FORTUNA: Out-Takes 

 

  

No single individual could hope to build such a complex structure as Fortuna. Though somewhat shady intermediaries, Nick located the geniuses he needed, all of whom had to agree to extreme security measures. 

 

 

 June 21, 2000 

Somewhere over the Pacific Ocean  

They told him it would be creepy. They didn’t use the word. They had said something about how developers might feel a slight sense of claustrophobia or confinement anxiety... and a ten hour ride to an unknown destination in a private jet with no windows definitely qualified. But the food was great – pizza and Coke, his steady diet. He had even eaten a salad, and actually liked it. And the video games on the console built into his seat were awesome. 

Who needs windows

As though in response to the question, the plane suddenly lurched. 

“Don’t worry, Milton ,” came the pilot’s voice over a small speaker in the rear of the cabin. “It’s just the island effect. We’ll be landing before you know it. 

Milton glanced out the window that wasn’t there, shifted his skinny frame in the plush seat. Another jolt. His eyes widened in involuntary gesture, almost a tic, that had earned him the nickname “Fish” back at M.I.T. But that was all history. 

Milton reflected that he had been working towards this moment for almost a year – in a way, all his life. Human simulation! He still remembered the thrill he felt his freshman year when he had read the famous Turing test of artificial intelligence.  

... a game which we call the 'imitation game'. It is played with three people, a man (A), a woman (B), and an interrogator (C) who may be of either sex. The interrogator stays in a room apart from the other two. The object of the game for the interrogator is to determine which of the other two is the man and which is the woman. He knows them by labels X and Y, and at the end of the game he says either 'X is A and Y is B' or 'X is B and Y is A'.  

We now ask the question, 'What will happen when a machine takes the part of A in this game?' 

He had though, I can do that. I can write the  program that will fool the interrogator. I can and I will write that program

And this was his chance. To create people! Of course, not every creation got into The Game. Some were too mean-spirited or violent or kinky, even for the Fortuna environment. He knew everything – every person  he created would be subjected to exhaustive interaction testing in Venice, the nickname of the pre-Florence test bed where developers worked the kinks out of their creations. 

The plane lurched yet again, then seemed to fall like a stone for three or four seconds before the pilot regained control 

“Sorry ‘bout that,” came the pilot’s laconic voice. 

Of course, there was a steep price to pay for this opportunity: complete isolation from the rest of the world for a year. No video feeds, no podcasts, no radio, no satphones, nada. And then, another year in a place where, as they put it, “you can’t walk away.” They had explained that this second year was to ensure that any trade secrets he had learned would lose their value, like tactical military plans for battles that had long been decided, or never even fought. And the isolation would be purely physical, well, physical and digital. There would be no Internet connection and no uplinks. Be he could watch TV, read old-fashioned newspapers and magazines, even exchange letters with family and friends, so long as he maintained the fiction that he was recuperating from a bacterial infection that had affected his lungs. Apparently, the bogus medical records already existed. 

It was worth it. His dad had said, probably hundreds of times: “For everything in this life, you pay a price.” But here, on this mystery island, the challenge was worth the price. Not to mention the $200 K per year, plus bonuses for every digital avatar that made it into The Game. 

The flight attendant approached, disengaging him from his reverie. She was a buxom girl about his age with heavy goth make-up. Her head was completely shaved.  

“I like to wear wigs,” she explained before he could even ask. Milton thought, I am in Heaven.