LOS ANGELES TIMES
The success of the implant was a major coup for the University, for the hospital, for everyone involved. Before his miraculous recovery, a lot of people at the University knew of Dr. Anselm Malloy. Those who knew him liked him. More people felt bad that the nice man in the suit and tie with an unlit pipe they'd seen around campus had had a stroke. Those who knew the details of the stroke working at the University Hospital were particularly sad. They knew what to expect. They knew that one does not ever fully recover from that sort of stroke. News of the operation to install the implant piqued the interest of a number of the doctors. During the 72-hour operation, they'd walk past the operating theatre and look down at the robot toiling away at an inhumanly rapid pace. They'd shake their head and then walk away from the hopeless scene.
During the operation, a technology reporter from the LA Times was having lunch in the hospital cafeteria with an old college buddy. Ted Rogers had been a bright student, but he loved having a good time. Having a good time is not conducive to successfully getting a four-point in a pre-med program. He washed out after his first year to the chagrin of his parents who were both doctors. But Ted Rogers was a friendly guy who made friends easily. Because he felt he needed to "do something" for society, he went into journalism.
When Ted graduated from college, he got a job in a small radio station newsroom. He did a special report debunking some pseudo-science scheme for predicting earthquakes. This won a local journalism award. He moved on to a larger radio station, more special reports, more local awards. Then Ted Rogers made the jump to television and worked up the food chain to larger markets. Then his career stagnated.
The gig at the LA Times was a stepping stone. It was a testament to his genuine skill as a reporter that the print guys hired him. He disguised the reason why he wanted the job. Technically, he hadn't lied. He would become known in print media in the LA market, making it literally true that he wanted to leave electronic news fo ¥r something more substantial. He didn't say how long he wanted to leave or what the nature of that substance was. He would win a couple awards and get known by the LA television folks, then shop around his resume. It w a plan.
"Ted, you might be interested in this. When we finish lunch, I'll take you upstairs and I'll show you the robot micro-surgeon."
"Nice. But robots doing microsurgery isn't news."
"How about installing computer gear inside someone's brain?"
Ted paused. Computers and brain surgery? That had a new sound to it. "Spill. Details. Talk."
"Ok, there's this professor who's had a stroke. Computer guy. He's almost a vegetable and his doctoral advisee is installing some kind of electronic gear in his head to help him talk through the computer."
The possibilities piqued Ted's interest. Advisee? This could mean some juicy human-interest stuff. How well did they get along? Because this was print, not television, he didn't have to worry about whether the widow, err, wife was pretty. If the veggie is old or ugly that won't hurt either. "Sure, let's take a peek."
They finished lunch and headed to the operating theatre. The scene struck Ted as significant. He pulled out his camera and snapped lots of pictures. He got a number of photos from every angle he could get to. "Do you think I could go inside and get some pictures close up?"
"Are you nuts? The patient's brain is directly exposed to the air. You'd never believe how paranoid they are about germs."
"Who's the blonde guy? Working on that computer." Craig was hunched over the monitor. The weight of his mentor's life sat on his shoulders. His hands were cupped together holding his chin, gazing into the screen. Ted snapped a picture. It won an award.
"That's Dr. Craig Stephenson. He's the guy who invented the implant."
"The computer gear that they're attaching to the guy's brain. Here, I'll introduce you."
The guy looked up. Blue eyes and blonde hair. Could have been a news anchor, Ted thought. The eyes were tired and a bit bleary. Ted wished that he were back in television with a film crew here. Valiant graduate student defies the implacable force of nature. Details at eleven. It would play perfectly. "Hi, I'm Ted Rogers from the LA Times, can I talk to you about your friend?"
Craig blinked, uncomprehending. News guy? I don't have time for this. I have to make sure nothing screws up. I might have to re-do that synapse ID subroutine. "No, you can't talk to me. I have to make sure that no bug in my software has a chance to kill Dr. Anselm." Craig turned back to the computer screen. Ted Rogers was no longer any part of Craig Stephenson's perception.
Ted knew techies could be rude. He also knew the game. For every techie that didn't want to talk, a hundred others wanted fifteen minutes of fame.
The story ran that next day in the Times. It mentioned the experimental device. Craig's picture of pained concentration on the front page of the weekly technology section. Ted had found the grant proposal that Dr. Anselm Malloy had written. He translated it from Dr. Anselm Malloy's quaintly British but very tight prose into 4th grade-level American English. Ted was a certifiable genius at technical journalism. This showed in his ability to generate prose that his readers thought they understood.
When the operation was finished, Ted paid attention long enough to see if the veggie had died or not. He didn't. A few days later, Ted thought to check back with his friend on how the implant was working. His editor had liked his first veggie tale.
"Hi, this is Ted. I'm calling about the guy with the computer in his brain, whatshisname, uh, Malloy. Is it working? Did the guy talk through the computer? Did he die?"
"Ted! I blew it, pal. I didn't get back with you. Dr. Malloy walked out of here this morning. The Stephenson kid's implant cured his stroke! There's no way he should be able to drool without help. It's a miracle!"
"Tell nobody. I'll be right there."
The story wrote itself in Ted's mind as he recklessly sped to the hospital. Ted stayed there just long enough to get quotes from all the right people. An interview with the doctors who'd seen Malloy after the implant came on-line. How he'd learned to walk again in minutes. It was incredible stuff. It was a miracle. Better, this was a Pulitzer story. Better than that, it was his ticket to television. He got a few close-up pictures of the robot surgeon now idle.
A few other reporters came sniffing around so Ted had to act fast. He modemed his story directly from the hospital. Ted emailed his editor and saying that the University had just cured a stroke. He had the story.
The story ran on the front page of the LA Times that next morning. The television guys got hold of it and the story exploded. Ted asked for and got an interview with Anselm Malloy.
"Could you tell me what you feel like, Dr. Malloy?" Ted started.
"I am feeling better than I have any right to. I have completely restored motor functions that were controlled by the stroke-damaged parts of my brain."
"Does it bother you that you now have a computer wired into your brain?"
"Not really, I have every confidence in the inventor of the implant, my friend Craig Stephenson."
"Have you felt any unexpected side effects?"
Anselm Malloy paused. He spoke more slowly, guardedly. He measured each word as he said, "I suppose I could not have expected that I'd be able to have this conversation. I anticipated something far simpler. I only hoped to be able to tell my wife I loved her without having to bore her to death in the process. I hoped that I'd be able to think and have the words appear on a computer monitor."
The bit about telling his wife he loved her sounded corny. Corny sold papers. Ted approved.
"But you were able to fully recover. Can you explain how?"
"I cannot explain fully. Not in terms your audience would readily understand. But I can answer a little. When the implant was activated its circuits looked for patterns in the way my brain's neurons worked. It just imitated the patterns it saw. Monkey see, monkey do. After a while, it learned to associate those patterns with what I was thinking."
"The implant reads your mind?"
"After a fashion. What is more significant is that it stimulates neurons in my brain. That is quite useless if the device does not know which cells to stimulate and which patterns of stimulation mean what. I was a bit frustrated with that process. Eventually, I was able to teach the implant to talk to me. It does this by stimulating the right neurons in the right pattern."
"Talk to you? Like I am talking to you now?"
"Not quite. At first, it was like hearing a voice."
"What'd it say?"
"Baby talk. It was just doing a crude simulated dialog. Taking what it picked up and playing back meaningless sentences. Like Eliza or Racter, computer programs from way back that do the computer equivalent of baby talk. The process of communicating visual impressions proceeded in a similar fashion. Eventually, the implant and I learned to communicate less superficially. It enabled me to interface with other computers. That is interesting."
"How do you mean?"
"Right now, I can access any computer that's connected to the Internet. For instance, I can tell you right now that it is raining in Bora Bora. Watch that printer." Dr. Anselm looked a little distracted as if he was talking to someone else.
The laser printer began to spit out a piece of paper. It was a page from the weather channel's web site. It showed a greasy drizzle of spit rain falling on Bora Bora.
"That's remarkable," Ted said.
Anselm shrugged, "Not really. I'm sorry about showing off like that, but I have to get back to work. I thought you might appreciate a climactic conclusion to our dialog." He rose and shook Ted's hand. Ted was done here.
Ted's next stop was Craig's office. Craig looked a lot better than the last time Ted had seen him. His hair was combed. His eyes weren't bleary at all. He was reveling in full gloat-mode. Craig stood as he entered. They shook hands, and Craig motioned to a chair.
Ted didn't sit down. The chair had about a foot of paper piled on top of it. Craig's office was the opposite of Dr. Malloy's. Books, papers, printouts were piled on every available flat surface. The floor wasn't too bad in front of Craig's desk. Papers were piled about a foot or two high everywhere else. A narrow path led around one side of Craig's desk and the area around Craig's chair was relatively uncluttered.
Craig noticed. "Hand it here." He held his hands out and received the papers Ted scooped up and handed him. "Not as neat at Dr. Anselm's office is it?"
Ted laughed. "A clean desk is the sign of a sick mind."
Craig gave a little shudder and looked distracted. Ted didn't realize the literal sense of what he'd said. Craig wasn't cold or angry, but his attitude changed. "Well, Dr. Anselm's desk is quite clean, but he's the sanest man I know," prickliness began to show in his voice. Craig looked down at his desk.
Ted noticed. "I'm sorry Dr. Stephenson, I didn't mean to imply..."
Craig looked up, "That's Ok, I shouldn't be hypersensitive. Things have been very tense lately."
"Like when we met at the university hospital?"
"Was that you?" Embarrassment displaced hostility. "Hah. I guess I'm the one who owes you an apology for blowing you off that day."
"Let's call it even." Ted said as he extended his hand.
Craig shook it. "Deal." The prickliness was gone.
Settling into the interview, Ted spoke. "I got distracted talking to Dr. Malloy. Could you tell me how he went from being able to talk with the implant to where it was able to cure his stroke, restore his motor functions?"
"Sure, that's easy. The implant mirrored Dr. Anselm's neural activation patterns. He told you that? Ok. After Dr. Anselm got it working, he started looking into how well it was working. He was doing diagnostics on the implant's hardware and saw gaps in the neural activation patterns. At first, we all assumed that the implant's hardware was bad. We checked and it wasn't. Dr. Anselm had the insight that the gaps might be due to brain damage from the stroke. Then he just allocated several thousand of the device's artificial neurons to do the job of rerouting signals around the damaged portions of his brain. He put them to work filling those gaps."
"But how could the device work with several thousand of its artificial neurons doing the work of his damaged neurons?"
"Electronic neurons are thousands of times faster than the biological ones. He time-shares them, like when you run two programs on one computer."
"That's remarkable. Would you say that your device is working?"
"The thing is a literal miracle. There's no way I could have expected things to work this well. Didn't you see Dr. Anselm? He is better than he was before the stroke."
"That old sandbagger," Craig said to himself. " He's uncanny now. I've never seen anything like it. He's Superman and Green Lantern all rolled into one now."
"What do you mean? I didn't see him leap any tall buildings in a single bound."
"I meant mentally. How fast do you read? How many words per minute?"
"I don't know, about 300 words a minute."
"Do you think faster than that?"
"Well, yeah, sure." Ted began remembering a story he'd done on a speed-reading training program that some little start-up was hyping.
"What if you could read a hundred times faster than that? And what if you could take all the things you ever read and then you organized them into the gnarliest database you ever saw? What if you could write a computer program by just thinking about what you want? Then what if you wrote programs to write other programs, or just the boring parts of your programs? What if you could instantly assimilate the latest research the very moment it is published?" Craig stopped and looked at him.
"If I could do that, I'd be a god," Ted said.
"Well, God's pretty big, I wouldn't go that far. But he's more than human. Let's split the difference and say he's an angel, a digital angel." Craig shrugged.
Craig had no idea that Ted would quote these words verbatim. Ted wrote the story but as he wrote it "digital angel" sounded clunky.
Craig cringed the next day when he read his words quoted in the story. Now everybody was talking about how his invention made Anselm a digital angel. Why hadn't he said trans-human or something like that? Why hadn't he just shut up?
The story was sensational. Ted responded with a whole series on the implant and what it meant for society. There was a lot of speculation from "experts." Politicians, religious leaders, sociologists, and the activists for special-interest groups. Pretty much everybody who was clueless about the technology had an opinion. The least clueful were generally the most vocal and adamant.
What else is new, Ted thought.
Every one of those experts putting his spin on the story tripped over the words "digital angel." The worst and the last was a Fundamentalist television evangelist. His Arkansas accent and sloppy enunciation made him unable to accurately say "digital angel." This and the guy's tendency to say nuke-u-lar grated upon Ted's ears worse than chalk on blackboard.
"Why do you feel Anselm Malloy is the Anti-Christ?" Ted asked.
"First you have to understand prophecy," the Rev Billie Jo Bobson began.
Or was he Bobbie Joe Billson? Ted thought.
"Because the great whore Babylon in the Bible is a symbol of the Roman Catholic Church."
Ted didn't want to touch any of this with a ten-foot pole. But this would make the story controversial. That was good, controversy sells papers. If Ted said what he really thought of all this, or even gave the smallest hint in his tone of voice, he'd have the Fundies after him or the Catholics. Most probably both groups would take his reaction badly.
If somehow Ted said the truth, both groups would surely join forces to crucify him.
"The pagan animism of pre-Christian Europe was imported wholesale into Roman Catholicism, making it the tool of Satan, the great whore of Revelation."
Ted kept a poker face. He wanted to laugh. This sounded exactly like what his atheist pals spouted as they went on and on about how religion causes Inquisitions and Crusades. Not that any of them would ever actually meet an Inquisitor or Crusader. Except for the bit about Satan, this evangelist was saying almost the same thing. Atheists demonized religion instead of Lucifer.
"This digitangel," the evangelist tripped over the words again, "was raised in a Catholic orphanage and trained to be a Jesuit. The Jesuits ran the Inquisition. What could be more Anti-Christian than that?"
The Crusades, Ted thought silently, poker face intact.
"Anselm Malloy, this d'angel, is a Catholic. How do we know all this isn't part of a conspiracy from Rome? I feel he's a devil." The evangelist droned on incomprehensibly about bowls and horses.
Ted's ears pricked at the sound of something he found significant in those words. The words "digital angel" had come out of Joey Bill's name was as "d'angel." The word d'angel stuck.
Tape continued to roll as the evangelist added horns and seals and beasts to his monologue.
Ted did the story with Billie Joe's words almost uncut. The controversy became acute and everyone blamed Ted.
This jumped Ted several rungs up his career ladder. He left the Times for CNN to put together a special report. Lots of pictures of Dr. Anselm Malloy and Craig Stephenson puttering about the lab with computer screens. Lots of computer animations of brains with stars twinkling inside. Craig turned out to be quite telegenic.
Despite the best efforts of the army of uninformed "experts" to articulate their opinions, or perhaps because of these opinions, the true significance of Dr. Anselm Malloy's apotheosis escaped most of the public.
One man was positioned to exploit the opportunity before almost anyone else. He worked for the Department of Defense but he was not a warrior. He was a friend. He was not a friend as Quakers mean friend. He was a friend as politicians mean friend. He had this job because his friends had always rewarded his help with comfortable positions where he didn't have to work very hard. This allowed him spare time during the day to devote to further helping his friends. Simon Valentine was a political appointee whose job was to review federal grants.
Simon Valentine walked into his best friend's office. This friend wasn't Simon's closest friend. Simon Valentine had no close friends. Closeness was an irrelevant concept to Simon in relation to friendship. Where friends were concerned they were good or not according to their utility. This friend was best in the sense that Simon derived the most benefit from him.
Simon dropped a section of the LA Times on Senator Charleton Johnson's desk. His friend was a very powerful man in the government. "Do you realize what this means?"
"What's this?" the Senator asked.
"Read the circled paragraph, the quote about reading a hundred times faster."