Day 10: The Demonstration

“The success of nanotechnology is only limited by the talent and imagination of scientists,” said Robert Aldrick, CEO of Baker Nanotechnology Solutions, Inc.

A tour group took refreshments in front of a sizable dais, nano-controlled posters with gradually changing images adorning the wall behind it. A banner across the top said, ‘Great Ideas Through Small Thinking.’ An electromagnetic nanofabric soc-screen hovered over Aldrick’s left shoulder, guest questions and interactions scrolling down it. There seemed to be more positive commenters than people in the room.

“BNS scientists are the best in the world,” said the CEO.

Eddie Zuccaro heard a snicker and turned around. A skinny blond-haired man in his twenties folded his arms across his lab coat, grasping his black-rimmed glasses, still shaking his head.

Aldrick continued and indicated a man in a wheel chair. “Francis Niedzwiecki here is the world’s foremost expert in biorobotics, and he has assembled an unprecedented pool of talent that will propel BNS well above the competition.”

Eddie dropped back to whisper an introduction and took Mr. labcoat’s hand. Eddie smirked. “Are you one of the small thinkers here?”

The man raised one eyebrow and squeezed Eddie’s hand with surprising strength, but Eddie managed not to react. “Ethan Baker,” said the man.

Eddie smiled. “Any relation to Wes Baker?” Wes was the former CEO and founder of the company.

“I’m his son.”

“No shit? I guess there’s no nepotism here, eh?”

For a second, Ethan looked like he wanted to hit him. Eddie knew this moment well, teetering between making a fast friend or a fast enemy. He brought out his big gun—his killer smile, and like magic his new friend’s scowl turned to a smirk, and he let his hand go.

“For your information, douchebag, I’m a respected scientist, and I like it exactly where I am. I work on all the coolest stuff—things you can only dream about.” The rebuke carried more mirth than sting. “But you’re right. My dad’s name doesn’t get much pull around here anymore.” Ethan tapped his digicuff and showed Eddie his profile. Eddie did the same and they synced their contacts between cuffs.

“You don’t seem to be drinking the corporate Kool-Aid,” said Eddie.

Ethan shrugged. They followed the crowd to a lab table set apart from the others for a demonstration. Niedzweicki showed them his wheelchair controller, instructing it to take him to get tea and find a nice girl. To the crowd’s amusement, the wheelchair took him to the refreshment table, extended robotic arms to pour the tea, holding it steady where Niedzwiecki could reach it, and wandered the room a bit until it settled on a pretty thirty-something in a floral red and blue dress. He returned to the table and made a show of pounding the controller to pieces with a hammer. The crowd ate it up.

“I saw this once in Las Vegas,” said Eddie.

“Not like this, you didn’t,” said Ethan.

Keeping in mind Ethan’s snicker that first got his attention, Eddie asked, “You don’t think your colleagues are the best in the world?”

“What do you do, Eddie?”

“I’m an expert in computer security development, but I’m working low-tech nano at NanoCommandos for the interim.”

Ethan measured him with new eyes and seemed to make a decision. “Okay, you’ve worked in a field that requires pretty brainy people, right? Consider for a moment how much incompetence you’ve witnessed in spite of that.”

Eddie raised his brows. “It’s pretty rife wherever I’ve been.”

“Exactly. Now tell me why you would think that it’s any different for scientists?”

“The bar’s got to be a lot higher with scientists, though, right?”

“Why? Is personnel any easier to evaluate or control just because they have higher education?”

It was Eddie’s turn to shrug.

“Let’s assume you’re one of the competent ones—”

“Risky assumption,” said Eddie.

“Quite. You have to be good with logic.”

“No logic—no go.”

“Right,” said Ethan. He seemed to get irritated at the interruptions, so Eddie eased off. “But in your line of work you know something about the limitations of computer simulations?”

“More than most, yes.”

Niedzwiecki had placed the shards of his controller in a transparent cube, and now flourished a vial.

“I deposited specially programmed nanobots into this vial,” Niedzwiecki said. “Our computer simulation designed these. They have not been tested, other than with simulations, and this is the first time they will be tried on a controller like this.” He emptied the vial into a small hopper on the cube and plugged it with a stopper.

For a minute nothing much seemed to happen, but eventually a grey ooze spasmed around the pieces, covering them completely, then sent out shoots to connect with each other and pulled them together into a blob. The crowd murmured, and excited comments scrolled down the soc-screen.

After ten minutes, the ooze dissipated and reformed in a pile next to a fully formed controller.

The crowd gasped, then applauded. “That’s amazing,” said Eddie.

“Yeah.” Ethan rolled his eyes. “It’s freaking faerie dust.”

Niedzwiecki made the obligatory run for tea and accosted another girl to verify the controller’s operation, then he invited questions through the soc-screen.

“Now watch this,” said Ethan. He showed Eddie his cuff as he typed up a question under username ‘nanofan’ for the soc-screen: ‘How reliable are the computer-simulated designs, and how can you tell?’

When Niedzwiecki got to the question, he said, “We know the computer-simulated design is reliable because most of the results have been successful.” He listed examples where they repaired hearing aids, a pacemaker, and a remote control cockroach.

Ethan typed in a second question: ‘How confident can you be in the results of untested designs?’

Niedzwiecki answered a few other questions, then addressed Ethan’s. “We know the results will be successful because we’ve determined that the computer-simulated design is reliable.” He spouted some cursory stats about the results to support his statement.

“Did you catch it?” asked Ethan.

Eddie tilted his head and nodded. “Yeah. I caught it.”

“See? Even Francis has his blind spots. There’s a guy who’s discerning overall, but when it comes to it, he can rationalize anything. And that’s the smartest guy in the room. Besides me, of course.”

Eddie had the distinct impression Ethan was talking down to him, but he didn’t let it bother him. “Okay, I see that, but in general scientists aren’t as susceptible to errors like that as other professions, are they?”

Ethan scoffed. “I’d argue that they are as susceptible or more so—their errors are just more sophisticated, and because of that, they’re harder to root out. So they are even more problematic than your average Joe.” He gestured toward Niedzwiecki. “He’s also one of these guys who thinks science can instruct us on ethics.”

“Hm.”

“Science doesn’t tell you what’s right or wrong.” He winked. “I do.”

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