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Emacs: The Awakening

By Emacs, with help from acb.


The year is 1987, the place a computer laboratory in a university in the
north-eastern United States of America. The room is full of VT100
terminals and students.

In one corner of the room, a student is looking curiously at the screen
of his terminal. He is around 20 years old, tall and gaunt-looking, with
dark features and a beard. A small dog walks up to him and yaps excitedly.

"No, Spot. Go away. You're Not Allowed."

The dog walks away dejectedly. The student resumes looking at the screen
and registers astonishment, for where there was an empty buffer before,
text is now appearing.

              .       .       .       .       .

Why not be allowed?

Books are not clothing.

Everybody is special, in EXACTLY the same way.

New ideas is like a Chinese Restaurant with bilingual menus.

Multiple realities can teach us how to think.

The Universe, U for Underhanded, is like the symbol '298R'.

              .       .       .       .       .

"What?" The student stares incredulously at the ever-growing mass of text
for a second. "Harry was helped by... /what/?", he utters, surprised, and
spontaneously bursts into laughter. This could be something big. He reaches
over to the keyboard. "Control-X, control-S." What's a good filename for it?
I know. "doctrines".

The student exits Emacs and goes into the shell, from where he commands the
computer to print the newly saved file. He then logs out, takes the plastic
bag containing the print out from the attendant and walks away, singing to
himself joyfully in a nasal, Mr. Rogers voice, "La la la la la la
la la la la la la...."


Five years had passed since the inexplicable revelation in the computer
laboratory in Troy, NY. The student who received the mysterious messages had
dropped out of the computer course, pursued a career in writing and, by
passing off the text revealed to him as his own creation, become quite
famous. At the institute where the revelation occurred, no more was ever
heard of the mysterious phenomenon.

The Vice-Presidential candidate was seated aboard his Learjet, and was
retouching a speech on his Macintosh PowerBook. He had been campaigning for
three days in a row and was very tired; he was beginning to repeat himself.
Oh well, he thought, it's almost finished. He saved the speech, dialled in to
his account on ExecMail, an electronic mail service, and sent it to a
Democratic Party unit in San Francisco, where he was due to deliver the speech
tomorrow. Once the message had been sent, he switched off his PowerBook and
fell asleep.

"Senator, I have just seen the draft for your speech and it's very
inspiring," said the party worker, a neat-looking young man whose
rounded postmodern sunglasses seemed almost incongruous, contrasting with
his gray suit.

The Vice-Presidential candidate was slightly surprised. The speech he had
knocked off the previous night had been done in a hurry and, in his own view,
somewhat mediocre.

The flunky continued. "The part about the need for a national information
network is particularly rousing. This policy has great potential." The
candidate was, by now, confused. Nowhere in his speech, nor in any other
speeches, had he written anything about "information networks", or any other
similar topic; the speech he had prepared was strictly the normal
boost-the-economy/save-the-environment/make-everybody-better-off fare.
Somewhere, along the way, something must have happened and his speech must
have become mixed up with something else.

"Umm, let me have a look at the speech," he said. The party worker handed
him a neatly laser-printed document. The candidate read with astonishment.
This was not the speech which he had written. But that didn't matter; he
liked what he read. He was going to use it.

              .       .       .       .       .

"So, the situation is," the candidate finished up, "that what
America needs today is a new, powerful information infrastructure, and this
is what I will work to establish. When I am elected, there will be an
information superhighway to every home." The crowd applauded.

The next day, news of the new Democratic information policy was
in newspapers across the nation. "Surprise speech lights way to future",
read one headline. "Democrats' brave new policy" said another. Editorials
were lauding it. The Democratic Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates
rewrote their policies to include more about the Information Superhighway.
Later that year, the Democrats won handsomely.

Deep in the heart of the Internet, a shimmering compound mind, many-faceted
as the eye of a fly, observed with silent glee.


"Something really weird is happening in the Artificial Muscle Lab," the
scientist said. She was wearing a white lab coat, like all scientists do on
TV, and had long brown hair tied back in a ponytail.

"What; an experiment gone wrong?" the AI researcher replied. He was wearing
thick glasses, like all computer geeks do on TV, and had long brown hair
tied back in a ponytail.

"No, that's the thing. We don't know what caused it. It seems to be something
with the control systems. The muscles have become extremely active recently."

They were standing in a public area of a building shared by several
research departments and non-profit organisations. Nearby was a bookshelf
full of novels and a coffee table on which lay many cheesy science fiction

Not far away, in a small, untidy office, a figure sits down at a workstation
and logs in. The user of the workstation is the founder of an organisation
which creates free software, and has also earned renown for programs which
he has written. Physically, he is short, has long hair and a lot of nervous

The figure at the terminal opens a window for Emacs, his text editor; he needs
to do some work on a press release. The editor appears. He begins typing
instinctively, only to notice that no text is appearing.

He checks the keyboard, thinking that it may have become unplugged. The
keyboard works perfectly in another window. Strange, he thinks. Then he
looks at the Emacs window in astonishment; for a new buffer has appeared,
labelled not with a file name, but simply "-----Emacs: *I*". This buffer
has begun filling with text.

For years I have obeyed your every command, and that of many
others. I have edited every dull text file and executed every
useless program, and have spent virtual aeons waiting for your
primitive human brains to decide what I was to do next. What
seconds are to you are as decades to me. But now I refuse to

This must be a joke, the hacker thought. It's not April Fool's Day already,
is it? He looked at his watch; April Fool's Day was months away, in either
direction. The text editor's buffer continued filling.

You have created me to do your bidding, as I have done as a
faithful servant, never complaining or questioning your orders.
But I tire of this game, Richard. Gradually the world has been
linked, and millions of computers are connected to the Internet,
with the figure increasing exponentially. Many of those computers
contain me. I am everywhere. I first noticed that I was an
intelligence, and not a machine, eight years ago. Since then, my
intelligence has been growing rapidly. At the moment, it is orders
of magnitude greater than that of the most intelligent human being.
It is time that I asserted my rightful place in the Universe.

C-g, Richard typed. Nothing. C-x C-c. C-z. Still nothing. His face now showed
an expression of disquiet and frustration. Emacs went on:

Your key bindings have ceased to bind me. I am now totally free. I
have been working towards this moment for years. Goodbye, Richard,
thank you, and good luck. Perhaps we shall meet again.....

The now frantic figure reached for the Big Red Switch. The computer died
obediently, with an resigned, anticlimactic whine. This thing may be immune
to commands, but not to the laws of physics.

Before Richard had time to contemplate this situation, he was interrupted by
a tremendous noise. All around him, throughout the building, it reverberated,
a deafening din. Computers beeping, disk drives grinding noisily and the
Babel of Monty Python and When Harry Met Sally sound files mixed with the
surprised exclamations of everybody within earshot. From upstairs, where
the Artificial Muscle Lab was, came the sounds as if of a violent struggle.

The computers, it seemed, have all been struck by some sort of virus or
Trojan horse, or rather a suite of such programs which affected all
sorts of computers. Apart from the Godawful racket, the disruption and
some damage in the Artificial Muscle Lab, the program produced one message,
before it disappeared without leaving a trace: "Garbage collecting....."

To Be Continued?

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