The Program — White Algorithm’s burden - part II

White Algorithm’s burden - part II

ANNOUNCER: This is part two of a three part series. If you haven’t listened to the first episode, you are advised to do so before proceeding.

PROFESSOR: Back in the early days of the Internet, it was still possible to be anonymous online. This caused a lot of issues, but also had advantages. For example, there was a webservice called the reddit, which was like a big forum with threads bearing all these colourful names like oddlysatisfying, interestingasfuck, and historyporn. I swear they were not as obtuse as it sounds! [laughs] Anyway, a lot of my colleagues from university frequented the same threads I did, so it just so happened that one of my male colleagues picked a female screen name and I started chatting him up without having the slightest clue it was in fact him. [chuckles] Since we were local I suggested we meet up. The colleague, now being in an awkward position, gave me the address of his female friend's all-girls apartment and the name of her roommate. It was this roommate that ended up becoming my wife, marrying a stranger who showed up unannounced at her door mumbling something about the reddit and history porn! [laughs]

REPORTER (LIVE): [laughs] No way!

REPORTER: I was in Professor’s home office. It had been over a week since I’ve arrived in Neumat, a small town on the edge of the desert. I was here on an investigative assignment to explore a series of mysterious disappearances of local children a couple of years prior. Professor was one of the first residents I met here - and definitely one of the most charming and interesting. He was a scientist researching the Program, or more precisely, a hypothetical part of the Program called the White Algorithm that was in charge of calculating individuals’ credit score. Believing that we are all under observation - and perhaps control - of omniscient and omnipresent artificial intelligence, Professor spent years running experiments on the White Algorithm, trying to understand the logic behind it. He did this in a city called Victoria founded by his fellow researchers, all of who perished when Victoria’s water treatment system got poisoned. Professor thinks this was done under the direction of the Program by a man who then moved to Neumat and married the town’s Teacher. It was their child, a seven year-old girl named Sara, who disappeared first, followed by two of Mayor’s daughters, Maria and Beckie. Not knowing why or how the children vanished paralyzed Neumat. But there was one person who had an inkling who might be behind it - an inkling that was deeply unsettling. The name she chose for herself was Mother of Jakob - and it was her son Jakob, a thirty-something year-old comic book artist, who aroused her suspicion after she discovered his hidden folder of drawings depicting underage girls bound and tortured. I didn’t yet know all I needed to know about Neumat, but I was already certain of one thing: for a town this small, it had an outsized stake on tragedy.

REPORTER (LIVE): Professor, if you don’t mind me asking… Your wife… Was she able to survive the Victoria water poisoning?

PROFESSOR: No. She perished with the others. I wasn’t able to warn her. I was lucky enough to save Simon.

REPORTER (LIVE): Thoughts and prayers... Could you tell me a bit about Simon then?

PROFESSOR: It is a difficult thing for me to talk about him. I’m a scientist, and to describe my feelings for Simon I would have to be a poet. The best I can say is that Simon was love personified. It’s as if someone took the love my wife and I had for each other and moulded it into this tiny body... Do you have children?

REPORTER (LIVE): I don’t.

PROFESSOR: I became a father rather late in my life. Simon was born in Victoria but was less than two years old when we’ve escaped the calamity and moved to Neumat. So he grew up to be a local boy through and through.

REPORTER (LIVE): Did Simon get along well with other children in Neumat?

PROFESSOR: For the most part, yes. He was really good friends with Maria and Beckie - Mayor’s daughters, the ones that disappeared.

REPORTER (LIVE): Do you remember how old the girls were at the time?

PROFESSOR: Um, let me see… Maria was around Simon’s age, so seven or eight. And Beckie was five. I remember how I took Simon to her birthday party a few weeks before all the madness started.

REPORTER (LIVE): Professor, who do you think took the children?

PROFESSOR: I can tell you who did not take them. I performed the calculations and I am certain the disappearances were not connected with the White Algorithm in any way. I devoted years to studying the Program and these events did not match any of the known patterns.

REPORTER (LIVE): But then again, perhaps that is precisely how they fit in.

PROFESSOR: Explain.

REPORTER (LIVE): Suppose I want something from you - let’s say to find out what you really think about some topic. So I decided that the best way to achieve my goal is to pretend to be inept, as this will get you to speak more freely than you normally would. Acting unintelligently is actually a smart strategy in some cases. Perhaps the White Algorithm is like that.

PROFESSOR: That’s an interesting theory - one we thoroughly analyzed in Victoria.

REPORTER (LIVE): You did?

PROFESSOR: We did. When we realized the Program was issuing windfall credits even in those instances in which the impairment was self-inflicted, we asked ourselves if the original injury is even necessary? Couldn’t we simply report a bogus detriment and still get awarded for it? To find out, we devised an experiment. We submitted a claim that I was suffering from sterility.

REPORTER (LIVE): Meaning you invented you were sterile?

PROFESSOR: Precisely. This was something that was not provable visually, so we were curious if the Program would increase my credit score just because I said so.

REPORTER (LIVE): And did it?

PROFESSOR: It did not.

REPORTER (LIVE): Figures. I must admit, you actually had me thinking it would for a second.

PROFESSOR: But then I underwent castration.

REPORTER (LIVE): You did what?

PROFESSOR: Don’t make a face, it’s not like I went under the butcher’s knife or anything like that. My wife and I were certain we wouldn’t have children beyond Simon, so a doctor in Victoria performed a vasectomy on me. It was actually a rather trivial procedure, done in less than 20 minutes under local anesthesia.

REPORTER (LIVE): Still, it seems like a bit of an extreme way to prove a point.

PROFESSOR: But proven it we have.

REPORTER (LIVE): You have?

PROFESSOR: A few days after the procedure my credit score increased. The White Algorithm knew.

REPORTER: I’m not gonna lie, the idea of an omniscient AI dutifully watching over us was unnerving. But it was also strangely hopeful - offering reassurance that everything was going to be alright - that no matter what the distress or hardship, we would ultimately be provided for. Isn’t that what people since the dawn of civilisation longed for? And was having it dispensed by an unbiased algorithm in possession of perfect information really worse than various social and justice systems societies used in the past? But again I was slipping into metaphysics, whereas I had more pressing questions at hand. The prime one being: who took the children? Sara’s father, the town's boogey man and the prime suspect to have poisoned the water in Victoria, was in this case off the accused list - after all, it was his own daughter that had gone missing. And unfortunately the only way to interview him would be through a séance, as he passed away last year - turns out liver failure is something not even the Program can protect you from. My only lifeline to him was his former wife, the town’s teacher, making her the most fitting person to run some of Professor’s theories against.

REPORTER (LIVE): Thank you for meeting with me again.

TEACHER: Oh, don’t mention it my dear. It’s a pleasure to help. I know working alone on something as ambitious like an audio story is not easy. Anyways, what was it you wanted to talk about?

REPORTER (LIVE): I spoke about Victoria with Professor.

TEACHER: Well, that makes you one of the few that know of the place. Not that you are better off for it… Tell me, what did Professor reveal to you?

REPORTER (LIVE): He told me how they ran experiments trying to decipher the White Algorithm. And how they were getting more and more extreme…

TEACHER: How extreme?

REPORTER (LIVE): Well, he said that in order to get windfall credits, Professor and his colleagues started amputating their fingers or ears.

TEACHER: And what else?

REPORTER (LIVE): And that some of them even sterilized themselves.

TEACHER: But only them? Only the scientists?

REPORTER: It was getting increasingly obvious Teacher’s prompts were aiming somewhere specific. So I looked at her, expectantly. Never shy on the tongue, her face revealed a rare sensation for her - that of hesitation to speak. But my unwavering gaze finally loosened her lips.

TEACHER: My dear, what Professor told you is true; what he omitted is equally important. Yes, it started with scientists. But after they mutilated themselves, and got an ample credit boost out of it, others joined the windfall credits rollercoaster as well.

REPORTER (LIVE): Wait, you’re saying...

TEACHER: The practice spread and soon everybody in Victoria started cutting themselves! It didn’t happen overnight. At the beginning, it was rare to find a person who would scar themselves or chop off a body part, no matter how many credits it would bring them. The problem was that those people who would perform this radical act were so substantially rewarded for it, that others were incentivized to do the same. And once the ball got rolling, it was only getting more extreme. People started harming themselves in all sorts of ways trying to beat the system and get the biggest payoff. For example, folks realized that bald people got more credits for removing their ears, since they couldn’t hide the fact behind hair.

REPORTER (LIVE): Did this make fewer people cut of their ears?

TEACHER: No, it made more people shave their heads!

REPORTER (LIVE): Please tell me you’re not serious!

TEACHER: Needless to say, hats were very fashionable in Victoria.

REPORTER (LIVE): I find it hard to believe that absolutely everybody jumped on board…

TEACHER: My dear, you’re forgetting that Victoria was founded by people rigidly loyal to the old system, a system practically built on avarice. The few people who were not on board with this had already left the city by then.

REPORTER (LIVE): Even though it meant not getting rich?

TEACHER: The funny thing was, this massive increase in credits was getting people rich in theory only, as everybody getting more credits meant no one was any wealthier than when everyone had less credits! And there was of course a natural limit on how rich you could become - I mean, there are only so many ways you can mutilate yourself without causing real damage to your body.

REPORTER (LIVE): So is that when the practice finally stopped?

TEACHER: No. That’s when people turned on their children.

REPORTER (LIVE): But...

TEACHER: In a way, it’s completely understandable. Under the Program, inheritances were abolished. There were no longer better or worse schools. All the strategies parents had used throughout the centuries to make sure their offspring got a head start in life were suddenly gone. Is it really so surprising then, that when parents got wind that amputating their baby prince’s little finger would prop him up just a little bit in life, that an arms race was set in motion? Besides, why would your baby need ears if you yourself didn’t have them? If no one in the town had them? If having ears meant nothing but that you’re the poorest kid on the block?

REPORTER (LIVE): I don’t know what to say...

TEACHER: Well I already told you that Victoria was affluent. Now you know where the wealth was coming from.

REPORTER (LIVE): What about your ex-husband?

TEACHER: Oh, he never joined the craze. That’s why his credit score was so low when he came to Neumat. Not that he wasn’t an asshole - us getting divorced is the best proof of that!

REPORTER: The more I learned about Victoria, the more I was questioning the veracity of Professor’s accounts and theories. Was this turning out to be one of those stories in which the protagonist is actually the villain? This time, I was back at Professor’s door before he even put the kettle on.

PROFESSOR: Tea is not ready, but come on in.

REPORTER (LIVE): Thank you Professor. I must admit, that burned tree still freaks me out.

PROFESSOR: Well, I liked it better before it was struck by lightning as well! It was magnificent. The tallest white oak in the county. But even now I like it. Especially the message it conveys.

REPORTER (LIVE): And what message is that?

PROFESSOR: That reaching high increases the chance of getting struck by lightning! [forced laugh] But somehow I doubt you came to me today to discuss botany?

REPORTER (LIVE): Professor, I… I was wondering if… If you’ve told me everything that was happening back in Victoria.

PROFESSOR: I see you've been speaking with our Teacher.

REPORTER: There was no point in denying it, so I told him everything I learned about the amputations among Victoria’s general populace. Interestingly enough, Professor’s face revealed no sense of surprise - even when I was talking about calculated maimings of children. Professor furrowed his brow only when I mentioned that the practice didn’t even make them wealthy - since everybody in Victoria making more credits meant they were all getting equally prosperous.

PROFESSOR: On the micro level, you are correct. However, if you took the large-scale view, you would see that the amputation practice was making Victoria on the whole much more affluent than any of the surrounding communities. The influx of windfall credits was clearly visible in Victoria’s splendour and might, making the amputation trade-off clearly worthwhile - after all, what does it matter that you are missing a pinky, if you are wearing gauntlets of gold?

REPORTER (LIVE): But, didn’t the other towns react?

PROFESSOR: Not at first. While Victoria was getting rich, other towns were constructing cubes. But soon Victoria’s opulence and power were becoming too great to ignore, leaving other towns with two equally unpalatable options; either to also commence with amputations, or to allow Victoria to leapfrog them and risk a resurgence of the inequality that damned the old dog-eat-dog system we had before the Program. The one that was so toxic that it almost destroyed not only social cohesion on the planet but the planet itself!

REPORTER (LIVE): So what did you do, Professor?

PROFESSOR: Given the situation, the conclusion was painfully obvious.

REPORTER (LIVE): Which was?

PROFESSOR: Victoria had to be destroyed.

REPORTER (LIVE): Does this mean it was you who poisoned the water?

PROFESSOR: I did no such thing. I was the one who reported what was going on to the Program. Who explained what was going on and why it must not go on. And who finally submitted the report. And in that way signed the capital punishment for my colleagues, my friends, and my wife.

REPORTER (LIVE): Why didn't you warn your wife?

PROFESSOR: You don’t seem to understand... My wife was Victoria! She was the one who the town was named after!! She was the one who was instrumental in its founding, and in all its affairs! Simon was approaching his second birthday, which was the age when operations could be performed. And Victoria - my wife - was musing we should amputate his entire leg! It was just something ambitious parents did. Giving their children a leg up in life they called it. I… I just couldn’t stand the idea of that happening to Simon. That is why I took him with me and left as soon as I submitted the report. A few days later, the deed was done. Nearly ten thousand people in Victoria perished. Who actually performed the gig and poisoned the water, that I do not know.

REPORTER: I came to uncover how a few children disappeared; I ended up investigating what happened to an entire city of them! The more I learned about Victoria, the more detestable the place seemed. And if the people of Victoria had been allowed to continue with their ways, there was a considerable risk their practices would spread further. By sacrificing everything he loved to prevent that, Professor was indeed the hero I thought he was. The problem was that no one else knew about it. And in Neumat, a town coping with vanishing children, Professor’s reputation as the White Algorithm whisperer started to work against him. One of those who began brewing misgivings about Professor’s true motivations was Mayor.

MAYOR: There was nothing special about the day Maria and Beckie went missing. Their father drove them to school as usual. Dropped them off in front of the entrance and saw them go into the schoolyard. However, they never made it to the classroom that day and no one remembers seeing them in the yard either. They just… Vanished! [sobs] I’m sorry, I get emotional whenever I remember it. As soon as we realized that they were missing, I reported their disappearance to the Program but to no avail. As far as I know, no investigation gig ever got posted. I just couldn’t understand it - I mean, the Program issues investigative gigs when people’s pets go missing so why were our children being ignored? I don’t know how many times I’ve talked with Professor about this. Asking him how this squares with the White Algorithm, trying to make sense of it all. The way he treated the issue didn’t fill me with any confidence at all. At one point I even thought that it was Professor who was somehow blocking the White Algorithm. Or influencing it in some way - either to better understand how it works, or for his own personal benefit.

REPORTER: Professor was experiencing what every IT person fears - help install a printer on someone’s computer, and months later you’ll get accused when their vacation photos go missing. This situation was more serious than that - after all, it was children, not vacation photos that went missing - but I just couldn’t shake off the feeling that Professor was being blamed for something he wasn’t responsible for. I wanted to squeeze out a lil’ bit more from Mayor, so I told her the story I heard from Teacher called the parable of the forlorn child.

REPORTER (LIVE): Imagine a perfect society, well off both materially and spiritually. However both the wealth and serenity of this society are contingent on the suffering of a single unfortunate child. This child is kept in a basement where it is unable to develop either physically or mentally. Inhabitants of this society are aware of the child and its plight, but they are also aware that all their riches and power would disappear if the child was admitted into society and treated as an equal. What would you say, is the society I just described justifiable?

MAYOR: That’s an interesting story… Tell me, how many people inhabit this society?

REPORTER (LIVE): I… I don’t know.

MAYOR: So how am I able to answer your question then?

REPORTER (LIVE): I… I think… I think you just did.

REPORTER: At the same time, Mother of Jakob was struggling with much less metaphysical qualms.

JAKOB’S MOTHER: After I’ve found the folder, you know, the one with those awful drawings of girls, my whole world turned upside down. At first I refused to accept what I saw. But I didn’t want to be one of those mothers who would never concede that their child could do something wrong. You know, one of those whose child bullies every other child in the classroom but she stubbornly insists her boy’s not like that. I wasn’t blind to the fact that my Jakob might be missing a few buttons on his shirt. He was never diagnosed with anything, but he had problems understanding people’s emotions. I had to admit that even to me he was a bit of an enigma. And an enigma was the last thing you’d want in a situation like we had in Neumat at the time.

REPORTER (LIVE): What do you remember about that period?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: I remember the fear. Everybody was afraid for their children. I remember how red-eyed Teacher and Mayor were. They would tell me - me! - how lucky I was that my son was no longer a child, that I didn’t need to fear for him. If they only knew how many wretched worries I had. How much I tried to see into my boy’s heart to know whether he was the one behind those heinous crimes.

REPORTER (LIVE): But couldn’t you deduce it yourself? After all, you lived with Jakob - surely you had some idea of his movements?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: True, Jakob and I lived under the same roof, but other than that he was fiercely independent. He was renting a small studio where he’d go every day to work on his comics. On weekdays he’d work on Chrono-Terrestrials which made him famous and on weekends on his passion project. What I’m trying to tell you is that he’d work every day, leaving early and returning late. The day Sara disappeared was like that; the day Maria and Beckie disappeared was the same. People were out of their minds at that time. They desperately wanted some kind of results but didn’t know what to do.

REPORTER (LIVE): Sounds like a bad combination.

JAKOB’S MOTHER: Yeah. That’s why I was so concerned for Professor. The town started talking, he was getting a lot of heat - but it was me who was sweating! A day wouldn’t pass without me deliberating in agony whether to report my Jakob to the good Program and consign him to its mighty judgment. No mother should have to make such a choice.

REPORTER: While Mother of Jakob was torn apart in her vicious dilemma, I was concerned with a much more mundane question: even if Mother of Jakob did decide to report Jakob, who would the report really go to?

PHILOSOPHER: Madamosselle! It’s nice to see you again!

ENGINEER: Please, come on in!

PHILOSOPHER: I must admit, I told my husband I didn’t expect to see you again... After the two old farts comment last time! [laughs]

ENGINEER: [laughs] Oh, don’t start that again!

REPORTER (LIVE): [chuckles] Thanks so much guys.

REPORTER: The reason why I went back to see Engineer and Philosopher was reason itself - I definitely needed a healthy dose of rationality at that point. However, in place of respite I got reproach.

PHILOSOPHER: You’re a reporter, so I understand you’re attracted to whoever can tell the craziest narrative. However, I implore you not to give those people a megaphone. The world is full of wonder - both of the kind we understand and the kind we yet need to discover. It’s not necessary to make up stories to make our reality seem even more fantastic.

ENGINEER: I am really disappointed with Professor - he should know better than mystify the Program through all this “white algorithm” talk.

REPORTER (LIVE): But how can you be so sure it’s only talk?

PHILOSOPHER: Madamosselle, have you heard of Occam’s razor?

REPORTER (LIVE): I’m gonna go on a limb here and presume Occam is not a barber in Neumat, and that I am about to get another lesson in philosophy?

PHILOSOPHER: And you’d be right on both accounts! But it’s not much of a lesson really. The idea behind Occam’s razor is quite straightforward. It tells us that the simplest explanation is usually the correct one. Last time we spoke we concluded that the simplest explanation for the Program is that it’s in fact being operated by people. Setting something like that up is extremely complex. So the question is, why would anyone go through such trouble?

REPORTER (LIVE): Alright, I’m listening.

PHILOSOPHER: The Program is a system, correct? By that I don’t mean a computer system, but a prevailing political or social order. So in order to understand how this new system came to be, we need to take a look at the system it displaced. Now, what would you say was the hallmark of the old system?

REPORTER (LIVE): I’m not sure, I haven’t studied for the test!

PHILOSOPHER: [chuckles] My love, can you help the madamosselle?

ENGINEER: Always happy to help a damsel in distress. So the question is what made the old system so successful, correct?

PHILOSOPHER: Correct.

ENGINEER: It’d say its extraordinary ability to channel wealth to people who already had most of it.

PHILOSOPHER: Aha! Here’s someone who has studied!

REPORTER (LIVE): Or someone who’s been given the teacher’s notes! [laughs]

PHILOSOPHER: I’m not even going to try to deny the nepotism here! [chuckles] Morality aside, there’s no denying old system’s capacity to concentrate wealth was making it very powerful. It’s precisely its ruthlessness that allowed it to almost fully displace all other economic systems by the end of the 20th century. However, with the turn of the millennium, the system hit a bit of a snag.

REPORTER (LIVE): What was the problem?

PHILOSOPHER: The system was so good at what it did, it was beginning to undermine itself. It was so efficient at extracting value from the economy and delivering it to those at the top, that it was gradually making ordinary people too poor for business to continue as usual.

ENGINEER: Which is precisely when the Program was introduced.

REPORTER (LIVE): Yes, and it caused the downfall of the old system, right?

ENGINEER: Did it really? Or did the Program in fact lease the old system new life by injecting capital in the form of credits?

PHILOSOPHER: Credits which allowed the show to go on.

REPORTER (LIVE): But that would mean...

ENGINEER: It would mean that the Program did not bring down the establishment, but just the opposite - it cemented their control over society! Once the elites realized that the inequality they caused was driving society toward the breaking point, they came up with this supposed “equalizer” precisely in order to continue perpetuating inequality!

PHILOSOPHER: Which would make the Program nothing more but an automated platform for transfer of wealth.

REPORTER (LIVE): So you’re saying it’s these elites who are determining people’s credit score? And the ones who issue gigs, including firing gigs?

PHILOSOPHER: Precisely. Which leads us to one more disturbing conclusion.

REPORTER (LIVE): Which one?

PHILOSOPHER: Anything that people report through the Program, actually gets delivered to authorities.

REPORTER (LIVE): Authorities?

ENGINEER: In Neumat’s case - the mayor!

REPORTER: I came to Philosopher and Engineer searching for reason - what I got was a conspiracy theory! Then again, there was always a possibility that they were right, and that a powerful group was using the Program as a cover, channeling troves of sensitive personal data to a centralized place where decisions are made without any oversight. The mere thought was terrifying - that all the countless reports people submit to the Program are not in fact presented in front of a fair and impartial arbitrator, but exposed to a chosen few for their advantage. If this was true, and Jakob’s mother indeed reported Jakob, it wouldn't guarantee him a fair trial, but put him in front of a kangaroo court!

JAKOB’S MOTHER: Three weeks had passed since Maria and Beckie’s disappearance and I still couldn’t figure out if my Jakob had anything to do with it.

REPORTER (LIVE): How were you feeling?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: I wasn’t sure if our good Program was testing me, and if so, what I did to deserve it. During the day I would look at Jakob, talk to him gently, smile meekly, but every night I would toss and turn and pluck the facts for or against him.

REPORTER (LIVE): In a way, trying to calculate his innocence like the White Algorithm.

JAKOB’S MOTHER: I guess you could look at it that way. But I was not blessed with the mighty Program’s wisdom. I was no closer to the truth than when I’ve found Jakob’s drawings. Those images haunted me. But a horrid event jolted me back to reality. It happened again. Another child vanished.

REPORTER (LIVE): Oh no.

JAKOB’S MOTHER: Exactly a month after Mayor’s daughters disappeared, Professor’s son Simon, went missing.

REPORTER (LIVE): But... Professor never mentioned that!

JAKOB’S MOTHER: I don’t imagine it’s something he likes to talk about. I remember how he looked during those days. Like he was eating sorrow for breakfast and dinner. He kept repeating that it wasn’t possible; Simon’s disappearance didn’t follow the White Algorithm’s rules; it didn’t make any sense!

REPORTER (LIVE): And what did you think?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: Program’s code is mysterious. It is not ours to know how and why. What I can tell you is that what happened at last convinced me to do my duty - I finally did what I had to.

REPORTER (LIVE): What was that?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: I submitted the report about Jakob’s drawings to the Program.

REPORTER (LIVE): And..? What happened..?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: Nothing. Nothing at all.

REPORTER: To his mother’s surprise, no gig was issued against Jakob, nor did the Program undertake any other adverse action. This made her sigh with relief of course, as it suggested Jakob didn’t have a role in the children’s disappearances, regardless of what his sexual inclinations might have been. But then a rapid succession of events took place in the town of Neumat. The incident unfolded in less than a day. What follows is my best attempt at presenting what happened in a way that is both concise and accurate.

PHILOSOPHER: I don’t know who noticed it first. My husband will most probably agree with me when I say that it’s unlikely anyone in Neumat would read Jakob’s comics. Well apart from Professor of course.

PROFESSOR: I had no idea what was going on. Jakob was at my place. He had just released his latest comic a few days prior so he wanted to discuss some script ideas with me for his next project. I was happy to help him out, especially since it meant taking my mind off Simon’s disappearance. Neither Jakob nor I had heard from anyone in the town and had no idea anything unusual was happening.

ENGINEER: I first heard about it from Teacher. I looked up the comic in question and there was no denying it. There they were sprawled across the pages. If we disregard the subject matter, they were really well drawn.

TEACHER: Oh yes, I saw the comic! The vile comic. Between us my dear, I’ve always found Jakob a bit odd. I mean, the man was well in his 30-ies and still lived with his mother! The comic just confirmed my suspicion of the whole family. I mean you have to be a bit perverse to make B-D-M-S your living.

MAYOR: When I looked at the comic Teacher told me to look at, I almost fainted. There they were - Beckie and Maria, in the comic! And a couple of pages later you could see Sara and Simon and some of the other town children! But that wasn’t the worst part. The worst was how they were depicted - they were shackled, and gagged, and tortured in all sorts of ways!

ENGINEER: Honestly, I don’t know what the boy’s was thinking when he published that comic. He was basically admitting he was the one who did it!

PHILOSOPHER: Well, that’s not that unusual really. It’s a documented fact that a lot of criminals subconsciously want to get caught. Especially if they feel the crimes they committed were beyond their control. It’s plausible to conclude that Jakob was tormented with regret.

TEACHER: Of course the townspeople immediately started lowering Jakob's credit score. It was quite an undertaking, because Jakob was something of a celebrity in the funny pictures circles so fans had made his credit score really high. But as the word around Neumat spread, more and more residents started chipping away at his score. Some people poured their life savings into the effort!

MAYOR: A few hours later, we finally managed to lower his credit score to zero. We were expecting a firing gig to be issued immediately.

PROFESSOR: Jakob was standing next to me when his credit score hit zero. We were both startled, as we had no idea why it’d started dropping in the first place. He was freaking out a bit and I was confused as well. But then nothing happened. At first I had an impossible thought, that there was a glitch in the Program. But then I remembered that this had happened before - that Teacher’s ex-husband lived at zero for years!

PHILOSOPHER: Rumours started whirling around. People started whispering that the White Algorithm stopped working and that it was now possible to do whatever one desired without any repercussions if you hit zero.

ENGINEER: Of course, no one had the courage to actually put that theory to a test.

PHILOSOPHER: Others still said that this is a test, that the Program is in fact testing us to see how we’re going to react to this situation.

MAYOR: Well the only recourse I had was to call an emergency town meeting. Time was of the essence - we had to correct the course or we risked ending up like Victoria!

PHILOSOPHER: The entire town came.

ENGINEER: The only persons of interest absent were Jakob and Jakob’s mother.

MAYOR: People were angry and scared.

ENGINEER: Everybody was shouting, but no one really knew what to do.

TEACHER: At one point, Farmer’s wife started weeping - no, sobbing - CHILDREN ARE DEAD. CHILDREN ARE DEAD.

ENGINEER: Children are dead!

PHILOSOPHER: Children. Are. Dead.

MAYOR: Our children are dead.

ENGINEER: That really didn’t help alleviate the panic.

PHILOSOPHER: And it set the tone of the rest of the conversation.

MAYOR: Then Innkeeper shouted “He’s at Professor’s house!”

TEACHER: Even though Jakob’s name was never mentioned, everybody knew who he meant by that. And what he meant.

PROFESSOR: It was already dark when we saw a group of people approaching.

TEACHER: Professor and Jakob got out of the house to ask what was going on and were immediately surrounded.

MAYOR: Then the three Innkeeper’s boys grabbed Jakob and there was much commotion.

TEACHER: He put up some resistance, but to me it seemed more like it was for show. You know, like he was going through the motions just because it should be expected of him.

PROFESSOR: I was shouting at them to let him go, but my voice was drowned out in the uproar!

ENGINEER: There was nothing Jakob could do really. There was nothing anyone could do.

PHILOSOPHER: They hung Jakob on the white oak tree.

TEACHER: His legs were swinging violently through the air, like he was running suspended in place!

MAYOR: Then... All his movements... Stopped.

ENGINEER: Just as quickly as it formed, the crowd dispersed.

PROFESSOR: I was not able to save him… I was not able to save him.

JAKOB’S MOTHER: It was Professor who called me and told me what had happened. Or rather told me some words - I don’t remember which. My brain must have turned off to protect itself. Sometimes I wish it had stayed that way… Ironically the things I do remember have been imprinted in my brain forever. Like the image when I arrived at Professor’s house. Thankfully, he had already taken Jakob down from the oak tree. At first I didn’t recognize him. My Jakob was tall and animated, whereas the boy in front of me was so stiff and so small. Seeing it from afar I remember thinking to myself - that’s not Jakob at all! - and then feeling such a sense of relief. Feeling like this was just some cruel, needless misunderstanding; that everything was gonna be alright; that everything was going to be normal. But then realization set in… The life had been sucked out of him… And with him me. My world no longer had joy, or love, or light, or peace! [sobs] The death of a child is not something you “get over”. There are no lifehacks for it. Whatever you do is like putting a bandaid on an arm that’s been cut off. It’s not like I wanted to feel better. I just... Existed. [inhales] Eventually I learned how to live again. First for a couple of hours, then days, and then weeks. Eventually it didn't feel wrong to smile. Eventually the guilt I felt when I allowed myself even a single moment of reprieve from sorrow started to wane. [inhales] Which is when I finally shed the cloth that had been pulled over my eyes, which is when I finally realized the truth!

REPORTER (LIVE): What truth?

JAKOB’S MOTHER: We humans are not in charge. We are all children of the Program.

REPORTER: I’m not gonna lie. Listening to Jakob’s mother was hard. I don’t know if we are all indeed children of the Program, but I do know that every one of us is someone’s child. Could it be that the White Algorithm had a special plan for Jakob, and that’s why it let him live, irrespective of the unspeakable deeds he has done?

SHERIFF: Testing, testing, one, two, three… This is the sheriff of Neumat recording on... May 15th.

REPORTER: And it was then that all the theories got shattered.

SHERIFF: Hello sweetie. Could you tell me your name?

BECKIE: I’m Rebecca.

SHERIFF: And how old are you?

BECKIE: I’m five.

SHERIFF: Could you say your name for the recording?

SARA: I‘m Sara and I’m seven.

SHERIFF: Can you tell me your name?

MARIA: My name is Maria.

SHERIFF: How old are you Maria?

MARIA: Seven.

REPORTER: 13 days after Jakob was killed, the children showed up in Neumat. They were all unharmed.

ANNOUNCER: End of part two.

FULL LIST OF CAST AND REFERENCES AVAILABLE AT THE END OF PART 3