Emergence was first published in hardback by Macmillan in 2001. A paperback edition was published in January 2002.
Read the Prologue to Emergence below:
In summer, the skies above the city of Stockholm remain blue for most of the Earth’s daily revolution: the Sun might be thought unwilling to withdraw fully in night’s favour. By late evening azure becomes amethyst eventually giving way to an ecclesiastical indigo. This allows a few of the brightest stars to compete to make their presence known alongside the ever-growing network of communications satellites and their intermittent matrix of laser beams made brilliant and multi-coloured solely for purposes of marketing advantage and brand identity.
Luxuriating in his hot tub, Rolf Larsson gazes through the glass ceiling panels of his attic bathroom and allows the deep purple of the late evening sky to embrace him. He can still feel the press of Laila’s embrace, her body, urgent against his, and he savours their closeness again. He slips into a gentle mood of detachment, floating, as the swirling surreality of Debussy’s Cello Sonata in D Minor marks a distant punctuation elsewhere in the apartment. Laila has chosen his favourite piece of music. She is sending him a message of love and contentment from the living room beyond. It is Friday night, the start to their weekend.
He names every star he can see, constructs a pattern to connect them and quickly factors their prime numbers. It is a game his father taught him even before he went to high school. Then he makes his topology three-dimensional, placing and naming the more distant star clusters and invisible galaxies where he knows them to be. Once again his mind turns to the infinite billions of stars whose presence is masked in summer by the light Scandinavian atmosphere. Sweden’s 27 year-old media-acclaimed ‘prodigy’ of astrophysics tries once more to predict his pattern in a way which will make them denumerable. As always, the model in his head shatters soon after he tries to push beyond the counter-intuitive irrationality of string theory, quantum mechanics, parallel states and the concept of infinity. He exhales and lies back, dipping his head under the water.
He sits up, dries his face on a towel and leans forward to add more hot water. As he does so, a sudden contrapuntal rhythm created nearly a century earlier fills his head and he gains another point of observation which flickers in and out of his grasp.
Suddenly his four-dimensional model of matter extends with the music and gains a fifth, then a sixth, then more, in a mental cascade of observations which pulse with potential for proof. In a moment it, too, shatters but then, with the counterpoint of the rational mathematics Debussy used to build his temporal dance, it slowly reassembles as an intellectual scaffolding which provides multiple observation points that extend and transcend the thinness of the present.
Larsson probes the new patterns of space, place, time and matter that are now crystallizing in his consciousness. It seems to be an entirely new metalanguage! Then he realises what he might have.
He leaps from his bath and runs, naked and wet, into his wood-floored attic living room. ‘Wake!’ he shouts as he reaches his computer display screens and, dripping, he begins to work, oblivious of Laila’s puzzled gaze.
The stars were reappearing by the time Larsson pushed himself back from his screens and ran his fingers through his hair. He should have been preparing for two tutorials for his supplementary PhD in particle physics, but he was sure he had just discovered something no tutorial could offer. Yet, despite the scale of this achievement, it didn’t occur to him he might never return to his university.
Laila had padded over to investigate soon after he had started communing with his machine. He hadn’t said anything when she had draped a towelling robe around his shoulders and she understood his frequent intellectual obsessions well enough to leave him undisturbed. Later, when she had been swallowing yawns for an hour, she had brought black coffee from the kitchen, guessing that he was settling down for a long session. He hadn’t even looked up as she leaned over his shoulder to place the mug beside his keyboard. She had kissed his cheek, feeling his stubble against her lips and he had at last acknowledged her presence by placing his hand over hers as she squeezed his shoulder. She had kissed him once more and left him to it.
Now, nearly a day later, he was finished.
‘Save with remote backup,’ Larsson told his computer. ‘Disconnect from all networks.’
He slept for 14 hours and when he woke, sweaty and unshaven in the broad daylight of Sunday, he panicked. He couldn’t recapture the complex matrix in his mind. Two minutes later his computer confirmed he had not dreamt it: his new language and concepts had created formulae that expressed a poly-dimensional method of observing the smallest particles of matter: a means of calculating and proving their positions at all times.
When he had showered and wolfed down cold baked beans straight from the can, Larsson called his academic supervisor at home. He had been summoned as a stand-by juror, he explained: sudden and unavoidable. The trial was scheduled to last a few weeks.
Laila had given up on their weekend plans and returned to her own apartment in Trossa, leaving a message for him to call when he finally surfaced. She took his call and, after apologising, he explained that he’d found something that might be important for his new doctorate and that he needed some time alone.
‘Is there anything wrong?’ she asked. He could see the worry on her face, and pursed his lips towards her in a kiss.
‘I love you,’ he said. ‘You’ll be so proud of me if this turns out to be what I think it is.’
She smiled, a reaction which produced a small dimple at the corner of her mouth. He felt a pang of desire but fought it.
‘Just give me a little while to concentrate, O.K?’
‘It’s not so easy when you’re around.’
She smiled again. ‘Well, call me when you can.’
Three weeks later, having provided only the briefest explanations for his solitary preoccupation to his family and friends, Larsson had completed the coding for his software. It worked flawlessly on the few secure messages he had in local storage. He then logged on to the global networks and dispatched the software robots he had created.
After decades of continuous investment in virtual technologies, the world had become totally reliant on the vast web of fiber-optic cables, wireless networks and satellite chains which, each day, created an ever more dense matrix around the planet. Almost every aspect of government, business and social life raced through the man-made digital cosmos at the speed of light. Everything sensitive, controversial or financial was scrambled by super-strong security techniques that were unbreakable even by the largest network of optical super-computers. It was a safe, trustworthy and instant domain.
Larsson found 107 errors in his coding as he ran his new prime number generator repeatedly against the encrypted messages. With mounting cries of frustration at his own stupidity, he corrected and recompiled the software until his engine was producing a continuous string of the super-rare high prime numbers which lie at the heart of unbreakable encryption technology.
Once the software was stable – or stable enough to complete more than a few passes without crashing – it took him a little less than 15 minutes to break the first message. As he tuned his algorithms, plain text emerged at an ever faster rate from the jumble of letters and symbols that made up the encrypted communications.
Six hours after he broke the first message, all 409 were in plain text for him to examine. Ignoring the messages that were in languages he couldn’t read without using auto-translation, Larsson’s first ten minutes of scrolling revealed a draft agreement on agricultural trade subsidies between Washington DC and the European Union, four bank transfer instructions for sums ranging between 200 and 700 million dollars, and three sets of draft company accounts.
The young Swede pushed his chair back from his computer screens and yelled at the ceiling. He jumped to his feet and clasped his hands behind his head, turning in tiny circles. For twenty minutes he walked around his apartment staring at blank walls, at the table top and out of the window. He looked, but registered nothing.
An hour later he dispatched his team of software robots again. This time they had a particular target and, as soon as they had departed into the world’s networks, he left his apartment, carefully double-locking the heavy old metal door of the converted warehouse building.
He was shocked by the brilliance of the June day. Other than occasional late evening sorties to the convenience store, he had hardly stepped outdoors in a month. The sun created a panorama of flashing reflections across the gentle swell of the harbour like a flotilla of miniature ships frantically signalling the shore.
Not for the first time, Larsson reflected on how the apparent reality of the physical world made the intangible space of the digital environment seem unreal – the classic mistake. He smiled and reminded himself that it was his brain that was adding the brilliant colours to the scene in front of him. All that existed in the physical world were varying achromatic wavelengths of light. Man creates his own world: it has been virtual, a product of human creativity, from the moment consciousness emerged and thus it is humans who give meaning to quantum particles which, Larsson had proved, include many alternative states, all of them useful in the creation of new concepts for language and, consequently, thought.
He strolled past the innumerable outdoor cafe tables on the cobbled quay-side, oblivious of the sharp looks of interest and query from the young and less-young female patrons. Tall, lank and with an unruly mop of flaxen hair his thin T-shirted figure appeared deep in thought.
His mind was on Thomas Tye and his company, the Tye Corporation. Since the eruption of global wealth created by the digital and biotech economies, thousands of new companies had emerged to take over from the old industrial age behemoths such as car makers and oil companies. The corporate riches of the late 20th century had been dwarfed by the immense wealth created by enterprises which focused on delivering virtual and information-specific products via the networks, by companies which could quadruple the produce of an acre of land and by corporations which created miracle cures based on the map of the human genome. All such products and services were delivered to a global market made one by the networks’ elimination of physical boundaries and borders.
Even the old software and computer giants of the pre-network age now looked puny compared with the distributed and virtually-based corporations that had come to dominate the global economy. Of these, by far the richest was the Tye Corporation, the world’s most valuable company and the biggest telecommunications, software, pharmaceutical, biotech, healthcare, aerospace, media and banking conglomerate on the planet.
Almost everybody in the world, in the rapidly emerging economies as well as in developed countries, was familiar with the face and the public opinions of Thomas Tye, the company’s founder, major shareholder and environmental campaigner; the man who had become the planet’s richest citizen. As such, he was the obvious target for Larsson, and by the time he returned to his apartment, his trawling robots had returned with copies of over 300 Tye Corporation communications that had been flashing through the world’s networks as they lay in wait.
Larsson saved the material that had been harvested and started work. Inside an hour he had decoded and read plans to relocate offices, fund transfers between a dozen banks and outline designs for a new generation of 3D hologram software. Then he found something ideal for his purpose. It was a highest-security, deeply-encrypted message that had been sent to Thomas Tye’s confidential mailbox. When he had broken the code, Larsson read the final draft of the Tye Corporation’s annual report and consolidated accounts that were due to be published in 16 days’ time. The document had been on its way to Tye for his final approval when it had been silently and untraceably intercepted and copied, in less than one 100th of a second.
Larsson printed out the 120 pages and spent several hours struggling to understand the unfamiliar formats of multinational corporate accounting. He visited the Tye Corporation’s main network resource and downloaded the previous year’s accounts. He could interpret enough of the financial statements to see that the company’s revenue had jumped 60 per cent and its net income was up by 48 per cent.
He stood up and allowed himself a few small revolutions in the middle of the floor. Then he sat back down, extracted Tye’s personal network address from the decoded file and prepared a message containing a copy of the draft accounts in plain, unscrambled text. To reinforce his point, he also added three further confidential Tye Corporation messages in plain language and sent them to Tye with a cryptic message;
New software. Want to discuss?
Larsson left his audio alert on and went to bed. But sleep did not come. At 3a.m., just as he was finally drifting off, his computer alerted him to incoming vmail. He opened his three screens, enabled the videoconferencing system and saw the best-known face on the planet in front of him.
Involuntarily, his response was formal. ‘Mr. Tye.’
‘Doctor Larsson?’ That rich, full voice; so well known.
The young man nodded.
‘Can you verify please?’
‘Let’s both do it’
The cameras showed Tye leaning forward and touching the fingerprint reader on his system. Larsson did the same. Three seconds later a message appeared on Larsson’s home screen. ‘Identity of caller confirmed as Thomas Richmond Tye, born July 1st, 1966, Boston, USA. Present location undisclosed.’ A second message confirmed that Tye had received reciprocal confirmation from the world’s Digital Certification Authority. Despite his nervousness at communicating with the richest person ever to have lived, Larsson found himself wondering at how handsome and youthful Tye appeared for someone well into middle age. His plastic surgeon must be excellent.
‘Please encrypt, if you don’t find that too funny,’ said Tye. Larsson complied and received confirmation of secure mode.
‘Well, Doctor, you certainly have the right background for it,’ acknowledged Tye, staring straight into his central camera. They had exchanged camera control as had become the custom and courtesy of the time and Larsson zoomed in until the trillionaire’s perfect face filled his central screen. ‘Did you get lucky or do you really have something new?’
Larsson had gone over and over what he might say at this point. Abandoning all plans, he simply said, ‘It’s something new. Completely new.’
‘Can you prove it?’
‘To anybody who understands particle physics or quantum mechanics,’ responded Larsson. ‘Or I can repeat the demonstrations.’
‘Who have you told?’
‘Nobody. It happened just a couple of weeks ago.’
‘I presume you want to sell’ prompted Tye.
‘I...I don’t know,’ said Larsson, because he didn’t.
‘Come to Hope Island tomorrow,’ said Tye. ‘Tell nobody, and bring everything you have on it.’
Larsson hesitated. After repeated postponements, he had arranged to see Laila the following day for the first time in four weeks.
‘I’ll send a jet. Someone will be in touch. Oh... and don’t attempt to act on what you know. I’m altering the figures.’
The screens went blank. Larsson sat slumped in his chair for a few moments and then, with shaking hands, got up to make a coffee. He had never felt less like sleep.
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