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  • Writer's pictureSo Now

War and Play: On the Beauty and Terror of Progress

To him, NatLab had always been a special place. Detached from the outside world and the issues of the day, one could open his mind to insights old and new. He had been there when it started and he would still be here in the end. Before his mind’s eye he imagined that future event, taking in the applause as he entered the stage of an immense auditorium. Ladies and gentlemen, it is a great pleasure to—

“Single senior ticket, sir?” The girl at the ticket counter broke his line of thought.

Mumbling, he took off his glasses and slightly pulled down the eyelid of his left eye. The eye started to tear somewhat. He mumbled some more, showing the girl his retina and the imprinted clearance code. Undergoing the ret-check, he sent a slightly agitated mental-message to Maintenance. They really needed to fix his imprint’s side effect. Someone might think him an emotional old fool, crying about when someone asked him for his ticket. Now it was the girl’s turn to start mumbling. She averted her eyes as the ‘ACCESS ALL AREAS’ sign popped up. “All clear, Professor Frits. Seat 1a is waiting for you.”

In 1914, Holst had personally recruited him. He, Frits, had been one of the first leading scientists to join Philips NatLab. At the tender age of 18, he knew he would devote his life to the inventions of this worldly place. Without the traditional universities’ obligation to teach the Ignorant in exchange for an R&D position, Holst promised him nearly unlimited access to funds and the freedom to create whatever his imagination could conceive. As a professor and engineer, he had been involved in the development of both the compact disc and more secretive projects, like H.I.M.

“We all know how that turned out,” he thought with a smirk as he took his front row seat. The seat next to him remained empty, he remarked appreciatively. People knew by now that he was best left alone.

He was just getting briefed on tonight’s lecture when, to his surprise, he was engaged in immediate mental-link by his superior.

“Frits,” Houser started. There were no greetings or any other formalities; they had known each other too long for that. “Report back to the Lab immediately after tonight’s speech.” Frits nodded and turned his attention to the stage.

“So you thought the lecture was tedious and short-sighted?” Houser let the question linger.

Frits checked his Frame. Did Houser change opinions on the subject of Superintelligence overnight? Had there been any other changes he had not been aware of? Something in the tone of Houser’s voice had raised his attention.

He measured his words carefully: “Well, Bostrom’s lecture made a point out of the need to control Superintelligence. Not letting technology overtake human intelligence, programming Artificial Intelligence with Ethics and Wisdom to safeguard the future of humanity…you know the kind of talk these people come up with these days,” he said with some pre-caution.

Waving aside his comments on the lecture, Houser started: “Frits, I’ll be straight with you on this — Project H.I.M. will end in its current form.”

Not understanding Frits replied: “What…? Houser, Sir, I do not quite copy?” Houser and Frits had started working on Project H.I.M., Highly Intelligent Machine, during the interwar period. War and strive for power had always been the driving force behind their work. As Heraklit had already known in 535 BC, 'War is the father of all things' and Houser and Frits had lived by those standards. Inventing and innovating, experimenting and testing; Houser the project leader and Frits H.I.M’s living subject. It allowed them to pro-create a better, more advanced version of the human being and they had felt at peace and reassured by the continuity of war.

At the age of 118, Frits looked no older than 70, the image of a senior citizen and professor, still strolling the hallways of NatLab every day. People thought he was having a hard time adjusting to his retirement and tolerated his presence. In reality, he was being updated and adjusted, the main subject of practical and fundamental research in modern warfare. He, H.I.M., was the research facility’s magnum opus.

But now, his longtime partner was going on and on about a new direction for the project.

Confused, he fell into the middle of Houser’s account: “….as Kurzweil put it: ‘If War is the father of Invention, than Play is the mother’. This credo will lead the way in the development of Project H.E.R., Highly Emotional Relay. The project will no longer be involved in any form of warfare for the means of innovation, but instead focus primarily on Play for the conduct of experiment and innovation. We are shifting into a new, more

balanced world. War will be obliterated soon and we need to be ahead of change.”

“What, are you out of your mind?” Frits burst out. “We survived the Communists, WWII and the Cold War. H.I.M. is the answer to our struggle for power and now you suggest we should PLAY to survive?!”

“Frits, old friend, I feared this would be your response. I see no other option.” Houser said and pressed a key on the mid air control panel. Frits panicked, he felt the software enter the base of his skull. It started to alter his brain structure. It was his undoing.

“No, no…ah…it hurts!” He screamed. “This is treason, I am the magnum opus, I am H.I.M!”


During the weekend of March 28-30th, 2014, 'The Age of Wonder – the beauty and terror of progress' celebrated the 100-year existence of Philips’ NatLab (English: Philips Physics Laboratory). As one of the world’s first centers for Research & Design, NatLab saw the birth of various invaluable inventions like the compact disc and radio technology.

There has been extensive research into the role Philips played during the war. I have found no accounts on (voluntary) experiments on people. (Dutch) (Dutch).

Nick Bostrom held a keynote speech on 'Superintelligence and the Structure of the Future' on the opening night of the Age of Wonder festival. His book Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies will be released on September 3rd , 2014.

The Age of Wonder takes place simultaneously with STRP Share, a cluster of projects to

encourage the transfer of knowledge and culture. STRP is Hybrid Music, Art and Technology for curious people. It is held biennially on the grounds of the old Philips factories in Eindhoven, the Netherlands. Play is an important part of STRP.

The character Professor Frits is an ode to my grandfather Frits Carrière, who worked for

Philips as an engineer and lecturer specialized in low voltage electro engineering from 1951– 58 and from 1963 until his retirement in 1979. My grandfather is a loving and caring human being of 94, who taught me how to analyze like a scientist and imagine worlds like Jules Verne.

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