Modelling Salvation

Note: This is only a first draft of the story. It is very sketchy and poorly constructed. Do not judge my writing from this example, I just wanted to get the main ideas down before I forgot them.


Professor Steiner's life has rather strange roots. He was relatively unimpressive throughout his youth. Dabbling in all kind of hobbies but never really dedicating himself to anything. Lax in his studies, and lazy in most other respects his future looked dim. This is, however, discounting the fact that Maxwell Steiner had a prodigious, if unusual, intellect. Though he hardly participated in class when he bothered to go, his test scores compensated for his poor grades and he managed to get a scholarship to a state college. Being totally against the idea of working for a living, he graciously accepted the offer. At college he began by taking physics, mathematics, and computer courses, finding that he was already familiar with a majority of the ideas through his personal pursuits in high school. This is at the dawn of the computer wave and so he was able to keep up with new computing techniques involving artificial intelligence and fuzzy logic. He was known (or rather unknown) by his fellow student, from his estranged manner and aloofness. He never seemed to have his mind on his work, but always on other things. His scores were never high, but he always managed to surpass the other students in the depth of his understanding. He never did homework, and often missed tests, but his research was nothing less than remarkable and he individually advanced his field more than any single think tank. He was a genius.

The sum total of all this history left him neither well-known nor respected by his colleagues. He went on through college to get a B.A. in Math and Computer Science (which took him six years), and had published half a dozen research papers; some with and some without professors. During his final year of college, his parents died. This had very little emotional effect on our hero because he barely knew his parents. He was raised mostly by his neighbors and his Commodore 64. Both parents worked, in what fields he could not recall, and he only saw them on weekends as they watched TV. His neighbor has a Hispanic woman who watched over a dozen children from the neighborhood. He spent most days after school with her until he was nine...needless to say he spoke fluent Spanish. When the parents died in an automobile (or was it an airplane) accident, Max (as he was usually referred to), inherited a modest sum of money through which he scraped by an existence. He was 28 years old when the flow ran out (no investing...just a simple savings account). He was forced to find work.

Mr. Steiner was not totally idle during those four years of loafing, though. He had written a great volume of work on a great many topics. None of these works ever left his desk, however, and nobody knew that he was continuing to develop his models. The field, which he had been studying and developing at home, had festered in academics at large. Think tanks of various sizes, both private and subsidized, had grown, prospered, and staggered while he was out of the public eye. The greatest minds in the nation had no profitable direction in which to go. As he considered his return to society at large, he naturally created a resume which reflected his four years of solitude. Not a single group in the settled field of computer science wanted to hire a guy with poor marks and the appearance of academic rigor mortis. It was at this point that he decided to publish some of those heaps of paper sprawled across his desk.

What followed from these publications was nothing less than a Big Bang of innovations in the field of computer modeling, and of job offers. Universities the world over were then trying to lasso in what people were acclaiming as the greatest mind of the twenty-first century. He became a professor at a rather prestigious university in the Northeast, where his performance as a professor matched that as a student. Often late or truant from classes. Failure to grade, look at, or even assign homework. Sloppily dressed, impatient with slower students and professors, rude, crass, profane, and abysmally unkept. He came under extreme heat at one point after letting his ice cream melt over a a student's 450 page dissertation. And for all his work at the department, he toiled away at literature, philosophy, art, history, language, and anything else but producing another paper with the school's name on it. That's not how these places work, and he didn't make it past that first year.

After that year in the Ivy league, he moved onto the west coast where he expected his dissipated ways to be more excepted. They weren't. After a single year of his well-financed antics, the Californian university system had had enough. Still riding out the wake of his initial public offering of academic wonderment, he managed to get yet another professorship in Florida, and lose it for the same myriad of reasons. It had been three years since his last publication (though there were seven major publications at that time), and people were no longer chasing after him. Other people had taken his great ideas and applied them. People no longer bickered over the theoretical minutia of his complex models, they were now concerned primarily with the realities of such complex systems. This switch proved poor for our hero. Scientists began to realize that the information requirements to apply the models were outrageous, and requiring a budget beyond private means.

This proved catastrophic to his way of life. He found himself in another stretch of private work-study. In his miniature apartment continuing to develop his computer-related work. Responding, only in his own mind, to the criticisms he had received over the past three years. He proved that each of the attacks were defeatable, without changing the model, by merely taking a more aggressive approach to establishing the initial settings. It seems that this divergent methodogy had not been considered by his contemporaries; and he realized that the work he had done would be mostly wasted on the dense-minded characters currently pursuing his projects. He was running low on reserves again, and had no prospects for work (somehow computer tech or the like never occurred to him).

The Story


In a small, cluttered apartment in Charlotte a phone rings. Once, twice, five times,

"What" Maxwell responds in sigh.
"Is this Mr. Steiner?"
"Who's asking"
"My name is Dr. Benny Kurz. I work for Political Structure Researchers. We're a government funded think tank in D.C."
"And we would like to talk to you about some of your work".

Max sits up in his bed, scratches his head (and other parts), coughs, and says, "Talk".
"We have been working on political advising model for the government for the seven years. We had ran into a deadlock a couple of years ago when you published a string of articles on modeling rational choices and learning behaviors with limited artificial intelligence computing methods whic..."
"I know what I did."
"Of course."
"And now you hit another blockade and you're wondering if I'll be publishing anything anytime soon, right?"
"ah, well, that would be nice to know, but actually I was calling to set up an interview. According to our searches, you haven't been working for a couple of years. We would have contacted you a year ago, but you're difficult person to track down. We would like to offer you a position."
"For the government?"
"That's right."
"What do I have to do?"
"Well you'll be in charge of checking on the modeling so far, checking the data links, cross referencing..."
"No. I mean, what do I have to do to get to D.C."


In the center of a large complex stands a whitewashed concrete-block building topped with a communications array beyond belief. The thirty-foot structure had a pair of doors in the center of each face, and a few small window along the top of each side. Through the keypad-locked doors one finds oneself strolling down a vinyl-tile covered hallway, into a large chamber in the middle of the structure. The chamber, filled with shelves and desks, has at its center huge console with terminals, controls, and keyboards lining each side. The ceilings, high; the workspace, organized; the environment, sterile.

"How do you work like this?" is the first thing to come out of Max's mouth when he meets the other scientists. Dr. Kurz met with Max a few days prior to check his employment status and have him sign a few papers. The scientists had planned to take Mr. Steiner out over the weekend, but he declined the offer on the grounds that moving stresses him out. He didn't like these people. They were snobbish and elitist, and yet they were just following him and picking up the pieces. Now they were stuck and they were counting on him to get them unstuck. It was obvious from their behaviour that they saw themselves as benefactors and Maxwell as being a hired gun. They certainly didn't like his life-style, and they didn't respect him. And he, in kind, despised their two-facedness.

"Each researcher has his or her own desk and space at the console. Every computer needs a password, and every entry you make is entered into the project log."
"So we know who did what and when. So we can keep track of who developed what. Who gets the credit."
"Who cares?"
"Well, the work we're doing could merit a Nobel Prize or a Fields medal." We want to make sure the right person gets credit for the right ideas."
"That stupid. What's this over here?"
"That is what we use to check the hardware. It closely monitors the temperatures and connection speeds of each step in the number crunching."
"Seems excessive."
"We don't want to miss anything, or lose everything in a meltdown."
"Let's get you to a workstation and show you our stuff. We have a long series of help files to familiarize you with the particularities of our system. We also have the instructions and documentation printed out over there. There is quite a bit and we don't expect you to jump into this stuff immediately. Take your time and get accustomed to the environment, read the instructions and go through some tutorial cases. Then we'll bring you into the group and get to work.

Throughout the first day he looked through various files. They simply created a graphical shell over the modeling program he created. They also simplified a few data fields and slowed the learning processors. Nothing he saw was new or interesting to him. He left at lunch and did not come back that day.


At work, Max interacted very little with his colleagues. They worked busily at the distant console while Max read diligently every day, from morning to night. They were pleased with his seemingly endless source of energy. To read this sort of material and to laugh! It brought smiles to all their faces. The books began to accumulate on, and then around, his desk. And not just books, empty bags of chips, coffee cups, and candy wrappers comprised an ever-expanding cloud around his workspace.

Their formerly pristine workspace was being tainted by the unorganized clutter of this supposed genius. Three weeks had come and gone and all he had contributed to the project is a few new smells. The other scientists finally went to Maxwell's desk to approach him about his workspace. What they saw enraged them all. Mr. Steiner hadn't been reading modeling material at all! The titles on his desk were "Of Human Bondage", "The Idiot", and the like. No wonder he was having such a good time, he wasn't doing any work.

"What the hell are you doing!"
"Reading." was his simple and curt reply.
"I can see that, but you were supposed to be studying up on the modeling tools. You haven't done any work at all."
"What do I need to study the model for, it's my model, right?"
"We've augmented things, it's not as simple as that." cut in another scientist.
"You've been wasting our time all along" chorused a third.
"Look, I went over your programming on the first day. There is nothing wrong with that. If you people are having a problem, it's the way you're implementing the model."
"Don't give us that. If the problem were simple we'd have solved it by now; we've been stuck on this for almost a year."
"Now we have a presentation at a conference in California this weekend and we don't really have anything to show for our work but promises."
"We expect you to put in some major hours while we're gone and run a scenario or two."


The conference in California had gone well. Though they did not have any solid conclusions to state, they managed to convince their funders that progress was being made. The budget was extended for another year and extended to provide for a larger database and faster networking. The scientist came into the laboratory just after 10:00 am to find it in a shambles. Empty pizza boxes and 2-liter soda bottles were strewn all over the room. One scientists crushed a packet of soy sauce as she walked through the lab towards the console. She found what looked originally like a heap of paper but what turned out to be Mr. Maxwell Steiner himself lying in a heap of printouts that were quickly confirmed to be the manual. He was using the bulk of it as a pillow, and the first two sections as napkins.

"For God's sake what is wrong with you? Are you out of your mind?"
"Huh? Oh. Good morning. How was California?"
"Don't play games with us. What the hell have you done to our lab?"
"Uh, used it, I guess."
"Look," One stout technician called over from the console, "This thing is covered with ketsup."
"That's it, Buddy. You are out of here, now!"
"But wait...I did some work while you were gone. I think I solved your problem."
"There's no way you solved our problem in under a week."
"You ran a simulation? You at least managed that? It doesn't matter, you're history."
"No no. Take a look."

Max throws off the layer of clutter and walks over to the console with the scientists.

"The way I see it is this: you were trying to run one model, adjusting for variations as you went. Start at X, change a little and run a few cycles. If it's not going in the right direction, change a few more things and run a few more cycles. But it takes forever to do it that way and the odds of making the right subtle change is really small. No wonder you people weren't getting anywhere."

He pokes a few button and brings up a scenario running at one hundred cycles a minute. Still running, and still stable.

"You see, I just made adjustments, within your rules, to the initial state, left the original agent characteristics alone, and limited the variations considerably. Of course, there could be hundreds of other equilibrium scenarios, thousands. But here is one, and one is all you specified in your original proposal."

"This can't be." Claimed one of the scientists.
"It's impossible." chimed in another.
"This thing's been running for over a thousand years."

"Years, minutes, eons. The model doesn't care. It's only when you interpret the model that these factors have meaning. You see, I ran a couple of scenarios without changing anything to see how chance alone would affect the outcome. And every time it was these guys over here starting all the trouble."

He waves his hand over a segment of the console. The other scientists look at each other and nod knowingly.

"So I just got rid of them from the sta...

"My god!"

"...rt and everything was fine."

"How many agents did you eliminate? Three thousand or so, but they were all concentrated in this part, and the movement rules were insufficient for efficient relocation. That number of agent repopulated in a matter of time, but in areas that could better accommodate them. And the originally extant agents were assigned all these crazy constraints. They wouldn't play fair. They just had to go. There might be a run-through where they could be kept and still achieve equilibrium, but it would be Pareto inferior.

"You can't just get rid of half the agents to reach an equilibrium. That's genocide."

"What the hell are you talking about, genocide? It's just a model, they're just subroutines. You wanted a solution, and now you've got one. Max Steiner saves the day. Now, can I get back to sleep?"

"He's done it, the son of a bitch did it."
"We can't use that solution."
"We can't use this, it's horrible."
"Almost three thousand years; no major trembles; even, predictable cycles; it's just what we were looking for."
Max reiterates, "But you'd never get it the way you were thinking about it. I didn't design the integrated modeling platform to be baby-sat, you've got to take a more highway-like mind-frame. Set the cruise control and go."

"What should we do?"
"The ethics involved are beyond me."
"It's just too horrible to believe."
"Is it? This might just justify previously conceived prejudices."
"That's not what we were supposed to do. We were supposed to come up with a solution, this doesn't solve anything.

Max: "Of course it does. That's an answer. You can show them these results and see what they want to do. It proves that you're capable (or at least that I am), and you can offer to look for another solution if they don't like this optimal one. But let them decide what to do with the scenario results. It's not your concern. You were hired to solve the problem, and I did.


Three years have past since Maxwell Steiner completed his work in Washington. He now lives in a government sponsored beach house in Guam. He was given a retirement pension after his diligent three months of service. The government wanted him out of the picture, but kept save and under watch in case he was needed again.

Sitting in his living room fiddling with a computer and watching TV, Max listens half-attentive as the news announcer interrupts one of his favorite Star Trek re-runs to deliver a special emergency message. It seems as if a series of suitcase nuclear warheads have erupted in a line of devastating carnage from Israel , through the middle east, India, southeast Asia and up through China. Almost three billion people were wiped out immediately, and another five to eight hundred million are expected to die from the fallout over the next century.

Nobody has claimed responsibility for what is certainly the worse military action in the history of mankind. Most experts think that it was a suicide mission. The people responsible being killed in their own attack, whether that was part of the plan or not was never recovered.

But in a small research laboratory there is a select group of scientists tracking the global changes that such an incident will produce. Their belief is that there is nothing left to worry about. No more threats or danger. They recommend that nature be allowed to take it's own course. No intervention is necessary after the initial disruption. Just put the global community in cruise-control, sit back, and watch it go.


This little thing marks the end of the page.