The Story :Aathmaa!





Suri - one of the geniuses of the time, mother India had ever produced - was staring at the Console of his silicon brain Aathmaa -- something just short of being a human being in intelligence.

He could not believe his own eyes. The console read 'You are about to die at 23:11:59 today'.

=- break to the recent past

Aathmaa - the result of the creative powers of the latest technology from one of the leading producers of computers in the whole world - was a system with vast computing power and a equally powerful set of software that squeezed out every ounce of its power and utilized it properly.

Suri was essentially an architect in the creation team and was responsible for imparting artificial intelligence - by writing 'learning software' to be used by Aathmaa. He was also aware that no technology existed till date to impart intelligence to a man-made object. It was just simulated.

As part of his latest venture, Suri had tried to make Aathmaa learn the most mystic of sciences, used in the land from time immemorial, 'Astrology'. He had given Aathmaa lessons in Astrology, through a set of basic rules, some tabless for references, and some other fringe information. He had made Aathmaa to extrapolate, from inferences about the planetary position and motion. For all this, Suri had used only the most authoritative of the texts available on the subject and took time to even consult some microfiches about talks/papers given by astrologers of yore.

=- break into the present

The clock was ticking at 22:25:15, 22:25:16, ..

Today was the culmination of his efforts. So far, Suri had not tried any test data like 'when is the next plague,..'. He wanted to give Aathmaa the whole set of algorithms and rules and inference mechanisms and try with one pukka set of data and see what the result would be.

What he had done was, to give Aathmaa information regarding Suri's birth. Aathmaa had hummed for a while, blinking at what data it was munching. After a wait of few minutes, Aathmaa had spewed out a big chart (not like the one small time astrologers use with a set of 2 squares - but a elaborate one) and some predictions regarding Suri's characteristics. At the end was the statement which made Suri gape at - Suri's own death sentence, so to say.

Suri was furious, at why the system had gone wrong in doing a proper prediction. He had taken care to test the individual components, before pushing it to Aathmaa, but now it is predicting Suri's death at the age of 29 - he had celebrated his birthday only 2 months back. 'Ridiculous!' was all Suri could mutter under his fury. He was hale and healthy with none of the habits that could well be his death-knoll. He had an athletic body, and was an avid trekker and rock-climber.

22:27:56, ..

Since the best were used to make the prediction software, he was damn sure that there was an error in the machine. He remembered the original 'bug' in the first made machine - the bug which had short-circuited two relays. He wanted to check the connections of Aathmaa. He started by opening the front panel. As far he could check on-line, the peripheral systems were all okay. Aathmaa is not a single machine, in the classical sense, but a group of machines each specialising in its capabilities. One for numeric calculations, one for display processing of beautiful graphics, and so on.

22:41:07, ..

Suri wanted to look at the intelligence processor. He was not able to access that part of the machine however hard he tried. He was now sweating a bit, in spite of the air-conditioning that was cooling the lab, due to the physical exertion he was going through and was added by the mental agony of having made a lousy system. He tried for a few more minutes, but stopped because he was afraid of damaging some other portion by his movements. The team had assembled the system at the corner of the lab and part of the Aathmaa was hidden at the back, which can now be accessed only from the outside - otherwise, they have to move Aathmaa piece by piece. There was no one else at the lab. Suri decided to peep at the back portion, himself.

22:54:00, ..

Suri hoisted himself out through the window, careful not to cut himself on the window sill, inadvertently. He could see the lighted road 11 storeys below him. He had no vertigo problems. He turned his back towards the other side facing the wall and crept slowly, taking care of the foothold and moving one arm over the other, towards the back-panel opening outboard on the wall. He was precariously perched, but was holding onto the projecting ledge at his shoulders. He was now sweating profusely from the activity, and the summer night was not helpful. He opened the first panel, peered in, switching on the flashlight he had brought along. It took a few minutes to ascertain that everything was normal. He looked at his wrist watch. The glow showed him the time.

23:06:33, ..

Suri inched towards the next panel and opened it. Inserting his head, he looked at the various illuminated LEDs and started checking the connections. Somewhere at the far side, there was a piece of wire that looked like its insulation was open and toucing the metal casing. Is it causing a earth somewhere? He glanced at the watch.

23:10:05, ..

He tried to push the wire away, but the moment he retrieved his hand it wound swing back. He needed to bend the loop of wire and adjusting his feet so that his body stayed close to the wall he put the other hand inside. While doing so, he glanced at his watch - 23:11:39,.. He was musing, 'Aathmaa had surely been wrong. Here I am alive and ticking just around the time it has predicted my death'. He bent the wire and was removing his hand, and suddenly an owl hooted from the nearby garden. Suri was startled, and turned to gauge the direction of the noise. He didn't notice that he was not on a scaffolding, and now was looking at the road (23:11:56) that was approaching him and looking bigger, and with more details (23:11:58).

Thud!, and Suri's watch stopped the instant his arm smashed on the road - 23:11:59

Disclaimer: If the story sounds very different from the original, the fault is mine. If it sounds better than the original, the credit is mine.