No hope here

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“It sounds like in that book.”

She didn’t let me finish. “You’re thinking of the infinite improbability drive, Hitchhiker’s Guide. Douglas Adams”

“No, actually, I was thinking of Richard Dawkins, Climbing Mount Improbable.”

“That’s Biology.” Spoken with absolute scorn.

I probably should have felt put in my place, but I persevered. “Yes, evolution. Point is if something works then over thousands of generations it gets exaggerated, you end up somewhere improbable. Evolution never goes back and redesigns stuff. Hence, say, koala bears – how weird are they?”

Nobody interrupted so I carried on.

“Okay. So when a quantum particle moves into a state, a place, that’s nearer what’s wanted, your device nudges it to stay there. Like a sheepdog herding capering lambs.”

She was nodding. So were others sitting round the table. I was making sense!

“And zillions of these nudges in a very short time, right? So this apparatus could divert all the photons from the room lamps so they land on that agenda sheet.”

The room went dark, the agenda flamed.

“Cancel that.” The words snapped out. The room brightened, we saw she was pouring water from her glass onto the paper’s charred remains. “It’s voice activated.”

After a delay, while smoke detectors and sprinklers were deterred from doing their favourite things, I got back into my stride.

“Does this mean you can nudge any quantum particles, say those carrying nerve messages, thoughts?”

“Not yet,” she caught herself. “I mean, choosing particular paths for photons is a far simpler problem. Guiding sodium ions is harder for a start, their wavelength is much shorter. And simulation of memories is complex, easier methods than manipulating quantum probability waves already exist.”

Was I the only one who shivered slightly? Where did the icy trickle down my spine come from?

Professor Drozdov spoke. “I think everyone around this table appreciates the theory behind your device. Especially after the charming analogy suggested by our youngest colleague.”

I ground my teeth while the professor looked round the table before he continued.

“The questions before this committee must be: What use do you envisage for the device? What are the risks of misuse? Can these risks be controlled? And the final question for us today, do we sanction the device’s development? This question has the shortest answer. There are only two possibilities: yes or no.”

Sage nodding from the seated pillars of the establishment. Standing in front of us, blond hair in neat chignon, smart rose-pink suit only slightly marred by charred paper fragments on her upper sleeve, Dr Sally Ferguson smiled.

“Like Michael Faraday, a particular hero of mine, said when he was asked the same question about electricity, ‘What use is a baby?’ This device has as many possibilities. For example,” she placed a golf ball on the table. “Move the golf ball into the water below the flowers.”

There was a glass vase of white lilies on the table, we saw the ball appear in the water at the bottom of the vase.

“At the moment its range is only a few metres, but that’s mainly a power supply problem. Would someone like to instruct the machine to reposition the ball?”

“May I?” When Sally Ferguson smiled in acquiescence Professor Zhiang responded with a burst of Mandarin. The ball appeared on the notebook in front of her.

“I see. You say the device is voice activated, but how does it identify an instruction? And what if the word is ambiguous? I think some of my colleagues may have feared for part of their anatomy if I spoke in English.”

“The device analyses brain gamma waves to resolve ambiguity. We intend to tune devices to particular operators’ voices, but we thought the demonstration model would be more convincing if anyone here could address it.”

“I thought quantum particles were very small?” The question was from James Perkins, MP.

Sally Ferguson smiled once more, she was all smiles. “You are absolutely right Mr Perkins, and I’m glad you asked that question. The device acts on subatomic particles, the constituents of the atoms of the golf ball.”

Was I the only one who recalled that sodium ions were also made of electrons, protons, and neutrons? Or quarks if hadrons were too large. I remembered brain gamma waves, decided it was prudent to concentrate on thinking about useful applications like manipulating radioactive sources, removing contaminants from water supplies, maybe controlling light shows at music festivals.

Dr Ferguson was holding an egg in her hand, looking round the room, “Would anyone like to ..?”

I caught her eye, she passed me the egg. I took the saucer from beneath my coffee cup, smashed the egg into it, used my pen to stir the yolk and white together.

“Reconstitute this egg,” I said.

An unblemished egg sat in front of me. Carefully I cracked it on the edge of my cup, tipped its contents into the saucer. A perfect yolk floated in a sea of albumen. Those sitting round the table inhaled in unison, a voiceless, impressed and appreciative, ‘ah’.

The discussion moved on. Professor Drozdov summarized the list of uses that had been suggested then asked, “Now we move on to risks. Who would like to ask the first question?”

Questions came slowly, all of the same form. They began, “I’m sure there is a way round this but …”, or “Of course, the risk is slight but how can we avoid ….”

The outcome was not in doubt, our situation was more Pandora’s Box than Schrödinger’s, no-one would seal this machine back in its carton. Its power was too attractive, the committee would vote yes, the device would go live.

I found this account in Mum’s papers. I thought it was an interesting artefact, to remind us of how things were before. Before we all got to live in the best of all possible worlds.

But now I’ve been thinking for a while I know it’s best to put it in recycling.

About the Author: 
Concerned that observation and description could confine possible future states.