Fai Tang sat in a waiting area outside an impressive oak door. The young lady at the front desk had promised to notify him when it was time to enter. A little perspiration was gathering on his forehead. He wiped it away with a nervous hand before checking his watch. He had his presentation memorized, but he hoped there would not be many questions since he was self conscious about his English.
The heavy door resounded with two knocks from the inside. The woman at the desk stood and gestured toward the door, letting him know that it was time to enter. Once on his feet he grabbed the handle of the box next to his chair and lifted it. Bowing his head slightly in thanks to the desk attendant, he then walked toward the door. Discreetly he rubbed his open palm against his dress pants pocket to wipe away a layer persistent moisture. His body was determined to be nervous no matter how much he tried to stay calm.
The door knob seemed too large as did the door. It took a little too much effort to pull it to an opened position. As soon as it was, his heart beat throttled up and he stopped breathing for a moment. He glanced around the room as he stepped through and found that it was full of intimidating figures. Mostly grey or white haired men in military uniform sat around the most massive table he’d ever seen. There were two guards with machine guns standing on either side of the door. Not sure what to do, Fai paused over the threshold for a brief moment.
“Mornin’ Mr. Tang, I hear you had quite a commute,” an impressive man said from his chair at the head of the table. Fai was not familiar enough with American dialects to recognize the distinct southern accent. He did recognize, however, that this was an upper level military commander. Fai knew him from the pictures he had been prepping with for the last two weeks. Stepping into the room fully he bowed his head, lower this time to show respect for the men at the table. He finally got enough of a breath to respond. He was concerned that the sound of his own voice was probably comical to these American men of power.
“Thank you, General Andrews. I have brought you a gift from my country,” Fai said. He lifted the box and began to step toward the General. The armed guards at the door bolted into action. One wrapped his iron grip around Fai’s arm as the other relinquished the box from his grasp. It took him a moment to understand what was happening.
“Procedure, Mr Tang. You understand.”
“Yes, Sir,” Tang responded as he tried in vein to slow his breathing.
The two guards opened and examined the box. Fai was disappointed. In all his attempts to envision this moment, this was not one that he would have chosen. The second guard pulled a shiny sword from the long box and held it up to the light. The other examined the box for any hidden compartments. Trying to salvage the moment, Fai spoke up.
“It is a genuine artifact from the Ming Dynasty.” Fai was about to go on about the sword but General Andrews beat him to it.
“That’s fine, Mr. Tang,” he said without even rising from his seat. He gestured to the guards to place it on a table nearby. General Andrews continued, “We have a number of meetings before lunch, Mr. Tang, and we would very much like to get to the meat of the meeting.”
“Meat of meeting, Sir?” Fai asked. He was not familiar with the expression. He did not want to annoy these important men with his ignorance, but he wanted even less to misunderstand what they were asking him to do.
“He means get on with it,” Another one of the military brass barked. Fai blushed as he realized he had already annoyed them.
“Please forgive me, I-”
“No need for forgiveness, let’s just jump right in,” General Andrews interrupted. Fai had not heard that expression either, but he was able to ascertain it’s meaning.
“Yes, Sir,” He said as he looked around the room, wondering where he would stand for the presentation. He noticed an opening at the end of the table. Ducking his head slightly, he stepped quickly toward it. Without a moments hesitation he started the presentation.
“Thank you for allowing me a few minutes of your time. I represent TZI in Bejing China. TZI has designed and built the worlds fastest supercomputer. The need for this supercomputer grew out of our companies pursuit and research into viable Artificial Intelligence. This machine is based on distributed computation with a concurrency processing architecture. This machine whose name is IMAGE, operates at 17.2 exaflops.”
“Hold up just a second, Mr. Tang,” General Andrews said. Andrews turned to the others at the table. “Does this mean anything to any of you?” He glanced around as the other commanders and generals shook their heads. Andrews turned back to Fai and said with a near comical draw. “Mr. Tang, I’m afraid you’re going to need to dumb it down a notch. We’re just a bunch of boy scouts who stayed alive long enough to be promoted to our current positions. We are far from computer experts.” The other men around the table turned to Fai, who was not quite sure what the second statement meant, but he was at least familiar with ‘dumb it down.’
“Yes, Sir. I-” Fai stuttered, not sure what to say. He had not planned on going off script. One of the other men in uniform, one who hadn’t spoken yet offered him a life-line.
“Mr. Tang, what are you offering us? Do you want to sell us one of these IMAGE machines?”
“No, Sir. IMAGE is a highly specialized machine requiring the highest level of expertise. What we are offering is unparalleled data modeling.” Good so far, now what? Before he could go on, Andrews spoke up.
“And what kind of data modeling are we talking about exactly?” Andrews’ eyes seemed to drill into Fai’s skin. He could feel the sweat soaking through his shirt. He took a deep breath, dug deep, and did his best.
“A supercomputer is like a time machine. If it has adequate resources, software, and processing power it can predict the future. IMAGE is unlike any other supercomputer in that it has vast predictive capabilities. All supercomputers have some ability to predict variables. Our competitors for instance can forecast weather patterns, simulate genomic projects, and even model colliding blackholes. IMAGE is able to compute even more complex simulations than that.”
“What exactly can it predict?” Andrews interjected.
“The most useful prediction is human behavior. A single person’s behavior is very difficult to predict. However, when you have a sample size of an entire population, for instance it becomes viable to predict social behavior. In field trials, IMAGE has been able to make very precise societal predictions.”
“Can you give us an example of the type of predictions that can be expected from a machine like this?” A grizzled looking general requested.
“Within the last six months, IMAGE was allowed to look for patterns in the deep web. It mined data, much of which had not been indexed by the standard search engines. IMAGE was given parameters that allowed it to look for potential terrorist activity, military maneuvers, and political behaviors. Within two hours IMAGE had over a hundred predictions pertaining to these criteria. A total of ninety seven of these predictions have come true within a given margin of error.”
“You didn’t answer his question,” Andrews said. “Give us a specific example of the type of predictions it gave.”
Fai reached into his coat pocket and produced a small envelope. He fingered it’s edges as he looked around the room. He knew that what he was about to say was a point of no return. The commanders were eager. They seemed to sense Fai’s tension. He gestured to the guards at the door to take the envelope. One of them stepped forward and retrieved it. He walked it to General Andrews and relayed it to him.
With the envelope in Andrews hand, he eyeballed Fai at the other end of the table. It was clear that he was not the type of waste time, but Fai was confident that he would appreciate the gravity of the note inside.
“You will notice, General Andrews, that the envelope was postmarked and notarized six months ago,” Fai said.
Andrews looked down and did notice. The man put his thick meaty fingers on the end of the note ripped at the seal. Every eye in the room was on him as he pulled a small piece of paper out of its container. As his eyes scanned the note, Fai held his breath. He had risked everything for this moment. It was an enormous gamble, and one that could get him labeled a spy. Andrews read it aloud.
“The United States Military will deploying ground troops and offer air support due to a civil war in Southern Honduras on June 17.” Andrews let his eyes drift from the note to Fai who could hardly stand on account of his legs shaking. “Mr. Tang that is absolutely preposterous. There is no such civil war in Honduras. I think it’s fair to say that this meeting is over. You have wasted enough of our time. Guards please see him out.”
“General,” a voice said from the side of the table. One of the younger commanders who had yet to spoken up was holding his hand up as if waiting to be called on. The guards paid no regard and began to hustle Fai out of the room.
“Yes, Colonel Jones,” Andrews said.
“Look at the meeting agenda; Item seventeen,” Jones said with a timid tone. Andrews scanned a sheet in a binder in front of him before shouting at the guards who almost had Fai through the door.
“Wait!” Andrews lifted the paper to his face and scanned it closely to make sure he had not misunderstood. He then glanced back to Fai and his two escorts. Calm but stern Andrews said, “Please come back in. I think you have some explaining to do.”
The guards unhanded him and allowed him to take his place at the front of the room once more. Rather than speak Fai allowed Andrews to initiate what was sure to be an inquisition.
“Do you mind explaining to me and these other gentlemen, how you got this information.”
“Yes, Sir. That card was produced by IMAGE six months ago,” Fai said. His throat felt dry but his forehead was still wet.
“Do you mean that this so called, IMAGE machine can hack into our highly secured network and steal military secrets, an offense, by the way, that is punished quite severely in this country.”
“No, Sir. There was no spying involved. This prediction was produced from external data. There was nothing stolen,” Fai tried to stay calm but he felt like he could pass out at any second.
Andrews sat back in his chair and looked at the note for a long moment. He then glanced back at Fai and tapped the note absently on the table. A strange smile crept across his face. He leaned forward and spoke quickly.
“Mr. Tang, please be so kind as to cancel anything else you have planned for the day. It seems that we have some things to discuss.”