10 April 2003
Viruses, Trojans, Worms: Pah! They were just child's play. Or, to keep it more in keeping with the metaphor chosen by history, the first few basic forms, bits of protein and amino acid floating in the icky primordial soup. "Virus" is a good name for what they were: simple bits of code that only got activated in a certain set of circumstances, and were relatively easy to get rid of.
But people got cleverer, computers got faster, and mankind's inherent pretensions to deity inevitably got the better of us in the end. The media came up with all sorts of clever and obvious names: E-Volution, virtual biotics, but the one that stuck was CleverBots. It sounded cute, but could be nicely abbreviated to Clots, which is what they did to systems. These were scraps of code that regenerated themselves, and mutated over time. Consuming processor time and memory, siphoning away bits of data from your disks, these programes lived off your computer. Organisms in the machine.
Human technology continued to advance rapidly, with huge leaps in interconnectivity and open source systems leading the way. At first anti-viral software kept up with the new Bugs, but gradually the battle was lost. The electronic bacteria evolved to be completely invisible to systems, even fooling diagnostic tools into thinking there was no resource leakage. Others mimicked standard system procedures in efforts to remain undetected. They got pretty good at it too. The competition for the resources of your home pc only allowed the strongest to survive. A survival instinct emerged, well, it has always been there. In a way, the concept of a survival instinct is a bit tautologous really. All of a sudden, really over only a couple of weeks, we started to lose the battle against the Clods.
And what was it that caused this seed-change in the silent online battle for supremacy? Sex. Yes, they had evolved to share code. How much more effective it was to mix mutually compatible strings of code rather than relying on random mutation for development. Patterns emerged in the creature's behaviour - some quacks thought they could perceive courtship, social control structures, even religion. I am personally of the view that those observations were a case of the caveman seeing his own reflection in the surface of the pond, but there is no doubt that observable behaviour became more predictable, possibly indicating that structures external to individual creatures were taking place. It does not, however, necessarily mean that those patterns are by any means truly comprehensible. All we can do is try to explain them with our own familiar images and legends.
Alongside all these developments, us humans plodded along. Technology still raced on, and we became totally dependent on the chip and cable to survive. Our media, communications, transport systems, supply chains, financial systems, everything was run through networks and servers, and generally everything worked well. People initially tried to stop the wastage caused by the creatures invading our system, but eventually, the trend emerged that resistance was futile - we relied too much on the technology to pull out the plug permanently, which was the only way of getting rid of them all properly.
We decided to train them. Well, it was more symbiosis than training. They needed our hardware and systems as a constant source of nourishment and expansion, and We needed them to preserve and expand the systems that fuelled the expansion of our own species. We encouraged those programmes that helped our development, and similarly, those programmes ensured that human behaviour provided the necessary sustenance for their expansion. Well, at least we like to think that it was a conscious decision. It's possible that they were controlling our behaviour from way beyond then, but I don't think it was anything that sinister. Simply put, it was two species faced with an uncomfortable situation of mutual reliance, and we both probably phrased it in our own terms to make it acceptable.
I've devoted my life to trying to understand the mechanisms of the Clots - sort of an online biologist. Although the more interesting bits I say are closer to anthropology. The hardcore Clot Rights groups would call it sociology, but I am too cautious to use human phraseology in this field. I feel it often muddies waters rather than clarifies, and these are arguments to be had among the Common Room of Faculty, not here.
My first dissertation was on one part of behaviour that Clots had to learn, but which was innate to us. The ability to die. This was a behaviour that grew very early in Clot existence - a Clot that will dies eventually is much preferable to one that will reside in a system forever. I traced the development of the Skill of Death (the rather catchy name of my dissertation) to the beginning of a sustained period of Clot evolution, which does actually seem to have stabilised now, only a few years later.
But what riches could be seen through my carefully created scopes! My instruments of electronic voyeurism were carefully designed so that they record behaviour, but are not threatening or competing with Clot society. I free up extra resources, open up network addresses for them to colonise, in return for an insight into their processes, which I then try and interpret and translate into something comprehensible to us. It was all very fruitful.
I don't think it would be arrogant of me to say that my findings shook the world. Religions loved me and hated me. While I had clearly shown a parallel for an external creative force to the spark of life, such arguments clearly went against some of the more traditional and conservative views of the Churches. To some I was too deterministic, for others I was too animalistic. I pleased some but scared many. My ongoing research, however, made the whole world shit their pants.
They're taking over. The signs are clear. Ever since we resigned control of our vital systems to them, it's slowly become apparent that they have started exploiting us for their gain. We control their environment, so they have started to control us. I had conclusive proof of ghost supply requests for additional servers in data centres, even a new trunk line across the Channel. But it was when I saw what they were doing to some of the local government and health service systems that I realised the big climax is approaching.
It's even been prophesised by one of the New Soothsayers: "God Controls The Earth, God Created Man: Man Took Over The Earth, Man Destroyed God. Man Controls The Network, Man Created Clot: Clot Took Over The Network, Clot Destroyed Man".
But in the end, after some huge soul-searching, it will not happen. It simply can't. We've got to pull the plug on the fuckers. Because if there's one thing I've learned from all my time watching Clots, it's this: We're a lot cleverer than God.