I’ve been legally dead for twenty years.
There’s a lot of ways to scratch yourself off the ledger without actually being rubbed out. The trick is to break everything down into essential elements, and like any great heist stealing your life back takes a bit of forethought and planning, you don’t just wake up on the Monday for a Tuesday start. Six months is how long it took me and I reckon that’s a good place to begin.
So here’s how I went about separating myself, quietly and methodically, from the real world.
Know your reasons
Once I knew exactly why I had to get out, I was able to take those first steps. I didn’t have a choice. Alphabot was already exhibiting intelligent behaviour. At the time, we were years away from artificial personhood and I’d programmed one of the most notorious pieces of software in existence.
I was in trouble. Eventually someone would work out what Alphabot was, and if they linked her to me, well, it’s like I said: I’ve got a lot of powerful enemies.
Still… You don’t need to be on the run from corporate death squads to live like I live. Some of the people I’ve met off-grid simply aren’t cut out for any other way of life. Whatever your reason, be honest with yourself. Once you set down this path, you’re going to be the only person you can trust.
Reduce. Get rid of all the things. Take half your stuff and give it away. Rinse, repeat. Do this for six weeks. What you have left can be classified into two categories:
a) Stuff You Need, and
b) Sentimental Burden.
Learn to let go of he latter. When discarding the various errata of our material life we tend to discard the stuff we rarely use, but keep the stuff we inherit, regardless of however we use it. We all end up with anchors of material possession that keep us rooted in place. Overcoming this burden is the hardest part for many people living off the grid.
Keep it legal
In other words… Don’t burn documents when they can be shredded. Don’t engage anyone who offers their services too cheaply in this sort of thing, be it through social circles, research, or even off the web. Don’t engage any mafia types either. People with guns tend to rely on them when it’s time for problem solving.
You’re going to do it all yourself. Getting off the grid means getting clean. You leave blood on your trail they’ll come at you harder. Same with witnesses, co-conspirators, confidants, friends, colleagues, employees. No one can know.
And stay out of the limelight, the spotlight, whatever.
Maintain a routine
That first week, when I realised the scope of what had happened, the power of the program I had created, I concluded two things:
a) I’d made more money then my parents had ever seen.
b) There were a bunch of very powerful people who were also very ticked off with me.
I panicked, went into lockdown. I stayed in bed three days. I drank a lot. Cervezas and rum chasers. There may have been some substance abuse in there as well, there is a bunch of stuff over that 72 hours I still don’t remember.
I kept the curtains closed and the lights dimmed. In my defense I was looking directly into the void. When the police knocked on my door there were pizza boxes in the sink and blankets on the floor. I opened the door to a bright midday sun and a young female officer with a shiny badge.
“I’m officer Sally Rasheed, this is my partner Desmond Tully,” she turned aside and a burly cop with short brown hair filled the view. His eyes were pitiless.
“Yeah?” I said again.
Officer Rasheed seemed far more compassionate. She reached forward with one thin arm and said: “Mr Sinclair. We’re here about the screaming.”
I got away with that one. Told them I’d come down with food poisoning. I learnt the lesson so you don’t have to. Keep to your regular routine, don’t give any hints. The first indication that you’ve disappeared should come after you’ve already pulled the plug. Keep that in mind.
The Devil is in the details
Keep an eye on the small stuff, it’ll save your neck one day. And don’t deal exclusively in facts. Human intuition is a wonderful tool, hell it helped me program Alphabot and I think it’s probably what keeps it from finding me again. I’m not ashamed to admit I’ve had my cards read. I’m a sucker for astrology and I’ve dabbled in the I-ching. I also like numbers, mysticism and the occult.
Why am I telling you this? Whether you trust what I have to say or not largely depends on what you already believe. I admit there are days when I wake up, hop on my bike, and ride past the endless warehouses and industrial superstructures that make up my neighbourhood and wonder whether this is all a dream, whether it all really happened.
I guess we’re going to find out together.