Monday, May 26, 2014

Update: "Seeds of Memory"

For thhe past few months I have been working on my next book, "Seeds of Memory." I am in the final stages of editing and will publish the book on July 1st.

Here are the first few pages of the upcoming book.

Dr. Jacqueline Estrada was excited. Not the excited you get when you're young and Christmas is just around the corner. Or your birthday. Or the prom/big game. Or whatever. Dr. Estrada's excitement was a grown excitement. A mature thrill of long-delayed expectation. The kind you feel when you're about to walk across stage to receive your college degree. Or down the aisle to marry your beloved. But Dr. Estrada's excitement was fuller even than those. She had worked so terribly long and so terribly hard to get to where she was today. To where she is, "just about to be," she corrected herself mentally. "Just about to be, not quite yet, just about to be."

Her demonstration was a simple one. As all good examples of scientific breakthroughs are. "Have been." Archimedes jumping out of his bathtub. Galileo dropping his iron spheres from the tower. The apple falling on Newton's head. Einstein's dream of traveling on light beams. "The apple story is probably proverbial but it's a good one nonetheless." Dr. Estrada, thirty-two, daughter of immigrants, single, shy, naïve in that overly book-learned way that academics have and just about to change the world. "Just about."

She wore her starched, white lab coat like a shield. It fended off both self-doubt and unwanted suitors with its utilitarian formlessness. Donning the coat every morning was her private ritual. When the coat was on she was all business, details, serious. She surveyed the visiting dignitaries aligned in a Spartan row behind the observation glass. "There's no need for such dramatic precautions, "she thought. But the security team said otherwise.

Military security for a military project. That's the one element she'd change. The one element that didn't mesh with her vision of how this day would play out. In her mind, she'd stand before an expectant crowd in the hallowed halls of a venerated institute of higher learning to unveil her invention. But her funding applications had fallen on deaf ears. Whispers of bigotry behind the grant rejections hardened her already granite drive. "If not a university then a private donor. Or NASA."

Two and a half years later, two and half years of begging for monies to complete her project, she ended up in Albuquerque, NM. Kirtland Air Force Base, to be exact. Kissing cousin to Los Alamos Labs a bit farther north in the cloud shrouded mountains. Shades of the Manhattan Project hung like unwanted yet instructive didacts as she drove back and forth between the two laboratories on a weekly basis. Ghostly tales that rose up from the not-yet-completed landscape of the high desert. Watching the sunset's broken-sharded beams turn the sky into a hyper-real, three-dimensional kaleidoscope of aquamarine, pale pink, stirring blue and dusky rose, Dr. Estrada thought not for the first time or the last, "It's like god was called away when he was making this part of the world and he hasn't come back yet to finish what he started. Or, perhaps, he left it for us to finish."

She pulled the sharp, narrow lapels of her lab coat, brushed a wayward strand of hair back in place behind her ear and signaled her assistant to turn on the microphone so the gallery could hear her. She pointed behind her to a gleaming, stainless steel table atop which sat two objects. At one end was the slightly more rectangular than a true cube, obsidian super-processor. At the opposing end was the artificial astrocyte and neuron conglomerate suspended in thick, clear gel as it wrapped around the rods and beams of an inert scaffolding. The grayish pink of the "artificial brain" turned the intersections of the scaffolding into fuzzy squares. The rectilinear shape of the super-processor was mimicked by the blocky checks floating inside the gel. "It looks not a little like a moldy Rubik's cube," Estrada mused.

She focused on the faces behind the glass and said tersely trying to control her excitement, "On one end is the most advanced computer the world has ever seen. On the other end is the first of its kind artificial brain." She tsked softly as she thought, "'Artificial brain' is not accurate but it's a good label for those who aren't familiar with the neuroscience involved. 'Freeform neuron embedded, sensory integrated processing system' is a mouthful after all. More accurate but a mouthful."

She glanced at the floor and clasped her hands behind her back as she stepped deliberately closer to the glass separating her from the gallery. Chestfuls of tiny medals and little ribbons stared back at her. Expensive suits and military uniforms all cut from the same dower gray. Splashes of color from power ties and their female counterpart scarves declared, "Convince us." She looked up at the concrete slab of a ceiling and, also, at the source of her inspiration. Her ideas always felt like they came down to her from some, unknown and unknowable source high above.

She began, "Not to bore you with details, the past few decades of research into artificial intelligence has pursued one of two paths." She pointed back to the ends of the table in turn. She liked pointing. She felt commanding when she pointed and the eyes of the gallery followed. "Develop a means for consciousness to arise from silicon chips. Or develop a human brain that is as powerful as our supercomputers." She spun on her fancy heels, the ones she saw in the window in Santa Fe months ago and had been saving for this very occasion. "Both paths have met with - at best - limited results. It was my insight," she paused to let that sink in, "to combine the two approaches in order to develop a system, an organism that embodied the best aspects of both. What you see before you is the first stage, shall we say, perhaps the first rung on the next evolutionary ladder."

A murmur of disbelief shimmied out from behind the glass. She had expected that. She had wanted that. "Yes, I know. A bold statement. But a supported one as I am about to demonstrate. In order to understand, truly understand the significance of this development you must remember that down at the foundational level of reality, past atoms and sub-atomic particles, past the whole of the particle zoo as some of my colleagues like to call the quantum world, reality is built on information. Bits, microbits, nanobits and bits and bits and bits of information." 

Estrada allowed herself a knowing chuckle at her own joke. "It's even funnier if you know information theory," she thought then refocused on the gallery. "The universe is more akin to a great thought than the result of a massive explosion. An infinite web of information ties everything - via quantum entanglement and superposition - together. And I do mean everything. It is my assertion that if we can build a 'brain,' for lack of a better word, that can process even the slightest bit of the infinite information web in a direct and tangible manner then we can unlock the secrets of the universe. They, I firmly believe, won't even be secrets anymore. What up to now has been shrouded in mystery to even the brightest minds of our species will under the combined processing power of my Blended Intelligence read like an open book. A book of the universe. A book we can flip through to find out anything we want to find out. Any question we can conceive, the blended intelligence will be able to answer."

Dr. Estrada quick-stepped back to the table and its components. Her excitement was starting to get the better of her. "Time to stop talking and give 'em a show." She sat at a small console set to the side in order to give the members of the gallery a full view of the demonstration. She checked the readings trailing across her monitor. All were nominal. Just as it had been the hundred other times she ran this experiment. She primed the energy input for the system, held her hand up to the gallery then brought it down as she tapped the "combine" button on the screen. In moments the separate intelligences would merge into one coherent operating system. A new, blended intelligence unlike any other before in history.

As she brought her hand down, giant sparks erupted from the gel surrounding the artificial brain. Estrada was knocked to the ground. The stainless steel table began to glow red-hot. All Estrada could think as she clambered up from the ground was, "What has gone wrong? This has never happened before." Before she could approach the table, strong hands hooked under her armpits and dragged her out of the room as she fought against them. Her last slice of vision as the heavy, lead-lined door shut behind her showed the component table starting to melt under its own weight, as it grew hotter and hotter still. A lone question danced through her mind before she was hustled into the protective bunker at the end of the hall, "Where had all that excess energy come from?"

Monday, May 19, 2014


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Cameron McVey