Dare To Know
From Base Novel chapter 13 (a mind bender)
It was not long before James and Skyler became close friends. The paternal-like connection between the two previous strangers surprised Acharya. James would often brag about Skyler in the mannerism of a proud father. Anchor was fond of James as well. She would run to him and leap in his arms while Data would bark frantically for her attention, hoping for those magic words: “Don’t get me.”
After some coaxing, James agreed to fly with Skyler. Even with his limited flying time, James could tell Skyler was gifted. Moreover, Skyler enjoyed flying again since the death of his best friend.
It was pouring all day on the North Shore as James and Acharya sat in James’ office at the forest research center, watching the rain through the large window. The downpour was relaxing, and James loved the sound. Pressures from the outside world seemed less imperative when hunkered down in a rainstorm.
“You were right, Acharya. We have found our Neil Armstrong right here on the island of Kauai,” James said. “How do you think we should approach Skyler about joining the Babylonians?”
“The best way is to bring Anchor on board. Her knowledge of Astronomy has been an inspiration, and she has been a source of valuable information already. Her enthusiasm is just what we need to nab Skyler.”
“My thoughts exactly. I’m having a problem, though. I’m not emotionally prepared to put our boy in danger.”
“I knew that was becoming an issue,” Acharya said softly. “We can evaluate the risk once we have something to fly. I know you would not send Skyler, or anyone else, on this mission if you doubted we were ready. We can put our A team together and make those life and death decisions once we know the risk factors.”
“It’s not just Skyler. I’ll have two good friends putting their lives on the line. I’m not sure this is such a good idea.”
Acharya leaped to his feet. “What is happening, James? We have nothing to fly. We have no engineering specifications. We do not even know the nature of our propulsion systems.” Acharya paced in front of the window.
“You are one smart advocate, Acharya. Calm down, and I’ll fill you in. I’m not ready to present this to the full team yet, but two of our software developers have made some important breakthroughs. I can tell you that the success of our entire project is dependent on those two programmers.”
“Do you mean Isaac and Alex?”
“Yes, that’s right, Isaac and Alex. The project’s success depends on each of the disparate teams, but we can’t even get started without the foundation systems from our computer programmers.” James switched into his work mode, even as the rain poured outside.
“We need to finish planning our approach with Skyler, but this feels good. I needed to talk with someone else besides the scientists. We should bounce stuff around more often.”
James reached for his water. The rain made him thirsty. “From what I’ve heard, the water on Kauai is some of the cleanest on Earth. I’m not sure why I bother with this bottled crap.”
Acharya knew that James was preparing to explain something very complex. He often began his mind benders by walking across the room or opening a window, anything to buy time while searching for the words that might give the listener a fighting chance at understanding.
“I have spent more time with Isaac than any of the scientists,” Acharya said. “My background in software engineering gives me a way to at least communicate with him. I have never worked with a computer scientist touting an IQ of 180 before, but Isaac has incredible tolerance. He enjoys explaining his AI database systems to me, even though he knows I am grasping but a glimmer of what he is talking about.”
“These two computer gurus live in an abstract world somewhere beyond the understanding of mere mortals,” James responded. “What they needed was purpose and guidance, a boost in the right direction, if you will. And boy, have they responded.” James was excited. “They’ve assembled a database that reflects the practical engineering capabilities of humanity. Their invention is no Google search engine. This system has an artificial intelligence capable of accepting massive inquiries from an expanding range of categories. It returns a simple Boolean yea or nay at any point. If humans can build it, then it returns true. If not, it returns false.”
“I understood that was the direction of their research, but Isaac never explained it quite so directly as that before,” Acharya said. “So if one of our other systems requested a container that could hold a nuclear fusion reaction, for example, then Isaac’s program would return false. Is that correct?”
“That’s exactly right. You’ve chosen a simple and obvious question, but you’re on the right track. In evaluating and designing any new product, we must know immediately if the theoretical is practical. And, we need to know that answer at every stage involving thousands and perhaps even millions of rapid queries. We also have financial and safety constraints. Retaking your example, even if it was possible to construct such a container, the cost can’t exceed our budget.”
“Have you crosschecked their results for accuracy?” Acharya asked.
“Our boys are no dummies. We’ve been evaluating system responses for the past two weeks. They have devised an alternate training and testing system that runs continuously. This thing is fast, smart, and getting smarter. Its rate of failure, even now, is less than one in 500 billion queries. They built a magnificent tool. And on the other side of the equation, our physicists are also making great progress.”
“James, if you can build it, we will fly it. I say we invite Skyler and Anchor on a tour of the center.”
The following day, James called Skyler. Earlier, Skyler had emailed some photos and video clips of the rainbow effect to James.
“Hi, James. Did you get my email?” Skyler asked upon answering the phone.
“Yes, I did. Thank you for putting those together for me.” James could see an opening that might help get Skyler’s attention. “I’m sending a copy to my team of scientists at the research center in the monastery.”
“What research center?” Skyler asked.
“I know I told you I was working on exploration technologies for a company based in California, but that wasn’t entirely accurate. I’ve been required, for security reasons, to keep what I’m working on top secret. Yesterday, I received permission to give you and Anchor a tour. You’ll need to sign non-disclosure documents, but I believe you’ll find this quite interesting.”
“Does this have anything to do with the rainbow effect I told you about?” Skyler asked.
“No, but this is a great chance to get your foot in the door and find some real answers from the best team of scientists and engineers on the planet. I know that sounds arrogant, but it’s true. If anyone on Earth can solve your rainbow puzzle, it’s this group.” James said.
“Have you forwarded my email to any of those people?” Skyler asked.
“I wanted to talk with you first. I’ll spend some time today evaluating the photos and video myself. With your permission, I’ll copy the team tonight. Can you and Anchor meet me at the monastery at noon tomorrow?”
“Yeah, you bet. We were planning to hook up in Kapaa anyway for lunch. I’m sure she’d rather do this. Go ahead and send your partners the rainbow material. If you have any questions, I’ll have my cell phone. You can also call Byron Shirai, a professor at the college. He’s still pretty obsessed with this and has been researching independently.”
“All right, son. I’ll see you and Anchor tomorrow. Let her know we’ll be at the center for about three hours.”
James grabbed Skyler’s photos from the laser printer and barged outside with the screen door slamming behind him. Data was already waiting eagerly for their morning trek up Sleeping Giant Mountain. Once they reached the top, James sat on a large slab of old concrete and beheld the dark blue of the morning Pacific. He slipped off his backpack and pulled out the photos.
Many people, including trained photographers, previously examined the photos. So, James decided to look, not at the rainbow, but instead at everything but the rainbow. Professor Feynman once told James that what separated him from most brilliant students was his common sense. “Use it often,” he said. “So few of us have it.”
After glancing through the photos several times, he noticed a minor quirk in how the hairs on the tourists were flowing in a slightly different direction than their windblown clothing. Could static electricity do that?
Thinking back on what Skyler and Anchor, and even Acharya, told him, he couldn’t recall any mention of this. Why would there be so much static electricity on a sailboat? These were strange photos! He made a mental note to have his team investigate the effects of electromagnetic forces on a rainbow field. He also left a text message for Acharya, asking if he had already considered this possibility.
The next day, James and Acharya met Skyler and Anchor at the entrance to the Hindu monastery. After a fifteen-minute jeep ride, they arrived outside the modern dark-glass research center nestled in a forest field of sugar cane and guava trees. The backside of the building was on the edge of a large tropical forest. Off in the distance, the cloud-covered mountains magnified the primitive atmosphere.
As they entered through a large door, the architecture teased their emotions. The contrast of high-tech rooms and equipment wrapped in large glass windows poised on the edge of a lush tropical jungle was magical.
“James, this place is a scientist’s dream! Finally, a research environment where the builders have more on their minds than linear equations,” Anchor said as she admired the building.
“We believe the environment is critical to the creative process. Our team loves this place. We have fresh, cold guava juice waiting in the cafeteria. Then we can take the grand tour.”
“You must have read my mind,” Skyler said. “I ran on the beach this morning, and I’m dying of thirst.”
James led his friends from one area of the building to the next. Wondrous abstract art hung on the walls of the sleek interior. A black baby grand piano sat in the upper foyer in front of a window wall. It appeared to float in the air of the tropical forest.
Fifty-inch flat-screen monitors were the norm in every office. The place was bubbling with activity as excited men and women hustled about in the open spaces. There were no cubicles anywhere. Anchor was delighted, and that pleased Skyler more than the tour itself.
Acharya tagged along, then finally spoke. “This is our galactic map room. We have created a walk-in map of our near-space vicinity. You can use these touch-screen lights to zoom and rotate in 3D.”
Anchor jumped on the device and was soon flying through the solar system and out beyond to the triple star system of Alpha Centauri. Her actions were so rapid that they made the others dizzy.
Skyler reached for her hands and said, “Slow down a little. I’ve flown helicopters through old volcano craters with less tickle in my stomach.”
“Oh, sorry. That’s a bad habit of mine. I do the same thing with my PC. But this is the best model I’ve seen anywhere, and I’ve been to the most prominent public planetariums in the world.
Acharya, how can you call this a map of the near vicinity? These star systems are anything but near. How big is this model?”
“We reach out about fifty light-years in all directions. Compared to the entire galaxy, this is a near-space map.” Acharya demonstrated how quickly they could reach the edge of the map.
“The details are amazing. Where did you get your data?”
“From observatories like the one on Maui. And from space telescopes and unmanned probes. Most of what you see here is in the public domain. Notice how the systems get fuzzy when you zoom too close. However, if you want, the computer can speculate — like so. We’ve assembled this system so we can examine our surroundings easier. Our programmers are some of the best in the world.”
Skyler found the complex a curiosity. “Why is this research center inside the Hindu monastery? Most of these people are probably not Hindu. Why the emphasis on outer space? Is this pseudo-religious or astrology research?” Skyler was not as enthusiastic as Anchor.
“Whoa — too many questions for me to remember,” James said. “The important thing to know is that this is not a government project. Our support comes from the Hindu church and wealthy private investors interested in advancing the human race. I wanted to give you the grand tour, but perhaps we should just get right to your questions. Acharya, would you like to explain our purpose here?”
Skyler and Anchor found a large sofa near a strange statue and sprawled out.
Acharya couldn’t help smiling as he prepared to explain the project — the humorous scenario he once anticipated was about to unfold.
“James founded a secret project that, as you can see, is well funded. We believe the long-term survival of humanity depends on the success of this project. Although many governments are working on solutions for space travel to the planets in our solar system, none has yet focused seriously on traveling to other stars. That is where we come in. We are working on interstellar space flight.”
“It’s good you’re well funded,” said Skyler, “because I’m guessing that will take a very long time.”
“More than a long time if we adopted traditional solutions,” Acharya said. “Immanuel Kant once challenged western civilizations: dare to find answers to the most challenging questions. We have created a Dare-To-Know chaos-based software system as a tribute to his challenge. I know you love waterfalls, so I will use a waterfall to help explain.
“According to chaos theory, the molecules in a waterfall are free to wander at will; what makes them part of a waterfall is determined by the strange attractors that define the boundaries within their waterfall. We have created a software framework for our defined boundaries that mimic the natural chaos phenomenon. The engineering capabilities of humanity define our realm of restrictions at this specific point in time.”
“Sorry, Acharya, you’ve completely lost me. What’s the purpose of the system?” Skyler asked, looking at his watch.
“I have explained but one side of the system,” Acharya said with a shrug. “I am just getting to the good part. The purpose of the DTK system is to cheat nature into giving up a few of her secrets ahead of schedule. We can’t wait 10,000 years for researchers to stumble onto the solutions for interstellar space travel! For example, our designers have determined that we need what they call a potacitor and some other devices. Unfortunately, these did not exist. Therefore, we created the DTK system to help us invent them.
Acharya paused and let that statement hang in the air a little too long. “The other half of our DTK system has generated over one billion theories on how to invent the first device, the potacitor. The chaos half of the system ensures that we do not produce an impossible solution for our engineers to build. We must stay within our engineering waterfall. It also contains the trial and error AI modules to test the other side theories within its strange attractors or constraints.”
“What?” Skyler said.
Anchor stepped between Skyler and Acharya. “Acharya, you sound more like an engineer than a monk. What have they done to you? Anyway, you said these devices did not exist.” She paused and glanced back at Skyler before asking the obvious question. “Does that mean you’ve already invented something for interstellar space flight?”
“Getting close, we are getting close. That’s the reason you’re here,” James said, fielding the question for Acharya. “We need a pilot to join Acharya on our maiden voyage.”
“What! No way!” Anchor said. She grabbed Skyler’s arm and tried pulling him away, but Skyler wouldn’t budge.
Skyler gently released Anchor’s vice grip and gave her a slight negative nod before turning back to James. “So you want a test pilot?”
James said nothing but affirmed the yes with his expression.
“I’ve heard enough!” Anchor spewed. “Can we please leave?”
“Anchor, wait! Just take a little more time. We have more to show you,” Acharya pleaded.
Skyler stared into James’ eyes, searching for understanding. James was troubled and seemed pleased at Anchor’s objections. Skyler placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder. “I agree with Acharya. We need to learn more.”
There was no satisfaction in James’ voice. “All right, let’s continue.”
Anchor wobbled and almost collapsed before Skyler caught her.