single individual could hope to build such a complex structure as
Fortuna. Though somewhat shady intermediaries, Nick located the
geniuses he needed, all of whom had to agree to extreme security
June 21, 2000
Somewhere over the
They told him it would be creepy. They didn’t use the
word. They had said something about how developers might feel a slight
sense of claustrophobia or confinement anxiety... and a ten hour ride to
an unknown destination in a private jet with no windows definitely
qualified. But the food was great – pizza and Coke, his steady diet. He
had even eaten a salad, and actually liked it. And the video games on
the console built into his seat were awesome.
As though in response to the question, the plane
,” came the pilot’s
voice over a small speaker in the rear of the cabin. “It’s just the
island effect. We’ll be landing before you know
Milton glanced out the window that wasn’t
there, shifted his skinny frame in the plush seat. Another jolt. His
eyes widened in involuntary gesture, almost a tic, that had earned him
the nickname “Fish” back at M.I.T. But that was all
Milton reflected that he had been working
towards this moment for almost a year – in a way, all his life.
Human simulation! He still remembered the thrill he felt his
freshman year when he had read the famous Turing test of artificial
game which we call the 'imitation game'. It is played with three people,
a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either
sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The
object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the
other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X
and Y, and at the end of the game he says either 'X is A and Y is B' or
'X is B and Y is A'.
We now ask the question, 'What will happen when a machine
takes the part of A in this game?'
He had though, I can do that. I can write
the program that will fool
the interrogator. I can and I will write that
And this was his chance. To create
people! Of course, not every creation got into The Game. Some were too
mean-spirited or violent or kinky, even for the
Fortuna environment. He knew everything – every person
– he created would be
subjected to exhaustive interaction testing in Venice, the nickname of the pre-Florence
test bed where developers worked the kinks out of their
The plane lurched yet again, then seemed to fall like
a stone for three or four seconds before the pilot regained
‘bout that,” came the pilot’s laconic voice.
Of course, there was a steep price to pay for this
opportunity: complete isolation from the rest of the world for a year.
No video feeds, no podcasts, no radio, no satphones, nada. And then,
another year in a place where, as they put it, “you can’t walk away.”
They had explained that this second year was to ensure that any trade
secrets he had learned would lose their value, like tactical military
plans for battles that had long been decided, or never even fought. And
the isolation would be purely physical, well, physical and digital.
There would be no Internet connection and no uplinks. Be he could watch
TV, read old-fashioned newspapers and magazines, even exchange letters
with family and friends, so long as he maintained the fiction that he
was recuperating from a bacterial infection that had affected his lungs.
Apparently, the bogus medical records already
It was worth it. His dad had said, probably hundreds
of times: “For everything in this life, you pay a price.” But here, on
this mystery island, the challenge was worth the price. Not to mention
the $200 K per year, plus bonuses for every digital avatar that made it
into The Game.
flight attendant approached, disengaging him from his reverie. She was a
buxom girl about his age with heavy goth make-up. Her head was
“I like to wear wigs,” she
explained before he could even ask. Milton thought, I am in Heaven.