aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 4: Tools Were Made And Born Were Hands

And ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into effective devices for computing in any direction.

May 10, 2017
San Jose

Even before Erica finished formally adjourning the meeting, I wove my way through the crowd of garrulous people and up the stairs into my bedroom. I grabbed my laptop from the desk, then knocked on Ana’s door. She was there waiting for me.

She sat down on the bed. I sat down on the floor. She stretched, cracked her back, cracked her neck, took a deep breath.

“Now, what is all this about the world?” she asked me.

“Today at work, I accidentally discovered a Name that gives souls to non-living objects. Like, not just turns them into golems. But actual souls. Nobody knows. Wasn’t a work Name.”

“Euphemism,” said Ana. She got the implications immediately. “Wait, a month? You should be world emperor within a week!”

The basis of the Information Age was brute-force generation of kabbalistic Names. That meant me and thousands like me on factory floors, reading potential Names and seeing if they worked any miracles. Given the billions of potential combinations, you needed a whole lot of employees working a whole lot of hours for a whole lot of time in order to get anywhere at all.

Every other field had been revolutionized by automation. Tailors had their sewing machines, builders had their bulldozers, manufacturers had their industrial robots. And so about thirty years ago, someone had the bright idea: why not automate the generation of Divine Names?

A factory with a hundred workers, each testing one Name every twenty seconds, all working eight hour days – discovers a new Name of ten letters or more about once a month. If a computer could test a thousand names a second, twenty-four hours a day, it could discover a new Name almost every hour.

A Name must be spoken. It can’t merely be subvocalized, or sounded out completely in the imagination. So fine. Connect the computer up to a speaker. Have it speak a thousand times faster than any human, until the stream of Names just sounds like a uniform high-pitched hum. Then write a program that calculates potential Names off some open-source namespace software, plays them from the speaker, and records the ones that work.

That program was Llull. A terrible and wonderful thing. Capable in theory of putting the entire kabbalah industry out of business, of advancing the magical capability of humankind a thousandfold in a few days.

And in the end, useless. Computers cannot speak the hidden transcendent names of God.

Or, well, they can. But nothing happens. No wave of light crashes through their silicon brains. No revelation fries their integrated circuits. They just keep on beeping and clicking, oblivious. And theoretical kabbalah has only one good explanation: computers must lack the divine spark.

Llull was programmed by hobbyists and academics and had no practical utility. It was used in a few research applications, then abandoned to any amateur who might want to play around with it.

But if someone were to come up with a way to give a computer the divine spark, to ensoul it…

Well, that person would have something producing Names thousand times as fast as the average sweatshop. Since there are about a thousand sweatshops seeking Divine Names all over the world, that one person with his single computer would have a magical discovery rate equal to the rest of the world combined. The very least he could expect would be to become stupendously rich.

And what if, with all that money, he were to buy a second computer? What about a third computer? What about a giant Cray supercomputer that thought so quickly that it needed liquid nitrogen pumped through it every second of every day to prevent its manic cognition from frying its own brains? Hooked up to hundreds of speakers in parallel, testing millions of Names per second? In an hour, you could gain more sorcerous power than the entire human race had discovered since the sky cracked. Hire a clever mathematician to narrow the search space, and you’d be within reach of the Shem haMephorash itself, with the power to remake worlds.

I hadn’t just discovered an especially long Name. I had discovered the key to the royal road. No, don’t mock me. This is worth mixing metaphors for.

“Are you going to tell Erica?”

“If I tell Erica, half the Unitarians in California will know within an hour. Erica’s great, but she’s not exactly the best person at keeping her mouth shut. I trust nobody with this. Nobody.

“You trusted me.”

“I didn’t have a choice!”

“Oh. Right.” Ana plucked the Vital Name out of my head. “Gotcha,” she said. “So, you want to give our laptops souls?”

“I want to give my laptop a soul,” I said. “Llull only works on Macs, remember?”

I had an old NE-1 series Macbook. I’d named it Sarah after my desktop wallpaper of Sarah Michelle-Gellar striking a sexy pose. Ana had an even older PC. She’d named it Captain Smith after the officer who’d slammed the Titanic into an iceberg, because of its tendency to crash and freeze.

“They still haven’t euphemism come out with the Windows version?” Ana asked.

“Of course not,” I said. “It wouldn’t be kabbalistically appropriate.”

Apples and knowledge have always had a special relationship. Adam tasted knowledge and was thrust from Eden. Newton had knowledge strike him suddenly out of the blue. Turing’s knowledge was bitter and led him to an early grave. Knowledge brings discord, knowledge ripens, knowledge is poisoned. Men greedily devour the exterior of knowledge, but the core they do not reach.

Knowledge was first domesticated in southern Turkey or northern Mesopotamia, from which it spread to the rest of the world, although some scholars claim its modern genome owes more to various European ancestors. Most historians believe it was first brought to the New World by colonists, but this ignores the existence of native American varieties which unfortunately have been mostly displaced and are now endangered. The first and second leading producers of knowledge at the current time are America and East Asia. Although knowledge originally reproduced through cross-pollination with other knowledge, modern industrial growers have taken to a grafting process similar to cloning. As a result, the sorts of knowledge everywhere are pretty much the same. This makes producing knowledge for commercial sale much easier, but has led some to opine that a once vast diversity in varieties of knowledge has been irrecoverably lost.

The apple symbol on Sarah’s lid glowed balefully.

Ana couldn’t quite follow my thoughts, but she got the gist of them, put her hand on my shoulder. “You okay?”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Big step we’re about to take,” she said.

“The biggest,” I agreed.

“You want to do the honors?”

I double-clicked on the little icon for Llull, loaded it up, set it on autopilot. The computer made strange noises at the limit of human hearing. Names, spoken faster than the ear could follow. Lifelessly now, running through by rote. That would change.

I stood up, towering above the white frame of the computer. I placed my hand above it in a posture of benediction, like the Pope blessing a small child. Features in a beatific smile. I cleared my mind. In the background, I could feel Ana’s presence, telepathically bound to me, happy, radiant.


Erica’s voice from the hallway: “Are you doing dark rituals in the bedroom again?! If you burn that carpet, I swear, you can summon Thamiel himself and all of his terrors will be as nothing compared to what I will put you through if…”


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127 Responses to Chapter 4: Tools Were Made And Born Were Hands

  1. ton says:

    Euphemism you!

    Am I doing it right?

  2. Evan says:

    “They still haven’t euphemism come out with the Windows version?”

    This doesn’t parse for me—is that intentional?

  3. Chrysophylax says:

    For all his thoughts about secrecy, being careful, not knowing about what UNSONG can do and so on, AST is really damn bad at practical opsec. WHY did he repeat that name where someone might HEAR?! Why did he discuss this at all where someone might hear, instead of by telepathy (and preferably using a simple code and Pig Latin even there)? You do not take those kinds of risks with the key to godhood!

    (I think this is the first time I’ve ever been first to a Scott post.)

    • Decius says:

      UNSONG doesn’t have any jurisdiction over a word that isn’t corporate-owned.

      • transfuturist says:

        UNSONG is an extranational intelligence and paramilitary organization that has a Name of God surveiling the use of all names. You think they wouldn’t manage to discard what little scruples they have left in order to control the use of the longest and most powerful known name in the world?

        • Gadren says:

          >Today at work, I accidentally discovered a Name that gives souls to non-living objects.

          Perhaps this would be viewed like those cases of former employers suing workers who had come up with a new website/invention/algorithm idea as a side project. If a company in our world can own anything that an employee does on a work computer, is there something in this story that would give a corporation claim to a worker’s mind/voice?

          • Deiseach says:

            Given that Aaron did not generate the Name himself and only added the “meh-meh etc.” bit by accident, could the corporation not legitimately claim it owns the first half of the Name or at least has rights to any profits made off it?

          • Marc Whipple says:


            In the world of UNSONG, I’m sure the real answer is, “His employer thinks it belongs to them and they’ll have him killed, or UNSONG will do it, to make sure it stays that way.”

            In our world, the real answer is somewhat similar, especially if there’s a development-during-employment clause in his contract which there would be. However, he’d at least have a sort of argument.

        • Raiden says:

          Maybe they can only monitor names they know about.

          • Saint_Fiasco says:


            The agents have a name tattooed above the ear and one on their forehead. They can only detect the people speaking the names they have written on the forehead.

            Since they don’t know the new name, they can’t tattoo that on their foreheads.

      • Macbi says:

        But it is corporate owned, in the sense that corporations can afford lawyers and Aaron can’t.

        • greenergrassgrowing says:

          This strikes me as a bit of an issue, given that the computer is already on and all. I mean, it’s one thing to sue a broke former employee, it’s another to sue the most powerful sorcerer in the world. He may very well mean the whole “emperor of the world” thing in a literal sense.

    • Deiseach says:

      Never mind that, his girlfriend can pick it out of his head without even asking and although he knows that Erica can’t keep her mouth shut, nonetheless he apparently yells the Name out at the top of his lungs where she can overhear.

      This is going to be a titantically terrible idea, isn’t it? Rubbing my hands with glee at all the things that can go wrong. For instance: it works, his computer becomes ensouled, it can say Names, it discovers a string of them – and refuses to hand them over to Aaron because what is he, its owner? Not now that it has a soul and is a sentient being, he’s not!

      • Allan53 says:

        Hm, you raise an interesting question. Does the soul inherently grant free will?

        Oh, euphemism. I just realised. If it does, he’s just created what is effectively a Strong AI. On a Macbook.

        • The Smoke says:

          It is still a computer with a usual programming. It doesnt have any capabilities to do something besides what the programming determines. In this respect it is not more dangerous than a stone with a soul.

          • The Smoke says:

            Sorry, I guess I was mistaken. In order for the programm to possibly work it must emulate the way humans recognize the divinity of a name when they speak it for the first time(even though the epiphany will not hit the computer without the divine spark). It is probably fair to assume that this already requires a basic AI from which the step of divine power messing with the programming is then not so big.

          • Furslid says:

            Unless there is another name that makes it dangerous, and it speaks it. Even now, it’s very dangerous. Because speaking names invokes them.

            An automatic lab that tested chemistry by brute forcing all possible syntheses in large quantities would be dangerous. You would eventually get a large explosion or a lot of toxic gas. And names are potentially more dangerous than either of these.

        • Deiseach says:

          The upside to that may be that since it is on a MacBook, the Strong AI will be so poncy, it can’t be bothered taking over the world, it would rather spend its time sipping fair trade boutique artisanal coffee and discussing how effortlessly awesome it is with likeminded hipsters (sorry, it’s just the Cult of Apple and its Cooler Than Thou-ness gets up my nose at times).

        • Jack V says:

          Oh, excellent point. I think it could go either way, whether the machine is does the same thing but with a divine spark, or naturally acquires intelligence and something like free will separate to its existing programming, but either fits with the story so we’ll presumably find out next week.

          I’m not sure if machines already have the animal soul via non-kaballistic means or not, or if “AI” could be equated with the second soul. Even if so, you could assume either the third soul granted the second automatically, or it didn’t.

        • Susebron says:

          “Six thousand years earlier, the wind of God had moved upon the bare red dirt of Eden and shaped clay into the figure of a man. It stood there for a moment, a crude statue, and then a voice from Heaven spoke a Name, and the clay came to life, lumbered into a standing position. It spoke a second Name, and the clay’s eyes opened, and within them were innocence and curiosity and the capacity to wonder and learn. And it spoke a third Name, and it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.”

          It doesn’t have a human or animal soul, so it presumably can’t think or feel. It’s not an AI. Yet.

          • Deiseach says:

            Quoting Aquinas on this:

            Whence we must conclude, that there is no other substantial form in man besides the intellectual soul; and that the soul, as it virtually contains the sensitive and nutritive souls, so does it virtually contain all inferior forms, and itself alone does whatever the imperfect forms do in other things. The same is to be said of the sensitive soul in brute animals, and of the nutritive soul in plants, and universally of all more perfect forms with regard to the imperfect.

            So by giving it “the divine spark”, Aaron is endowing his Mac with the rational soul, which – as the highest soul – includes the lesser souls.

            In the example given of the red clay of Eden, when the first Name was spoken and the clay figure “lumbered into a standing position”, that was the nutritive soul, such as plants have. The second name was the sensitive soul, possessed by all animals. The third and last was the rational or intellectual soul, which enables sentience and consciousness, and that’s the one Aaron is giving his Mac (because the machine has to be aware to be able to speak the Name; sounding the syllables without understanding does not trigger the effect).

            So by giving his Mac the third Name, the highest soul, it is now able to think and feel and is indeed an AI and more than that, a person.

  4. Max says:

    I was like damn another mac propaganda! And my mind starting ranting about FreeBSD/Linux. But then you got me!
    BTW FreeBSD used to have a thematic mascot which could fit the story. It would go Something like this : “It only works on Mac. And FreeBSD, naturally, but nobody would want empower the Horned One.

  5. tailcalled says:

    But wait, aren’t some of the names destructive? Couldn’t this be dangerous?

    • typicalacademic says:

      Yeah, this seems incredibly stupid. My first thought was that names known to be destructive would be blocked in Llull, but that would just give an easy way to discover them to the world. There’s also the potential for the laptop to speak something like the Vanishing Name, and end up in some other Unitarian couple’s bedroom – or some corporate research lab (not sure what would be the complement to this rather unique situation). Perhaps they can just hope that probability will save them? If only 5-10 Names out of the 22^60 or however many possible sequences would be really dramatically bad, they can allow it to run for a long time before it becomes a pressing concern.

    • DanielLC says:

      That’s the advantage of having a computer do it instead of humans. Hopefully, he realizes that he should stay well away from the computer in question before it’s too late.

    • Vincent Vans says:

      Yeah, it’s a really dumb thing to do. But then it did say in chapter one that this is how he caused the “End of Days”.
      I mean, even aside from the possibility that this will start several plagues, turn people into pillars of salt, or could start a biblical flood without any ark to save anyone this time. He really didn’t think this through.
      What if the mac gains godhood? Would you trust it to be a kind and benevolent god? Even if this just turns the mac sentient, you’ll still have a dangerous AI on your hands. It might now decide to make every other computer on the internet sentient as well. Countless sentient beings with access to more Names than any human.

    • 75th says:

      It looks like maybe the first person — er, being — who says a Name for the first time doesn’t actually produce its effect. When AST discovered the Vital Name in Chapter 1, he didn’t ensoul anything, he got the introductory video. It remains to be seen whether everyone gets the introductory video the first time they use a Name, or only the discoverer.

      No, of course the actual problem here is that he’s giving a computer a frigging soul. I think even among people who don’t talk about this stuff the way the LessWrong diaspora talks about it, anyone with like a tenth of a brain would immediately realize that’s a bad idea. But I guess AST is just that blinded by his lust for greatness.

      • Yes, speaking a Name without knowing that it’s a Name just sort of zaps you with divine power instead of using the Name per se. In theory the Singers should be able to get away with not using Pig Latin, but I think if you know something’s a Name it’s hard not to be thinking about using it a little. One moment you think you’re just reciting the Wrathful Name for fun, another the thought pops into your mind that you really don’t like this city, and maybe it would be better off gone, and…oops.

        • Watercressed says:

          So then the important question is whether Llull has INTENT_TO_USE_DIVINE_NAMES set to zero or one

          • Daniel H says:

            And whether it’s using the C convention where 1 means true, or the sh convention where 1 means false.

        • Marvy says:

          Oh good, that takes one worry off my mind: what in creation has he done at work?! Apparently nothing; the real trouble starts now. Speaking of real trouble: somebody notify Uriel. I understand he’s really busy, but this seems like the kind of thing he’d want to know about.

        • Murphy says:

          I want to find out what is allowed to be granted a soul.

          Can an individual organ be given a soul? Can your hand be given a separate soul to your own?

          Is the computer speaker allowed to have a soul without the rest of the computer having one?

        • Marvy says:

          > […] open-source namespace software, plays them from the speaker, and records the ones that work

          I think I found a flaw in the plan that might keep the world safe for a few more minutes, maybe more if the characters use those minutes to think of precautions instead of looking for workarounds. In particular, how do you “record the ones that work”? Does the program have intent to use the name? Then we have a full disaster in progress as the program discovers the Wrathful name and who knows what else. But if not, and simply gets the divine “achievement unlocked” zapping, it won’t notice, and neither will anyone else. Unless I’m wrong. Considering how poorly I understand the world we’re in so far, being wrong is very possible. Maybe the program does notice? Maybe it’s pretty obvious to those who are watching? (Actually that doesn’t help: its going through names so fast that the people watching will have no idea which name triggered it. Though you could always replay the last few seconds manually??) Maybe… maybe I should stop trying to guess and wait for the next chapter.

          • Presumably the people who wrote the original program, before they found out it wouldn’t work, included some way for the computer to notify its owner that it had found a name.

          • Daniel H says:

            There have been references to divine light. I’m guessing a webcam is used to see if the computer emits this divine light. Then you don’t need to replay the last few seconds.

    • Deiseach says:

      Of course it can be dangerous. But Aaron thinks he’s too smart for anything to go wrong. That’s the point behind the story of the Fall: humans always think they know better and it’ll work out for them in this case.

      Regarding the Apple, isn’t that a pun? I have no idea what the original text says, but in Latin apparently the pun was irresistible for the translators: “This depiction may have originated as a Latin pun: by eating the malum (apple), Eve contracted mālum (evil).”

      • GDwarf says:

        The original text simply says “fruit”. The association with an apple is indeed partially a Latin pun, and also partially because apples are found in many different cultures (unlike, say, pomegranates).

        However, if everything is because of Kabbalah then the association of an apple with that moment and then in turn with Apple computers is on purpose and so should be respected. 😛

        • Exa says:

          Hypothesis: The reason why the story of Eden includes an apple is because it is an apple computer which ends the world. God is under no obligation to run causality in only one direction.

        • Furslid says:

          Because apple meant fruit in old English. Then language shifted and and it stuck around as the name of a specific fruit. We still see some relics of this (pineapple = fruit, looks like a pinecone). In the past there were a lot more fruit names containing apple.

          This also happened with corn (grain). In the new world maize became Indian corn, which got shortened to corn. All the European grains (wheat, barleycorn, etc) kept their more specific names but lost the corn.

        • Luciepat says:

          There is a whole discussion in the Talmud about what fruit the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil is. If I remember correctly, the Rabbis narrowed it down to. Grapes, figs, and Wheat. Apples weren’t really common in 1000 BC Israel if I’m not wrong.

  6. Ezra says:

    Multiply the chance that Ana is a closeted sociopath (someone with no morality, whatever you want to call it) or has latent amoral tendencies by the potential consequences. I mean, not like I’m some tough guy who thinks the best course of action would have been to kill her, but I’d at least try to throw her off the trail or stall her until I could achieve absolute power and then minimize her potential threat to the human race that way.

  7. Macbi says:

    If this story is just a set-up for a very complicated Tom Swifty then it had better be really clever.

  8. Gadren says:

    I wonder what the initial reason for the development of Llull was. You’d think that, if the goal was to create a super-fast way of discovering Names, someone would have first tried setting up a computer to play back synthesized audio of an already-known Name, and found that that didn’t work, before going to the trouble of writing the whole program and then finding out that the idea isn’t workable.

    • Remember, people have already invented a bunch of algorithms that only work on quantum computers. “Here’s something that would be neat even though we can’t actually get it to work, let’s make an open-source program about it” seems pretty common. See also: people debating AIXI.

      • Deiseach says:

        May I say I love the Raymond Lully reference here?

        This story makes me so happy, because it’s throwing in all my weird interests and making beautiful golden wonders out of them 🙂

      • Ninmesara says:

        You’re right about people writing programs for hardware that dos not exist (i.g. quantum computers, sentient computers, etc). On the other hand, from a narrative point of view, it would have been much more satisfying to have Arron writing Llull from scratch himself. After all, he has both the kabbalistic and the technical know-how for it.

        You might have a good reason to have Aaron use a ready-made program, though.

        • nonternary says:

          It’s a good opportunity to explain why Aaron’s newly-discovered name is so important, by inserting some backstory about soulless computers being famously useless for name discovery.

          • Ninmesara says:

            Ok, makes sense… They are so famously
            useless someone has decided to write useless programs to emphasize just how useless they are.

          • Susebron says:

            They’re famously useless because they tried them, and then they didn’t work.

          • Ninmesara says:

            @Susebron, I bet whoever wrote Llull already knew that computers could not sing the hidden names of God. If I were to write such a program, I would look for a proof of feasibility. It would require (at least) the following:

            1) put a recorded version of a (known!) Name of God through a speaker. This answers: “Is the SOUND of the name enough to get an effect”? If not, then:

            2) Output the sound of a (known!) Name of God through a text-to-speech program. This answers: “Does the ‘mind’ of the computer need to assemble the phonemes of the Name of God?”

            If these two tests fail, there is no point in writing the program, except as a curiosity. I’m pretty sure whoever wrote the program already knew it wouldn’t work. If I were merely trying to write a program that worked, I would concentrate on trying to find a way of having a computer pronounce a Hidden Name of God effectively (this would be the real breakthrough) instead and quit if it proved impossible.

    • OldCrow says:

      There already is a program for generating possible names of God in practical use – we saw it at Aaron’s job. As long as the main components of that software are open source, which isn’t unusual for programs in wide professional use, hooking that software into a speaker that says the words really fast is pretty straightforward. It’s the sort of thing an enterprising nerd would bang out just to have it as a nifty piece of software.

      • Tynam says:

        With this much money at stake in corporate competition over something with a dedicated copyright police force, it’s a safe bet the work software _isn’t_ open source. Corporations aren’t that smart.

  9. 75th says:

    Four hundred years earlier, an old man in Prague had explained to his students that yes, you could make a golem, you could bestow upon it the nefesh, the animal soul. With sufficient enlightenment, you could even bestow upon it the ruach, the moral soul. But the neshamah, the divine spark, you could not bestow upon it, for that was a greater work, and would require a greater Name than any ever discovered.

    Six thousand years earlier, the wind of God had moved upon the bare red dirt of Eden and shaped clay into the figure of a man. It stood there for a moment, a crude statue, and then a voice from Heaven spoke a Name, and the clay came to life, lumbered into a standing position. It spoke a second Name, and the clay’s eyes opened, and within them were innocence and curiosity and the capacity to wonder and learn. And it spoke a third Name, and it was as if a light went on inside of it, and the dust became aware that it was dust and in so doing was dust no longer.

    I wonder if maybe the biggest problem here, amongst all the many, many enormous problems, is that he’s giving something self-awareness before giving it “the moral soul” or “innocence”.

  10. Anonymous says:


    Scott, you’re excommunicated.

  11. null says:

    How does this not qualify as ‘using too many system resources’?

  12. scherzando says:

    Sarah the laptop seems like a possible reference to Sarah, Abraham’s wife in Genesis, who gave birth to Isaac with divine help at the age of 90, having previously been infertile – the computer is notably old when it is endowed with a soul and given the power to find (bear?) new Names.

    Also “ensoul”, which Aaron uses in narration in this chapter, is a word I strongly associate with Buffy (in reference to Angel and Spike), though I don’t know how common it is in other contexts.

    Also we can consider the significance of “Sarah Michelle-Gellar”, as here, vs. “Sarah-Michelle Gellar”.

    • Deiseach says:

      You’ve already explained the significance of Sarah. So taking Michelle-Gellar as a compound surname, we have:

      (1) Michelle, the feminine form of Michael, meaning “Who is like God?” (very apt here, since our hero is hoping to become Emperor of the World and the ultimate quest by all the searching for Names is to gain or attain the Shem haMephorash. Being in the feminine form, it both links to Sarah and connects to the Shekinah and the Sabbath Bride.

      (2) Geller, according to Wikipedia, “the name may derive from the German word “gellen” (to yell) and mean “one who yells”, the Yiddish word “gel” (yellow) and mean the “yellow man”, or the Yiddish word “geler”, an expression for a redheaded man.”

      So we have yellow or red colouration, which we can probably stretch to mean “golden”. A man of gold who yells, or that is, cries out, announces: like the voice of the herald in Isaiah (Isaiah again!) 40: 3

      The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

      A golden man – well, a man of gold, or at least – given that it is about the voice announcing the coming of the Lord – a head of gold. That brings us right to the Book of Daniel and the interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream about the image of a man made of various materials, starting with a head made of gold:

      37 Thou, O king, art a king of kings: for the God of heaven hath given thee a kingdom, power, and strength, and glory.

      38 And wheresoever the children of men dwell, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the heaven hath he given into thine hand, and hath made thee ruler over them all. Thou art this head of gold.

      So that ties in with Aaron’s ambition to be World Emperor. If we wanted to continue with the Book of Daniel, the man of gold could also be the golden image Nebuchadnezzar made and ordered to be worshipped, and the three young Jewish men thrown into the fiery furnace because they refused to bow down, and they came out unscathed so the King realised that their God was real and powerful.

      Here, then, we have the juxtaposition of the Divine Feminine and the Mortal Masculine; the male part of the surname representing the worldly ambition and pretension to divine power of Aaron and the female part rebuking such ambition, forecasting (as with Nebuchadnezzar and his empire) its eventual failure and fall, and directly challenging Aaron: Who is like God? and answering it Not you, as the male half of the surname acknowledges by being the herald announcing the coming of the real Lord and the End of Days.

      There you go! 🙂

  13. hnau says:

    The paragraph about knowledge is pure genius.

    Also, I’m getting impatient for an explanation of the whole telepathy thing.

  14. Well, in the best case, that will be a roll on the D&D wild surge table. But there were omens and portents.

    To what extent is this story going to be a metaphor for experimentation with artificial intelligence?

  15. Megafire says:

    And so, Aaron created SkyNet. End of days, indeed.

  16. In this world, did Robin Hanson write a paper on the effects of discovering this name?

  17. I’d like to speculate on just what this Name does, using the appropriate form of analysis which is, of course, anagrams.

    ROS (Robot Operating System)
    AILE (ilea: third portions of small intestines)
    KAPHILUTON (Kaph Utilon: maximization of the number of copies of the Hebrew letter “kaph”)
    MIRAKOI (a koi rim – koi are a variety of carp (fish))
    KALANIEMI (manlike AI)
    TSHANA (
    athans: calls to prayer)
    KAI KAI (chai: hebrew for “life”)
    EPHSANDER GALISDO TAHUN (sharpened dialogs haunt)

    So, based on this COMPLETELY AIRTIGHT analysis, I predict that:
    – The narrator’s Mac will be plagued with popup dialog boxes that lack the rounded corners that Mac dialog boxes traditionally do
    – And it will spontaneously morph into a manlike AI, which runs ROS and is strangely obsessed with the letter kaph
    – The spell will not be at full strength, because they didn’t use any intestines
    – A ring of koi fish will briefly appear in a circular pattern in the air, and then vanish

    • (Sorry about the missing close-tag on the first link. I don’t seem to be able to edit.)

    • Deiseach says:

      Ros is the Latin for “dew” which immediately of course makes one think of the Rorate Coeli, from the Prophet Isaiah:

      Rorate coeli desuper et nubes pluant justum
      (Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain the just)

      So the ensouled Mac (and “Mac” is Irish/Scots Gaelic for “son”) will act in some form to bring forth or bring about the coming of the Messiah (the Son of David, the Son of Man) and that is the Eschaton and that is the End of the World, which may not be quite what Aaron was expecting 🙂

    • Sonata Green says:

      > popup dialog boxes that lack the rounded corners that Mac dialog boxes traditionally do

      Leviticus 19:9:

      > When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest.

  18. Joanna says:

    I can’t believe this! 46 comments and nobody has compared Scott to another author on this chapter yet. An outrage!

    Scott, this chapter reminds me of, um, *throws dart* Sophocles.

    • Deiseach says:

      Okay, I’ll take that challenge 🙂

      Llull is a reference to Ramon Llull (or Raymond Lully, as Anglophones tend to know him). Raymond Lully turns up (as Cole Hawlings) in John Masefield’s novel The Box of Delights.

      So in this chapter, Scott is to be compared to John Masefield!

    • Starting a spell by accident can be found in “I of Newton” by Joe Haldeman and “An Ornament to His Profession” by Charles L. Harness.

    • Jack V says:

      I reread the first chapter along with this one and I was having even more flashbacks to Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum.

      The way the characters come up with kaballistic connections to… everything is extremely well done, it feels like, a lot of “woo” is looked down on by people with an intellectual background like mine, but people still want to do their own sort of pattern spotting, and the sort of connections drawn here, linking numbers and absolute zero, and the endless parallels with apples and knowledge, are the sort of thing I’m drawn to even if I don’t want to be. And of course, in this story, some of it DOES connect to the underlying reality, but we don’t know if ALL of it does (and it doesn’t in our real reality).

      And one of the few other examples I remember of that being done well was Foucault’s Pendulum. Where it all seems very clever, and some of it IS, but some of it is just the tangle intelligent people get into when they start inventing ideas clever enough to fool themselves.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, I loved that book! “The Name of the Rose” was okay (I liked it, but I wasn’t raving over it, though I very much appreciated the “William of Baskerville” shout-out) but “Foucault’s Pendulum” – I kissed the last page, I loved it so much 🙂

      • Marvy says:

        > but we don’t know if ALL of it does

        Well, according to the main character, there are NO coincidences, so yes, all of it does.

        • Jack V says:

          Yeah, but the main characters in Foucault’s Pendulum believed that too. Not as explicitly and literally, but the major theme was, they built a convincing story of hidden conspiracies controlling history — that turned out to be completely bogus and got them all killed.

    • Ninmesara says:

      No more Mechanical Turk. He has gone full Bletchley Park. Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson, clearly.

  19. LHC says:

    Chapter 3’s status as a regular chapter instead of an interlude implies that it will become quite important. It seems as if Uriel will become an AntagoniSTic force towards AST, but the title of this novel is UNSONG – a more obvious antagonist still, but one I would generally assume is at a level of power considerably lesser than Uriel’s. What could UNSONG have up its sleeve?

    Also, UNSONG’s surveillance system, if I understand correctly, only detects
    usages of Names
    B)that UNSONG already knows.

  20. Quixote says:

    Another good one. Waiting is hard. Consuming free high quality content is a tough life…

  21. Murphy says:

    It occurs to me that this name-finding program might run into a very specific problem….

    so, it’s written already. Programs like itself cannot work. So…. what “Return”/”Signal” is it testing for?

    I mean, the general idea is that it says a name out loud and if it’s a real one then it’ll cause something to happen and the program will output “ROS-BAHL-TIP-KON: turns all ants within a 200 meter radius into locusts” or whatever as a “found” name.

    makes sense.


    In the comments Scott clarified that the first use gives the speaker the intro video but doesn’t activate the effect.

    But since this kind of program couldn’t ever work before they have no idea how the computers state should change when it hits on a real name.

    Effectively they’d have to run it until it finds a novel word then somehow figure out what intro-video the machine just experienced then come up with a way to make sure that the program doesn’t just barrel on saying more words after discovering one and somehow passes the information to them or at least tells them that it’s found a word.

    it’s not like you can have loop

    x = generatename()
    state = Speak(x)

    Without knowing what currentmachinestate() would return during a divine experience.

  22. Joanna says:

    Aaron Smith-Teller: i have made a machine with a soul
    Uriel: you fucked up a perfectly good laptop is what you did. look at it. it’s got anxiety

  23. Mad Salleh says:

    A week’s wait, and we get a cliffhanger. This is killing me.

    Anyway, since lots of commenters have pointed out that the story seems to be heading towards UFAI, here’s hoping your take on it is sufficiently interesting Scott! At the very least I love your characters and tone of writing (still channeling Dave Barry?) – particularly looking forward to more of Sohu and URIEL

  24. 75th says:

    So at what point before/during/after writing this book did you discover King James Programming, and did these quotes influence your writing, or was your discovery of it like “OMG I can’t believe how awesome and perfect this is!”?

  25. Decius says:

    Does everyone else realize that the morality of enslaving souled creatures to recite potential names until they find a True one isn’t dependent on them being made of non-potable water?

    “Let my processes go!”

    • Chrysophylax says:

      The computer can only accurately be described as enslaved if it wishes to not spend its time reciting potential Names. It’s not clear that giving it a divine spark is sufficient to give it human-like preferences.

      • Joseph says:

        But they should at the very least wait to run Llull before they just quickly check that it’s not, you know, sentient or anything.

      • Deiseach says:

        If the computer is ensouled, it’s sentient. Aaron deciding he still owns it and has the right to make it do what he wants is the equivalent of Aaron and Ana deciding to have a child that they then intend to make recite potential Names all day long for its entire life with nothing else permitted (rather like the job Aaron hates with a passion, for added irony).

        Yes, parents have authority over their children while the child is still a minor, but that does not mean the parent can decide to sell its child into slavery or keep it as a slave. There are minimum obligations for the welfare of the child that don’t apply to an object, and if the computer gets a soul and is treated by the Universe as a non-object (as being able to trigger the effects of speaking the Divine Names indicates), then it is sentient and a person, and persons cannot be owned.

  26. The GNU Testament says:

    Why isn’t he using linux?

    1. Given the much greater degree of surveillance in this world, and the need for their group to remain private, any closed-source software would seem much more suspicious. Especially given the general dystopic copyright situation, things like GNU, copyleft, free software, and open source seem like they’d be a much bigger part of the counter-culture.

    2. Given the way he thinks, an all-text environment seems like it’d be the most natural to him, especially an all-text environment where almost every command is
    a.) a recursive acronym
    b.) random synonym for the name of the command it most recently forked from
    c.) a godawful pun on the name of the command it most recently forked from
    d.) an unrelated godawful pun generally that the author took a liking to
    …with several iterations of such before the original version.
    You can use a command line in mac, but in most linux distros he could much more easily set up his machine to more or less live in a tty firing up an X session as needed for video or Internet browsing.

    3. Narrowing down the space for names would probably involve a lot of minor programming. Even with the kooky-association-logic presented, and his flawless memory, he’d still need a lot of stuff with ‘grep’, regular expressions, simple bash scripts, and decades old accumulations of perl that no one remembers what they do.
    (ex. find all hebrew words that are in Deuteronomy and Exodus that are 5 letters long and contain the following 3 letters in one of the following possible orders)
    This makes linux the more natural choice, as it provides access to more or less the best tooling for such things.

    As for puns on the name itself, ‘Arch’ is a distro that should have plenty of associations.

    • 75th says:

      I don’t want to launch a full-throated defense of the Mac here (though many more threads like this and Deiseach may drive me to it), so for now I’ll just say that in this universe, Kabbalistic considerations certainly override everything you just said.

      • Deiseach says:

        Oh, don’t be put off by my irrational prejudices 🙂

        Mainly it’s residual sourness from a boss* who swore by Apple, had a Mac of his own, and insisted in doing all his work on it – in an organisation that ran on various brand PCs all running Windows.

        Oh the happy fun times trying to figure out what the hell this corrupted file full of type symbols that he’d sent from his Mac to our PCs could possibly mean, and what programme we could find to run it! The hours of productivity lost trying to send, re-send, and clean up vital reports that were not compatible between machines!

        *In all other respects, he was a great boss and I’d recommend him to anyone, but he was a total Apple zealot. His Mac cost the guts of €1,000 or so while the rest of the organisation ran (being naturally on government tender contracts) on “If I order 300, can I get them for €180 each?” PCs.

        • 75th says:

          Ahh, I see. Yes, having the only Mac in the organization without the competence to handle interfacing with everyone else is a problem. And makes it far more likely that you ARE indeed an Apple person for vanity’s sake.

  27. 75th says:

    “I had an old NE-1 series Macbook. I’d named it Sarah after my desktop wallpaper of Sarah Michelle-Gellar striking a sexy pose.”

    Want to point out that in our universe, numbered series of MacBooks is not a thing. And of course, “NE-1” sounds like “anyone”. Not sure of the full implications of this.

  28. Good Burning Plastic says:

    The idea that an ordinary laptop loudspeaker can speak names 1000 times faster than a human breaks my suspension of disbelief. Some vowels have a first formant as low as 240 Hz and I’d guess you want each syllable to last at least a few times the inverse of that, so 100 syllables per second would be stretching it. The fact that “helium voice” is usually intelligible suggest you might get away with scaling all formants by the same factor, but you’d still want the second formant (2400 Hz in normal voice for some vowels) to be well below the Nyquist frequency of the sound card (22.05 kHz) so that barely buys you one more order of magnitude. And that’s assuming ideal loudspeakers — but if subvocalizing doesn’t work I guess what counts is not what goes into the speaker but what comes out of it.

  29. Tc says:

    Apakah novel ini masih berlanjut ?

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