Santa Claus was an atheist (A Christmas Tale, 2000)

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
16 October, 2018
Editorial: 247
Fecha de publicación original: 26 diciembre, 2000

The rain never satisfies everybody

The first message was received with amazement by many and some disappointment by others. “Please don’t send any more Christmas cards. Your personal data has been included in the http://happychristmas.english.fest. page (*). Visit this page, look for your name, add the list of people you would like to wish a happy Christmas, as well as any graphics or audiovisual files you desire. All users speaking your language already know this page exists and will visit it, if they wish to do so. A simple process will indicate what kind of Christmas card they have received and from whom. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”. The second message caused some consternation at first. It arrived on the 22 December and began an unexpected worldwide crisis. WGB, or Doubleugebe as people were beginning to call it, was the “Web’s Global Brain”. When it had started operating before summer it had received enormous media coverage, as was only natural. WGB was the result of an extraordinary agreement among all the world’s governments, and all international organisations and associations of any kind related to the Net.

After much preparation, at the time of the so-called “Big Connection”, the famous, rickety, old WWW underwent a radical change of image…and behaviour. New servers based on a new language to create web pages and thousands of intelligent agents had managed, for the first time, to get the Net to read and understand the content of the thousands of millions of documents it stored, in any language imaginable. And it administered this knowledge with surprising efficiency. It set aside redundant information, asked for that which was lacking, requested it from those who had it, distributed knowledge as user profiles matured and served the needs of the so-called “knowledge galaxies”. These were made up of nuclei of individuals, collectives, companies or organisations whose specific information and knowledge needs had to be continuously satisfied, such as education and global business, for instance.

After years of research in private and academic centres, as well as military institutions, particularly the US Defense Department’s well-known DARPA, the so-called “semantic web” had begun to fulfil the dream of a global society. A society founded on shared knowledge, capable of negotiating interactions among millions of users despite their cultural, ideological, religious or political differences. A society built on multiple networks whose raison d’etre was being global and fulfilling user needs.

The Internet network was now distributed among 200 million servers, in addition to almost two thousand million private computers of every shape and size that, altogether, made up the most enormous neuronal fabric ever imagined. Despite extremely detailed warnings in the press and from those responsible for the changes that were in charge of the 3W Corporation –3WC–, some people were still taken aback by messages signed “The Web’s Global Brain”. “The information you wish to distribute is already available on the Net. Please avoid sending redundant information. Try to contribute original information that enriches the Net for yourself and other users. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”.

The irritation it had caused at first was being replaced by growing admiration for the efficiency with which the WBG administered the information and knowledge generated and exchanged by more than 2.000 million users. Moreover, it became easy to trace one’s own footprints as the system evolved. Sometimes just sending an article to a distribution list was enough for the WGB to reply informing one that the same information, or better, or even something one had contributed years before and forgotten about, was already on the Net. Search engines had given way to a kind of intellectual cut and thrust that almost always delivered the goods.

The Global Brain functioned like the central nervous system of millions of machines which, in turn, channelled communication into personal or collective systems. But, actually, there was no centre. It wasn’t Big Brother at all, in fact, quite the contrary. Intelligence was distributed among thousands of machines which analysed the content of documents of all types –text, graphics, audiovisual, holographic,etc.–, constantly exchanged information amongst themselves, negotiated so-called “infobalance states” and instantly responded to any request…. or filled any gap. “Dear Mr So-and-so, the XX company is looking for information about cultural behaviour in the field of urban planning consultancy in South-east Asia. From the information that you exchange with your clients we know that you and your team have this information. Please make it available to the above-mentioned company under the following heading…. and attach the corresponding business plan. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”.

If requests were not met, Mr So-and-so’s means of payment were progressively cancelled, his access to certain parts of the Net restricted, and, so it was said, some people even had their user accounts cancelled, the first step on the road to becoming a digital pariah. But this was how Net operation had been negotiated and these were the WGB’s philosophical and computer science principles: a global intelligence system capable of satisfying the demands of millions of users who shared the same virtual space simultaneously.

The message of the 22 December which caused a great hue and cry all over the world read as follows: “Mr So-and-so, Please prepare a report on de-localised industrial areas vertically organised by demand. This must be uploaded on the Net within five days. The request comes from chambers of commerce in East Africa and three local administrations in China. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”. Mr So-and-so read the message with a “now you’ve put your foot in it” smile on his face. What he didn’t know was that at that exact same moment thousands of Mrs and Mss So-and-so were smiling as they read similar messages, although their content and origin were different. What they all had in common was not just the message but the fact that all of the receivers were preparing to celebrate Christmas. So all of them, with very minor differences, sent off messages saying something to this effect, “I regret to inform the WGB that I am starting my Christmas holiday and will not be back at work until the beginning of January. Merry Christmas. Mr or Ms So-and-so”.

They all got a similar reply too. “The Net is universal and therefore remains open 365 days a year, 7 days a week and 24 hours a day. The virtual world cannot come to a halt for the particular holidays of specific groups of users. Kindly comply with the request or your access will be cancelled. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”. Those who received this message couldn’t believe their eyes. In seconds, thousands of messages crisscrossed cyberspace in search of a non-existent centre for distributed intelligence, the nerve centre of the global brain.

“Dear WGB, Christmas is a religious holiday and I do not work over this time”. The answer was not long in coming, “The Internet does not close down and there are urgent matters to be dealt with all over the world. You have said this yourself on many occasions. Information to this effect abounds. Religious considerations cannot be taken into account. Having read all the religious documentation on the web, we see no reason for closing the Net on religious grounds. The religious origin of Santa Claus has not been proved, nor has his existence or religious beliefs. The web is obliged to stay open under the same conditions for all religions and cultures every day of the year. Knowledge and business are not religious, but have needs, demands, obligations and transactions for the exchange of information and knowledge amongst all those connected. For your information, your new year is 2,600 years behind the Chinese calendar, 543 years behind the Buddhist one, 3,760 behind the Hebrew and 580 years ahead of the Muslim one. 5,300 million people live according to calendars other than yours but, nevertheless, depend on the Net. Do you expect them to close down their lives while you are on holiday? Please send the requested report or all your Christmas shopping via the Net will be cancelled. Thank you for your attention. Working towards an efficient use of the Net. WGB”.

Online global knowledge society or private knowledge networks for each society? From that Christmas on, nothing was ever the same again in the world. Everyone, young or old, rich or poor, whatever their race, religion or culture, found themselves heading down a one-way street from which there was no easy return. Santa Claus and the three Kings were the first to feel the pinch. Nobody dared to argue with the WGB and publish electronic cards with these icons on them. It marked the healthy start to an unexpected change.

(*) The address given in this article is a false one. The reason being that the “Global Brain” is not in operation yet nor has the date for its start been fixed.

Translation: Bridget King