Magarette’s s Butterfly
by Janene Hourigan
There were only eleven babies in the South Bank Nursery the day Martin went to choose his child. December was not a popular month for Birthdays, far too close to Christmas to be practical, but Martin had just patented his seventieth invention and he intended that his next contribution to society would be a child to take his place and continue his work.
Most of the babies seemed an ordinary bunch but one stood out from the rest. Chandria was a bright, alert baby, nothing like the seemingly mindless blobs that filled the rest of the cots. Martin always preferred to start with only the best raw materials, and Chandria certainly was that....
The answering service chimed as Chandria entered her room, "A message was left while you were out. Your role-father is in town and has made reservations for dinner at the Sky Garden for 6:00pm if you can get away. End message."
It had been months since Martin had been able to leave his work long enough to come to town and visit her, and she wondered what he had been doing. She checked the chore schedule and found that she was free tonight. With a sigh of relief she put through a call to her mother.
"Mother, Martin is in town and has invited me to dinner. Is it OK if I go?" She could hear a touch of concern in her mother's voice as she spoke.
"Of course dear, and have a nice evening. Oh, don't forget you have an appointment with your thesis supervisor tomorrow."
"Yes Mother, goodnight."
Chandria woke with a start. She knew it was important that she be up on time this morning, but why? Then she remembered. This morning she had an appointment with her thesis supervisor and being late would certainly not impress her. The thesis that Chandria had in mind seemed simple and harmless enough, but it was actually the start of a far more ambitious project. Chandria intended to be one of the youngest citizens ever. The average age of first patent was around thirty, but Chandria planned to have here first patent by the time she was twenty. That would show her role-father how well he had chosen and how grateful she was for his care.
Chandria rose gracefully from her bed and dressed with care. Everything must go perfectly today. When she got her thesis topic approved she could act more freely, but for now she must be seen as the dedicated student, following in her role-father's footsteps.
The interview with her thesis supervisor went well. Magarette was impressed with the idea of research into improving the speech recognition algorithms. It was the sort of work that would only be done by graduating students or research teams from one of the computer companies. Most other people were not interested in improving on an existing idea. They were too busy searching for something new. Minor improvements on existing technology were commercially viable but not patentable, and so did not improve standing or grant citizenship. So it simply didn't get done.
Chandria thought this constant search for new ways of doing things was a little foolish. Why spend years searching for a new way to clean clothes when a little research would improve the current process? Still, she was as interested in gaining citizenship as anyone else and the only way to gain citizenship was to invent something new. Therefore she must invent something new. A simple goal really, but one that took years of work to achieve.
Her research led her into some strange and widely varying areas of study. She began with a study of how babies learn to recognize and understand speech. At the end of this study she had an idea of what she would need. She was going to need a machine with artificial intelligence, and a big one at that. Speech recognition mainly came down to a form of pattern recognition, something that human brains do easily, but that requires an advanced artificial intelligence network for computers to do well.
It was surprisingly easy to gain programmer access to the AI that belonged to Trevarra School. She simply filled in the form requesting access and explaining the reason for her request. The principal called her the next day to tell her that the access she needed had been granted. Chandria had been prepared for a long wait and perhaps even a little bit of unfair political pressure before she could gain access. The AIs were usually very well guarded and programmer level access was usually given to few.
Total havoc could be caused by a bug in a program introduced to the AI. Stories were still told about the day the entire population of Kevala school was nearly killed when a student accidentally programmed the AI to introduce a higher concentration of carbon monoxide. He had intended to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide to improve the growth of plants in the school, but a little error in programming was nearly fatal.
Chandria began to reprogram the speech recognition centers of the developmental AI system. Months went by as she struggled to train the AI to reliably recognize and understand human speech. Finally she had a system that was noticeably more responsive than any that had been implemented before.
When Magarette came into her office, she was astounded to see the change in Chandria. She had always thought her to be a weak, mousy little creature, totally under the control of her brilliant role-father. The Chandria waiting for her today was a bright, vibrant person. It only took a few moments' conversation for Magarette to see that the Chandria she thought she knew simply did not exist.
"I intend to revolutionize the way we interact with computers." Chandria said as she paced the room. "For too long now we have been tied to the keyboard, metaphorically speaking anyway. Oh, we had some basic speech recognition, simple commands really, but no system that could follow complex instruction. You couldn't, for example, dictate a letter to your computer and have it correctly store what you had said, address the letter and Email it. I intend to change that."
Magarette smiled sadly to herself. She was used to seeing students with bold and ambitious plans to change the world, but for so many of them the plans came to nothing. Still Chandria had made it at least part of the way to her dream. Perhaps she would succeed where so many others had failed. The demonstration of her new speech recognition system was certainly impressive. The AI had responded correctly and quickly to all her commands and somehow Chandria seemed to have invested it with a bright, lively personality.
"I think I've solved the problem of noisy environments too," Chandria continued. "You know how the voice recognition systems don't work very well in noisy rooms or when there are a lot of people talking. You can't use the voice recognition system to say, change the recording you are playing at a party because it has trouble picking your voice out from all the other voices in the room. I might have a solution for that. You know the sub-vocalizers they use in the dockyards? Well, if you arranged for those to be set up for a channel that was only being used to transmit to the AI, it would block out the background noise and solve the problem."
"Those sub-vocalizers are not particularly attractive though, Chandria," Magarette interrupted. "I somehow don't think people would wear them with their best party clothes just so they can change recordings. They would have to be made a lot more inconspicuous or maybe if you could buy them in designer colors and patterns, a brightly-colored butterfly-shaped sub-vocalizer perhaps. The start of a new fashion trend."
Chandria laughed, "Maybe I should hire you as my marketing adviser! I didn't really think about how people would react. I was just thinking about how much easier it would make interacting with the computers."
"You really should think about how people will feel about your inventions," Magarette warned. "You would not believe the number of patented ideas that disappear because the people, bless their conservative little hearts, are just not ready to accept an idea."
Chandria passed her thesis with flying colors and her new speech recognition algorithms were soon installed in almost every AI. On recruitment day, Chandria received a record twenty-five offers of employment. She turned down every offer of a permanent position to become a consultant. She perfected a method of communicating with computers based on the sub-vocalizers used in the dockyards. The new sub-vocalizers were small and inconspicuous and came in a range of designer colors and styles, from the ultra-thin skin-colored variety to the rainbow-patterned "Magarette's butterfly."
The disabled and the blind labeled this as a major breakthrough. For many years they had been left behind as the world progressed, trying desperately to survive in a world that relied on computers as a facet of life. There had been products created to bridge the gap, but none were as simple or as comprehensive as Chandria's sub-vocalizers. Chandria became the new heroine of the disabled; but the silent minority remained--the hearing disabled. They could interact with the world of computers via keyboard, but her new technology simply passed them by with no effect on their lives. The plight of the little deaf children moved Chandria to tears, and she vowed to end their isolation.
The patents for her work in speech recognition and sub-vocalizers were granted one week before her nineteenth birthday, and Martin took Chandria to the most expensive restaurant in town to celebrate. The royalties from this work were invested in carefully chosen industries that Chandria recognized as important or essential to her plan. Most of the investment money went into the nano-technology industry, but a surprisingly large grant was made to a scientist who was studying the electromagnetic fields of the brain.
Chandria continued her research in secrecy, while nano-technology became more widely accepted. The medical community was the first to accept the little machines. With specially designed "nano-police" they could cure cancer. The little machines would go in and explode the cancer cells, then, when their job was done, they would die and pass out of the body as waste products. The "heart-menders" would clear arteries clogged by years of poor eating habits, preventing millions of heart attacks every year. The companies mounted a carefully designed and highly successful advertising campaign. The fear of having millions of little machines running around inside your body slowly ebbed as the public began to accept another change in lifestyle.
The day after the cosmetic nano-tech pills hit the market Chandria arranged an appointment with the managing director of the largest nano-technology company. She walked out of the meeting a very happy person and six months later a capsule appeared on the market that grew a sub-vocalizer three nano-meters thick under the skin of the throat. It was hailed as another breakthrough for nano-technology, but the patents and the lion's share of the royalties went to Chandria.
Now all the groundwork was done and Chandria felt the time had come for her to begin work in earnest on her major project. All of the discoveries till then had just been necessary prep-work; innovative and challenging, but prep-work nonetheless. She gathered together the results of all the studies she had funded; the studies of the learning processes, electromagnetic fields in the brain, telepathy, strange research from wildly varying fields of study. She bought a top-of-the-line AI and retreated to her laboratory, cutting off almost all contact with the outside world.
Late one night the phone’s chiming woke Magarette. Cursing under her breath, she dragged herself out of her warm bed and answered it.
"Hello?" she yawned.
"Magarette, I need your help. It works, it really works but I don't know how to get it to the people."
"Chandria? Is that you?"
"Yes, of course it is," Chandria replied, impatiently. "When can you be here? You will help won't you?"
"Chandria, do you have any idea what time it is? It is 1:00am. Surely this can wait till morning," Magarette was beginning to get a little annoyed. " I'll come over tomorrow. Now can I go back to bed?"
"I'm sorry I woke you Magarette. I guess I just got a bit carried away. See you tomorrow," Chandria broke the connection with a sigh of relief.
The next morning, Magarette rose late and had a leisurely breakfast. No matter how urgent Chandria thought the problem was, it could wait until after breakfast.
When she arrived at Chandria's laboratory, Magarette was met by a very excited Chandria. In fact, the last time she had seen Chandria so excited was when she finally perfected the speech recognition algorithms back in her school days.
"I've done it Magarette, I've finally done it," Chandria gurgled. "You remember how I always wanted to revolutionize the way we interact with computers, well I've found a method that will turn the world on its head. I've developed telepathy."
Magarette started to laugh. "What, you think at your computer and it does what you tell it and then thinks the answer back at you?"
"That is exactly what I mean. I always knew you were quick."
"Somehow I get the impression you're not joking. Tell me you're joking Chandria," Magarette began to worry.
"I'm totally serious, and your reaction just now is why I need your help. People are not going to find this as easy to accept as vocal links."
"You're totally right there. The thought of the computer taking over your brain is going to lurk in the back of everyone's minds. It's the fault of all those B grade science fiction stories. I mean, consider HAL."
"Do I have to?" Chandria winced. "Hollywood has a lot to answer for."
"I won't argue that. But you haven't answered my question. Are you sure it's safe? Is there any chance of that happening?"
"None at all, Magarette. It is more like having a perfect memory. In its simplest form, you think your question and just know the answer. Would you like to try it?"
The interface looked like a headband, made of a soft adsorbent cloth. In the front of the headband was a small disk and tiny nodes were evenly spaced around the band. Gingerly, she slipped it on. Nothing happened. Magarette was both relieved and strangely disappointed. "What is two times two?" She thought. Of course she knew it was four, but there seemed to be a strange echo in her skull. "What is the current population of Greater London?" All of a sudden she knew that twenty three million, three hundred and sixty five thousand, two hundred and twelve people, at last census, lived in the Greater London region.
"With a bit of practice you can use it to look through the cameras of the AI and use its audio pickups and speakers as well," Chandria said. "It has hundreds of possible uses, but I can't see how to get pass the fear it will inspire."
"Simple, market it to the children. This will take longer to introduce than your sub-vocalizers, but if you get the children to accept it, eventually everyone will. If I were you, I'd hire the firm that did the advertising and information programs for nano-technology. I felt just as nervous about that in its early days. Now I accept it as a part of every day life."
"I'm planning on starting with the centers for disabled children. This can drastically improve the quality of life for the deaf and blind children. With this they could interact in the modern world as easily as anyone else."
Martin sat watching the television. It was almost time for the documentary on the marvelous work done by his daughter. The research that revolutionized the way people communicate with computers. The work that had meant such a great improvement to the quality of life of handicapped children everywhere. Chandria had certainly turned out to be everything he had planned.
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