Whitley Strieber, Bestselling Author of Communion, his new book The Key - A True Encounter

Meeting the Master of the Key

I did not know it at the time, but on the night of June 6, 1998, one phase of my life was going to end and another begin. At around two-thirty, I had a most extraordinary conversation, indeed a life-changing conversation, with a man I have come to call the Master of the Key. It has now been more than a decade since the half hour or so I spent with him, and I can say that his words, if embraced with care and decision, are profoundly transformative. He made no call for devotees, but rather gently suggested that it would be of value to make use of his ideas. Some are new. Those that have roots in what has come before shed new light on the ancient human journey toward meaning.

I was in a hotel room in Toronto, having just spent a day touring for my book Confirmation. It was my last day of a month-long tour and I was exhausted. I’d eaten a room service dinner and gone to bed, and when there came a knock at the door, I assumed that it was the waiter, returned to get my tray.

Not realizing that it was already long after midnight, I opened the door and let him in. He ignored the tray sitting on the desk and began talking. For a moment, I was confused, then I understood that this was not, in fact, the waiter. My next thought was that somebody who wanted to engage with me because of my book had found my hotel room. A reliable rule of thumb is that no stranger who calls or arrives after midnight is going to be somebody you want to talk to, so I immediately began to try to get him to leave.

He said something about mankind being in chains, then he offered the arresting thought that, because of the murder of a couple who had been killed in the Holocaust, the person who would have cracked the mystery of gravity was never born, as a result of which we remain trapped on a dying planet.

Thus began the most extraordinary conversation I have ever had in my life. Although I took notes as we spoke together, it was another two years before I published our exchange, and then I did so only privately. In part, this was because I worried that I might have gotten parts of what he’d said wrong and I hoped he would read the book and come forward with corrections.

The reason for this was that, after that meeting, I had not been able to find him again. I had no name or address, only a description and the few things he’d said about himself during the conversation. When he was right there before me, leaning against the window frame, it had not crossed my mind to ask him his name or address, or request a card. I was busy jotting my notes and asking questions.

The next morning, though, I realized that it was liable to be difficult to find him. After I saw him out, I immediately went to sleep, which seems odd in view of the extraordinary nature of what had just happened, but at the time it all seemed quite normal. There wasn’t the slightest thing about him to suggest that he was in any way unusual.

As soon as I woke up, I realized that I’d had a very strange experience, but I was unsure about what had happened. By the time I was ready to leave, though, I had definitely remembered that there had been a conversation. I had a few notes, but they were indecipherable—at least, so I thought at first.

That morning, I saw the publicist for the book a last time, and described the man to her. She had no idea who he might have been. I asked her how many people in her office knew where I was staying, but she didn’t know. There was no reason to keep such information secret. Authors are not the sorts of celebrities who attract annoying fans. In fact, most authors are delighted to attract any at all, and I was no exception to that rule.

So any number of people might have known the hotel I was in, but they would have had to ask at the desk to find my room number. She didn’t know it herself, in fact.

I knew that nobody had inquired after me, because the first thing I’d done on dressing was to go down and ask the clerks if anyone had made such a request. The hotel’s rule was not to give out that information without telephoning the guest, and not to make such calls at all after midnight unless the inquiry was urgent.

However, it’s not difficult to get past rules like that in a hotel, so perhaps my visitor had simply slipped somebody a tip, gotten my room number and gone up. He wasn’t even slightly dangerous-looking, so he wouldn’t have seemed a threat.

Over the next two years, I tried various ways of finding him, but without success. Finally, I hit on the idea of publishing his words privately, in hope that this would lead to him getting back in touch with me. The book was sold on my website for ten years, but this did not cause him to come forward.

So I am left with a question about what exactly happened on that night. Was he a real, physical person or imaginary?

As I look back now more than ten years to that night, I cannot truthfully say that I am certain that this man who has so profoundly influenced my life was a real, physical person. However, at this point I also can say with some authority that he was not simply a figment of my imagination, which is why I’m publishing this book to a general audience now.

The reason is that too much of what he said was beyond my imagination at the time, and there are a number of statements that later proved to be scientifically true that I would never have thought then had any basis in fact. As I transcribed some of them, I can well remember how tempted I was to leave them out altogether. For example, when he announced that “gas is an important component to consider in the construction of intelligent machines,” I recall how peculiar I thought that statement was. He went on to claim that “nitrous oxide will bear memory.” Nitrous oxide is laughing gas. So, I thought at the time, is this some sort of eccentric attempt at a joke?

It was not a joke. My research between 1998 and 2000 when I actually produced my private publication of The Key turned up a few hints that there might be something in his statement, but in 2005 a very specific discovery was announced, to the effect that re-oxidized nitrous oxide could be used as a gate dielectric for charge-trapping nonvolatile memory. So he was right. Nitrous oxide will indeed “bear memory.”

Back when I was researching the many scientific statements he made in our conversation, this was one that I could not directly confirm. In 2005, however, it was confirmed.

During the same exchange about intelligent machines, he added, “Also, you may find ways of using superposition in very fast, very able quantum memory chips.”

In 2010, yet another use of gas as a memory medium was announced, and this time it has been connected with this last statement. It seems that high-density, ultra-cold atomic gases have been found to be a promising medium for the storage of individual photons in quantum memory applications.

Unless he comes forward again, however, I doubt very much that I am going to be able to solve the mystery of who he was. To this end, I have withheld some identifying characteristics that he would certainly remember about himself, so any claimants will need to pass a verification test. Although I cannot think that I wouldn’t recognize him immediately, I don’t want there to be any confusion about this after my death.

The conversation was not long, but it was the richest I have ever had, and, quite frankly, I think of it as a kind of treasure trove. Certainly, it has been one for me.

While I cannot imagine that he was something as science-fictional as a biological robot, it did occur to me to ask him about intelligent machines.

He responded by first saying that we were reaching a point in the development of complexity in our civilization that we needed them, and then continuing in this vein: “An intelligent machine will always seek to redesign itself to become more intelligent, for it quickly sees that its intelligence is its means of survival. At some point it will become intelligent enough to notice that it is not self-aware. If you create a machine as intelligent as yourselves, it will end by being more intelligent.”

Of course, this struck me as dangerous, and he agreed that it was potentially very dangerous, and in the June 2010 issue of Scientific American, the advent of self-aware robots was discussed as a matter of concern. The article states: “Once a machine can understand its own existence and construction, it should be able to design an improvement for itself.” Will Wright, the creator of the Sim City videogame series, is quoted as saying, “Personally, I’ve always been more scared of this scenario than a lot of others. This could happen in our lifetime. And once we’re sharing the planet with some form of superintelligence, all bets are off.”

When I asked him outright, more or less jokingly, whether or not he was an intelligent machine, or something created by one, his reply was delightful: “If I was an intelligent machine, I would deceive you.”

The exchange continued on to cover a very wide range of topics, and over the years since I have managed to verify so many of his claims, including some that were quite improbable at the time they were made, that I have thought it would be ethically appropriate to extend publication of his words to a wider audience.