First Night: The Conflict Between Hope and Cynicism
Story by Dr. Lee Brazil
Foreword and Epilogue by:
Written by Ron Breazeale, Ph.D.
All Rights Reserved
Office of Dick Chambers, CEO, Hollocore
December 17, 2019, 1:45 P.M. CST
Without regard for the wishes of men, any machines or techniques or forms of organization that can economically replace men do replace men.
~ Kurt Vonnegut, Player Piano
Dick Chambers was seated behind a large mahogany desk. He was a small man in his late sixties. He had had a number of health problems, mainly cardiac, although there are some who would question whether or not he had a heart. He was known as a ruthless businessman and an archconservative.
There was a picture of his two daughters on his desk, although one he had not seen in over twenty years. There was also a picture of his wife who lived in Washington, DC. She chose to stay there when Chambers returned to Texas to run Hollocore. With his schedule, he only saw her once or twice a month. They talked occasionally on the phone.
His was a corner office on the top floor of an office building built by Hollocore. The chairs were large, heavy wood covered with leather. The walls of the office were covered with photographs and plaques, many from the years Chambers served in Congress. He especially treasured the one of himself and Ronald Reagan.
Chambers got up from his desk and walked toward the bank of windows looking out on the Dallas skyline. It was a cloudy, gray day, not unusual for Dallas in December. Chambers was waiting for someone who was late. Dick Chambers did not like tardiness. He fidgeted with the good luck piece in his pocket, a coin commemorating Dallas’s 100th anniversary.
He looked again at his watch, a Rolex that he also treasured. He had always felt good about the price that he paid, fifty percent below retail.
The intercom buzzed. “Yes, Cynthia.”
“Mr. Collins is here to see you, sir.”
“Show him in.”
The heavy wood door to his office opened. A large man entered, wearing a custom-made suit and Italian shoes. These were two things Chambers considered to be a waste of money.
Chambers’ guest offered no apology for his tardiness. He extended his hand, a gesture that Chambers ignored.
“How are you, Dick?” asked Collins.
“Well, you tell me, Robert. That’s what I’m paying you for.”
Robert Collins took a seat in front of Chambers’ desk. Chambers remained standing. Collins was a lobbyist, a very good and a very highly paid one. “Dick, I assume you’re referring to the upcoming vote on your contract that the Senate Oversight Committee will be reviewing.” Chambers nodded impatiently. Collins was one of the few people who was not afraid of Chambers, and Chambers knew it.
“Well, we’ve got the votes. Clayton and Greenwood won’t be able to derail this, so you guys can start spending the money.”
“You’re sure of this?” He looked Collins straight in the eye.
“We’ve got the votes. Dick, I told you your company’s money would be well spent.”
“I know you didn’t fly all the way down here just to tell me that.” “Of course not, Dick. I have business down here with some of your friends and possible competitors.” He chuckled.
There was a pause in the conversation.
“So can you do it?” asks Collins, “Build a computer that’s smarter than the entire human race?”
Chambers didn’t respond at first. Collins waited. Chambers finally looked up from his QuickPad.
“Well, given that the computer only has to be smarter than the human race, I’m sure we’re up to it.”
Collins smiled and chuckled again. Chambers stepped toward the door. Collins didn’t move.
“Mr. Collins, I have a board meeting in five minutes. Please be on time for our next meeting, assuming there will be one.”
Collins smiled again. “Oh, Dick, I’m sure there will be one.” Collins rose and moved slowly toward the door. As he exited the room, “Happy Holidays, Dick.” Chambers didn’t respond.
Chambers picked up his Qpad. He walked to the door leading from his office into the boardroom. He paused for a few seconds. He cracked the door. Board members were taking their seats around a huge mahogany table for which Chambers himself supervised the construction. When he entered the room, the Board members stood and waited. He sat down and motioned for the others to be seated.
“This will be a brief meeting and it will be off the record,” he announced to the board’s recording secretary who nodded agreement. “Hollocore is poised to take the next giant step in IT.” Chambers looked down at his hands that were folded on the table. “The Europeans once again are asking for the United States to bail them out.” He smirked. “They’re not capable of finishing the supercomputer project they began.” He paused. “So what’s new?” He chuckled, and other board members smiled or chuckled also.
“They are happy to give the work product they have created to our government, and our government has accepted it. The Department of Education will issue a request for a proposal to finish the project, to which we, as you know, and three other companies will respond.” Chambers scanned the room.
“Two of these companies will not be chosen, since they lack the capability, the human brain power to complete the project.”
“Our only real competitor is TransSea. But Robert Collins, our lobbyist, has assured me that the recommendation of the Commissioner of Education will be positive for us and will be accepted by the senate subcommittee that reviews the project. He anticipates that no one on the committee will be able to block us, although I am sure there are some who would do so if they could.”
Chambers looked around the room again. All eight board members were present. All men; all chosen by Chambers. Hollocore had never had a female board member. The board members were now smiling and nodding agreement. Chambers waited. The vice chair of the board began to applaud and the others followed.
“However, there is one problem. I believe it a minor one. Because of the problems in the past two weeks with electronic data transfer and the sensitive nature of the project, the United States government will assign a courier to pick up the EU’s work product in Paris and deliver it to Boston.” He paused.
“I have instructed our Director of Security, Reginald Brown,” he looked directly at Mr. Brown, who smiled nervously, “to take all the necessary steps to see that the courier and the package he is carrying arrive safely in Boston. Mr. Brown has assured me that he and his staff will make it so.” He again looked at Mr. Brown, as did the other board members. “I will keep the board informed of developments as needed.” And with that, he adjourned the meeting and returned to his office.
Dick Chambers should have been pleased with himself. Hollocore would get the contract. Collins had assured him of that. But he wasn’t pleased. Had he missed an opportunity for himself and Hollocore? He had seen another article this morning in the Financial Times on TransSea and their plans to send a mining probe to Beta 17 as it passed close to the Earth next month.
“It should be a Hollocore probe,” he grumbled to himself. But Chambers had listened to his scientists rather than his own intuition. They had said it was too risky. Mining minerals on an asteroid? Still the stuff of science fiction, they said. Chambers had listened to them and now he regretted it.