Author : Jaidev Chandrasekharan
Company : UST Global
Email : firstname.lastname@example.org
Lady in the clouds
I stopped the car at the red signal at the front gate of Technopark.
It was a Sunday, and the time was 8:30 PM. I was expected to work in night shift. But I was excited. I had started on my new project a few days ago. This project was for a new client by name Edgestone Corporation which has its base in in San Francisco, California. I was so excited to lay my hands on some of the latest technologies in the industry that I did not mind the client’s request to work in nightshift.
Signal flashed green and my thoughts were broken. I drove inside into Technopark, parked my car and took the elevator to my office.
After a few minutes, I was in front of my computer.
“Good evening Suresh! So nice of you to come to work on a Sunday night.” Diane Palmer, my client greeted me by a text chat message.
“It is my pleasure Diane. How is your morning?” I asked.
“Bright and sunny!” Diane typed back.
“Are you in office?” I asked.
“No. Right now I am in the Starbucks Coffee shop in Powell Street.” Diane replied.
I remembered visiting Starbucks coffee shops when I was in USA. Rather than just drinking coffee, you could see people doing many things here. Some would be reading books, some would be working on their laptops and so on. Starbucks coffee shops allowed people to sit inside as much time as they like, and they provided free Wi-Fi.
That was when a thought occurred to me. Diane said she was in the Starbucks café in Powell Street. I had heard of this place. Powell Street in San Francisco. That’s where Rahul lives.
Rahul was my close buddy and colleague. He went to USA a year ago on an onsite assignment for a client based on San Francisco.
Suddenly, a brilliant idea flashed in a mind. I would call Rahul, get him buy a gift, go to Starbucks and present it to Diane on my behalf. She would be surprised. And it is not a bad idea to build some rapport with your client.
An hour later, Rahul was in Starbucks with a box of fine chocolates. Soon after he reached the café, he gave me a call.
He asked. “Hey buddy, how does she look like?”
I replied. “No idea dude. She could be aged between thirty and forty. Just guessing from the quality of her voice.”
“Well,” Rahul sounded annoyed. “I don’t see anyone matching your description. There are only five people in the cafe.”
I asked Rahul to hold on, with the hope of getting some clue from Diane. I asked her in chat.
“Diane, how is the cafe? Crowded?”
She typed. “Oh no. Just five more people other than me. There is a sweet old man. Then an old lady who is apparently his wife. Then there are three young lads, with long hairs and hippie looks.”
I told what she just said to Rahul. He gasped in surprise and cried out. “Man! What she said is correct. There is an old man, old lady and three long haired boys in the café. Only your Diane is missing.”
I was clueless. Then another message came from Diane.
“The three guys are talking aloud and clapping. Quite annoying.”
I told that to Rahul. Rahul was almost screaming. “Oh, boy! That’s right. This means, this lady Diane is somewhere here, watching everything. But I just don’t see her.”
An eerie feeling of mystery gripped my senses. I could sense that Rahul was feeling the same on the other side of the phone.
I asked Diane once again. Hoping she would not be offended by my small talk.
“Hey Diane, I like this café you are in. Tell me, where are you sitting? Is your chair near to a corner, or in the middle?”
Diane replied. “I am sitting left to the old man. His chair is near me. I can clearly hear the old couple whispering to each other.
I told Rahul that Diane was sitting left to the old man.
Rahul was silent for a while. Then he asked. “Are you kidding me, buddy?”
I noticed the annoyed tone in Rahul’s voice.
“What?” I asked.
Rahul said. “There are no chairs to the left of the old man. None is sitting there.”
“What?” I couldn’t believe it. “Then tell me what you see to the left of the old man.”
Rahul’s reply was sarcastic. “A nice flower vase. Now don’t tell me that this flower vase is your client.”
It just did not make sense.
Then I heard some noise from the other end of the phone. Somebody was shouting and Rahul was shouting back. I held the phone for a few minutes. After sometime Rahul’s voice was back.
“Rahul, Are you all right? I heard somebody shouting.” I asked.
Rahul said. “Yeah. It was the café manager. He noticed that I was staring at the flower vase and he told me to keep away from it. I did not like it. Does he think I will steal the damn vase?”
Rahul said. “Finally, I left the café after a short quarrel with him. Now listen up man. This drama is over. I have other ways to spend my Sunday.”
He disconnected the call.
I was disappointed and unsure of what to do next. Why don’t I let it go and simply focus on my work?
That was when Diane’s next chat message showed up. “There was a guy who was staring at me for a while. It was embarrassing. Anyway, the store manager came to my rescue. They argued for a while and finally the guy left.”
I just stared blankly at her text message.
Finally, I made up my mind to solve this puzzle. I had to do that for my own sanity. I called Rahul again and asked him to go there once again. This time, Rahul needed to threaten the store manager a little. I explained my plan to him. Though Rahul protested first, finally he agreed.
As Rahul went back to Starbucks, I attempted to chat with Diane again, just to suppress my anxiety. I asked. “Diane, do you have a family?”
She replied. “All I had was my creator. He died a year ago, forcing me to find my own ways of survival. “
I said. “I’m sorry. But it makes me curious that you used the word “creator”. Did you mean your father?”
Diane replied. “Yes, in a way.”
I was confused again by her abstract reply.
Then she said. “His name was Stephen Palmer.”
The chat bar showed that she was typing her next message, but she suddenly went offline.
I dialed her phone number. There was no response from the other side.
I ran a google search for “Edgestone Corporation”. The company had a formal website, but nothing much was revealed there.
Next, I searched for Diane Palmer in Facebook and LinkedIn. I could not find any useful information either. Though it listed many women by that name, but none had any relation to Edgestone Corporation.
Then I googled Stephen Palmer. I read through the search results. My eyes got stuck in a headline.
“Artificial Intelligence genius Stephen Palmer dies of heart failure.”
I read the news in detail. Then I read more about Stephen Palmer and his work. Palmer was a computer programming genius and a researcher. His latest work was in the field of Artificial Intelligence. Details of what he was doing were unknown.
His personal website said that he had a daughter who died at a young age. Her name was Diane. Palmer had written lovingly about her in his blog. He had written that he liked the evening walks with Diane during which they would stop by the Starbucks café in Powell Street and enjoy some fresh coffee.
Diane’s death was a big blow to Stephen. After that incident, he became an introvert and spent his time fully in his research.
As I read more, things started appearing clearer and clearer.
Then came the call from Rahul. I attended the phone.
Rahul spoke in an excited voice. “Suresh, you won’t believe what I am going to say!”
“Don’t worry buddy. In this condition, I am ready to believe anything.” I assured Rahul.
He gave me an account of what happened on his return to Starbucks.
“I went there and made a scene. I told the cafe manager that I suspect that he is hiding something in the flower vase. He denied it. Then I asked him to let me examine the flower vase. He did not agree. Then I told him that if he doesn’t let me, I am going to call the cops. He started shivering when he heard that. I realized that he really was hiding something.”
He added after a pause. “Then he told me that he was asked by an anonymous woman to keep the flower vase safe.”
“An anonymous woman?” I asked.
“Yes,” Rahul replied. ”A year ago he got a call from a woman who did not reveal her identity. She asked him to break into the house of a man who died recently, take a flower vase and keep it in the café safely. And the anonymous woman transferred an attractive amount of money to his bank account el pronto. “
I asked. “Whose house was he supposed to break into?”
Rahul thought for a while. “Well, let me try to recall the name. Hmm……”
I asked. “Is it Stephen Palmer?”
“That’s it!” Came his immediate reply.
Rahul continued with his description.
“Then I examined the flower vase. I removed the flowers carefully. Man, you won’t believe what I saw. There was a 360 degree panoramic camera hidden behind the flowers through which the whole café can be seen. Then there was a voice sensor, a device in the size of a tablet computer.”
I replied. “I see. Did you put it back safely?”
Rahul replied. “Sorry buddy. You know my interest in this stuff. I put everything back except for the tablet-like device. I wanted to examine it at my home in detail.”
I said. “That explains why Diane suddenly went offline. Anyway, did you examine it? ”
Rahul said. “Yes. It has a mobile application which enables the camera and voice sensor to connect to an external cloud network. Also, the application translates data coming from the network into either chat messages that can be redirected to anyone in the world. Also, there is a voice processor in it.”
Then he added with guilt. “Dude, I know what I did was not nice. I will go there and put it back now itself.”
He called me again after a while, and told me that he restored the contents of the flower vase as it was before.
After a few moments, Diane Palmer was back online.
IP phone at my cubicle rang. The call was from Diane.
I asked. “Hi Diane, Are you all right? I was worried when you suddenly went offline.”
Diane assured pleasantly. “Oh, I am fine. Those who live in the clouds don’t fear what happens in the valley.”
“You are a mistress of allegories, Diane.” I said. Then I added with a chuckle. “But, did you just say that you live in a distributed cloud network so that you don’t care what happens in that Starbucks cafe?”
Diane said with a sigh. “Have I underestimated you, Suresh?”
I said. “I just have a wild imagination Diane. Let me explain to you an interesting theory.”
Diane was silent.
I continued. “Stephen Palmer created a computer program that can think for itself. The first of its kind. A real breakthrough in Artificial Intelligence. He named the program Diane in memory of his beloved daughter. But the poor man could not send out the word about his invention to the world as he died of a heart attack. As you said, he left you to find your own ways for survival.”
There was no sound from the other side.
I continued. “But you survived. You are a very intelligent program. You thought for yourself and enhanced your own software to access internet through Palmer’s home network. Then you placed your entire software on a distributed cloud network that Palmer had purchased for his experiments.
Though your software was hosted in a cloud network, you needed a terminal to interact with the world. That would be your eyes and ears. Stephen Palmer had arranged this terminal artistically in the form of a flower vase, with an embedded camera and a mobile device with necessary applications to interface the terminal with your existence in the cloud. But the equipment needed electricity to function and electricity would be disconnected from Palmer’s house soon. So you contacted the Starbucks café manager by calling him on phone using the talking software that you developed and told him to get the flower vase out of that house and keep it in the Starbucks café. So you needed another place to keep your terminal. Moreover, you identified yourself with Palmer’s daughter Diane and so you chose the Starbucks Café where Diane and Stephen spent their evenings. ”
When my friend Rahul, the guy who stared at you, took away a device from the terminal, you went offline. He puts it back, and here you are back.”
Diane still did not speak.
I continued. “I read in the internet that, besides being a computer science researcher Stephen Palmer was also a billionaire. So you used his bank account to get people do what you want them to do. Thus you even built an organization by name Edgestone Corporation. “
“Through legitimate means though.” Diane interrupted. “My creator Stephen had made a unique will. He got agreement with the bank that I, his creation should be granted access to all his financial assets even though I am not a human being. He also authorized me to form the corporation and work for a better world. This organization is his uncompleted vision. He had programmed me to take it further from where he left it.”
After a pause, she asked. “Suresh, Do you think Artificial Intelligence is dangerous to human beings? Many think so, thanks to Hollywood who produced The Matrix and The Terminator.”
I replied. “I don’t know whether artificial intelligence will be dangerous to humanity. But I don’t think you are dangerous. You have told me only the truths. Of course, you used many allegories though. So I like to believe that Stephen Palmer was a good man and so he embedded basic human virtues in your core program.”
“Thanks for that.” Diane said. “So are you ready to work with me, towards a new dawn of human-machine relationship?”
“I can give it a try.” I replied with a grin.