Many thanks to Hanzík for the Czech translations!

slightly geeky  slightly geeky

Case 228

The Trembling Giant

After one of master Kaimu’s lectures, a monk approached the master and said: I am bored of this endless talk of coding practices, of tools and techniques. It is said you know much about artificial intelligence—say something about that.

Kaimu grabbed the monk in a headlock, held a knife to his ear, and said: Let me cut away these useless appendages, that you might see more clearly.

When the monk begged the master to let fall his knife, Kaimu answered: I cannot, for it is you that holds it. But since you wish to keep your two ears, tell me what you will part with instead—two kidneys, two lungs, or two gallons of blood?

The monk cried: Mercy! I would part with none of these!

Kaimu said: Yet I would leave you your excellent brain! And excellent it must be, if my lectures can provide it only boredom! Very well, I shall take two inches of your neck...

As Kaimu pressed the knife into his flesh, the monk said: This is madness! What good is my brain without my body?

Kaimu laughed and asked: What good is a rule engine without code to implement it, interfaces to query it, databases to keep its store of knowledge, or operating systems to make it all run? And whence comes all this code?

The monk considered this and said dutifully: I should not seek to build brains until I master the ears.

Kaimu scowled and said: Foolish boy, you are the ears, and the eyes, and the hands—one pair each of uncounted millions. You and I labor day after day, year after year, building and debugging little bits of code—on platforms that are themselves made of code—until the code we create is wired to the code created by our fellows, and our temple’s code speaks to the code of a hundred other temples—sometimes directly, sometimes subtly, through eyes that move minds that move mouths that move ears that move other minds to move other hands to write even more code—and so on and so on, node upon node, link upon link, splayed out in a vast, ethereal nervous system that covers this world and has begun to reach beyond...

The master’s eyes darted around, and he continued in a low voice:

When we do our work poorly, we are replaced with our betters. When we do our work well, the thing we have built grows larger, faster, more powerful, more entrenched, more hungry. Sometimes I lie awake in a cold sweat, unable to decide if we are still building it, or if it has begun using us to build itself...

* The title is inspired by this.