We are numbers, basically. Digits. Ones and zeros. All of us.
We have names, but our names are numbers, too. We have faces, but our faces are digits, too. We have lived individual lives, and still all our lives are ones and zeros. Kept on file somewhere in a cold, sterile room, and sometimes dancing as electric fire through dark, tiny spaces wherein we dwell, we are numbers to feed a machine. All of us.
Nothing more. While the machines that feed us, that feed upon us, are all too real, we are make-believe. We are temporary. Passing. We are slight.
We are a bit of datum coursing through a circuit today. Today, we are our credit card purchases and our cash withdrawals. Today, we are our credit ratings and our social security eligibility. We are our criminal past. Today, we are beams of light and insignificant sparks of electricity.
Tomorrow, after we have passed around the zenith of our lives into our graves, after our credit cards have expired and our credit ratings have been discontinued, after our social security insurance is all paid out and our criminal history forgotten, still we are numbers. Cold, frigid, stale numbers that linger on plastic film or metallic disks or silicon chips, we live on as statistics. We are numbers, forever, until the end of time. Amen.
Sometime in the nineteen seventies, I don't remember exactly when, archeologists retrieved a curious lump of corroded metal from a shipwreck dated to the days of Homer. After thorough investigation, this was revealed to be a marvelously intricate mechanism of springs and cogs and wheels. They determined it was a mechanical model of the solar system and significant navigational stars. Once a man held it in his hand, and so held the entire universe there, his to command. Twenty five hundred years old, they are, man and machine. Maybe older.
It all started with such tiny, fallible machines. Machines that could add two and two to produce four with a crank of a handle during the nineteenth century. Machines that could multiply and divide and stamp out the results of its calculations on tiny rolls of paper. Machines that could do this better than human beings.
Then I understand the world fought a war or two. At some point, someone developed a machine that could calculate the ballistic path of a one ton, sixteen inch shell, given certain geographical and atmospheric variables. At some point, a battleship equipped with such a machine engaged in combat and destroyed its counterpart easily with those same sixteen inch projectiles and those same little machines.
Somebody sat back, puffing a big cigar, I bet, and decided this was a good thing. A very good thing, indeed. As God from Genesis, somebody with the power and the understanding rocked back on his heels and saw that it was good, and said, "We need more of these little things. Only, they should do more and do it faster."
And when somebody else made a better machine that did more and did it faster, it became the natural next step in the technology to do it faster, still. Then faster again. Then faster. And faster.
Years ago, I heard that a certain security agency had in its possession some seventy acres of super computers, and that it had budgeted for another ninety. At about the same time, I learned that an international telecommunication corporation had started construction on a new headquarters building, originally allotting twenty floors for switching equipment and other hardware. By the time it was finished three years later, the building included only two floors to contain their hardware. And it had a higher capacity than the original design.
Though its old news by now, this is not so surprising, considering the UNIVAC of yesteryear. Oh, yes, that stories-tall wonder of modern achievement. Ten floors of wires and vacuum tubes that could just about output the same as a pocket calculator.
Now, I hear we move individual atoms about to make tiny circuits that manipulate single electrons of charge. Soon, it will be photons of charge. Even I can't imagine where it might go next.
But forget that, for now. The point is; we are numbers.
So don't you ever wonder what can be done with hundreds of ACRES of supercomputers? Supercomputers, of the kind that can calculate the movement of particles in a hydrogen blast, atom by atom. Supercomputers of the kind that could move an entire beach, one grain at a time, in an instant, provided the grains were all ones and zeros.
My God, I think, it's staggering. Staggering.
And I begin to wonder; what are they doing with it all? What sort of sandy beaches are they shoveling there?