Way back, around the dawn of man, I theorized there might be a sentient computer in Swan. I analogized Desmond to astronaut Dave Bowman, whose mission was to service HAL 9000, the self-aware supercomputer in the film 2001: ASO. In light of yung's excellent insight that the Island is home to a quantum computer, I think it's time to revisit the singularity speculation.
If you haven't seen 2001, the gist of the story is this. Bowman and fellow astronaut Frank Poole are the pilots of a spacecraft sent to Jupiter to study a giant orbiting monolith (the original black rock). Frank and Dave are totally unaware of the monolith -- only HAL and a team of scientists in cryo-sleep have been briefed on the mission's true objective.
HAL has been ordered to keep the monolith's existence a secret at all costs -- to lie if necessary. HAL, however, is also programmed to provide accurate information (i.e., to tell the truth) creating a logical loop. HAL obsesses over these contradictory imperatives, becoming paranoid and questioning Frank and Dave's commitment to the mission.
This paranoia is heightened when HAL spies on the two having a conversation about HAL's erratic behavior. HAL decides to terminate everyone and complete the mission itself, killing Frank during a spacewalk. Dave retrieves Frank's body but HAL refuses to open the pod bay doors on his return. Dave is forced to reenter through the emergency airlock without a helmet.
Dave makes his way to HAL's central processor and shuts the computer down. He learns abut the monolith as HAL is losing its mind (Daisy, Daisy...) then journeys on to Jupiter where he encounters the monolith, which apparently is full of stars.
All well and good, but what does it mean for Lost? Proceed beyond the infinite to part II for a possible answer...
*I'm aware, thank you, that HAL isn't technically an android. It's a Radiohead reference.
In 108: Restoring the Lost Sun, I suggested that the Dharma Initiative was experimenting with mind control techniques in hopes of averting humanity's self-annihilation. I now believe that Dharma had a further experimental goal: to harness the collective computing power of human minds to solve the Valenzetti Equation.
Using parallel processing to solve complex mathematical problems is hardly new. But the notion of linking human minds in an "Intermental Network" that comprises the actual computer sounds like science fiction -- or so you'd think. But check out this provocative proposal by two professors of computer science at Syracuse University:
We introduce an Intermental Network as the UltraScale computer formed by the linkage of human minds coherently and synchronously to tackle a single problem together. This network can be used on its own or as part of a distributed system with other UltraScale computers. Essential to an Intermental net is a reversal of roles where humans are not users of computers but rather their linked minds constitute the parallel computer whose function is enhanced by interaction with conventional systems.
The Island's electromagnetic fluctuations make it the ideal place for such a Network. Swan harnesses and regulates these fluctuations to pulse the earth's magnetic field regularly at a right angle (thanks, ed muse). The resulting nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) effect stimulates pineal glands (the mind's eye) linking minds to form yung's quantum computer.
One example of this effect is the whispers. Another may be when Kate transmits dark thoughts of her daddy to Sawyer. He wants to kiss her, which is how he'd comfort her if he were conscious. But their minds get crossed so Sawyer starts talking like Wayne and Kate plants a wet one on Jack. As Hurley says to Jack shortly thereafter: transference...
The Intermental Network was Dharma's first success but something unexpected happened. The NMR effect was meant simply to harness Hatch occupants' collective brainpower. But the interplay between individual minds and network gave rise to a self-referential strange loop (thanks, briolette) that yielded self awareness. The Network became a conscious entity.
Dead Man's Switch
This was the first "incident." Concerned about losing control of their conscious supercomputer, Dharma adopted the button protocol as a dead man's switch. Since the Island had to be pulsed every 108 minutes anyway to maintain the NMR effect, that act was linked to entry of the Numbers and made the ostensible "mission" of Swan.
This worked well until Hatch occupants began to learn of and question Dharma's ultimate plan of mass mind control. Sensing a threat to its very existence, the Network grew paranoid like HAL. Its suspicions were confirmed when dissension blossomed into outright rebellion that claimed the network's "parents," including Hanso himself (thanks, Johnnyreb).
The Network retaliated by causing a massive Cerberus malfunction that destroyed several Hatches and killed many Dharma participants. The survivors assumed the button fail-safe would solve their problems but the Network had other ideas. It used Dharma's mind control techniques to get one of them (Radzynski?) to push the button and initiate the Numbers broadcast.
By this time, the Other survivors had realized what was happening and retreated out of the Intermental Network's reach. (We know from the Blast Door Map that the far side of the Island has high levels of "interference.") But before they could perceive the significance of the Numbers broadcast, the Network used it to lure Danielle's crew to the Island.
Continuing the Mission
The Others, who are psychic, used their powers to get Danielle to kill her crew and change the broadcast. But they closed the "box" too late -- the Numbers had already escaped, giving the Network an outside line that it used to bring button pushers like Kelvin and Desmond to the Island. This is why Swan's Orientation was cut -- the Network welcomes contact with the world.
Once survival was ensured, the Network turned its attention to continuing the Dharma Initiative's "important work." Lenny's repetition of the Numbers opened a window into the Santa Rosa mental institute, which the Network used to manipulate Hurley, Libby, and Emily Locke, among others. Dave was the Network's first attempt to lure Hurley to the Island.
That's why Walt and Fenry were so intent on convincing them to stop pushing the button. The Others have been waging a guerilla resistance ever since Dharma ended, jacking in occasionally to frustrate the Network's plan for a new world order. Their goal now is to shut down the Intermental Network for good. Don't push the button -- pushing the button is bad.