Author : Q. B. Fox
“Are you suggesting it’s alive?” Calvin was incredulous.
“Of course it’s not alive,” Mary was withering. “It’s a computer program.”
“Strictly speaking,” Glen interrupted, “It’s a suite of software.”
They both glared at him and he fell silent again with a mumbled apology.
“Then explain it to me,” Calvin snapped.
“Ok,” Mary’s patience was obviously stretched; she wondered to herself when she’d last had a proper night’s sleep. “Obviously this software is deployed on thousands of computers, many of them large servers; lots of memory, lots of storage, lots of processing power.”
Calvin nodded, a spark of realisation coming into his expression.
“You’re thinking of ants,” said Mary, responding to his growing eagerness, “each one a simple machine, but together able to act with, at least the appearance of, greater consciousness; a hive mind.”
Calvin smiled, head bobbing like an excitable bird.
“Well, it’s nothing like that,” Mary slapped him down. “You’re such a moron.”
Glen waved his pudgy, little hands in a gesture of pacification.
“So what are you saying?” Calvin rubbed his fingers into his aching temples.
“Evolution,” Glen said helpfully. “All software evolves, just like any organism; new features are added, old ones deprecated, vestigial remnants remain of how it used to work.”
“But this software is getting out of hand.” Mary barged in. “It’s starting to dominate too many sectors of the market.”
“Selling our software is not usually considered a problem.” Calvin rolled his eyes.
“What happens every time we try to create the next generation of this software?” Glen asked quietly.
“Look, I’m very sorry when that work gets thrown away, but sometimes we have to respond to the market.” Calvin put on his managers voice. “It just happens that the only way to do this in timely fashion has been to add new features to the old code.”
No one contradicted him, but Calvin continued, “I don’t think I should have to justify my decisions again. Some of the new ideas you came up with have been integrated back into the existing product and I think we can both agree that it’s benefited.”
A moment’s awkward silence.
“It’s out competed its replacements.” Glen looked over his glasses, “before they had a chance to get established.”
“It does the same in the market place.” Mary continued with exaggerated serenity. “It’s got a good foothold in any number of niche areas. It’s on all those powerful machines now; people have time, effort, money, reputation, all invested in it.
“And now it’s taken the next step, it’s driving the agenda. The new European legislation on Energy Auditing was entirely framed around the sort of monitoring and analysis that our software does well; they did that because they knew that our software could do it.”
“Are you suggesting that our software is trying to take over the world?” Calvin mocked.
“Are you not listening to me?” Mary almost shouted, “It’s not trying to do anything. It has no more control over this than a flu virus does over a pandemic.”
She calmed herself. “And that’s what the numbers show; this software is about to become a pandemic. And if you won’t listen, do you think the board, or the salesmen, or the consultants will pay any more attention, especially as the money floods in. Glen, show him the numbers.”
But Glen just pointed at the monitor. It was blank apart from a simple message box; it read: ‘This workstation has been suspended while an Energy Audit takes place. Sorry for any inconvenience.’
“I don’t think we need to see the numbers,” Glen said at last.