Perpetual Motion. Part 4 of 5. Nthposition, Sept 2010

Part 1 here.  Part 2 here Part 3 here . Full story here



Scene 9. A scene of explication

With enormous fanfare, the Creative Online project, or CREON, was launched to create an artificial creator, one that would presents its works online to the admiration of the world, and to the further alienation of the proletariat. It was supposed to be a self-organising system, whose individual components would define and refine each other. It was being protyped by Professor Nicholas Davis in the University of Teeside, where I obtained a post in administration in the School of Information and Communication Technology. UTICT was the rather disgusting sounding acronym the School operated under – you can appreciate the importance of the single word “Communication” in staving off disaster.

I organised the teaching programme in UTICT – drawing up timetables, ensuring rooms were booked, ensuring lecturers were reimbursed for direct teaching. I made sure that the students were registered and logged into the online teaching system, which naturally enough was terribly old and constantly crashed. I was inwardly amused at this example of technology’s uselessness, as well as it dehumanising  effects (for where once the students and teachers would have simply got on with it by just talking and listening to each other, any glitch in the system led to a petulant sulk on the part of all concerned) I was reliable, hardworking, uncomplaining, and always happy to do what irked and irritated my colleagues, and indeed the academics.

With the exception of Professor Nicholas Davis. He was something of a legend in IT in general, with the much quoted Davis’ Law – a self-regulating is not only smarter than you think, it is smarter than you can think – being one of the cornerstones of the artificial intelligence movement. His writings were as bombastic and visionary as he himself was quiet, polite, considerate and unshowy. He didn’t mind, indeed positively seemed to relish, doing a lot of his own administration work, and while I may have been indispensible to everyone else in UTICT, he was an island.

CREON was a pan-European project, one that came enwrapped in the jargon of that elite bourgeois cabal, the European Union. It was a project of our time, a self-consciously decentralised, network-based enterprise that was in fact the creation of one man. Nicholas Davis, I began to realise in my time in UTICT, was an intellect far removed from the others in the School. Without ego, without greed, without hope of personal glory, he had created this vision. And do not let the propaganda about self-organisation fool you – CREON was an electronic personality created by Davis and living on a computer in his office in UTICT. In a functional room in a functional building near Middlesborough, the most radical and destructive force in history was taking shape. A machine that could create.

When I say “living on a computer”, I mean exactly that. CREON was, when I started, a few algorithims, a few theoretical papers, a few thoughts and notes in Nicholas Davis’ head. As I gained increased influence in UTICT, and began to insinuate myself into the daily rhythms of life there, until no one recalled a time before I arrived when things got done without me, CREON took shape. The key to his office was the one that I did not have, and could not get without attracting attention. CREON began to move from existence as a few gobbets of theory to existence on a small server in a room adjacent to his office. Davis participated fully in the undergraduate and postgraduate teaching of UTICT, and attended all the various discussion groups and seminars, but he held CREON aloof from all this. Occasionally other eminences would arrive from elsewhere in Europe, and spend time with him. A conference – CREONCON – was approaching in New York, at which he would unveil the creative intelligence to the world.

This was the time I began to forge trust with Davis. Preparing for the conference involved not only a lot of phone calls and meetings, but mini-conferences and workshops and sundry other reasons for enforced travel, which meant that Davis had to rely on someone else to administer much of the CREON work at UTICT. That someone was me. While Davis was away, I would supervise the many test runs of CREON. This meant I was given access to the computer.For now CREON was neither on a few pieces of paper nor on a gigantic mainframe, but on a desktop in Davis’ office.

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