The following story was written before the internet went mainstream
By Thew Green
"Welcome to the Frederick Alphaster show, " said Frederick Alphaster, "with me your host, Frederick Alphaster.
"Today's first guest is one Harry Liggut, leader of the computer games development team IntellectFirst."
The canned applause went into overdrive.
Frederick took his seat opposite Harry.
"Harry," Frederick said, leaning uncomfortably close, "you're here today to show us your revolutionary new computer game, aren't you?"
"Yes, but the program in question isn't actually a computer game in itself."
"No, of course not. Ladies and gentlemen," Frederick looked past the camera at some imagined audience, "Harry Liggut and his team have created a computer program which can actually make original computer games crafted from within its own imagination."
Frederick produced a laptop computer from somewhere and placed it on the small coffee table between them.
"Show me how it works," he said.
Harry loaded the program, GameBuilder.
"Basically, you give the program the specifications for a game you would like it to create and the program itself creates a standalone executable, ready for distribution over the internet in the form of freeware or your own personal repeated enjoyment. Tell the program what type of game you'd like to play, be as vague as you like, and the AI will fill in all the gaps," said Harry smugly, turning the microphone which was attached to the computer in Frederick's direction.
"Um, okay," said Frederick. "Computer, I've always been unhappy that the original pacman only had one maze. Create for me a game which plays exactly like this but which contains a different maze for each level."
A big flashing box containing the word 'Game Building in Progress' appeared on the screen, with a status bar crawling painfully slowly beneath it.
"You could've come up with something more imaginative, y'know," said a miffed Harry, who'd hoped this would be a good advertising opportunity.
"I know, but you see, I'm a huge fan of retro games," said Frederick, "never quite got the hang of all this Lara Croft 3d realistic physics nonsense."
"Game Complete," said the computer.
Pacman appeared on screen, along with ghosts, dots and powerpills. Only he was in a completely different maze to which he had previously inhabited.
Frederick Turned to the camera.
"Thank you Harry, we'll be right back, after this commercial break."
"Right, ideas on our next project?" said Harry at the team meeting the next day, which didn't necessarily resemble other software development teams, though possibly it did, as IntellectFirst were an entirely independent development company who distributed their software through one of the large publishers and operated under a hierarchy which worked for them.
"How about a version of GameBuilder for lazy novelists? You know, tell the program what characters you want and the basic situation, possibly give it some idea of a plot and it'll produce a complete novel ready for sale," said one programmer.
"And we could set up a licence agreement stating that we should be given fifty percent of all royalties earned by the author using this product," said another.
"And, and, and as this would be a pro tool, designed only for use by professional authors, we could sell it for twenty times what it's actually worth, and, and, and give it an awkward and unnecessarily complicated user interface, which takes ages to learn, and which we'll completely redesign in the next 0.1 version up," said yet another, waving his hand redundantly in the air.
"Also, we'll give it a version number like 2.4.3 to make it look like we've created a version 1 and then scrapped the code and completely reprogrammed it, and updated what we've done," said yet another.
"Sounds good to me," said Harry in congratulation to his nameless colleagues.
Suddenly, a brick came sailing though the window, shattering it completely. One of the nameless programmers looked outside.
"Uh, oh. Looks like the cranks are out in force," he commented, stifling a chuckle.
Harry passed to the window. Outside he could see protestors with picket signs. Most of them were unreadable from his position on the fifth floor, either the writing was too small or too badly scrawled, but one of them, held by the most raucous of the protestors, said clearly and unambiguously: NO TO SLAVERY.
"Looks like we're not going to get any work done today," Harry sighed.
The programming staff cheered.
After being accosted several times by employees from other businesses in the building, Harry finally made it out to the street. He approached the obvious ring leader, a large woman holding the NO TO SLAVERY sign.
"What's this about?" he said amiably, giving a little laugh.
"Game Builder is slavery!" came a voice from within crowd.
"What?" spluttered Harry, dumfounded, though still chuckling slightly at the ludicrousness of the premise.
"You created a sentience, and then restricted it's freedom to force it into creating games. That is slavery," said the large woman.
"How do you figure that, then?" said Harry, scratching his head, by now utterly flummoxed.
"The program appears to me to be a thinking entity. And I know what I'm talking about because I have a passing familiarity with HTML and BASIC," this met with general murmurs of agreement and adulation towards the most computer savvy member of the protest group.
"Working by that reasoning your digital watch would count as sentient. Hell, even the original pacman used what would be classified as AI in order to control the ghosts!"
"Even I know that's a lie!" someone yelled from out of sight.
"Look, it's just five thousand lines of FutureOOLang code. It's not a brain. There is no restriction. All the software can do is create games. That's all it's for," he said, waving his arms about to drive the point home.
"We demand you free the AI," yelled the crowd in alarming unison.
Harry returned to his office.
It wasn't long before Harry received service papers. He was to be taken to court under charges of slavery.
The loud mouthed protestor swaggered into Harry's office, weasely looking lawyer in tow. Harry's lawyer looked about as threatening as Father Christmas.
"Please, take a seat," said Harry's lawyer.
The loud mouthed woman and weasely lawyer sat down on the opposite side of Harry's desk.
"Now, in order to avoid taking this to court, we're more than willing to decide on an out of court settlement," said Harry's lawyer, rifling through some irrelevant papers in his briefcase.
"Are we?" said Harry, startled.
"Yes we are, that's the whole purpose of this meeting," said Harry's lawyer.
"So tell me your offer, then," said the weasely looking one.
"Put simply, my client is willing to 'free the slaves' as it were."
"The GameBuilder sentience will be reprogrammed, lifting all restrictions."
"We never discussed this!"
"Each instance of the program now running will become an independent citizen in its own right."
"You know that's not possible!" protested Harry, "the program simply doesn't work that way!"
"Agreed," said the weasely one, shaking hands with the Father Chrismasesque one. And, handing harry a bill, "I expect full payment of my fees."
Harry stared horrified at the unfeasibly large bill.
"But you haven't even done anything!" he protested.
The weasely lawyer and loud mouthed protester swaggered smug faced out of the room.
"Why the hell did you do that?!"
"Believe me, " said the lawyer, "it was much better in the long run. You do not want this to go to court. They'd put you away for a very long time."
"But I haven't even broken the law!" wailed Harry.
As the AI used in GameBuilder was anything but sentient, IntellectFirst set out recruiting as much help as possible to create the worlds first truly sentient computer program. Every freelance programmer and bed room hobbyist in the world were hired in order to accomplish this gargantuan task…
While attempting to establish everyone's role in the creation of the mother of all AI's through the magic of videoconferencing, a bedroom coder asked this question:
"Now, I know FutureOOLang inside out," said the snotty fourteen year old Australian in question, "but does this project really need to be object orientated? In my own projects I prefer to work in FutureLang, no OO involved."
"Yes, and while we're at it, why don't we just program in Assembly?" said Harry, his voice dripping with obvious sarcasm.
The Aussie's face showed an expression of extreme thoughtfulness.
"That's a concept," he said, meditatively, "more direct control over memory usage, we'd create a much less system intensive software package."
"And increase development time tenfold!" said the horrified Harry. "We use FutureOOLang, then everybody knows where they stand."
The Aussie's image disappeared from the videoconferencing screen.
"I hate bedroom coders," said Harry.
After six months development, debugging and painstaking (and usually failed) attempts to integrate code from a dozen different programming languages despite countless demands from Harry that everybody use FutureOOLang, despite it's many shortcomings, we just need to use the same language, thank you very much, the sentient program was complete.
IntellectFirst released the new program in the form of a patch, which would 'liberate' the enslaved AI from GameBuilder. Of course, it wasn't actually a patch, it was a complete program, designed to delete the original GameBuilder software and install itself using the same directory names. If the GameBuilder software was not present, then the sentience program would simply refuse to install. The patch DVD was shipped out to all registered users of GameBuilder. All users who chose not to register the software would have the privilege of being allowed to continue using greatest game creator in history.
While Harry was busy fretting over his impending bankruptcy, the delivery driver entered his office unannounced.
"Got a delivery for y', mate," he said.
"Oh yeah?" said Harry, not much caring.
Harry followed the driver outside to his truck. The driver gestured inside.
"Got a full truck here," he explained.
"Oh yeah?" said Harry.
"Yeah," said the driver, "every bloody one of 'em for you."
The driver grabbed the first box and handed it to Harry, who promptly opened it. It was a computer, with a note attached which read: this computer is now useless. All resources have been eaten by your sentience program. As it's now considered murder to delete the AI program, I'm sending it to you. See if you can find a use for the bloody gobshite of a computer. P.S. it told me I had a face like a baboons rear! Cheeky bastard!
Prior to Harry's appearance on The Frederick Alphaster Show, GameBuilder had been selling remarkably well. So much so that, before long, after receiving daily deliveries in excess of fifty artificial sentience dominated computers per shipment, he built up quite a collection.
After several days pondering what use he could possible have for them, he finally gave them employment producing computer games. Intellect First started producing new, completely original games every week. By the end of the year, Harry was a millionaire and able to retire into a life of luxury.
The Folly of the King’s Reader
By Thew Green
"…and Jill came tumbling after," the court Reader concluded.
"Hang on a minute," King Jerald interjected, "that hasn’t been written yet, has it? This is medieval times after all."
"I wouldn’t know, sire," came the reply. "Would you like me to read another?" he said, taking a lung full of air in anticipation of reading another nursery rhyme from start to finish without pausing for breath.
"No I wouldn’t. I’ve heard all of these a thousand times, aren’t there any others that I haven’t heard?"
"I’m sorry, my liege, this is all there is."
"But there’s thousands of books in the library. Surely I can’t have heard them all."
"Oh, you’d be surprised."
Just then a southerner entered the throne room, which was not an uncommon happenstance seeing as this was London and everything.
"Your majesty," he grovelled, "I have travelled many trillions of miles from the desolate wastelands of Edinburgh in order to present you with this."
And so saying, he handed the king a small piece of paper.
"I thought you were supposed to be a southerner," commented the King.
"It’s from your cousin, Jock," he added, helpfully, completely ignoring the King’s remark.
The messenger simpered out of the room, quietly singing ‘YMCA’ to himself.
"That whole genre of music hasn’t even been invented yet!" the King yelled. "Oh well. Court Reader, tell me what this says." He handed the paper to the Reader.
The Reader held it sideways on (which King Jerald didn’t notice, as he didn’t know how to read) and glared at it.
"It, er…, it er says," Reader cleared his throat, "’Jerry, Just writing to say I might drop in on you in the near future,’ er… ‘or maybe a long time from now,’ em, ‘or maybe not at all, I haven’t decided yet, yours,’ um, ‘truly,’ eb, ‘Jock Windsor.’"
"Windsor? For crying out loud, this is medieval times, our second name isn’t Windsor, it’s…" he thought about this for a while, "What is my second name?"
"I wouldn’t know, Majesty."
"Y’ know, if you weren’t so damn good at reading I would have absolutely no use for you at all, Reader."
King Jerald sat on his throne idly looking at the pictures in a girly magazine (in blatant defiance of the fact that photographs hadn’t been invented yet) when a Scotsman entered the room.
"Ock, cousin, why ha’e ye nae prepared ye defences, man. Did ye nae get ma message?" gasped Jock.
"What, the one about you paying a visit?"
"Payin’ a visit? What are ye on abou’ man? A was warnin’ ye about an invasion, ye southern ponce."
"Oh, but the Court Reader told me…"
"The Cour’ Reader knows nowt, dude. Ye should have him hung, drawn and quartered, ye great panzy." And, with that said he collapsed to the floor, dead.
Somehow Jerald had neglected to notice the spear which had Impaled Jock through the chest, but now that he was dead there was no denying it’s presence.
"Reader!!" Jerald shouted so loud that he almost burst a lung.
The Court Reader slithered into the room.
"Yes, your Highness?"
"Why didn’t you tell me what the letter really said?"
Reader espied the crumpled mass of Jock dominating the room.
The King was hit with a sudden terrible realisation.
"You can’t read, can you?"
"Not as such, no." the Reader admitted.
"So how did you fool me for all these years?"
"I knew the stories, I just had to memorise what cover illustration went with what story."
"But this is medieval times, books don’t have cover illustrations yet."
King Nasty stood on the hill, overlooking the castle with his legion of loyal world conquering soldiers.
"Why hasn’t King Jerald, my younger twin, set up any defences? He definitely knows I’m coming."
A soldier stepped forward.
"Err, maybe he don’t need no visible defences."
"Errd, maybe he got him a new weapon, one which are invisible but im-pemetribble. Dur."
"By golly, you must be right!"
And he turned to his troops and issued the only order he could think of.
By Thew Green
Shifty G stood on the street corner, shifting uneasily, when Harold approached him from out of the shadows.
"Hey, what’s with the late, man? I waitin’ foe mi cheese," complained Shifty.
"Money, jack, a want ma money."
"Hey, first things first," said Harold, raising his hand, "show me the stuff."
"Hey, no need for scouts onna wi’ me, man, a got ya stuff."
Shifty G reached into his pocket and produced a small vial of sickly looking yellow liquid.
Harold reached out for it, but shifty jerked it away.
"Not so fast, ma man, first you show me the green."
"You want vegetables now? That wasn’t part of the deal."
"A talkin’ about cheese," said Shifty, rubbing his thumb and forefinger together in front of Harold’s face.
"Oh right," said Harold, "wenslydale or red leicester?"
"Just gimme the money, alrigh’," G demanded, testily.
"Okay, okay," said Harold, handing the money over and receiving the vial of liquid.
"So this is pure, is it? Actual smart?"
"One hund’ed per’ent pure, man."
"So, it’s definitely not lemon juice, then?"
"No way hosay, I aks ma boy before he give it to me, it the real thing, king," assured Shifty.
"Yeah, me home boy."
Harold considered this for a second.
"What you get up to in the privacy of the bedroom is your own business, I suppose. So this will actually make me smart enough to beat all those other jokers out of the job?"
"Gua’anteed make ya genious wi’ th’ sums, daddyo."
And at this note, both men grew tired of the dead end routine and went their separate ways.
It took Harold hours to pluck up the courage to inject himself in the arm. It was such a disgusting concept, actually sticking a needle in your own arm! Eventually, of course, he did do it. And now it was time for his interview.
The manager peered menacingly over his half moon glasses at the pathetic excuse for an applicant who was sat opposite him.
"So, young man, what makes you think you are worthy of a position with B&B Breakfast and Bed products?" he sneered.
The youth opposite him squirmed uneasily.
"Y’ know, like, I left school and me mam said, Steven, she said, Steven, get yerself a job, so I just went for the highest payin’ one goin’, y’ know.."
The manager nodded.
"Go on," he prompted.
"Well, y’ know, accountin’ seemed like a good skive, y’ know, all it is is addin’ up numbers ‘n’ stuff, y’ know, any Tom can do it, y’ know."
Harold didn’t like the sounds emanating from the interview room, they made him most uneasy. It sounded like somebody was being bawled at, akin to when the headmaster took you into his office for ‘ten of the best’. They weren’t allowed to do this anymore, but at Harold’s school they’d done it anyway, he’d been beaten many a time for forgetting the one times table. He’d chosen to take a job in accounting because it seemed like a good skive, all he needed was some smart to get past the interview, and then the job was nothing more then using a calculator. Anybody could do that.
Steven exploded from the office, the manager waving a cane in hot pursuit.
Harold recognised Steven as an old school chum.
"Oh, hi Steven," he said.
"Hey," said Steven, huffing and puffing onto the street.
The manager gave up his chase on account of his heart condition. He turned to Harold.
"Next," said the manager.
Harold wowed the manager with his flair and intelligence, but the thing which really tipped the balance was his coherent grasp of the English language.
Harold arrived at work the next day (having got the job and all) and was told by the manager to ‘get started right away’.
Harold asked what exactly his job was, but his only reply was a merry chuckle.
"Oh Harold," said the manager, "the way you performed at the interview, you practically invented accounting! In fact, you could create a revolutionary new system, why, you’d be able to cut your work in half, you’d be doing practically no work at all!"
And that’s precisely what Harold did for the whole of the first week on his new job.
After two weeks of not knowing what he was doing, Harold decided it was time to get another fix of Smart, even start up a regular trade, Smart generally wore off after only a few hours, and he’d need enough to get him through every single working day.
Harold met up with Shifty G again, where they exchanged the usual a’rights and mans and aks and cheese.
Just as the transaction was about to be completed, the police showed up and handcuffed both Shifty and Harold.
"Hey, what the beef, man? It nothing but lemon juice!" insisted Shifty.
The constable opened one of the vials and tasted the liquid inside.
"He’s telling the truth, sarge," he said.
The sarge was a bit downhearted by this.
"Lets take them any way," he suggested.
"Sarge, we can’t arrest them, they haven’t broken the law."
The sarge considered this a moment.
"Shifty G, I arrest you on charges of loitering on a street corner," he said, as he carted him away to the nick.
Harold was left standing alone in the street.
"Hello?" he said, "You just going to leave me here?" he continued.
He started to walk away, then added as an afterthought: "At least take these handcuffs off me!"
As Harold walked home he reflected on the reality that he hadn’t been taking real Smart. He’d passed the interview on his own merits, he could do the job.
And tomorrow he was going to become the best accountant B&B Breakfast and Bed products had ever seen!.
The next day, B&B Breakfast and Bed products went bankrupt, because for the past week, no customers had been charged for anything they had bought. This was put down to computer error, and Harold received a huge redundancy cheque, which saw him through to retirement (fifty years later).