There is a lot to write about the Shaastra gone  by (for those uninitiated,  it is the technical festival of my university,IIT Madras and one of a kind in India), but only if the typical CSE assignment drills would stop …. 🙁 But there is Science Fiction to talk about, where I got the first prize in rather queer circumstances. It isn’t usual for a contestant to come to know of a writing contest midway through it, to run to the venue midway and somehow jot down stuff while supposedly overseeing builds. Well, I had fun 🙂

Thanks to a classmate,I have my story ready to be put up here. So here I go to log my story below before I lose it like I did last year. I am satisfied that I could point somewhat to how life is getting technologically interesting but alarmingly mechanical with time. To the rest, well, comment on it and I shall know.

Credits :

1. Amrita – The co-ordinator who took the pains to ask me to write, when I was totally clueless about the event, maybe just because my story placed second last year.

2. Arun Chaganty – For being stubborn on typing out the story and “proving his vettiness.”  (Someday, I shall understand how his personal scheduing algorithms manage to bring out fantastic results while being so pointless on the face of it.)

3. SuperVol Subhashini and my co-coordinator Vijay, who took care of the lab setup for the two hours that I was furiously scribbling away.

The Story:

It was built by the human race for human research and supposedly comprised of humans. Yet, there was nothing ‘human’ about this place. Eureka, one of the most awe-inspiring technological breakthroughs of it’s times was a bundle of paradoxes, in more ways than one. This giant space-ship laboratory was the cradle of numerous astounding discoveries in space-time relativity. But the discoverers themselves had no clue of space and time themselves as they worked away to glory round the clock in a setup that floated across the cosmos at gigantic speeds.

Inside one of the special research chambers of Eureka, it was yet another day for Zora. Well, it was ‘just another day’ for this beautiful and composed lady, even as each day witnessed her coming up with some milestone invention in human-embeddable chips. “If only we could embed the infinite computational resources that we make use of every moment, integrating it with our brains and empowering it…”, she would always say, “there would be no limits to what we could achieve.” Her ideas and work made her among the most respected and looked up to scientist in Eureka, and that was enough to keep her fuelled and working non-stop. The fact that her loved ones thought she was out there making machines of men, having already turned herself into one in the process didn’t make much of a difference to her.

“Finally some progress…” she said to herself as the logic simulator reported success for her latest design. Wistfully thinking about what possibilities awaited this new design, she almost dozed off on her desk. A shrill sound and a jolt woke her up. Her communicator screen flashed violently. Sleepily she connected to the screen. “Morning sweetheart”, a familiar voice brought a smile on her face. When was the last time time she had heard this voice? She didn’t have to think too much. Her father was on the screen physically 300 million miles across was quick in reprimanding her. “Six months and no news of you. You care more for your machines because they aren’t as dumb as us, don’t you?” “That’s not true father”, she cringed. Two lines into the conversation and Zora was reminded of the work she had, before a meeting later in the day. She had to get back to it, there was no time to talk, but she had no heart to tell her dad the same. A glance at the cupboard and she knew the answer. “Julien is a genius”, she thought to herself as she reached out to the expression simulator her fellow-scientist had built for a hobby project. Video conferences were good – only that they required you to be facing the other person all the while. If you had to speak to someone you couldn’t avoid, you had no other go but to let go of work and talk facing the other person. Julien, the artificial intelligence genius of eureka, had solved this issue on a free weekend. He build an expression simulator which took as inputs a large number of pictures of the user’s face at various angles and bits of conversations from the same user. Then it learnt how the user’s gestures and facial expression  changed as he/she conversed and simulated the same. After a few training sessions, the user could just go on working at a distant place talking on a conference as the simulator gave the other persona a fake impression of him being present and all attentive.

Zora ticked away on her computer, rehearsing her presentation mundanely as her virtual counterpart animatedly conversed with her father. 300 million miles away, a father’s heart cried in agony as he silently cursed technology for taking  his daughter away from him. Zora had been using the simulator for many of the recent conversations with people back home and though Julien’s code was brilliantly perfected, it was easy for a parent to make out his child’s face from a virtual rendering. He had been trying to look into his daughters’ eyes longing for some affection being reflected in them. All he found was a sequence of repeating facial gestures.

Zora’s father finally decided that there was no point in continuing further. He passed on a virtual kiss to her as he abruptly terminated the connection, much to her relief and surprise.  “We love our families but then, most human interactions are so redundant…” Zora recalled a discussion with Julien as she hurried away to the chamber entrance.

“Hey, what’s up ?” a familiar face peeked in. This man possibly has telepathic powers, Zora though as she welcomed Julien. “Nothing, just packing your pet project after some good use”. Zora pointed to the simulator. He seemed very different today. His was face the kind most women of his time would dismiss off as that of “yet another geek”. Zora wasn’t among them. To her, the face radiated an unsatisfiable thirst of learning, the eyes reflected a hunger for new invention and this enchanted her to no end.

They exchanged a couple of quick notes on something they were working on together. Julien left in a hurry that was unprecedented. Zora returned to her desk, but her thoughts cluttered her brain as fork-bombs that cause computer systems to hang. She finally decided to give up on work, and meet the person whose memories were disrupting her brain as they often did.

Walking up to Julien’s office, she wondered what he was up to. A figure that seemed well-prepared to be heading for a space-craft astounded her.  “You never told me about this?” she questioned Julien. “I was came to meet you regarding this, but had no heart to say goodbye”, Zora nearly fainted. The next minutes witnessed Julien giving her a lightning-speed description of their latest discovery of alien life in a far-away galactic cluster and how he was headed there for an indefinite period of time because bringing the species here was likely to kill them on the way. They had found life, but of a very delicate kind. Zora’s next thought was something Julien knew immediately. “If you are wondering why I am bothered with this extra-terrestrial life stuff being an artificial intelligence guy, it’s because these creatures have an intelligence system far different from anything we could ever imagine. If we can dissect it and figure out how it works, I am sure it will aid the development of AI like nothing ever has.” She shuddered as she though of him being thousands of light years away for God only knew how long. “We can always talk” he said, sensing her thoughts like he always did. “No, I can always talk to your simulator.” she muttered to herself as she felt insanely guilty of what she had done a few minutes earlier.

After Julien left she could no longer bear her head overflowing with various thoughts and aching like never before. She suddenly realised how indifferent she had been to her family back home, not event bothering to talk to them properly. She had always dreamt of stuff that turned humans to machines and yet as Julien today was about the move on the same path, she felt sorry for the species that was likely to be sacrificed for this purpose. Cries of despair followed and resounded across her office….

In a totally different space-time setup, Diana woke up with a start. Her cries awakened Norman at the workstation nearby. Diana apologised for disturbing him. “Thank god you woke me up” Norman said, his expressions till reflecting his shock. “I had a horrible dream”. Their shock only magnified as they spoke to each other about their dreams, and found out that they had been having the same nightmare. “This can’t and won’t be true”, Norman got up to hug and console his colleague as he still gained poise himself.  “I doubt that for I am still experiencing it”, Diana said as she looked over at Julien, who had an eerie resemblance to Norman, while still in Norman’s embrace.

“You weren’t dreaming” Zora had also appeared by then. “We are you from an alternate world, and this was our way of warning you about what your choices could lead to. We made the choices you are toying around with now, and were successful at all that you now dream of. But we lost everything in the process – from life to family and finally each other and ourselves.. and the resulting void made us decide that we need to speak to you” Zora took a deep breath.

Still stupefied, Norman ad Diana looked over at their pet project on the desk as Zora and Julien vanished. They looked at each other, both engulfed in a storm of disturbing thoughts…