Dyer arrived at Sigmund Hoestlers office a few minutes before 2 p.m.
He was shown straight in and to his mild surprise found that Vincent Lewis,
the Dean of the Faculty, was there too. Hoestler, a big man with sagging fleshy
cheeks and a shock of uncontrollable wiry hair, motioned Dyer into an empty
chair next to where Lewis was sitting, and leaned forward to come straight to
"Im afraid we have some very serious problems that are going to
affect you directly, Ray," he said in his usual throaty voice. "It
looks as if we may be forced to close down your unit."
Dyer was halfway through the process of sinking back into a characteristically
relaxed posture. The bombshell made him sit up again as if the chair had suddenly
acquired a few kilovolts. He knew that Hoestler was a man of few words, but
even so, the bluntness of the statement had caught him totally unprepared. He
had barely begun opening his mouth to frame a question when Hoestler spoke again.
"I only found out about it myself this morning. Vince was in Washington
over the weekend with the Secretary for CIM and some of his people. So dont
get the idea that its just petty local politics or anything like that.
Vince, you could probably tell Ray about it better than I could."
Dyer turned expectantly toward Lewis, his features contorted into a frown of
disbelief. Communications And Information Management was a comparatively new
executive department of state, formed eighteen years previously in 2010. Originally
it had been instituted in response to the need for a single authority to assume
overall responsibility for operation of the integrated data communications and
computing network that emerged when the military systems were declassified and
merged into the already integrated commercial-industrial-scientific complex
to form the earthcom net. When hesper nodes were later incorporated to transform
earthcom into the Totally Integrated Teleprocessing and Acquisition Network,
titan, the Department of CIM automatically became the administrative authority
for the NORAM Sector of the global system. As Hoestler had in effect said, the
Department of CIM didnt mess around with interdepartmental university
Lewis was impossibly tall and impossibly thin. He sat splayed in his chair
at all angles like a marionette whose limbs had come out of joint everywhere,
leaving him held together only by his clothes. When he was standing up he never
failed to cut a distinguished figure, with his elegant crown of white hair,
deeply lined face and inevitable immaculate, dark three-piece suit. Dyer had
always found him something of an aloof and remote kind of person, but right
now Lewis was showing every sign of distress and genuine concern.
"Certain events have happened recently, Ray, that have caused CIM to reconsider
the whole philosophy of adding hesper capability into the net," he said.
"Some very senior people are pressing for titan to be reverted back to
earthcom until we get firm answers to some important questions. In a nutshell,
theyre saying that the move to upgrade earthcom was premature, that we
didnt know enough about hesper at the time and we still dont, and
that hesper ought to be pulled out until we do."
Dyer looked from one to the other and spread his upturned palms.
"Events . . . ? What events?"
"About a week ago, titan came within a hairs breadth of killing
five people," Lewis told him somberly. Dyer stared at him incredulously.
Before he could say anything, Lewis went on. "It appears that hesper program
structures are capable of integrating to a far greater degree than anybody thought.
Theyre starting to link things together in ways they were never supposed
to and the results in behavior are impossible to predict."
Hoestler explained, in response to the still bemused look on Dyers face.
"It used the Maskelyne mass-driver to bomb an ISA survey team on the Moon.
Could have wiped them out."
"What?" Dyer turned an incredulous face toward Lewis but the
Dean nodded regretfully to confirm Hoestlers words.
"One of the hesper-controlled subsystems in the Tycho node was given the
job of shifting a piece of terrain that was forming an obstruction," he
explained. "It was supposed to use normal earth-moving equipment to do
it, but nobody bothered to tell it that. Somehow it managed to connect together
information from several subsystems that shouldnt have been connected,
and came up with what it thought was a better shortcut to solving the problem.
According to the people who analyzed the system dump afterward, it seemed quite
proud of itself."
Lewis went on to describe the incident on Luna in greater detail. As Dyer listened,
his initial astonishment changed to growing concern. In 2020 he had moved out
of neurological research in order to apply his knowledge of learning psychology
to the field of self-adaptive programming and, after spending some time at M.I.T.,
had come to CUNY to set up the hesper Unit, which had since gone on to spearhead
development of the very techniques that were now being applied worldwide to
transform earthcom into titan. His knowledge of the technicalities of hesper
programming was shared by fewer than a handful of people. If it was anybodys,
it was his baby.
"Unfortunately there happened to be an ISA team sitting practically on
top of the target," Lewis continued. "But naturally, that didnt
mean very much to the computers."
"Twenty sixty-pound packages of rock coming down at over a mile a second,"
Hoestler commented. "Every one was roughly equivalent to a two-thousand-pound
bomb." He shrugged and made a face.
hesper machines were learning machines, designed to be capable of identifying
connections between previously nonrelated factors in order to solve new problems
or to solve old ones in newer and better ways. But if what Lewis had said was
correct, this capability was beginning to extend itself in ways that had never
been intended, nor in fact even foreseen as possible. If the obstruction had
been on the edge of Maskelyne Base itself instead of out on some remote construction
site on Procellarum, there could easily have been a death toll of hundreds.
And if this kind of thing could happen in the circumstances surrounding the
events on Luna, what other kinds of things might happen anywhere, at any time?
They could easily instruct titan never to do that particular thing again, it
was true, and titan wouldnt, but that wasnt the point. The point
was that titan had demonstrated a capability to approach a perfectly reasonable
objective from a totally unexpected direction, and in doing so come up with
a solution that was inarguably rational from the machines point of view
but which, for other reasons that could never with the present state-of-the-art
be conveyed to the machine, was absolutely unacceptable. Its next such experiment
might well result in worse than a mere narrow escape.
"Okay." Dyer exhaled and nodded curtly. "I can see the problem.
What I dont see is how it affects the unit. What has all this got to do
with closing the unit down?" A new expression of disbelief spread across
his face as a possible answer struck him. "Youre not telling me theyre
panicking and putting a total ban on further research are you? Thats ridiculous!
Theyre gonna need all the expertise and facilities they can get if theyre
going to straighten titan out. Weve got just the"
Lewis interrupted with a wave of his arm and a shake of his head. "I didnt
mean were going to throw everybody out on the street," he said. "But
the projects that your unit is currently working on are probably going to be
stopped. That line of research is being funded by CIM with the aim of producing
the technology thats supposed to replace hesper one day. Now the guys
at CIM are saying that they dont even want to think about what comes after
hesper because its obvious we dont understand hesper yet as much
as we thought we did. In fact a lot of people are saying we should tear hesper
out of the system completely and only think about putting it back in when we
can prove its safe."
"In other words the money being spent on fise could better be spent on
other things for the time being, so fise goes down the tubes," Hoestler
"Im sorry, Ray, but it looks as if thats the way it is,"
Lewis said apologetically. "As you yourself more or less said a second
ago, theres going to have to be a big re-examination of the whole hesper
concept. Well probably be able to reassign your people to a new CIM contract
in that area as soon as some specific objectives have been worked out. In the
meantime, if I were you, I wouldnt waste too many nights sleep hoping
for any Nobel Prizes. Youll probably have to wrap it all up pretty soon."
Kim was just coming out of the lab when Dyer arrived back at the outer door
to his office.
"Hi," she greeted cheerfully. "Betty told me youve just
been over to see Hoestler. Did you get a chance to mention the business with
the graphics moms?" Dyer turned his head in her direction but his eyes
were far away.
"Uh? Oh . . . er no," he mumbled. "Im sorry.
I guess I must have forgotten about it." With that he walked on in, leaving
Kim wearing a puzzled frown.
He sat for a long time, staring at the papers on top of his desk. Lewiss
revelations had shocked him to the core in a way that he was only now beginning
to appreciate. He had been as convinced about the potential benefits of hesper
as he had about anything in his life, and he had devoted more than a little
effort to convincing others. titan had gone ahead on the basis of his recommendations
as much as anybodys. To be sure, the final decisions had not been his
to make, but the people who had made them had relied on the facts that he and
others like him had presented. And a whole world had relied on those people
and their advisers.
His mind went back to some of the things that Laura had said over lunch and
to the confidentalmost arrogantreassurances that he had voiced a
little over an hour before. Suddenly he felt far from reassured himself. He
didnt feel arrogant at all.
He rose and went through the inner door into the lab. Betty greeted him with
a couple of messages which he only half heard, one of which was a reminder that
some members of a research team from Princeton were due the next morning and
would be spending most of the day with the unit. Pattie tried beguiling him
with a silent, innocent, wide-eyed look which he ignored. At that moment Judy
Farlin came out of Kims office, rummaged around in a file drawer for a
few moments and then went back in carrying a folder. Dyer turned abruptly and
went back into his own office where he called the Superintendent of Internal
Services, bawled him out at considerable length and secured a guaranteed
reservation for Judy for the first thing the next morning. He came back out,
gave the details to Betty and asked her to pass them on to Judy. Then, feeling
a little better, he went on through to the lab bay to see how Ron and Chris
were getting along.
Hector propelled himself across the floor of the kitchen, stopped in front
of the broken window and paused while fise considered the situation.
"What happened?" Dyer asked. Ron, who was standing with his elbows
resting on the opposite side of the tank, raised his head.
"We told him that the garbage pail had to go out in the yard." he
explained. "So he threw it through the window." Dyer grunted and returned
his gaze to the tank.
Hector reached out and grabbed hold of one of the jagged fragments of glass
that remained around where the window had been. props immediately caused a vivid
red line to appear across Hectors hand. The gash proceeded to ooze blood
profusely but Hector ignored it and continued tugging experimentally at the
piece of glass in an effort to remove it.
"Hold it. Hold it there, Chris," Ron called out. The figure in the
kitchen froze. "Now fise, " Ron said, adopting his stoic voice. "There
are a few more things that you have to get straight about Hector. Glass cuts.
Hector does not like being cut. You dont cut bits off him or permit him
to be cut by anything if you can avoid it. Okay? You have to find a way to fix
the window without cutting Hector in the process." A few seconds elapsed
while Chris completed keying in the last addition to fises growing store
"Question," fises voice said from the grille.
"What?" Ron inquired.
"When Hector was shaving, his hair got cut. Why was that okay?"
"Oh yeah, I forgot that," Ron agreed. "When any part of Hectors
body starts to get cut it hurts, just like you already know for things that
are too hot. When he feels that, hell respond with a reflex that overrides
everything else hes doing. Hair is an exception. It doesnt hurt
when its cut. An unshaven face is not a nice thing. Shaving in the morning
"Thanks," fise acknowledged.
"Before you go any further, lets just try something," Dyer
suggested. "Id like to see how well it understood what Ron just said.
Chris, could you reset to the point just before where Hector grabbed at the
glass, and force the same action." Chris took a while to compose the commands.
Dyer and Ron watched intently as Hector flashed back to his previous starting
posture and approached the window once more. He grabbed at the glass as before
but this time his hand jerked back again instantly. props could justify no more
than a slight scratch.
"Not bad," Ron conceded, sounding impressed.
"Im almost tempted to suggest that we might be safe in upgrading
his IQ to one," Chris murmured, leaning back in his chair to stretch his
Dyer felt a sudden urge of excitement They were getting there! It was a slow
and tedious business, certainly, but the first signs were there. It was all
beginning to come together. To cut it off at this point would be tragic.
"Reset again, Chris, and let fise handle it himself," he said. "Lets
see if he can figure out a better way."
Hector tried several approaches, including wrapping his hand in the tablecloth
and then in a towel, but Ron vetoed all of them. Eventually fise gave up and
Ron supplied a hint by suggesting that if Hector looked in the utility closet,
he might find something with which to knock out the pieces of glass.
"The hammer is used for knocking things, but it would break the glass,"
fise protested. "You told me that breaking glass isnt okay. What
am I supposed to do?" Ron got excited again and delivered a lengthy exposition
on the profound insights required, after which Hector made a reasonable job
of clearing and cleaning out the window frame. Chris told props to materialize
a pane of glass and Hector placed it squarely in the frame after first, on his
own initiative, stopping to put on a pair of gloves that just happened to be
in the utility closet.
"This is interesting," Dyer commented. "Look. He didnt
just turn away. Hes waiting and watching the glass. fise has connected
it with something else hes learned somewhere thats telling him it
might not be very stable." Sure enough, props weighed up the shape and
angle of the pane, couldnt make up its mind and flipped a random number.
The pane began to fall inward. Hector stepped forward, caught it in one hand
and repositioned it more carefully.
Three enthusiastic roars of approval greeted the performance. For once, Ron
treated fise to a jubilant stream of ungrudging congratulations. Chris reconsidered
his earlier statement and suggested that the machine might qualify for whatever
IQ category lay above one. Although the thought had been half in his mind, Dyer
decided it was not the time to mention the things that had been said in Hoestlers
office earlier in the afternoon. After all, he told himself, Lewis had not gone
further than using the word "probably" several times. Nothing firm
had been decided yet.