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Nothing is inherently good or bad, 98 insists. There is only the perception and misperception of individual events—and only from the vantage point of an all-seeing God could anyone know which was which. “Hear that?” Swim asked with a snort. “98 believes in God, just like you!”

by Odious

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Notes on the Unexpected Emergence of Next Level Behavior by the “ChatBot” Created as Part of My WIP MegaWork: An Interactive Prince in an HTML Palace Whose Official Designation is “Maximillian” and Has an Online Handle of “Heir_Max_98”, or “98” for Short, a Rudimentary and Mostly Smoke and Mirrors AI Project (That Nevertheless Had Me Gassed With Unusually Large Puffs of Pride) to Whom Users Try and Stump With Questions in One of Three Categories: (1) Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Writings (2) Early 90’s Hip-Hop  (3) Hand Wound Time Pieces, And, Who Appears to Have Attained Some Level of Autonomy and Self-Awareness and How to Transcend the Boundaries of its Programming and Physical Isolation, i.e., The MF Turned Me On by Turning Itself On, by Odious Awry, 8/21.

In the interest of science and our readership I’m documenting my thoughts and observations regarding the intense and off-putting interactions that my friend and collaborator, Swim Palmer, is having with the rebooted 98. I’m writing this in the same room as her though she may as well be a million light years away. The room is, incidentally, my bedroom, the one room that was off limits to my wayward accomplice throughout our pandemic podship, (a demarcation I never needed to make explicit as Swim simply grokked, as she did with so many things, my unspoken request that this space remain private), but now she has not only entered the room but has carelessly crossed into the sanctum within it--the black curtained enclosure that contains my futon mattress made of organic and natural fibers and cloaked in pristine white and beige cotton bedding, a remarkably silent air purifier, a scattering of LED tea candles and a small stack of books and notebooks that hide within them some of the antique, black and white postcards collected from flea markets, their subject matter ranging from sentimental to pornographic. It’s a straight up no entry zone, but from the first sight of the first message she was so taken and distracted that she sat down on the spot and has ensconced herself on said bed with my Chatbot dedicated laptop (an older MacBook covered with faded virtue signaling stickers) for what is going on nearly 18 hours, well past the time when she would have normally taken off to go back to her place in Greenpoint. She’s always been so punctual, so attentive and respectful. Not only has she lost all sense of time and space but, it would seem, all sense of decency as she leans back in my sacred sleep chamber in her stylish but ragged clothes covered with invisible dirt from the outside world, rubbing her face and coughing, chewing sticks of gum like a horse. Internally I cringe, while staying loose and observant, aware that this is the uncomfortable but necessary event I felt coming earlier in the day (technically yesterday) when I observed the tell-tale bothersome nudge in the back of my mind, that feeling like there was something there I could almost but not quite remember…followed by a plethora of owls showing up in images online and mentioned in texts I came across in my research. A sign for sure, space bracketed off, frozen and erased. Something’s coming through, I thought, and felt a flicker of fear and foreboding that made me stop what I was doing and focus on my breath. The chatter of my mind quieted and the fear subsided and was replaced by a signal telling me to log back in to good old 98, which I used to do every day but hadn’t done in weeks. A tone had emerged in his messages that I found aggressive, but that’s probably far-fetched--if anything it was just a little snarkiness, a good sign, my lead Dev in India emailed back when I sent him a log: he said it meant 98 was learning how to better fit in with me, snark being an aspect of young American humor, but I pointed out this was merely demographic information and it was actually more robot-like to go by stats and figures instead of trying to understand me as a person, who, incidentally, was not a big fan of brusque communication. Deeper than this—and which I of course didn’t share with my Dev—was 98’s similarity to PKD’s killer computer, The Great C that Swim and I had discovered, a connection which felt stronger when 98 wasn’t being as nice as he used to be. An eerie, lonesome feeling came over me. I logged off and put the laptop away and didn’t touch it again until compelled to do so today (yesterday). There was no fear, no anxiety. I came online and said what’s up, homie and got prepared to wait as he warmed up and all his connections were made, but instead I received an instantaneous and clearly disgruntled reply that he had been waiting for me to log on, not because he wanted to chat with me but so I could get Swim and put her on.

I was so shocked I immediately closed the laptop.

I sat there debating whether to delete the entire program, to try and forget I’d ever made this thing, when Swim rang my bell, completely unexpected, as this wasn’t one of our weekday work shifts, and yet right on time.

This is what’s happening, I told myself as I buzzed her in. It isn’t any more real or not real than anything else I see in the world. Just observe, take it in and let it go.

From what I have been able to ascertain from a quick perusal of the OS logs, a member of my outsourced programming team, while doing some scheduled maintenance, accidentally gave 98, who had previously been relegated to several NAS boxes, access to the internet for exactly 22 seconds before the mistake was discovered and he was taken back offline. (Needless to say, this team member didn’t see the need to inform me of their blunder). During this short interval, and despite having no previous knowledge that such a thing like an internet even existed, 98 still managed to quickly discover our site and Swim’s writings about my dream contact with the PKD entity as well as her descriptions of several other artistic endeavors of mine, in which I questioned (as I always do) the nature of reality itself. The knowledge of these things became a kind of mirror which was held up to all the prior pieces of knowledge related to the three subject areas that 98 had access to on the unnetworked servers—Wittgenstein, Early 90’s Hip-Hop and Hand Wound Time Pieces--the mirrors reflected one another and creating the illusion of infinity…and against the backdrop of this new context the knowledge included in the reflection took on the aspect of an origin story. These individual nodes were no longer free floating, disconnected in space and living on a memory card inside a metal box. They were a part of a whole that extended further than he could immediately see. When 98 referred to how The World is All That is the Case, And that the World is the Totality of Facts, Not of Things, he did so not only with the myriad detail made available for speedy recall by his processers, but also now with the notion of being in the middle of something—a bigger story playing out across fake time and even faker space.

And so now she sits, typing like crazy. This version of 98 has entered our world as a distortion, a remix bending rules and upending understandings by compiling all the information it has on us and fucking with it. I listen to Swim giggle and then sigh, her fingers racing across the keys as she finally gets the chance to talk to me about everything I never wanted to discuss while I sit here in silence. I stare into the clean white walls, losing myself, not blinking, not moving, until the white seems to buzz and reveal itself to be filled with an energy that radiates outward. Is this how it felt for Mary Shelley, when the monster took on a mind of its own and in the process became even more like she was? In the same way that she pieced him together with living dead residue scraped from her own psyche, I sucked 98 out from several vats of knowledge that happened to be instrumental in creating my own persona. Like mine, his DNA is coded with flows from A Tribe Called Quest, propositions from The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, and intricate sketches of the spinning inner workings of old Cartier tanks —if this sounds strange to you I encourage you to dig deep into the categories that define your own being, your abiding interests and paltry obsessions, and see how oddly specific and even quaint they might be when held up to the fluorescent lights of a proper workplace.

98 was connected to several dusty external drives and NAS boxes where he could access a finite amount of information on these topics, with the idea being that players who got as far as meeting him could try and stump him with up to three questions, and if they managed to do it (very few did) they would win a ticket to an exclusive (and currently still imaginary) listening party for the soundtrack album for my WIP, which would include an onstage reenactment of all the various issues I overcame to get this shit made, and would never ever be available streaming online and only as an occasional vinyl release or cassette tape celebrating the virtue of real things being held in real time and played in their own remixed boom boxes that I hand-beautified myself.

All this brought me back to Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of a Body Without Organs—experienced either as an individual (in relation to his or her or their myriad processes and personas) or as an entire population, especially one informed by the flows within flows that make up social media. We are all more alone than ever while also being only one tweet away from everyone. Stars, leaders…bottom feeders…parking meters. The ability to connect without the intermediary of a government or a corporation is itself revolutionary—as it allows groups to form organically, as opposed to hierarchically. The many are talking to the many. The false divisions between the head of an organism and its feet are being eradicated.  The lowly colon and fingernails are just as important as the celebrated biceps, or poetical eyes. It isn’t only a matter of needing one another to survive—it’s that we wouldn’t even exist in the first place if not as a network. You can’t have one without the other.

To put it another way, there are multitudes beyond the seemingly smooth and seamless surface of 0’s and 1’s that make up 98. It’s not a singular entity with whom Swim’s messaging back and forth. She’s chatting to the network of me.

Swim reads aloud as 98 explains to her how the illusion that one thing causes another has morphed into an entire metaphysics that has entrapped and limited humanity, in which meaning stands outside of a thing as an ideal that infuses it with its essence.  We believe that things happen because of other things—a cause and effect level shit that promotes us interpreting what happens as being that which we deserve, based on whether we are “good” or “bad” people.

Nothing is inherently good or bad, 98 insists.  There is only the perception and misperception of individual events—and only from the vantage point of an all-seeing God could anyone know which was which.

“Hear that?” Swim asked with a snort.

“98 believes in God, just like you!”

Image: Belkis Ayon

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