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Mutual admiration society, thought Scott. What a pile of D.C.

horses.h.i.t, but this Pierre was playing the game better than the congressional denizens. As Pierre spoke, the corners of his mouth twitched, ever so slightly, but just enough for the observ- er to note that he took little of these formalities seriously.

The lone TV camera rolled.

“My statement will be brief, Mr. Chairman, and I am sure, that after it is complete you will have many questions,” Pierre said.

His tone was kind, the words ominous.

“I am not a technical person, instead, I am a dreamer. I leave the bits and bytes to the wizards who can translate dreams into a reality. Software designers are the alchemists who can in fact turn silicon into gold. They skillfully navigate the development of thoughts from the amorphous to the tangible. Veritable art- ists, who like the painter, work from tabula rasa, a clean slate, and have a picture in mind. It is the efforts of tens of thou- sands of dedicated software pioneers who have pushed the fron- tiers of technology to such a degree that an entire generation has grown up in a society where software and digital interaction are a.s.similated from birth.

“We have come to think, perhaps incorrectly, in a discreet quan- tized, digital if you will, framework. To a certain extent we have lost the ability to make a good guess.” Pierre paused.

“Think about a watch, with a second hand. The a.n.a.log type. When asked for the time, a response might be ‘about three-thirty’, or ‘it’s a quarter after ‘, or ‘it’s almost ten.’ We approximate the time.

“With a digital watch, one’s response will be more accurate; ‘one- twenty-three,” or ‘4 minutes before twelve,’ or ‘it’s nine thirty-three.’ We don’t have to guess anymore. And that’s a shame. When we lose the ability to make an educated guess, take a stab at, shoot from the hip, we cease using a valuable creative tool. Imagination!

“By depending upon them so completely, we fall hostage to the machines of our creation; we maintain a constant reliance upon their accuracy and infallibility. I am aware of the admitted parallel to many science fiction stories where the scientists’

machines take over the world. Those tales are, thankfully, the products of vivid imaginations. The technology does not yet exist to worry about a renegade computer. HAL-9000 series com- puters are still far in the future. As long as we, as humans, tell the computer to open the pod bay doors, the pod bay doors will open.” Pierre elicited a respectful giggle from the stand- ing room only crowd, many of whom came solely to hear him speak.

Rickfield doodled.

“Yet, there is another viewpoint. It is few people, indeed, who can honestly claim to doubt the answer displayed on their calcu- lator. They have been with us for over 20 years and we instinc- tively trust in their reliability. We a.s.sume the computing machine to be flawless. In many ways, theoretically it is per- fect. But when man gets involved he fouls it up. Our fingers are too big for the digital key pad on our wrist.w.a.tch-calculator- timer-TV. Since we can’t approximate the answer, we have lost that skill, we can’t guess, it becomes nearly impossible to know if we’re getting the right answer.

“We trust our computers. We believe it when our spreadsheet tells us that we will experience 50% annual growth for five years. We believe the automatic bank teller that tells us we are overdrawn. We don’t question it. We trust the computer at the supermarket. As far as I know, only my mother adds up her gro- ceries by hand while still at the check-out counter.”

While the image sank in for his audience, Pierre picked up the gla.s.s of ice water in front of him and sipped enough to wet his whistle. The crowd ate him up. He was weaving a web, drawing a picture, and only the artist knew what the climax would be.

“Excuse me.” Pierre cleared his throat. “We as a people believe a computer printout is the closest thing to G.o.d on earth. Di- vinely accurate, piously error-free. Computerized bank state- ments, credit card reports, phone bills, our life is stored away in computer memories, and we trust that the information residing there is accurate. We want, we need to believe, that the ma- chines that switch the street lights, the ones that run the elevator, the one that tells us we have to go to traffic court, we want to believe that they are right.

“Then on yet another hand, we all experience the frustration of the omnipresent complaint, ‘I’m sorry the computer is down. Can you call back?'” Again the audience emotionally related to what Pierre was saying. They nodded at each other and in Pierre’s direction to indicate concurrence.

“I, as many of us have I am sure, arrived at a hotel, or an airport, or a car rental agency and been told that we don’t have a reservation. For me there is an initial embarra.s.sment of having my hand slapped by the computer terminal via the clerk.

Then, I react strongly. I will raise my voice and say that I made a reservation, two days ago. I did it myself. Then the clerk will say something like, ‘It’s not in the computer’. How do you react to that statement?

“Suddenly your integrity is being questioned by an agglomeration of wire and silicon. Your veracity comes into immediate doubt.

The clerk might think that you never even made a reservation.

You become a liar because the computer disagrees with you. And to argue about it is an exercise in futility. The computer cannot reason. The computer has no ability to make a judgment about you, or me. It is a case of being totally black or white.

And for the human of the species, that value system is unfathoma- ble, paradoxical. Nothing is black and white. Yes, the computer is black and white. Herein again, the mind prefers the a.n.a.log, the continuous, rather than the digitally discreet.

“In these cases, the role is reversed, we blame the computer for making errors. We tend to be verbally graphic in the comments we make about computers when they don’t appear to work the way we expect them to. We distrust them.” Pierre gestured with his arms to emphasize his point. The crescendo had begun.

“The sociological implications are incredible. As a people we have an inherent distrust of computers; they become an easy scapegoat for modern irritations. However, the balancing side of the scale is an implicit trust in their abilities. The inherent trust we maintain in computers is a deeply emotional one, much as a helpless infant trusts the warmth of contact with his parents.

Such is the trust that we have in our computers, because, like the baby, without that trust, we could not survive.”

He let the words sink in. A low rumbling began throughout the gallery and hall. Pierre couldn’t hear any of the comments, but he was sure he was starting a stink.

“It is our faith in computers that lets us continue. The reli- gious parallels are obvious. The evangelical computer is also the subject of fiction, but trust and faith are inextricably meshed into flavors and degrees. A brief sampling of common everyday items and events that are dependent on computers might prove enlightening.

“Without computers, many of lifes’ simple pleasures and conven- iences would disappear. Cable television. Movies like Star Wars. Special effects by computer. Magic Money Cards. Imagine life without them.” A nervous giggle met Pierre’s social slam.

“Call holding. Remember dial phones? No computers needed.

CD’s? The staple diet of teenage America is the bread and b.u.t.ter of the music industry. Mail. Let’s not forget the Post Office and other shippers. Without computers Federal Express would be no better than the Honest-We’ll-Be-Here-Tomorrow Cargo Company.”

“Oh, and yes,” Pierre said dramatically. “Let’s get rid of the microwave ovens, the VCR’s and video cameras. I think I’ve made my point.”

“I wish you would, Mr. Trew-Blow,” Senator Rickfield caustically interjected. “What is the point?” Rickfield was making no points taking on Pierre Troubleaux. He was too popular.

“Thank you, Senator, I am glad you asked. I was just getting there.” Pierre’s sugary treatment was an appropriate slap in Rickfield’s face.

“Please continue.” The Senator had difficulty saying the word ‘please’.

“Yes sir. So, the prognostications made over a decade ago by the likes of Steve Jobs, that computers would alter the way we play, work and think have been completely fulfilled. Now, if we look at those years, we see a multi-billion dollar industry that has made extraordinary promises to the world of business. Computer- ize they say! Modernize! Get with the times! Make your opera- tion efficient! Stay ahead of the compet.i.tion! And we listened and we bought.

“With a projected life cycle of between only three and five years, technology progresses that fast, once computerized, forev- er computerized. To keep up with the compet.i.tive Jones’, main- taining technical advantages requires upgrading to subsequent generations of computers. The computer salespeople told us to run our businesses on computers, send out Social Security checks by computer, replace typewriters with word processors and bank at home. Yet, somewhere in the heady days of phenomenal growth during the early 1980’s, someone forgot. Someone, or more than likely most of Silicon Valley forgot, that people were putting their trust in these machines and we gave them no reason to. I include myself and my firm among the guilty.

“Very simply, we have built a culture, an economic base, the largest GNP in the world on a system of inter-connected comput- ers. We have placed the wealths of our nations, the backbone of the fabric of our way of life, we have placed our trust in com- puters that do not warrant that trust. It is incredible to me that major financial inst.i.tutions do not protect their computer a.s.sets as well as they protect their cash on hand.

“I find it unbelievable that the computers responsible in part for the defense of this country appear to have more open doors than a thousand churches on Sunday. It is incomprehensible to me that privacy, one of the founding principles of this nation, has been ignored during the information revolution. The ma.s.sive data bases that contain vast amounts of personal data on us all have been amply shown to be not worthy of trust. All it takes is a home computer and elbow grease and you, or I, or he,” Pierre pointed at various people seated around the room, “can have a field day and change anybody’s life history. What happens if the computer disagrees with you then?

“It staggers the imagination that we have not attempted any coherent strategy to protect the lifeblood of our society. That, ladies and gentlemen is a crime. We spend $3 trillion on weapons in one decade, yet we do not have the foresight to protect our computers? It is a crime of indifference by business leaders. A crime against common sense by Congress who laws and then refuses to fund their enactment. Staggeringly idiotic. Pardon me.” Pierre drained the water from his gla.s.s as the tension in the hearing room thickened.

“We live the paradox of simultaneously distrusting computers and being required to trust them and live with them. We are all criminals in this disgrace. Maybe dGraph more than most. Permit me to explain my involvement.” The electricity in the room crackled and the novice CNN producer instructed the cameraman to get it right.

“Troubleaux!” A man’s gruff accented voice elongated the sylla- bles as he shouted from the balcony in the rear. A thousands eyes jerked to the source of the sound up above. Troubleaux himself turned in his seat to see a middle aged dark man, wearing a turban, pointing a handgun in his direction. Scott saw the weapon and wondered which politician was the target. Who was too pro-Israel this week? He immediately thought of Rickfield. No, he didn’t have a commitment either way. He only rode the wave of popular sentiment.

Pierre too, wondered who was the target of a madman’s suicide attack. It had to be suicide, there was no escape.

Scott’s mind raced through a thousand thoughts during that first tenth of a second, not the endless minutes he later remembered.

In the next split second, Scott realized, more accurately he knew, that Pierre was the target. The would-be victim.

As the first report from the handgun echoed through the cavernous chamber Scott was mid-leap at Pierre. h.e.l.l of a way to grab an exclusive, he thought. He fell into Pierre as the second shot exploded. Scott painfully caught the edge of the chair with his shoulder while pushing Pierre over sideways. They crumpled into a heap on the floor when the third shot fired.

Scott glanced up at the turbanned man vehemently mouthing words to an invisible ent.i.ty skyward. The din from the panic in the room made it impossible to hear. Still brandishing the pistol, the a.s.sailant began to take aim again, at Scott and Pierre.

Scott attempted to wiggle free from the tangle of Pierre’s limbs and the chairs around them. He struggled to extricate himself but found it impossible.

A fourth shot discharged. Scott cringed, awaiting the worst but instead heard the bullet ricochet off a metal object above him.

Scott’s adrenal relief was punctuated by a loud and heavy sigh.

He noticed that the a.s.sailant’s shooting arm had been knocked upwards by a quick moving Capital policeman who violently threw himself at the turbanned man so hard that they both careened forward to the edge of the balcony. The policeman grabbed onto a bench which kept him from plummeting twenty feet below. His target was hurtled over the edge and landed on two wooden chairs which collapsed under the force. The shooting stopped.

Scott groaned from discomfort and pain as he slowly began to pull away from Pierre. Then he noticed the blood. A lot of blood.

He looked down at himself to see that his white pullover shirt, the one with Mickey Mouse instead of an alligator over the breast pocket, was wet with red. As was his jacket. His left hand had been on the floor, in a pool of blood that was oozing out of the back of Pierre’s head. Scott tried to consciously control his physical revulsion to the body beneath him and the overwhelming urge to regurgitate.

Then Pierre’s body moved. His chest heaved heavily and Scott pulled himself away completely. Pierre had been hit with at least two bullets, one exiting from the front of his chest and one stripping away a piece of skull exposing the brain. Grue- some.

“He’s alive! Get a doctor!” Scott shouted. He lifted himself up to see over the tables. The mad shuffle to the exits continued.

No one seemed to pay attention.

“Hey! Is there a doctor in the house?”

Scott looked down at Pierre and touched the veins in his neck.

They were pulsing, but not with all of life’s vigor. “Hey,”

Scott said quietly, “you’re gonna be all right. We got a doctor coming. Don’t worry. Just hang in there.” Scott lied, but 40 years of movies and television had preprogrammed the sentiments.

“Drtppheeough . . .” Scott heard Pierre gurgle.


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