Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Another Day at the Basement

I woke up at five thirty-three today, eager to return to my work. I went to the cafeteria to get breakfast. Have I mentioned the meals here? They're exquisite. From a scientific standpoint, I mean. Not a culinary one.
Tom spends a lot of time at fancy dinners. At most of the dinners, the conversation isn't nearly complex enough to occupy his mind. So he thinks about food. He wrote a program that can read cookbooks. He says that even getting to program to follow written directions was difficult, because there are so many things left unsaid. The example he used was that his machine wouldn't know to crack eggs before putting them in a cake. He rectified this bug, only to watch in disgust a few days later as the machine made hard-boiled egg yolk.
But today, his robots nearly always create edible food. After every meal, there is a survey soliciting constructive criticism. My reviews have mostly been positive, but Camille said that she had to explain that icing on a cake did not mean literal ice.
Anyways, I got to eat some bacon, which seemed to have been made right. I left a note saying job well done, although it was slightly burnt. And I descended into the depths of The Basement to do my actual work.

Today was another good day. It was wonderful, doing science, knowing I was helping the world, with Tom's resources behind me and Dalton on call to bounce ideas off of. At one point, upon walking into his office, I saw four different brain scans on his computer screen, along with what seemed to be a lot of data I didn't understand. "What are you doing here," I asked.
"Studying Alzheimer's. The human brain has long been an interest of mine. I have had several successes combating other neurological diseases. Although none of my plans have been implemented."
That got me curious. It got me thinking about a question that would bug me all day. Not a science question, at least not directly. But I didn't ask him. I explained my progress on the flu, and my latest roadblock. Dalton responded with some suggestions. Some were great, others were entirely unproductive. I went through them all. Dalton is clearly a brilliant man, and even his failed ideas are learning experiences.
Anyways. I did a lot of science today. All of it is meticulously detailed in more formal notebooks, and it seems a waste to write it here. So I'll just skip to the next time I saw Dalton. It was the last time I saw him today, six thirty. I asked him for help writing a computer program to simulate a bunch of compounds interacting. He saw through the problem immediately, and handed me a solution like it was the easiest thing he'd ever done. "There was one other thing I wanted to ask you."
"What is it?"
"You seem to have done an incredible amount of research on the human brain. Have you ever tried to cure M.A.D.N.E.S.S?"
"Yes," he said. "I have."
"Did you make any progress."
"I identified a promising class of compounds, called quionizines. Unfortunately, M.A.D.N.E.S.S. only occurs in humans, which precluded animal testing. I tested three different variants on three different groups of MADs. One group developed permanent schizophrenia, with only a slight reduction in their scientific abilities. One group experienced internal bleeding. And one group actually say their M.A.D.N.E.S.S. temporarily get worse, to the extent where they were unable to sleep, unable to speak, even, unable to do anything except science, until the dosage wore off several days later. At that point, given the harm I had done to over fifty different volunteer subjects, and given my lack of progress, I moved on to other tasks. Why? Would you like to take up the project after you are finished studying influenza?"
I thought about that. Three weeks ago, I would have given anything to have my M.A.D.N.E.S.S. cured. It would have meant leaving J. S. Greenberg, and returning to my family. It would have meant freedom from constantly policing my own thoughts, and from painful spasms off scientific inquiry. It would have ended the fear of my out-of-control research harming someone, and it would have assuaged the guilt over my past mistakes.
Now, I don't know what I want. I've learned more about control, about focus, in two weeks outside than in two years in the asylum. I've found purpose for my abilities. It doesn't hurt to think anymore, it gives me a rush of excitement. And now, safe within the technological fairyland that Tom and Dalton have created, I don't need to worry about endangering others. So I don't know. If I could reverse the disease, and return to my neurotypical state, would I? I didn't know. I don't know. But the fact that my answer is anything other than an immediate yes is surprising to me.

I ate my dinner, still thinking about my changing taste in psychological disorders. I ate with Gabe and Tom. "Do either of you know where Joanne is?"
They said they didn't.
Eventually, a MAD named Chris Mercer showed up. Of all the MADs working in The Basement, he was the one I knew the least. For instance, he was the only one I hadn't yet talked about in my journal.
Chris seemed to be in his late thirties. He was tall, and had skin the color of chocolate. Where by chocolate, I mean a black person. He spoke with a deep voice. I might almost describe it as chocolaty. "Even if the group structures are isomorphic, and even if the underlying objects have the same dimensionality, that still doesn't mean that the objects themselves are the same."
"We can devise a map between them based upon the isomorphism. But any such map must preserve the centroid."
"Of course."
"What are they talking about," I asked Gabe.
"Something to do with the symmetry group of asymptotically flat manifolds."
I nodded. I listened briefly. "Okay," I said. "Let me just see if I understand the conjecture you are debating, because it seems to me that it is pretty clearly false." I stated it. Daniel said that he was aware of the obvious exception but said that there weren't any others. I was suspicious, but couldn't think of another counterexample.
We bickered some more. Eventually, Camille showed up, and struck up a separate conversation with Gabe. I think they were talking politics.
Eventually Tom showed up. Chris filled him in on the problem. "Huh," Tom said. "I've never thought about that. Okay... so Daniel's reasoning is wrong, but here is why his theorem is right." Tom spoke rapid-fire math for ten minutes, explaining the proof he had thought of in ten seconds. Daniel and Chris seemed to understand it. I got the gist of it, but I don't think I could have explained it.
"Hey," Gabe said, "I think they're done talking about math!"
"Cool," Camille said, "now it's a party." She turned to Tom. "Why doesn't Dalton ever eat here?"
"Alexander and I are both powerful men. But, while my power sits quietly in a bank account and a corporate trust fund, Alexander's requires him to fly around the world advising the president and solving problems. He usually eats on the go. Right now, for instance, he is eating while on the go to Washington. After that, he has a trip to... where is the president going again?"
"Brazil," Gabe said.
"Right, there."
"Such a shame," I said. "Dalton might never get to enjoy your robots' fabulous cooking."
"They get better every day. At this rate of improvement, based on some rudimentary analysis, they could surpass top human chefs in just four years."
"Impressive," Camille said. "I can't wait to see them on one of those cooking shows."
"They can have a segment on icing," Gabe joked. "Quick quiz, is icing made out of actual ice?"
"Hey," Tom laughed. "They will never make that mistake again. Probably."
"Are you just using normal ingredients," I asked, "because I have some notes on genetically engineered crops."
"Cool," Tom said. "I'm not sure about the large-scale implementation about that. People have trouble with engineered crops even when they aren't designed by MADs." Tom sighed. "It's so frustrating. I had to offer Thailand a third of a billion dollars before they would accept the antibiotics Dalton designed. How does that make sense? Who demands money when I literally offer to cure their diseases? I mean, I don't need the cash, but still."
"That would represent over 0.23952% of your wealth," Daniel commented.
"No it wouldn't," Tom said. "Don't believe what you read in Forbes. For most practical purposes, my wealth is unlimited. For instance, I have a fusion reactor. How much do you think that would be worth, if I wanted to extract as much money from the invention as possible."
"You could easily make a few trillion dollars," I estimated.
"Of course, I would be found out, and put behind bars. So I would probably just sell everyone better laptop batteries. Or a better waterproof watch. Or gourmet food made by machines. How much do you think those are worth."
"In order? Billions, millions, worthless," Gabe said.
"Exactly. For a MAD like me, constantly inventing things- most of which aren't even scary- my brain is a goldmine. If I ever need money, I can just find a nice uncontroversial invention and sell it for a billion dollars." Tom grinned. "Or I could just ask Daniel for a loan. Mr. Stock Market."
"You can have Buttercup if you want."
"That's what he calls it," Gabe quipped. "Named after his mother."
"You can have Buttercup," Daniel started again. "Wealth has never suited me, and you seem to use it rather well."
"Wow," Tom said. "A chance to peek inside that machine? Don't mind if I do. I've had a lot of ideas on the subject, and I want to know if they are right."
Daniel was already pulling out his laptop. "This is the overall algorithm?"
"I see," Tom said. "Why are we squaring here? Shouldn't it be-"
"Fourth power would be more accurate," Daniel agreed. "But a nightmare for the computers."
"Nonsense. Just treat it perturbatively. Nothing the supercomputers downstairs couldn't handle. Ohohohohoh! The quantum computer I was working on! Let me show you. It could totally do this, for small stock market at least."
"The Johannesburg Stock Exchange has small volume, but quite a few high-frequency traders."
"Let's go!"
The two of them rushed off, trying to see how much money they could extract from South Africa. Did I mention I love this place?       

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