An innocent man, p.9
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       An Innocent Man, p.9

           Mark Z. Kammell
 
anything strategic, disruptive, technologically advanced or in any way at all interesting, that it provided a perfect hiding place for our small band of heroes, to which, at least until recently, I could consider myself a member.

  Carl was appointed to lead Project Hal (I shouldn’t need to explain the reasoning) which devoted itself to studying the brainwaves of a single person over the course of an undefined number of years (however long it took, basically), during which time an enormous amount of data was collected, processed and studied, which led, eventually, to an in-depth understanding of the way that the brain processes information and develops thought. I need hardly say that this is an insanely complex area, and it took only the ability of someone like Carl, and of course his intense devotion and focus, to enable anything at all to be achieved, let alone the type of breakthroughs that his team was able to make.

  Quite apart from the thought recognition and anticipation project that Carl led, the study led directly to breakthroughs in artificial intelligence, that are of course all the rage at the moment and will probably lead to the destruction of all human life in a manner not unlike that described in the Terminator films. I did mention this to Carl once, as we relaxed over a beer in the MSI’s social club (I know; how quaint) and predictably, I guess, he gave me a look of intense disdain. He had not taken me for some liberal fascist (his words) that stood in the way of progress, and started on a rant so deep and detailed that I had to stop him by assuring him that I did not say this in a negative way, I was merely expounding a theory that mankind’s almost universal destruction may pave the way for science to reclaim its rightful place at the head of the world due to its unique ability to predict and prepare for all consequences.

  So, you envision a future utopian race of scientists? he mused.

  Well, and mad killer robots, I added, but he didn’t seem to appreciate the reference. Quite apart from his intellect, Carl also possessed an unwavering belief in the importance of his work, and an understanding of the necessary sacrifices that needed to be made. And I’m not talking about family (there was none), social life (again, none, apart from the occasional beer at the social club and an occasionally concerning whisky habit), hobbies and interests (what else was there except for science); no, all those, of course, go without saying. I am talking about true, unwavering dedication. One of the things you have to remember is that Carl, like all those like him, not only are brilliant, but they absolutely know they’re brilliant and also know, with a clarity that the rest of us can only admire, understand that this elevates them to a position of demi-god, and grants them an ability to make decisions that relate to a different legal and moral code than any that we mortals respect. Carl was even on the edge of that plain; most men of his stature grow into it, recognising their own brilliance after years of hard toil and sweat and, even dare whisper it, after having experienced failure.

  Carl had walked into the MSI offices on his first day with an aura of divinity around him and with an absolute sense of entitlement and belonging. He trod so lightly that his feet barely touched the floor, and seemed not to notice the astonished glances of everyone around him. A week into his employment, (such an inappropriate word) he had his first meeting with the Director in Charge, a meeting that, as Carl tells it, resulted in the Director leaving the office sweating, flustered, wringing his hands, and tendering his resignation the following day. This was accepted by other, more enlightened mega beings and demi-gods, and the Director left immediately to join a commune in Goa, although I have serious doubts as to his long-term survival.

  Carl laughed as he told me this story; his request had simply been necessary, he stated. In order to successfully complete his work, he needed to have a single subject who could be studied in a controlled environment over a long period of time. The reason so many similar projects had failed was obvious, he had said; there were too many uncontrollable variables, there were too many subjects, the timeframe was too short. Simply put, he said, he needed total control of a normally functioning human being for, potentially, a number of years. He also said that he recognised that it would be challenging to find someone to volunteer for this, and therefore the most efficient solution was kidnap.

  This, he explained, with a tone of incredulity, was what that moron of a Director in Charge objected to. Fortunately, there were more visionary people in charge at the MSI, otherwise he would have walked out there and then and found a team that would take him seriously. The rest, of course, is history, and Carl went on to make one of the most sophisticated weapons of war ever created and least known – the thought engine, which drove such a fast and efficient response to any threat to give an enormous strategic advantage. And the price? Just one more unsolved disappearance, of someone that no one would really miss anyway. Well, granted, that wasn’t entirely, or at all, true; in order to ensure the best results, a suitable subject was needed, one with a high intellect and a functioning level of emotional maturity.

  Carl insisted on picking the person himself, and the fact that he chose a PhD student from a very famous university can maybe give you some idea about the level of emotional intelligence that he operated at; nevertheless, the experiment was a success, so really, who am I to judge. I doubt you’re a bleeding-heart liberal, else you wouldn’t be sitting here, yet I’m sure you feel some level of discomfort around the ethics of this, as, I have to admit, did I. Carl explained all of this to me late at night, in the bar of our social club, after too much Balvenie 50-year-old, which is when I got most of my information out of him. He wagged his finger at me and accused me of mental immaturity (I have noticed, actually, a tendency amongst the good and the brave to accuse people who don’t agree with them of being immature) but his reasoning was interesting.

  He asked me to picture Gavin Stanford (the name of this sorry student). He asked me to think about him; hand-picked to join the most exclusive research team in the world. He told me about the interview (yes, it’s true, Carl actually interviewed a number of people for the honour of being kidnapped and having their lives destroyed) and asked me to think about one particular question that he asked everyone who applied. How far would you be willing to go for your research? If you had the chance of making a real, material difference, a leap in scientific discovery that would have an impact on the world, what would you do? Would you be willing to kill? Would you be willing to die? The interviewees, I’m sure, thought of this as nothing more than a clever test of their commitment and of their speed of thought, not understanding the sub-Faustian pact that they were entering into. Carl, on the other hand, took it deadly seriously, and I really think he believed it, as he gesticulated to me unsteadily, talking loud enough to turn the heads of the few other people sad enough to be in that establishment.

  But he was willing to die, he said, he was willing to put his life on the line. He was willing to die, Carl sneered, and I gave him his life back. The fact that Gavin Stanford spent years a prisoner, unable to leave, being subjected to strange, intrusive experiments, having to lie to his family and tell them he never wanted to see them again, having to remain celibate, having to cultivate friendships with the mice and the dogs, having to watch the real world pass as if in the haze of a dream, and eventually being admitted into a sanitorium when his usefulness was deemed over; all of this personal sacrifice didn’t touch the lines of Carl’s face. With genius comes sacrifice, he would say. With genius comes obsession, I think, and genius he clearly was.

  Schrodinger’s cat

  But before you get the wrong impression of Carl, before you think he was just a geek with no concept of humanity and no ability to relate to normal people, people like you and me, just bear with me. You’ve heard, no doubt, of Schrodinger’s cat, the famous experiment of the cat that is both alive and dead at the same time. You have, of course. I have to honestly admit that it had always escaped me. This cat is seen by many as the entrance to quantum physics - which, by the way, is the only part of this revered discipline that I find in any way interesting – and s
o it pained me that I didn’t get it. The concept that, just because we don’t look inside the box, the cat can be alive and dead. Surely, I thought, the only thing that changes is that we don’t know whether the cat’s alive or dead; it must be one thing or the other, the fact that we don’t know doesn’t change that.

  I tried to explain this, drunkenly, to Carl; when I saw the expression on his face I realised that I had made a grave error, his look of disappointment was almost physical. But then he did a strange thing. He clapped me on the back.

  Look, Sylvain, he said, you’re not thinking about this in the right way, you need to change your perspective. What our friend Schrodinger teaches us is that the fact that we don’t know is critical. His cat may be alive or dead, but until we observe it, the decision doesn’t have to be made, and therefore it is our observation that triggers the decision.

  And it’s as simple as that. The question that remains - whose decision - is the one that led directly to Carl’s next creation, the Bridge, as it was affectionately known, to Carl, at least. Gavin
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