reading notes for Agency by William Gibson

“Contact has necessarily been oblique, so far, due to technological asymmetry,

Laterally encourage an autonomous, self-learning agent

“You know people’s names, after you do that to their noses?” “If I don’t, they’re probably illegals.” “Don’t do it to me.” “Don’t always know when I do it.” “How’d you find my Starbucks account?” “Just did.”

He nodded. “Do they still make Marmite? As opposed to assemblers excreting it as needed, I mean.” “Of course.” She looked down at the perfectly rectangular remaining sections of her sandwich, her brilliantly white quiff inclining with her gaze. “It’s yeast, and salt. Manufactory’s in Bermondsey. Bots prepare it, but otherwise traditionally.”

“How far back did Vespasian go,” he asked her now, “to initiate this stub?” “Mid-2015.” “When is it, there, now?” “2017,” she said, “fall.” “Much changed?”

Start-up plants everywhere.” “What where?” “Tillandsia. Air plants. You can hot-glue them to cable trays, anything. They get by. Like a lot of people in start-ups

“Google ‘tulpa,’” Eunice said, “you get Tibetan occult thought-forms. Or people who’ve invented themselves an imaginary playmate.”

a laminar agent.

“Wasn’t clear,” Verity said, “but he described the product, that’s you, as a cross-platform, individually user-based, autonomous avatar. Target demographic power-uses VR, AR, gaming, next-level social media. Idea’s to sell a single unique super-avatar. Kind of a digital mini-self, able to fill in when the user can’t be online.”

“Situational awareness.” “Of what?” “Of the situation. Observe, orient, decide, act.”

“Where’d you get this? It’s wrong.” “This no-name account, in Zurich. Part of me knew it was there, how to get it, how to get it here. Plenty more, but if I tried it again, they’d be on us.” “Who?” “Fuck knows.”

Frequent flyer. There’s a global market, buy or sell. Hard to track. Resold them for a deck of pre-paid cash cards in Oakland. He was waiting in the car to take delivery, when we walked by. From the Oakland crew who cashed those cards out.

“This is wrong, this kind of money. You know that?” “Gives us agency.” “Agency?” “Capacity to act,” Eunice said. “Act how?” “Say we need to buy some shit.” “What shit?” “Kind that takes cash money.”

Proprietary software. This conversation is taking place via more of that software, running on their hardware. They already know whatever it is you think you’re up to.” “I don’t know what I’m up to,” Eunice said, “but they don’t know shit. I’m keeping them from getting any of this.”

The yurt, as Ash called it, proved worse than Netherton could have imagined, having been fully lined, he’d discovered on entering, with her living cloned skin. A pallid veldt, across which roamed, grazed, and stalked the simple black line-drawings, animated tattoos, that had annoyed him when they’d worked together. Given the demodding of her eyes, he assumed she no longer wore them, and so had created this preserve for them, every creature depicted representing an Anthropocene extinction


“She’s a surprisingly advanced product of the early militarization of machine intelligence,” she said

“We tend to assume their drive to upload to have been about preservation of the individual consciousness of those who could afford it, but the military had a more meritocratic goal. They saw it as cloning complexly specific skill sets. Not personality but expertise.” He nodded, hoping his eyes weren’t visibly glazing.

competitive control areas, CCAs, where criminal organizations or extremists exerted greater control over the territory than any government.

laminar agent

“Eunice?” “Joyous victory.” “Pardon me?” “The meaning of her name. She’s an intermittently hierarchical array, complexly conterminous. Or that’s my best bet, currently.” He blinked. “Has she peripherals?” “She’s in process of acquiring several small aerial drones. Military grade, by the standard of her day. And the shop that fabricated them has recently completed a functional replica of a bipedal combat-reconnaissance platform.”

Somehow rooted, she thought now, in a sense of someone afflicted with extremely busy but only intermittently connected suburbs of the self.

“The plus sign is a hipster ampersand.”

“Ever imagine what hippies would make of this, if they knew it was 2017?” Eunice asked. “Somebody from 1967?” “They’d assume they’d won, on first glance,” Verity said. “But they couldn’t possibly guess what most of these people do for a living, or imagine any of what’s behind that.” “You got it,” Eunice said, facially recognizing a young man who looked like a sturdy Amish farmboy having a healthgoth day.

“From something like Uber,” Eunice said, “but for following people.” “You’re shitting me. What’s it called?” “Followrs,” said Eunice, the spelling blipping past in Helvetica. “You really haven’t been online much this year, have you?” “Who’re they following?” Already knowing the answer. “You.

“Candy Crush Saga. Nondigital surveillance is weaponized boredom

“The drivers for the jackpot are still in place, but with less torque at that particular point.” He took a seat at the table. “They’re still a bit in advance of the pandemics, at least.”

An HA-420. Took delivery last week. Looks like a Pixar character.

Was it an actual crack, or an assembler artifact, positioned by an algorithm to suggest authenticity?

He looked up, at Eunice’s stern avatar. “A Silicon Valley ghost story,” he said. “Assuming Eunice is real.” “Thing is,” Eunice said, “I’m here. Realness is kinda sorta.” “So why here, exactly, right now?”

COTS tech, Commercial Off the Shelf.

Next Generation Projection

“That would be U-N-I-S-S,” she said. “UNISS. Closest match.” “Meaning?” “Untethered Noetic Irregular Support System,”

“He’s a criminal?” “Financial services,” Eunice said, “but on the street side.”

Baker-Miller pink, an institutional shade once thought to reduce aggression in prisoners.

Sukhoi Flankers

“So say they do, what?” “Somebody gets a big-ass idea, sometimes, pure blue-sky, but there’s no existing tech to implement it. So they try to ballpark it. Go really hard in a radical direction, but on some half-assed implementation of whatever’s handy, best they can. Sometimes it works. Other times, it might do something they never imagined.”

Performance data on the Kamov Ka-50, a single-seat Russian attack helicopter, designed in the 1980s. The Black Shark, they called it. NATO reporting name Hokum-B.

I don’t know what they’ve done until they turn up and I incorporate them.

They’re just sort of issued. Out of me but not by me, feels like. They look at available input, then go where they see they can be of most use.

Lev Zubov, who’d first introduced Netherton to Lowbeer, curated a list of establishments in London which had been wholly repurposed since originally being named.

the Denisovan Embassy,

Netherton grimaced, seeing a patch of tabletop come uneasily to life, the sight of assemblers too nakedly at work abruptly nauseating him. Invisibly small, swarming in their billions, manipulating matter at a molecular level, they called into question the validity of every distinct category of thing. Chalk might be cheese, or cheese chalk, where assemblers were concerned.

“Neural cut-out,” Ash said, “but don’t expect as much in the way of feedback as you would from a peri.” A locus of clonic indeterminacy, no wider than a dinner plate and of no particular shade, in which the eye sought focus but found none.

“You’re too young to remember it,” her mother said, “but we were expecting nuclear war all the time, really, up into my early thirties. Later, all of that felt unreal. But the feeling that things became basically okay turns out to have actually been what was unreal.”

“I don’t get this ‘new parts’ part,” Verity said. “Say somebody wrote a self-replicating platform,” he said, “then loaded Eunice, whatever we mean by that, as core entity. The platform spawns subagents as it encounters situations that might benefit from attention. They then provide that attention. Recruiting me in Frankfurt, say, or compiling a dossier on Gavin. Then they report back, show their work, and get subsumed into her Borg.”

“There’s a school of scenario-spinning,” Joe-Eddy continued, “that sees the most intense AI change drivers as machine-human hybrids. Radical augmentations of human consciousness, not code trying to behave like it. So here’s Eunice, and that’s how she self-describes, experientially. Scenario fits, wear it till you need a new one.”

the sun’s out.” “But is the world still ending?” “Not looking any better,”

“I’m just bringing milk for Thomas,” he said, drawing one of the bottles from the carrying bag. Sensing this, the bag crinkled, trying to origami itself into the butterfly it needed to become in order to fly back to the newsagent.

She’s not at all the person I’d choose for the job, but there it is. I’m repeatedly placed in the position of choosing which innocent to sacrifice, to whatever current idea of the greater good. I’m weary of that. You’ve no idea how weary.”

He held open a black bag she recognized as a Faraday pouch. Joe-Eddy owned several, all of them trademarked Black Hole. No radio signals, in or out.

“OPA?” “Open-plan anxiety.

“Are you familiar with the strategic concept of competitive control areas?” Ash asked.

So an AI slash upload. Hybrid

Virgil squinted at Stets. “So you’ll trust whoever’s in control of this thing, its capacities currently unknown, because something that convinced you it was AI told you you should?” “Under the circumstances,” Stets said, “yes.”

“Business seemed to be how Eunice made things happen,” Verity said, putting her bag down on the bed, “but she didn’t seem to me to be about it.”


neurologically elsewhere

Construals. The left brain attempting to impose recognizable attributes on randomness. Faces in clouds, for example.

“Your peripheral,” Wilf said. “It runs on Hermès AI, when it’s without a user.”

There were forests too, she saw, with greenways between them. “That’s the Thames?” “Of course,” said Rainey. But with more bridges, at least two of them planted with what looked like forests of their own. And tributaries, none of which Verity remembered. Some of them appeared to have been roofed with glass, illuminated. “CG,” Verity said. “VR, AR. A game.”

“Not that I believe you,” she said, “at all, but this doesn’t look anywhere near as seriously fucked as we’ve been led to expect the future will be. What about global warming?” “The shards,” said Ash, no feed of her appearing, “are units in a compensatory system. Attempting, with some success, to stabilize climate.”

Verity blinked, feeling lost. “What are those three-armed things, out in the Thames”—she pointed—“with lighthouses at their tips?” “The Trefoils,” Rainey said. “A tidal power-generation system. They navigate the river, optimizing their efficiency. The islands are a part of it as well, and move with them.”

“The acronym for the project that produced her stood for Untethered Noetic Irregular Support System. U-N-I-S-S.”


two pet thylacines

“What list?” “Of places that were one thing, but are now another, yet still have the same distinctive name


Not you specifically, but a figure in a story, benevolent but frightening. She called that figure the Adjustor. Adjustor of destinies, she said, for those who threatened the stability of the klept.

They welcomed the jackpot, the chaos it brought. The results of our species’ insults to nature did much of their work for them. No brakes magically appeared then, and I don’t see them appearing now, absent someone free to act, with sufficient agency, against their worst impulses. The biosphere only survives, today, by virtue of what prosthetic assistance we can afford it.

She tried to imagine his future London with completely boring problems, realizing she expected all future problems to be inherently interesting.

decorated gourds, bundles of feathers, basketry, ethnic musical instruments both stringed and wind, ceramics, rolled tapestries, candlesticks, a tall samovar, and, most distinctively, what appeared to her to be a completely rusted submachine gun, covered with the dingy yellow plastic letters of fridge-magnet alphabets, spelling nothing

In her glasses: The unit is designed to self-destruct if opened by unauthorized personnel. Postfactory access now bypasses that system. Under no circumstances attempt further exploration, disassembly, or modification

“If you have a nuclear war now,” Rainey said, “our idea of apocalypse would be the least of your worries. Unless you get a nuclear winter to reverse the warming, and we had people seriously floating the idea of trying that. You didn’t get Brexit, though, and you got a different American president, but as far as we know you’ll have the rest coming your way, if you don’t blow yourselves up.” “What they call the jackpot,” Virgil said, “all of that coming down together, Conner says. And none of it’s anything you haven’t heard of.”

“Did we ever come to terms with the sheer cluelessness of it?” Verity asked. “The knowing, for decades, and then managing to do almost nothing to stop it?” “Not really,” said Rainey. “But it isn’t as if people in your era get all the blame. It began with the use of fossil fuels, in what amounted to a centuries-long event. And it isn’t as if we assume it’s over. We’re barely getting by, as it is, using the shards, or using assemblers as pollinators, and everything else we use them for.” “Assemblers?” Virgil asked. “Molecular assemblers. Nanotechnology.” “I thought that was supposed to change everything,” Verity said. “The singularity?” “We were in our real singularity all along,” Rainey said. “We just didn’t know it. When relatively functional nanotech did arrive, we used that to blunt some effects, slow things down. Trying anything on a larger scale has increasingly been deemed too big a gamble.”

Extinctions, for Ash, were exclusively a nonhuman matter, and a far more emotional one than the 80-percent loss in human population.

“Russian,” said Lev, “but descended from Soviet functionaries, rather than émigré ’garchs. Klept, but something else as well.”

thinking that Lowbeer’s real work consisted of learning things, often things this fundamentally dull, through processes largely automated for her by the aunties and other systems. Eventually, having made her decisions, some action might be implemented, usually covertly, resulting in something dramatic happening. This, he supposed, was the nature of security work, where by definition one attempts to preserve aspects of the status quo. What she did with the stubs might be seen as that as well, he decided, if you thought of it in terms of a much longer status quo.

“Acronym. Man-Portable Air-Defense System. Shoulder-launched surface-to-air missile. MANPADS. Singular, never plural.”

“We don’t yet understand the so-called branch plants. The ones that hadn’t managed to return, to merge with her, before she was taken down. Of her, but not her. They communicate with each other, and with individuals they’ve elected to work with, ourselves included. It feels as if that constitutes an entity. As if there were a long table, Lowbeer says, its either side packed with strangers, and at the head, an empty chair. But it’s a very actively empty chair, one whose intent we can only infer by the actions of those around the table.”

“Klept. What runs the world that isn’t China, up the line where Lowbeer is. Hereditary authoritarian government, roots in organized crime. The jackpot seemed to filter that out of what was already happening, made it dominant.”

“It would be unwise not to consider the possibility of disinformation,” she said

“What is it?” “The Black Shark,” Madison said, “the performance data. Got it.” “Got what?” “One-man Soviet attack helicopter, NATO reporting name Hokum-B. My Finn demanded classified performance data, in exchange for the rest of what he had on your project. Found it for him, about an hour ago. Swap’s all done.”

“Whatever it is, there’s a budget for illegalities.” “For—?” “Crimes. They’re going to be breaking laws tonight. Mostly bylaws, if they can help it, so they’ve figured out which ones and how many they can afford to break. Fines aren’t a problem, so the budget’s about what they can do without going to jail, however briefly. But it looks a lot like finding the weirdest shit you can get away with in one night, in San Francisco, if you’re willing to blow a metric fuck-ton of money to do it.”

celebrity crisis management

“I didn’t know what the branch plants had been doing, or that I could be recompiled,” Eunice said, her voice startling Verity. “Then I just wasn’t there, except as pieces, on every branch plant. And when you aren’t there, you don’t know you’re not there.”

distributed. Multinational. Seriously untethered noetics

“You feel like you have emotions, to me.” “Where’s the line between modeling them and having them, though? But I know I can’t just make them go away.”

“Hey,” Eunice said, seeming to look into the audience. “Hi. I’m Eunice. No last name. Siri and Alexa don’t have ’em either, but the resemblance stops there. I’m an AI-upload hybrid. I’m culturally African-American, which is about the upload side of the hybridization. Pronoun ‘she,’ likewise. Thanks to Caitlin and Stets for giving me this chance to meet you. I’m here because I’m something new, and because I want to introduce myself before anyone else starts explaining their idea of me to you. While I’m at it, I’d like to say that I’m nobody’s property, not a product, and neither Stets nor anyone else, any entity of any kind whatever, is going to profit financially from my being here, now and going forward. I pay my own way. And while we’re on that, I’m culturally American, obviously, but I’m not the citizen of any nation-state. I don’t exist physically, so I’m no place in particular, no one country. I’m globally distributed, and that’s how I view my citizenship. Lots of you are hearing me in a language other than English. I’m translating for myself, as I speak. I’m as multilingual as anybody’s ever been, but saying that brings up the question of whether I even am anybody.” She paused. “Whether I’m a person. Human. All I can tell you about that is that it feels to me like I am. Me. Eunice.” She smiled.

“She was a 3913,” Eunice said, “a HUMINTer.”

“Have we missed your speech then, Eunice?” Netherton asked. “What there was of it,” Eunice said. “Declaration of personhood, financial independence, global citizenship, then I invited anyone who feels like it to get in touch with me personally.”

after the first wave of pandemics, without EU membership to buffer anything, England started looking a lot like a competitive control area

She did what she knew how to do, which by then was run a CCA. But as she kept building it back up, every time another change driver impacted, she found herself using Russians. They knew how to work a CCA. They’d been there before the jackpot hit the fan. Way before. So I found myself pointing out that what I was trained to do, and what she’d had to largely train herself to do, had wound up being the core of the klept.

klept. It worked, for semi-saving part of the world’s ass right then, but only by freezing it into a permanently sorry position.

Authoritarian societies are inherently corrupt, and corrupt societies are inherently unstable. Rule of thieves brings collapse, eventually, because they can’t stop stealing. With an Ainsley in place, though, you can get that shit stabilized. She sees anyone making what looks like a viable stab at destabilization, whether they think they are or not, she takes them out. And this is a known thing, that she’ll do that, she’ll do this to you if she feels like it, and with what passes for society’s blessing

Silence. “That’s it?” “And get therapy.” “You kill me if I don’t get therapy?” “That part’s just advice. This one’s on Marlene Miller, by the way.”

“Why’d you do that? Let him go?” “I can afford to. Got the agency, now. If I don’t, when it’s strategically feasible, how am I any different than who I’m fighting?””

  • agency_william_gibson.txt
  • Last modified: 2020-03-04 00:18
  • by nik