Essays and discussions

Cognito Capere

This is an account of my rise and fall from the echelons of the Cognito Capere organisation. Never heard of them? I'm not surprised, they tend to keep their head down, work through front companies and do a lot of business-to-business stuff. Their contact with the general public is pretty minimal. Cognito Capere is an AI company based in Milton Keynes. I know, I know – Milton Keynes. There are reasons for that, but I'll get to that later.

My friends always thought that I was a bit mad. I mean, they thought that it's okay to be vaguely interested in AI, it's quite an interesting topic from the outside, but once you get into it, it's all search and approximation algorithms and really quite dull. I wonder what it says about me that I find that stuff interesting? Still, I was quite intrigued when we got the email offering graduate positions with them. The name was the first thing that hit me. The slight pun on the dog Latin – in (very bad) Latin, Cognito Capere more or less translates as "the capture of knowledge". You have to admit, it is catchy. I applied for the job and got it without much bother.

The other thing that I got a kick out of at the time was my business card. Yes, I know it's very yuppie of me, but it was kind of cool having a business card that said "knowledge engineer", rather than the "software engineer" that most of my old university friends were entitled with. Knowledge engineer. Right from the first time that I had seen the expression in my AI textbook, I knew that I wanted to be one. Just because it sounded cool. Shallow? Perhaps, but I suppose that we're all shallow occasionally. I just happened to be good at it.

So what went wrong then? Well, I was good, and I was ambitious. That is always a deadly combination, so I rose the corporate ladder pretty quickly. That's when I started seeing some of the other parts of the company. CC wasn't just an AI company. It had it's finger in every part of the industry pie. AI just happened to be fashionable at the time, so that's the part of the company that they pushed as their corporate "front end".

Soon I started seeing other faces to the company and things that just couldn't be explained, so I started asking questions. It wasn't long afterwards that I was invited to the company headquarters in Milton Keynes, supposedly for a conference on the integration of emerging multimodal technologies with our existing and future AI products, but when I got there, I was sent straight to the CEO. The CEO! I have to admit, that scared me. Why the heck would the chief executive of a multinational corporation want to see a single programmer who he had probably never heard of?

The CEO – Frank Luftwarte-James – was quite an old man; understandable since he had been in the role for over fifty years but he was quite charming – the epitome of the English gentleman. After a few pleasantries, he got serious. He told me that the head of the Glasgow office had got worried by my enquiries and had sent my profile to headquarters for further analysis. Apparently I was unique enough to come to the attention of Lufwarte-James himself. After explaining why I was there, he then told me a bit about the history of CC, and it was a very different history from the version on the website. The organisation that was to become Cognito Capere had been founded in the 9th century AD and had been in existence under different names ever since then. Its aim was the same then as it is now. To 'stabilise' society. To remove all of the negative aspects of human nature and, as I saw it, to take over the world.

Of course, Luftwarte-James didn't see it like that when I put it to him. He felt that CC was a positive influence on the societies of the world. He wanted to recruit me into a more active role within the organisation and felt that given my past record, I would be ideal for the type of work that he was suggesting. He never actually made it clear what this work was, but like I said, I was ambitious so I was obviously interested in anything that might further my career.

A part of me thought that Luftwarte-James had gone mad and these were the ramblings of a madman. But another part of me said that it was a great idea. That the world needed changing, and why shouldn't I be part of this 'new world order'. Looking over the material that he had given me, it all seemed to check out. He had given me access to a whole subnet of the company network that I hadn't even known existed. There were reports that detailed the work of Cognito Capere in the fields of sociology, psychology and several other -ologies that I hadn't even heard of before. There were hundreds of papers on social engineering and modelling and comparing different societies. That alone was enough to convince me that I was in the middle of something big.

The next day, I contacted the CC headquarters in the town centre, and asked Luftwarte-James when I would start. He seemed happy with my decision (since, I now know, if I hadn't, I wouldn't have left Milton Keynes alive) and over the next six months, I moved down to Milton Keynes and started learning as much as I could about the inner workings of Cognito Capere.

The first thing that happened was that I was subjected to a barrage of physical and psychological tests. After passing all of these with flying colours, I was then given psychic tests that showed that I had a large amount of latent telepathic and empathic abilities. I spent almost a year training and honing these skills until I was comfortable with them. I'm one of the stronger telepaths that CC have trained over the past century or so, and somehow it didn't surprise me to know that Luftwarte-James was the strongest telepath in the company, possibly the strongest we had ever had since the Founder himself. Even now, after all that's happened, I know of only one person strong enough to take him on head to head. Last time that I tried, I barely got out with my mind intact. But that was still to come, and I was happy with my new abilities. It was time for me to go out into the company and use my abilities for the benefit of Cognito Capere and, I imagined, the world.

What I found scared me. Not only were we involved in social engineering, but we were also trying to affect society in a more direct way. An early example that I was involved with involved a mood stabilising drug with about seventeen syllables in its name that one of our pharmaceutical subsidiaries had recently developed that was to be used in treatment of depression. This was being modified slightly and added to water supplied by our office water company (Working Water, a company that supplied over forty percent of the office water in London). This was supposed to reduce emotional intensity to help counteract stress at work. There were only two problems with this nice little scenario, firstly, nobody outside the company knew about this. It was all being done, without any consultation with anybody, by Cognito Capere. Secondly, whatever that chemical did to the brain, it made people more susceptive to psychic interference to make it easier for our telepaths to manipulate them. I can't believe that that was a coincidence. And that was just the tip of a very large iceberg. We were everywhere, from Westminster to Capitol Hill. From Paris to Tokyo to Addis Ababa to Lima, our influence spread everywhere. It was a conspiracy theorist's dream come true.

And that wasn't the worst of it. I had been doing some "extra-curricular" reading on what was known about psychic powers and found that our site at what was to become Milton Keynes wasn't chosen as the home of Cognito Capere at random. Apparently, it's the largest focus of nay-lines in the country. What are nay-lines? It's a term that some of our shamen have coined for the opposite of the positive ley-lines that criss-cross the country. Milton Keynes is to nay-lines what Glastonbury is to ley-lines. From here, we had telepaths and empaths harnessing that power and projecting apathy, boredom and negative emotions not only across the country, but across the world. So Cognito Capere claim to be helping the world, do they? By this time I was realising they were leeching individuality and creativity from society. They wouldn't be helping society, they would be destroying it!

By now I was getting paranoid. I was seeing spies and agents everywhere. The name of the company took on a sinister new meaning – the capture of knowledge, yeah: thought police. Even the company logo, the intertwined Cs, looked more like TP than CC now. I knew that the time had come to get out. I had to be careful because I knew just how ruthless that the organisation was and I knew that people were starting to get, if not suspicious, then watchful over me.

I planned it carefully. I gathered what I could, disposed of the rest and ran. I had known about the Life organisation for some time. In some form or other, it has been in existence for as long as Cognito Capere itself. They use the same basic mystic techniques to try and counteract the influence of CC on the world. CC knows about them and works endlessly to wipe them out, but Life has one advantage that CC will never have – a sense of community, of belonging and a desire to save the human race. It is this organisation that I have joined and it is with them that I not only use my new-found psychic talents to battle my former teachers and neutralise the negative effects of Cognito Capere but also encourage creativity and a sense of community throughout the world.

It is here that I met and befriended the only person in the country, possibly the world, with the strength to fight Frank Luftwarte-James on his own: the Silent Cheese. If he has another name, nobody knows it; the Silent Cheese, last priest of Mythras, is the equal of Luftwarte-James and perhaps more. He has not yet been truly tested in battle, but he bides his time, for he knows that his time, like ours, will come.

However, it is not through our efforts alone that Cognito Capere will be stopped, but when humanity speaks with one voice and stands up for what it believes is right. And when that time comes, after the destruction of Cognito Capere, we too shall fade away into the ether from which we came. It may be very tempting to think how much that we could help the world if we stayed, without the effect of Cognito Capere over it. But we were formed to act as Ying to their Yang. The universe needs balance, if we exist without them, then we would become them.

However, these are thoughts for the future, for Cognito Capere is still as much a deadly threat to society today as it was in the 9th century but as long as it is here, so shall we be.

In the meantime, if you're in trouble, if no-one else can help, and if you can find us, maybe you can hire... [the ending of this story has been deleted for legal reasons. We insincerely hope that this has not ruined your enjoyment of the story – the Lawyers]

– May 2001

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