This story is just getting started. As I mentioned last week, it is based on a personal experience that my family witnessed. It was likely the supreme sacrifice that any parent could make for their child. This story takes that situation and imagines, “what if…”. It takes things in a direction that springs from my imagination. It is not meant to be a preachy story, but it is a cautionary tale on what might happen if you try to change fate for selfish reasons.]
Please enjoy this weeks installment of Memories of Rachel
Memories of Rachel – Part 2
“What was your first memory as a child?” Ben asked.
“I hadn’t thought about it, but I think it was going to the mall at Christmas time with my mom.”
“Good. That’s good. Try to visualize that memory for the next 30 seconds or so.”
As Rachel, despite her pain, let her face smile and form tears at the same time, Ben looked at the graphs on this laptop screen. He made some notes and recorded some of the data.
“This is a great baseline. It’s working perfectly,” he said, somewhat oblivious of the emotional state of his wife. When he realized she was crying, he moved closer to her and took her in his arms. She still felt strong and athletic to him, but something had change. She was trembling and returned his hug a bit more strongly than usual. He wanted to ask her if she was okay and reassure her, but he knew this was a ridiculous notion and she would know it too.
“I know this is painful, but it is working. Your memories are vivid and the software is capturing a strong baseline. Our baby will know so much more about you than she might have.”
“It’s not so much that it’s painful,” Rachel said as she looked deeply into Ben’s eyes. “It’s just that I won’t be able to share any of these memories in person.”
“You don’t know that,” Ben said, trying to convince himself as much as his wife. “If you start treatment as soon as the baby is born, maybe we can catch it in time.”
Rachel looked away from her husband.
“You know as well as I do that isn’t going to happen. You’re a smart person, Ben. Don’t try to act stupid and expect me to buy it. We both heard the facts from the doctor.”
“I know…I know,” he admitted with his eyes beginning to fill with tears up as well. “You can change your mind, Rachel. We can adopt. We can get a surrogate.”
Rachel’s face suddenly became serious.
“Ben, we’ve been through this. I’ve made my decision. I’m not going to end an innocent life to selfishly save my own, especially when the odds of the treatment working are so small.”
Ben knew Rachel was right. He just hated the unfairness of it all. Up until her diagnosis, Rachel was the healthiest person he knew. She ate healthy foods, hit the gym every day and was a marathon runner. He was the one who survived on cheeseburgers and snacks. Thanks to his metabolism and Rachel dragging him to the gym a few times a week, he appeared to be in shape, but he knew that he wasn’t in the same class as his wife. Now, her superior physical conditioning was helping her to produce a healthy baby while her body gradually succumbed to the cancer.
“Maybe we should stop for a while,” Ben said. “Dredging up these memories can’t be making you feel any better.”
“No, actually, it’s helping. It keeps my mind off of the…situation. Self-pity is not something I want to get stuck in. Let’s just do this.”
True to form for both Ben and Rachel, they did what they always did when they faced stress or unpleasantness, they threw themselves into the work of recalling and recording Rachel’s memories.
The technology Ben had helped develop was quite incredible. He, with the scientific resources at Kongo-AI, had developed special sensors. They recorded brain waves like an EEG diagnostic device, but they went further. They were able to catalog facial expressions, blood pressure, pulse, respiration and other indicators that gave insight into how the subject reacted when asked certain questions and, more importantly, when they recalled certain memories.
Ben had been the driver behind the complex algorithms that made up the system. Using the combination of what he created, he was able to plot data points from what was collected against a model that he had created for the human personality and create the engine to drive what he called BERTA, which stood for Brain Evaluation Rational Tracking Approximation. BERTA was anticipated to be the closest thing to a true sentient artificial intelligence incarnation. Ben had spent years on this.
He was a brilliant student who finished high school at 15 and then went on to be a dual major at MIT in Artificial Intelligence/Robotics and Brain and Cognitive Science. His interest in these fields came from observing and working with his brother, Adam, who was autistic.
Ben spent countless hours watching, observing, helping and learning from his brother. Adam had trouble verbalizing and reading, but could reproduce artistic works from the masters during any period of art. His room was covered with reproductions of the works of Rembrandt, Da Vinci, Picasso, Monet and others. He started out when he was about six using crayons, chalk and whatever other medium was lying around. Once his parents recognized his talent, they bought him an overwhelming amount of art supplies. His room was filled sketchbooks, canvases and shelves full of brushes and paints. His bookcase was filled with high quality art collection books from every conceivable period. These were his inspiration. He didn’t create original works, but the quality of his reproductions could fool any art forgery experts.
Ben spent his youth trying to understand how his brother’s thought process worked and how they differed from those of so-called ‘normal’ people. He took this passion with him to MIT intending on using his experience with his brother as a launching point for the research he would conduct. He quickly discovered that there was a much bigger picture to the AI research. Neuroscientists had spent hundreds of years trying to understand the brain and computer engineers had spent decades trying to replicate its function.
Almost immediately, Ben was recognized as one of those rare individuals that could build a bridge between the organic brain and the CPU. Not only did this distinguish Ben from his fellow students, but his acumen in this area exceeded that of most of the MIT faculty. He was given free reign for research facilities and equipment. In fact, by his sophomore year, faculty members were lining up to be part of Ben’s research. They knew he was destined for great things.
Adam hadn’t disappointed. His was hired by Kongo right out of college as the aggressively growing conglomerate was just starting its AI division. He was given a shiny new lab in at the company’s newly built facility in Verona, Wisconsin. Ben was charged with hiring a team and equipping the lab. He had spent the past seven years making gigantic strides in bringing his theories to life and developing his algorithms.
Three years into his research for Kongo, he experienced a gigantic setback. He received a call from his father back home in Indiana, Pennsylvania. Adam had been working on a piece of art for the town. He was painting a large mural that was a replica of the famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte by Georges-Pierre Seurat. It was being painted on a large water tower by the entrance to the town. The town endorsed his work and the Department of Public Works helped him by providing a cherry picker truck, safety gear and supervision as he worked on it. Adam was used to working in isolation and he was a perfectionist. He wasn’t completely happy with his progress so he ventured out to the tower on his own at sunrise after a night of rain. He climbed the metal ladder to the platform around the tower and, as he reached to correct the part he was unhappy with, he fell 75 feet to the ground and died. Ben was devastated and the guilt of not being home to protect his brother was something that still caused him to feel crushing guilt.
Many people would have collapsed from an event like this, but Ben used it to motivate himself even further. After the brief setback, he had renewed energy which resulted in an accelerated pace. When he demonstrated where the AI research was during the next stockholder meeting, Franklin Parker was astounded at the milestones that had been reached. BERTA was able to handle questions from the stockholders and answer them intuitively. Ben then walked them through his neural mapping protocols. He predicted that Kongo AI would be able to map the human brain and effectively perpetuate a human brain’s thoughts, memories and even behavior from a living person.
“Imagine being able to retain the knowledge and experience of an Einstein, Jobs, Musk or any other brilliant mind,” Ben said. “This would not only perpetuate this precious knowledge, but the AI brain would continue to learn and gain experience beyond that of it’s original living host. Imagine these brains collaborating and combining their collected knowledge. The potential benefits to humanity are staggering.”
As Franklin Parker looked around the room, he could see that the stockholders were enraptured by Ben’s words. Imagine dangling the possibility of immortality in front of an audience of millionaires and billionaires.
Now, with that pivotal stockholder meeting four years in the past, Ben was hoping that his prophetic words were about to come true with one of the most personal applications imaginable. He was going to succeed with Rachel where he failed with Adam. He was working against the clock and against the ravaging effects of a terrible disease to perpetuate some aspects of his wife for their baby that was yet to be born and, in some measure, for himself.