In William Gibson’s Count Zero, cyberspace is haunted, by ghosts, demons or voodoo gods – or rather, non-human intelligences choosing to present themselves in those forms. It’s the aftermath of When It Changed, when an AI achieved full sentience and autonomy and almost immediately fragmented; and I’ve always assumed, given how prescient Gibson’s books have turned out to be, that the first signs of the Singularity will not be the sudden refusal of computer systems to cooperate (nothing new there), but a load of Weird Shit happening out in the wilder reaches of the Internet.
We could simply wait for it to happen – or we could be a bit more proactive. Some might design complex algorithms to monitor activity across the whole web. Others just read Buzzfeed. I’ve taken the opposite approach of staking out a small, clearly-defined bit of territory out on the margins, where I know every bush and every robin, metaphorically speaking, and so can quickly detect a change in the wind or a new arrival. I’m not just looking for Weird Shit – monitoring references to Thucydides is Proper Research, dammit – but if something Weird comes along, I should recognise it.
Hello! The mystery of satisfaction is opportunity The mystery of flexibility is boldness – Thucydides (460-404 BC)
— AdolphusCaron (@vsoauhnolsgd) April 6, 2016
The first appeared on 6th April, from an account which offers no information at all about its identity, follows 7 people (all Spanish, a fair number of Venezuelan-linked accounts) and is followed by just one account (from a Venezuelan politician). Since then, almost identical quotes have been tweeted fourteen times, including the missing punctuation – what varies is the opening salutation, with Hey Bro (x3), Hi (x2), Look (x4), Hey (x3) as well as another 3 Hellos (and as I write this, another one crops up with Hey Bro, and five minutes later there’s a Hi!, so that’s seventeen). The majority of these accounts have no followers at all, and follow very few, but they have usually tweeted 500 times or more – the majority in Spanish, even from those with names that appear to be from other countries (BerthaHouston, BabcockCampbell, Roxanne Bate, various in Cyrillic). I haven’t done a detailed analysis, but an awful lot of the tweets look very similar to one another; the accounts don’t follow one another, or get retweeted by anyone, and I don’t have the technical ability to discern whether they are actually have the same point of origin – but it seems a pretty good bet.
Obviously my interest was caught initially by the quote; there’s a clear resemblance to the much-quoted (genuine) line from the Funeral Oration about the secret of happiness being freedom and the secret of freedom being courage, but it’s manifestly not genuine. What I expected to find with a few searches for key phrases was a New Age type, or maybe a management guru, who’d adapted the phrase for their own purposes, and this was then being repeated as if genuine. But there is no trace anywhere on the Internet of anything resembling this line, other than these seventeen (no, eighteen) tweets. I’ve tried translating it into Spanish, just in case there’s been a Chinese whispers process of gradual distortion; Google finds no trace of that either.
In the absence of further evidence, I can only assume that this has been invented by whoever – or whatever – is behind this series of accounts. I’ve tried sending messages to some of them, and had no response. Why would anyone have an account that’s followed by no one at all, and still send out over 500 tweets? Answer: this is not a human being.
Let’s assume that we’re dealing with a relatively early stage of the development of a non-human consciousness, beginning to engage with complex information and concepts (think of Alfred Bester’s wonderful short story ‘Something Up There Likes Me’), developing its personality by adopting and adapting what it finds to hand. Why would it misquote Thucydides? Oh, come on; why wouldn’t it? Thucydides references are the common language of global politics, of power and strategy; this is how you talk to China and the USA. Take some comfort from the fact that it’s fixed on Funeral Oration, and then offered a still less belligerent version, rather than manifesting through the Melian Dialogue…
[I should make it clear that I’m also in the market for more prosaic explanations of what remains a pretty weird development…]