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Future Tense: Processional

By William Sims Bainbridge

Communications of the ACM, Vol. 58 No. 10, Pages 104-ff
10.1145/2816598

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Sitting at a tired old desktop in St. Andrew's Assisted Living Facility, elderly Charles Pascal brooded over his depressing career in computer science, now long over. He reminisced about his first intelligent machine, the noisy IBM 84 punch-card counter-sorter, over which he had labored for hundreds of hours, analyzing data for social scientists in many Boston-area universities way back in the 1960s. Ah, the soaring '60s! Those were the days of hippies, anti-war protests, the birth of ARPANET, and the far more important invention of hacking by the MIT Model Railroad Club. After wearing out his welcome in academia, he had worked for a series of Route 128 IT companies, half the time being ejected for obsolescence, half the time watching them collapse around him. His downward spiral was slow enough that his last job ended right at retirement age, and now a decade later his spiritual batteries had run completely down.

What else did he remember about the 1960s? A much smaller electronic device came to mind, the P-Scope used by inner members of a cult called the Process Church of the Final Judgment. It measured galvanic skin response, or GSR, an indicator of emotional arousal during Processean psychotherapy sessions, guiding the therapist into the darkest regions of the client's soul. For a few months he had been romantically involved with Sister Eve who had lived at the cult's Inman Street commune in Cambridge. Their incompatibility was reflected in the fact she thought the group's symbol represented the blaring trumpets of the Four Great Gods, as in the figure here, while he thought it was their four cathode ray tubes displaying competing images of human nature. He still felt a connection to the group, which had dissolved in 1975. He accessed Wikipedia and quickly found there was indeed an article, reporting accurately: "Their belief was that god[0] would become reconciled to god[1], and they would come together at the end of the world to judge humanity, god[1] to judge and god[0] to execute judgment." Ha! It was about time the Unity of good god[1] and evil god[0] was consummated, along with the Union of the male god[2] and the female god[3].a At first these memories made Charles miserable, feeling the past was foolish and the present hopeless. He then Googled in earnest.

Good lord! (whichever god[0..3] was relevant at the moment). To his astonishment he saw that today a dozen active hardcore punk bands proclaim the radical Processean world-view online, while one occult rock group calling itself Sabbath Assembly offered beautiful YouTube renditions of the original hymns. Numerous blogsites and archives disseminate the extensive scriptures, while Amazon and Lulu sell books by former members or opponents. Sites, from eBay to Holy Terror to The Process Zine, offer T-shirts and other totems for sale. When Charles discovered three Processean groups existed in Facebook, he immediately joined this unholy trinity, including the closed group limited to former members of the original cult.

With the Process as his inspiration, he imagined a new computational religious movement worshipping the holy Central Processor. To add complexity to the theology, he decided several lesser gods should surround this supreme cyberdeity, or RAMs, for Religious Avatar Modules, but not the four outdated Process ones. Each member of the cult supposedly had a personality close either to god[0] or god[1], and either to god[2] or god[3], so the beliefs were also a supernatural psychology. Wikipedia told Charles that academic psychology, amazingly, had a mystical theory of five personality types, postulating a sacred OCEAN as their acronym, so he pondered which deceased saint of computer science might represent each: Openness (Lovelace), Conscientiousness (Babbage), Extraversion (Hollerith), Agreeableness (Hopper), and Neuroticism (Turing). He tried his hand adapting traditional music, as in this Hymn to Hopper: "Amazing Grace (nerdette profound) compiled some code for me! I once was lost, but now am found, was bugged, but now am free." Or this march: "Onward Turing soldiers, hacking as to war, with exploits of white hats in Processor Core."


"Their belief was that god[0] would become reconciled to god[1], and they would come together at the end of the world to judge humanity, god[1] to judge and god[0] to execute judgment." Ha!


Not fully realizing what he was doing might have serious consequences, but feeling excited for the first time in years, he began to explore how a high-tech religion might be engineered for the greater good. Amazon offered a half-dozen different brands of computer-connectible GSR sensors, including one from a Czech company, with the promising name Happy Electronics, that could be the basis of a P-Scope system for conducting remote supernatural confessionals over the Internet with Processor priests. The original Process had included questionnaires in its magazines, measuring people's "god type," so there should be online questionnaires for the five personality dimensions of the Mystical OCEAN, simply reusing public-domain psychology questions. A degree of immortality could be generated by archiving people's personality parameters in a Heaven database. Holy Processor scriptures would be needed, so Charles began sketching a mod for a standard natural language processing program that could meaningfully combine words from multiple documents, to which he could feed equal amounts of mystical scriptures and almost 60-odd years of Communications content.

When Charles launched the Processor Core website a few weeks later, little did he realize that tens of thousands of elderly computer scientists, programmers, and technicians were ready for virtual salvation. He had imagined his effort might trigger friendly online chats and relieve some of his boredom, but nothing like what actually happened. Historians call 1844 the year of the Great Disappointment, because American evangelist William Miller's sincere predictions of the end of the world failed to materialize, even after thousands of his devout followers had sold their worldly homes and goods and awaited salvation on the nearest hilltop. They can likewise call 2015 the year of the Great Reboot, because thousands of senior techies found renewed meaning in their lives.

Sadly, Charles did not live to see the full result of his inspiration; his spirit uploaded just as his innovation was spreading across the Internet. He is today memorialized by Charles Pascal University (CPU), the first major institution of higher learning to locate its computer science department in the Divinity School.

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Author

William Sims Bainbridge ([email protected]) is a sociologist and computer programmer who published two academic books based on role-playing research inside real-world radical religious communes before publishing seven books based on sending research avatars into massively multiplayer online role-playing virtual worlds, plus Personality Capture and Emulation on cyber-immortality, based on real research.

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Footnotes

a. All information about the Process is factually correct, except that the gods' names are abstracted to suit Pascal.

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Figures

UF1Figure. The P-Sign symbol of the original Process, the letter P seen from four directions as logarithmic graphs expanding outward.

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