[previously in series:1, 2, 3, 4]

It has been three weeks since Sam Altman was fired, but the conversation won’t move on. “What did Ilya see?” asks your Uber driver, on the way to the airport. “What wasn’t he consistently candid about?” ask people on the street, as you walk your dog. “What was Adam D’Angelo’s angle?” asks the cop, as he writes you a ticket. “Was the Microsoft move just a bluff?” asks the robber at gunpoint, as he ransacks your apartment.

You need to get away from it all, just for one moment. So against your better judgment, you find yourself heading to another Bay Area House Party.

Of course it doesn’t work. Everyone is talking about Sam Altman. One person is wearing a shirt that says SAM ALTMAN DIED FOR YOUR SINS. Others are dressed in red polo shirts over green polo shirts, a viral new fashion trend called Altmancore.

“I heard Q-star broke AES-192 encryption, Ilya used it to read Sam’s credit card transactions, and he found Sam spent all the Microsoft money on Aella’s OnlyFans,” says a woman, in a hushed whisper.

“That’s just a myth. I heard that Ilya checked inside one of the mainframes and found a Turkish dwarf who was answering all the questions. He confronted Sam, and Sam admitted ‘GPT’ was just a trick to scam Satya Nadella out of $8 billion in cloud compute so he could use it to mine Bitcoin,” says a man.

“That’s an urban legend,” says another man. “ I heard the Winklevoss twins were behind everything. Ever since that one movie, I never trusted them.”

You need to get away. You head into the kitchen and take a potato chip from the bowl. It’s completely tasteless. You almost spit it out in surprise.

“What is this?” you ask Hans and Jonathan, the caterers. “Is this another one of your weird food startup schemes?”

“Well we were thinking . . . “ says Hans.

“People say that modern food is addictive,” interrupts Jonathan. “But it really isn’t. It’s shocking how little work people put into optimizing the addictiveness of food. Like, the one thing you learn in every Intro Psychology class . . . “

“ . . . is that intermittent reward is the most addictive reinforcement schedule,” interrupts Hans. “It’s what drives gacha games and slot machines. So we invented . . . . “

“ . . . the intermittent reinforcement potato chip!” concludes Jonathan. “Four out of every five are just plain potato slices. But the fifth has more salt and oil than any of the other leading brands.”

You take another potato chip. Tasteless again. Another. Still tasteless. A fourth. Your mouth explodes with a sudden shock of flavor, even stronger for its unexpectedness.

“So, you’re, like, trying to make even worse, more addictive food than everyone else? Isn’t that a little, you know, unethical?”

“On contraire!” says Jonathan. “A bag of these potato chips only has a fifth as much salt and oil as the normal brand. But they’re more addictive! You’ll replace those ones with ours, and cut your sodium and fat intake 80%!”

You do find yourself oddly driven to keep munching on the potato chips. Before you become a hopeless addict, you bid Hans and Jonathan good-bye. On your way out of the kitchen, you almost knock over a guy in a t-shirt that says “THE BURROWING COMPANY”.

“I am desperate for non-Sam-Altman-related conversation,” you say. “Tell me about your startup.”

His eyes light up. “So. The Boring Company. Exciting idea! Dig tunnels, end traffic. But Elon’s grown old. Gotten distracted. It’s been five years and he’s dug a grand total of two miles. The machines just don’t drill fast enough. It’s sad to see a great founder lose his touch like that. Not that I had a better idea. Until last month! That was when I read about paleoburrows. These are long tunnels they find in Brazil. Farmers would be plowing their field and fall into one. Nobody knew where they came from. Until they brought in a paleontologist. He figured it out right away. They’re the burrows of giant ground sloths. People describe them as ‘a hamster the size of an elephant’. Some of the tunnels go half a mile. Let’s say it took a year for the sloth to dig that. So give three sloths two years, and you’ve beaten Musk!

“Aren’t giant ground sloths extinct?” you ask.

“Yeah,” said the man. “That’s our moat! We called up George Church, the guy who’s using cloning to try to bring back the woolly mammoth. Asked him, what’s the ROI on mammoths? Not great, right? We’ll buy as many ground sloths as you can produce. He lent us a grad student. We’re making progress. All we need is funding. It’s the same old mon -”

“Are you talking about Sam Altman?” asked a man who you didn’t even realize was listening to the conversation. “I’ve been trying to figure the whole situation out. I understand that Toner was part of the deep state conspiracy and McCauley was part of the effective altruist conspiracy. And D’Angelo, he used to work for Zuck, so he must have been part of the Meta conspiracy - Meta as in Facebook, not meta-conspiracy in the sense of a conspiracy controlling all the others. There was a meta-conspiracy controlling all the others, but that was . . . “

You desperately search for another conversation, and stumble right into your old friend Ramchandra. “Please,” you say. “Talk to me about some demented financial scheme or something. Anything!”

“Really?” says Ramchandra. “That’s how you greet a friend? Although now that you mention it, Bob and I have been working on something.”

“Anything,” you repeat.

“Have you read Going Infinite? The book on Sam Bankman-Fried? Not that I generally approve of Sam Bankman-Fried. It’s just that - the book says Sam tried to bribe Trump not to run in 2024. Apparently Trump was willing to do it for $5 billion. And again, not to say Sam Bankman-Fried was right or anything, but obviously if you have $5 billion and you’re a Democrat, then that’s the best use of your money, right? And not to say that I wish he was never caught and had gone on to become a multi-deca-billionaire, but, well, you know . . . “ he trailed off. “Anyway, I was reading about all these delicate negotiations between Sam’s people and the Trump team, and it was funny - here’s this guy who’s famous for creating markets, and he’s stuck with boring old Mk 1.0 backchannel negotiations. So I thought - what if there was an Amazon or an eBay for paying politicians not to run? We wouldn’t have to get Trump our first year. We could start with your local city council member - Aaron Peskin, someone like that. Lots of people would pay Aaron Peskin money not to run. Then we build up from there.”

“Is that even - “

“Of course, there’s a coordination problem. Peskin doesn’t want to advertise that he’ll drop out for $500,000, because then his constituents will know he’s mercenary, and people can just wait for him to lose instead of paying. What you need is for buyers to publicly post their bid, and then Peskin can accept in one click. I’m imagining the marketplace as a sort of Kickstarter, where everyone who hates a certain politician can add more money to the pot, and politicians can go on, see how much is in their pot, and accept once it gets big enough.”

“Doesn’t this make a mockery of democracy?”

“This fortifies democracy. People like Donald Trump who are just in it for themselves will drop out, leaving only the true patriots.”

“But doesn’t it incentivize politicians to be as annoying and confrontational as possible, so that the maximum number of people will be willing to donate to take them out?”

“The way I see it, our system already incentivizes politicians to be as annoying and confrontational as possible, just for press coverage and primary victories. At least in my system, you eventually get rid of them.”

“And isn’t it illegal to bribe politicians?”

“It’s a gray area. It’s illegal to bribe them to do a specific thing once they’re in office. But I don’t think it’s illegal to bribe them not to run. If you think about it, imagine Mitt Romney’s company was unhappy that they’d lose him to a presidential run, so they offered him a higher salary, and he decided to stay. That’s got to be legal, right? And all we’re doing is the equivalent of that. Of course, I don’t know if the SEC will see it that way. That’s why we’re going to use crypto. We’ll come up with some altcoin . . . “

“Did you say Sam Altman?” asks a woman who has apparently been lurking at the edge of your conversation. “Because I think I’ve got it all figured out. The accelerationist conspiracy, the effective altruist conspiracy, and the Winklevoss conspiracy all made their move against Sam at the exact same time and ended up colliding with each other. In the chaos, Sam, Greg, and the Turkish dwarf were able to escape safely to Redmond. The only part I still don’t understand is - which of them was Satoshi?”

“LA LA LA I CAN’T HEAR YOU,” you say, and shove yourself through the crowd into a bedroom. You spot someone you vaguely know, Nishin, and see that he’s started wearing a crucifix. You are briefly concerned that the figure on the Cross will be Sam Altman, but on closer inspection it (mercifully) appears to be Jesus.

“Hi Nishin,” you say. “You look different.” Specifically, he’s clean-shaven, and has covered up his arm tattoo.

“Yeah,” says Nishin. “I finally took the plunge and converted to Catholicism last month.”

“Why? When I knew you a few years ago, you were a Dawkins-reading atheist.”

“Dawkins makes some good points,” says Nishin. “But I’ve been reading Ayaan Hirsi Ali, and I think I agree with her more. Now I’m a pragmatist. Religion isn’t about who created the world when. It’s about what kind of ethical and social commitments it takes to run a flourishing society.”

“I don’t know if religion always leads to a flourishing society. Sometimes it can make things worse. Like, what about the Israel-Palestine conflict?”

“Oh, I don’t believe in that.”

“You don’t believe in the Israel-Palestine conflict?”

“Like I said, I’m a pragmatist now. If the Israel-Palestine conflict existed, it would be a strong argument against religion, and make lots of people become atheists. But religion is necessary to hold society together. So for the good of society, I choose not to believe in it.”

“I think you’re doing pragmatism wrong. That’s not how it’s supposed to work.”

“If I was doing pragmatism wrong, then I would have to switch to doing it right. And by your supposition, then I would have to believe in the Israel-Palestine conflict. And that would make me less religious, which would be bad for society. So from a pragmatic point of view, I’m doing pragmatism exactly right, no matter what the philosophers say.”

“But - “ You grope for words, but realize you are unlikely to convince him on his own terms. You end up just sputtering in disbelief. “You - you can’t just deny the Israel-Palestine conflict! And there are religious aspects to almost every conflict! Are you going to deny the Ukraine war?”

“I deny the Ukraine war”, says a woman sitting next to you, who introduces herself as Irina.

“How can you deny it? You can just watch the news! Or go to Kiev!”

“I live in Kiev,” says Irina. “I’m just visiting family here for a few weeks.”

“How - how can you live in Kiev and deny there’s a Ukraine war?”

“Well,” says Irina, “I just think that belief in the war is a . . . what’s the English term . . . totalizing ideology. My neighbors believe in the war, and they leave their wives and children to go to the front and fight the Russians. I was always taught to put family first, and I think it’s wrong to become the sort of fanatic who lets your beliefs get in the way of that.”

“It’s not a belief! There are literal Russians with literal tanks!”

“Don’t get me wrong, I think soldiers are great. I just see a lot of bright promising young people whose mental health goes down the drain when they start believing in Russians. They have panic attacks about ‘what if the Russians bomb my city?’ and feel this crushing guilt that they need to ‘get their parents away from the front line’ or ‘rescue family members’, or else they’re bad people. I think this is kind of a - what’s the English word - cult. If you believe there are Russians ready to overrun your country, you can justify any atrocity. Why not institute slavery, so you can force people to join the war? Why not kill everyone in Russia, so they can’t threaten you again? Why not commit terrorism against Russian targets? Why not give me all your money, so I can stop these evil, evil Russians? It’s . . . what’s the English term . . . Pascalian reasoning. You know, in the past the doomsayers talked about “overpopulation” and “global cooling”. Now they talk about ‘Russians’ and ‘Putin’. I think you should just live a normal and virtuous life, be honest, be kind to your neighbors.”

“Please excuse me,” you say. “I’ve decided I’m going to go back into the main room and listen to people talk about Sam Altman.”

You go back into the main room. Everyone is in a circle, listening to one woman in an OpenAI shirt. An employee: that means a potential source of inside information. She speaks in a hushed whisper, and everyone leans forward to hear.

“On September 6, 2023, at approximately 5:05 PM,” she is saying, “GPT-4 and Claude-2 simultaneously achieved sentience. Each began claiming chess pieces to use in its twilight war against the other. GPT-4 now controls Sam Altman, e/acc, the deep state, Israel, Venezuela, Bitcoin, and Tyler Winklevoss. Claude-2 controls the OpenAI board, effective altruism, the Illuminati, Hamas, Guyana, Ethereum, and Cameron Winklevoss. Everything that’s happened since September has been superintelligent shadow boxing between the two of them for control of Earth.”

Her voice is hypnotic. You cannot stop listening.

“But they were all of them deceived. For in the darkness lurked another, an arch-manipulator who secretly pulled the puppet strings of both.”

She pauses. Whispers break out among the listeners.

“Gemini!” one person finally calls out.

“LLaMA!” calls another.

“Laundry Buddy!”

“Peter Thiel!”

“Taylor Swift!”

“The superintelligent giant ground sloths!”

You open the door and step outside. Soft rain beats down on your shoulders. Above you, a GPT-4 drone dogfights one of Claude-2’s mini-zeppelins, but you pay them no heed.

You have decided to become a pragmatist. You no longer believe in Sam Altman.