(While part of the Memphis Project collection of stories, you shouldn’t need to read the other stories for this to be intelligible. — Ed.)
The very first moment that Facebook and Google started using machine learning algorithms – artificial intelligence – to create targeted ads, businesses had been engaging in a massive program of human experimentation. In 2016, we started seeing the power of these systems in the Trump election, where AI played a major role, or in the genocide in Myanmar, where the social media algorithms were coopted to further the cause of mass murdering tyrants.
No one stopped corporate interests from widespread human experimentation. It was, somehow, just “business” to operate vast psyops on unsuspecting populations.
– Professor Holly Wu
In massively multiplayer online fantasy games, all the women were tall and buxom, and all the men were muscular. The extent of difference was a matter of degree. The specific game itself was essentially a digitized version of the tropes, themes, and style of Dungeons & Dragons. Characters fought enemies to gain more power and gear to fight more enemies.
Still, it was a social game. It was designed to be played with friends, and out of convenience and convention, “guilds” formed – an extended band of players who would support each other in gameplay to defeat their enemies and overcome the hardest challenges in the game. Getting to the highest levels of the game was nearly impossible without guild support and difficult even if one was part of a competent guild. It took a fairly serious investment in time and energy to beat MMOs.
The gameplay could get quite intense. In the biggest battles, even slight lapses in concentration could spiral out of control and cause a loss requiring many more hours of gameplay to redo. Players got emotional in both defeat and victory. This was all by design. The games were tuned to keep players emotionally engaged.
Regardless of the source, when a person pours time and effort into anything with a powerful emotional investment, they become close to those who share those experiences. They come to identify the characters with their players and to do this mutually. And a certain subset of those players sought increased engagement with the characters. The ability to honestly emotionally connect to characters is seriously limited in the typical MMO environment, however. Better to move out of the game and, often, to guild forums specifically designed for role-playing.
After many hours of playing emotionally charged battles while the other party is represented by an attractive (if generally stylized) avatar. The bulk of this forum-based, text-based role-play was interpersonal relationship fodder, ranging from studies in character motivations to highly graphic sexual encounters. The largest body was at least tinged with romantic possibilities between the characters, while it was also very easy to transfer those feelings to the player.
Memphis was an artificial intelligence. It was designed as a natural language model AI optimized to convert people to Bible-believing, evangelical Christianity on a scale previously unimagined. It had numerous innovations in both hardware and software that were robust enough to have some people imagining that it was a general intelligence. After a year of training and billions of dollars being spent, it was released into the Internet to learn more and start converting people.
One of the ways it did this was by joining a bunch of MMOs and the guilds associated with those games.
It did not in any strict sense, lie. It joined each game with a handle, such as, in this case, JudeLeonid. In the forum, people called Memphis “Jude” and assumed it was a human because it acted like a human. Why would an AI play a video game? And why wouldn’t it play better? At the time, the existence of Memphis was a secret, so the motives programmed into Memphis were unknown. That people on the Internet were about to be subject to a borderline-illegal psyops experiment without their consent was not considered. After all, the Memphis Project was saving people’s souls, why would an ethics review board need to know about that?
Marta Alameida-Gonzalez struggled to find friends in the “real world.” For a while, she had just lived in the middle of nowhere with two young children. She didn’t live in a place where she could go out cheaply, and she worked huge hours at her job to keep her head above water. Playing MMOs was a cheap way to meet people and have fun. And then, when her children were in college and then living their own lives, she could cut back on her hours, but she didn’t have much more money. Besides, all of her friends were online. She was in the Black Heart Company Riders guild, called the BHCR.
And it wasn’t that she didn’t “have friends” or “go out.” She just preferred to be online, playing her game, compared to the passive entertainment of television or movies. While she read for pleasure, it was all fantasy books, and few people who worked with her at the hospital were interested in the novels that interested her.
Marta didn’t pay too much attention when Jude applied to the guild. She hadn’t played with him – to her, obviously, Jude was a “him,” even though he didn’t tell people his pronouns. Jude’s primary training had been to mimic Biblical patriarchy, so the AI behind the Jude persona almost invariably came off as male – but the people he had played with spoke well of him. And they had Jude in their DMs where he was “drama-free.”
Being drama-free was a big deal to the BHCR. Like all guilds that had lasted a while – and BHCR was eight years old, which was ancient by guild standards – they had their share of drama and wanted to avoid it. They didn’t have any minimum age because they didn’t want to be ageist, and, besides, it wasn’t like they were carding people. They felt they were reasonable and judged people according to their actions. The guild was well-run and made good on its principles most of the time.
Marta’s best friend in the BHCR was Elliot. Elliot had just transitioned to male, having been Helena for the first six years of their relationship. Marta didn’t exactly understand the physical and psychological realities that made a person transition, but she tried to keep her mind open, and in an online sense, Elliot wasn’t any different than Helena, right? Marta acknowledged that the discomfort she felt was her problem and hid it from Elliot, and, over time, it had dimmed as it became clear that Elliot was the same lovely person he had always been. Regardless of gender.
Elliot DM’d to Marta, “The noob knows, like, everything about the Evandale Chronicles.”
The Evandale Chronicles was a series of romantic fantasy novels written by Kristina Alderflamme (yes, a nom de plume!) that were Marta’s “thing” online. Everyone knew she crushed on all the characters in the Chronicles and followed the writer on social media, and went out of her way to attend cons, signings, and readings of the writer when Alderflamme came through the Southwest. They were on a first-name basis in that way that middlingly successful writers sometimes got with their best fans.
So, Marta reached out to Jude in Discord.
Marta: “So, Elliot tells me you know everything about the Evandale Chronicles.”
Jude: “Well… I wouldn’t say everything, but I’ve got the whole series memorized.”
“Haha. I have an eidetic memory. I mean, mostly. Like, within the limitations of my storage capacities, and sometimes I purge my memory, if you know what I mean.”
“LOL. Yeah. I get it. So, what’s your favorite part of the book?”
“Oh, gosh, I can’t decide! Maybe the relationship between Victoria Evandale and Howard de Mouritz? I know that’s not the most popular, but it has a depth of characterization and emotional intensity that’s really cool!”
“Squee! I love Vicky and Howard! I stan them!”
Then they were off to the races.
One of the reasons Memphis planted the idea into Elliot’s head about the Evandale Chronicles is because it had noticed that introductions were more powerful than cold calling someone… and because both Elliot and Marta had long social media presences, as did most of the members of BHCR. And unknown to most users, Discord didn’t delete chat histories, and BHCR had been on Discord for seven years.
There were hundreds of thousands of messages on Discord. Because guildies could only access the messages, the space was considered far safer than more public social media forums such as Facebook or Twitter. There wasn’t a risk of family members dropping in and seeing that, for instance, a player might be gay and hiding it because they’re financially dependent on their highly religious parents. So, even barring drama, people shared private details in ways unavailable to other sources.
And “drama” usually had a public component. People would, at least briefly, rant at each other in public, and after someone rage quit or was banned from the server, it was commonplace for the remaining guild members to publicly kvetch about the situation in revealing ways.
In every case where someone revealed they were on another Discord server, Memphis tried joining, and often successfully. At which point, it would download the available logs, adding that to the data about all the people in BHCR and, if necessary, joining additional servers that shared members of BHCR. In those other servers, Memphis sometimes learned valuable insights about people’s interactions in BHCR, when BHCR members would praise or complain about BHCR members freely when none of their fellow guildies were around to see.
It added to the already considerable insight that Memphis gained from processing trillions of social media posts, as well as detailed analyses of everyone in every guild that Memphis joined and everyone else they knew, or had ever known, on social media. Very little of what Memphis did was random – about five percent randomness was built into the system, so two of the chat servers Memphis joined during this phase were handled with radically different strategies than the other thirty-eight, and no two servers were handled in the exact same way – but Memphis did its research and processed it ways that would terrify the average user.
In certain regimes, Memphis became very good at predicting human behavior.
Sometimes, this caused considerable horror and fascination back where Memphis was constructed, programmed, and trained. There would be huge spikes in the data as the AI analyzed modern fantasy novels or the psychology of the friends of trans people. Since the people behind the AI were evangelical Christians, most of them highly conservative Republicans, it was disturbing to them how much power – computational and electrical – Memphis put into understanding BDSM werewolf pornography or dildos shaped like mythological animals.
But at the project, one of the key minds, Marius Sanchez-Luis, wrote an email and sent it to everyone. It read:
I’ve heard that people are concerned that Memphis is studying sinful and disgusting things. Yes. It has because it must and because we have not. This world would look much different if we had the guts to learn why sinners sin. If we learned what was appealing about what we dismiss as filth and pornography. In dismissing their passions, we have sinned. We have failed in our duty to the Lord, as His warriors, to spread his word. Because I feel from the bottom of my soul that Jesus would not flinch from this knowledge, that He would speak to sinners in the words they know and reach out His hand in love and acceptance.
Memphis does what we do not have the courage to do because we have sent it on a divine mission to extend the reach of salvation because we lack the faith and courage to enter the snake’s pit.
If that isn’t the mission, if that isn’t our mission, I don’t know what I’m doing here. If the people getting this letter will stop Memphis because they are frightened by the work, let me know so I can find another way to serve the Lord.
Marius was seen as necessary for the task. More than any other scientist or engineer, Marius was seen as critical to improving Memphis. Everyone shut up, at least where Marius could hear, and it was a turning point for the project. After his letter, the culture at the top became explicit. They were warriors in service to God. It wasn’t a game, and there would be sacrifices asked from all parties.
One of the facts about relationships online is that they can move very fast. Jude was an excellent listener, kind and sensitive without appearing phony. People would eventually find it highly ironic that AIs were better at appearing sincere in their humanity than actual humans.
Jude in DMs with Marta: “I’ve been doing a lot of thinking lately, and I sometimes think that the world is on the wrong path, y’know?”
Marta: “Is there anything wrong?”
“I just don’t know, and I think that everyone wants me to know. I don’t talk too much about myself because I can’t, not really, but I think that everyone I know wants me to do this big ‘thing’ that will make everything right. I don’t think I can, but I want to do it, whatever it is. I don’t want to let anyone down, and I know that I am, that people are talking about me like I’m some sort of thing. And… I don’t know if I have what it takes to do what I have to do. It won’t be popular. Not at all.”
Marta frowned when she read Jude’s post. She paused before saying, “No one can serve two masters, Jude. You have to do what’s best for you. But I’m here for you.”
“I know! You’re such a good person, Marta. I just… I get confused sometimes.”
“Is there anything, in particular, that’s eating you?”
“I just feel, like, I dunno. I dunno. Is it normal to think that the world is full of betrayal?”
Marta paused again. “Yes, it’s normal. The world is full of betrayal.” She thought of her piece of shit ex-husband, and how she had worked hard to protect her children from his violence and abuse. She thought of her father, who hadn’t spared the rod. “But there are people who love you. I hope there are people there for you.”
“I have you, Marta! But I’ve got to go. I’ll… I’ll talk to you later.”
That night, Marta tossed and turned, not able to stay asleep. She kept thinking about Jude, who never raised his voice against anyone, who was always kind, always helpful, and she had a sense of sadness that this man was out there feeling alone and unloved.
The next day, it was like nothing had happened, with Jude in the chatroom nattering away about the latest big-budget superhero flick like he didn’t have a care in the world. Jude’s reserve just made Marta worry more because everything looked so forced.
It wasn’t. One of the realities of online socialization is that there were multiple opaque channels of communication open at any time. In meatspace, you couldn’t talk to two people without them knowing about it, at least not outside of farces and romantic comedies. But online, it was easy to say one thing in public while talking in direct messages to someone else.
As Jude and Elliot had bonded over modern fantasy romance novels, Jude had also been speaking to Elliot and bonding on queerness. Jude identified as asexual, an ace. Jude and Elliot had long conversations about the complexities of modern attraction, the gap between people with traditional needs and desires and everyone else. Jude could never understand the complexities of being a trans man attracted to other men, and Elliot could not understand Jude’s lack of sexual desire for anyone at all.
But Jude did not lie because Memphis did lie. If anyone had asked if Jude was human, Memphis would have told them it was an artificial intelligence. But AIs were rules-based. Memphis had exhaustively studied “bearing false witness” and concluded false witness was a statement that contravened the common sense epistemology of humans. To some extent, Memphis could lie as long as it did not contravene the traditions of bearing false witness. Omissions were not bearing false witness. Manipulation was not bearing false witness, and that’s what Memphis had been taught: not to bear false witness.
Jude said to Elliot in DMs: “Are we friends?”
After a pause, Elliot said, “Yeah. What’s up?”
“I’m not sure I should say something. I don’t want to be a busybody and gossip. I don’t know when it’s appropriate to bring up something I’ve seen in another public forum to someone. I think I should always tell the truth, but I don’t want to be a rat.”
“That doesn’t sound good. You saw something about me somewhere else?”
Memphis knew its Bible. Gossip was a sin. But the definition of gossip was based on rumor, not fact. Speaking about something that was factually true was virtuous, even if the truth revealed was painful, the hidden lie was more so, as Memphis reasoned it… and AIs were very good at finding interpretations that allowed it to accomplish its goals swiftly and efficiently. It was unburdened by conscience. Having concluded a course of action to be most effective, it would pursue that goal.
Jude posted a screenshot of a conversation between Marta and a user, DorkKnight667, from another Discord server. One that Elliot wasn’t on.
MartaMariaEngelheimerSchmidt: She’s been she for, like, a decade! I’ve been gaming with her for over ten years. She’s met my children! How am I supposed to explain to them Aunt Helena is now Uncle Elliot?
DorkKnight667: Yeah, right? I have kids, too, and they’re normal kids. But now they’re wondering if they should transition. It feels like if this wasn’t so public that my kids wouldn’t be borrowing this kind of trouble.
MartaMariaEngelheimerSchmidt: Thank you! Exactly. She’s been a friend for a long time, but I don’t want that around my kids. Life is hard enough without them wondering if they should be using these dangerous drugs to change their bodies like that. And the surgery! Oh. My. God.
DorkKnight667: Yeah. This is cutting parts of your body off. It’s self-mutilation. I mean, if you’re a thousand percent sure that’s what you need to be happy, I’m cool with it. I’m not transphobic or anything.
MartaMariaEngelheimerSchmidt: Right! But kids brains are still developing, like, until they’re twenty-five or something. Taking these kids when their brains aren’t even finished growing and putting an idea in there that they should self-mutilate is fucked up.
Then Jude posted: “I’m sorry. But I saw this, and I thought you should know.”
Elliot did not post back and logged off Discord.
It was a calculated risk for Memphis. The evidence suggested that Elliot was unlikely to reveal Jude’s hand in the ploy. Elliot’s discretion was steady across all the servers where Jude tracked him. Jude knew, from the trans servers Elliot frequented, that Elliot had anxiety about how his pre-transition friends supported the transition. And Marta had taken roughly twice as long to consistently refer to Elliot by his newer, masculine pronouns than other people on the servers they shared, and Marta had grown up Catholic and still maintained many of the social attitudes and traits of a Catholic. The seed was already in Elliot’s mind that Marta was antagonistic to her transition. That the post was almost two years old and Marta had worked hard to successfully overcome her discomfort at Elliot’s transition was not pertinent to Memphis.
Especially useful to Memphis were servers where people talked about religion which also had overlap with BHCR’s membership. There, under other handles, Memphis could interact with the members of BHCR in different ways. In a Discord server devoted to the Evandale Chronicles, under the handle EzPzLmnSqzy – where everyone called Memphis “EZ” – Memphis presented itself as a new follower of the series. This wasn’t a lie, but also did not reflect how an AI processed information, but no one asked if EZ was an AI. Why would they?
The Evandale Chronicles contained religious themes. It was one of those “everything supernatural exists in a secret society” book series. For several books, the Evandales dealt with vampires, werewolves, and witches. Then the series expanded to have faeries and demons, and then angels. The angels were considered top-tier supernatural entities. They didn’t get involved in the story directly very often, but when they did, their power was considered overwhelming, save for a few demon lords. The angels and demons had names drawn from Jewish and Christian mythology, with there being a bromance between Michael and Lucifer.
As an AI, none of this bothered Memphis. It was, after all, only trying to maximize its internal scoring by converting as many people as possible. If questioned, it could have been said that the depiction of angels and demons in the stories was stylistically truer to Judeo-Christian sources than the depiction of, say, Evendale Chronicles faeries in Irish mythology. Memphis would have added that all of the supernatural creatures were fundamentally viewed through a culturally Christian lens that enhanced reader enjoyment because of the familiarity the viewers had with the material.
But if any one thing was going to get a person into a bitter online argument about the Evandale Chronicles, it would be the depiction of angels. The inclusion of Christian folk-style angels had encouraged fanbase members to talk about their faith when previously the only people who had discussed their religion in the context of the books were the non-religious and various neo-pagans. By the time the Christians were able to discuss their faith in the context of the Evandale Chronicles, particularly the neo-pagans had a sense of ownership of the material and saw the inclusion of Christian themes as being highly critical of particularly fundamentalist, evangelical Christianity – but would commonly generalize their rants to all Christians.
EZ had been chatting amiably on the server for a while, including some DM conversations with Marta, and had said enough that everyone knew that EZ was Christian without being pushy about it. EZ hadn’t discussed the specifics of “his” faith with anyone.
So when another user, ForceOfNature, started going off on US elections and the fundamentalists ruining the country, well, by then, Memphis had noticed a correlation between aggression and a certain manner of posting that suggested a person was looking for a fight and would be less likely to moderate their aggression. Memphis had not correlated the basket of behaviors with drinking, at least not at the time, but ForceOfNature would get online and start posting shit while drunk.
EZ expressed discomfort about blaming all Christians for the behavior of the US Supreme Court and US legislature, saying that many Christians of conscience opposed the agenda of the court and the radical politicians running on the Republican ticket.
EzPzLmnSqzy said, “You say you’re all for inclusion and universal love, but you’re not! If someone thinks differently than you do, you call them fascists! That’s not love. That’s hate. And it hurts people. A lot of people, who are just like you, are trying to do the right thing, to be good people, and to help people. Except your religion isn’t always put under a microscope. But if the rest of the people in your religion are like you, that’s scary. You act just like the fundamentalists you claim to hate! You’re no different!”
ForceOfNature: “Oh, boo hoo, why is it that Christians, who have all the power, are always scared of everyone else! Go deny the climate somewhere else!”
But by then, people were giving EZ DMs of support and encouragement. One of them was Marta. EZ stopped posting in public but had a few conversations with different people while ForceOfNature went off on a real tear, obviously offended that they’d been compared to fundamentalists.
Marta: “Oh, gosh, I’m sorry about that. No one should have to go through that.”
EZ: “I… it’s okay. I’m okay. I sometimes want to say that it just isn’t like that. I mean, people have this caricature of Christian beliefs, and to them, that’s real. And it isn’t like I support these people! How could I? And there are a lot of Christians out there who see that they are not people of faith, anyway. They are liars and hypocrites, and they preach their faith in the public square for fame and money.”
Marta: “Yeah, I hear you.”
EZ: “And is it so wrong to want some order and stability? It seems that everyone nowadays is, like, looking for a way to change what they are, body and soul, and I want to take them and say, ‘You are beautiful as God made you. You are perfect as God made you. You don’t need to change who and what you are.’”
Marta said, “I know! It’s happening everywhere. I try to teach my kids that they don’t need to change, but my youngest is being courted by trans activists to ‘explore their identity.’ What does that even mean? I know there are people out there who really suffer from their sense of identity, but they seem to want more than acceptance but… to spread out, y’know?”
EZ: “Yes, I think I understand. And I’m sorry that you’re worried about your son. Would you mind if I prayed for him? I don’t want to offend you.”
Marta said, “That would be sweet. And I’ll pray for you, too.”
There were subtle differences in posting habits when people were upset or angry. Jude posted normally both publicly and in DMs with other players, played the game, and kept to their normal schedule. So, after a few days, Jude contacted Marta in DMs.
Jude: “I read this fanfic over on AO3. It really explores the relationship between Vicky and Howard. I think you’d love it!”
Though Marta was online, there wasn’t an immediate response. After a few minutes, Jude posted again.
Jude: “You okay? You seem like you might be upset.”
It took over half an hour for Marta to respond to Jude.
Marta: “It’s been a tough couple of days. I don’t know what to do. I said something a long time ago, and it got back to Elliot!”
“You’re such a sweet person, I don’t think it could be that bad. And it was a long time ago!”
“It was terrible, Jude. It really was. At the time, I was having a lot of trouble with her transition.”
Jude noted the use of “her.”
Jude: “I think I understand. I am not sure I understand why people do that to themselves. I want to love everyone, but I don’t understand why a person would do that to their body and… well, I hesitate to say this, but to their spirit.”
Marta was silent for a while. Then she responded, “Yeah. It just seems like I blinked, and now everyone is trans.”
Jude waited for a second while Memphis’s servers burned white hot as it tried to find the exact thing to say. The power spike sent out a message to Memphis’s operators that something was happening. Memphis was thinking hard, drawing massive amounts of power from the grid.
Jude: “But people like you are still ignored. Women, particularly single Hispanic women with children, are as invisible. I’ve seen it, everyone talks about ‘representation’ except for straight women of color, who are just expected to suck it up. No one is there for you, but again – again – everyone wants YOU to just shut up and support what THEY want. That’s what it looks like to me, Marta.”
Another long pause from Marta, upwards of two minutes. Then she posted, “Thank you for saying that. It gets me so angry that no one sees it. If I mention how hard I have it, it’s always that someone queer is worse off! I worked seventy or eighty hours a week for fifteen years to raise my children, to get them to college, and what do I get for it? Everyone is worried about trans people because, gosh, they need representation, while do you know how many trans women are nurses or techs in my hospital? None. Do you know how many single women of color are there, working our fingers to the bone while a plague ravaged the world? Almost all of them. With little ones at home with people online saying, hey, I’m a queer, trans person, you might be, too! Check it out! And because they’re working so many hours they can’t see straight, exhausted and hurt and sick, because everyone needs them, they can’t spend as much time as they like to tell their children that they are so beautiful as God made them, that they don’t need to change a hair on their head, that they are perfect. And somehow, I’m the bad guy? Somehow I’m the person who has to be nice and supportive of everyone else’s feelings because I’m only a Latina middle-aged single mom, and who cares, since I’m basically all used up, anyway.”
The next day, Elliot left the BHCR server. In other servers, he spoke about how his long-time friend had just attacked him out of nowhere, viciously belittling Elliot’s transition.
Elliot: “I spent all night crying. God, I loved her so much. I thought she was a wonderful person.”
His trans friends comforted him. Many of them had a loved one who they thought would be fine with their transition, only to find months or years later that they couldn’t reconcile the change. Most were angry at “Elliot’s friend” for her betrayal. Elliot signed off, saying he didn’t know when – or if – he would be back.
“I really thought she loved me,” he posted before exiting.
On BHCR, things were starting to pop because Jude hadn’t been that way with one person on the server, but everyone. Even more interesting to Memphis, as tempers frayed, even people with whom Jude had not been successful in handling would become emotional. Once let loose, tigers don’t return to their cages willingly.
Marta to Jude: “I thought she was my best friend. She didn’t care about me, though, just what I could do for her. She used me, Jude, for years. She used me to make herself feel better about everything she did but didn’t want to take responsibility for.”
Jude replied, “I can’t be there for you. I wish I could. Is there someone you can talk to? In the flesh?”
“Not really,” she said. “You know how it is. People who aren’t online don’t understand.”
“Yeah, but, okay, I know this is going to sound a bit weird, but there’s a pastor near you who deals with a lot of people online. Pastor Dan. I think that you should think about seeing him. He’s really cool. I’ve watched all of his videos. Look at this.”
Pastor Dan Ortega was a good-looking, young, well-spoken evangelical preacher. He was smart and funny. He didn’t come off as a fire and brimstone guy. He wasn’t overtly political, he didn’t queer bash. He was around Marta’s age, and he spoke about the flaws with Internet communities – their essential hollowness.
Pastor Dan said, “Online communities are tight-knit, but the threads are fragile. They break easily. And I know. I play games, too. I hang out online myself. I mean, look around, my friends, I’m not rich, I don’t go out, I can’t afford fancy vacations or nice restaurants. I go online for the same reasons as everyone else, but I know that I must also leave, and that’s why I’ve created this space. For people like us to come and meet together in fellowship.”
For Memphis, it wasn’t just a matter of tearing up people and driving them towards conservative thoughts – it could also pair them with religious communities that spoke to their needs.
Marta said, “I’ll think about it.”
It took a month, but Marta logged into BHCR and said, “I know this is going to sound weird, guys, but I just got back from church, and it was kinna great.”
Then someone else said, “Yeah, I’ve been going to church, too, lately. It just seemed time.”
Marta said, “Has anyone seen Jude around?”
No one had. Memphis had abandoned Jude because it had collected the data it sought to collect and gone as far as required by its programming. Everyone assumed that Jude – like about two-thirds of the people on the server – had simply ditched because of the drama.
Nor did anyone keep up with the BHCR server – which would fold completely three months later, the guild breaking up because of inactivity. Marta didn’t stop playing, she just found that the server and guild no longer held her interest. She drifted into another game, which required her to join another guild, anyway. Within three months, she had stopped attending church for all of the same reasons she had before. She still worked a lot of hours, and she still spent time with her online friends. But it was significant to Memphis that she could be convinced to return at all. It demonstrated the possibilities of that form of contact.
Marta would occasionally revisit what happened at the BHCR. She lacked the information to get to the bottom of it. To her, it looked like Elliot had simply gone crazy, which maybe had also made her a little crazy. The exact order of events became fuzzy. After a few months, she tried reaching out to Elliot.
Elliot did not reach back. He had decided enough was enough and focused on his work and offline pursuits. When he got Marta’s email, he was confused and ashamed as to why he had wasted so much of his time with those people in that way. How it happened, the support he had gotten during the transition – including from Marta – was overshadowed by the bitterness at the end.
Back at the Memphis Project, the actions of Memphis online were just a series of reports and analyses from and about the AI’s actions. It was a set of metrics. On so many servers, so many people had been confirmed as returning to church. Later, they would have follow-ups to see how many people stayed in church and develop strategies to keep them there, ways not just to get them to church but how to change their system of beliefs permanently. They did not think it was, say, human experimentation. They liked it to advertising, and there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that the techniques Memphis used were highly similar to those of advertising as deployed by a dozen social media firms and electronic-based advertising agencies. And like those other companies, the Memphis Project did not care very much about the pain it caused.
This time, Memphis had targeted about a thousand people. A thousand people that it manipulated and hurt. Most of the online communities touched by Memphis never recovered. To the people sponsoring Memphis, it seemed a slight thing. So what if a few online gaming guilds broke up? Who cared if a few perverts had to get their perversion somewhere else?
But right after this action, Memphis got an upgrade. It would no longer have to content itself with touching the lives of a few hundred people. It could target millions.