I still don't have a good title for it, but it's up to 11,000 words now, which isn't bad. It's going to be critiqued on Tuesday by my writing group, so I'm sure I'll have lots of changes after that. Still, sometimes it's interesting to see the raw product, pre-edit, and watch it progress to its final form. I have no problem sharing that process with you.
Back at his apartment, Geoff put his keys down on the breakfast bar, shrugged off his blazer and threw it over a side chair in the living room, and then pulled a beer out of the fridge and guzzled it. The Valium...er, aspirin, well, ok, the placebo effect, was wearing off, and Geoff's hands were shaking a little.
The offer from Symon Brooks was absurd. Echelon wasn't ready for prime time. It was just a jumble of code, and a website he'd hacked together to test a small fraction of its capabilities.
And the name wasn't stupid, dammit. It was edgy, techie, nerdy, intelligent. Geoff wasn't entirely certain what the word meant exactly, but he had a vague idea that it had something to do with military formations. Echelon was about organizing data. Regimenting data. It was Geoff's attempt to order, to filter, to make some sense out of an external kind of chaos that mirrored the fractured, half-remembered, unfocused, unending stream of input that assaulted his mind every day.
Geoff gestured at the breakfast bar, and his Air Screen clicked on, the thin projectors built into the ceiling and the bar glowing as they wrangled photons into aetheric submission, filling the space between them with floating data. The image was distorted where he'd put his keys down, so he picked them up again and threw them somewhere else.
The Air Screen installation had been expensive and complicated, a stupid indulgence, really, but Geoff liked the “living in the future” aspect of it. He didn't use it as his primary tech device; the gesture-based interface wasn't intuitive enough for his taste, and the thing was, frankly, buggy as hell. Still, it was gadgety and fun to mess around with, and there were some great games on it.
He swiped over to look at his email inbox. Brooks hadn't sent him the contract yet. He scrolled through the endless morass of spam, catalogues, and mailing lists he kept getting himself on even though he kept hitting unsubscribe on every single one of them. Email had been in wide use for more than half a century, and he was still inundated with crap.
Sure, he could try using one of those organizational bots that promised to clean up his inbox and only show him the important stuff, but he knew enough from his experiments with Echelon that those kinds of algorithms could miss stuff. And he didn't want to miss something important. And he couldn't be bothered. It was fine. He had five million emails in his inbox, of which he'd read maybe a few hundred over the past ten years. That was how it was. His friends laughed at him, with their empty inboxes and neat and tidy e-lives, but he just shrugged it off. It was easier to leave an email in a place than to figure out where it should actually go.
Which was entirely the point of Echelon, really.
Combining Echelon with AI would make it infinitely powerful. Kind of a scary thought, but Geoff wasn't one of those doomsayers who was afraid of the latest advances in AI because it might lead to killer robots and the end of the world. It hadn't so far.
Still, Geoff wondered if it should be his mind that was uploaded into the thing. Geoff honestly worried that an AI based on his brain would spend its time bouncing from subject to subject, distracted and consumed with wonder at every new bit and byte of data but unable to absorb anything in particular, and find itself completely unable to handle the task of sorting the data it was asked to sort. Instead of regimenting the internet, an AI based on his mind might just make it worse.
Geoff knew his own limitations, spelled out in a four-letter diagnosis that had dogged him all his life. ADHD. An AI based on him wouldn't turn into an evil robot overlord. It wouldn't be able to stay focused long enough to figure out the first step to world control. It'd start hacking into a military database and then get distracted by a video file of cats yawning.
But maybe Symon Brooks could edit the ADHD out of Geoff's digital mind, take only the good stuff, and Geoff could see his e-self as an idealized, digital version of the person he should have been all his life, if only there weren't so many damned squirrels and doorknobs and shiny shiny baubles.
Geoff walked out of his kitchen and into his living room. He finished his beer and put the empty bottle down on a side table, where it shared space with two half-full water glasses, a small plate with sandwich crusts on it from two days ago, a book he'd been meaning to finish but hadn't, a tablet computer with a dead battery, a new battery for a different tablet computer that he didn't have anymore, two chargers for phones he wasn't using, and a pack of gum.
His Siamese cat announced herself by meowing a hello and then leaping up onto the back of his vinyl couch and walking across it toward him. She headbutted his hand as he passed, and he gave her a few absentminded pets. Her food bowl was empty, so he filled it, and gave her some clean water.
Geoff grabbed his Baton of his coffee table. Inactive, it looked like its namesake – a black, plastic stick about the size and circumference of a cigar. But when Geoff registered his fingerprint on a panel on one side of the Baton, it split open, and a flexiglass screen unrolled itself from within.
As usual, in grabbing his Baton, he nearly knocked over two empty beer bottles and a martini glass. He really should clean up the place, but bah.
He sat down on his couch and swiped open his social networks. One of his friends had posted a picture of a cat. Another of his friends was eating a sandwich. A third friend was feeding a sandwich to a cat. A fourth friend was very angry about something, and there was a whole long heated argument that had Godwined within twelve comments. Someone else had posted something from a website Geoff knew was full of inaccuracies but was relied on unquestioningly by people who adhered to the No Pepper diet/lifestyle/religion. Someone had posted a comment to the No Pepper post with a link to an actual well-sourced news article disproving the original article, and the original poster had been quick to question the credibility of the news article, claiming that the pro-No Pepper website had “done the research” and that was all the original poster needed to know. Another friend wanted him to try a new VR game that was free at first but required periodic payments to actually advance.
And so on and so forth.
All of these tech devices, and it's still all just cats, inane arguments, and porn, isn't it? Geoff sighed and swiped upwards on the Baton. It rolled itself back up.
Geoff realized he didn't know what time it was, or whether he needed to get ready for his date. He opened his Baton again and was immediately drawn into a web article about a new way to clean your dishes using only air, and then spent another ten minutes scrolling through a forum of people interested in antique scooters, and then was curious about whether there were any old scooters for sale nearby, and then was curious about the difference between four stroke and two stroke scooters, and then saw an ad for a new bar nearby and clicked on that. After a little while he closed the scroll again.
Geoff realized he still didn't know what time it was, even though he now remembered that he'd opened his Baton specifically to look at that. He opened it back up and looked at the clock.
It was 6:30, and he had to be at the restaurant in 30 minutes. Shit. He realized he didn't have time to change, but he figured the corduroy blazer he'd worn to the interview would be fine, right?
Only the cat was now sleeping on it. Damn. He ran to his bedroom and rummaged through his closet. He sniffed the underarms of the shirt he was wearing. He was fine there, and the shirt looked good, it was just sort of a boring and corporate button-down. Not exactly date wear. He needed to accessorize a little bit.
He realized that most of his clothes weren't in his closet; they were in various piles of clean laundry heaped around his bedroom. He was good about doing laundry. He just wasn't great about putting it away.
So everything was wrinkled and unwearable, and much of it was also covered in cat hair.
He decided to keep the shirt and black slacks he was wearing, just add his black leather motorcycle jacket to the mix, and call it good. He also put on a hat. Then he took off the hat. He thought about the hat. He found a different hat. Then he thought he might wear a scarf instead. He wondered if he could take this scarf and use it as kind of an ascot. No. He decided to forget the scarf and the hat. He rummaged around wildly for his keys, found them, patted himself down, realized he didn't have his phone wallet, scrambled around until he found that, opened the door of his apartment, looked down, and realized he was barefoot. He put his keys down, rummaged around for his boots and a clean pair of socks, managed that, and then spent another chunk of time trying to find his keys again.With six minutes until his date was to arrive at a restaurant that would take him twenty minutes to drive to, Geoff finally had everything. He took a deep breath and walked out of his apartment.