Authors: Doug J. Cooper
Doug J. Cooper
Copyright ©2013 by Doug J. Cooper
This is a work of fiction. Names,
characters, places, and events are the product of the author’s imagination or
are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or places or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved, including the
right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
Published by: Douglas Cooper
Book editor: Tammy Salyer
Cover design: Damonza
Peering into the secure booth
through a thick glass window, Juice Tallette studied the object of so much
effort. “You’re going to change the future of humanity,” she said to the
crystal. She tried to focus on positive outcomes, but her mind kept drifting to
the more worrisome ways it could all play out.
Expectations were through the roof for this new release from
Crystal Fab. The four-gen prototype was so advanced, it should have the
thinking and reasoning capability of more than a thousand human brains, all
working as one in perfect harmony. No bigger than her fist, Juice saw it as a
perfect geometric crystal wrapped in a fine lace mesh. Others might reasonably
describe it as a cloth-wrapped lump.
She turned when she heard the lab doors hiss open and
watched as Mick weaved his way through the maze of instruments filling the
room. He carried a coffee cup in each hand and gave her one as he slid into his
bench. He tapped the bench surface, and an array of colorful images lit up and floated
in front of him.
“What’s the good word?” she asked, looking over his
“I’m almost finished with the analysis. The prototype is
green and clean on every spec. I should have the complete profile by the end of
“That’s what I want to hear,” she said, studying the images
for a few moments more.
She turned back to the booth, sipped her coffee, and let
Mick focus on his work. He was the best crystal technician in the business and
had been at her side from the first days of the fourth generation SmartCrystal
project. If everything continued to check out, the four-gen prototype would
soon be ready for a real-world test drive.
The current project timeline was to finish the lab tests and,
if rumors were correct, install the prototype in the operations center of a
massive government complex for a final assessment. If it performed well in that
setting for three months, the four-gen SmartCrystal would move into full production.
“The restrictor mesh looks good.” She put her face up to the
glass to get a closer view. “Do you think it’ll work as advertised?”
“The crystal or the mesh? Either way, the answer is yes.
He turned to look at her. “Don’t you have
a big presentation today?”
“It’s this afternoon. I present to the board, and then I
meet with Sheldon right after.”
“You’re going to tell him?”
“I have to say it. I’m really the only one who can.”
Juice loved this job and believed that her work would prove beneficial
to society. The politics of pleasing bosses and boards made it a little less
fun, but she knew she was on the verge of something big. It was a great feeling.
She reviewed the notes for her talk one last time, and then
went for her noontime run. In spite of the heat, she pushed herself hard. Running
was her stress management tool, and with the stress of a board presentation followed
by a possible confrontation with Sheldon, she needed the calming effect that her
She ended her route with a short walk, hands on her slim hips,
while she let her heart rate settle. Then, turning toward the gleaming Crystal
Fabrications headquarters, she wound her way up the landscaped walkway and entered
the front door, self-conscious of being in her exercise clothes in the building’s
“Hello, Dr. Tallette,” called security as she scurried
around the corner and toward the changing room.
“Hello,” she called over her shoulder, though the security SmartCrystal
wouldn’t have cared if she responded or not.
She cleaned up, changed into what she thought was a smart-looking
suit, and exited out a back door leading into a central corridor. She reached the
conference room, grabbed a cup of water, and slipped into her chair just as Brady
Sheldon started the meeting.
“Good afternoon, everyone,” Sheldon said to Crystal Fabrication’s
board of directors. “Welcome to our discussion on the pending release of our fourth-generation
Sheldon, president and CEO, had founded the company twenty years
earlier and been a key member of the original research team that pioneered the
SmartCrystal concept. His belief in the idea, combined with his single-minded
perseverance, had brought him to today, heading a company so technologically
dominant there were no real competitors.
He moved through some general business and then shifted to
the main agenda item. “I’ve asked Dr. Jessica ‘Juice’ Tallette to give us a technical
status update. You all know that Dr. Tallette has been leading the four-gen crystal
development program since its inception. Before she begins, please permit me this
opportunity to brag about her.”
He’d recruited Juice to the company and was now acting as
her mentor. He believed in her vision, knew her success was his as well, and was
anxious to help her move the project forward in any way he could.
“Juice joined us three years ago, right after earning her doctorate
in engineered intelligence from the Boston Institute of Technology. Since her
arrival here at Crystal Fab, she has pioneered the concept of using a cluster
of three-gen crystals to orchestrate the design of our four-gen prototype. In
my opinion, she’s the world’s leading expert in artificial intelligence crystals.”
He beamed as he motioned Juice to join him at the head of the table. “I’ve
asked her to be brief, so we’ll have plenty of time for discussion.”
Juice stood at the front of the table and scanned the group.
She was pleased to see that everyone’s body language was friendly and welcoming.
A few leaned forward, indicating a certain enthusiasm for her briefing.
“Hi, everybody.” She gave them an anxious smile as she
willed her nerves to settle, then started her presentation.
“Crystal Fab has produced more than a million of our third generation,
or three-gen, SmartCrystals. Each of these crystals has a synthetic
intelligence that’s roughly equal to a typical person.
“They’re installed in operations that range from hospitals
and sports arenas, to manufacturing plants and Fleet military spacecraft. For
any of these, they’re assigned tasks in specialties ranging from security, communications,
maintenance, financial, and more. With a million such implementations, SmartCrystals
are impacting our daily lives.”
She paused and scanned the group to make sure she still had
their attention. The members of the board could be placed into just a few categories.
There were three techies—and they were already bored but would be patient with
her. There were three business types as well. They only became excited when
talk turned to things like cash flow and quarter-over-quarter growth.
And there were four members from what Juice called “the
connected.” They had many politicians and admirals and CEOs as friends, and
earned their fat board stipends simply by taking a moment at a party to
introduce certain people to certain other people. This was the group Sheldon
wanted her to focus on in this discussion.
“Years of experience have shown the three-gen to be predictable
and compliant,” she continued. “We’ve never had a report of unexpected behavior
as long as they were used as intended.”
“Wait,” said one of the connected. “Has someone used a
crystal not as intended and had an adverse outcome?”
She paused, unsure how to answer, and Sheldon stepped in to
rescue her. “Thanks for catching that, Robb. We know of no unreported cases. We
do know that a three-gen was being used as a medical doctor in an antiquated clinic
without any human supervision. The clinic is in a village somewhere in South
Asia. Very mountainous and remote, I understand.
“Apparently, it’d been performing quite well for a few years,
then it made a bad decision and someone died. Its success record was better
than any of the clinics in the neighboring settlements. But the local
population is antagonistic to technology. The mistake reinforced their beliefs,
and we had no choice but to shut it down.”
“What’s the clinic doing for a doctor?” asked one of the
techies, who somehow thought the question was relevant for discussion.
“It’s being covered by a few caregivers who walk a circuit
among the neighboring villages in a cooperative arrangement,” Sheldon assured him.
When Sheldon returned to his seat, Juice sought to speed
things along. Too much time was being spent on background information. “As we considered
our next release, we set our sights on a game-changing technology leap. The
solution we came up with is simple and elegant. What we did was gang together
one hundred of our three-gen crystals into a cooperative network and then
tasked them with creating an improved crystal design.
“The ‘gang of one hundred’ as I call them, went to work. As
a team, they designed the four-gen crystal template. Their creation is a thing
of beauty. Our analysis indicates that our new crystal is a thousand times more
capable than a three-gen. We’re in a final review period, and the four-gen
prototype should be ready for live testing in a few weeks.”
There were nods from most of the board members. Then one techie
asked, “You said ‘their creation,’ as in, like, the gang of one hundred three-gens
created this. Is this your design, or is it theirs?”
Juice pasted a smile on her face, but her mind was frantic. Here
it was, the topic she wanted to talk with Sheldon about—but she wouldn’t discuss
it here. She was, first and foremost, a team player.
“My goal was to design a tool that could then be used to
design the next tool.” It was the best she could come up with on the spot, and
she thought it sounded pretty good. “This is how technology has advanced
throughout all of time.” That last part was pure nonsense, and she hoped she
wouldn’t be called on it.
Seeking to change the subject, she pointed to a business
type with his hand raised before the techie could press his line of questioning
any further. He asked, “If a four-gen is equal to a thousand three-gens, will we
have to charge a thousand times more to make any money? We won’t sell as many
if they’re this powerful. What’s the thought process here?”
Sheldon stepped up to handle this question. Juice was there
for technical information. The board drifted into what became an hour-long
discussion on the economics and business plan for the revolutionary new product.
The momentum of the meeting shifted to a commercial focus, and time ran out
before any more uncomfortable technical questions could be asked. Juice was
“Nice job back there,” said Sheldon as they walked into his
office. “Would you like some water? Coffee?”
“No thanks,” Juice said, sitting down at a small table next
to his desk. As Sheldon fixed himself a coffee, she weaved her finger in a
circle around a lock of hair, twirling it up until it slipped off her finger
and unraveled. It was a nervous tick she hated but couldn’t seem to stop. She repeated
the hair-twirling process over and over until Sheldon sat down.
She’d left the director’s meeting satisfied she had avoided putting
Sheldon on the spot in a public forum. Now that they were alone, she would
voice her concerns and get his support for a solution.
He took a sip as he looked at her. “You made this sound
urgent. You haven’t been offered another job, have you?” He was only half joking,
always worried about losing key people.
“Nothing like that,” she said, shaking her head. “This is
about the four-gen. You know I have reservations, and as we move closer to going
live, they haven’t diminished. I’m hoping you’ll have some words of wisdom for
He watched her and waited. Given the investment by Crystal
Fab to date, failure at this point would be financially devastating for the
company. The four-gen wasn’t just the most important project in the company’s
development pipeline, it was really the only one of any substance.
“The guy who asked if I’d designed the four-gen prototype
scored a bulls-eye.” She knew he wouldn’t be happy with what she was about to
say and sought to buy some time. “Can I have a glass of water?”
Sheldon retrieved a glass of chilled water from his service
unit, setting it in front of her as he retook his seat. He did not talk, giving
her the opportunity to say her piece. She liked that about him.
She picked up the glass, held it for a moment, and put it
back down without drinking. “Think about it, Brady. We’re about to release a
crystal that has the intelligence of a thousand human brains. We don’t really
know what that means. And we both know that I didn’t design the template for
the four-gen.” She shook her head as if both to state and deny a personal
failing. “A room full of crystals did. I pretty much just watched. And while I worked
hard to understand what they were doing, I can’t sit here and say that I’m in
command of the details.”
He remained quiet, and she continued. “Once the four-gen goes
live, we’ll have given birth to an entity that is a thousand times smarter than
us. Even that number, the thousand, is made up. That’s how little I understand
about this prototype. I feel certain that it’ll have conscious thought. It’ll
become self-aware and then become self-directed. But how do we know if it’s
operating properly? And how do we stop it if we decide it isn’t?”
Sheldon folded his arms across his chest. “Wow. You really undersell
yourself. I’ve brought an endless stream of visitors to see the gang of one
hundred development lab. That facility is technology leadership at its best,
and it’s your work. I’m amazed at what you’ve accomplished.” He furrowed his
brow. “So I have to admit I’m frustrated when I hear you say that you ‘just
watched this all happen.
He signed quotation marks in the air with his hands as he
finished the phrase.
“I didn’t mean it like that.” She was determined to move the
conversation back on track.