Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Lab #2 : Sudarshan

[This story has been in draft state for more than 2 weeks - first on my computer, then on blogger. Sick and tired of even thinking about it. I know exactly how JR felt before posting his entry now! :). Therefore, guys, forgive cheapness in style. The Asimov-ish punchline, though, is fully intentional, and targeted squarely at George for his lab idea.]

The cheapskates always tried to cram the chip with all sorts of business information – strangely enough, they were the ones with the most money and they bought the highest-capacity chips, but they were invariably the ones who found the space insufficient. They’d think that the intricacies of running their business was something that needed to be explained down to the most mundane detail. The creative types, on the other hand, usually just wanted to pass on memories of a few of their best moments, and were quite content to edit down their memories to fit the smaller chip their limited finances could afford.
Daddy was arguably somewhere in between these two extremes. You don’t become an art dealer unless you have a head for art in the first place, and you don’t become the best-known art dealer in the solar system without possessing some business acumen. Unfortunately, his son George didn’t have the same mixture of talent, which was why I was in his life, calling him Daddy and helping out in his business, instead of still being in an orphanage.
I watched him now with a mixture of curiosity and concern. When he’d called me here to this hotel room, I’d assumed it was because he was on Io for a short time and wanted to check up on the business on this branch. I was meeting him in the flesh after nearly a year, and I’d been shocked by the fine wrinkles that had appeared around his eyes. They didn’t show up in the vidphone image. Daddy noticed the expression on my face and curtly dropped his bombshell.
“The Plastic-drug course didn’t slow down the tumour as much as expected. It’s a matter of a few weeks more – then the tumour will start affecting my brain tissues.
“It might take several years for the change in brain physiology to be apparent in my behaviour. But by then my memories will be unreliable – Doctor Rao says that the main problem will be mingling of dream and experience – I might end up passing on my weird dreams to you instead of the useful stuff.”
“But Daddy – you’ve heard of those new implants coming on the market – they’re supposed to detect fallacious memories and warn you before writing them onto the chip...”
But he was shaking his head. “I can’t take that risk. I don’t know what my memories will be like by then. If I myself cannot distinguish between real and dream, what good will the implant be? No, I must backup my memories now. If the medicines keep the tumour at bay, I’ll take the backup...again.” And he shuddered.
The process of taking ‘backup’ of living memories was a long and painful one. The patient virtually went through every single scene of his life, every bit of learned or intuited knowledge, with an option of selecting the important memes to be recorded on command. Many people found parts of their lives too frightening to relive, and stopped the process midway. Such incomplete chips, of course, were useless, because implanting them into the recipient’s brain could cause disorientation and eventual madness.
I looked up to see Daddy walking into the next room. “I’m calling Doctor Rao up here so he can check you out too.” There came the sounds of him speaking the Reception’s ID into the vidphone, and asking for room 622, presumably where
Doctor Rao was lodged. After he completed his discussion, he came back in.
“Listen, Sudarshan.” He said. “I’ve decided on the Pivot Fact for the memories.”
It was always difficult, once the recipient had been implanted with the chip, to distinguish between the recipient’s own memories and the implanted ones. In fact, when the implanted memories might themselves be composed of third- and fourth-hand ones, it got really complicated. Thus it became important for the recipient to use some small fact, feeling, image, as a point of reference, as the Pivot Fact. The implanted memories felt different; they came from a different physiology and the feeling of them was subtly different. Once a Pivot Fact was decided on, the feel of that fact was useful to identify the other implants. It was helpful for the donor to mentally mark that bit as conspicuously as he could while preparing the chip.
“Shouldn’t we be waiting for George? After all, he needs to use the same facts too.” I said.
Daddy shook his head. “I’ll talk to him separately. Now let me complete.
“You remember, when you were in college, you were top of the class in Classical Poetry Studies? But even so, there was one poem you were never able to understand. I explained it to you God knows how many ways, but it never made sense to you.”
I nodded. “It was Focus, by some weird American poet...can’t even remember her name.”
Daddy said, “Yes. And my understanding, my feel for that poem will be my Pivot. All right?”
I thought this was odd. “But George was able to understand that poem; he claimed to love it. This won’t help him at all!”
There was a knock on the door. Doctor Rao, most likely. I stood up to open it, Daddy reached out a hand and sat me down.
“I’m not giving George this chip. It’s for you alone.”
“But... but...” I hunted for words to describe it. “ You shouldn’t do that! He’s your... heir!”
His eyes crinkled as he smiled wickedly. “Was my heir. I’m cutting him out. It was long overdue.”

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