The Day After By Dr M H Srinarahari
“Has anything been done in the past?”, questioned Dilip without looking directly into the glazing eyes of his partner. He continued to decode the data got on the computer monitor screen, in the space module.
“I don’t know much about it”, said Deepak, indifferently while opening a food capsule packet. Looking at Dilip inquisitively, he continued to speak casually, “These computers are so advanced that I am afraid how can we infer the works done in the 20th century.”
“I hope that at least we can retrieve the information from the CD-ROM’s, isn’t it?” retorted Dilip.
“Would you like to have a capsule ‘zilonsky’ or ‘yeastroi’ for the breakfast – I mean to begin the day with–?” questioned Deepak.
“Oh! That’s an odd thing to begin the day with, they will all spoil the cerebral part partially. Often we forget the time and date. By the by what day is this?”
Abruptly, adjusting his voice to the computer code language, Deepak promptly answered, “10:40:12:12,02,2504”.
Momentarily it gave Dilip an insight into his nostalgic memory by recalling what had prompted him to join the mission and to explore the wonder land in one of the planets of the Alpha Centauri Major. He thought how he could fulfil his long cherished ambition of becoming a space voyager and also remembered how many light years they have already passed and spent after leaving the mother earth. A sudden chill went up his nerves to think whether he would ever return to his homeland. This particular sudden thought created an impact to get an idea to contact his grand mother who lived in Mumbai in India. Immediately a memory image of his grand ma appeared before him. He recollected her face, which was always buoyant with cheerful smiles. Her smiling face just enlarged in his memory paths. At once he asked “Deepak, can we get the authenticated information from Susan?”
“Of course, but why can’t we make use of the time machine to travel back to the twentieth century and collect first hand information?” Deepak spoke intermittently gulping the food capsule one after the other without the aid of ‘H O’
“No, No,” said Dilip, “I was told that 20th century was a fascinating world and people had still a dilemma which one to adapt- medievalistic thought or the advanced technology. I am afraid that we may be caught in the web in that emotional world and might not come back at all.”
“Okay, before that, let’s go through the computer abstract first; what were they terming this kind of speculations in those days,” spoke Deepak thinking loudly and searching for a key word in his thought processes.
“I think extrapolation, fantasy, or one minute, let me rewind my memory tank, please allow me a minute more–theories, thought experiment-no, sorry I am not getting it.”
“Shall I check the inventions of the 20th century–?” Dilip suggested. “Wait a minute, I know there is a lot of difference between inventions and discoveries. Or shall I try the keys to study the 20th century culture–”
“Let me try”, concentrating upon the computer screen, he screamed, “Oh my God, the damn machine gives me 20159515 key words!”
“Now you can try the -what they used to call -internet- ha! Ha! Ha! The point is they had country codes at the end -that too abbreviated. Any how you can try one of them.”
“Web sites were represented by www during those days as initial letters – I remember it when I was checking one of the mails one day and accidentally I discovered that they were making use of such primitive ideas!” added Dilip.
“No, no, it is not useful as there are thousands of combinations- I think it is just like searching for a book which has no classifications at all.” replied Deepak.
“Eureka, I found it. During those days, the future speculations were recorded in Science fiction. Directly, you apply the key let’s give a try.” The impetus created in him was due to the flash of the word ‘Eureka’ which hinted him the scientist Archimedes. Thus, a glow sparkled in the eyes of Dilip. It reminded him the scientist’s discovery and made him to laugh. No doubt he remembered his name by the process of a methodical formation of a sequence of letters of English alphabets beginning with ‘A’. But without exhibiting his inner joy at the discovery, he further started to dig the past with the probable key words. It came to his mind how -a motive behind his thought was particularly true of the fact- “Always already there” – a medievalistic ideology- even now holds good in this post- super industrial era.
Several times Dilip had speculated that the present thought processes were not helpful to unravel the mysteries of the past. Thus, he had realized that the solutions were always present in the minds of the thinkers of the twentieth century.
Without a second thought, Dilip operated the computer to get the data with a key -Science fiction of the 20th century. He was again put into a dilemma which one to choose among the key words- play, performance, poetry, ballet, opera, songs, folklore, essays, novels, news paper clippings, novels, movements, drama, films, videos, CD’s, short stories, criticism, theses, dissertations, journals, magazines, seminars, conventions, conferences, meetings, interviews, Hugo, Nebula, Nobel, Jnana Peetha, award speeches, commentaries, biodata, year wise bibliographies, subject index, reviews, history, myth, titles, matter stored in microfiche, micro films, book forms, and online services etc., For a moment he became dizzy, and momentarily restless.
Dilip really became desperate, He remembered the caution given before he left for the present mission, ” when every thing fails, try patience.” Hence he left the computer desk and began to eat the breakfast. Mean while, he pondered over the right key to operate to reach his goal. Suddenly an idea crept into his mind how he would have been confused if he had born a few centuries back. Then he made up his mind not to give up hope. The thought gave him a relief and ultimately he thought that it might not be very difficult for him to pursue in his present quest. Getting a technological information precisely, it was easy for him to refer any book he chose through his computer to the library where the astronomical data was recorded situated in any galaxies or even to the New York library with in a fraction of a second. He had been professionally trained to contact any professional expert in the field or he could have made a data search of the billions of billion records. But he has failed in the present quest, as neither any book on record nor his own insight helped him. Because, the scientists and technologists are not facing any human problems in the present century. In point of fact, robots had storage of memories. They assisted the human masters in every walk of life.
But it was a primitive idea to store the history of the past in their memory banks in robots as the scientists had speculated that they were beyond the legendary periphery of information to be stored. In other words, robots were equipped with the current problems and the possible solutions. The astronomers thought that it was the lacuna in the present day set up.
However, Space travelers like Deepak and Dilip had a belief in scientific humanism. While Dilip was eating the break fast, Deepak after obtaining the permission from the former to operate the computer sat there quietly to continue their quest for information. Deepak’s movement of his fingers reminded Dilip the act of playing over the piano as in the case of ball dances of the nineteenth century. Of course, he had not seen one like that even in the film, but he could recollect what his aunt had narrated in one of her stories during his childhood. However, he did not make a direct comment because ends were more important than the means. Deepak at first thought, and after that without making a delay pressed the keys. The dancing fingers stopped automatically. Dilip saw that Deepak had become a statue. Dilip got up to see the amazing result on the screen. Perhaps, Deepak might have opted for the list of Science fiction writers. It seemed to him that the list would never end. However, he skimmed through the list: Zelazny, Ursula Le Guin, Samuel Delany, Vladimir Nabokov, William Wu, William Burroughs, Sterling, Spinrad, Ray Bradbury, Philip Dick, Theodore Sturgeon, Robert Heinlein, Jayanth Narlikar, Isaac Asimov, Jack London, Herbert Wells, Dinker, Deshponde, Brian Aldis, Bhoosanurmutt, Arthur Clarke, Alan Dean, Aggarwal–Deepak felt giddy. It was utterly impossible for him to come to any satisfactory conclusion to choose any particular author randomly. Hence, they decided to contact grand old lady Susan. First, Deepak tried to establish the contact over visi-phone. It was reported by one of her robots, which was on night duty that she was asleep, as it was 2 A.M. However, the decent robot answered that she would be asked to contact them immediately when she gets up.
It was much surprising for them that they had an emergency call from the Earth. This time Dilip responded to the call. A robot was speaking at the other end. Dilip’s face enlarged, still broadening his smiles while answering the call. Again there was the same robot Verne belonging to Susan, which informed him that Susan was so sensitive that she woke up the moment he had given a call previously. Dilip could again hear to the polite polished words of the robot before it handed the speaker to Susan. There was a pause before she spoke. Dilip could speculate that the delay caused by her in speaking to him was precisely because she might be asking the robot’s help in recording their conversation over the extension circuit.
When Dilip spoke first, the grand mother could not control her passion. However, she spoke in between her joyous sobs. She expressed her loneliness. She cursed the scientists for having eradicated the pollution problem, which had given raise to long life.
She contemplated that it was nice if she had been in the past centuries as death might have taken away the lives of human beings even before they anticipated death. The woman wept for her misfortunes as she was forced to stay alone although she had children, grand children and relatives. The two astronauts felt like running to her, hug her and demonstrate her in definitive terms that they were prepared to leave every thing for her. At that time, they thought that they should not have accepted the present job. They cursed the pattern of society, which was responsible for segregating the old people from their kith and kin’s under the pretext of the so-called generation gap. Unlike the past century, there was no job for the old people in bringing up their progenies. The advancement in technology had replaced these responsibilities to the expert robots. In the words of Susan, the condition was as worse as the conditions of a child born to a surrogate mother. She opined that at least there was a human element, which had prevailed in the past. After formal greetings and usual enquiries, Susan questioned Dilip the cause for calling her at the dead of night.
The grand son was carried away by the pang of emotional sensibilities for a moment. Gradually, but steadily, he picked up the momentum in reaching the streamline of his thought, which had bothered them very badly since that morning.
He addressed calmly, “Dear Ma, in my childhood days you had enlightened me with regard to many things by narrating stories and incidents pertaining to your earlier centuries. In those stories you had reiterated that their speculations and innumerable theories which have really brought solace to the human beings of today. In fact, you had once told me that whenever we cannot find solutions to a certain problems of today, could however be found -the clues- in the philosophy of the previous generations, wherein, one may find hints for the same. In other words, the future, sorry, Ma the present problems we have already been dealt with by our predecessors, but, now, we can term it to be postulates, isn’t it?”
Thinking aloud, Susan replied that in a way, she agrees to his views but soon she told that she has to reconsider the same leisurely. As she spoke the confidence in her grew with time. Ultimately, Dilip spoke, ” Mum, as you know from a long time that we have been taking up a number of deep space explorations since our entry into service. We have reached a saturated point in which it is difficult for us to pull on for the rest of our lives.
Robots of course can serve us better, but, we feel after so many years of experience that they are not the human beings.”
Meanwhile the grand mother interrupted, “Quite interesting, why can’t you come over here to live with me now?”
“Sorry, Mum, we are far away from you and it takes a long time to reach you. Secondly, the present assignment will definitely take a few more decades to complete. Just if you can allow us some more time to fulfill our ambition–”
“Never mind, at least you can view me can’t you?” retorted the old lady. They ordered the robots to arrange for a trimensional device for the rest of their talk. Once the contact was established, they had no difficulty in a face to face talk.
Though, the astronauts noticed a few wrinkles over the grand mother’s face, they thought, ultimately man had succeeded in solving the aging problem to some extent. They knew well how man had fought against infections in the last two centuries. But the project was incomplete due to many more reasons. In this regard, Dilip remembered the oft-quoted remark of his father, “Man is the enemy of man”.
Susan asked Dilip to continue. Dilip resumed his argument, “Mum, it is difficult to shift a section of the society to a New World. Robots themselves cannot develop a cult by themselves. Hence, it is in our opinion that we can try to create human beings here–”
“Oh! Stop that you cannot become Gods!” the woman objected.
“But Mum, please understand our problems,” this time Deepak humbly requested the grand mother. Now, Dilip continued his argument with a strong determination. More they argued the gap seemed widening. At one point, the lady thought of disconnecting the trimensional device. But in this world, how could one draw up a conclusion upon the tangle of love and affection. Finally, the boys succeeded in their attempts only by praising her
Extraordinary talents. Of course, one has to admit that love has a wonderful power, which could revitalize the strength of the relationship in terms of light years also.
Susan after calming down herself from the highest level of disgust and hatred started to narrate in a low but confident voice the history of artificial human creation. She told that there was a sensuous poet among the Romantic Movement in the beginning of the nineteenth century. He was none other than P. B. Shelley. He had a scientific ideology also.
His wife was Mary Shelley. She was the pioneer Science fiction writer. In fact, she began to approach to the problem similar to the astronauts. Victor the protagonist of the novel Frankenstein -the Modern Prometheus (1818) explored these possibilities. His Faustian make up could create a monster, in turn; it destroyed his creator and the members of the family. Deepak interrupted, “Okay, Mum, Why didn’t he create a human being instead of a monster?”
Susan answered with a pause, “Wait a minute, I was coming to that point. During those days there was a progress in science and not in technology. Hence, he did it with whatever material he had. Of course, he had difficulty in assembling the human organs. So he used to manage with oversized organs to imitate the human anatomy.”
Though, Dilip had many questions to ask at this stage, he suppressed his
Inquisitiveness in order to store more information at that time. Hence, Susan continued her narration uninterruptedly, “Of course, there were different thought experiments like Karl Capek’s Rossums’ Universal Robots (1921) and Heinlein’s Helen O’ Loy and other works in the twentieth century.”
“As the needs grew day by day, the man began to explore more in this field. Instead of humanoids, Robots became popular in that century. At the end of the millenium, there were about 33,000 robots serving humanity on Earth alone out of which the USA had the prestigious record of possessing about 7000 robots. In fact, majority of them were only the pick and keep type.”
Deepak was growing impatient now after hearing to grand ma’s stale stories. His pale eyes could neither stop her narration nor bring her on the track.
Further, Susan informed with immense conviction “Isaac Asimov alone could deal with this kind of problem tactfully in his Robotistic works.” Dilip placing back the empty coffee capsules on the tray, questioned, “But I have skimmed through the abstract of other authors who have contributed in the field, just to name a few- Clarke, H.B.Fyfe, Arun Manday, and others?” Susan could retort with the same speed and intensity, “I was speaking of the most representative authors of the millenium.”
In fact, he was the first to experiment with the fictional Three Laws of Robotics- of course they were realized later that his thought experiments came true in due course. Later Asimov modified them as the Three Laws of Humanics. And in turn, they were called since then, the Zeroeth law. He had created two humaniform robots namely, Daneel Olivaw and Jander. In addition, he had created a telepathic robot Giskard also. You can also watch two classic movies namely The Bicentennial Man and I, Robot which were based on his novels. These were the classic examples for creativity.
Deepak could not tolerate more. Hence, cutting short her speech, he made an ultimate attempt to pose the primary drive of their motive of consulting her, “Has he created a robot or a human being in turn which could create human beings?”
The lady did not utter any word for more than a minute. After that she spoke, “Perhaps, it seems that he has suggested somewhere this idea. Perhaps– oh! Yes! He has made a mention of this fact in one of the interviews with–Yes–with–Fitz Gerald and others in the State University Department. Perhaps, the idea might be of the latter–no. Asimov might have complimented his innovative idea. As far as I can recollect, they haven’t tried.” Even before she finished her sentence, Dilip enquired,” Mum, what might be the reasons for not attempting to make human beings by them or so far not tried?”
Susan pensively examined the movements of the eyeballs of Dilip over the trimensional device, and finally retorted,”First, you can guess what might be the reason.” Dilip slowly but steadily began to communicate without giving much attention to his way of articulation; the words came like the one from a dreamy world:
I think, Man has a fascination for himself rather than his own creations. He has got a psychological fear that in future the created beings might subvert the present set up of the society. More over, man has an ego centered nature which has actually prevented him in creating his own replica either in the form of a humaniform robot or clone human beings by biological means. Mum, what bothers me most is that is there any law laid down in the past in making a man? I mean, any general observation made in the common behavior of man? Or in other words, is there any observation regarding –what is the base line for the creation of human behavior–in a way what makes a human a human being?”
Susan said, “My son, you may be surprised to know that this has been the subject of discussion ever since the immortal bard Shakespeare took to writing. In his plays Shakespeare has experimented with the variation of man’s character like over ambition, jealousy, procrastinating nature etc., Man’s nature is unpredictable. However, I can give you a hint, which I came across while I was going through a file on computer captions. It was a catchy one. It was used in one of the study centers in India – Indo-American Research Center for International Studies, Hyderabad. That is, ‘If you find someone without a smile, give him one of yours’ -that may give you a hint for your further experimentation. Deepak spontaneously questioned, “Does the pronoun `him’ refer that only ‘men’ lack the sense of humor?”
Susan replied, “No boy, since you live in the twenty-fifth century, you take everything literally. You can’t understand the conventional meaning. The pronoun ‘he’ referred to both the sexes till the end of the last millenium.”
Dilip with a sigh of relief thanked her for providing one of the clues in the process of making a human being. He assured that they would try to create a human being remaining in the module. They also assured her that they would bring the new man and the woman of their creation to her residence as soon as they land on Earth. By then, the robots were laying the table for lunch in the module. With an inexplicable smile, Susan also began to take her breakfast after breaking the contact with them.
Cover pic by Zulfikar Dharmawan.