computer chip

Roland House

By Diomedes | Robert O'Reilly | 2 Aug 2022






Roland House.

The rate of change in this new millennium seems to be growing exponentially, moving so quickly in so many lanes that what’s ahead for us is fast becoming a blur. We are speeding out of control into a vast unknown.

Science in every department makes groundbreaking discoveries on an almost weekly basis.  Game changing advances in technology, in medicine, in astronomy are now the norm, every time we check the news. Those are the ones we see. I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg and that many more aren't reported, being either too complex for a pretty face to explain in a three minute slot on the evening news, or something that goes straight into a folder for the Pentagon.

On the world front matters are, as I suppose they’ve always been, grim, to say the least.  Climate change, floods, rigged elections, constant atrocities and discord in the poorer countries, ever-rising tensions and trade wars between the rich nations, North Korea, nuclear threats, Isis, and terrorist plots are the staples of the news hours.  But I live on a hill in a quiet neighborhood, unsullied by such faraway strife, with a special little folder in a recess of my mind where I can file it all away and go through the rest of my day whistling.

I was never one to let politics or foreign affairs muddy my coffee.  I am twenty-seven, single, sole possessor of a large mansion with a fine library, no occupation and more than enough money to last me three lifetimes.   I have a sports car and a Mercedes, a long, beautiful backyard maintained by my gardener and the whole lot is enclosed by an ancient stone fence, so I have perfect privacy.  I used to have a maid, or rather two over time, both of them fired for different reasons, so now the house is in a dusty state except for the four rooms I use, my study, my library, my bedroom and the kitchen.  The other eight or ten rooms I rarely visit.

So what do I do with my time?  I read, read, read.  I also buy old books, online.  I intend to make my collection one of the finest in the state.  My father was a book lover and started it.  The library is the hallmark of this house.  It’s on the front right side and extends two stories.  The top floor, next to the master bedroom, is a circular tower, like Michel de Montaigne’s,  jutting above the roof in an impressive manner.  The curved walls are all bookshelves and filled.  There’s a spiral, iron staircase that leads to the bottom half on the first floor.  This room is much larger, but it’s more like a study, with one long, heavy oak table in the middle which can accommodate eight chairs, though I only use two, with stacks of books in the middle.  The far end of this rectangular room has a hearth, several armchairs for reading, side tables and a cabinet with various whiskys, brandies and liqueurs, a place to fall asleep on a winter’s night as the fire dies to glowing embers, with a pipe in one hand and a volume in the other.

My parents both passed away three years ago, my father first, of a stroke, and then my mother, I think of a broken heart.  Although she'd been ailing for several years with my father her constant nurse, her conditions were not life-threatening.  But when he passed and I quit grad school to take his place, she rapidly declined and the doctors were at a loss.  I could see it; she had no more reason to live, like the ending of an old poem:                  

He first deceased.  She for a little tried

To live, but liked it not, and died.

After that, I had no heart, no desire to go back to school.  I was tired of it anyways.  I didn’t plan on teaching, so a degree seemed useless.  I inherited the house, its contents, everything, including five or six million in stocks and bonds as I was an only child.  I was adopted by them as a baby when they were in their forties.  They'd given up on childbirth.  They hired maids and nurses at first but took an enormous fondness and liking to me as soon as I could speak intelligibly, my fourth year of age.  My father became my tutor and introduced me to his world of books.  I was sent to private schools, and every summer was one long vacation for the three of us in some distant and colorful land.  When I enrolled at Berkeley, only two miles from our home they continued their travels, just the two of them, probably six months out of the year.  The other half they spent in high society with their many friends in the Bay Area.  Parks and museums and yachting by day, dinner parties by night filled their calendar.  They had a very good life in the end and a full one, though they both died in their early seventies.

I can’t really say the same for me.  After they passed I simply stayed on at home.  I was a bit despondent over their deaths.  I fired half the staff, keeping only two, one to cook and one to clean.  They were older women, long in our service, but their presence annoyed me, moving about the house all day, calling me to meals or dusting the room where I was reading.  So I got rid of both and to appease any feelings of guilt, since I’d known them from childhood, payed out a pension of two thousand for each year of service, an act in which I think I overshot a little, as my accountant mentioned.  When I let them go I was overwhelmed with a barrage of hugs and kisses and tears.

This accountant was of great service to me, handling all my inherited wealth with the most scrupulous fidelity.  I wasn’t so naive that I didn’t have a third party go over all the books.  They gave me a thumbs up, and I stuck with him.  I only had to visit him twice a year at his office, and every trip involved so many handshakes and smiles and glad tidings that I didn’t mind the excursion.  Money was deposited into various accounts which paid all the bills and which still grew and grew.  One personal account I converted to cash each month.  There was a beautiful safe built into the back wall of the study, behind a picture, an original Chagall, where large stacks of hundred dollar bills would sit in case of need.  This was a habit my father taught me.

My only other regular connection to the world, except one which I’ll get to, was my gardener.  Her name was Naomi.  She was exactly my age and started Berkeley the same year I did.  We were fellow collegians.  I ran into her at a frat party one night, and she was wearing a white t-shirt with her name on it, all wet with beer.  But she was wearing it inside out and it spelled ‘imoan.’   Other than that we didn’t socialize much, except a coffee together now and then.  Unlike me, she was still there finishing up her graduate studies in botany.  But we go back much further than that.  Her uncle was our former gardener for over twenty years.  He lived in the small cottage behind our garage, a cute, brown-shingled bungalow.  The bedroom was a loft, but just right for a single person who wanted to live in a garden, in perfect solitude, hidden from all the world.  I don't think he had a green card.

I remember how she would visit him every few Sundays when she was only ten years old accompanied by her mother, and, as the gardener was a favorite of my father’s, he would send me out to play with her so the brother and sister could talk family matters.  We would roam the garden, or the house, especially the library, spending long afternoon hours just talking and it was fun.  When we grew into teenagers, our relationship matured, not into lovers but confidants.  We told each other our news of the week, school news, from my private one and her public one, comparing notes, criticizing teachers and classmates.  As she matured, she began to talk of boys, but I had no such adventures with the opposite sex to reciprocate.  So our closeness diminished a bit.  But we always remained friends, sitting together and gossiping, with the effort, I think, for the most part on her side.

Her uncle passed away about a year before my father and I suggested he offer her the job of tending our backyard at a salary that would glide her through graduate school and even pay off her student debts.  It was an offer too generous to refuse.  Besides that, in the middle of our garden, we had a ten foot by thirty-foot long greenhouse where my mother once tinkered with raising exotic flowers.  This was now a perfect, private laboratory for her graduate studies in horticulture.  She had the privileges of the cottage, where she and her boyfriend resided a long time, until they broke up, about a year ago.

She then moved in with her mother far on the other side of campus, the flatlands, or should I say ‘ghetto.’  Her mother needed help with the rent, being divorced and left with little more than a welfare check.  When I found this out, we came to another agreement.  Her mother was an excellent cook which I’d known from years before, tasting some of the treats she would often bring her brother.  Naomi now came by three or four times a week to do her work, usually after classes.  She would bring with her all sorts of excellent meals; casseroles, stews, meat and seafood platters, salads, pies and cakes, which filled my fridge and my table.  In return for this, I paid them both, double the gardening wages, a thousand dollars a week.  It might sound extravagant, but she also ran any little errand I needed and went to the grocery store each Saturday to get me all the supplies her mother didn’t provide.   I was all set.  I never needed to leave the house if I chose so, and often, for weeks on end, I didn’t.

This brings me to my other connection, my one friend from college days still in town.  He was working up on the hill near the Lawrence Livermore laboratories on a high tech and high paying project, attempting to design a computer to brain interface.  He would tell me about it in great detail, as we met every Sunday for coffee.  I had hardly anything to say and so his work, which involved ten to twelve hours a day, six days a week, became our common topic and of great interest to me.

His name was Jaime Cage and I’d known him since our first year in college.  We had neighboring rooms in our dormitory.  We became fast friends even though he was on the science track and I the humanities.  We smoked pot quite a bit and dropped acid together a few times.  What I liked most about him was his conversation, and I guess he liked mine because whenever we went to some party, instead of socializing like our dorm mates trying to score on girls, we would end up in some corner, the farthest away from the noise, talking away the night, beer in hand.

By my second year I was partied out.  That’s when I took an apartment by myself and grew serious about study.  That same year I shared an astronomy course with Jaime.  He was one of the few friends I could visit without the requirement of getting stoned or drunk.  I was past my drug phase and so was he.

 We remained close friends over the next four years.  Because of his talents in both computer science and chemistry he was recruited into several special projects in the labs on the hill.  But now, as he expressed it, he’d hit the jackpot.

 The goal of the team was to construct the first direct brain-computer interface.  It was financed by one of the world’s wealthiest and most dynamic entrepreneurs who was frequently expressing his concern, through social media, that A.I. posed a major threat to humanity and might soon decide to destroy us.  His project was to explore the possibility of creating a direct link between the human mind and computers, to engage neurons with tiny, silicon coated nanochips that connected seamlessly to the surrounding synapses, sharing ion signals, each with processors and IO systems, inter-communicating.  With thousands of these spread evenly throughout the cortex, the human brain itself could become a supercomputer, more than levelling the playing field between ourselves and our fingertip friends.

 Most of the hardware was already at hand.  Smartphone technology had managed to fit terabyte storage and ultra-fast processors onto wafers the size of a penny and every few months a ten times better and smaller one was rolling out.  So the nanochips were ready.  You could probably order them on Amazon.  The two challenges were the synaptical linkages and ports to power up and harmlessly meld them with the trillion or so synapses of the human mind.

The project was split into two teams in two separate, adjoining laboratories.  Jaime was the lead engineer in designing what he called the U.P.S. truck, the delivery system which would direct and deposit the thousands of Nano chips onto the furrowed surfaces of the brain, each with its own address.  He told me in our many conversations over the last year his job was easy.  The human body, through the circulatory chain, had the most beautiful delivery system in the world, far better then an engineer could even dream up.

He explained in their first experiments they attached tiny, multi-coloured tracers to various groups of their Nano chips, all dead except for their beacons, so as to be harmless, then lined them up in ranks like legions on a wafer to be ingested and tried out on test subjects.  The results, on colourful brain scans printed out a few hours later, were beyond their rosiest expectations.  They settled in the most even, all-enveloping film across the entire rutted surface of the brain and the two biochemists in his group were fast learning how to tag certain cohorts of chips to gravitate towards certain sectors.

He told me to imagine a light snowfall starting on a perfectly still winter day, in some remote hilly region, undisturbed by man or beast.  The large snowflakes would trickle straight down in eerie silence and fill every nook and cranny, cover every branch and leaf, every blade of grass, every rock, with one pure layer of whiteness.  This was what our arteries did all on their own.  He even wondered out loud if what he was doing was meant to be.

Even though his small department was enjoying great success and praise, they (the administrators of the project) kept him and his team in their lab coats constantly busy.  They were always issuing notices, changing the parameters of the Nanochips as each new model came out, along with their densities and groupings.  The orders issued from the other building, the secretive one, from overlords where the blank chips were sent to be programmed with mysterious prompts, commands and data.  That department employed a crew of some twenty programmers and only five times in the whole year was Jaime invited into their maze of booths and screens, on some technical query.  He didn’t like that place.  The scientists there seemed to treat him as an underling as if their work was the groundbreaking research.

But he did like the director of the project, Eileen.  She was a woman in her mid-forties, an excellent people person and administrator who kept him abreast of the progress being made on the other side, on her once a week visits to his small lab.  He thought she might even be breaking the confidentiality clause but he was eager to hear her news, and she wanted to keep all of them working as a team, which could never happen if his group was left in the dark.

She told him that even though their mission was only pertinent to humans, they decided to do the first trials of this brain-computer interface on animals in case some unforeseen side effects should appear.  They started with mice.  They toned down the dosage to just a few thousand nanochips and programmed them with what they thought would be motor enhancing, problem-solving and sense improving tools.  The big hurdle was language.  How do you talk to a mouse?  So they went the IKEA route using what they thought would be comprehensible images and videos of mice performing functions and getting rewards.  And it seemed to work.  The test mice were remarkably better than their mates at navigating labyrinths, finding the cheese and opening cage doors.  With rats, they had even more surprising results.  They were sharper, faster and more dynamic animals in every way, with no visible drawbacks or side effects of any kind.  They even seemed to be healthier and stronger than before.

The next trial moved up the evolutionary ladder to a dog.  She was an Irish setter named Lucy, and with her, they increased the dosage to twenty thousand nanochips.  They programmed into them gigabytes of videos of dog-human interactions with audio, and the pictures and names of thousands of objects spoken clearly by both male and female voices.

Once again the dog responded admirably.  Within a day she seemed to be listening to everyone.  You could tell her to pick out one of a hundred objects, a pencil or toothbrush or teddy bear, all scattered across a floor, and she would retrieve the right one every time with unerring accuracy.  With a little practice she even developed a sense of time and numbers as you could command her to come to you in five minutes.  She would sit in her room patiently about that amount of time then open the door handle with her mouth and come to you, tail wagging.  And each day the dog improved in more and more complex instructions.  She was perfectly behaved and allowed to roam the lab at will, loved by everyone, the mascot of the project.  You could tell her to visit a certain person, and she would do it, she knew everyone by name.  They put a little satchel on her side and she became the best interoffice messenger one could hope for.  You could call her over and say ‘give this note to Becca’ and off she went, happy to obey.  Everyone on the team was aglow with hope and the prospect of fantastic success.  Then the first human trials began.


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B.A. in Latin and Greek from U.C. Berkley. Writer, Blogger and retired Electrician.

Robert O'Reilly
Robert O'Reilly

I am educated in the Western Classical Tradition, B.A. from U.C. Berkeley in Latin and Greek, English major, one year at U. of Toronto, studied under Alain Renoir and Northrop Frye, read most classics full time for many years after university in French, English, Latin and Greek to the modern day. I am interested in the near future of technology, what changes it imposes upon our heritage and character as humans. Short stories and Essays are my medium.

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