“I think therefore I am. Fuck Descartes and his cogito ergo sum. That’s the kind of shit that’s going to fucking kill us. If we want to capitalize on this breakthrough, we need to make every last fucking man, woman and child on earth fucking believe: I am because IDco tells me so.”
Terry Black pounded a meaty fist on the table in the small office that served as IDco’s boardroom. “If we start getting all philosophical on the concept of identity we’ll get sucked down that fucking vortex where poets and philosophy majors kiss each other’s asses debating the essence of beauty and useless shit. Fucking waste of time.”
He glared at the other IDco board members across the small table. Galen looked down dejectedly at the memo of bullet points that Terry had summarily executed while Shannyn flashed her trademark smirk.
“Terry, I wouldn’t worry about you being sucked into any swirling vortex of poetic death anytime soon,” she flipped back.
“Pretty fucking reassuring, Shannyn. Quit your smirking and tell me why I should listen to any of Galen’s pointless shit.”
Shannyn sat up in her chair, pursed her thin lips and leveled her dainty chin at Terry. “Maybe because he’s brilliant. Maybe because he’s thinking on a quantum level beyond your capacity to understand the concept of identity. But mainly because there’d be no fucking IDco, if it weren’t for Galen. He developed the hardware and algorithms for your so-called grail of fail-safe ID. That’s why you should fucking listen to him.”
Terry huffed. Terry puffed. And then, in that very extraordinary way of his, Terry brought it down a notch. “Okay. Sorry. I got worked up. Galen, you are brilliant...” he bit down on the word and then softly spit out, “…at what you do. Just you two remember that there are lots of talented people out there with brilliant fucking ideas that go broke. Everyone wants to glamorize scientists and engineers, but those aren’t the guys that successfully monetize and market inventions. It’s coarse bastards like me that do that.”
“And you’re brilliant, too, Terry…at being a bastard.” Shannyn beamed. “So we all need each other.”
“Do we, Shannyn? Pray tell, I haven’t heard what you're brilliant at,” Terry shot back, his big hands piously clasped at his chin.
“Oh, that’s easy, Terry. I’m brilliant at creating the sexual tension necessary for our little threesome to function. Every tech start-up needs a great big brain and a great big dick and someone who knows how to keep them doing what they’re good at. I’m pretty sure you can figure it out from there, Tex,” Shannyn drawled molasses-like.
Terry’s eyes narrowed ominously, his hands clamped onto the table’s edge, and he laughed. A big belly laugh. “Sexual tension?” His eyes rolled and stopped on Shannyn’s under-endowed chest. “Shannyn, there’s more sexual tension on the Weather Channel than you’ll ever create at IDco.” His jelly rolls quivered. “No, my dear, you’re brilliant at comic relief—which it seems we’ll need a lot more of around here.”
Unfazed, Shannyn motioned to Galen’s memo. “So, does that mean you’re going to laugh off Galen’s concerns?”
“By no means.” Terry turned a merry gaze on Galen. “Galen, please educate me with your big brain on why, with IDco gaining traction with venture capitalists and Homeland Security and Bank of America knocking on our door, we’d want to, as you said in your memo, rethink our entire approach to identity recognition?
“We’ve got a proven product. You developed it. A brainwave scanner and algorithms that definitively ID any person. A fool-proof, fail-safe system. It’ll quash identity theft and make the world a hundred times safer from terrorists, criminals and malcontents. When we started this project, Galen, you told me it wasn’t about making a buck; it was about making the world better. Look, we’re in a position to do both. Why the second thoughts?”
Galen still stared down at his memo. Eye contact was not something the thirty-year-old engineer did well. He was cliché in every way. A geek’s geek who did not like to bring attention to himself. And Terry’s brash attentiveness was daunting.
Galen’s earlier effort to provide Terry with some context by invoking Descartes ideas of consciousness had launched him on an expletive-laden tirade, so he tried a simpler approach. “Terry, how do you know who you are?” the engineer asked the table top.
Terry blinked rapidly. “Whaddya mean?”
“What makes you Terry Black? What makes you you and not me or Shannyn?”
“Are we back to getting philosophical?” Terry asked, a sharpened edge to the question.
Galen shook his head vigorously. “No. On the most practical level you can think of, what defines you?”
The earnestness in Galen’s question quieted Terry. He thought for some moments before answering. “I guess on the most practical level my good looks, manly voice and charming wit and manners.” He winked at Shannyn.
“Yes, those help define you,” Galen agreed, not registering Terry’s sarcasm. “Though all those attributes, with effort and practice, can be duplicated.” With uncharacteristic firmness, he pressed Terry. “Beyond those things anyone can see, what is fundamental to your sense of self?”
“You’re talking about thoughts and memories,” Terry offered after a moment of uncharacteristic reflection. “All the stuff kept in my brain: knowledge, processes, experiences, etc. Isn’t that the whole idea of what we’re doing with IDco? We ‘fingerprint’ the brain.”
Galen nodded. “That’s the basic idea, but it doesn’t get to the real crux of the matter which is consciousness. We don’t really know what that is? For example, when you’re sleeping, are you still Terry Black? You’re not fully conscious. You’re not aware of yourself in the same sense you are when you’re awake. You dream, but we don’t really understand its connection to consciousness. You see, consciousness is a mystery, and yet it is the key to one’s identity.”
For the moment, Terry remained uncharacteristically patient. “I get what you’re saying, Galen. I’m just not sure how it changes anything for IDco. We’ve totally leap-frogged current biometrics. We have your scanner and the means to fingerprint an individual’s unique neural pathways. It’s fool-proof. You’ve tested that over and over again. Right?”
“Yes,” Galen acknowledged. “But, now I’m realizing the thinking behind it is limited. Our current product doesn’t go far enough.” He glanced at Shannyn before continuing. “At some point, computers will be able to map and simulate an individual’s neural activity.”
“The singularity,” Shannyn interjected. “Machine consciousness.”
“Exactly.” Galen confirmed. “The ability to upload and download one’s consciousness into machines. It makes what we’re doing irrelevant. If a person has copies of their consciousness stored in various locations, then what is identity and how do we verify it?” Galen asked. “Do you see the problem?”
Terry’s thick fingers massaged his temples. “Yeah. I see a hypothetical shithole of a problem far down the road that may never fucking happen. Why should we worry about it now?”
“What we’re doing will make it happen faster,” Galen warned. “This is like Oppenheimer and the bomb. It’s in our lap. It’s our call. We have a choice.”
“Someone else will do it, if we don’t. You know that,” Terry responded wearily.
The three sat in uneasy silence for a few moments before Shannyn spoke up. “Terry’s right. If not us, someone else will get there. And maybe we can shape events. Get ahead and stay ahead.”
At that Galen smiled. “Exactly my thoughts, Shannyn. When IDco becomes successful, I’ll have the means to get to the heart of the matter. It’ll allow us to get what makes us individually human.”
“Are we talking DNA sequencing?” Terry asked.
“No.” Galen’s pupils widened. “I’m talking about the soul. Pinning down the essence of humanity from the physical to the metaphysical. We’d finally know who and what we are.”
Terry lurched forward in his chair. “The soul? You want to isolate, monetize and market the soul?”
“For the good, Terry, for the greater good,” Shannyn reassured him with a smirk.
His eyes searched across the table at Galen and Shannyn nodding in unison. Fucking A, thought Terry Black. Who are these people?