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  • I can't write for long. Time, I fear.

    My name is Richard. You know me for the chess. The half-eaten bread. The gift vouchers.

    It was at the gala dinner where I learnt about the machine. I had no seat at the table, so I slipped a score to one of the students working that night. The walls of the college hall at Cambridge danced in the candlelight. At the top table, they were already drunk.

    On my right was a privacy campaigner, but it was the computer scientist who mattered. His hand trembled as he lifted the fork to his mouth. I've read your journalism, he said. Who is it you write for? The New..?

    Scientist, I said.

    We spoke about Bayesian probability. About his first born. About politics.

    The dessert arrived; it tasted of sharp berries. It cut my tongue.

    Then he told me about the machine. The only thing you need to know, he whispered, is that it cannot be understood.

    The machine collects. It categorises. It correlates. It builds an idea of who you are and what you want. It knows everything. It must be stopped.

    He reached across to grab my hand, but knocked his empty wineglass over. The others watched. He recoiled, straightened his back, and apologised. I must go, he said.

    I wandered home afterwards, my mind blurred with alcohol and information. Information and networks. When my head hit the pillow, I dreamt of the endgame. If you want to win, begin with the ending, Chernev wrote.

    The following day, I emailed Peter about it all. His reply was terse. Meet me at the usual spot, he wrote. The crowds beneath Big Ben on St Margaret street were thick, and the air heavy. I waited for an hour. Peter didn't arrive.

    When I got home, my desk drawers all hung out; the papers scattered on the floor. My hard drive was gone. Time to buy a burglar alarm.

    That evening, the phone rang. I heard only a click. The day after, my credit cards were refused. Then, a letter from the NHS arrived; my sister's transplant had been cancelled. No reason supplied.

    I decided to run. I prepared the room to make it look like I had been taken. I laced the half-eaten bread with sedative, got in my car and drove to nowhere.

    I'm nowhere now. Out of the reach of the machine, at least.

    If you're reading this on a machine, then I'm afraid you are not. It watches you now.
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