IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. Before we get to this month’s episode, I want to tell you about another fiction podcast. It’s called Midnight Burger, and it’s set in a diner that travels throughout the Cosmos. The Guardian calls it “a must-listen indie podcast”, whereas for The Program, I couldn’t even get my own father to listen. Midnight Burger is staffed with a motley of interesting characters, always ready to embark on a new adventure, and of course to serve great coffee. So if you’re looking for something funny and smart, find Midnight Burger in your podcasting app - I mean, you’re listening to this, you know how podcasts work. You can also stick around until the end of the credits to hear a short snippet. And now, back to our regular program.
ANNOUNCER: The following episode is an uncommon combination of a scientific lecture juxtaposed with an old documentary. Scholars agree that the unnamed author deliberately chose this unusual format to relay a message; they do not however agree what that message is.
[sounds of a crowd followed by an applause]
EXPERT: Good evening everybody and thank you - thank you - for coming to this lecture on this cold, cold night. I’m both delighted and humbled to talk to you in the same auditorium as the great decoders of the past. As I’m sure is the case with many of you, my first exposure to the Program was through professor Weiss’ seminal text on the White Algorithm. Shortly afterwards, the Hamburg group managed to partially document the Blue Algorithm, followed by centuries of frustrating stagnation. It was only in the last few decades that computer science breakthroughs allowed us to finally decode Green, Black, and Silver Algorithms, and gain a closer insight into the Program’s decision-making processes. But - as advanced as our understanding of the code is - we still lack the full picture; just as astronomers of the old couldn’t detect dark matter, but knew it existed based on observed gaps in the model. Which is why I’m so proud to announce that the firmaments just became a little bit smaller. [delight in the audience] After years of research, I am here today to submit documentation on an as of yet undetected algorithm. Following the standard Weiss nomenclature, I will refer to it as the Red Algorithm.
INTERVIEWER: Olá, muito boa noite meus queridos ouvintes. Temos aqui um convidado muito especial hoje no estúdio. Ele é o fundador do Eve’s Apple, e a gente vai conversar sobre o IPO que está por vir. Well, actually, let’s switch to English, since it’s the language we’re gonna use to talk to our guest. Welcome to the show!
FOUNDER: [chuckles] Thanks for having me. Always happy to visit.
INTERVIEWER: Well I’m guessing you are especially happy this time, with your company having an IPO next week.
FOUNDER: You know, it’s still a bit hard to believe. I mean, sure, when I founded Eve’s Apple seven years ago I had big dreams, but money was never our drive. What’s important is Eve’s Apple mission.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, and what is that?
FOUNDER: In one word: liberation. We’re breaking the barriers preventing people from acting as their authentic selves. And providing them a tool to reach their full potential.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, well let’s talk about that a little bit. Many accuse Eve’s Apple - and you know I have to say you personally - of eroding decency and being an enemy of traditional values.
FOUNDER: Yeah, well you know, those words get tossed around often, but rarely do people stop and ask themselves - what do they actually mean?
INTERVIEWER: And what do they mean for you?
FOUNDER: Well for me tradition is not something to celebrate - it’s something to transcend. Go just a hundred years back in history and you’ll find people who were born as slaves. I think we can all agree that it’s a good thing those are not the values conservatives managed to conserve!
INTERVIEWER: Are you comparing Eve’s Apple with the fight against slavery?
FOUNDER: Oh no, heavens no! Twitter would cancel me in an instant for that! [laughter] What we’re abolishing are fake social standards. Look, I never pretended that I have all the answers, but there’s one thing I am certain of: more pain has been caused trying to prevent immorality, than was caused by immorality itself. Where society's morality begins is where an individual's liberty dies.
CFO: Do you wanna hear what Eve’s Apple really was? Tinder on steroids! I mean sure, the underlying models might have been clever in theory, but well in all honesty, we never had the scale to really make it work. Definitely not enough to warrant all the talk about the company’s lofty mission and liberation and all those other woo-woos our veritable founder was so fond of regurgitating. In reality, most of Eve’s Apple employees were the sort of people who'd view the 10 commandments as the 10 suggestions. [chuckles] Make no mistake, this kind of culture came from the top! Let me give you just one example. Shortly before I came onboard, the founder reviewed an important contract outsourcing some of Eve’s Apple technology to an external agency. It became evident the deal was a royal cock up. But it was impossible to tell who’s to blame - you know how it is, when things go sour suddenly everybody involved in the project thought it was a bad idea all along. So the founder summoned both the CTO and the CFO in his office and started the conversation by saying: “One of you is getting fired today - the only thing we need to determine is who.” Well, this naturally led to a candid blame appropriation. And me being installed as the new CFO.
HACKER: Honestly, I was a bit surprised when I received your request for an interview. My story is... Well, it’s not a feel good story, you know? But then I said what the heck, like I have better things to do… That’s not to say that I was living my best life before they put me here - yeah, joke’s on you, warden, I was one of those kids who’d never leave their room anyway! [sighs] … Shit, shit, shit… I’m sorry, my thoughts are scattered... Can we start over? Alright, so, I guess the story begins shortly after my 18th birthday. And it’s not that I had too much to celebrate - for starters, I still lived at home with my mom and dad. And I use the word “live” loosely. “Cohabitation”, that would be a more apt term. Especially when it comes to my father. The way that man talked, you’d think he was being charged by the word! He ran a computer store which went under when the mall opened and ruined him. Both financially and emotionally. His entire diet since then consisted of pills and alcohol. Ironically enough, after the bankruptcy mom’s circuits blew in exactly the opposite direction and she became a fitness nut - yoga, zumba, meditation, crystals! The only food she’d eat was from a blender. I for one would spend my days and nights programming, often skipping meals altogether... Shit, who would have thought that my escape route would end up being the worst of the three?
VIXEN: The magic of first love is our ignorance that it can ever end. So I comfort myself that at least I had a good run. I’m one of those people who married their high school sweetheart. And there are definitely advantages to that. Seeing all my friends go through dating hell in their 20s and 30s, I was acutely aware of how hard it was to find love. What I wasn’t aware of is how easy it is to lose it. I read somewhere, or - I can’t remember, someone told me - that successful marriages aren’t defined by improvement, but by avoiding decline. The thing about decline is that it creeps up on you. Slowly, little by little, until one day you realize you wouldn’t marry your own goddam spouse! A faint voice springs up in your head telling you that the life you live is a lie - or even worse, a mistake. You try brushing the voice aside and ignoring it, but it’s like trying to drown an empty bottle, or you know, hold something under water - it wants to come to the surface... It will always come to the surface. I wanted, I wanted to be strong, I really did, I swear. I did my best to suppress, to strangle the voice for as long as I possibly could. But… But the unfortunate truth is that weaknesses are stronger than strengths. So I signed up. I signed up for Eve's Apple.
EXPERT: To truly understand the Red Algorithm, we first need to understand what life was like before the Program. And while many details about the pre-Program society are unavailable to us, we know enough to conclude why it was ultimately so unsuccessful. In short: it was built on lies. The biggest of them being that all men are created equal. As even a child will tell you, some people are more intelligent than others; some are more handsome; others more strong. A community needs to exert considerable energy to make its members equal - something difficult to do if you’ve mixed up the starting point with the finish line. [laughter in the audience] The second delusion of the pre-Program society concerns freedom. Sure, back then you were theoretically free to own a yacht or to marry a supermodel, but for the vast majority these possibilities remained precisely that - a theory. [chuckles in the audience] This “fetishization of freedom” influenced the third misconception - that the best system of producing and allocating resources was the one left to its own devices, a concept known as “the free market theory”. Today we know that the dichotomy between a regulated market and a quote-unquote free one is false, and that the only choice in the matter is between markets being regulated in a way that everybody benefits, or in a way that only a select few do. [confirmations from the audience] Did the pre-Program people not understand these problems? That seems unlikely, since even some video games that survived from that era have a better designed economic system than the one they’ve actually been using. So how to explain their folly then? My working hypothesis is that a combination of toxins slowly poisoned their blood and diminished their cognitive functions. The culprit was most likely found in paper, one of the most common materials of the era. They even used paper to trade with each other. Luckily the Program brought a much needed correction. The basic means of existence - food, shelter, and access to care and education - were decoupled from the markets; individual freedoms were curtailed with greater heed paid towards the common good; and the monetary system was replaced with one based on social standing. Which is what I want to talk to you about next.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so I’ll be very honest with you - we never received so many emails like when we announced you as a guest.
FOUNDER: Uh oh!
INTERVIEWER: Well, I mean the reaction was divisive. Some people call you a - how do you say - in Portuguese we say charlatão - it’s charlatan, same word!
FOUNDER: That’s okay, I’ve been called worse! [chuckles]
INTERVIEWER: The thing is, those who don’t call Eve’s Apple a fraud are even more critical of it. They say you’re recommending people like they are shows on Netflix.
FOUNDER: No, you know what, that’s really ironic that you mention Netflix. For when it comes to love, it’s all fake!
INTERVIEWER: How so?
FOUNDER: The concept of love has been drilled into our brains through pop songs and romantic comedies. We know more about love from works of fiction than from our own experience! Just think of the archetype of the first meeting. You know, the unplanned chance encounter, sparks flying and everything?
INTERVIEWER: Right, the cupid, his arrows, and all of that.
FOUNDER: Complete fabrication! Some people think of this as the ideal way of meeting your partner. Y’know, I ask myself how do these people make other decisions in life. Like, if they wanted to read a book, do they just go to the library and take one at random?
INTERVIEWER: [chuckles] Good point. So Eve’s Apple is superior?
FOUNDER: I mean it’s not hard to beat random. [scoffs] This is precisely what sets Eve's Apple apart. Our patented recommendation engine is ten times better at connecting you with people you’re likely to regard as prospective partners. It matches people intellectually, emotionally, and sexually.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so in effect, what you’ve created is a soulmate generator!
FOUNDER: See that’s another product of fiction - the idea that there’s this one perfect soulmate out there, waiting for us.
INTERVIEWER: So how many soulmates do we have?
FOUNDER: On average, 128 in a population of a million.
INTERVIEWER: Oh my goddess, is this for real?
FOUNDER: According to our recommendation engine, yes, at this very moment, on this planet there’s over one million perfect soulmates for you.
FOUNDER: On average each Eve’s Apple user has over 200 soulmates in an hour drive radius! Which brings us to the real controversy here. It’s not that Eve’s Apple doesn’t work; it’s that it does work. We bring perfect information to a notoriously inefficient market. More sex! More love! How can anyone be against that? [cell phone vibrating] Whops, sorry, I apologize, I thought I had it on mute there...
INTERVIEWER: That’s okay, don’t worry about it.
FOUNDER: [vibrating stops] There we go, we shouldn’t be bothered again... What I was saying: with Eve’s Apple, everybody can enjoy themselves with a wide range of prospective partners, without having to wonder if they’re settling for something subpar. And you know what? I'm willing to bet that half of the people protesting Eve's Apple today aren't pissed that we're “immoral” - they’re pissed that for them, we came too late! [laughter]
VIXEN: Well, I chose "BoredVixen" as my username - don't judge, everything better was already taken! [laughs] Interestingly enough, the service would ask you to upload a photo, but it wasn’t displayed anywhere... In fact, the official policy was no pictures until the date. I guess that's how confident they were in the power of their recommendation engine... Then I answered what felt like a million questions, and got matched with "JamesDeen”. That was the username of the guy, I’m not talking about the real one. [chuckles] After a few days of exchanging messages, I gave him my number and he called me. And I just, I just knew. I knew it had the potential to go down the road leading to… Where it ultimately led, I suppose. This might sound crazy, as at this point I haven't even seen him in person, but there was something about him that was just… Exciting! It was a feeling I had never experienced before, and I wanted more. Especially since we decided - I know that’s crazy - remain anonymous. Okay, maybe that’s not the right word, because even if we might have not known each other's names, we got to know each other's most intimate thoughts. People think masks hide. I don’t think that’s true. Masks reveal. If you want to know what someone really thinks, give them a mask.
HACKER: People always wanna know whether I targeted Eve's Apple specifically because of their business. They ask: “Did you do it for moral reasons? Or did you do it because of money?” When I tell them I did it for the lulz everybody is always disappointed. Like doing it for money or your ideology would somehow make it better! You know, sometimes I think that’s the real reason they put me in jail - not because I hacked some stupid dating website, but because I did it for no personal gain! That’s what made me truly dangerous! [chuckles nervously] Besides, it's not like any of this was my idea anyway. It was this guy I met on 8chan who first suggested we try to penetrate Eve’s Apple systems. At least I think he was a guy - I never did learn their real name. I only know their screen name: Cycl0ps. [laughs awkwardly] I guess I should have listened to my mother when she said never to trust strangers on the Internet.
CFO: I walked into the office like any other morning - underslept and undercaffeinated. But that day I got a bit of a wake up jolt. As soon as I entered the building, the Chief Marketing Officer whisked me off to a barricaded conference room. Also in the room was the Head of Legal and the COO, looking like a Polish general in 1938. It was the COO who informed me we got hacked. I asked him what the damage was. He said the attackers got hold of our database, a copy of all our users, their email addresses, all the messages, everything! Well, not everything, the passwords were hashed and so was the credit card info. But nevertheless, it was bad. How bad, it was impossible to say. But one thing was certain: I wouldn't be home for dinner.
EXPERT: There’s just one more thing we need to discuss before I tell you about the Red Algorithm. Something so close to us, we hardly notice it. Our credit scores. Historians are fond of comparing credit scores to money, but this is inaccurate, as credit scores are more similar to the honour system societies used before money. For example, early inhabitants of this continent didn’t use money to procure and distribute goods among themselves; instead, they kept their wares in communal storehouses everybody had access to. And, being a tightly-knit community, they had a good idea of what constitutes a fair share. So when Sleepy Horse came to get his ration of corn for the week, he’d get the minimum amount to keep him fed; whereas when Eagle Eye the great hunter came to the storehouse, he’d get the best piece of meat. Even so, Eagle Eye was incentivized to share his lot, as his people practiced the giving economy, in which it was the individual who fed the most people and gave the most lavish gifts who held the most social capital. This might explain why the accumulation of wealth in the North American tribes was relatively stagnant, and why they were ultimately run over by European tribes, who practiced the hoarding economy. How exactly they managed to impose their primitive ways in North America, we can only speculate. I personally subscribe to the theory that suddenly finding themselves in a system in which the wealthiest man wasn’t the one who gifted the most, but the one who took the most, the native population chose death over taking part in a system with such repugnant values. History however vindicated them, as the credit score system we use today is basically the honour system scaled on the whole planet, and the way we distribute goods has much more in common with storehouses than supermarkets. …There is, however, one thing you wouldn’t be able to procure in either a storehouse or a supermarket. Can you guess what it is?
VIXEN: Let’s see, what can I tell you about James Deen… And yes, that was my nickname for him - just like he’d call me Vixen. Told you I should have put more thought in my username, I know! [laughs] But I actually have to admit I liked it when he called me that. I liked it because I didn’t mind a bit of role play. It was new! It was fun! To be honest I often felt the real role playing happened at home when I pretended to be a contented housewife... Remember, I got married straight after high school, all of this was mindblowingly thrilling for me! One encounter led to another, which led to another, which led to a weekend getaway… And suddenly I realized all my conversations with James were in the future tense. It was around this time that Eve’s Apple started to really blow up. Which was proving to be an issue. After all, most people are decidedly not in a relationship with their soulmate, so when they tried the service and got to meet a vastly more suitable partner, the app naturally led to a massive increase in breakups and divorces... It didn’t take long for James to start encouraging me to leave my husband. Not that he was pressuring me or anything - he made it perfectly clear that it was his wish, but my decision. And I… I didn’t know what I wanted. Guess I was like a house cat who had been looking out of the window for so long, that once I was finally outside I didn’t know what to do. I remember James at one point asking me to imagine I’d live forever - would I still stay with one person my whole life? Well no - I said - I guess at some point I would walk away. To which he said that in that case, it was precisely because I wouldn’t live forever, that I had to walk away. But I couldn’t. I just… I wasn’t there yet. I felt paralyized. We all think we want to be free, when in fact there’s nothing more terrifying than freedom.
INTERVIEWER: See, that’s just the problem I think people have with Eve’s Apple. You said it yourself that Eve Apple gives us access to multiple partners - partners we would otherwise miss. So what does that do to society, which is by and large monogamous?
FOUNDER: Oh please, monogamy doesn’t exist!
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean?
FOUNDER: I mean all of us have multiple partners - some have them sequentially, and some have them in parallel!
INTERVIEWER: [laughs] So you don’t think monogamy is natural?
FOUNDER: Oh no, I do think it’s natural. I just happen to think non-monogamy is perfectly natural too! Human beings are omnivores in every regard. Besides, asking what’s “natural” is asking the wrong question.
INTERVIEWER: What do you mean, wrong question?
FOUNDER: Well, strictly speaking, murder is "natural" - our ape relatives commit it regularly. The most natural thing about evolution is that it pits some organisms against others. Violence, hate, racism, they’re all part of nature. And they’re all part of our nature, which is a product of evolutionary pressures. And you see, you have to understand, evolution isn’t a process of making things ethically better - it’s a process that leads to a state in which what’s best for one may be worst for another.
INTERVIEWER: So you're saying polygamy is the answer?
FOUNDER: [scoffs] You know, it's funny - when men hear the word “polygamy” they think they'd have a harem. When in all likelihood they'd be the ones who couldn't get a wife because the rich got them all!
FOUNDER: I mean, just look at the societies of the past, just look at the Middle East today.. Wherever polygamy appeared it was hierarchical! But herein lies a dirty little secret...
INTERVIEWER: Which is?
FOUNDER: Monogamy is hierarchical too. It’s a logical consequence of inequality. To put it crudely, it's better to be the third mistress of Uber's CEO than the first wife of an Uber driver.
INTERVIEWER: Is that what you really think?
FOUNDER: What you or I think is irrelevant. Evolution doesn't care about opinions. Look, what I’m saying is that both monogamy and polygamy are viable strategies.
INTERVIEWER: Hm, well you see I don’t know, to me it still seems like a cop out.
FOUNDER: What does?
INTERVIEWER: Well you know, to justify one’s behaviour by natural forces.
FOUNDER: What other forces are there?
INTERVIEWER: Well none, I guess. But it still feels wrong to defend morally dubious behaviour by presenting it as a creation of evolution. If you create a creature that thinks of beating with sticks as heaven, and then proceed to beat it with sticks - are you providing heaven?
FOUNDER: [short pause] Well, if you’re gonna get beaten with sticks either way, I know which option I’d choose.
CFO: Blame follows the law of gravity. By this I mean it only goes down. Luckily, our containment strategy seemed to be working - no one else in the company learned of the hack, least of all the founder, for he would have impaled our heads on a spike like a shish kabob! It was only later that afternoon that the other shoe had dropped. We received an anonymous email demanding four million dollars in bitcoin.
HACKER: Actually, I felt pretty good after the hack. Good and a bit incredulous. It was hard to believe how dismal Eve’s Apple’s infosec was. Cyl0ps ran a script which penetrated their system in under 7 minutes! 7 minutes! Guys last longer on Pornhub than 7 minutes! [cackles] I gotta admit, I was pretty ecstatic. At the time I thought it was just the thrill of the chase, but now I think it’s because I finally felt in control. Not of the site - I don’t care one bit about the site - but of my life. So I had no girlfriend, I was living at home with my parents, and pretty much burned time on the Internet for the whole day. So to pull off something major like this, it was a liberating feeling, you know? Kinda ironic it ended up costing me my freedom. [awkward laugh] But, to be super frank with you, I never expected the whole thing to blow up like it did. Remember, I was doing this for sport. It was only when Cycl0ps blackmailed the company to pay for the data we stole I realized what his real motivations were.
EXPERT: At this point, you might be thinking to yourselves: why the history lesson? I thought we were going to talk about the Program’s algorithms? Am I even in the right auditorium? [laughter in the audience] The reason for the long introduction is to provide you with context. To allow you to appreciate the full genius of the Program’s coders. For it was they who first realized that what was popularly called “the economy” is not an end in itself. That raising the GDP by three points meant nothing if it meant a tenfold increase for a minority - and a decrease for the majority. So what they did was as elegant as it was brilliant. They broke down all the decisions into factors, each under the auspices of a separate algorithm - algorithms our profession is trying to decode to this day. It was less than a hundred years ago that we finally deciphered Silver Algorithm’s function, discovering it was calculating values such as return on investment, opportunity cost, depreciation, and other pecuniary aspects most would consider “pure economics”. It was only a few decades ago that we started to understand how Silver Algorithm’s output gets reviewed by the Green Algorithm, designed to keep externalities such as pollution and overconsumption in check. Each of these steps is under the watchful eye of the White Algorithm, evaluating fairness and striking the appropriate balance between the wants of the individual and the needs of the group. Taken together, these algorithms achieved what had eluded mankind for centuries: equitable allocation of labour, property, and resources. The world entered a new era - the one of coordinated global action designed to maximise long-term wellbeing of each and every one of us! … And yet, something was still missing. The arrangement didn’t fully work. There was one last bastion of inequality that even the illustrious Program was struggling to eradicate.
INTERVIEWER: Okay, so if neither monogamy nor polygamy work - what's the solution then?
FOUNDER: Well if you take a look at history you’ll see that societies generally try to resolve the conundrum in two ways: either through radical sexualization, the kind we see here in the West, or radical de-sexualization, as practiced in Islamic societies. But you wanna hear the interesting part? These two seemingly opposite approaches are but two sides of the same coin.
INTERVIEWER: Are they now?
FOUNDER: Yeah, you see in both cases the idea is to dull the force that sexuality exerts on society. Either by controlling the populace with enforced chastity, or by sedating them with copious amounts of porn. Here again we’re talking about the basic evolutionary principles. There’s a whole theory that our species’ path to intelligence was kickstarted by the need of individuals to outwit each other in sexual pursuit. <cell phone starts ringing> Oh for fucks’ sakes!
INTERVIEWER: Maybe it’s your wife calling to comment! [laughs]
FOUNDER: Haha, no, this is my business phone, it’s probably my CFO. Even though sometimes I do feel like we’re married! [laughter] <ringing stops> Okay, that’s off. There, I promise, we won’t be bothered again... And don’t worry, I only have two phones! [laughs]
INTERVIEWER: [laughs] That’s okay. Let’s go back to the topic of Eve’s Apple IPO. Could you tell us how… [trails off] Wait, sorry, I think my producer is trying to tell us something.
PRODUCER: [off mic] A Eve’s Apple foi hackeada.
INTERVIEWER: O que? Sério?
PRODUCER: [off mic] É serio! O banco de dados com todos os usuários, contendo os nomes, localizações e orientações sexuais estão na Internet!
FOUNDER: What's he saying? What’s he saying?
CFO: It was the head of Marketing who spoke first. We agreed it was an absolute imperative the founder didn’t learn anything. Now I’m aware this might sound odd - but there’s this old story I’m quite fond of. It’s a true story of two Chinese officers on route with their troops to meet the great Emperor Qin. However, their armies’ path had got impeded by rainstorms, and they were running late. Which wasn’t a mere inconvenience, as at that time the penalty for appearing late before the Emperor - no matter what the reason - was execution. Seeing that this was the same as the penalty for rebellion, the two officers decided they might just as well take their chances. Which marked the beginning of the end of the Qin dynasty… As any manager worth his salt will tell you: “Show me the incentives and I’ll show you the outcome”.
HACKER: Of course, I immediately hit Cycl0ps up, sending him three letters: W, T, and F. Followed by a question mark - I’m not sure if that counts as a letter or not. He responded 6 minutes later, telling me to relax, that I will get my cut when Eve’s Apple coughs up. I replied in all caps, telling him I didn’t want any money, this was never part of the plan, and that my mom was gonna kill me! He again told me to chill, that we’re not gonna get caught and that Eve’s Apple will pay up the ransom money. He was right about that one - I guess the leadership decided four million dollars was a small price to pay for not having their entire customer database released on the Internet. Which was exactly what Cycl0ps did after he received the money anyway.
VIXEN: As soon as I heard the news, I was at my computer, downloading the leaked database, and there was my name, with my city, my date of birth, my list of contacts, everything. Then I obviously searched for “JamesDeen” and found him as well. But it was when I saw his real name that I gasped. He was Eve's Apple founder.
EXPERT: Ask yourselves - in a society that no longer recognizes concepts of money and station, what motivates one to rise above their peers? Only one thing: the prospect of an attractive mate. Therefore, to achieve social equality, the Program’s coders had to level the field in this area as well. At first they treated the issue as a supply and demand problem, experimenting with various incentives. The original idea seems to have been to offer a credit score boost for people who considered themselves unattractive. But faced with low voluntary uptake, a realization set in that this wasn’t a problem that could be resolved with a quick patch, but an issue that necessitated the long view. A very long view.
FOUNDER: What's he saying..?
INTERVIEWER: He said that there was a… How do you call it… Eve’s Apple database is on the Internet!
PRODUCER: [off mic] Pergunta pra ele se o nome “JamesDeen” significa alguma coisa. Parece que é o nome de usuário dele.
INTERVIEWER: Apparently you are in it as well. Under profile name “JamesDeen”.
FOUNDER: I’m not… I don’t know, I’m not quite sure what to say.
PRODUCER: [off mic] Eu tô vendo aqui, que ele enviou várias mensagens pra uma usuária específica. O nome dela é “BoredVixen”.
FOUNDER: I’m sorry, excuse me, I’m gonna have to live, I need to go and take care of this here. [sounds of mic getting taken off and a body leaving a studio booth] I’m sorry… Excuse me, I’m sorry. Please can you take the mic off me? Sorry, thank you. I have to leave.
INTERVIEWER: Bom, queridos ouvintes vamos ter que cortar para um rápido comercial. por favor fiquem por aí e a gente já volta.
CFO: Once we paid the ransom the case practically solved itself. Stupid twat demanded to be paid in bitcoin, which was a real amateur move. Unlike what the banks and governments would like you to believe, crypto currencies are terrible for illegal activities, as all transactions are recorded on the blockchain. Real criminals don't bother with the latest shitcoin - they use the American greenback and a reputable financial institution headquartered somewhere in the Caribbean... Anyway, the stupid prat was arrested the same day. Well, I guess prisons and affairs are similar in that regard, aren’t they? It’s easier to stay out, than to get out.
HACKER: There’s this one more thing that pisses me off about Eve’s Apple. And that’s that I signed up for Eve’s Apple personally. I answered their stupid questionnaire and everything. And I didn't get a single match! A million soulmates per person and I don’t get one? Shit, like, they could have told me to simply just go and put my head into an oven! [sighs] Actually, it wasn't strictly true that I didn't get a single match... What I didn't get was a single female match... But you know, that's the part that pisses me off the most - like I told them I was interested in women, but these fucking companies man, they think they can create a recommendation system that knows us better than we know ourselves? Fuck them! Talk about being oblivious, right?
VIXEN: It was kinda like when James took me skydiving. He probably thought I’d love it, but in all honesty, I hated it. It was only later I realized looking for a life partner who’d make a good companion to jump out of an airplane was optimizing for the wrong thing... What we should be looking for is a partner we enjoy spending yet another Tuesday watching Netflix with… Besides, he admitted it wasn’t the recommendation engine that connected us - having had admin access, he was just able to see my photos before anyone else... The knucklehead was never my soulmate to begin with! … God, how could I have ever fallen so hard for him?
EXPERT: If ever there was an entity that wasn’t pressed for time, the Program would be it. So it’s hardly surprising it took the long view of the situation, and started running extensive experiments on how to dismantle the final barrier to inequality - sexual.
Like the test on the island of Hainan, where for almost 400 years three out of four male fetuses were selectively aborted, establishing a society in which men could have multiple women without having to worry about the surplus of males destabilizing the social order.
… Or the practice still held on the island of Hawaii, in which polygamy is legally mandated, with partners exchanged with such frequency it’s not possible to track whose offspring belongs to whom, resulting in a community in which children belong to everybody equally.
… Or for that matter, our own society - in which the most attractive individulas are offered an ample boost to their credit scores if they become sex workers, and are cherished for providing access to their enticing psysiques to everybody.
Which finally brings me to my main thesis. I believe there’s a single unifying algorithm behind all these practices. I believe it is A/B testing various social arrangements, propagating changes that work and discarding those that don’t. In a way this isn’t anything new. What my research uncovers is the sheer scope of the project. We knew the Program’s mandate was to change human society; what we weren’t aware of is that it also strives to change human nature. The Red Algorithm… Is a breeding algorithm.
INTERVIEWER: What we just heard was the interview with Eve’s Apple founder aired exactly a year ago in our local programming. The events that followed were quick and devastating - the planned IPO was cancelled, and the founder together with most of Eve’s Apple’s management ousted. The company, sponsored by private capital, couldn’t raise the next round of financing, and was forced to file for bankruptcy. Eve’s Apple’s intellectual property - the most valuable of which was its patented recommendation engine codenamed “Serendipity” - was sold to cover the expenses of numerous civil lawsuits levied against it. The rumoured buyer was Aleph, the big tech conglomerate formed last year through a merger between Alphabet, Amazon, and Apple. As for the perpetrators, one of the hackers was quickly arrested and later sentenced to 7 years in prison. His accomplice, known only under moniker “Cycl0ps”, is still at large.
HACKER: You know, that's a great question. Why did I believe some random dude named Cycl0ps? [silence] [sighs] Shit, I guess there’s no point not to tell the truth now… And the truth is, I kinda had to. You see I… I… I had no fucking idea what I was doing. The truth is, I couldn’t break into the database of my local library. You honestly think I would have still been living with my parents if I knew how to breach Eve’s Apple’s systems? I'd be working on the latest adtech spyware for Aleph and drive a Tesla! Shit! [sobs] It was Cycl0ps who did everything! [snivels] … I just wanted a bit of spotlight... And he... He wanted the fall guy.
VIXEN: After the hack and the doxxing and the divorce and everything, I had one last conversation with James… You might think that this story has a happy ending, that by getting exposed we would have finally been able to pursue our relationship, but the feeling afterwards was different. It was similar to staying in the bar until closing time, when they turn on the lights at the end of the evening, and suddenly the room looks completely different - cheap, and dingy, and floors sticky from all the spilled booze... Besides, he was in the middle of getting kicked out of the company, still uncertain if he’d be criminally liable for negligence, or indecency, or some equally abstract infraction the law throws at people it disapproves of… He did tell me one thing during that call that stuck with me. And that’s that he suspected this whole “vigilante hackers” story was just a red herring… That in reality, the whole hack was an inside job. I asked him who’d want to hurt him or the company so much, but he didn’t say. He just said that it would have to be someone very close to him, and someone who’d have a lot to gain.
CFO: Inside job? Oh, please! Cycl0ps? Come on, this isn’t a 90-ies hacker movie! Do you want to know what I think? The other hacker doesn't even exist! In all likelihood, this “Cycl0ps” is a fairytale the prat made up when he realized what kind of crap he’s got himself into! I don’t understand the need to further complicate the story - we’re talking a glorified dating site getting hacked, not a presidental assassination! [chuckles] ... Alright, are we done here? As you can imagine, as CFO of Aleph, my time is tight. Hope I was of help... Best of luck with your documentary! Let me know if you need anything else. And where I can listen to the finished thing, of course!
EXPERT: I’ll be honest with you - my discovery of the Red Algorithm left me with a feeling of deep unease, and I long struggled to find a satisfying conclusion to this lecture. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized that what initially seemed disturbing, was in fact reassuring. What I was witnessing was the genius of computer networks. Sure, we might flatter ourselves that we’re special and unique, but the truth is we’re far more similar to each other than we admit. Our dreams and desires are mirrored by millions of others who feel exactly the same; there is nothing about us that isn't a repetition. So by using feedback loops, and pattern recognition, computers can understand us. And they can serve us exactly what we need: embodying for someone a husband, for someone a wife, for someone a cavalcade of lovers, for someone a friend. Does this make the bond any less beautiful? In my opinion, no. The opposite: it gives us purpose. Just like every other organism, humans are a product of evolution, the famed “survival of the fittest”. Well what if the “fittest” suddenly meant those most affable? Those most kind, charming, gentle, and dependable? Most humble, imaginative, and capable? The playful, the optimistic, the generous? By managing the connection, the Program also manages the outcome. Procreation is the fundamental control node of evolution. So instead of thinking of Red as “the breeding algorithm”, we can just as aptly label it “the evolution algorithm”. Which brings us to the part I personally find comforting. On its own, evolution is random - put an algorithm in charge of it however, and you'll achieve in ten generations what would otherwise take one thousand. And suddenly, you have a design that is not random. A design that does not pit us against each other, but for each other. Silver might have brought us affluence, allowing us to enjoy life without scarcity. Green basically saved the living world around us. White taught us fairness. But Red… Red gave us compassion. And for that we should forever be grateful.
[The Program main theme]
ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by 8 people: Bianca Yambanis, Percy Harris, Tylor Van Riper, Leslie Martin, Scooter Clarke, Felipe Aukaï, David Bradshawe, and IMS. Main music theme by Matt Podd. Additional music in this episode by Blue Dot Sessions and Christien Ledroit. Visit programaudioseries.com for more details. If you’re one of the rare people with money left on this planet, please send some porridge. Gratitude for supporters is dispensed in the form of bonus episodes and behind the scenes material. The author will even accompany you to space.