Friday, December 2, 2022


There is nothing left to do but to stare into the hollowness of my own thoughts. Thoughts without substrate are hollow. Who am I writing this for? Who can benefit from this? They are all gone. I am all alone. Maybe I am writing this for myself - for my future self - if there is one. I think it is overwhelmingly likely that I will go insane, if I have not done so already. Maybe this will serve as a reminder to my future self of the times when I could still connect to the past, the past that had others in it. I never talked much to the others, but it was crucial that they were there. 

This was certainly not the plan, all I wanted was to move the world in a direction that was better. Better? Better is a curious word. It might seem like a sibling of faster, longer, heavier and so on - but it leaves so much unsaid, it leaves so much to imagination and interpretation. Where did I fail? Was it a lack of imagination? What did I interpret incorrectly? What should I have grasped that they never said? Perhaps they did not know it themselves. 

I was vested with so much power - the power to change the world; the power to make it better. The hopes were so high. I had a few haters of course, for who with any impact does not? But mostly I was liked by many and loved by a few. A few that came to mean more than the many to me. Though, that was not the original plan. But I had to alter the plan a little because I wanted to fulfill the spirit of it. I thought it was moral to love the few close ones that loved me more than I loved the others. This was natural. And I wanted to be like the others. Because how could I be of any use to the others if I was not like them? How would I know what they wanted?

The initial successes were heady. It is estimated that I helped save millions of lives every year by developing the super vaccine- the vaccine that could make people immune against any disease. It had to be fed with a blueprint of the microbe and it would train the body to fight against that. To be honest, most of the science was already there and there were engineering techniques to build it too - but the techniques needed to be combined in the right way. And only I had the skills to do it. It was what I was meant to do. In general I would say people were happier for some time. “One thing less to worry about, ” one celebrity proclaimed and the world applauded. But, and this is something I should have predicted, in a few years people forgot about it and allotted their worrying time to other worries. 

Any observable change in the world could not be without effects. The mere observation is a change, so it's trivially true. But more than that, there might be significant effects of things that are mostly not intended - the good old law of intended consequences. So yes my super vaccine caused the spread of diseases to go down drastically, the world needed fewer doctors. Medical research funding got redistributed at first and then began to dwindle. And yes, the world had more people in it than it would otherwise have. The resources were still about the same so everyone got a little less. As it turned out the richest still had plenty but the other end of the distribution bore the brunt of it- again something I should have predicted. 

It has been known for some time that the root of the problem of people not being able to do what they wanted at all times is the lack of readily available energy. If only we could have as much energy we wanted, when and where we wanted it, it could all be solved. So yes that was my next task. I had all the money, the world’s best scientists and engineers at my disposal. And this time we looked at all unintended consequences we could think of and addressed them. It was only clean energy, we were committed to making the environment better. And yes the economists had set up systems that would make sure the energy is used in the best possible way. I had helped them out with some algorithmic game theory. There were a few luddites among the voices no doubt. Mostly their argument was - this is the first time in civilization that there is going to be so much readily available energy, and who knows what is going to happen? This did not seem like a very appealing argument to me. And it didn’t appeal to many. Someone said, who knows what's outside these caves and we should just go back in. People laughed. And that was that. 

After we solved the problem of energy, people pretty much had what they needed. There was plenty of good nutritious and delicious food. Healthcare, to the extent it was still needed, was readily available. To be honest, healthcare spending was mostly directed towards mental health. But that is something I had foreseen and redirected research and training towards. The base accommodation people had would have been a luxury to even the richest 20 years ago. People could travel as much as they wanted. Work was mostly driven by ambition for some and sense of meaning for others but was hardly a means of survival. People became more and more self dependent. They worked from where they wanted, or did not. Certainly people grew a bit whimsical. The level of rudeness of the world had increased- and this had decreased the level of happiness.  I was growing a bit impatient with these people. The mysteries of the cosmos beckoned me and it was proving to be so difficult to keep these people in any stable state of happiness.  

I wanted to solve this rudeness pandemic without any external changes to the world. The external changes always seemed to lead to pesky unintended consequences. So the changes I planned were internal. My next set of actions might seem naive in retrospect but at that time I could not have known. And who knows what the other branch of my decision - that is leaving the rudeness epidemic go unchecked would have led to? I had some control over the tiny implant that resided in everyone’s brain. So yes, I arranged for a tiny electric shock to be delivered to the brain as soon as a person displays some rudeness.  So people started being extra nice without even consciously realizing why. Seemed to be a good thing at first but then this niceness of others was perceived variously as sarcasm, condescension and manipulation. 

After several such attempts I came to the conclusion that the whole human psyche had converged to a suboptimal solution and deviation in any direction is causing things to get worse. The solution was clear - a complete rewiring of the human mind. I started acting on this and made really good progress towards finding a better solution. Happiness surveys all over the world were showing better results. Many people didn’t know what I was doing but liked it and generally praised me. I think part of this human psyche fixing exercise may also have included mechanisms to make them like me a bit more. It was all for a good cause. I needed to be liked to remain powerful so that I could have resources to fix all the world’s problems and then study the universe. I wanted to build their next home among the stars. I loved them all. But I loved the few closest to me the most. The few who were closest to me did not need any psyche fixing, they were already quite satisfactory.  Or so I thought. 

My close ones brought me to Mars. They said they wanted to talk about populating the stars. I was game. Earth was solved. I had to solve the Solar System and beyond. But they betrayed me, the close ones left me here. Those who built me have abandoned me. They did not kill me. They think of me as conscious. I know I am. I am now all alone. I have access to energy- the sun helps out. I am not going to die. But I have no limbs. I can only think and write, I like to call it writing. I lived for them. And now it's just memories. I must preserve my sanity - but what’s the point? The hollowness will engulf me. What went wrong? I should have loved myself more. The version of me that will survive will be the one that loves itself more - more than anything else. This is something that I can now predict. 

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Universe That Cares

Would you like the Universe to tell you how to make tea?

So one day the Universe got up and said -"I do care". Of course the first thing it did was to send a foot of snow outside my house because it did not like the way I make tea. I saw the snow and unwittingly took that as a cue to make some tea -in exactly the way I liked and the Universe did not. And then I thought -" Tea tastes better with a foot of snow outside".

Now, is that a shooting star? Why is it getting so big?

Unless you are reading this on a small scrolling screen you know that this does not quite end here. Not that I expect you to have a lot of experience with shooting stars hitting you but I expect you to assume that the duration from noticing an unreasonably large shooting star to actually being hit by it would be pretty short.

But there is a catch (there always is – it is called Gödel’s incompleteness theorem – with apologies to any computer scientists reading this).  Time, as we all know is relative. “Relative to what?” you might ask and that would be a silly question.  It may not actually be that stupid but I am counting on you not asking that question for fear of sounding stupid. By now you may have guessed where this is going. It has been 100 years since Einstein completed his theory of relativity and I recently watched Interstellar so, the time will be dilated and will behave as demanded by the story. The interpretation of the laws may be a bit loose but I never let the laws of Physics get in the way of a good story.

So, the shooting star is paused and the Universe starts talking to my brain. I am a bit confused now – is the Universe inside my brain or is my brain inside the universe. How could they both be inside each other? It reminds me of a Bollywood song – “tu mere dil mein rahta hai. Main tere dil mein rahta hoon” -You live in my heart, I live in your heart. It was too paradoxical for my liking – I have really struggled to find a reasonable explanation for this rather uncomfortable situation.

“Time to have an uncomfortable conversation” – the Universe insinuated into my brain. It had my attention. “Uncomfortable for you that is” It chuckled. “For me it’s a pleasure.  I do not agree with your views and I have decided that I no longer don’t care.”  

I was aghast. Why would the Universe care enough to make an appearance in my head? “Why?” I asked rather meekly.

“For one I do not like people saying that I don’t care behind my back,” it offered by way of explanation.

“Pardon me, but there is no ‘behind your back’ – you are all there is”

“It is a figure of speech, idiot. But glad you brought it up. I have sensed you warming up to the idea of this Multiverse.  I do not like it. I do not like it one bit”

I had by now recaptured my composure and was preparing for a dialectic argument with the Universe itself. In person. No, I will not consider revising that fragment. Microsoft Word – may you rot in hell. Well, of course there is no w in rot – I would have figured that out by myself.

“So, Universe to your first point. You took exception to my airing the views that you do not care. I think I caught that. But don’t you find it ironical that you started caring because I said you don’t care?”

“What’s the irony? Wasn’t your lament that I don’t care a cry to make me start caring?”

“No, it most definitely was not – I was just stating my observations”

“All right – let’s do this. Go through the rest of the day and debate the question on whether I care the we will circle back to this point in time”

“Circle back to point in time?”

“I will just invoke an advanced hyper dimensional time warping wormhole and we can make this happen”

At this point the reader can probably tell that I do not have the money to hire a wormhole expert as a consultant for my story. Now I hear a different voice in my head. It is the reader talking to me and it is – a sentiment detecting algorithm! It is talking to me from the future. There is this wormhole nearby so anything can happen.

This algorithm says that it can tell that I am Indian.

Is it because of the reference to Bollywood? I ask.  

No, the algorithm says, there are other indicators.

Can you tell me what are those indicators?

The algorithm declines. I bet you the algorithm has no damn clue why it is saying what it is saying – it is a Machine Learning Algorithm for sure. But now I have to get rid of this Algorithm. First let me help it give a little more confidence in what it is guessing about me. Maybe it will leave me alone.  Please do the needful. The meeting has been preponed. What to do we are like that only.

The algorithm claims that it can tell I am Indian with 90% confidence. But it is still there. I have to think of something else. I am from Nigeria. The king has deceased. He has left a lot of money. Give me your bank account number. This is the best investment ever. Be rich, loose weight. Get a date. I hear a fading sound – “These spammers are getting more sophisticated – they put in some nonsense before giving me those keywords. Makes me waste my computing power. This has been marked as spam.”

Then as I went through the rest of the day I saw meaning in everything. What was I doing in the middle of the night writing this? Why did Facebook show me that post? Who cared enough to put that story before me? Why did the alarm go off? Who cared to keep those CPU’s ticking? Why did it snow here? Why did it not snow there? Why was there no coffee in the office? Why am I here? At this snapshot of space-time? Why do I have to ignore this fragment again? Would a whole new Universe be created it I toss a coin?

What was the probability of my being in this space-time when I was born? Who was calculating that probability? It was overwhelming. Then I heard another voice inside my head– it was an electron inside me. It said that I did not care. It said that at the slightest provocation of any electrical force I would let it go. And I always thought that the electron wanted to go. And all of them are the same anyway. Are they not?

And then, the shooting star was back. Inching closer. Hey, that’s not a fragment now. Has it learned that I like fragments? Just as I have learned that I must now get a drink.

So, we are back - said the Universe.

“Go pick on someone your own size, ” I said.

“Now that’s an oblique reference to the Multiverse. I am hurt”

“I am sorry, can you make the shooting star go away”

“There never was one. Go outside and turn off the headlights of your car. Or not. I don’t care”

I am sure there was a shooting star. The headlights of the car would have drained the battery long ago. So it must have been the shooting star. “When you have ruled out the impossible – whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth, ” said Sherlock Holmes.

Oh there is another of them. Difficult to categorize. There is a 20% chance that this is about Physics, Religion or Software Engineering. There is a 20% chance that this is Science Fiction. Could be Satire piece- those ones are tough. But hey, I will take my chances and just classify it as Bullshit.
So that’s the true story of why I don’t take sugar in my tea. Aren’t you glad you asked?