No oil for bandwidth.
Dail "F" for Frankenstein
Arthur C. Clarke
At 0150 Greenwich Mean Time on December 1, 2005 , every telephone in the world started to ring. A quarter of a billion people picked up their receivers to listen for a few seconds with annoyance or perplexity. Those who had been awakened in the middle of the night assumed that some far-off friend was calling over the satellite network that had gone into service, with such a blaze of publicity, the day before. But there was no voice on the line, only a sound that to many seemed like the roaring of the sea to others like the vibrations of harp strings in the wind. Whatever it was, it lasted no more than twenty seconds ; then it was replaced by the dialing tone.
The worlds subscribers cursed, muttered, Wrong number, and hung up. Some tried to dial a complaint, but the line seemed busy. In a few hours, everyone had forgotten the incident except those whose duty it was to worry about such things.
At the Post Office Research Station, the argument had been going on all morning and had got nowhere.
I still thing, said Willy Smith, the solid-state electronics man, that it was a temporary surge of current, caused when the satellite network was switched in.
It was obviously something to do with the satellites, agreed Jules Reyner, circuit designer. But why the time delay? They were plugged in at midnight; the ringing was two hours later as we all know to our cost. He yawned.
What do you think, Doc? asked Bob Andrews, computer programmer. Youve been quiet all morning. Surely youve got some idea ?
Dr. John Williams, head of the mathematics division, stirred uneasily. Yes, he said. I have. But you wont take it seriously.
That doesnt matter, Andrews continued. Even its as crazy as one of those science fiction tales you write under a pseudonym, it may give us some leads.
Very well, he said. This is something Ive been wondering about for years. Have you ever considered the analogy between an automatic telephone exchange and the human brain?
Who hasnt thought of it? scoffed one of his listeners. That idea must go back to Graham Bell.
Possibly ; I never said it was original. He glanced up at the fluorescent tubes above the table. Whats wrong with the damn lights? Theyve been flickering for the past five minutes.
Maybe somebody forgot to pay the electricity bill. Dont worry about it. Lets hear more about your theory.
Most of it isnt theory ; its plain fact. We know that the human brain is a series of switches neurons interconnected in a very elaborate fashion by nerves. An automatic telephone exchange is also a system of switches selectors, and so forth connected together with wires.
Agreed, said Smith. But arent there about fifteen billion neurons in the human brain ? Thats a lot more than the number of switches in an autoexchange.
Fifteen billion might sound a large number, but it isnt. Round about the 1960s, there were more than that number of switches in the worlds autoexchangs. Today, there are approximately five times as many.
I see, said Reyner very slowly. And as of yesterday, theyve all become capable of full interconnection, now that the satellite links have gone into service.
Let me get this straight, said Smith. Are you suggesting that the world telephone system is now a giant brain?
In short, its achieved some form of consciousness.
But what would it use for sense organs? asked Reyner.
Well, all the radio and TV signals in the world would be feeding information into it, through their landlines. That should give it something to think about. Then there would be all the data stored in all computer ; it would have access to all that, and to the electronic libraries, the radar tracking systems
Oh, it would have enough sense organs! We cant begin to imagine its picture of the world, but it would certainly be infinitely richer and more complex than ours.
Yes, but what could it do except think? asked Reyner. It couldnt go anywhere ; it would have no limbs.
Why should it want to travel? It would already be everywhere! And every piece of remotely controlled electrical equipment on the planet could act as a limb.
Now I understand the time delay, interjected Andrews. It was conceived at midnight, but it wasnt born until one-fifty this morning. The noise that woke us all up was --- its birth cry.
What would this supermind actually do? Would it be friendly hostile indifferent? Would it even know that we exits, or would it consider the electronic signals its handling to be the only reality?
I can only answer your question, said Williams, by asking another. What does a newborn baby do? It starts looking for food. He glanced up at the flickering lights. My God, he said slowly, as if a thought had just struck him. Theres only one food it would need electricity.
And babies break things, said someone softly.
It would have enough toys, heaven knows. That Concorde that went over just now uncomfortably low. The automated production lines. The traffic lights in our streets.
Funny you should mention that, interjected Small. Somethings happened to the traffic outside its been stopped for the last ten minutes. Looks like a big jam.
I guess theres a fire somewhere too I heard an engine.
Ive heard two and what sounded like an explosion over toward the industrial estate. Hope its nothing serious.
Even it Johns ingenious fantasy is correct, said Smith, we only have to switch off the satellites and well be back where we were yesterday.
Prefrontal lobotomy, muttered Williams. Id thought of that.
He ? Oh, yes cutting out slabs of the brain. That would certainly do the trick. Expensive, of course, and wed have to go back to sending telegrams to each other. But civilization would survive.
I dont like this, said Andrews. Lets hear what the old BBC has got to say the one oclock news has just started.
He reached into his briefcase and pulled out a transistor radio.
unprecedented number of industrial accidents, as well as the unexplained launching of three salvos of guided missiles from military installations in the United States. Several airports have had to suspend operations owing to the erratic behavior of their radars, and the banks and stock exchanges have closed because their information-processing system have become completely unreliable. One moment, please there s a news flash coming through
Here it is. We have just been informed that all control over the newly installed communications satellites has been lost. They are no longer responding to commands from the ground According to
The BBC went off the air ; even the carrier wave died. Andrews teached over for the tuning knob and twisted it around the dial. Over the whole band, the ether was silent.
Presently, Reyner said, in a voice bordering on hysteria, That prefrontal lobotomy was a good idea, John. Too bad that babys already thought of it.
Williams rose slowly to his feet.
Lets get back to the lab, he said. There must be an answer somewhere.
But he knew already that it was far, far, too late. For homo sapiens, the telephone bell had tolled. http://www.cybered.co.th/eng/DIAL.html