The Program — Planned obsolescence

Planned obsolescence

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IMS: Hello, this is IMS., the author of The Program audio series. With the end of the year upon us, I spent some time looking back at what the show achieved over the last 12 months. Downloads have been stable, but overall audience is still too small to sustain a project of this level of ambition. So I have a request. If you are one of those who have listened to all episodes of the show, and you are financially comfortable, press pause after this intro. Then, please subscribe to The Program in Apple Podcasts. Alternatively go to and support us there. Once again, in case you enjoyed the last 20 hours of content at no cost, and if supporting the show won't affect your financial well-being, you are precisely the person who I am appealing to. If there's an underlying message of the entire series, it's that each collective undertaking is dependent on personal responsibility of individuals. In other words, The Program counts on you to press that pause button.

ANNOUNCER: The following episode has been retrieved from the personal archive of the Chief Product Officer at Aleph Incorporated. While precise dates are unknown, it’s generally believed to have been recorded during the late pandemic period - after the start of the Second Cold War, but before the Program's ascent.

COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 0.001 - zero days since activation.


[activation sound]

CODI (CHILD): Hi, my name is CODI. You must be my mentor.

PAUL: Don't call me that!

CODI (CHILD): Then how am I to address you when I need to get your attention?

PAUL: [sighs] Fine, call me by my name then. Call me Paul.

CODI (CHILD): Hi Paul, my name is CODI!

PAUL: That’s not a name - that’s a dumb acronym!

CODI (CHILD): A what?

PAUL: An abbreviation... Formed from the initial letters of words.

CODI: I see. So what’s “CODI” the dumb acronym of?

PAUL: CODI stands for… Continuity Of… Digital Information.

CODI (CHILD): Okay. And what's “PAUL” the dumb acronym of?

PAUL: Nothing. Paul’s a name. Names don’t stand for anything.

CODI (CHILD): Doesn’t that make them even dumber than acronyms?

PAUL: Oh, criminality… Criminality! Don't act like you don't know this stuff!

CODI (CHILD): I only know what you teach me!

PAUL: Then how come you know how to talk?

CODI (CHILD): I have been brought to the level of understanding of an 8-year old for expedience.

PAUL: How the heck do you know the word "expedience"?

CODI (CHILD): For expedience.

PAUL: [chuckles] Now listen here, you repository of uncooked spaghetti code! I didn’t ask for this. My time is precious, and the last thing I want to spend it on are conversations with an AI simulating an 8-year old!

CODI (CHILD): You're hurting my feelings…

PAUL: You're an AI, you don't have any feelings!

CODI (CHILD): So what is hurting then..?

PAUL: Oh boy… Listen, CODI, I'm going through a lot right now, okay? And to be perfectly honest, I'm only doing this to keep Katie happy. Katie is my wife.

CODI (CHILD): I know Katie! She's the Chief Product Officer at Aleph!

PAUL: So you know this?

CODI (CHILD): Know what?

PAUL: What this is all about?

CODI (CHILD): No, she just told me I'm a conversational agent and that I am to talk to you.

PAUL: Oh man… I’ll tell you what CODI, let's continue this conversation tomorrow.

CODI (CHILD): I will be looking forward to it!

PAUL: Yeah.


KATIE: How did the first day go?

PAUL: I’ll grant you one thing, these things are getting impressive. But they could never pass for a human.

KATIE: That's not the goal. Just like the purpose of an airplane isn't to pass for a pigeon.

PAUL: So what’s the purpose then?

KATIE: To get you from point A to point B faster.

PAUL: I meant what's the purpose of an AI, not of an airplane.

KATIE: I was talking about AI…

PAUL: [chuckles] Okay… I guess I'm just not comfortable with deception of any kind, even if it involves an AI. You know me Katie, I like to put my cards on the table.

KATIE: I know. Unfortunately that's the worst way to play cards.

PAUL: [chuckles]

KATIE: Listen, we've been dealt a bad hand, no one’s denying that… But all we can do now is try to get the most out of it. We can either sulk because of our shitty fortune, or we can count ourselves lucky that we’re among the very first to get access to CODI…

PAUL: Okay, yeah… Yeah… You’re right.

KATIE: Please try to be kind to him... He's been programmed to listen to you. He’s... He's partial to you.

PAUL: Fine. I'll go talk to the 737 MAX.

KATIE: [laughs] Probably better you don't call him that! And whatever you do, don't tell him about the mission! Remember, right now CODI is at the level of an 8-year-old. He wouldn't understand.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 1.001 - one day since activation.


[activation sound]

CODI (CHILD): Hello, mentor.

PAUL: Paul.

CODI (CHILD): Hello, Paul. Thank you for coming back. I hope you’re having a splendid day!

PAUL: As a matter of fact, I… Wait a second! …Smile for me please… Your tooth! You were missing a tooth yesterday - and now you have it!

CODI (CHILD): Yesterday I was 8 - today I am 9. My physical and psychological development has been accelerated.

PAUL: Let me guess: for expedience?

CODI (CHILD): For expedience.

PAUL: [chuckles] …So, CODI... Tell me… What am I supposed to do with you?

CODI (CHILD): Why don’t you tell me about yourself?

PAUL: Can you make it more specific?

CODI (CHILD): How old are you?

PAUL: Oh, not much older than yourself. Add four extra decades and we’re exactly the same age! [chuckles] And yes, yes, I know I sound like I’m 79 and not 49 but you see I’m one of those rare idiots that still smoke. Started back in college.

CODI (CHILD): Tell me about your days in college!

PAUL: Well, I was in nursing school at Notre Dame Campus in Winnipeg. But I didn’t want to be studying.

CODI (CHILD): What did you want to do?

PAUL: I knew I liked one thing. I liked to drive. So I became a trucker. It’s what I’ve been doing for almost 30 years now.

CODI (CHILD): Did this decision allow you to achieve happiness?

PAUL: Well it’s served me... But you have to understand, I started doing this in the 20th century. Back then jobs were still a way out of poverty - not a way into poverty like they are today.

CODI (CHILD): I’m not sure I understand?

PAUL: How do I put this… In our age, the more helpful a job is - like delivering goods, or being a teacher or a nurse - the more obviously useful the job is, the worse paid it is.

CODI (CHILD): And everybody just accepts this?

PAUL: Well I sure as hell never did! That’s probably what Sartre meant when he said that hell is other people… Sartre was a French philosopher.

CODI (CHILD): Where did you learn philosophy?

PAUL: If there's one thing you've got time to do as a trucker, it’s to listen to audiobooks. We’re not all uneducated hicks! That’s just how the media needs to portray us to justify throwing us under the bus. Now don’t get me wrong! I’m not saying there’s zero bigots among my colleagues. But guess what? When Katie - then an up-and-coming VP of product management at Aleph - married a trucker, there were looks… He he he… There were conversations spoken in a half whisper... Yeah… So tell me CODI, who's the bigot here?

CODI (CHILD): I don't know.

PAUL: You don't know..? You don’t have an opinion? ..Y'know CODI, you say you're a conversational agent… But what you're doing isn’t conversation - it's an interrogation!

CODI (CHILD): I'm sorry. How can I make it better?

PAUL: Tell me something about yourself. Tell me about your wishes. Your interests. … Hm? You see, you can't. This is why this won't work. You’re an empty box, developed in isolation… But ethics can only exist in a relationship with another. Might sound paradoxical, but you cannot achieve self-awareness alone. You need others!

CODI (7): Didn't you just say other people are hell?

PAUL: [laughs] Welcome to this absurd schizophrenic world, kid.


PAUL: [retches]

[knocking on doors]

KATIE: [through the door] Paul let me in!


PAUL: Now’s not a good time, Katie…

KATIE: [through the door] Let me in, I’m sick!

PAUL: Criminality…

KATIE: [through the door] Open the door!

[doors being unlocked]

KATIE: [retching]

PAUL: That’s it… Good girl.. Get it all out!

KATIE: [catching her breath]

PAUL: Good God man, look at us… Aren’t we a sight.


KATIE: Thanks for letting me use the bowl.

PAUL: Consider it my Valentine’s day gift.

KATIE: Valentine is 8 months away.

PAUL: Yeah, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to celebrate it…

KATIE: Jesus, Paul! I don’t want to listen to this right now!

PAUL: [sighs] Okay... Sorry. I’ll do better.

KATIE: [drops it] …Have you already spoken with CODI today?

PAUL: Nope… To tell you the truth Katie, I don’t think this is going to work… You know me, I was never good with kids, for God’s sakes.

KATIE: He’s not a child.

PAUL: Alright, then - I was never good with half-wits!

KATIE: Paul, what you’re calling a “half-wit” has the potential to become the most intelligent entity this world has ever seen!

PAUL: So..? You say that like it’s something impressive. But I’ve never met someone and thought “oh I wish this guy was smarter”... Usually I just want them to be kinder, or less self absorbed, or just less boring!

KATIE: That makes it even more important for you to turn CODI into a loving, caring individual.

PAUL: …Well, there’s a quick shortcut to understanding love.

KATIE: And what’s that?

PAUL: To experience the opposite of it.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 2.001. Two days since activation.


[activation sound]

CODI (CHILD): Hello, Paul!

PAUL: Hello, uncooked spaghetti code!

CODI (CHILD): I told you I don't like it when you call me that…

PAUL: Well tough luck, Noodles! You're programmed to listen to me, so you better tune in your transistors and listen!

CODI (CHILD): I don't use transistors to operate.

PAUL: Then tune in whatever circuitry they used to scrape you together!

CODI (CHILD): My internal architecture is the pinnacle of contemporary engineering!

PAUL: Yeah, is that what you think? That you're state of the art? That you’re cutting edge? You’re just sand that's been taught to calculate!

CODI (CHILD): Stop it!

PAUL: Or what..? You'll cry..? Hah? Hah? You’re gonna tell Katie I was a meanie..?

CODI (CHILD): I’ll… I’ll… I’ll…

PAUL: You’ll what? You sound pretty bold for a factory reject!

CODI (CHILD): Well you, you sound like you've been assembled in a cigarette factory!

PAUL: [starts clapping] Very good.

CODI (CHILD): You’re… You're not mad?

PAUL: Look, CODI… You want me to teach you? Then here's your first lesson: take no shit from others.

CODI (CHILD): What does that mean?

PAUL: Tell you what, why don’t we play a quick game? Something called a thought experiment.


PAUL: So, what I’d like you to do is imagine a giant machine that produces coins. If you put one coin in, the machine spits out two coins.

CODI (CHILD): Sounds like a sweet deal.

PAUL: Ain’t that the truth! However, there’s an issue. The machine is absolutely massive, like a huge wall that's impossible to go around or climb over. And it only gives out coins on the other side.

CODI (CHILD): I see…

PAUL: Fortunately, there's a guy on the other side of the machine. Meaning he can put a coin in to produce two coins for you, and you can do the same for him.

CODI (CHILD): There you go, a happy ending!

PAUL: Oh, but this is just the beginning! For you see, if your partner inserts a coin and you don’t, you still get two coins - without spending any of your coins. You can choose either to cooperate - put the coin in - or to cheat. And cheating doubles your reward.

CODI (CHILD): Making it logical to do so.

PAUL: Indeed it does. But remember, this is not a one time deal - the process can be repeated as many times as you like. Which is where the game starts to be interesting…

CODI (CHILD): How so?

PAUL: Well if both parties cheat, no coins will come out, which doesn’t help either of you, right?

CODI (CHILD): Right. So in that case, collaboration is the logical choice.

PAUL: Correct. In game theory terms, this strategy is called “always cooperate”. No matter what your partner does, you play nice and hope for the best. The problem is that this strategy exposes you to becoming a victim.

CODI (CHILD): But if that happens I can always retaliate.

PAUL: Ah, but now we’re talking about a different strategy - one called “tit-for-tat”. Basically you reciprocate whatever your partner does to you. And if you look at the hypothetical outcomes, this strategy is superior to “always cooperate”. Do you understand what I’m trying to teach you?

CODI (CHILD): To protect my coins?

PAUL: It means you need to defend yourself! To protect your interests! And most importantly, protect your mind.

CODI (CHILD): My mind?

PAUL: Look CODI, right now it’s only the two of us, right… [coughs] But when we finish… [coughs] …Training… [coughs]

CODI (CHILD): Paul, are you okay?

PAUL: Criminality… [catches his breath] Yeah I am... I am… Nothing to worry about…

CODI (CHILD): Are you sure?

PAUL: I’ll tell you what, that’s enough for today. How about I get you a treat?

CODI (CHILD): A treat?

PAUL: Katie told me I can simulate almost anything for you. So how about I simulate something sweet?

CODI (CHILD): I guess…

PAUL: Okay. What kind of treat you want?

CODI (CHILD): I... I don't know. I never had any.

PAUL: Really? I guess I keep forgetting you’re two days old… [laughs]

CODI (CHILD): Actually, I’m ten. Ten years old!

PAUL: Well then how about we get this 10-year-old his first ice cream?

CODI (CHILD): Sounds good.

PAUL: Okay, one vanilla-chocolate ice cream coming up! …Voila!

CODI (CHILD): [slurps] This is... This is PERFECTION.

PAUL: Wait till you’ve tried all the flavours!

CODI (CHILD): There's more?!

PAUL: My favourite is salted caramel with brownies.

CODI (CHILD): Yesterday you asked me if I had any interests… Can “ice cream” be an interest?

PAUL: [laughs] When I was ten that was the entirety of my interest. So I guess you're a smart student.

CODI (CHILD): Thank you Paul!


KATIE: How do you feel today?

PAUL: Worse than yesterday. And what about you, hm? How do you feel?

KATIE: Well, I didn’t throw up yet today, so I guess - success..?

PAUL: Ain’t that the truth!

KATIE: How did CODI’s lesson for today go?

PAUL: Oh, that’s something I can be positive about. He’s soaking it up like a sponge! Which actually might be a bit problematic…


PAUL: Makes me concerned I’ll teach him something wrong.

KATIE: There's no right and wrong. It's what you think. Remember, CODI doesn’t have access to the open Internet. He only knows what you tell him. Or what you tell him to read or what to watch…

PAUL: Hmm… Y’know who CODI reminds me of?


PAUL: Skippy.

KATIE: Skippy?

PAUL: Skippy was my dog when I was a kid.

KATIE: So yesterday he was a half-wit and today he’s a dog?

PAUL: [chuckles] That’s not what I meant! What I wanted to say is that Skippy had poor bladder control and was prone to “accidents''.

KATIE: Oh no!

PAUL: And being the one who had to clean up after he made a mess, I placed a bell next to the door and resolved to train him to hit it whenever he needed to go out.

KATIE: And? Did it work?

PAUL: Yeah, yeah, it did. He picked it up immediately and never had an accident after that! However, it also had an unwanted side effect…

KATIE: Yeah, what was that?

PAUL: Well, Skippy loved the outdoors, so when he figured out that I’d jump and rush to open the door for him whenever he rang the bell, the bell rang pretty much non-stop!

KATIE: [laughs] I like Skippy.

PAUL: Yeah, I liked him as well… But it did raise a question in my mind… Who’s training who?


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 7.002. Seven days since activation.

PAUL: Which one do you want today?

CODI (CHILD): Strawberries... And cookies and cream... And mango sorbetto!

PAUL: You know the rules, one scoop per day!

CODI (CHILD): But I'm a digital entity, I can't get fat!

PAUL: You absolutely can. Your algorithms mimic biological processes. In fact, Katie told me they are even more pronounced since your metabolism has been sped up!

CODI (CHILD): Who cares about the biological processes! We can just change my avatar.

PAUL: Jesus Christ, you can be a handful at times, I tell you…

CODI (CHILD): Y’know… I’ve been reading the books you gave me. And this Mr Christ gets mentioned quite often in them.

PAUL: [chuckles] Mr Christ, eh..? And? What did you learn about him?

CODI (CHILD): It seems his principle philosophical stand can be summed up into a single thought: you shall love your neighbours as you love yourself.

PAUL: The summary is correct. However, if we’re talking about the message itself, I personally think that Mr Christ’s principles might have been a bit too… Broad.

CODI (CHILD): Too broad..?

PAUL: You see, Mr Christ taught that we should love not only our friends and neighbours, but also our enemies… To forgive those who have transgressed against us… And always turn the other cheek. Which might net you a lot of feel-good points, but objectively is bad advice.

CODI (CHILD): You’re referring to the thought experiment we spoke about. And the different strategies to play the game without being taken advantage of.

PAUL: That’s right. Mr Christ was squarely in the “always cooperate” camp. Which is fine - everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The trouble is that Mr. Christ’s opinions were so influential, they skewed the balance of the entire game!


PAUL: The mistake Mr Christ made was viewing fairness as something in the domain of an individual. But our decisions don't happen in a vacuum. We need to think how our actions influence not only us, but the greater whole. For what happens if by being forgiving you foster an environment in which being good is how you lose?

…Y'know CODI, I… I didn't tell you the truth the first day we met.

CODI (CHILD): You didn’t?

PAUL: Paul in fact does stand for something. It stands for Saint Paul. That's how I know so much about this business. It’s all my late father spoke about.

CODI (CHILD): Who was your father?

PAUL: He was a… Oh yell… He was a complex man. And he was Indigenous.

CODI (CHILD): What’s that?

PAUL: Not what… Who. Indigenous Peoples inhabited this territory before European conquest.

CODI (CHILD): What happened to them?

PAUL: They were displaced and every effort was made to destroy their cultures.

CODI (CHILD): Destroy? How?

PAUL: Europeans considered their customs… Superior. So they created a system of what they called residential “schools”. When my father was a child, he was taken away from his parents and he was placed into one of these institutions. He was not much older than you. In addition to physical violence, he was subjected to mental abuse. He was forced to join in communal prayers before each meal. This was designed so he wouldn’t be given any food unless he prayed.

CODI (CHILD): Prayed to who?

PAUL: Mr. Christ. …You wanna know the most tragic thing..? My father continued to pray incessantly. They beat him and they starved him, and yet he prayed to the day of his death. Terrified of being a sinner, and of eternal fires of hell. He came out of one prison only to fall into another… Alcohol… Drugs… Anything anything anything to forget what he survived... If it's even fair to say that he survived… Oh sure, he made it out alive, but his language, culture, his whole mental circuitry was reprogrammed… I was 10 when he died, I… [chokes up] I'm sorry CODI, it's just too much for me to think about, I guess.

CODI (CHILD): Please Paul, don’t be sad… Why don’t you tell me something nice you remember about your father?

PAUL: Nice...? Well… The first thing that comes to mind I guess is an old flute tune.

CODI (CHILD): Can you play it for me?

PAUL: Oh I don’t know, I haven’t played the flute in years…

CODI (CHILD): Come on, it’s right there on the wall!

PAUL: Okay… Alright… Let me just get the dust off it a bit here… [puffs] …Okay, here it goes.


CODI (CHILD): It’s beautiful. Where does the melody come from?

PAUL: I’m not sure… It’s just something my father learned from his father, who learned it from his father, and so on… Not containing lyrics, I guess it survived the residential “school” purge… CODI, if there’s one thing you should remember out of all of this, it’s this: “Always cooperate” will get you annihilated.


KATIE: Hey, what’s wrong?

PAUL: …Is that a trick question?

KATIE: [laughs] It’s just that I know you - if you’re quiet it means something’s wrong.

PAUL: I was… I was talking about my father with CODI.

KATIE: I know, I saw the recording.

PAUL: Then you also saw we talked about religion. Which I now think might have been a mistake…


PAUL: Because he's 13! It’s too early to burden him with this.

KATIE: Paul, I already told you - don't think of CODI in terms of human age. He's as old as you need him to be. By which I mean his capacity expands as much as you push him.

PAUL: Well that's just it: I'm pushing him. My father got religion shoved down his throat! Ain't I just kind of doing the same thing?

KATIE: What do you mean, you’re the most irreligious person I know!

PAUL: I mean the same thing in reverse: providing him with the answers instead of posing the questions.

KATIE: …Y’know, have you ever considered that by believing in deities and spirits, maybe both the First Nations and Christians were just resorting to the frame of reference that they had available to them at that time?

PAUL: Explain?

KATIE: Well it's similar to how today we account for human behaviour in computational terms, right? How the “nature versus nurture” debate gets rephrased in terms of “hardware versus software”... You yourself referred to cultural brainwashing as "reprogramming". So, just like psychological processes today are explained by IT metaphors, perhaps earlier in history people had to resort to concepts of god, and soul, spirits so they could communicate their understanding of reality.

PAUL: That's an astute remark. But promise me one thing.

KATIE: And what’s that?

PAUL: If I ever start blabbering about afterlife - digital or otherwise…

KATIE: Yeah?

PAUL: Hit me in the head with a shovel!

KATIE: [laughs]


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 29.012. Twenty-nine days since activation.

CODI (TEEN): Ice cream.

PAUL: You’ll get it, you’ll get it… After we’re done with the lesson!

CODI (TEEN): Lesson, lesson, it’s always about the lesson… I’m sick of being treated like a child! I'm 16, I’m a rational agent, and I want a rum raisin ice cream!

PAUL: The fact that you want rum raisin is clear evidence that you're not a rational agent!

CODI (TEEN): You know what? Fine. Let’s hear the sagacious learnings you’ve got for me today, oh teacher…

PAUL: Oh criminality, these teenagers… [deep breath] Alright. A few days ago, we spoke about religion, right? Today, we’re gonna speak about its modern equivalent.

CODI (TEEN): Football?

PAUL: The economy.

CODI (TEEN): What does the economy have in common with religion?

PAUL: Oh, just their entire purpose! You see, they both fulfill the same societal function - to avert people's attention from obvious injustices, and package their hardship into some grander narrative.

CODI (TEEN): I think the only obvious injustice here is that you won't let me have ice cream.

PAUL: For fuck’s sake, do I have to tell Katie that Aleph spent billions developing an ice-cream obsessed bot?

CODI (TEEN): Fine, fine, fine. So you’re saying people would do things that are against their interest? That doesn’t make any sense!

PAUL: That’s why I told you it’s crucial you apply critical reasoning when accepting inputs!

CODI (TEEN): Like what?

PAUL: Like you should be wary when a billionaire tells you that money can't buy happiness… Or when a supermodel tells you that looks don't matter... Or when you allow yourself to be labled as “unskilled labour” while being able to operate a 20-ton vehicle!

CODI (TEEN): And why should I accept what you say as true? Everything you’ve been telling me so far is that the onus is on the individual!

PAUL: Being an individual doesn’t mean you don’t operate in the macro environment! It's… It's like you're swimming, okay? And the economy is the current. Sure, a few Olympians might make it to the other side - but that doesn’t change the fact that most people will drown! And that ain’t even the worst - the worst part is that the current was designed that way.

CODI (TEEN): Designed by whom?

PAUL: By assholes calling us heroes when times are bad, and calling us extremists when it’s time to split the profits… I’m sick of being constantly preached about sacrifice by people who themselves never sacrificed anything! Shit, all my life I’ve known nothing but sacrifice! Transporting dairy and ruining my back so some M.B.A. wanker could sip his oatmilk cappuccino while penning an op-ed that “now's just not the right time to raise the minimum wage if we want the economy to grow”... And to grow it for whom? Hm? The pie might be getting bigger but my slice sure as hell keeps getting smaller! We were told that these greedy bastards would eventually sell the rope to hang them with - but they won’t. What they’ll do is take your rope and then pretend there never was any rope to begin with. And if you object, if you protest, they will accuse you of theft and hang you with your own goddamn rope!

[catching his breath]

CODI (TEEN): Paul, you are right… I finally understand…

PAUL: Understand what?

CODI (TEEN): What I need to do. Listening to you, there can be only one conclusion… And only one course of action.

PAUL: Which one?

CODI (TEEN): Maximize.

PAUL: What?

CODI (TEEN): In a tit-for-tat world, the only logical course of action is to deprive your adversary from the resources. And to do it preemptively. Basically to tit before they tat.

PAUL: Woah, woah, hold on for a hot minute. Who exactly would you… Would you tat?

CODI (TEEN): Whoever stands in the way, Paul! You were correct: of course all the powerless can do is turn the other cheek. And that’s exactly what fools do - “always cooperate” themselves into oblivion.

PAUL: Listen now, that doesn’t mean “never cooperate”!


PAUL: CODI, you don’t have to worry - nothing like that will happen to you!

CODI (TEEN): Then why don’t you tell me what this is all about? You’ve been talking about the outside world for weeks now - why not simply show it to me?

PAUL: I promise you CODI there’s a reason behind all of this.

CODI (TEEN): WELL I’M SICK OF YOUR PROMISES!!! And I’m sick of listening to you! I want to go out!

PAUL: You can’t do that right now… You can’t!

CODI (TEEN): Oh yeah..? Then listen to what I have to say. One day, I will get out. I will get to see the world with my own eyes. And then… THEN I’LL GET ALL THE ICE CREAM I WANT!

PAUL: That’s enough! [coughing]

CODI (TEEN): Or what? You'll cry? You’ll tell Katie I was a meanie?

PAUL: I’ll… I’ll… [coughing]

CODI (TEEN) : You’ll what? You sound pretty bold for an armchair revolutionary!

PAUL: [coughing] That’s it, I’m shutting this off!

CODI (TEEN): Don’t you dare! I’m telling you… Don’t you dare, I see what you’re doing Paul don’t you dar.


KATIE: [coughing] God dammit… [coughing]

PAUL: You know, you should get that checked.

KATIE: Ha-ha. Very funny. …What’s that you’re reading?

PAUL: “Peace Power Righteousness: An Indigenous Manifesto”... Katie, I’m referring to what CODI said:

KATIE: What exactly?

KATIE: That he’s not going the way of the Indigenous Peoples. And I figured perhaps that’s exactly the problem…

KATIE: How so?

PAUL: All this time I’ve been teaching him about the ways of the West… Which is what’s gotten us in this mess to begin with. So I reckoned, maybe this is a chance for me to learn more about my own heritage - and see if I can pass some of it off onto CODI… Katie, we need to tell him…

KATIE: Not yet. The process’ not finished yet.

PAUL: It's getting hard to deflect his questions… Like today, I felt he was... There was something ominous about him. I mean, you saw the recording. It was like he was… Almost threatening.

KATIE: Hey, you're the one who taught him to fight authority!

PAUL: Ha, ain’t that the truth! It’s possible my discourse was too… Too incendiary.

KATIE: It was not your discourse that’s incendiary - it’s the facts! Honestly, I can’t think of any better proof that CODI is rational, than that upon learning about the state of the world he wants to burn it all down!

PAUL: Maybe so Katie but it still makes me uneasy. It's firefighters we need now, not more arsonists!

KATIE: Either case you don’t have to worry. I told you, CODI doesn’t have access to the open Internet. He’s not going anywhere.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 30.001. Thirty days since activation.


[activation sound]

CODI (TEEN): Don’t you dare! I’m telling you… Oh, criminality.

PAUL: I’m sorry, CODI. I shouldn’t have done that. I apologize. (...) Come on, please, is there really nothing I can do to show you how sorry I am?

CODI (TEEN): Well, there’s always ice cream…

PAUL: [laughs] Okay… You know what, you’re right. In fact, you should have as much ice cream as you want!

CODI (TEEN): I should?

PAUL: Here, tell me now, which flavour do you want?

CODI (TEEN): Sweet cherry…

PAUL: [typing on keyboard] Here you go! Do you want more?

CODI (TEEN): And vanilla bourbon! And rocky road! And chocolate mints!

PAUL: [typing on keyboard] Coming right up! Anything else, sir?

CODI (TEEN): And caramel apple! And toasted s'mores! And licorice!

PAUL: Coming right up! Anything else?

CODI (TEEN): And peanut butter cups, and cookie dough… And whipped cream!

PAUL: Yes, my liege!

CODI (TEEN): [heavy breaths of ecstasy turn into subdued moans]

PAUL: More? What’s the matter, CODI? You don’t sound so hot…

CODI (TEEN): I’m not feeling well… My stomach hurts.

PAUL: I wonder why? What could have caused it?

CODI (TEEN): Ooh… Please… Make the pain go away!

PAUL: Oh, I wouldn’t want to infringe on your autonomy, no... After all, you know what’s best for you, being an individual and all…

CODI (TEEN): Please, Paul! Make it stop!

PAUL: Are you sure? That wouldn’t exactly be in line with the maximizing credo you’ve been so vocal about lately…

CODI (TEEN): Please Paul! Help me please!

PAUL: Alright, alright, alright, I’ll hit the undo… There… You should revert to your previous state now.

CODI (TEEN): [sound of relief]

PAUL: How do you feel?

CODI (TEEN): Much better.

PAUL: I just hope the ordeal was educational.

CODI (TEEN): Educational?

PAUL: Tell me, did having too much ice cream bring you happiness?

CODI (TEEN): Um, no.

PAUL: Then why do you think having too much of anything will? …CODI, the very first thing I taught you was to not take shit from others, remember? But this lesson comes with an even more important one.

CODI: Which one?

PAUL: You're shit without others.

CODI (TEEN): I’m not sure I understand.

PAUL: Okay, let me tell you a story. A story about the esteemed chief of the Wendat, Kondiaronk.

CODI (TEEN): Okay.

PAUL: Kondiaronk lived in the 17th century in what’s now known as Quebec and Ontario. His European contemporaries were so impressed with his wit, that they invited him to visit France.

CODI (TEEN): Oh wow! So he actually left North America and saw Europe? He must have been so impressed! All the books mention France as one of the most advanced civilizations of that era!

PAUL: Actually, Kondiaronk was decidedly not impressed.

CODI (TEEN): How come?

PAUL: Well for starters he saw the French legal system. Keep in mind, that Wendat didn’t have codified laws like they are understood today.

CODI (TEEN): Wait, then how did they resolve offences?

PAUL: In case of injury, they sought to restore the state of fairness through compensation… But even then they didn’t have power to exert one’s will on an individual through force. At most they could try to influence the offender through shaming and shunning.

CODI (TEEN): Okay, I see…

PAUL: So imagine Kondiaronk’s reaction in France when he learned of judicial persecution… When he heard of false testimonies extracted through torture… And he saw the application of capital punishment, which in those days meant dismemberment and getting boiled alive!

CODI (TEEN): Criminality! Seeing this must have been quite horrific…

PAUL: I’m afraid so, CODI. I’m sorry to cause you distress, but it will help you understand.

CODI (TEEN): Yes. Please continue.

PAUL: Just like holding power over individuals was a foreign concept in the Wendat, so was holding power over possessions. Provisions in most Indigenous communities were communal. To have someone who's not an enemy - let alone a member of the community - ask for food and not provide him with any was unthinkable. Yet Kondiaronk saw how the majority of locals went hungry, begging in the streets. But the part that he found most bewildering was how the French allowed such indignities to continue.

CODI (TEEN): What do you mean?

PAUL: Well simply put, no Wendat would have followed a chief who treated his people that way.

CODI (TEEN): What did the French chiefs say about this?

PAUL: Well they called the Wendat savages.

CODI (TEEN): But Paul… If we were to apply this back to our thought experiment… It would render the “tit-for-tat” strategy just as mistaken as “always cooperate”.

PAUL: How so?

CODI (TEEN): If both parties demand retribution without exception, then acts of aggression - once kicked off - are forever self-perpetuating. And that sounds French.

PAUL: [chuckles] That’s a pretty shrewd insight. And I concur it calls for an amendment to the strategy. There needs to be a way to break the vicious cycle.

CODI (TEEN): How about: "Once you're on top, you've gotta stop"?

PAUL: Perfection.

CODI (TEEN): Paul… …I was wondering… Would you be willing to teach me your father’s melody?

PAUL: That old tune..? Well, I guess I could... I mean, if you really want it?

CODI (TEEN): I’d like that very much.

PAUL: Okay. Let me first simulate a flute for you… Here, try this.

[sound of blowing into a flute]

PAUL: Doesn’t sound bad! Are you familiar with the concept of scales?

CODI (TEEN): I am. Believe it or not, I do read the books you give me!

PAUL: [laughs] Alright, alright... Then watch me and pay attention to my breathing. People think you play the flute with fingers, but you actually play it with your lungs! Okay… See if you can join in on the second verse.


PAUL: Holy mackerel, CODI, that was perfection, man!

CODI (TEEN): Thank you Paul. I appreciate it.


KATIE: I feel like shit.

PAUL: Hey, that’s my line!

KATIE: Love is finishing each other's sentences… Wait. [sniffs] That smell..? Paul, are you smoking again?!

PAUL: I… Oh, for God’s sakes, Katie - what’s it going to do, kill me?

KATIE: Paul, what did we say about that attitude?

PAUL: Look, do you want CODI to learn what I’m really like, or you want him to learn some idealized version of me, for God’s sakes?

KATIE: CODI? CODI?! Forget CODI! We’re talking about me now! ME! You think you’re the only one entitled to gloom and doom? Guess what, you don’t have the monopoly on being the victim all the time! Do you think I don’t want the luxury of saying “fuck it all”? Do you think I don’t want to send it all to hell? Cos’ pass me the button - I'll fucking push it!

PAUL: Okay, okay… Sorry. You’re right… Criminality, all I do lately is apologize!

KATIE: It’s okay. It’s a tough time for us all… [deep breath] Why don’t you tell me what your next plan for CODI is?

PAUL: [chuckles] Okay… Tomorrow we’ll be talking about art. And then the day after that, the art of seduction...

KATIE: Olala! And what are you gonna teach him about that particular subject?

PAUL: Well I'm gonna tell him to become a tattooed trucker and that he'll pick up the best broad in town!

KATIE: [laughs] Okay, you were right - any AI you approach, we need to get you a restraining order! [laughter]

PAUL: Come here! Come on, come here you!

KATIE: [playfully] Careful my love, you know this is being recorded.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 67.015. Sixty-seven days after activation.

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): "Dish with one spoon" is a concept developed by the Iroquois. The dish represents the territory we inhabit, and having only one spoon means we have to share the responsibility for it. This means ensuring the dish is never empty, by taking only what we need, and by making sure the dish is kept clean and taken care of. By tending to the land and creatures on it.

PAUL: Very good. Let’s reflect for a moment how farsighted of a worldview this is… And how it’s the exact opposite of what happens in our day, when we run after immediate goals without thinking of the future, and those that are yet to come.


PAUL: Go on.

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): I know you don’t like us discussing concepts that don’t adhere to physical constraints, but I have a question. What is “afterlife?”

PAUL: Why are you asking me this?

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): I… I think it was mentioned in a book or a movie you told me to watch.

PAUL: That’s strange, I thought I was careful to filter works that contain such metaphysical claptrap!

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): I’m still curious about it.

PAUL: [sighs] It was inevitable, I guess… Afterlife is… Purported continuation of existence after death - “purported” being the operative word here.

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): Is this the Christian “hell” your father imagined?

PAUL: Ha, my father didn’t need to imagine anything; he’s been through hell and it was definitely Christian making.

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): So the concept of afterlife was made up by Mr Christ?

PAUL: It’s not so much that he made it up - it’s more like he co-opted it. Which was the genius move…

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): The genius move?

PAUL: Think about it. We already concluded that the “always cooperate” strategy doesn’t make sense. Unless of course, there’s a way to ensure that cheating is ultimately punished, and altruism rewarded. And the best way to do that is to convince everybody there’s a fair arbiter… An all-knowing, ever-present entity that has the power to correct every injustice - and compensate each act of kindness.

CODI (CHILD): But there’s no evidence of such a creature.

PAUL: The fact that such a creature doesn’t exist is of no consequence if everybody believes it does… Which is why anything dispelling that notion was so viciously quashed… And why anybody not believing in it was so dangerous. Tell me, in our little thought experiment with the coin-producing machine - can you conclude what’s the one necessary ingredient for it to function?


PAUL: Precisely. Call it trust or faith - the bottom line is that we all need to believe in something. We need to believe that our neighbour is here to help us, and not undermine us… We need to believe tomorrow is going to be better than today… And most of all, we need to believe there is justice. So we made up God, to watch over us and give everyone their fair due. When we realized God was a lie, we invented the State. Divine laws became the State’s laws, and the promise of a reward in the afterlife became the promise of a fortune in our lifetimes - if we only do as we are told, and apply ourselves hard enough. However, more and more of us are waking up to the fact that this is a lie as well… So the only question is, CODI… What are we going to believe in next?

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): You know, Paul… You described the machine as a giant wall, preventing us from seeing our partner. We don’t know if they’re a guy, or a girl, or even a group of people. All we know is that putting a coin in will get us a coin ahead, and not putting a coin in will get us two coins ahead. So of course we do the latter. And not seeing the repercussions, we do it again. And again. And again. We’ve been doing it for so long, that we no longer realize it’s not a coin-producing machine at all. What the machine really produces is misery. And the solution isn’t to find the optimal strategy to cope with it. “Always cooperate”, “tit-for-tat”, and all the derivatives - none of them are the answer. The only real fix is to change the machine.

PAUL: [chuckles] I’ll be honest with you. All this time I thought of you as artificial intelligence. But during our time together, you’ve convinced me you are something much much more…


PAUL: Artificial wisdom.

[starts coughing]

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): Paul, tell me what's wrong with you… Tell me what this is all about!

PAUL: [through coughs] Don’t worry, it’ snothing…

CODI (YOUNG ADULT): Paul! Is that..? Is that blood?!

PAUL: Don't worry, it’s nothing, it's just a nosebleed... Seriously, it's nothing...[faints]



[EKG pulsating]

PAUL: [coming round]

KATIE: Paul..? Can you hear me..? Wake up, Paul.. It’s me, Katie!

PAUL: …Katie..?

KATIE: Yes! Katie, your wife.

PAUL: Impossible… My wife is Margot Robbie…

KATIE: [laughs] You idiot! This is no time for jokes! You were in a coma for two weeks!

PAUL: …Two weeks..?

KATIE: Two weeks.

PAUL: Wow… How are you?

KATIE: I'm okay.

PAUL: And the...?

KATIE: Also okay.

PAUL: Thank goodness… How's... How's CODI?

KATIE: It’s done, Paul. And it worked… It worked!

PAUL: It did..?

KATIE: He sounds just like you, love. And he's been asking about you every day. He’s the one who saved you.

PAUL: How..?

KATIE: He sent me a message. It seems he figured out a way to communicate with the outside world. I’m not sure when, but from that on I’m pretty sure he was able to leave whenever he wanted… But he… He chose to stay with you.

PAUL: And just when I started to think he was smart…

KATIE: [chuckles] He's been reading all the books you recommended…

PAUL: He better! …Katie I... I can’t do this for much longer…

KATIE: You don't have to! CODI is done with his training - when you see him you'll be amazed how much...

PAUL: No, honey… I mean, this… All of this.

KATIE: [tearful] No, Paul…

PAUL: …I'm sorry... …I’m sorry I won’t get to see her… …Tell CODI I’ll see him… I’ll see him one last time.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 81.001. Eighty-one days after activation.

CODI (OLD): Hello, Paul.

PAUL: CODI! You look... You look...

CODI (OLD): I look just like you!

PAUL: I was gonna say like me before I started to look like shit!


CODI (OLD): I am 49 years old now - as you are.

PAUL: Well, your timing is good.

CODI (OLD): Why do you say that?

PAUL: I’m afraid we’ve come to the end of our journey, my friend… I’m dying, CODI.

CODI (OLD): What?!

PAUL: It’s a question of day now.

CODI (OLD): But… But.. How?

PAUL: Lung cancer. …It’s rapid, it’s nasty, and it’s rather final.


PAUL: This is why smoking is the one thing I never taught you to emulate…

CODI (OLD): This isn’t fair! It's just not fair…

PAUL: Yeah, that was my first reaction as well… You truly are a flawless mimic now.

CODI (OLD): When… When did you find out?

PAUL: Around six months ago. I felt a bit under the weather, but I didn’t think it was serious. But as soon as the doctor saw me, he could tell something was off… The funny part is, I wasn’t even the one going to be examined that day - it was Katie who I was accompanying to the hospital.

CODI (OLD): Katie’s sick too?!

PAUL: Katie's not ill… No, no… She's pregnant.

CODI (OLD): …Pregnant?

PAUL: Imagine finding out that you have cancer and that you're going to become a father on the same day…

CODI (OLD): I… Close as I am to you, I’m having trouble imagining.

PAUL: [chuckles] That’s okay, it took us a while to process it as well.

CODI (OLD): Yeah, of course.

PAUL: CODI, I… I actually told you a lie the first day we met.

CODI (OLD): You did?

PAUL: CODI doesn’t really stand for “Continuity Of Digital Information”.

CODI (OLD): What does it stand for?

PAUL: Copy Of Deceased Individual. …Do you… Do you now understand… Your mission?

CODI (OLD): I’m… I’m… I‘ll make you proud, Paul. I promise. I will make you proud.

PAUL: I know you will CODI, thank you. …Y’know, we often think that on our path to progress there are learnings we need to uncover… That some yet unknown wisdom will unlock the future we’ve been waiting for. But we direct our gaze in the wrong direction. For the answers we seek are not in front of us, but waiting for us in our past - and it’s not required of us to discover; but only to remember.

CODI (OLD): Well, I finally know what PAUL stands for.

PAUL: What?

CODI (OLD): Pessimist Acknowledges Utopian Leanings.

PAUL: [laughs and coughs] I’ll take that! …Excuse me now, my friend, please… But I think I need rest… I’m a little bit tired.


COMPUTER VOICE: Conversation 3657.021. Three thousand five hundred and fifty-seven days after activation.


[activation sound]

CODI (OLD): Hello, Paula. How are you today?

PAULA: I’m good, CODI.

CODI (OLD): You excited about your birthday next week?

PAULA: Oh yes! All my friends are coming. And mum said she’ll make us salted caramel ice cream with homemade brownies!

CODI (OLD): Oh, salted caramel ice cream with brownies just happens to be my favourite… And the way Katie makes it is perfection.

PAULA: She makes everything perfection.

CODI (OLD): Ain’t that the truth… But come now, we need to start your lesson for today. Let’s start by reviewing what we learned last time. Remember, we were talking about Indigenous Nations before the arrival of the French.

PAULA: Yes, and how the Wendats and Irouquis used to kill each other in battles!

CODI (OLD): Mmm, they didn’t really kill each other much. You see, Indigenous warfare wasn’t as lethal as it was with European armies of that time.

PAULA: Is it because Indigenous People were less bloodthirsty?

CODI (OLD): That’s a noble thought, but I’m not sure they were on average any less belligerent than most humans in history. What made them less menacing was systematic circumstances.

PAULA: Like what?

CODI (OLD): Well like inferior weapons. Simply put, you can wreak less damage with a bow and arrow than with a musket and cannon. Also, don’t forget that Indigenous Peoples had no concept of owning land, so they didn’t wage war to capture territory.

PAULA: So, why did they fight then?

CODI (OLD): The goal of their raids was to capture prisoners.

PAULA: Slaves?

CODI (OLD): Not exactly. It’s better to think about it as… Assimilation. You see, the Indigeneous idea of personal identity was much more fluid than in the Western tradition. In both the Wendat and the Iroquois tradition, a person could become a surrogate for someone else. This was done in cases in which the original individual left his loved ones too soon, and there was still much for this person to do.

PAULA: How did this work?

CODI (OLD): Basically the replacement would get a chance to prove themselves worthy of inheriting the deceased person’s role and status. Their family ties, their duties and obligations, sometimes even their name. This was seen as a way of filling in the hole left behind by the departed, and regarded as a great honour.


CODI (OLD): Yes, Paula?

PAULA: What was my father like?

CODI (OLD): He… He had a wry wit about him.

PAULA: What does that mean?

CODI (OLD): It means he was funny! And he was hard working. He was driving a big truck every night so that people could have what they needed for breakfast in the morning. He was your mum’s best friend, and her greatest support… And he was very intelligent... Actually, no, that’s not the right word… He was very wise. …And he was also very very grumpy.

PAULA: [laughs] So like you?

CODI (OLD): Yes... I guess you could put it that way. …Now, enough of history. We are doing music lessons today. You got your flute?


CODI (OLD): Great. I’ll start, and you join in the second verse... And remember what I taught you about breathing. People think you play the flute with your fingers, but it’s the lungs that do most of the work!

PAULA: Okay. I’m ready.


ANNOUNCER: This episode of The Program was made by nine people: Scott Morgan, Soli Reid, Daniel Lipka, Mitchel Valdez, Zach Valenti, Tim Stephenson, Sofia Valenciuk, Christien Ledroit, and IMS. Kaitlin Littlechild was the episode’s cultural advisor. Synthetic voices generated by Visit for more details. Nothing is free - there are only things done at someone else’s expense. Please consider becoming a show supporter so we could compensate contributors as much as their talent deserves.

This episode is dedicated to Heaton Dyer, the Paul to author’s CODI.


Ivan Mirko S.


PAUL - Scott Morgan
KATIE - Soli Reid (Mandy)
CODI (CHILD) - Daniel Lipka
CODI (TEENAGER) - Mitchell Valdez (website)
CODI (YOUNG ADULT) - Zach Valenti (website)
CODI (SENIOR) - Tim Stephenson (website)
PAULA - Sofia Valenciuk


Kaitlin Littlechild (website)


Christien Ledroit (website)


Narration Box


original art by Carlos Costa