I’d heard a story, once, (though its origins
Are hazy, at best, to me now: perhaps something my son heard
At Sunday school, or part of the never-ending nattering
From the marketing guy at lunchtime, or maybe it was cackled
By the crazy, toothless blind guy on the 16A bus)
Concerning the programmers who’d worked on a project
In the early days of nano-technology,
Creating software for the relative monoliths,
Australopithecuses of artificial intelligence,
Which served as prototypes for some envisioned universe
Of tiny drones serving the whims of some doctor or researcher
Operating unseen and omnipotent behind some microscope or monitor.
The trials went quite smoothly, almost flawlessly,
The models impeccably doing what binary switches
And if-then-else statements decreed,
But the researches noticed that, just before they executed
The final bit of code, the models would invariably exhibit
A slight hesitation–almost imperceptible, infinitesimal even,
But clearly occurring, nonetheless.
They’d assumed, quite naturally, it was a mere matter of de-bugging,
Some misplaced comma or parentheses among the thousands,
But they reviewed the code any number of dozens of time,
Only to find it was clean as a whistle.
What’s more, they’d found that while the vacillation appeared
At the same point in the process, it didn’t happen at exactly the same time;
Indeed, they cropped up, relatively speaking, months, even years apart.
One of the white coats jokingly referred to the pause
As the machines “Peggy Lee moment”–You know, ‘Is that all there is?’
But no one else involved the project saw the humor.
They’d decided to ignore or accept the quirk
Though it was rumored that it drove
A few of the programmers to near-madness,
And that one or two of their number had bolted the project without notice,
Entering monasteries and shutting themselves off from the outside world
For the rest of their days, and its existence was buried
In reams of footnotes at the end of their final report
(Though as I said, the tale’s source is unclear,
And I am inclined to regard it as apocryphal.)