The Girl in the Spider's Web
The Girl in the Spider's Web

The Girl in the Spider's Web

Balder and she had known each other since they read computer sciences at Imperial College in London and now Farah Sharif was one of the few people at his level in Sweden, or at least one of the few who was by and large able to follow his thinking. It was an incredible relief for him to meet someone who could understand. (Location 172)

When Monday morning came and with it yet more foul weather he had ploughed through one and a half George novels plus three old copies of the New Yorker which had been cluttering up his bedside table. (Location 258)

Ed had an irrepressible thirst for knowledge, an energy which meant that he could devour a book with the same vigour with which he could trash the inside of a public bus. Often he was reluctant to go home at the end of the school day. He liked to stay on in what was known as the technology room, where there were a couple of computers. He would sit there for hours. A physics teacher with the Swedish-sounding name of Larson noticed how good he was with machines, and after social services got involved he was awarded a scholarship and transferred to a school with more motivated students. He began to excel at his studies and was given more scholarships and distinctions and eventually – something of a miracle in view of the odds against him – he went on to study Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at M.I.T. In his doctoral thesis he explored some specific fears around new asymmetric cryptosystems like R.S.A., and he then went on to senior positions at Microsoft and Cisco before being recruited by the National Security Agency at Fort Meade in Maryland. He did not have the ideal C.V. for the job, even leaving aside his criminal behaviour as a teenager. He had smoked a lot of grass at college and flirted with socialist or even anarchist ideals, and had been arrested twice for assault – nothing major, just bar fights. He still had a volcanic temper and everyone who knew him thought better of crossing him. (Location 415)

Needham was not just amazingly gifted. There was an obsessive streak to his character, a manic precision and a furious efficiency which boded well for a man in charge of building I.T. security at America’s most highly classified agency. Nobody was damn well going to crack his system. It was a matter of personal pride for him. At Fort Meade he quickly made himself indispensable, to the point where people were constantly lining up to consult him. Not a few were terrified of him and he was often verbally abusive. He had even told the head of the N.S.A. himself, the legendary Admiral Charles O’Connor, to go to hell. “Use your own busy fucking head for things you might just be able to comprehend,” Needham had roared when the admiral attempted to comment on his work. (Location 428)

Because of his seniority he completely ignored dress codes. He was wearing jeans and a red-checked lumberjack shirt, not quite buttoned at the waist, and he sighed as he settled down at his computer. (Location 447)

Casales smoked cigarillos and had a dark and sensuous voice well-suited to her punchy one-liners and frequent sexual allusions. (Location 539)

He became a professor of computer sciences at just twenty-seven and for two decades he’s been a leading authority on research in artificial intelligence. There’s hardly anyone who’s as far advanced in the development of quantum computing and neural networks. He has an amazingly cool, back-to-front brain. Thinks along completely unorthodox, ground-breaking lines, and as you can probably imagine the computer industry’s been chasing him for years. But for a long time Balder refused to let himself be recruited. He wanted to work alone. Well, not altogether alone – he’s always had assistants whom he’s driven into the ground. He wants results, and he’s always saying: ‘Nothing is impossible. Our job is to push back the frontiers, blah blah blah.’ But people listen to him. They’ll do anything for him. They’ll just about die for him. To us nerds he is God Almighty.” (Location 580)

Balder is not too keen on people who wear ties and work from nine to five. He prefers obsessive idiots who are glued to their computers all night long, (Location 602)

He had always preached openness and enthused about the Wisdom of Crowds, all that stuff: the importance of using the knowledge of many, the whole Linux way of thinking. (Location 619)

Neither of them attached much importance to status; all they cared about was ability. (Location 645)

When I got back she was lying there on my bed, smoking, how sick is that? And reading a book about string theory or something, and maybe I gave her some sort of dodgy look, what do I know. She just said that she wasn’t planning on having sex with me, not even a little. ‘Not even a little,’ she said, and I don’t think she looked me in the eye even once. (Location 703)

Frans sees Apple as more or less in the pocket of the N.S.A. To talk to him you’ll have to buy a Blackphone or at least borrow an Android and download a special encryption program. But I’ll see to it that he gets in touch with you, so you can arrange to meet in some secure place.” “Great, Linus. Thanks.” (Location 721)

“They’re not just hackers. They also blackmail and bribe people. Possibly they even carry out old-fashioned crimes, like murder. I don’t have much on them yet, to be honest, mostly codenames and unconfirmed links, and then a couple of real names, some young computer engineers in junior positions. (Location 734)

“They’re Grant’s recipe for creativity. By tolerance he means that you need to be open to unconventional ideas and unconventional people. Talent – it doesn’t just achieve results, it attracts other gifted people and helps create an environment that people want to be in. And all these talents have to form a team. As I’m sure you know, Solifon’s been a remarkable success story, producing pioneering technology in a whole series of fields. But then this new genius popped up, a Swede, and with him …” (Location 759)

He was reported as being able to speak backwards and create his own long palindromes. In an early school essay which was later published on the net he took a critical view of H.G. Wells’ novel The War of the Worlds on the grounds that he could not understand how beings superior to us in every way could fail to grasp something so basic as the differences between the bacterial flora on Mars and on Earth. After graduating from secondary school he studied computer sciences at Imperial College in London and defended his thesis on algorithms in neural networks, which was considered revolutionary. He became the youngest ever professor at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and was elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences. These days he was regarded as a world authority on the hypothetical concept of “technological singularity”, the state at which computer intelligence will have overtaken our own. (Location 897)

Plague was not a man who normally showered or changed his clothes much. He spent his whole life in front of the computer, even when he was not working: a giant of a man and overweight, bloated and unkempt, with an attempt at an imperial beard that had long since turned into a shapeless thicket. His posture was dreadful and he had a habit of groaning when he moved. But the man had other talents. He was a wizard on the computer, a hacker who flew unconstrained through cyberspace and was probably second only to one person in the field, a woman in this particular case. The mere sight of his fingers dancing across the keyboard was a joy to behold. He was as light and nimble on the net as he was heavy and clumsy in the other, more material world, and as a neighbour somewhere upstairs, presumably Herr Jansson, now banged on the floor, he answered the message he had received: <Wasp, you bloody genius. They ought to put up a statue to you!> (Location 924)

She disliked that sort of childish hacker nonsense. She was not someone who hacked into supercomputers merely to show off. Wasp wanted to have a clear objective, and she always damn well analyzed the potential consequences. She weighed long-term risks against whatever need was being satisfied in the short-term, and from that point of view it could not be said it made sense to hack into the N.S.A. Still, she let herself be talked into it. (Location 937)

He knew one thing for certain: what she had achieved was legendary, and while the storm howled outside he pushed aside some of the rubbish on his desk, leaned forward and typed on his computer: <Tell me! How does it feel?> <Empty>, came the answer. Empty. That was how it felt. (Location 985)

She saw more melody in a differential equation than in a piece by Beethoven. (Location 1006)

As the father of an autistic son Balder had long suspected that many parents hoped the notion of a savant would be their consolation prize to make up for a diagnosis of cognitive deficiencies. But the odds were against them. (Location 1193)

According to a common estimate, only one in ten children with autism has some kind of savant gift, and for the most part these talents, though they often entail a fantastic memory and observation of detail, are not as startling as those depicted in films. (Location 1194)

he had always been prepared to do whatever it took to become a genius in his field. Anything but the ordinary! That had been his guiding principle all his life, and yet … he was clever enough to understand that his own elitist principles were not necessarily a good pointer to the right way forward now. Maybe a few fabulous drawings were nothing as compared to being able to ask for a glass of milk, or exchange a few words with a friend, or a father. What did he know? (Location 1428)

Should she try to crack the encrypted N.S.A. file she had downloaded? No, that would be pointless, at least for now. Instead she wound a towel around her hand and took from her bookshelves a new study by Princeton physicist Julie Tammet, which described how a big star collapses into a black hole. She lay down on the sofa by the windows overlooking Slussen and Riddarfjärden. (Location 1612)

As she began to read she felt a little better. Blood from the towel did seep onto the pages and her head would not stop hurting, but she became more and more engrossed in the book, every now and then making a note in the margin. None of it was new to her. She knew better than most that a star stays alive as a result of two opposing actions, the fusion reactions at its core forcing it outwards and the gravitational pull keeping it together. She saw it as a balancing act, a tug of war from which a victor eventually emerges, once the fuel for the reactions runs out and the explosions weaken. Once gravity gains the upper hand, the celestial body shrinks like a punctured balloon and becomes smaller and smaller. In this way, a star can vanish into nothing. Salander liked black holes. She felt an affinity with them. Yet, like Julie Tammet, she was not interested in black holes per se, but rather in the process which creates them. Salander was convinced that if only she could describe that process she would be able to draw together the two irreconcilable languages of the universe, quantum physics and the theory of relativity. But it was no doubt beyond her capabilities, just like the bloody encryption, and involuntarily she began again to think about her father. (Location 1614)

For the first time in ages she had given a sign of life: <Balder’s intelligence isn’t in the least bit artificial. How’s your own these days? And what happens, Blomkvist, if we create a machine which is a little bit cleverer than we are?> (Location 1696)

she did look tired and surly, and did not appear to be paying any attention to his lecture. She just sat there slouched over a desk. Eventually, in the middle of a discussion of the moment of singularity in complex mathematical calculation, the point where the solution hits infinity, he asked her straight out what she thought of it all. That was mean. Why should he pick on her? But what had happened? The girl looked up and said that, instead of bandying fuzzy concepts about, he should become sceptical when the basis for his calculations fell apart. It was not some sort of real-world physical collapse, more a sign that his own mathematics were not up to scratch, and therefore it was sheer populism on his part to mystify singularities in black holes when it was so obvious that the main problem was the absence of a quantum mechanical method for calculating gravity. With icy clarity – which set off a buzz in the hall – she then presented a sweeping critique of the singularity theorists he had quoted, and he was incapable of coming up with any answer other than a dismayed: “Who the hell are you?” That was their first contact. The girl was to surprise him a few times more after that. With lightning speed or just one bright glance she immediately grasped what he was working on and, when he realized that his technology had been stolen, he had asked for her help. That had created a bond between them – they shared a secret. (Location 1913)

She bandaged her hand, dressed, had a breakfast of two microwaved meat piroshki and a large glass of Coca-Cola, then she stuffed some work-out clothes into a sports bag and left the apartment. (Location 2188)

She was not looking forward to working out, she just wanted to stick to her routine and drive the toxins out of her body. (Location 2192)

Note: Mathematical Stuff

Once, before he got to know her, he had suggested that she take up competitive boxing. The derisive snort he got in response stopped him from asking again, though he had never understood why she trained so hard. Not that he really needed to know – one could train hard for no reason at all. It was better than drinking hard. It was better than lots of things. (Location 2204)

What he did not understand was why, at regular intervals, Salander gave up training altogether, not exercising at all, eating nothing but junk food. (Location 2210)

Once home she drank another large glass of Coca-Cola and half a litre of juice, then she crashed onto her bed and looked at the ceiling for ten, fifteen minutes, thinking about this and that, about singularities and event horizons and certain special aspects of Schrödinger’s equation, and Ed Needham. (Location 2224)

There were coffee cups and fast-food remnants and discarded caps and college jerseys everywhere, and a rank stench of sweat and tension in the air. The team was clearly in the process of turning the whole world upside down in their efforts to trace the hacker. (Location 2373)

“You’d hire the Devil himself if he was any good in I.T.” “I can respect just about any enemy, if he knows what he’s doing. Does that make sense to you?” (Location 2400)

“What did the doctor say?” she asked. “The doctor said that what matters is not that we believe in God; God is not small-minded. What matters is for us to understand that life is serious and rich. We should appreciate it and also try to make the world a better place. Whoever finds a balance between the two is close to God.” (Location 2491)

After the divorce, Balder had his son every other weekend, and at that time he was living in an apartment in Östermalm with books from floor to ceiling. (Location 2568)

“There is an extraordinary amount of research going on in this area, and even though most scientists aren’t specifically aiming for A.G.I., competition is driving us in that direction. Nobody can afford not to create applications which are as intelligent as possible. Nobody can afford to put the brake on development. Just think of what we have achieved so far. Just think back to what you had in your mobile five years ago compared to what’s in there today.” (Location 2623)

“I mean, how do you think a computer would feel when it wakes up to find itself captured and controlled by primitive little creatures like us. Why would it put up with that?” she said. “Why on earth should it show us any consideration, still less let us dig around in its entrails in order to shut down the process? We risk being confronted by an explosion of intelligence, a technological singularity, as Verner Vinge put it. Everything that happens after that lies beyond our event horizon.” (Location 2641)

He was going on again about his young hacker genius.” “Hacker genius?” Blomkvist said, trying to sound neutral. “A girl he spoke about so much that it was doing my head in. I won’t bore you with the full story, but she’d turned up out of the blue at one of his lectures and practically lectured him on the concept of singularity. She impressed Frans, and he started to open up to her – it’s understandable. A mega-nerd like Frans can’t have found all that many people he could talk to at his own level, and when he realized that the girl was also a hacker he asked her to take a look at their computers. (Location 2680)

“At Solifon there’s a department called ‘Y’,” Farah said. “Google X is the model, the department where they work on ‘moonshots’, as they call them, wild and far-fetched ideas, like looking for eternal life or connecting search engines to brain neurons. If any place will achieve A.G.I. or A.S.I., that’s probably it. Frans was assigned to ‘Y’. But that wasn’t as smart as it may have sounded.” (Location 2709)

“I’m sitting here trying to decide what to do with you. I’m thinking in terms of suffering of biblical proportions. That’s why I’m a bit distracted.” (Location 3106)

Bogdanov was a legend at the university. Not just because he had hacked into all the lecturers’ computers and had dirt on every one of them. He was always asking people: will you bet me one hundred roubles I can’t break into that house over there? (Location 3445)

“From now on I want you to carry an Android phone with you, a Samsung or something. (Location 3700)

“Good. So go straight into Google Play and install the Redphone app and also the Threema app for text messaging. We need a secure line of communication.” (Location 3701)

You or the person who isn’t an idiot needs to go into www.pgpi.org and download an encryption program for your emails. (Location 3706)

perhaps it is the will to please that leads people to crime just as often as evil or greed. (Location 3916)

People want to fit in and do well, and so they do indescribably stupid things. (Location 3917)

“So now, on top of everything else, we have an Artificial Intelligence on the loose,” (Location 3961)

if God is indeed omnipotent, is he then capable of creating something more intelligent than himself? (Location 3963)

The riddle was considered disrespectful, he recalled, even blasphemous. It had that evasive quality which meant that, however you answered, you were wrong. (Location 3963)

“There was something about her voice. It was so cold and intense, I found myself hanging on to it, as if it were the only thing that was in control in all the mayhem.” (Location 3992)

As a child he sought refuge in his own worlds. He immersed himself in fantasy literature, read poetry and biographies, adored Sylvia Plath, Borges and Tolkien and learned everything there was to know about computers. He dreamed of writing heart-rending novels about love and human tragedy, and was an incurable romantic who hoped that great passion would heal his wounds. He was not in the least bit interested in the outside world. One evening in his late teens, however, he attended a public lecture given by Mikael Blomkvist at the Institute for Media Studies at Stockholm University. It changed his life. Blomkvist’s fervour inspired him to bear witness to a world which was bleeding with injustice, intolerance and petty corruption. He started to imagine himself writing articles critical of society instead of tear-jerking romances. Not long after that he knocked on Millennium’s door and asked if there was anything they would let him do – make coffee, proofread, run errands. Berger, who had seen the fire in his eyes right from the start, assigned him some minor editorial tasks: public notices, research and brief portraits. But most of all she told him to study, and he did so with the same energy he put into everything else. He read political science, mass-media communications, finance and international conflict resolution, and at the same time he helped out on temporary assignments at Millennium. (Location 4079)

She had been seeing the change in his journalism. That ferocious ambition to reach out and touch people, which had made his writing heavy-handed at first, had been replaced by a more effective, matter-of-fact style. (Location 4092)

Someone said you can sense Wasp’s involvement in a hacker attack the same way you can recognize Mozart in a melodic loop. Wasp has her own unmistakable style and that was the first thing one of my guys said after he’d studied the breach: this is different from anything we’ve come across; it’s got a completely new threshold of originality.” “A genius, in short.” (Location 4422)

“Of course. I’ve got a bottle of Barolo in the wine rack,” and for a second he thought something exciting might be about to happen after all, as if he were about to embark on an adventure. (Location 4542)

“We live in a sick world, Mikael.” “We do?” “A world in which paranoia is a requirement.” (Location 4641)

Lisbeth would say there was a genetic defect in her family and, even though it’s doubtful that her claim would stand up to medical scrutiny, it cannot be denied that Zala fathered some exceptional children. You came across their half-brother, Ronald Niedermann, didn’t you? He was blonde, enormous and had congenital analgesia, the inability to feel pain, so was therefore an ideal hit man and murderer, while Camilla … well, in her case the genetic abnormality was quite simply that she was astoundingly, ridiculously lovely to look at, and that just got worse as she grew older. (Location 4691)

“Normally Lisbeth isn’t someone who bothers about the weather or what’s going on beyond her immediate focus,” Palmgren said. “She blocks out everything she considers unimportant. (Location 4755)

Do you have any idea why Lisbeth is so good with computers? Do you know how it all started?” “I have no idea.” “Then I’ll tell you. I wonder if the key to your story doesn’t lie there.” (Location 4806)

She lacked stimulation. She had no friends to speak of, partly because Camilla had made sure that nobody came anywhere near her at school, but partly because she really was different. I don’t know if she realized it herself yet. Her teachers and those around her didn’t. But she was an extremely gifted child. Her talent alone set her apart. School was deadly boring for her. Everything was obvious and easy. She needed only to take a quick look at things to understand them, and during lessons she sat there daydreaming. I do believe, however, that by then she had managed to find some things in her free time which interested her – advanced maths books, that sort of thing. But basically she was bored stiff. She spent a lot of time reading her Marvel comics, which were way below her intellectual level but possibly fulfilled another, therapeutic function.” (Location 4821)

A man always wants to escape the thing he loves – hadn’t Oscar Wilde said something like that? (Location 5193)

One of Salander’s abiding characteristics was that she never did anything without first carefully analysing the potential consequences. (Location 5302)

Sometimes she put herself in danger, that was true, but there was always a balance between costs and benefits. (Location 5304)

“She found our hypocrisy, (Location 5339)

She was like a thief breaking into a house just to point out that it was already full of stolen goods, and the minute we found that out she became truly dangerous – so dangerous that some of our senior people wanted to let her off.” (Location 5340)