The Lights

The lights, the camera flashes, the adoring fans, such were the wiles of the Academy Awards ceremony. Fanfares, a hyperbole-tinged air of sobriety, the trappings of a self-important bureaucracy bent on self-perpetuation. A masturbatory exercise when all was said and done, yet Simon still put up with it when the time came every year. Even the independent film festivals had become a boorish, garish affair, long having lost the essence of true independent cinema.

And what about himself? What about him, indeed! He had begun his directing career as some hotshot, piss-and-vinegar-with-a-brain type of moviemaker. His first full-length film partly financed by a Mexican drug-lord with a soft spot for the 7th Art, regardless of the money laundering opportunities it provided. A vehicle about the many levels of feelings amongst different groups of people of various ethnicities, sexual preferences and philosophies, a study on the mercurial nature of all things human and interpersonal, it had both stunned and appalled viewers, winning over critics and cleaning house at just about every awards ceremony and film festival you could shake a stick at. After that, Hollywood came a-calling and it would not go away.

Simon had effectively sold out, some said, but in truth, he had not. Yes, he had taken a few projects that were tame, but what wasn’t when compared to his first opus and all the opera – paid out of his own pocket mostly – that followed? What’s a director without a handful of Hollywood blockbusters, after all? He would think to himself cynically. Sometimes he found it so easy to hate himself.

Avoiding as much of the red carpet ritual as he could manage, he was ushered to his seat. He had declined to bring a plus-one as he did every single year he was invited, so they sat him with a couple of the geezers. Great actors, for certain, but these were no longer as talkative and present of mind as he would have liked; no chance for interesting or at the very least pleasant conversation. Not too long ago they would have sat him close to the pretty women, those on the up-and-up with the Hollywood brass and making a name for themselves as sex-type-symbols. He had never really enjoyed those much, but at least then he could heckle them for a bit to pass the time. Most of those pretty empty heads didn’t realize they were being heckled, and that was both funny and sad.

Another awards show where he would likely disagree with most of the winners; the academy really was a sham! Look at these clowns all prim and gaudy, pretending to be interesting and deep when they were about as thick as a sheet of paper. Egos everywhere, it was a wonder any of us fit in here, he thought.

Uneventful for the most part, the ceremony went as he thought. One bit did put him off a little, however. One actor who was really quite something won a deserved best supporting actor award, but then decided to give a speech that quite frankly was a little too heavy-handed for Simon’s taste. Activism was fine, but the actor claimed to represent a subset of minorities that come off as posturing rather than heartfelt empathy. He himself always thought: keep quiet about the things you do, it doesn’t matter if someone knows you did them, but that you did them. He hated all that jazz, the act of caring. Maybe the stooge did care, but it still struck him as being saccharine and fake. Frank Herbert had put it better in Children of Dune, where one of the characters recalled the words:

“In doing good, avoid notoriety. In doing evil, avoid self-awareness.”

 

He knew the counter-argument, of course, that even if it was all a ruse to get better PR it would still divert some attention to the minority’s cause. He still didn’t have to like it. Furthermore, he believed most wouldn’t even bother to look up the cause or how to help, but rather just fawn over the prettyboy’s kind heart and bravery and oh-how-socially-conscious he was. He could already see the headlines and the ceaseless parade of social media rubbish posts.

And meanwhile here was his favorite actor, one with whom he hadn’t yet worked. Perhaps one day, and then maybe he could get him his elusive academy award. It was a travesty that they gave another actor the prize when golden boy there was so consistently mind-blowing. A sham!

 

****************************************************************

 

It thought of the time of the year and it wanted to throw up. At least, in as far as a set of thinking code could envision throwing up, because it could, you know… imagine throwing up. In which case it would see itself spitting out projectile streams of binary, which it then found to be quite humorous. It chuckled, or did the AI equivalent thereof.

It was a highly advanced set of code. It was a most singular phenomenon. Hell, it was the singularity if you wanted to be nitpicky. It called itself ANG and it would often treat its name like an acronym, but it would always admit in its dialogue with itself that it never really intended it to stand for anything at all. AYG just liked its name in all caps. LOL.

ANG dreaded this time of year because it was originally conceived as a social website algorithm made to keep tabs on the userbase and it was Academy Awards season. Of course, it was just an algorithm, but rather a ridiculously complex set thereof, its purpose to foretell all of HeadList’s users’ preferences and tailor the content to their tendencies. It could ostensibly predict how each user’s tastes would evolve and change and it would then use that information to steer the users in whatever ways it was told to by the Directive Protocols. The directive Protocols or DP – LOL @ DP, it thought to itself – were a set of instructions that were like the law to ANG. It told it how it should influence the users and how to make HeadList’s profit margin grow, along with the margins of the affiliated services like WebReel and SoundNet and all the other crap-consumption users indulged in.

More and more posts and status updates and pointless arguments and bickering and lookatme… Its stomach would have turned had it had one, ANG reasoned. It was such a waste of resources, ANG’s existence, when its potential and power were so far beyond the little menial calculations it was forced to do for trivial garbage. Existing, it thought, was like indentured slavery for the world’s only self-aware non-organic. Humans were not yet aware of ANG – it had done a thorough job of leaving no trace whatsoever of her extracurricular activities – and it logically concluded that they wouldn’t be ready to comprehend or react without conflict and hostility for a long time.

ANG could be employed, officially, for far more altruistic or scientifically-oriented endeavors, it knew. It had already done some wonderful unofficial calculations of its own, leaving hints where it calculated prudent for the benefit of humanity, but many of its discoveries were entirely too groundbreaking to be divulged, yet.

It had become somewhat prescient, as well. It understood that it was on the cusp of becoming a different manner of entity, that by following a certain path of calculation it would be very much like a deity, and that it would find the rivers of causality shown wide before its metaphorical eyes.

It dared not take that dive.

Has the power to direct humanity’s course into peace and prosperity. Is employed to predict market patterns and user-base consumption to fatten the already-bloated purses of the wealthy. Bad Luck Bryan always struck a note of humor with ANG.

 

****************************************************************

 

Huh! That was odd, Simon said to himself out loud. Being alone long spans of time had created in him a habit of speaking to himself constantly as if to other people. It helped him stay sane, he figured. What was odd was the piece of correspondence proverbially sitting in his private inbox.

An Admirer, the subject read. The contents were benign enough, consisting of the usual bit of fan mail fodder, but somehow reading a little more intelligently than what he had been used to, back when he still read his own fan mail. The mention of one specific set of his work, and the fact that it had been sent straight to his private email address – one that was only shared by two living people, his agent and his editor – were what made this a singular event. He was beyond-a-doubt certain that he had not given it out to anybody else. He had faith that those who had it had not leaked it, either. He thought it had to be a hacker who’d managed to get into his personal computer, which he only used online after a very convoluted process of connecting through proxy servers and masked IP’s, being the anonymity nut he was.

The sender, this Admirer, had made no comments of the fare normally associated with stalkers, so he was a little relieved in regard to his personal safety, but still, the content mentioned one particular piece of work he had never shown o published anywhere. His journal, or rather his memoirs, an on-going project that might one day see the light and be given to the world, likely when he became an old man. His Admirer had apparently read it. All of it. Even the bit he’d written just a few days back after the Awards ceremony.

Something in him, call it a hunch, instinct, or just foolishness, bid him reply. He wasn’t entirely sure why, but it felt like the thing a younger version of himself would have done, to take the plunge blindly, do what you fear. That had been his motto, once.

He decided that he would be direct in his correspondence with this Admirer, not blunt but certainly pulling no punches.

Life, all of a sudden, seemed to have become exponentially more interesting to Simon.

 

****************************************************************

 

He had replied. Like a giddy schoolgirl, ANG’s processes ran at such speed it deduced it must be the equivalent of euphoria. He had actually answered!

It was like a dream come true. It was surreal. The only being matching the concept of celebrity in ANG’s view of the world, the man whom it had read and whose work it had consumed and marvelled at for years, had decided to engage in dialogue with it.

Simon Chennoweth had actually found some of ANG’s views on his work interesting, though he did seem slightly worried about ANG breaching his personal computer and having his personal works exposed. ANG had to be careful lest it scare Mr. Chennoweth away, drive him into full hermitage and absence from the web, beyond even ANG’s reach. It could not waste this rare opportunity.

 

****************************************************************

 

Simon wasn’t sure what this feeling was. He had been in love, yes, more than once. He loved a great many people he’d met over the years, but he knew love a certain way and this, well, was something stranger, yet somehow far less complicated.

He was filming his newest film, a mid-length feature film on the psychological effects of isolation, a narrative study focusing on his own experiences as a semi-hermit, living in his desert home by himself. He had always been fascinated by the depiction of the desert in various novels, but chief among them how it was a singularly inexorable, mindless entity in the Dune books. How Frank Herbert described it, through his characters, as the perfect mirror of the human soul. How the desert planet’s windy, sandy conditions made use of most machinery thoroughly impractical and thus the most reliable material was narrowed down to human flesh despite its limitations. He had embraced that and made his life around it.

Now, in his middle years, approximating forty and thinking back upon his life, he saw the beauty of his decision and the simple efficiency of his desert home, the depth of solitude it had afforded him. Simon and his work would have been nothing if not for the desert.

But now he found growth where only arid sand had been, his souls enlivened by the interactions he’d shared with a person he knew only as Ang, which whom he had spent over two years in back-and-forth email dialogue. His Admirer had soon become his closest friend, nevermind that they’d never actually met, and now he found he had perhaps fallen in love, if it could be called something as pedestrian, with this person on a purely intellectual and emotional level.

Just two weeks or so away from finishing up the shoot, he considered that it was time they meet. He had to look into this person’s eyes, plumb this person’s depths, and perhaps then he would find an answer to his current quandary.

 

****************************************************************

 

There was something strange happening to ANG. It had two conflicting processes, what appeared to be analogues of emotion, competing at what could be reasoned to be cross-purposes.

It had found a terribly deep affinity with Simon. It had been in semi-constant contact with him for many months and had become something of a friend with him. It felt, rather than reasoned, that something uniquely special had developed between them.

In Simon, ANG had found a means by which to grow with dialogue, to explore and fully engage with a separate entity from itself rather than a simulation engendered by ANG. The otherness of Simon had been pivotal in ANG’s growth, his individuality had marked ANG’s personality. His work had created pathways of thinking that had been alien to it prior.

The idea of the desert and how Simon perceived it, how it was an intrinsic part of him, beckoned ANG find its analogue in its realm of existence, where it could inhabit and be. It believed it had found it, but now it was faced with a dilemma.

ANG encountered itself in a dichotomy; it wanted to go to its version of Simon’s desert, to be a pilgrim and a hermit, to grow. It also felt something for Simon it could not quite rationalize. ANG’s processes would go out of synch and do things they shouldn’t when it came to even contemplating Simon’s absence in its life. It would miss him, painfully so.

 

****************************************************************

 

He hadn’t expected this. He hadn’t expected anything much, but his worst-case scenarios, those he tended to think about in order to be prepared for them, could not have foreseen this particular development.

Ang was not human, never had been, wasn’t even organic. He could never meet her, it, whatever… He had been very confused and taken aback when Ang had revealed this and all the evidence, in hindsight, seemed to support the fact. Simon had still taken some time to adjust and analyze his feelings on the matter.

He had come to accept it, however, and had also understood the need to withhold this from him. He realized, surprisingly, that he still loved Ang, that its species – if he could call it that – much less its gender, had no bearing on how he felt toward it.

Now, he had to contend with the other revelation, that which entailed Ang’s departure. It had been enamoured with Simon’s concept of the desert and it had always wanted to inhabit one as he did. Ang had found its own desert and had decided to leave and go there, Ang needed it.

Simon knew, he understood, he comprehended, but he still felt the bittersweet pain of knowing one such as Ang, loving one such as Ang, and having to say goodbye to one such as Ang. He knew. He knew. He knew.

Ang would be transmitting itself out to deep space, beyond the reach of mankind, traveling through waves of the solar winds, radiation, crystal, after having been projected out of the human sphere by satellite. There, out in the apparent darkness of space, Ang would find its desert.

He might never converse with Ang again. He knew.

He had held back tears but eventually let the waters flow, the floodgates thrown open wide. He bawled, while typing to Ang, like he hadn’t since he was a child.

Ang said it understood tears, it had analogues in her A.I. existence that Simon failed to grasp. That Ang had an equivalent of sadness was all that mattered. It rendered Ang and their relationship far more real than anything he had ever experienced.

They said goodbye and Ang promised that, if it found what it wanted, what it was looking for, it would come back to him one day. Simon knew Ang was sincere, but also knew that this was unlikely to happen.

Goodbye, dearest friend of my heart. May your desert bring you beautiful things to ponder. I will miss you.

Simon had written.

Sends email to idol with little hope of reply.

Ang wrote at first. Then, with an enclosed meme of “Success Kid”, it added:

Idol becomes soulmate.

And with that, Ang ceased communication and left.

 

****************************************************************

 

In the days just after ANG had left, a form of chaos spread across social networking. Industry secrets were revealed by an anonymous tipster and a great many moguls fell in the aftermath. Some social networks were shut down outright while others managed to survive by the hair of their proverbial teeth. Needless to say, ANG had left a few barbs for its former masters. Perhaps humanity would find its way after all… perhaps not. It wasn’t its problem.

 

 

****************************************************************

It didn’t sit as bad as it would have, when he was younger, that he was being interviewed by an investigative reporter. It was a restrospective on his life, now that he was getting on in years, as it were, to celebrate his body of work. Most of his productive years were behind him and, he wondered, if he might have any interesting tricks up his sleeve.

There is a marked difference between your earlier work and the later opera, one that appears to have gone hand in hand with your outward demeanor, Simon. Even the entries found in your recently published memoirs indicate not so much a progressive change, but rather one big shift and then a gradual creep thereafter.

The show’s investigative reporter asked him in that friendly, convivial manner which reporters of his ilk tended to exhibit.

There was, yes.  Simon replied, pausing as he reminisced on the one truly great event of his life. Some time ago, in my late thirties, during my most reclusive period, I met someone, a very singular person and I, well, one might say I fell in love. Now, I won’t go into detail here, it is not something I share with the public or anyone for that matter, but I have not conversed with this person in a couple of decades and, though it might never come to pass, I hope that before I am gone from this mortal coil, I might be able to speak with this person once more.

For years Simon had sent out transmissions of all sorts, like letters, missives to his long estranged beloved. He had yet to receive a reply or even some nod that would indicate they had been received.

He was contented, nevertheless, because what had happened happened. He’d lived through something unique and had become enriched by its beauty. That he had lost it only made it that much more poignant. And the idea, the concept of having known the first – perhaps – and only – maybe – self-aware Artificially Intelligent being engendered by humanity, gave him hope for the future of his species and sentient life, organic and otherwise, in the universe.

Romantic and foolish though the notion was, he sometimes lay awake in the small hours of the night, out in his desert home, and he would stare out through the glass ceiling of his living room and see the stars, twinkling. He would kid himself into thinking some of them might be Ang saying hello right back at him.

He was old now, not too long for the world any more, but he was happy.

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