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Read. Suffer. Try to Enjoy.

Short Story - The Keeper Of The Digital Peace

This is an attempt at a short story. My very own nod to Ludlum and Asimov.

The Keeper Of The Digital Peace

The screen blinked, and then the System popped up the dreaded error message
“Login id does not match. Please contact Systems Support.”
The Processor felt his pulse rate start to rise. Not now. This transaction had to go through at any cost.

The Processor’s Manager rushed into the Director’s office, sweating bullets. He had a feeling that the big boss would not be too pleased with the bit of news he was about to give him.

“Sir, the manual Funds Transfer system has frozen again…”

“WHAT?!! Again?! We’d got it fixed just last year!”

“We don’t know sir, it’s just refusing to let anyone access the transactions…we have just one more day to meet the deadline for the release of funds.”

Swearing profusely under his breath, the Director reached for his telephone, and dialed the secret number. It was time for the Operation to begin.

After placing the phone call, the Director sank back into his chair, the stress telling upon his heart. He would not get the luxury of sleep for the next twenty-four hours or so. As he tried to relax, he recalled the stories he had heard which explained the current state of affairs.

The art of programming as mankind once knew it, was practically non-existent today. Ever since the great Revolution in the late twenty-first century, spearheaded by users fed up with buggy, sub-standard software, there had been tremendous advances in Artifical Intelligence, which had led to the current ‘intelligent’ systems. These systems did not need any manual intervention or data correction. Once the end user initiated the transaction, it would behave exactly the way it was supposed to, as per the rules defined by the AI engines used as the platform for all Systems. Worldwide.

The people who looked after the AI engines were the only programmers that the world would need anymore. A Digital Reich whose services didn’t come cheap. The Reich established select schools to impart training in Computer Science to only those who deserved it. Handpicked by the Reich after careful aptitude tests and background checks, from around the world. Human society’s dependence on computers was too risky to be handled by just about anybody now. Millions of ‘ordinary’ programmers had been laid redundant, forcing them into other befitting vocations. Protesters were never heard from again.

The AI engines were perfect in the sense that they were products borne out of the best, refined human thought, and they were mutant strains of self-improving intelligent prototypes. An ideal example of the much vaunted man-machine interface. They assured software without the fallacies associated with each individual programmer’s thought process. Everything behaved just the way it was supposed to. Define the system behaviour in plain English. The engines would do the rest. There was no scope for any errors. Bugs, after all were punishable by death. This ensured that the AI engines were marvels in Computer Engineering. The end user was totally responsible for how his own system behaved, and he was free to choose his own implementations. There would be no need for support.

The current company didn’t have the requisite funds to port all their Systems onto the AI platforms, when the guidelines were announced. Some organizations still had systems were running on the legacy versions, unbeknownst to the Reich. A case in point was this one, which failed every year, and needed manual intervention to continue.

The Director’s reverie was broken as the Programmer walked into his office, a nasty smile on his wrinkled face. His clothes were functional, but had seen better days. Eyes bloodshot, hair dishevelled. The Director eyed him with palpable distaste. Drunken old fool. The flight must have run out of the year’s supply of booze on the way here. Trust him to take full advantage of the freebies.

To think that he was at his creature’s mercy irritated him no end. But he really had no choice. Asking for this system to be AI compliant was going to be fatal. The Digital Reich would not take this lightly. Years of evasion would catch up with the company. Swiftly and cruelly.

“How are you doing today Sir?” asked the Programmer in his most sarcastic tone.

“Get it done, and get out. I don’t want to talk to you for a minute more than necessary.” shot back the Director.

“So much anger. Sure cannot be good for your ulcers.”

The Director controlled himself with a superhuman effort. Anger was not going to help things. The tramp knew he was in a superior bargaining position, and they both knew it.

“Look, why don’t you get started? I have deadlines to meet.”

“Sir, just thought I’d inform you that the cost of living has gone up since we last met.”

The Director knew this was coming.

“How much?”

“Four Million.”

“What?!!!! This is daylight robbery. Double what you had charged last time.”

“Then maybe you should find somebody else who’s ready to do it for less. I think I’d be moving along now. Would love to say I’ve other work to do, but you know better, don’t you Sir?”

“Alright…alright. You’ll have the money. Now get to work!”

The Programmer stepped into the heavily guarded underground room, alone, as was the norm. The server was waiting for him, just as he knew it would.

He launched a database session, and typed the following,

Update final_transaction set user_id = NULL;

and reset the database scheduler to fire the following query to fire again next year.

Update final_transaction set user_id = ‘LOCK’;

The front end logic was totally dependent on the value inside the user_id column. It would show the transaction only if the value matched your login id. No one had an id called ‘LOCK’.

The Programmer whistled as he wound up. 4 Million for 5 minutes’ worth. Not a bad day’s work. He was already thinking about what he was going to charge next year. Thank the Creator for that SQL book he had found in a long forgotten corner of his attic.

As the Director wired the 4 Million to the overseas account given by the Programmer, he banged his fist hard on the mahogany desk. If only they had ported the System while they had the chance. If only…
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11:58 PM, October 24, 2005
Blogger bluesman said...

hahaha you end the story on an update command ...

I was half expecting androids or the fourth reich (the one whose existence has been kept a secret) to materialize from the system - well its AI might as well play along with the general thoughts about it.    

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