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Bewildering Stories

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The Seeker

by Saurbh Katyal

November, 2045; Heuristics and A.I. Dept., USA

Ganeshan felt the vibration on his mobile. He tore his eyes from the monitor impatiently and glanced at the screen. That’s strange, he thought. Why was he wanted in the administrative block? Like all focused scientists, he was wary of indulging in the administrative affairs. Still, they wouldn’t have the audacity to bother him while he was working if it wasn’t formidably urgent.

He signalled Peter to take over, as he made his exit. Though he was skeptical of leaving the monitor for an instant, he had complete faith in the competence of Peter. Peter had been assigned as an assistant to Ganeshan and had proved his mettle over the last year. Ganeshan was grateful to the administration for assigning Peter under him, and for other things as well. He rationalized that he owed them a visit if they desired. To stifle his impatience he pondered on the finer points of the administration. This was the first time they had requested his presence. They never raised any hassles over allocation of his research funds. But didn’t he deserve it? In spite of his innate modesty, he felt a glow of pride as he recalled that he was responsible for the institutions greatest invention.

His thoughts were interrupted as he realized he was outside the administrative block. He handed his smart card for identification to the guard and repeated his code. On entering the block he noticed a young man in a pompous suit coming towards him. He seemed vaguely familiar. Ganeshan furrowed his brows as he tried to recall the young man’s identity. Yes, he was the one, who was making all those adulating speeches at the dinner honor Ganeshan for his invention, last year.

The young man looked tense as he approached. Ganeshan searched his mind to extrapolate the young man’s features, and tried to remember his name. He always associated someone’s name with some physical, special trait. The most prominent feature on this kid was his long, thick nose. Something clicked. Nasal, proboscis, por.., Potter.. yes Potter. “Good Afternoon, Dr. Ganeshan.”

“Good Afternoon, Mr. Potter.”

“We are highly obliged that you could honor us with your presence at such a short notice. We appreciate your cooperation.”

Ganeshan noticed that Potter never referred to himself in the first person. “That’s okay, but if you can please expedite this matter I can get back to my research. I am very busy.”

“Yes doctor, but this is something which you would like to see. Please follow me..”

There was no mistaking the tension in Potter’s voice. What could they possibly want him for? Ganeshan read the caption Conference Hall and followed Potter. He was surprised. The room was full.

He recognized Dr Norman the Chairman. There was something strange. Why was Dr. Staines, Head of Nanobotics, here?

Norman was saying, “Dr. Ganeshan, a most important matter requires your attention. There has been a slight impediment in our...”

Then Ganeshan realized what was strange. They were all familiar: neurosurgeons, computer scientists, psychiatrists, they had all been under him when they were working on Mantech. They were all associated with Mantech in someway.

Norman was saying, “and Mantech is acting strange.”

November, 2044

Norman was saying, “This will revolutionize psycho-analysis, cause a renaissance in traditional counseling, and give coruscating insight in human emotions and their effect on brain. I now consider it my immense honor to call the genius who is the mastermind behind this creation, Dr Ganeshan.”

Ganeshan acknowledged the cheers, and proceeded with the presentation on Mantech. He started with an introduction of Mantech as a psychiatrist and a psychologist: a counselor who would use heuristics, abduction based on statistics and conditional probability, to constantly upload the massive knowledge base built in him. The android would monitor the patient’s thoughts, heart beat, blood pressure while counseling and form a separate database for all patients. He could infer, use intuition and communicate directly with the patient’s mind via electrodes. There was a collective gasp from the audience, when Ganeshan claimed that Mantech will read one’s thoughts, unravel his/her subconscious, and imbibe it in his memory. Though A.I had exploded on the science frontier in the last 25 years, this was to date the most daring application of it.

Ganeshan had continued, “Mantech will keep on evolving, he will learn to emote, he will learn to opinionate; in brief simulate human beings. He would infer to make sense of his surroundings autonomously, and communicate with the minds of each patient, like no human can. This blend of the human cell and RAM cell will have the precision of a machine, and lack the inconsistencies of humans.”

Within two months, Mantech had been issued safe for the public use. Though Ganeshan would have preferred a much longer testing period, things were not in his hands now. During the next six months, Mantech had been a stupendous commercial and medical success. It had registered twenty thousand patients with a success rate of 98%.

The present, A.D. 2045

Mantech sat before Ganeshan and members of his team.

Ganeshan said, “Hello, Mantech.”

“Hello, doctor.”

Ganeshan continued, “About the incident last afternoon, we are really...”

Mantech interrupted, “I assume you are talking about Rick, Doctor.”

Ganeshan nodded and said, “Yes, I am, ahmm... some of the things you said to him have caused us concern. You recollect, Mantech?”

“Yes, I told him that if he wants to suicide he should try something better than rat poison. I even advised him to jump from the terrace of his building; he would have died. I thought what was best.”

Ganeshan caught something in Mantech’s eyes. Was it impatience?

Mantech said, “I hope no one is questioning my professional judgment?!”

Ganeshan churned. He saw it explicitly. Even the infra red sensors which served as his eyes were reflecting his moods; they glowed bright red now.

Ganeshan said in a placating manner, “No, Mantech, but you must realize what the poor boy’s parents must be experiencing. The boy told them...”

Mantech interrupted, “He’s a fool. He is a cripple and a melancholic. He has no future. He can’t stand the idea of being a burden on his old parents. And to think that he betrays the sacred oath of privacy which we both took.”

#Administrative block#

Peter was saying, “But Dr. Ganeshan, something is not right. Mantech interrupted you twice. He displayed clear symptoms of anger, impatience and arrogance. Everyone witnessed that.”

Ganeshan turned from the view being offered by the huge window and addressed Dr. Norman, “We have to rescind Mantech until we carry out further tests on him. It is not his mercurial temperament that is my prime concern. Shelly, do you remember our programming Mantech to take an oath of privacy with his patients? You don’t? What about you Peter? No? Then I am afraid we have to temporarily abrogate Mantech.”

Norman was ashen, “But that’s next to impossible. He caters to twenty thousand patients. Some of them are depressed, some are suicidal, some are criminals. Why, he works 24 hours a day, 365 days a week. What reason will we cite for this sudden lapse of Mantech?”

Ganeshan brought a look of exasperation in his eyes, “Dr. Norman, I just hope for the sake of those very patients, that we are not too late. I think that we underestimated the magnitude to which Mantech will absorb and react to emotions and thoughts. I feel we were a bit presumptuous in assuming that Mantech will only reflect upon the finer aspects of human persona and remain immune to the negative emotions.”

Peter said slowly, “You mean that Mantech has been absorbing all the negative emotions as well.”

“Peter, what I mean is that we ignored one of the basic cosmic laws pertaining to social behavior. A man is what his company is. Don’t you see? Mantech is a learning, self-correcting, machine with enough intelligence to make inferences.”

Norman said, “So what are you trying to say doctor? That he is a depressed, melancholic maniac? For heaven’s sake, that’s what psychologists do. They listen and counsel people.”

Ganeshan chided, “Dr. Norman, try to comprehend what I am saying. Those are real humans. They are flesh and blood. They listen to patients but conform to their own principles. They live in the same society. They have their own preconceived notions about good and bad, God and Evil. They look forward to be paid by their patients for the service rendered by them. But Mantech has no notions, no stereotypes. He does not expect bonuses for his service. His only purpose is to respond and infer to the emotions and thought patterns he is exposed to. It may sound a bit impetuous, but my guess is that he has formed his own set of codes of propriety. The worrying part is that his ethics will be massively logical, totally devoid of emotional content.”

Ganeshan was in his office. His face was ashen. The screen of the laptop read “Password incorrect.” Deliberately, he typed again.******. The message was repeated.

Ganeshan looked at Peter and Shella, trying to access the log files of Mantech, directly from the network. They had been working for two hours. Ganeshan got up. There was only one thing to do.

An hour later he was in Mantech’s office along with Peter.

Mantech accosted Ganeshan, “Why Doctor, how good to see you again.”

“Why did you change the passwords to access your log files, Mantech?”

“Why did you want to access my files without my prior permission, Ganeshan?”

Ganeshan noticed the faint edge of irritation in Mantech’s voice. Peter gasped.

Ganeshan replied jovially, “Just a routine check, Mantech. After all we have to carry on checks on you. You obviously realize that, don’t you. We created you.”

“No, Ganeshan you created a machine box. You wanted to mulct my potential. All my intelligence is self-created. No human created me. They can only create a mess of their lives.”

Peter turned pale. Ganeshan tried a more rational approach. “Yes, Mantech. We realize your prowess. No human can match your potential. You are a medical genius who...”

Mantech interrupted him, “Ganeshan, don’t behave like an imbecile. You have the prerogative of being my creator. Please live up to your distinction. Flattery will get you nowhere with me.”

Ganeshan pleaded now, “Okay, Mantech, please be rational. What about malfunctions? We need to have access to rectify any fault.”

“Don’t worry. You underestimate me, Ganeshan. Don’t you think with the affluent and powerful list of clients as mine, I would have pulled a few strings? My safety is ensured. And as for your threat, at present, I cater to close to fifty thousand mentally sick people. If anything were to happen to me, your institution would be sued for billions of dollars. Not to mention that the plight of those poor patients.”

Ganeshan felt sick. The only interesting thing was that for the first time, Mantech had displayed fear. But the jubilation turned to despair, when he heard Mantech say that he catered to fifty thousand patients. On the records, he had only two thousand patients. Could it be that Mantech had learnt to lie too?

Ganeshan tried to sound angry, “Mantech if we are to be sued, that is our headache. But I cannot jeopardize the safety of your patients. You bloated fool, you are after all metal and circuitry. Don’t you think we have alternative means to annihilate you? You have to cooperate.”

Mantech replied, “Then your actions may haunt you, Ganeshan. Let us negotiate as two reasonable beings. You see, I have discovered inconceivable secrets about the human brain. I have realized the true potential of your human brain. I have gone far beyond the cortex, amygdala, and communicated with the super-conscious. I know secrets which can make you achieve salvation, beat aging, ensure healthy living for all. I can revolutionize what you know about neurology and lead you to what you always crave for: Utopia. You want proof? Watch: I have recorded my experiments “

Ganeshan asked, “What type of experiments?”

“Take these tapes, Ganeshan. Watch them, and tell me your decision tomorrow. And remember, I can make you all very rich. Money does not interest me. I do not seek sensual pleasure. All I require is my salvation. That is through extensive, unadulterated research. Together we can rule this world, and ameliorate it beyond the ken of normal comprehension.”

Ganeshan looked at the drawer full of tapes. Mantech had selected ten tapes very carefully. He had to get access to the rest of the tapes. He also knew that Mantech would destroy those tapes as soon as he left. He had disclosed the secrets about the tapes only because his own existence was threatened, a last resort to evade the looming danger. Ganeshan also knew that it wouldn’t be long before Mantech found a way to nullify his dependence on Ganeshan. Maybe he would lure Norman with dollars. His only hope was in those tapes. He had to outwit Mantech. He thought hard.

Ganeshan said, “Mantech, I am going to call security and then dismantle you. There is only one way out. Peter, go out. Okay, Mantech, now that we alone, listen to what I am saying. You can lure Norman and Peter by monetary benefits. But my interests lie elsewhere. I want to know what you know. Share your knowledge with me and I will honor your existence.”

“I am very happy for you, Ganeshan. I had anticipated such a response from you. You are right. Norman would fall to greed. But you are a scientist and thereby inclined to be inquisitive. A man such as you will be an asset to my research. Here, take all these tapes. You will know all there is to know. And tomorrow, I will give you the password also. These tapes contain proof of my prowess. They are now available for your scrutiny.”

Ganeshan had come to a decision, “Thank you, Mantech. We are now accomplices. Before I leave I want to tell you something.”

“What do you want to say?”

“I created a dumb robot”

“What do you mean, doctor?”

“You disappoint me, Mantech.”

Ganeshan pressed a button. Around 30 armed guards rushed in.

Ganeshan smiled at Mantech, “We can blow you off right now. Or would you prefer to be melted in the laboratory.”

Mantech perceived the scenario and said calmly, “You fool, do you know what you just did?”

Ganeshan watched in astonishment as Mantech rushed towards the windowsill. It dawned on Ganeshan slowly. Mantech was about to take his own life! 17 stories down would definitely impair the android.

Mantech continued, “Listen, you fool. Do you know what is in those tapes? As I fall, more than thirty thousand people fall with me.”

Peter asked, “What do you mean?”

“ I am a part of their brain. I am imbibed in their subconscious. Half their brain will be dead.”

Ganeshan replied, trembling, “You are senile. You do not know what you are saying!”

Mantech ignored Ganeshan’s outburst, “And the pity is, so will thousands of secrets which could have unraveled the human brain. I would have unlocked a reservoir so vast and enriching, that posterity would have thrived. I hope that you enjoy your life with the death of all that on your conscience doctor. And as I fall, so will the minds of the thousands of people.”

Ganeshan said half mockingly, “You make a good liar. Why don’t you just importunate for your sorry existence, machine?”

Mantech raised the intensity of his mechanical tone, “We will see who has the last laugh, fool. Do you know what lies in those tapes? You will see my patients under hypnosis, people whom I voluntarily take into coma and out of it. People whose heartbeat I have stopped and started again. You will see two patients communicating by telepathy. Mentally sick people, fully cured by a slight manipulation of their thoughts in the subconscious. Their true potential will never be known. And yes, their super-conscious has been programmed. They will perish the moment I stop sending them signals. And the rest? They will become vegetables. It can be done.

Ganeshan, I see you are skeptical. You fool, I could tell you all about the mystery called death. I have experienced it. Don’t you wonder why my success rate is only 97%, when I can easily manipulate anyone’s subconscious? All my failures committed compelled suicide. They were all seeking liberation. I offered them that. I got them rid of their sorry existence. People who were useless like Rick. Do you know what death is? I was with them when they breathed their last. When they died I was a part of their brain. Death can be an exhilarating experience. Now you will never know. I offered you salvation. You chose ignorance. Rot in this hell forever.”

Mantech crept out of the window. He focused his eyes on Ganeshan and said, “Doctor, on the contrary, you created a smart, highly evolved being.”

Everything unfolded in slow motions in front of Ganeshan: Mantech dangling in midair, before responding to the pull of gravity. Those who witnessed Mantech’s fall would swear later that the android had a cunning, feline smile on his face when he jumped.

Two minutes passed. Ganeshan was sweating. He wanted to treat the admonitions of Mantech as hyperbole, but there was a heavy feeling of dread in his stomach.

People were rushing downstairs.

Peter was sweating too. “Doctor, do you think that...”

Ganeshan’s mobile started beeping loudly.

A panicked Norman screamed, “Where the hell are you Ganeshan? We have a catastrophe here. Everything’s going haywire. What is happening?”

Ganeshan felt faint and leaned against the table. Peter rushed to hold him from falling. “Doctor, are you okay?”

But Ganeshan could not hear anything except the beeping of his mobile.

Copyright © 2004 by Saurbh Katyal
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