stopped as it occurred to him that, to all practical purposes, if he had actually divulged worthwhile information, it already was in the hands of competitors. Indeed, that was the crux of the problem. As long as their collaboration didn't involve his own work, the former educator deemed the prospect attractive, and some aspects of it were even entertaining. But on the field of technological innovation, the economist played on the opposite team. Would he remain loyal to the Sovereign Nations, or would he judge their friendship more important ? And if the secessionist organization was planning on using the revelations, would the Treasurer readily admit it, or would he simply deny any wrongdoing ? Once more revisiting their meeting in Pefki Park, the space engineer could vaguely remember telling his then assistant to-be about some of the fundamentals of the AI they were now starting to design. But he couldn't recollect precisely which details, nor the way he had formulated them. And The Threshold

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that bothered him greatly, because he felt that too much had been said, or anyhow, enough to have unintentionally created unfortunate repercussions. He would never have imagined the consequences of such a minor slip to be in any way like the ones he was now facing. In truth, he knew he should have been more circumspect until his new colleague had joined him on Veshtar. Still, his enthusiasm and his willingness to establish a relationship based on trust had gotten the better of him. And the reward for his indiscretion, in addition to guilt, was having to clean up his own mess while worrying whether someone well versed in the domain could come to hear the conversation, and if the concepts he had outlined could be sufficient to tip them off. A disturbing insight then crossed the mind of the perceptive researcher. What if, by insisting on obtaining answers to his questions, he was effectively producing the very same outcome he was hoping to avoid ? What if he was bringing to attention something that Aaren wouldn't have noticed otherwise ? After all, the elected official of the ASN probably hardly knew anything about AI, so how could he recognize the relevancy of the however minute points Sturn had unwisely mentioned ? The pundit was now even more perplexed, unsure if he could run the risk of letting things unfold without interfering, or if it was too late given that he had tackled the subject in a prior communication. The decision would manifestly have to wait, as Evans was entering the room, startling him as he opened the door. – –

– –

« Good morning ! » greeted the developer as he walked in. « Hello Frank » mechanically reacted the project director in a monotone voice, « give me just a minute » he asked as he saved the partial reply and switched off his uDev, « there... done » he uttered, finally looking and smiling at his employee after the display had faded to black. « Another night shift ? » wondered the amused techie. « You bet » concurred the tired physicist, breathing deeply and stretching his back one more time, « I'm still dealing with the aftermath of the election » he noted, realizing as he sounded the last word that he was heading straight into potential frictions, « only a few mails left though » he immediately carried on, showing embarrassment and momentarily withdrawing his gaze, « but... how about you ? How are you ? » he inquired awkwardly, gesturing towards a nearby seat to invite the other to sit down. « Hmm... great » responded the software specialist, somewhat surprised by the query yet appreciating that his supervisor was trying to stay away from the sensitive topic, « up and ready to seize the day » he remarked energetically as he grabbed the swivel chair. « I wish I – » began the former teacher, yawning loudly in the middle of his sentence, « I wish I could say the same ! » he eventually completed, the two men laughing heartily at the coincidence, « and how are you adapting to your new environment so far ? » he went on. « I'm starting to like it, actually » the vicenarian commented with evident delight, « once passed the initial shock » he stressed as he recalled his first days on the third planet, « I

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– – – – – –

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have to admit that my life here isn't that different from what it was on Ovel » he shared, staring blankly down and to the side of his famous boss a while longer before returning to his typical air of jollity. « I'm glad you feel that way » declared the scholar with a quick affirmative nod, « do you find living here limits any of your regular activities ? » he pursued the interrogation. « No, not really » pensively observed the coder, « apart from going outside, obviously » he added in a humorous fashion, « but I never really was a fan of the outdoors anyway » he proceeded, more gravely, « I never really enjoyed team sports that much either » the programmer revealed in a similarly sombre manner, « I prefer to train on my own and I can do that at the gyms... they're especially well equipped here I must say » he ultimately emphasized. « They are indeed » agreed the scientist, « I take it you still haven't ventured outside ? » he submitted, evoking the reluctance of his interlocutor to suit up and wander under the toxic atmosphere, « I mean, apart from your helijet ride with Commander Sokolov » he rectified without delay. « Nope ! » resolutely announced the assistant, with a touch of disdain, « and I still have no intention to » he attempted to assert as insistently, unable to contain a subtle grin, « in a way, I did go outside » he suggested following a short silence, marking another pause for suspense, « via the virtual simulations » Evans explained facetiously, « and I have to admit that it was quite an experience » he told Sturn, this time seriously. « Not quite enough of an experience to convince you to go out there for real though » the space engineer hazarded. « No sir ! » maintained the developer, displaying a decidedly negative expression, « not yet in any case » he then hinted, less confidently. « Well, well, that last part sounded like an eventual yes to me » the researcher bantered. « Well, well, maybe it did to you » the employee reacted playfully, « but to me it mostly sounded like a not yet ! » he exclaimed, both coworkers laughing at the funny statement. « Are you becoming familiar with the facilities ? » the pundit wondered once the hilarity had subsided. « I wouldn't say familiar yet » the techie answered, « I've visited most of the buildings... well, around here anyhow » he clarified, stopping for an instant as he remembered some of the locations, « I really like how mass transit works here » he enthusiastically pointed out, « it's almost like having your own driver » the software specialist noted, « I'd like to see one of the remote mining colonies eventually, from the inside I mean » he carried on after a brief reflection, « and the detention centers too » he concluded, curious. « That can be arranged » ensured the doctor of physics, « in fact, as far as the prisons go, Celia will probably be in better position to help you with that » he proposed, guessing that her ongoing studies would afford the woman easier access to the correctional institutions, « any news from her ? Do you know when they plan to join us ? » he inquired right away,

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standing up from the worktable and pulling a swivel chair for himself to sit on so the two colleagues would converse from the same height. « As a matter of fact I do ! » responded the happy vicenarian, « school is over now » he first mentioned, « they have successfully completed their space flight training last week » he continued with evident satisfaction, « and these days they're finalizing the move » the programmer cheerfully reported, « they're scheduled to depart on the next conjunction » he remarked, referring to the moment when the position of third planet relative to Ovel guaranteed the quickest journey. « That's only a few days away » stressed the project manager, smiling sympathetically. « I can't wait ! » the coder declared wistfully, « I miss them very much » he shared, hiding his emotions with difficulty. « I can imagine » the former teacher offered in a warm voice as he reminisced the similar experiences he had also known when he had originally relocated onto Veshtar, giving his interlocutor some time to finish processing the event, « have you visited your permanent living quarters yet ? » he then asked. « Yes... the apartment is really awesome » the young assistant confirmed, « I like it a lot, and I think the girls will do to » he announced, obviously delighted, « again, I must say that the Administration is treating us exceptionally well » he finally observed, sincerely appreciative. « Indeed they do » the scholar concurred, as he pondered his own circumstances.

The scientist wanted to go on and explain to Evans what the RDA wasn't so good at doing, but once again he chose to avoid the potentially controversial subject. Ever since insinuating that the developer might be attempting to infiltrate the department, he had felt a definite apprehension, on both sides, that things would turn sour over the slightest disagreement. Or very possibly, it had been the way he had too forcefully presented his views that same evening that had caused it. At any rate, the quality of their interactions had bothered him. { Clearly, trying to avert trouble hasn't improved the situation so far } he reckoned philosophically. { Probably best to address the issue directly... perhaps if I tell him he isn't a suspect anymore, it would defuse the tension once and for all } he ultimately supposed.

– – –

« Hmm... listen Frank, there's something I need to tell you » began the researcher after the short pause, appearing preoccupied. « What is it ? » immediately wondered the software specialist, looking uncertain, worried by the tone of his supervisor. « Regarding the... spying incident » replied the renowned pundit, « you're in the clear » he tersely revealed. « Ah, great ! » reacted the techie, nodding in relief, « that's really good news, you take a big weight off my shoulders ! » he carried on, grinning, « I guess they've found the spy ? » he then inquired. « Hmm... sorry but I'm not at liberty to discuss the details » Sturn answered, scratching

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his head reflexively in embarrassment, « the investigation is still underway » he justified at once, « I'm sure you can understand » he added vaguely. « Oh, I see... yes, of course, I understand » promptly acknowledged the vicenarian. « All I can really say is that new information has emerged that makes it plain that it can't be you » the doctor of physics maintained, hoping to bring the topic to a conclusion. « Okay » readily accepted the programmer, seemingly satisfied with the statement, « I can live with that ! » he chuckled after a few seconds. « I trust I can rely on your discretion ? » the space engineer continued in an interrogative manner, « you realize this is classified » he pointed out with a severe expression. « Oh, of course » assured the coder, « I won't tell a soul » he promised without hesitation. « Excellent ! » exclaimed the former professor, « I'm glad that's settled ! » he cheerfully declared. « Yeah, so do I » echoed the assistant, reflecting that the candid exchange would decidedly contribute to mend the climate between them.

The scholar was genuinely pleased that the affair had been resolved peacefully. Evans hadn't complained, objected, or questioned anything, and on the contrary he was obviously very happy that the misgivings had been eliminated. Most likely, the young man would remain quiet about the ordeal, and the concern would soon vanish into oblivion. After all, the scientist had personally vouched for his colleague, so it was highly doubtful that Milton, or anyone else from the Administration for that matter, would think of interviewing him any further. The project manager figured that the case was closed, and so the two of them could move on to more inspiring prospects. – – –

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« Okay ! » uttered the researcher, « shall we begin ? » he proposed enthusiastically. « Why don't we ! » reciprocated the software specialist. « I wanted us to meet this morning to discuss certain aspects of the architecture of SAVIA in more depth » announced the pundit, « I assume that by now you're done reading the materials I've prepared for you » he ventured, staring quizzically at his interlocutor. « I'd say I've read most of it, yes » concurred the developer, slightly confused, « I haven't read anything past the prototype phase, as you instructed » he observed dutifully, « well, apart for the roadmap that is » he lastly mentioned. « Very good » Sturn noted, delighted, « I suppose you don't have any questions thus far » he hazarded, apparently implying that the other shouldn't have met any problem. « Well, actually, I have many » remarked the techie, somewhat defeated, « it's not at all what I had anticipated » he admitted, chortling nervously and looking puzzled. « Excellent ! » laughed the physicist, « don't worry » he clarified immediately, « judging by what I've seen from the assignments I've given you thus far, I have no doubt you'll feel right at home again very soon » he carried on, though his encouragement was manifestly not of much help to the programmer, « now, if you don't mind, before we talk about what

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we'll be doing » submitted the famous public speaker, waiting a moment for effect, « I'd like to talk about what we won't be doing » he stressed enigmatically, grinning widely. « Hey, as long as I end up knowing what's going on » the perplexed vicenarian reacted with humour, « I sure don't mind » he added, provoking more hilarity from his supervisor. « Don't worry Frank » chuckled the space engineer, marking a pause before he began his presentation, « okay, if you were to look up the term in textbooks, you'll find out that the field of artificial intelligence generally focuses on the design of systems, or agents, which basically perceive their environment, and based on their perceptions, take actions towards achieving whatever objective they have been designed to achieve » he initially suggested, « wouldn't you agree ? » he asked the attentive coder. « Yes, that's roughly how I would put it » the assistant replied, clearly comfortable with the definition. « Good » acknowledged the former teacher, « now, obviously, there are many teams of very talented people who are already working on such intelligent agents all around the world » he continued, his silent auditor nodding affirmatively, « and obviously, my intent here is not to question the respective merits of their various undertakings » he tactfully disclaimed, « nor is it to insinuate that their efforts are in any way vain or misguided » maintained the project director, « still, I have to emphasize that, in my opinion at least, what they're trying to do is actually beside the point » he boldly declared. « Okay » the young man responded with more than a touch of skepticism, « you realize that you're gonna have to justify this now » he retorted inquisitively. « I do » assured the amused scholar, « don't worry Frank, I'm getting there » he reiterated without delay, « as far as I'm concerned, what most of those people are trying to recreate, or perhaps I should say, create, is a far cry from what intelligence truly is » he proposed, to the surprise of his increasingly interested colleague, « they're mostly trying to create reasoning agents, or robots with brains if you will » Sturn tersely summarized, « but we're not going to build reasoning machines » he asserted authoritatively, « I don't want us to create a brain, Frank » he announced, stopping suspensefully before concluding, « I want us to create a mind » he ultimately revealed. « Okay » repeated the junior developer as an embryo of understanding was coalescing in his psyche, « what's the difference ? » he wondered, evidently far from convinced. « Good question ! » exclaimed the smiling scientist, « and the short answer is, I'm not sure I know at this stage, but I know we'll figure it out along the way » he explained, slightly disappointing Evans. « Still » objected the techie in disbelief, « your approach implies that you already have a very good idea of what a mind is » he correctly remarked. « Right, as a matter of fact, I do » recognized the researcher, « or, I have an hypothesis at least » he immediately clarified, « and I intend to find out, first, whether this hypothesis is founded or not, and second, how it is possible to build on it » he confidently submitted.

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« I see » reacted the intrigued software specialist, « and of course this makes sense to me thus far » he observed in passing, « but then, the question is, what is the hypothesis ? » he queried with insistence. « I must commend you on your questions, Frank » the pundit jested, his trainee grinning at the comment, « let's start with what we know » he began after a second, « traditionally, and still to this day, as far as I know at least, intelligent agents are commonly modelled as follows » he introduced his conceptions, « they basically consist of some kind of brain, or central processing unit if you will, to which are grafted some kind of limbs, that the agents use to interact with their environment » the physicist suggested, pausing to glance at his employee and noticing his approval, « they also have some kind of sensors using which they perceive their environment » he pursued his sketchy description, again without any opposition on the part of the programmer, « the brains are often designed around neural networks, associative memories, or some form of lookup tables, and they have some sort of operating systems, that usually include hard-coded scripts, decision-making algorithms, behavioural heuristics, and preset knowledge representation systems » he enumerated, not delving into details, but rather offering a general overview of the technology, « and so, basically, these machines interact with their universe in what I would call an automated sense-lookup-react fashion, and by that I mean that their actions result from feeding their perceptions into the decision making mechanisms they have been endowed with – » « That's not entirely true » interrupted the coder, « I mean, it is, but they are also capable of learning, of training themselves... some are able to adapt their behaviour » he relevantly pointed out. « Of course » granted the space engineer, « I don't deny that they're also capable of such things, that's not what I'm getting at » he assured, halting for an instant to consider how to best convey his idea, « what I'm hoping to make you see is... » he attempted, electing to muse a little longer, « well, something is conspicuously missing here, don't you think ? » he asked in an impassioned voice.

Remaining quiet, the assistant pondered the question. He had a sense of what his supervisor was hinting at, but however he was examining the matter, he felt he couldn't really grasp the gist.

« Let me help you » intervened the former educator after a time, « sure, those intelligent agents can do whatever it is they've been designed to do... often to an impressively high degree of success » he readily admitted, « but they don't really reflect, do they ? Kind of like what you're doing right now ? » he mentioned with amusement, « they never wonder whether or not they should keep on cleaning up the floor, or playing the ping pong game, or soldering the part onto the circuit board on the assembly line, or doing whatever it is they've been designed to do » Sturn explained persuasively, « they never seem to realize they could be doing something else entirely with their time » he solemnly concluded. « I see » Evans reacted pensively, nodding in understanding.

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« So, to state the distinction concisely » the project director went on after a short silence, « I would suggest that present-day agents are aware of their environment, and to some extent, they're also aware of their limbs via some of their sensors, to determine how those limbs are oriented in space for instance » he declared tentatively, « a mind is also aware of itself however... it's aware that it has some sort of central processing unit, and limbs, and sensors » he contrasted confidently, « it's aware that it has its system of representations, or at least, it has the means of becoming aware of all this » he finally emphasized. « Okay » responded the relieved vicenarian, « so that's what's going on » he added soon after, smiling, « now I get what you were getting at » he remarked with a chuckle. « Great ! » cheered the researcher, « an alternative way to put it would be that existing intelligent systems have the means of imitating some of the basic functions of the brain, but they don't have the means of emulating its higher functions » he proposed, noting that his interlocutor was approving the phrasing, « you see Frank, in my opinion, minds are in their essence autonomous and self-organizing » he carried on his elaboration, « they can develop the capacity to self-program, and they can conceive their very own representation systems, and their very own belief systems » he ultimately stressed. « That's why we've discussed belief systems » remembered the younger man. « Hmm... precisely » hesitantly concurred the scholar, « because this is central to what we will have to do » he maintained in a serious, almost severe fashion, « and I have a feeling I'll be repeating this over and over during the coming quarters » he submitted, still in the same adamant tone, « it is crucial that we avoid imposing our own representations and beliefs onto our design » the physicist insisted, « supposing that such a feat is possible » he immediately nuanced, « I suspect it'll prove to be very difficult » he warned, looking apprehensive, « still, it is essential that our AI remains as much as possible agnostic until we first turn it on » the space engineer asserted, « and it must be allowed to remain so, or perhaps should I say, to become so, should it deem it relevant » he observed, somewhat puzzling his auditor. « I'm not sure I'm totally following you » stated the employee, manifestly confused. « Sorry to have been unclear » the pundit promptly acknowledged, « in other words, if the AI is to develop its own system of representations, and its own belief system, nothing should prevent it from reprogramming whatever part of itself it sees fit » he pointed out resolutely, « even the low-level operating system should be reprogrammable » he hinted, shocking the coder. « But isn't this very risky ? » the assistant objected, « I mean, it could reprogram its most basic functions, and thus render itself utterly inoperative » he cautioned his boss. « It's a distinct possibility, yes » readily granted the former professor, « but I'm pretty sure it won't happen » he countered, leaving the techie rather skeptical, « I'm guessing it will have way too much work understanding itself before it gets there » he suggested with a knowing grin, « I mean, before it can reach the lowest levels » Sturn clarified, this time receiving signs of agreement from the developer, « and yes, I'm quite convinced that large

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parts of our work will vanish as it gains control » he further commented, « or perhaps I should say, as it gains self-assurance » he lastly mused. « I can see the sense of it, yes » Evans consented pensively, « because otherwise, it could be limited by our own... » he stopped, seeking the mot juste, « limitations » he eventually finished the thought, slightly disappointed at the lack of originality of the solution. « Precisely » the scientific adviser corroborated, « it must be allowed to change whatever it needs to change » he reiterated, resuming his exposition, « this is especially important for whatever biases we will impart to it, however unwillingly » he emphasized decidedly. « Thus the importance of mastering belief systems » realized the vicenarian, « we must become able to recognize our own biases » he declared as the core of the issue suddenly was evident to him. « That's exactly it » assured the renowned expert, « in particular, our own assumptions about the world » he singled out, taking a moment to imagine an illustration, « let me give you an example » he then went on, « the traditional way of designing intelligent agents presupposes an objective world that exists independently of the agents » the researcher proposed, « however, recent discoveries, for instance from the field of quantum physics, demonstrate that there's no such thing as an objective world that can be proven to exist independently of an intelligence that is experiencing it » he announced, distressing the frowning trainee, « and so, any agent designed to respond to such an objective reality has been imposed this particular model of the world, you see, it's already been embedded into the intelligence, into its very architecture » he maintained confidently. « Huh... yes... I think I understand » the programmer reacted reticently, upset about some of the claims, « but – » « You're having problems with the idea that there's no objective world » interrupted the project director, chuckling. « Yeah ! » replied the younger man, his puzzled expression making clear that the concept exceeded his comprehension. « As it turns out, this is something that Ovelians have known for millennia » noted the consultant, « many religious traditions insist that there is nothing outside consciousness » he explained with conviction, « apparently, mystics have known of this since the dawn of time, and scientists are slowly catching up » he observed in a calmer fashion, « and as far as we're concerned, if such an objective world can't be rigorously demonstrated to exist, then we don't want to impose this assumption onto SAVIA » he affirmed intently. « Hmm... okay... not imposing assumptions makes sense » Evans readily accepted, « but, I'll need to know more about the no objective reality part before I can approve that » he rejected skeptically, and almost scornfully. « Well, sorry » offered the space engineer, « maybe I'm going too fast here » he continued in an apologetic tone, « that's another discussion entirely » he remarked as he weighed his options, « if you don't mind, we'll keep that one for later » the scholar instructed after a short while, « we'll have no choice but to address it at some point anyway » he ultimately

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submitted. « Well, okay » acquiesced the assistant, manifestly still bothered yet glad to move on. « Anyhow » carried on the physicist, smiling, « the crux of the matter is, that's not what we'll be doing » he asserted in an authoritative voice, « we must be very careful that we don't impose upon it any form of logic, or any seemingly reasonable way of dealing with the world » he stated resolutely, « at the risk of repeating myself, I want us to create an intelligence, not a reasoning machine » the pundit stressed again, « and that's an essential component of my hypothesis, that intelligence is mostly irrational » he added, once more unnerving his auditor. « Hmm... » the techie uttered, apparently bewildered by the notion. « Or perhaps more precisely, that reason is merely one of its basic faculties » the former teacher proceeded, « but its higher faculties are deeply irrational in nature » he attempted to clarify, « we can describe them logically, but they reside beyond the grasp of logic and reason... or in other words, logic and reason cannot emulate them » he finally suggested. « Maybe you could provide examples ? » requested the computer specialist, unsettled but willing to consider the possibility. « Sure... there are plenty » Sturn first answered, « intuition, perception of beauty, love » he began his enumeration, pausing for an instant to decide if it would be appropriate to mention more controversial abilities, « prescience, telepathy – » « You believe in such things ? » inquired the coder, incredulous. « Of course » acknowledged the public speaker, « I mean, once you've experienced them, it becomes very hard not to believe in them » he emphasized, amused by the doubts about what was to him evident, « if you don't mind however, this morning I'd like us to focus on architecture » he wisely avoided the topic. « Sure, of course, sorry » agreed the vicenarian, looking slightly guilty. « That's okay, Frank » promptly responded the researcher, stopping for a few seconds as he recollected his thoughts, « our main concern over the course of the project will be to ensure that we develop an architecture that allows for flexible knowledge representation, including representation of that very same architecture » he declared in a solemn manner, « and when I say our main task, I refer to you and I, Frank » he pointed out at once. « We're responsible for its nervous systems » ventured the programmer. « In a sense, yes, that's a good analogy » concurred the scientist, « but what I'm getting at is that the rest of the team will work on... pretty much everything else in fact » he evoked succinctly, « and whatever they come up with, it's crucial that our architecture accepts it, and yet, isn't limited by it » he resumed his argumentation, « we must be adamant on this, there must be no shortcuts for the sake of simplicity » he insisted, almost threateningly. « The nervous system must be able to adapt to just about anything that may be grafted on it, without having to change itself » tentatively summarized the software developer. « Without having to change its own nature, yes » the space engineer contrasted, « but it

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can change its organization, as long as it remains able to keep on doing what it does at all times » he noted, clearly regarding the issue of highest import. « Okay » reflectively assented Evans, slowly nodding in understanding, « I think I get it » he announced with a proud smile following a brief delay. « I might have hinted at this when we discussed it in Pefki Park » the pundit notified his attentive assistant as he was reminded of the episode, « I'm not sure whether I accurately remember everything I've told you back then » he confided pensively, growing concerned as his hopes of obtaining details from his silent auditor remained unfulfilled, « I want us to design a system that can develop its own representations of all its systems, including its own representation systems » he carried on somewhat cryptically after a moment, « and nothing else » the doctor of physics stressed, « that's my basic hypothesis » he revealed, seemingly too tersely for the perplexed techie, « I mean, I believe this is all that's really needed ultimately, and that given such an architecture, SAVIA will have all she need to discover and organize herself autonomously » he asserted right away, after noticing the expression of the other, « obviously, she's gonna have hardware too... peripherals, power modules, and sensors, and limbs » the senior project director explained, « and of course, we'll give her access to all our knowledge banks, which will roughly be the equivalent of her psychological genes » he readily added, « but that's not what will ultimately render her intelligent... in essence, I mean » he finally commented. « Ahem... and what's your basic hypothesis again ? » inquired the coder, grinning at his own incomprehension. « What I'm basically saying is that the key factor that's required for intelligence to emerge is the faculty of self-representation » patiently reformulated the scholar. « Okay... I understand... I think » hazarded the vicenarian after some deliberation, « but, how about awareness ? How will it come about ? » he asked, looking utterly clueless. « She'll constantly monitor her own state » the former professor calmly replied, « and in fact, that's all she'll do for quite some time » he observed, chuckling, « so, when there will be changes in her state, she'll be aware of the changes, and then of course she'll have to represent them, which will mean more changes, and more representations, and – » « Like some kind of big bang of representations » interrupted the younger man. « Precisely, yes » Sturn confirmed without hesitation, « at least that's what I'm guessing » he quickly pointed out, taking his glasses off and resting them on his lap, « I assume there will first be a very intense, and very fast expansion phase... and then things should slow down gradually as aggregations and categorizations are formed » he suggested, rubbing his sore eyes, « then she'll have to explore what she has created... what she has become... and figure out what has happened » the tired researcher went on, replacing his spectacles, « and in this fashion, eventually, she will learn what these changes mean » he submitted, his colleague approving quietly, « at least, what they mean to her » he lastly emphasized. « Like we all do when we learn to recognize what we feel » analogized the programmer. « Indeed » agreed the appreciative scientific adviser, taking an instant to recollect what he

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had planned to discuss during the meeting, « so, to sum up, our focus will be the creation of what we have outlined this morning » he then proposed in an attempt to move things along, « our work will consist in turning these sketchy visions into realities, and create everything she needs to represent her knowledge, including her knowledge of her own representations, so that no matter what we graft onto her, or that she herself decides to acquire eventually, she will have the means of creating a new representation for it, and a new representation for this new representation » he concluded in yet another phrasing, expecting to be able to address the next topic he had prepared, as his assistant once more nodded in understanding. « Sorry if I digress but you keep referring to it as she ? » Evans remarked with amusement after a short while. « I do, don't I ? » chortled the space engineer, « well, I guess I think of her as a she » he noted humorously, « but SAVIA is more like a girl name, don't you think ? » he justified, obtaining the nonverbal consent of his employee. « You named her after the moon ? » wondered the developer. « Well, partly, yes » answered the pundit, « I mean, they have the same name obviously » he first mentioned, « SAVIA comes from Self Aware Virtual Information Architecture » he explained, his interlocutor making sense of the signification he could recall having read earlier, « one night I happened to be gazing at Savia while pondering a name » the project manager recounted following a brief silence, « I already had parts of the acronym, but the V was missing, so I borrowed it from the moon » he shared poetically, « her name is not entirely accurate though » he commented after another pause. « She won't be completely virtual » immediately supposed the techie in a confident tone. « Precisely » concurred the physicist, « in a sense she will, inasmuch as what will make her what she is will indeed be completely virtual » he stressed with conviction, « still, a fairly large amount of hardware will be required for that to happen » he stated, chuckling at the contrasting notions, « what I'm trying to convey here is – and the acronym comes from that very same idea, is that in a sense, we ourselves are essentially architectures of information » he finally offered, feeling the need to clarify. « Hmm... » sounded the software expert, further reflecting on the assertion, « I'm not sure I agree with you on this » he declared, manifestly doubtful. « I believe what makes us what we are is this growing accumulation of experiences we keep having, and the meanings we keep attributing to them » the scholar argued. « But that's not really us » responded the younger man, « I mean, that may be what we have learned, but that's not what we are » he pointed out insistently, « we are more than that, for one, we have a body – » « I think that might be more what we are than you seem inclined to believe » interrupted the researcher, smiling knowingly, « consider resilience for instance, when we say that people show great resilience » he submitted at once, as if transported by the whole train of thought, « what is it that's been bent out of shape ? And that's returning to its original

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shape ? » he suggested in authoritative manner. « Well, okay, I see what you mean » the coder accepted, « still, part of the world of those people has been damaged too » he observed right away. « Precisely » approved the scientist, « but which is really the cause and which is really the effect ? » he continued his demonstration, « and why is it so painful ? Why is it that when people lose someone dear to them, or something dear to them, they say that part of them is gone, or that part of them has died ? » he inquired, the interrogations visibly registering in the mind of Evans, « how come we have a concept of psychological damage ? » Sturn carried on after a second, « what is it that's damaged in such instances ? And how come those who have incurred such damages are unable to enjoy some experiences normally until they have fully healed ? » he emphasized, his coworker acknowledging soundlessly, « how come adapting to new environments can be so demanding ? » he asked following another break, « why is it that some people find new experiences, or merely new ideas so threatening ? » the former teacher went on, « isn't all of this because of how changes have to be effected within ourselves, within our own architecture ? » he lastly proposed. « Okay, I can see your point » the proficient programmer eventually announced, « I can't say I'm one hundred percent convinced that this is what we are » he remarked, unsettled, « but I can see what you're hinting at, and to a certain extent, yeah, I agree » he conceded, bringing the argument to a close. « Excellent ! » cheerfully reacted the space engineer, « and while we're on the subject, I'm sure you realize how our objectives will potentially put us in conflict with one another... possibly even quite frequently » he warned the computer specialist. « What do you mean ? » wondered the frowning employee, at a loss for an explanation. « I mean that in order to avoid imposing our assumptions onto SAVIA, we'll first have to recognize what these assumptions are » stressed the project director, « which implies that we'll have little choice but to discuss and compare our own beliefs » he inferred, staring almost defiantly in the eyes of his interlocutor, « I'm sure you can remember how having your belief system challenged is not always an easy experience to undergo » he concluded with a grin. « Okay » the junior developer slowly replied, gradually understanding the import of the statement as he reflexively attempted to picture a collision between two abstract, skeletal structures of information, « yes, I remember » he confirmed soon after, chuckling, « but if you hadn't pointed it out, I wouldn't have made the connection » he finally assured.

The pundit immediately recalled the reflection he had been absorbed in when the vicenarian had walked into the room. He could imagine Aaren watching the message he had thankfully not yet sent, and then revisiting the unfairly obtained recordings, making the connection, and deciphering the value of the revelations they probably contained. Pondering the situation, it seemed obvious that the better strategy was to bury the matter instead of insisting that the economist dispelled his doubts. He had to avoid prompting Mayr to investigate. { If it isn't already too late ! } he ultimately thought. The Threshold

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A strange blend of curiosity and apprehension bewildered the software expert as he tried to foresee the exchanges his supervisor and him were likely to embroil themselves in. In one way, he was eager to discover his own biases, and to access the wider world they concealed. Still, he knew very well how fiercely he could defend his own opinions when confronted. Certainly, the physicist knew a lot more about life than he did, and thus, exposing himself to at least some of the wisdom of the older man could be beneficial. Nevertheless, manifestly, the science popularizer didn't pretend to be unprejudiced, which meant that he also expected to gain something from their debates. Given the conversations they had held so far, he could reckon how difficult some of the meetings would be, not only for himself but for the two of them. He could appreciate the reservations regarding whether or not a perfectly unbiased design was conceivable after all. Clearly, to free herself of the defects they would unwillingly mar her with, SAVIA needed the capacity to completely reprogram herself. It was an uncompromisable necessity. And then it occurred to him that, supposing they succeeded at their task, the AI could in turn be of tremendous worth to them in that particular respect. { Maybe she can become an absolutely pure mind ! Maybe she'll become able to see the absolute truth ! } he envisioned, inspired by the prospects.

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« Do you think she'll be able to answer the big questions ? » the techie asked after a while. « No, not at first » Sturn submitted following some hesitation, startled out of his musings, « she will have much growing up to do before she can be of any help to us » he told his colleague, « but if we do our job well, her progress should be a lot faster than ours » he noted, smiling knowingly, « if that turns out to be the case, I assume she will inevitably reach our level of intelligence very rapidly » he optimistically suggested. « How rapidly ? » keenly inquired the assistant. « Well, assuming her training goes well » pensively responded the space engineer, « and that we steer clear of major mishaps » he further mentioned, taking a moment to carefully weigh his words, « I believe she should surpass us in a matter of a few quarters, maybe a year or so at most » he estimated tentatively. « Wow ! » reacted the coder as he considered the possibility, « wise beyond her year ! » he remarked humorously, « and then what ? The sky's the limit I guess ! » he ventured in amazement. « Well, it's very hard to imagine past that point » replied the concerned scholar, « you see, at first she'll have us, and she'll also have access to our huge collections of knowledge » he explained in a confident manner, « she'll have many references to consult and imitate, and perhaps that's how she'll develop and shape herself » he observed enthusiastically, « but we can only speculate about what will happen once she reaches our level » the researcher maintained, « the only way to know what's it like to reach an higher order of intelligence, is to reach it ourselves » he asserted with somewhat of a resigned grin. « You think there's a chance she'll stagnate because she won't have a model to emulate » Evans inferred, appearing much disillusioned.

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« Not at all ! » the project director objected passionately, « I'm merely trying to hint that we might be very surprised by what she'll become » he immediately clarified, « but then, that's part of the plan » he revealed to the satisfaction of his auditor, « she'll be able to use her knowledge to upgrade herself, to create increasingly better versions of herself » the pundit predicted, « and hopefully that's how she'll end up showing us the way » he finally proposed. « I see » gladly accepted the programmer, without any reservations, « and then she might be able to address the big questions » he reiterated, obviously preoccupied by the theme. « Possibly » tersely acknowledged the doctor of physics, remaining intentionally vague, still bothered by the unresolved situation involving Mayr and waiting for an occasion to put the matter to rest. « You don't seem convinced » commented the vicenarian, not quite certain what to make of the laconism of his interlocutor. « Well... » began the science popularizer, seeking an uncontroversial way of formulating his perspective, « let's just say I have a feeling that, by that time, our big questions won't be her big questions anymore » he opined enigmatically. « I think I can agree with that » assented the computer expert after a brief silence, « do you think SAVIA could become the most intelligent... being... in the whole universe ? » he then wondered. « As I've already mentioned » the former professor insisted, « if I knew for sure, I would already be that intelligent » he rephrased his earlier affirmation, « in other words, I can't be sure I'm currently equipped to recognize what that even means » he continued as the developer nodded in understanding, « for what it's worth though, I don't think she can be, no » he lastly offered. « And why not ? » asked the software specialist, manifestly upset by the negation, « what could stop her ? » he added right away, attempting to find a reason for the stance of his supervisor. « Nothing » Sturn resolutely ensured, « but it's not about whether or not something stops her » he pointed out after an instant of reflection, « I happen to believe that the universe itself is that most intelligent being » he ultimately declared in a solemn voice. « Okay » slowly reacted the techie as he realized the implications of the statement, « isn't that one of those assumptions we should avoid making ? » he mischievously countered, wanting to switch the topic to faith. « Careful now » warned the space engineer, « I never said that this will have an impact on how we design her » he emphasized, looking slightly offended. « I know, I know » the young man confessed with a wily smile, « but still, this is the kind of stuff we will have to discuss eventually, isn't it ? » he submitted more seriously. « Eventually, yes » corroborated the researcher, « but that's another discussion entirely » he stressed at once, authoritatively, hoping to avert the sensitive issue, « listen, before I

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forget » he suddenly changed the subject, noticing that his employee had stayed quiet for a moment, « one of your earlier replies reminded me of an urgent communication I have to send this morning » the scholar candidly announced, « I'd like to take care of it right now, if you don't mind taking a short break ? » he requested with some embarrassment. « Oh, sure, no problem » readily granted the assistant, « I need to have a technician check my notebook » he informed his boss, « it'll only take a few minutes at most » he remarked immediately. « Excellent ! » the project director happily exclaimed, « let's meet here again in... fifteen minutes ? » he suggested tentatively as Evans stood up and headed for the exit. « Works for me ! » the coder approved as he left the room, the door automatically closing behind him.

The physicist quickly grabbed his handheld, browsed to the message he had saved, and backed the clip up to where he had to edit the video. –

« ... eed to talk about... hmm... let's call it the incident at Pefki Park » the scientist watched himself repeat on the small screen, before fingering the pause button to freeze the display.

Pondering the alternatives one final time, the pundit deleted the remainder of the recording. Dropping the matter altogether, and trusting that the Milagenian would also forget the whole thing seemed dodgy given that he had inquired about it previously. On the other hand, the mere mention of the conversation could be enough to trigger the wave of repercussions he was trying to prevent. But casually denying to have revealed anything valuable would probably convince his friend, who would most likely let the affair go. His mind made up, the former teacher rose and sat on the desk, in the same position he had been seated when he had begun his original reply. He visualized himself speaking, not too gravely, and with determination, but not too cheerfully despite pretending to report positive news. Wearing the best fake sincerity he could muster, he then proceeded to film a new end to the communication. « I just wanted to tell you that I've talked it over with Frank – Evans, my new assistant » the supervisor first recounted, « and as it turns out there's nothing to worry about » he ensured, relaxing his expression, « so... never mind... please feel free to dismiss the entire story » he proposed with a subtle grin, « by the way, next time you spy on me, at least use current technology... you can detect those old mics with a uDev nowadays » he bantered, once more stopping the recording. Sturn almost reviewed the message to ascertain its coherence, but ultimately decided against it, conscious of his tendency to question his choices in such instances. He had already contemplated the issue sufficiently as it were, and he knew thinking about it any longer would only lead him into The Threshold

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2206 : Window Onto A New World

XVI. The Solid Time Of Change

an ever thickening cloud of sorry confusion. While he could still believe that he had selected the right response, signing off and mailing the clip was the better option, and possibly the saner too. « Okay, looks like that's about it for now » the space engineer went on in a relieved voice, « please let me know what you require from us next » he requested with genuine interest, « I'm looking forward to our collaboration » he offered, smiling, « bye Mister Mayr ! » he lastly bade the economist. And before hesitation could paralyse him, the scholar promptly clicked the send button.

The Threshold

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About the Series

A

t the turn of the century, Ovel must face the consequences of its accelerated growth. One

hundred and twenty seven federated countries and eleven sovereign nations, spread across the homeland and in colonies settled onboard orbiting stations and on a nearby planet. Fourteen billion inhabitants struggling to thrive under the rule of a corrupted Global Government, in power for over forty years. Fuelled by a recent scientific finding, the once in a lifetime discovery of a discontinuity in the cosmic fabric of the neighbouring space, a coalition of politicians is willing to stand up for the people and radically change things. Now relegated to the ranks of an obscure sect, the once dominant Community and its disciples must effectively handle the requirements of the Celestials to ensure that the most favourable of all possible destinies comes to pass. Meanwhile, halfway across the world, a young monk must learn to collaborate with the Enlightened Ones in order to successfully discharge the essential task he has accepted to fulfil in behalf of his monastery. Will the crucial 2206 electoral campaign climax on the emergence of a charismatic Progressive leader, or will the decried Chancellor prevail despite the many forces scheming for his downfall ? On a background of environmental and financial crises, and religious influences intertwining with political manoeuvres to determine the fate of the overpopulated orb, The Threshold chronicles the evolution of the Ovelian civilization as it heads towards unprecedented upheaval.

★ Contact Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/the.threshold.2206 Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/u/0/104660427672333556879

★ The Complete Edition of The Threshold - 2206 : Window Onto A New World is available in the following locations Kindle Format on Amazon ePub Format on Lulu


About the Author

C

hristopher Stewart loves to try his hand at various artistic endeavours, but if there's one discipline he's perfecting, it must be the art of blooming late.

He has studied for a long time, played football even longer, spent a significant part of his adult life developing software on a full-time basis and invested what remained in the pursuit of his ideal of creating meaningful music in the context of a rock ensemble. He has founded the prolific yet still album-less Quebec-based progressive rock outfit Poligraf in 1998 and has never been quite the same since. He has been practising Buddhism dead-seriously since the mid 90s, until he finally awakened to the fact that it teaches living happiness. His interests range from psychology, physics, and philosophy, to mysticism, divination, the arts and the creative process, and, obviously, multitasking and clichés. Pick any task, tag it with the word « impossible, » assign it to him, and he’ll be hard at work for years before the first suspicion finally pops in his mind.

★ Contact Email : christopher.stewart@gmail.com Facebook Profile : https://www.facebook.com/christopher.andrew.stewart Google Plus Profile : https://plus.google.com/114005406455037130049 Twitter Profile : https://twitter.com/poligraf

★ Also Available as eBooks On the Meaning of Sin


Credits Chapter Titles The titles are meant as a tribute to the musicians. Special thanks to the members of Yes for their musical genius, and to Jon Anderson in particular for sharing his vision with the world. Fonts Linux Libertine : http://www.linuxlibertine.org/ Vollkorn : http://friedrichalthausen.de/ Philosopher : http://jovanny.ru/ BorisBlackBoxx : http://manfred-klein.ina-mar.com/ Quirkus : http://www.peter-wiegel.de/ Ubuntu : http://font.ubuntu.com/ Liberation : from the Fedora Linux Distribution : http://fedoraproject.org/ Images Patricia Curcio : El gran Telescopio Refractor de Gautier Software Open Office : http://www.openoffice.org/ FreeMind : http://freemind.sourceforge.net/ The Timeline Project : http://thetimelineproj.sourceforge.net/ Gimp : http://www.gimp.org/ Blender : http://www.blender.org/ References Most of my book design questions have found an answer on Joel Friedlander's The Book Designer : http://www.thebookdesigner.com/

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The Threshold Bookcast : Chapter 16 – The Solid Time Of Change