Authors: Douglas E. Richards
“Interesting point,” said
Rachel, pleased by the thoughtfulness of the discussion. “I tend to agree with
you. So if society does agree with my point, that Matrix Learning should have
restrictions, an ability to detect when someone has been the recipient of this
technology will prove to be important. So cheaters can be caught. And even if
we force minors to learn how to learn, I’d probably be in favor of using this at
an early age, just once. To implant knowledge of how to read. To help even the
playing field between boys and girls.”
Several of the graduate students
“But moving on,” said Rachel, “there
can be no denying that Matrix Learning will cause social upheaval, at minimum.
It’s too profound a capability not to.” She raised her eyebrows. “So do any
other thorny issues come to mind?”
“Yes,” said Deb Sorensen. “Those
who prepare the Matrix Learning programs get to play God. So
decides what’s in the programs?
chooses the content of the educational
package that gets, um . . . uploaded?”
“Great point, Deb,” said the
professor. “That would definitely be an issue. Who controls the information
people are being infused with? Who decides what gets learned? When you learn
the old-fashioned way, you can seek out information, try to ferret out both
sides of an argument. But now, if this technology were to see widespread use,
everyone would have more or less the same knowledge of a field. It’s been said
that history is told by the victors. So you get your history course zapped into
your brain. Now you know what someone else wants you to know. But is it the
“Totalitarian regimes have
always tried to control knowledge, control information,” said Eyal Regev. “And
even though the Internet has made that very difficult to do, kids in these
countries still get indoctrinated into the regime’s ideology at a young age.
Matrix Learning, as you called it, would make this even easier.
“On the other hand,” continued
the swarthy Israeli, “an open society could make multiple versions of a history
available. People could choose to download one of them, or, for a broader
perspective, all of them. Just like we can choose which books to read, choosing
from among those we know take conflicting positions. If there are multiple
schools of thought in any field, you could get them all, and decide for
“This technology could also
revolutionize the practice of democracy,” noted Feldman. “The average American citizen
is profoundly uninformed when it comes to politics, which makes them
susceptible to lies, and to charm. But now both parties in an election could
have voters upload comprehensive and complex position papers, which almost no
one takes the time to read today. They could then decide for
which side they agree with.”
Rachel smiled. “Very good,” she
said. “As Mr. Regev pointed out earlier, certain technology advances are such
big leaps forward they are disruptive. In good and bad ways. In my opinion,
there are few advances that would be as disruptive as Matrix Learning would be.
I think you’ll find that the more you think about a world in which this is
possible, the more you realize there is almost no aspect of civilization that
this wouldn’t impact.”
She paused. “Let me return to
the current educational system for a moment. Sherry, you pointed out that the
university system would go down the drain. What do you think the primary impact
of this would be?”
“Economic,” said Sherry Dixon
without hesitation. “College is a multibillion dollar industry.”
“Maybe,” said Rachel, “but I
don’t think so. The professors will be busy organizing the knowledge for the
Matrix Learning downloads. They’ll be okay. And while they won’t be giving
lectures, they’ll have more time to push back the frontiers of knowledge. In my
view, if college were to become extinct, what would be lost is the maturing
process that students undergo over four years, the social skills they hone
there. Having to find a way to manage psychotic roommates and the freshman dorm
insane asylum. Learning how to study when there are preferred social options,
and when surrounded by chaos. No amount of Matrix Learning can teach maturity,
or how to navigate complex social situations. These can only be gained through
“Which brings up other Matrix
Learning deficiencies,” said Feldman. “What about creativity? Genius? Artistry?
Knowledge alone doesn’t give you higher intelligence, or magically turn you
into a Rembrandt.”
“Excellent,” said Rachel. “There
is that. But perhaps a more important consideration is this: Can knowledge
without wisdom be a danger? Knowledge without experience? Knowledge won too
Rachel was about to continue
when she happened to glance at a large round clock on the wall, and winced.
“Wow, it appears our time was up about five minutes ago,” she said. “Time flies
when you’re having fun. Usually, we get into several other topics during the
first session, which means the discussion this time was particularly good.”
The professor sighed. “And there
is one additional aspect of Matrix Learning I wanted to discuss. I guess we’ll
just have to get to that next time.”
She frowned. The discussion of
the human sex drive was one of her favorites, and they would now have to go
through it much faster than she would have liked. Oh well. She was confident
she would find a way to make it work.
“Great session, everybody,” she
concluded. “See you on Thursday.”
The man watching Rachel Howard
and her class on a large plasma monitor leaned back in his chair and pondered
all that he had heard. Fascinating. Absolutely fascinating.
He was greatly disappointed that
the class had ended when it did. He was eager to learn what else she might
discuss, but now he would have to wait until Thursday.
If he was willing. Every minute
counted, and they would have to make their move soon, ready or not.
Time was running out.
And there was much that needed
to be done.
Kevin Quinn remained asleep in
the Ford Fusion longer than he had expected, but he was untroubled by this upon
awakening. In the wee hours of the morning he had found an unpopulated stretch
of geography fifteen miles beyond the outskirts of Allentown and had driven randomly
for hours, literally choosing Robert Frost’s
road less traveled
whenever he came to a fork.
Eventually he found himself
driving up a large, wooded hill, on a secluded dirt road long forgotten by
civilization, which ultimately led to an old, abandoned shack. He couldn’t have
asked for a more ideal location.
He had parked behind the shack,
confident that he could get the sleep he so desperately needed without
interruption. In fact, he suspected he could remain here for months, if not
years, with little fear of being seen by human eyes.
So perhaps he had overslept, but
there was certainly no urgency for him to leave. A needle hiding in a secluded,
forgotten location was far safer than one traveling through the haystack of
civilization, no matter how large this haystack might be. Besides, it had been
a tough, long night, and he had needed to hit the reset button. Men who were
sleep deprived made mistakes. He had already made one the night before, by not
being properly prepared.
He couldn’t afford to make
He was stretched out on the backseat
of the car and cautiously rose to a sitting position, pausing as his eyes
reached window level to take in his surroundings and ensure no one was in the
vicinity. Satisfied, he exited his temporary bedroom and relieved the pressure
on his bladder before returning to the back of the car to begin work on his
most important project.
On the stretch of seat next to
him, he carefully laid out the materials he had stolen from the TV repair shop the
night before: a knife, four television remote controls, wire, duct tape, and a
Slowly, methodically, he used
the tip of the knife to punch four tiny, evenly spaced holes in the front of the
black baseball cap he had taken from a gangbanger in Trenton, just above the
brim. He then dismantled the remotes, removed the BB-sized glass bulbs at their
tips, and poked them through the holes. Finally, he wired the bulbs up to the nine-volt
battery, which he taped securely to the inner brim of the hat, invisible when
the hat was being worn.
He studied his handiwork,
satisfied with the finished product. The tiny bulbs were almost undetectable, which
had been his goal.
The rudiments of facial
recognition software hadn’t changed much in decades, and there remained several
ways to beat these systems. Wearing a mask would do it, of course, but then
you’d have to walk around in public with a
not an ideal way of warding off unwanted attention. And wearing a standard hat,
a beard, or changing a hair style was useless. Facial recognition systems
weren’t troubled in the least by any of these measures.
effective in the battle against these algorithms was to avoid symmetry,
and to obscure the area around one’s eyes. A system of makeup and hairstyling
had been developed many years earlier to accomplish this task, called
. The name borrowed from a
technique used in World War I, also called
whereby warships were painted with cubist designs, not to provide camouflage,
but because these designs made it harder for the enemy to determine a ship’s
size, speed, and heading.
It was all about breaking up
symmetry and visual continuity, which CV Dazzle did to a human face through the
use of avant-garde hairstyling and makeup, strategically obscuring or modifying
facial features that the recognition programs required. But this technique largely
suffered from the same problem as a mask. If Quinn were to apply dark makeup to
one of his cheeks, like a football player smearing black grease under his eyes,
he would be anything but discreet.
Fooling facial recognition was
not enough. You also had to do so while not sticking out like a neon sign.
Fortunately, cameras had more sensitive
vision than humans, and this sensitivity could be used against them. Infrared
LEDs could blind a camera, without registering in the visual cortex of a human
being in any way. So Quinn had acquired a ball cap the night before so he could
turn it into a facial recognition deterrent device.
Later he would purchase
sunglasses, choosing a pair with the biggest frame he could find, which even by
itself could defeat the efforts of lesser algorithms to recognize him. Combined
with a hat fitted with tiny bulbs from TV remotes, which would cloak his face
with camera-blinding infrared light, he would be able to operate freely.
In addition to the glasses, he
would purchase a few changes of clothing that would make him look heavier than
he was, platform shoes, hair dye, and black ink for selfie faux tattoos. Within
a few hours he would be unrecognizable to both cameras and pursuers, and would
have an ideal place in which to hole up for however long he needed.
He would secure his nest, and
then he would carefully, methodically, begin planning how to destroy the President
of the United States.
Avi Wortzman sighed loudly as
the holographic presence of America’s Secretary of Homeland Security, Greg Henry,
vanished from his office. Henry had ended the vid-meet abruptly, even rudely, but
Wortzman could hardly blame him. He would have done the same.
Wortzman was only forty-one years
old, but at times like this—when crisis situations forced brutally complex, brutally
consequential decisions upon him—he felt twice this age. And such times had recently
begun to appear with frightening regularity.
Wortzman had distinguished himself
in the military, and being an adrenaline junkie in his younger years had joined
up with the special forces unit,
, the Israel Defense
Forces’ equivalent of the Navy Seals. From here he had graduated to Israel’s
most secret and fabled special operations unit, Kidon, Hebrew for
This group was known—at least according
to an almost urban-legend mythology that had sprung up around the world—for its
unequaled ability to infiltrate hostile countries and murder Israel’s enemies,
while barely disturbing a single blade of grass or molecule of air, leaving no
trace of the op behind.
Wortzman had then served in various
Intelligence capacities before finally landing in his current office, on the
third floor of a famous complex in Tel Aviv. There were four Hebrew letters on
the wall next to his door that read
an abbreviation for
A rare non-Hebrew speaker—aware
that the Jewish New Year,
head of the year
—might realize that
Rosh ha-Mossad meant
head of the Mossad.
without knowledge of this title, none would guess that Avi Wortzman held this
position. There was absolutely nothing imposing about this man, or his office.
At least not on the surface.
But there were enemies of the Jewish
state who had died, or had seen their best plans laid to waste, for underestimating
this unassuming man.
Mossad was the Hebrew word for
, short for
HaMossad leModiʿin uleTafkidim Meyuchadim
which translated as the “Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations.”
Since Avi Wortzman had taken over
the reins of the Mossad five years earlier, he had saved Israel from certain
destruction on more than one occasion, and had even saved the US from suffering
a number of devastating blows, although Wortzman made certain that his
assistance in these instances remained undiscovered.
But now, after strengthening the Institute
in ways unimaginable to his predecessors, the spear he had forged and sharpened
so brilliantly now threatened the stability of everything he had built. He had
made a series of moves that had seemed flawless, that would leave the greatest
chess grandmasters in awe, but it was collapsing in on him, backfiring.
Perhaps God had a sense of humor,
or was punishing him for the hubris of believing he had finally gained the
upper hand on his enemies, that there was no crisis he couldn’t overcome.
Which is perhaps why he had never
felt so weary, so ancient. Why the thick, black hair that had so proudly served
him during harrowing special operations missions had recently abandoned ship, leaving
his head as bald as a light bulb. And why he now took blood pressure medication
on a regular basis.
He had thought the heavy lifting
was all but over, but the weight of the world had returned to his shoulders with
a vengeance, more crushing than ever before.
As the head of Mossad, he was the caretaker
of an entire country, an entire
The stress was backbreaking, the demands incomprehensible, even to those
commanding other such agencies around the world.
Because no country was a greater
underdog, at least on paper, than the biblical land of milk and honey. The fact
that Israel still even
miracle of biblical proportions, surrounded as it was by a sea of hostile
countries—many whose leaders publicly avowed to annihilate the tiny island of
democracy and march any remaining Jews into the sea, to finish the job that
Hitler had started, even while denying the holocaust had ever happened.
It might have been accurate to
compare Israel’s survival to the story of David and Goliath, but only if David
had been pitted against a
The country Wortzman was
responsible for defending was so minuscule that almost
Israels could fit inside the United States, and Israel’s
entire population was greatly exceeded by the population of
Israel bordered Syria, Jordan,
Egypt, and Lebanon, four countries that collectively outnumbered the Jewish
state fifteen to one. And while these four countries were all next-door
neighbors—just in case
of Israel wasn’t virulent enough—the neighbors just down the block included
such tolerant and open-minded peace lovers as Iraq, Iran, Somalia, Yemen,
Sudan, Kuwait, Libya, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.
One of Wortzman’s predecessors,
Meir Dagan, who had headed the Mossad for eight years, from 2002 until 2010,
had hung a framed black-and-white photo of his grandfather on his office wall.
The man was shown surrounded by jeering Nazis who would shoot him minutes later,
along with thousands of other Jews in Lokov, Ukraine. The photo was taken by a non-Jewish
neighbor of the victim, at the request of the proud Nazi butchers.
Dagan would tell visitors that he displayed this photo, not just to remind
himself of history, of what was at stake, but to remind him to take the threats
of those who vowed to destroy the Jews with utter sobriety, and that the
barbarism inside the human soul could be unleashed far more easily than any
modern, civilized citizen of the world could truly comprehend.
In 1961, the Yale psychologist Stanley Milgram demonstrated experimentally
what had been demonstrated in the real world all too often throughout history: that
human beings were pliable, and could easily be goaded into acts of great
cruelty by those they considered to be in authority.
The famous Milgram study asked volunteers to shock unseen subjects, behind a
wall, for a pretend memory experiment, whenever the pretend subjects failed to
remember a word pair from a list, with the intensity of the shock increasing
with every wrong answer. If at any time a volunteer wanted to stop the
experiment, stop pressing a button they believed was delivering electricity and
agony to test subjects, they were given a verbal prod by the man they had been
told was in charge. First they were simply told to
. If they later wanted to halt, they were told,
the experiment requires that you
it is absolutely essential
ou have no other
Despite actors on the other side of
the wall screaming in agony, complaining of a heart condition, and begging for
the experiment to be stopped, fully sixty-five percent of the volunteers could
be encouraged to advance all the way to the highest level of electric shock. A
result that had
the world. And
a result that had since been verified by so many researchers, in so many
countries, it had become indisputable.
The only part of this result that
had stunned Avi Wortzman was that anyone had been surprised. It seemed to him that
even a cursory glance at human history, filled with butchery, war, slavery, and
genocide, would make this result utterly predictable.
So Wortzman had followed Dagan’s
lead. Behind his sturdy oak desk, Wortzman had hung a painting he had
commissioned, depicting, not just the holocaust, but numerous other instances
in which the Jewish people were persecuted throughout history. Since the
religion had become the first to believe in a single, abstract god, rather than
idols, its adherents had faced a never-ending barrage of hatred and violence.
While Christianity was able to
quickly win the battle for monotheistic souls, rather than show good will
toward the religion their savior had practiced, European Christian populations throughout
the centuries had held
responsible for the death of Christ. They had spread accusations that Jews routinely
kidnapped and murdered Christian children, so their blood could be used in religious
rituals. When the Black Death wiped out more than half the population of Europe
in the fourteenth century, it was no surprise that Jews were blamed, and untold
thousands were put to death, many burned alive.
This virulent anti-Semitism had
erupted decade after decade, century after century, resulting in multiple pogroms,
forced conversions, expulsions, and mass murders. France, Germany, Italy, England,
Russia: none were immune from this hatred.
So Wortzman had hung a painting, a
montage, depicting any number of these atrocities, with the words, “Never Again!”
spelled in black wooden Hebrew letters attached to the wall above it. But he
had not stopped there.
Wortzman was well aware that while
his power as the head of Mossad was immense, so was his responsibility, and
that the ethics of almost every decision he made had become hideously complex.
So, while he hung the words, Never Again! above his montage, below it he hung a
silver frame containing a famous quote. A quote written by, of all people, Friedrich
Nietzsche, the German philosopher many mistakenly believed to be the godfather
of Nazism and Fascism. Nietzsche had strongly and unambiguously denounced both
nationalism and anti-Semitism, but after his death in 1900, his sister had
reworked his unpublished writings to comport with her own beliefs, bastardizing
many of his views.
Wortzman displayed Nietzsche’s words
to remind him of the need to cling to his own humanity as tightly as he could,
despite the temptations to do otherwise. He turned toward them now, re-reading
them as he had done on so many occasions.
not with monsters,
ye become a monster.
if you gaze into the abyss,
abyss gazes back into you.
Wortzman blew out a heavy sigh.
Battle not with monsters
. The problem,
of course, was that he had no choice but to do this. In fact,
battling with monsters
could well have been
his job description. And as much as he strived to heed Nietzsche’s warning
about the likely consequences, he wondered how many people would think he had long
since crossed this line, had long since become a monster in his own right.
The Mossad leader was torn from his
reverie as Yaron Hurwitz burst through the door, breathless. “I’m too late,
aren’t I?” he said in Hebrew after taking a single glance at his boss.
Wortzman motioned for him to sit
down but didn’t reply.
“You already supplied the intel to
Greg Henry, didn’t you?” said Hurwitz as he pulled a chair close to Wortzman’s desk.
Hurwitz’s official title was deputy
director, but most in the Institute thought of him simply as Wortzman’s
indispensable right hand. Like his boss, Hurwitz had come up through the
military and intelligence ranks, but his expertise was long on signal,
electronic, and computer intelligence, and short on work in the field.
Wortzman nodded. “I insisted on an emergency
vid-meet with Henry the second after I alerted you. Got off the call five
Hurwitz whistled, calculating that
the entire call couldn’t have lasted for more than three or four minutes. “That
was one efficient vid-meet,” he said.
He shook his head in disapproval.
“I wish you would have waited just a little longer until I could get here. I
could have been a sounding board. Two heads are better than one—even when one
of those heads is
“I had no choice. Nothing you could
have said would have changed my decision. We would just have wasted precious
minutes. What would you have me do, say nothing about Jafari’s plans and then
watch while America burned to the ground a few weeks or months later?”
“Of course not. We had to stop
this. But we could have delayed just a bit to make sure our friends in DHS got
the intel through anonymous channels. Hard to pretend the intel didn’t come
directly from us when, you know, the intel came directly from us.” Hurwitz
frowned deeply. “Or we could have kept track of everyone in Jafari’s meeting
and taken them out ourselves in the days to come.”
Wortzman shook his head, unable to
believe what he had just heard. He wasn’t the only one being affected by lethal
doses of stress. “Jafari had
of men in that mosque,” he said. “And we’re so shorthanded, we could recruit a
thousand agents and still be understaffed. The last thing we need to do is try
to assassinate hundreds of zealots in the States, especially when the US
authorities believe they’re innocent.”
“Yeah, okay,” said Hurwitz dourly,
but then quickly broke out into a broad grin. “I have to admit, that may be the
dumbest thing I’ve ever said.”
“Just proves that you’re human,
Yaron. Given everything that’s going on, we’re both under a lot of pressure.”
“So what about my first thought?” pressed
Hurwitz. “Why wouldn’t you route the intel so it came in their door anonymously?”
“No time. My guess is Jafari’s
meeting will only last another few hours, if that. Even for us, this would
leave little time to green-light a neutralization plan. And the US is a much larger,
slower animal.” He shrugged. “Look at it this way, by coming out of the closet
on this, they’ll owe us one.”