The Program — Discreet optimization

Disreet optimization

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IMS: Hello, this is IMS, the author of The Program audio series. I wish to thank everyone for their patience waiting for this episode. Especially our supporters - everyone else should enrol in a programming bootcamp and get highly compensated jobs so you too could financially support us. Alternatively, you can check out Peak Salvation. It’s a podcast by a former tech multi-millionaire who went to work in an Amazon warehouse as a way to help treat his depression. It offers a fascinating view of what it’s like to go from earning seven figures, to working mandatory overtime for just above minimum wage. It’s also a funny and smart meditation on technological progress, and the impact it will have on our collective future. These are topics that Program’s listeners will probably appreciate, so go search for Peak Salvation in your podcasting app the next time The Program is late. And remember, late or not, it still comes for us all.

ANNOUNCER: The following is a personal voice recording, slightly edited for understanding and to protect the subjects' privacy.

FATHER: IRIS, start an audio recording.

IRIS: Audio recording started.

FATHER: Hi Reidlee. This is your dad.

MOTHER: And your mom!

FATHER: We hope you are well in… Wherever you are.

MOTHER: We miss you!

FATHER: We miss you, and we'd like to hear from you.

MOTHER: But only if you want to talk! No pressure or anything!

FATHER: Still, it'd be nice to know where she is… Or if she’s even alive…

MOTHER: Yes, but no pressure Reidlee! Dead or alive, we support you! …Go on, tell her why you're recording this.

FATHER: I... It was brought to my attention that I might have said things that are hurtful... And done things that I should have rather done differently.

MOTHER: Your father wants to tell you he's sorry.

FATHER: …And seeing that our dialogues often ended… Acrimoniously, I wanted to record a few thoughts, in hope they provide clarity and lead to reconciliation.

MOTHER: Your father wants to make you an apology tape.

FATHER: Oh, you… There is no “tape”! The recording is all digital!

...Either case, Reidlee, I wish to impart a few thoughts, and I hope you will listen to them.

Not because I'm your father - I think it's fair to say I forfeited any prerogatives that come with that role…

Neither because I'm older - contrary to what old folk think, the more time passes, the less pertinent their advice usually becomes…

Nor for that because I'm smarter - in fact, you could say it's for exactly the opposite reason…

It's because I'm aware I made mistakes. And the best kind of mistakes are those others make, for they offer an opportunity to learn lessons someone else has paid the price for.

MOTHER: That was lovely.

FATHER: Will you just let me record?!

MOTHER: Okay, forget I said anything!

FATHER: My story, like all stories in the past 40 years, involves the Program.

I wasn't one of those Crockets, or Poets, or other groups that were sceptical or outright hostile towards the Program. I wasn't anti-Program for others. I was simply anti-Program for myself.

Or rather, I was and I remain against one of its functionalities. The Serendipity module.

And I should know... I worked on it.

…Ok, now what..?

MOTHER: Why don't you tell Reidlee about Serendipity?

FATHER: In heaven’s name, why? She knows the entire history of Serendipity!

MOTHER: She does, but does she know your history with Serendipity? Exactly what you did..?

FATHER: No... You know you're the only one I ever shared it with.

MOTHER: So tell her. Tell her everything! What difference does it make now? It can only help!

FATHER: Okay... It's just... Where should I start?

MOTHER: From the beginning. You're not Tarantino, just tell the story as it happened!

FATHER: Okay, fine...

So Reidlee, I guess the story begins over 40 years ago... Believe it or not, there was a time when I was younger than you are now! I was studying computer science and making a living by picking up freelance gigs in software development… One or two a month, just enough to make ends meet. Which was ironic, as I could have been making a killing.

You see, this was the age of Big Tech. Of trillion dollar companies, richer and more powerful than entire countries. Their whole purpose distilled into one goal: growth. And the only thing that grows unchecked is a tumour.

That's who I was fighting against.

Well, saying I was “fighting” probably makes your old man sound more badass than I actually was… My specialty was machine learning. You see, years leading up to this saw incredible advances in artificial intelligence. It was a magical time, brimming with discoveries in the space. So you can imagine the disappointment when seemingly overnight the entire industry fizzled out.

However, I then read how shortly after World War II began, Russian scientists noticed their international colleagues abruptly ceased publishing papers on nuclear science. This was strange, as up to that point nuclear physics had been one of the most promising fields. Which is how the Russians correctly deduced that atomic work had become a state secret. In the same vein how I realized that the silence surrounding AI research probably didn’t signify a disappointment. I realized it probably signified a triumph. The same kind of triumph the breaking of the atom was, with all its benefits and consequences.

MOTHER: Wow... Excellent storytelling, I feel like I'm watching The Terminator!

FATHER: We've had this conversation before! The Program is not Skynet! Its modules are not digital demons! Unfortunately, humans have a tendency to anthropomorphize everything they don't understand!

MOTHER: Then how does it work?

FATHER: Short answer? Mathematics. Which is precisely why it’s so successful. And humans were never really good at math.

MOTHER: You were!

FATHER: [chuckles] I was moderately competent.

MOTHER: Which is probably why you got the gig.

FATHER: Hey, no spoilers!

MOTHER: Alright, get on with the story then!

FATHER: Okay Reidlee, so I mentioned I was making a living by picking up gigs. I don't mean the Fair market gigs - remember, this was before the Program appeared. I'm talking about old-fashioned gigs, the hallmark of late capitalism when honest labour suffered some of its worst humiliations.

I don't remember which platform I got the gig through. What I do remember is that it came from a client called "President Yi". But it was not my anonymous employer who fascinated me as much as the code they granted me access to. We are talking about a simple yet potent cocktail with three ingredients.

The mixer was data. Fitness trackers, smart scales, microphones, cameras, pedometers, and a myriad of other sensors allowed collection of near-perfect information, making it possible for the first time in history to track, monitor, and quantify every action.

Next shake and stir this data with two hard spirits - space and power. By this I mean virtually unlimited storage space and processing power, available at the level of every individual.

And finally, add the secret sauce - a set of algorithms clever enough to make sense of it all, by analyzing and comparing virtually infinite scenarios.

Now pour these three ingredients into a glass - which back then was nothing more than a simple app. The exact container is irrelevant; what’s important is that the resulting concoction is nothing short of a magical elixir. You have at your fingertips an instrument guaranteed to reach optimal decisions; a method to identify at each point in your life exactly the perfect thing to say and the best thing to do.

Say you're on a date, and this extremely attractive person across the table tells you something. You glance at the app and it instantly provides you with a witty, charming response.

Same thing when applying for jobs - in fact, the app is probably the reason why you’re sitting at the interview to begin with, as it was the one that determined the ideal career for you. The app tells you the best place to live, the healthiest food to eat, and exactly how much to exercise to maximise your lifespan. It breaks down, interprets, and suggests the most favourable course of action for each and every situation.

This didn't belong to a corporation.

It didn't even belong to a nation.

It belonged to everybody.

Which is why - instead of fulfilling the gig - I created an open source version of it. It became known as Serendipity.

MOTHER: And now you're one of Serendipity's biggest detractors.

FATHER: Hey, what can I say? Even Alfred Nobel ended up being opposed to dynamite.

MOTHER: One thing that always puzzled me is how can you be so adamantly against Serendipity yet still use other features of the Program… I mean you've got a credit score... I certainly didn't see you complaining when a Terms and Conditions officer came to save you from that drunk last year… And you still use IRIS!

[activation sound]

IRIS: Yes?

MOTHER: Not now, IRIS.

IRIS: All right.

[deactivation sound]

FATHER: And what would you expect me to do, not use the Program at all? I'm not a hermit!

MOTHER: Yet how exactly does using Serendipity differ? Just like everything else about the Program, it simply makes life easier!

FATHER: That's exactly what salts my apples! Unlike the rest of the Program's modules, you don't need Serendipity to function in society. People sold their hides for bloody convenience!

MOTHER: But isn't making life easier the ultimate goal of all technology..? If I want to find a good hairdresser, Serendipity will connect us. If I need help writing a thank you note, Serendipity will suggest some options. If I'm having difficulty choosing between two rice cookers, I can simply ask Serendipity for advice. What's wrong with getting answers?

FATHER: What’s wrong is that Serendipity gives you an optimal answer; not a wise answer.

MOTHER: Ha, my father used to say wisdom is the comb you get when you lose your hair.

FATHER: [chuckles] That may well be, but in that case Serendipity is something even worse.


FATHER: A toupee.

MOTHER: [laughs] Maybe we should return to Reidlee..?

FATHER: Yes, yes, we should…

No one is aware of my involvement with Serendipity except your mother… Not that anyone would believe me if I told them.

And in a way, yes, she has a point - it is true that life was harder before the Program.

I'm not only talking about poverty derived from exploitation of people’s labour - something the Fair market module fixed, or the injustices inflicted from lopsided distribution of resources, which the Credit score module rectified.

What none of the modules were able to address however, is people's lack of guidance... Or more broadly, their perceived lack of purpose.

Unshackled from the tyranny of 9 to 5, and no longer bound by nation-states, people could suddenly go anywhere to travel, work, or live... Free to do as they pleased. No wonder so many people began feeling lost.

But that doesn’t mean the sensible answer is to outsource one's life.

And if the comparison with outsourcing sounds distasteful, consider Serendipity's final state: humanity’s every decision calculated and relayed by AI, and us simply following the directions like biological robots.

Once again, the parallel with nuclear weapons rings true; what we thought would keep us safe, instead took us hostage.

MOTHER: Darling - if I may - this is turning too dark... You should talk more about Reidlee... About family…

FATHER: We are talking about subjugation of human kind - of course it’s dark!

MOTHER: Still, you should throw in some levity to brighten the narrative… It’s a time-honoured storytelling technique!

FATHER: Oh excuse me, I never realized I married Aristotle!

MOTHER: Ha-ha.

FATHER: Fine, how about a fun fact: did you know that Serendipity was originally a dating app?

MOTHER: Was it?

FATHER: Yeah, it was called Eve's Pineapple… I mean, it wasn’t a dating app in itself - it was part of the backend calculating compatibility between prospective partners.

MOTHER: So it was something like a soulmate generator?

FATHER: Please, calling Serendipity a soulmate generator is like calling a roofie a love potion!

MOTHER: Are you going to tell Reidlee how we met?

FATHER: Is that your segue from what I just said?

MOTHER: [chuckles] Why don't you tell her the story?

FATHER: Doesn't she know the story already?

MOTHER: She heard it from me, but I don't think she heard it from her father. You should definitely share it. I believe it will help Reidlee and you connect.

FATHER: [chuckles] It is a pretty good story… So, Reidlee, the first time I laid my eyes on your mother, she was sitting alone in a beach bar in Playa del Carmen. And the fact she was alone was surprising - it’s not often you see such an attractive girl without company…


FATHER: After spying on her for 10 minutes like an idiot and finally certain the coast is clear, I decided to approach. The problem was, I had no idea what to say to her. I mean, how do you strike up a conversation with a complete stranger, and such a gorgeous one at that?

MOTHER: Sweetie…

FATHER: Running out of time, I finally decided to act. So I approached her, took her drink, and spilled it into the sand! Then I looked her into the eyes and I said: "You look like you could use a drink".

MOTHER: [laughing] It’s true, he did! I started laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes!

FATHER: [laughing] I was laughing too because it really was just such a random, daft thing to do! We ended up hanging out all day…

MOTHER: And all night…


FATHER: See, something like that could never happen with Serendipity… That's why I detest it so much - it takes away all the spontaneity in life! That, and all the nagging.

MOTHER: Nagging?

FATHER: All its prompts, tips, achievements... The gamified aspect of it... Always nagging!

MOTHER: So what? You were always nagging Reidlee!

FATHER: What are you on about? I was never nagging!

MOTHER: Really? Remember when she was 17 and she wore jeans with holes..?

FATHER: Yeah, all her jeans had holes for some reason...

MOTHER: It was the fashion at the time!


MOTHER: So one day you took duct tape and taped up every hole on all her jeans!

FATHER: So what? I was doing her a favour!

MOTHER: And were you also doing her a favour with all the garlic you cooked when she was a teenager?

FATHER: What are you on about?

MOTHER: You’d put garlic in food whenever she’d get invited to a high school party so that no boy would try to kiss her!

FATHER: Yeah… I was trying to protect her!

MOTHER: Protect her from what? Life? How does that differ from the Program being protective of us?

FATHER: How can you compare absolute AI control to parental suggestions..? Setting limits is a normal part of upbringing!

MOTHER: See, that’s precisely the thing about parenting you never understood: you're not raising a child - you're raising an adult. …No wonder she left!

…I’m… I’m sorry… That… I didn’t mean it that way.

FATHER: No. No, it’s fine… It’s true that I might have been too… Too involved with Reidlee... It’s just that…


FATHER: …My own father never showed much interest in me. I always thought of it as neglect… A sign he didn’t really care about me…

MOTHER: Did you ever talk about it with him?

FATHER: I did once.

MOTHER: What did he say?

FATHER: He said he just wanted me to have space... He said that his parents were very strict and controlling with him... And that he wanted me to have a different experience. Just like I wanted a different experience for Reidlee… …Maybe that’s what parenting is - just a case of generational overcorrection after overcorrection.

MOTHER: The trick isn’t not to make mistakes - the trick is to fix the mistakes we make. Honestly, that’s how I use Serendipity the most.


MOTHER: You know how hard it is to stay objective in matters in which you’re emotionally invested... So when I end up in an argument, I ask for Serendipity's opinion.

FATHER: Gaining what exactly?

MOTHER: Well if I’m right, I get the satisfaction of a neutral party confirming it. And if I’m wrong, Serendipity gives me a suggestion how to patch things up. We’re not talking about the verdicts of Solomon here - 9 times out of 10 it simply tells me to apologize.

FATHER: But does saying sorry count as being sorry if you were told to feel like that by someone else?

MOTHER: I guess it depends on how the person I’m apologizing to feels about it. We do things for other people, not ourselves.

FATHER: Okay, but then why doesn't the Program send the apology on my behalf? Simply compose a few contrite sentences and sign my name without ever consulting me? Why not automate everything?

MOTHER: Because this way you can still not do it! Maybe that's all freedom is, really, the ability to make bad choices.

FATHER: Well… Perhaps...

MOTHER: You know what this conversation reminds me of? There’s this short story I read by Ian M. Starwell, called "Two rooms"... You ever heard of it?

FATHER: I read a lot of Starwell, but I don't think I've heard this story… What’s it about?

MOTHER: Gimme a sec, I'm sure there's a proper reading of it online... And it's really short. IRIS, play "Two rooms" by Ian M. Starwell.

IRIS: Playing "Two rooms" by Ian M. Starwell.


Heaven was a nice place.

It had fair weather, played relaxing music, and served delectable food.

And people inside Heaven were happy.

However, some time had passed. It wasn't possible to say how much, as Heaven was constant and good, just like God is constant and good.

Which began to be an issue.

One by one, people grew tired of succulent morsels, they grew weary of incessant sunshine, and there's only that much Muzak one can listen to.

So they approached the guardian angel - who was something between a butler and a bouncer - with a request.

"Mr Angel" - they said - "Could you please transfer us to Hell?"

The angel raised one of its 47 eyebrows.

Then it dryly replied:

"You wouldn't like it."

But people pressed on, and iterated the request to be admitted into Hell with increased conviction.

So the angel repeated its response:

"You wouldn't like it."

Which is when people turned the request into a demand, reminding the angel that it was there to serve their wishes, irrespective of their prudence.

So the angel said:

"Follow me."

And it escorted the people out the gates of Heaven, which despite the presumptuous name was just a simple door.

It then led them to a similar door, and proceeded to unlock the numerous latches and bolts it was secured with.

Upon unfastening the last lock, the angel opened the entry to Hell, and said:

"Right this way".

And the people walked in.

At first they didn't notice anything different. It seemed that Hell served identical food as Heaven, played matching music, and had equally fair weather.

Try as they might, they couldn't discover a single difference.

Perplexed, they told the angel:

"But this... This is the same!"

To which the angel replied:



IRIS: End of audio file.

[deactivation sound]

FATHER: …It’s an interesting story... But what's the message?

MOTHER: Maybe that Hell is just Heaven after you've spent a long enough time in it.

FATHER: …I think that maybe there’s another difference: that you can leave Heaven, but you can’t leave Hell.

MOTHER: What makes you say that? Nothing in the story suggests people aren’t able to leave Hell just like they had left Heaven!

FATHER: Ah, but while people were still in Heaven, they still believed in something… They believed they had a choice… It was only once they saw Hell they discovered they never did… So perhaps that's what Hell is: realizing you were never free to begin with.

MOTHER: That’s a good point.

FATHER: You know I always offer sound analysis using logical arguments.

MOTHER: So like my old friend.


MOTHER: Serendipity.

FATHER: Touche! [silence] …Wanna hear another fun fact?

MOTHER: Please.

FATHER: It's kinda how the credit score works.

MOTHER: How? I thought you said fun! …Alright, how?

FATHER: Like "Two rooms". It's how people's credit scores are calculated. Or at least that’s the basic principle… There’s this subroutine called the White Algorithm which no one fully understands… But decoders concluded that, in essence, it simplifies every action down to two states: how many people were positively impacted by the action, and how many did the action impact negatively. If positive cases outweigh the negative ones, your credit score goes up a level - or, metaphorically, you go to the good room. If however the negative cases outweigh the positive, your score goes down a level, which is to say you go to the bad room. And so forth and so forth, proceeding from one room to another… Thinking about it this way, maybe both life and death are simply filtering… An ever finer sieve to infinity…

…You know, I’ve gotta hand it to Credit score’s architects… No one was ever able to hack it. And believe me, people have been trying pretty much since the Program first appeared... Same with all the other modules - Serendipity included…

MOTHER: So how did you do it?

FATHER: I didn’t hack Serendipity... I told you, I was never much of a hacker... What I was good at, however, was finding loopholes…

MOTHER: Tell her… Tell her what you did.

FATHER: She knows…

MOTHER: She needs to hear it from you.

FATHER: …Working on the open source version of Serendipity, I was utterly faithful to the original code. Basically leaving nothing out. But it’s not something that I left out, but rather something I added that allowed me to do what I did… I programmed a backdoor.

MOTHER: A backdoor to do what..? Come on, say it!

FATHER: Disabling Serendipity for a single user. …I knew that as soon as I executed the command, it would get patched. Meaning I could only use it once.

MOTHER: So why didn't you turn it off for yourself?

FATHER: I couldn't. The loophole I found worked on new users only. Meaning only for someone who had just been born.

MOTHER: Our daughter.

FATHER: Our daughter. …Everybody who already had a profile was stuck with it.

MOTHER: Can you create a profile for Reidlee now?


MOTHER: So how is she also not stuck? It’s one thing not to listen to Serendipity - it’s another thing completely not to have it.

FATHER: At least she’s free, unlike us!

MOTHER: But you are free - you are free not to listen to it!

FATHER: She is better off without it!

MOTHER: Well then maybe she’s better off without you too! …Ironically, it’s another one of your “gifts” to her... The ability to disappear! For not having a profile on the Program means she’s off the grid… And now we don’t know where she is… Or if she’s even alive!

FATHER: I wanted her to have a choice…

MOTHER: Well she made a choice - she chose to run away. Not from the Program, but her home. And for what..? What did you accomplish..? What exactly did your personal stand against Serendipity achieve?

FATHER: It’s the same reason why I didn’t work at any of the Big Tech companies. A man’s got to have principles! Someone had to take a stand against freedom becoming a losing proposition!

MOTHER: Freedom was always a losing proposition! …Remember my father? He was a man of principle too. He recognized that index funds, REITs, ETFs, NFTs, all that crap - all of it was just a way to profit off worker exploitation and environmental destruction… So he refused to take part. He was right, of course, but what good did that bring him? His principled stand didn't save the planet! Heaven knows he didn't enact societal change! He just ruined himself and his family. …You speak of the freedom we’ve lost? Under the previous system, the only thing one was free to do was to starve! Forget the saccharine poems, the lofty speeches, the vainglorious anthems composed in freedom’s name… She can never sing the way people sing of her.


FATHER: That was... Eloquent. And well said.

MOTHER: Thank you.

FATHER: …Too bad it wasn’t you who said it…

MOTHER: What do you mean?

FATHER: Tell me… Why are you so suddenly so keen on giving me advice?

MOTHER: I… I don’t know what you’re talking about…

FATHER: You’ve been steering this conversation from the very beginning. Every question followed by another… This is not like you... This is not you.

MOTHER: I just wanted you to share stories that demonstrate vulnerability which could facilitate opening to Reidlee.

FATHER: Demonstrate..? Facilitate..? My darling, you’re forgetting… I went through each of its subroutines… I typed every line of its code with my ten fingers… So do you really think I can’t distinguish between Serendipity and my wife?


FATHER: What else did it tell you to tell me..? Did it prompt you to mention how we met..? Did it suggest you play “Two rooms” to me..?

MOTHER: NO… I just wanted to see Reidlee again! I just want us to be a family again… And I want to see her happy…

FATHER: Even if that happiness is fake?

MOTHER: THERE IS NO “FAKE” HAPPINESS!!! There’s being happy and there’s not being happy!

FATHER: No, there’s being happy because you’re living a fulfilling life, and there’s being happy because you’ve been brainwashed!!

MOTHER: Who are YOU to decide on other people’s happiness?? What difference does it make if the Program made Reidlee’s decisions or if YOU made them for her?

FATHER: Because I am her father!

MOTHER: AND I’M HER MOTHER. …So? Does that mean I now get to control her life..? Do I get to choose her husband..? Her wife..?

FATHER: I simply wanted Reidlee to have what we had! We’re the best example you don’t need a “happiness algorithm”! I mean, I picked you up without Serendipity!

MOTHER: Actually…

FATHER: …What?

MOTHER: …The whole reason I went to Playa was because Serendipity told me I’d meet my future husband there…

FATHER: …Oh… Oh.

MOTHER: …Actually, Serendipity warned me of one more thing that day…


MOTHER: That when my soulmate does show up, he’s likely going to do something exedingly stupid.

FATHER: [sad laugh] You always did have a soft spot for lame ducks…

MOTHER: Yes. Odd ones too. [soft laughter]

FATHER: I guess… I guess in a way I knew... I mean when 90% of people use Serendipity, the holdouts can’t escape from it. We just live in its shadow…

MOTHER: …You know, if Serendipity knows everything, maybe that’s the reason why you got the gig.

FATHER: What do you mean?

MOTHER: Maybe it was Serendipity itself that came to you that day. Because it knew you would make an open source version of it.

FATHER: I told you, the Program…

MOTHER: I know, I know… “The Program is not sentient”… “It’s just a tool”… But still, perhaps your main problem with the Program is precisely that you approached it from the wrong direction…

FATHER: How so?

MOTHER: You always thought of it as limiting one’s options... But what if one’s options were always limited? And what if the Program simply made the options a bit less… Horrible?

FATHER: The only thing horrible in this matter is that I’m being punished for being right!

MOTHER: Well would you rather be right, or would you rather have your daughter?


FATHER: Would you mind… Would you mind leaving me alone for a bit? I wish to speak to Reidlee in private.

MOTHER: Oh… Yes all right of course… I’ll be in the bedroom… …You’re not going to do something exedingly stupid, are you?

FATHER: [laughs] Regarding that, I’m afraid it’s too late.

MOTHER: [chuckles)

FATHER: Reidlee… My beloved daughter… Whatever I tell you, it’s going to fall short.

Just like the man delivering these words fell short.

I cannot hide behind ignorance. This is not a case of not knowing better. You were telling me all I needed to know. You tried hard to explain. I just didn't want to hear it.

Hearing it would force me to admit I resented you. Resented you for not thinking like me. Which is just another way of saying “thinking like yourself”.

Because that’s what this is all about. Control.

I was terrified of relinquishing control - terrified of something happening to you...

My little girl.

Insisting on those three words until none of them were any longer true.

I talked myself into believing it was for your own good. I convinced myself I was acting out of love.

But it wasn’t healthy love… It was love born out of a sense of obligation. Love burdened with expectations. Love that issues you a bill at the end.

I did it without regard for your wellbeing, in the process robbing you of your confidence. Your sense of self worth. Your way of being in the world.

And I did it without thinking. Like a robot. Like all those people I think myself superior to. I was so obsessed with whether the Program is good that it never occurred to me to pose the same question to myself.

And the truth is, if you hadn’t run away, I would have continued not to think about it.



Meticulously cataloguing every slight… Building a database of wrongs to use in our next fight… Allowing me to point my finger back at you: “See? She’s the unreasonable one! The one who refuses to make this work!”

What a sad way to live a life.

I wish I could take it all back…

I wish I could tell you that it was never your fault…

I wish I could provide you with the support you had every right to expect from me.

But this isn’t about my wishes. We are here precisely because I was too concerned about my wants instead of yours.

And because it’s easier to hold a speech than one’s word.

There’s a room, Reidlee. Some people say it contains Heaven; some people say Hell. It’s a decision we have to make for ourselves.

I hope you make better decisions than I did.

As for me, all I can do now is apologize.



Two words that describe the kind of love I wish I had known how to give you.

Though this may be the last trouble that I make you suffer, and these the last words that I address to you.

…Okay IRIS… [activation sound] I'm ready… Send recording to Reidlee.

IRIS: Before sending, would you like to run your message through Serendipity to calculate its effectiveness and suggest improvements to increase the likelihood of a positive response?

FATHER: I… I… [The Program main theme cuts him off]

ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by six people: Paul Nicholas Mason, Jennifer Vallance, Stephan Linton, Jacqueline Ainsworth, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Visit for more details. A listener recently remarked: "I can't believe I'm getting such high quality content for free!" While we're proud to provide the show at no cost, we remind you that we welcome both one-time donations and continuous support through Apple Podcasts and Patreon. We thank you for any and all of your gifts.


Ivan Mirko S.


Paul Nicholas Mason
Jennifer Vallance


FATHER - Paul Nicholas Mason (imdb)
MOTHER - Jennifer Vallance (imdb)
IAN M. STARWELL - Stephan Linton (Mandy)
IRIS - Jaqueline Ainsworth (website)


Christien Ledroit (website)


original art by Carlos Costa