The Destroyer of Worlds

run‘Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds’

Even with its gramatical error, its still a great quote.

Its from a Sanskrit text, most famously uttered by J. Robert Oppenheimer after witnessing the first ever atomic bomb test in New Mexico; the Trinity test.

Contemporary accounts differ, Oppenheimer himself said he said it, other times he said he just thought it. Others who were present say he just said ‘Shit, it worked’ which lets face it would be much more realistic, albeit not quite as dramatic.

My guess is he thought it some time after the event and just squeezed it into the historical narrative. I know I would.

The trinity test was part of the Manhattan project led by Oppenheimer as the allies raced to build the first atomic bomb.

The test took place on July 16th 1945 and 21 days later Enola Gay was heading towards Hiroshima with Little Boy and the rest is history.

21 days. Think about that for just a second. Before July 16th everything was still theoretical, no one knew if it would even work and in less than a month they had built it. Tested it. Built another two, dropped them both and for all intents and purposes brought WWII to an end.

They also killed a staggering amount of civilians in the process.

I understand there was a war on and normal timelines don’t apply. Every day counted more than anyone alive today can imagine but still, three weeks. I find this incredible. When I think of what I can get done in three weeks, its pitiful in comparison.

They also took risks. The science behind the Trinity tests were solid(ish) however there were a group of scientists at the time warning that no one knew how or when the chain reaction started by the detonation would end.

In simple terms they never knew if the chain reaction would stop 100 meters from the site, 100 miles from the site or just not stop at all. Like a lightning fast monster blob, devouring everything in its path and just getting bigger and stronger.

They didn’t know with absolute certainty that the world wouldn’t just blow up.

But someone still pressed the button…

Stephen Hawking recently came out with a statement that in his opinion Artificial Intelligence is the biggest threat to mankind. I would agree with him on this, I do have some issues with his black hole relative time warp worm hole theory but on AI I think we are both aligned. Which I’m sure is reassuring for him.

Yes, AI. Like the chain reactive risks of the Trinity test I think AI poses a similar threat – global destruction. Or at least the destruction of the human race. I’m not thinking in terms of large robots with guns, I’m thinking of a small software program developed with two very simple objectives; improve itself and grow.

Where would this e-blob end? It might just do nothing or it might take over the whole world. Before we could think it, it would have done it.

It might even at some point resort to developing heavily accented large muscle bound robots to wipe out us humans who would surely become an obstacle to the programs self improvement mandate.

Who would press enter to set that thing in motion? With the cursor blinking at the ‘run’ icon would you press it, just to see what happens?

A big red button labelled DO NOT PRESS! Or that red handle on an aircraft door which says do not touch in flight?

Tell me you haven’t even thought about it as you queue for the toilet…

Temptation is horrible. The temptation to do something I know I shouldn’t can quickly become irrisistable and once the idea is in my head it would take a Trinity sized event to remove it. Or sex.

I stopped smoking full time some years ago.

I say full time because anyone who knows me would scoff if I was to say anything else.

I stopped simply because of the health thing. If I could smoke with no detrimental affect to my health I would, I really really enjoy smoking. Don’t care about the smell and the other negative things, I enjoy it.

Problem is it will also probably kill me. And I don’t like smoking thatmuch. But it still is tempting.

If you offered me the life of Keith Richards and the constitution of Keith Richards I would say thank you very much and light up immediately. Unfortunately Keith is a freak and I doubt very much I have his freakish ability to avoid death so I stopped smoking.

So when the smoking ban was being discussed and then finally implemented a few years ago I had mixed feelings. I totally understand the medical reasons surrounding passive smoking and the rights of the non smokers who also want to go out for a drink. I understand the concerns for the staff.

I get it all but also know that I never went to the pub for the good of my health and that there is nothing nicer than sitting down with a pint, a newspaper and lighting up.

Anyway, at least in the UK that’s now out of the question and if you want to smoke you are forced to huddle in a doorway avoiding the rain and the late Friday night weegies staggering dangerously by.

Then someone in China invented E-cigarettes. Hurrah! A solution!

It would seem not.

E-cigarettes are also banned from public places, airplanes and the usual places normal smokers are shunned.

But I don’t get it. E-cigarettes give off a harmless water vapour, there are no known negative health issues from this vapour. On an airplane it would probably be actually beneficial to have some water vapour mixing with the drier than the Sahara cabin air.

There are no passive smoking issues, so why cant you puff away on your e-cigarette indoors, next to non smokers or ten miles up?

Because it normalises smoking behaviour apparently. In other words, because they look like cigarettes.

And this I think is an issue. A big issue. The precedent being set here is concerning.

Even if I wasn’t fully supporting, I did agree with the smoking ban. Because the medical proof was overwhelming. But just because something looks like something else doesn’t make it bad, and it certainly shouldn’t be banned.

What about alcohol? If you cant smoke an e-cigarette in a pub because it normalises smoking behaviour, what about drinking alcohol? Doesn’t drinking alcohol in a public place normalise drinking alcohol and I can guarantee the collateral damage caused by alcohol is significantly greater than any other vice known to man.

So will we find ourselves being banned from drinking alcohol in pubs for exactly the same reason at some point in whats shaping up to be a depressingly dull future?

Toy guns, action man, video games, movies. If we can ban harmless e-cigarettes then surely everything is up for grabs?

They have banned something, not on scientific grounds but on aesthetic grounds.

My advice would be to make them look like balloons or pilot masks or shoes or anything which doesn’t look vaguely like a cigarette.

Let people choose for themselves. If they want to live like Keith, let them, so long as it doesn’t bother/interfere with me why should I care? If you want to be a lard arse and live off king sized mars bars so be it, you don’t need to ban them though. I sometimes like to eat king sized mars bars too.

Put simply if its not harming anyone else then why should you, I or anyone for that matter care?

I think another, quiet chain reaction has started with the introduction of the smoking ban, the supersize ban and the generally intrusive big brother nanny state.

It certainly wont have the long lasting implications of the Trinity tests, it wont have the human race eliminating consequences of artificial intelligence but it’s going to have consequences.

So lets stop it now before I find myself unable to eat a kebab, drink a pint, wave a plastic gun or even make a vaguely offensive statement in a public place.

You know, if it was to come to this I might press the big red button myself.

Just for the hell of it.

Few years ago. Central Switzerland

untitledI noticed them and sighed.

From a distance there appeared to be at least six. Hanging around the vending machine, playing music and talking. A thick cloud of smoke hovered over them like a mini microclimate made up entirely of cannabis and tobacco.

I kept going. Having run out of cigarettes at 11pm there was no way I was waiting until 9am the following morning for my next fix.

No, I would steel myself, fix an un-threatening, un-confrontational look on my face and show no outward sign of trepidation or weakness.

As I approached they stopped talking and turned to stared at me.

Teenagers. Four young men and two women. They each wore the same black on black uniform with multiple facial piercings. Rings, spikes, studs. Explosive hair with the consistency of red granite. Goths.

The music sounded angry. I couldn’t tell about their mood.

They parted to give me access to the machine and then reformed. It was a pubescent, rebellious pincer movement which effectively trapped me inside. No words were spoken.

My heart raced as I fished in my pockets for the correct change waiting for the verbal abuse to start and hoping this was as far as it would go. Sticks and stones.

I fed the coins in and pressed the appropriate code. The machine burst into life and a coiled silver spring started turning. I watched as the red packet slowly edged forward towards the drop. It moved with a glacial speed. They were silent, only the music continued, fast, loud and aggressive.

The pack stopped and the machine returned to its pre-coined, impotent and inactive state. The packet hung there, suspended by nothing obvious. According to a robot brain somewhere in the metal box it had done its job. Only it hadn’t.

The cigarettes were fixed balancing between the end of the silver coil and the drop. It was defying gravity, taunting me in front of a restless nocturnal feral pack. Shit.

I shook the machine but it remained. I shook it harder and the pack just wobbled, still balancing precariously over the abyss, infuriatingly refusing to budge. I stood back and pondered my predicament. The vampire thugs watched me. I could sense the circle closing.

I jumped as I felt a hand touch my shoulder. It was the largest of the kids, broad shoulders, eye liner. His head appeared to be weaponised. If he bent down and head-butted me would I find out the spikes were tipped with a deadly frog poison?

‘Entschuldigen’ he said quietly and motioned for me to stand back which I did without question not entirely sure what he was going to do to me. Gore me with his head or lick me to death with his spiked and studded tongue?

He did neither. He stepped back and kicked the machine hard. Very hard.

Hard enough I imagined to set off an alarm deep in the 24hr vending machine central control room which I assumed had to exist somewhere.It was also hard enough to make the packet drop.

I watched as he quietly bent down to retrieve the small cardboard box which he handed to me with a polite nod and a respectful smile.

‘Thank you, I mean vielen dank ’ I stammered taking the packet from him. I stood there for a second not quite sure what to do next. The remaining ghouls glared at me so I quickly took my leave, not wishing to test my good fortune any further.

I left them there to their music and rebellion and walked quietly back to my apartment, smoking. I was smiling as another preconception shattered around me.
There are times when I really like the country I live in, Switzerland.

For all their music, hairdo’s and aesthetically rebellious appearances Swiss teenagers are just grown up versions of the little children I see every morning walking hand in hand to kindergarten wearing their yellow anti-traffic florescent vests. It’s going to take a lot more than some heavy rock, sex and drugs to sway your average Swiss seventeen year old.

Deep down, buried away beneath the clothes, the snarls and the cannabis they are still the friendly, law abiding, elder respecting kids they have been taught to be since birth.

And I for one like this.