Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Here is my March Writing Challenge Post.


OTTAWA - According to witnesses, Dr. P.K. Langa was picked up by police at the city park late this afternoon. He was found wandering in circles around and around the gazebo. Dr. Langa had been reported missing by his wife late yesterday afternoon.

"Yo, it was like the dude was short-circuiting or something," said Ted who apparently noticed the scientist while passing by the gazebo on the way to the skate park. "Yeah, it was like the lights were on but nobody was home, if you know what I mean. He just had this totally trippy look on his face."

Indeed, this accords with many reports from those who interacted with Dr. Langa during the last few days of his decline, prior to his disappearance. Some described his look as "glazed," "blank," or "other-worldly."

Dr. Floban, a rival Bio-Computoficiency Investigator in the Milton Research Institute, was less than sympathetic towards Dr. Langa.

"Dr. Langa was never one who could accept his failures. Plus he was lazy. He simply didn’t take the time to work out the glitches and safeguards in his Compu-Life™ System," said Dr. Floban.

Lily Ambrose, a graduate student in Dr. Langa’s laboratory, who is currently testing the Biocompu-Lumination™ System (a system in which a micro probe in the computer-user’s arm senses levels of melatonin and vitamin D in the body and regulates the office halogen lights according to bio-need) still speaks with pride about her boss’ invention.

"The Compu-Life™ System is really an invention whose time has come," she said. "We’re talking the latest in fully-integrated, computolife real-time synchronicity, plus biofeedback monitoring. It’s beautiful," she said glancing at the photo of Dr. Langa that appeared as the screen saver on her desktop computer. In the photo, Dr. Langa is wearing a white lab coat and holding a giant clock in one hand and giving a big ‘thumbs up’ with the other.

From the preliminary reports of Dr. P.K. Langa that were submitted to the Ethics Board, and obtained by reporters through the Freedom of Information Act, we are able to gain some insight into the functionality of the invention. In general terms, by monitoring all aspects of the user’s life in real time, the computer does instantaneous calibrations and spits out time-minimizing and efficiency-enhancing instructions for the user.

The System requires the user to wear an armband at all times. The device has a voice-activated display that connects wirelessly back to the main central computer. It also requires the wearing of a tiny camera that takes real-time video of everything seen by the user as well as Compu-Pit Pads™ - thermal monitors that are worn under the arm pits that detect the user’s pulse, scent, and temperature. This device had been validated as an excellent proxy for physio-chemical states key to human decision making. The main computo-output interface is through a simple earpiece that the user keeps in his or her ear at all times. The computer has a synthesized voice, used to communicate the instructions.

In terms of daily use, every morning, before the user leaves his or her home, the user would program in their approximate schedule for the day. The computer would then monitor the user's life events as they unfolded.

For example, the computer would know about a scheduled 9 a.m. meeting- and using fairly standard optical-GPS technology, could detect if the user was running late. If such was the case, the computer would send directions to the user’s remote earpiece that would guide the user to take the best alternative route.

"But," Lily said, "the real advantage of the Compu-Life™ System is the fact that the computer integrates so much information that it is able to perform much more nuanced decision-making functions."

As one example, Lily described the advantages of the system’s face- and voice-recognition software. Using this technology, the camera monitors the user’s interactions with others throughout the day and can assess characteristics such as the sincerity of the person with whom the user is interacting. Based on the facial-voice analysis, the system would analyse any decisions that were to be made based on the interaction and provide the user with the best statistical course of action. As a trivial example, Dr. Langa, who hated to be ‘taken for a ride’ apparently used the system to buy a used car at a good price.

"It’s true," said Lily, "the earpiece kept barking ‘don't accept, don't accept’ after each offer until the system recognized that the salesperson truly had no ability or intention of being talked down any further."

It appears from the records that the Ethics Board refused Dr. Langa’s application to conduct full-scale experimentation of the Compu-Life™ System on user subjects. The consequences of such a refusal meant that Dr. Langa would have to go back to the laboratory to do many time-consuming refinements in the technology and protocol before he would be allowed to proceed to market. In reality, experts say, this refinement process could have taken years.

"The problem," said Dr. Floban, "was that the Compu-Life™ System had no override. The dangers of such a deficiency would have been obvious to any reviewers."

In general terms, what this meant was that in any given decision-making situation, efficiency analysis would be simultaneously performed and commands would be sent to the user’s ear piece. As a result, the user would be met with a constant barrage of instructions.

"One couldn't, for example, just decide to turn the System off for dinner with the wife and kids," said Dr. Floban.

This, of course, was both the genius and the danger of the Compu-Life™ System. The ability to perform accurate statistical life-analysis is dependent on the fullest integration of all aspects of one’s life. On a more metaphysical level, the idea was that trivial comments or commitments made at dinner with the wife and kids, could significantly and unpredictably affect the decision-making nexus at the next day’s business meeting. Full compliance, i.e., wearing the device at all times, is essential to the accuracy of the System's outputs.

"This is really the first time that such an attempt has been made to capture the nearly infinite factors that affect the course of one’s life," said Lily.

Dr. Langa’s wife was interviewed in their suburban home.

"He was just so damned determined. He became totally obsessed with proving that his Compu-Life™ System could make life better and more efficient. After the Ethics Board rejection, he insisted on wearing that armband, camera, and earpiece 24-7. I, for one, was never comfortable with it. Especially where it intruded into, um, private matters," she said, lowering her voice.

Of course, being fully integrated, physical decisions of all kinds, including those made in the bedroom, were also the subject of Compu-Life™ System directions.

Dr. Fanny Bubs, a prominent psychologist at the South Beach Institute was able to provide an explanation for what had befallen Dr. Langa.

"It is classic psycho-physio detachment," she said. "Prisoners and those subject to extreme authoritarian control have displayed similar characteristics in the past. This is where subjects alienate their own decision-making power and invest it totally in another human being. But in the case of Dr. Langa, of course, he has simply invested it in the Compu-Life™ System."

"All day that stupid thing was shouting instructions in my dad’s ear," said Billy, who was interviewed while chewing gummy Coke bottles in front of the Max Milk store. "If dad didn’t agree with the instructions, the computer would just keep repeating them over and over. I saw my dad have ugly panic attacks those times he disagreed with the computer. I think he eventually just kinda decided it was easier to do what Compu-Life™ said. I know he didn’t want this to happen. He was too stubborn to take that darn device off. It would have been like giving up on his dream."

Dr. Bubs was less certain about the possible treatments for Dr. Langa. "How can you re-invest in someone their own free will?" she asked rhetorically. "Anything we do for him will necessarily be a kind of reprogramming. We may have to accept that the former Dr. Langa may never truly return."

Tonight at 7 p.m., a vigil is being held in front of the King Street Psychological Hospital, where Dr. Langa is currently undergoing observation. Speakers will pay tribute to Dr. Langa’s many innovations and Reverend Burns will lead prayers for his speedy recovery.

Those who wish to contribute to Dr. Langa’s Recovery Fund can do so through Dr. Langa’s homepage: www.promiseofefficiency.com.


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