A tale of technology that began with a mix-up and ended in uncertainty

The DNA Cloning Centre was in a state of turmoil. Someone had switched the DNA samples of Charles Darwin and Charles Babbage years ago and it had just come to light. (“How do I know? The samples were marked Charles B and Charles D and when R&D called for Charles B, I heard it as Charles D… Or, was it the other way around?”)

Interestingly, what this switch had accidentally created was a future generation of cross-bred clones — technologists with a keen interest in evolution. And that’s the reason why, ever since, the tech world has seen a race for the survival of the fittest, best explained by the following famous quote — “Every morning in Cyberia, a mobile phone is switched on. It knows it must outperform the fastest Google Glass or it will be killed. Every morning in Cyberia, a Google Glass is picked up. It knows it must run apps faster than the slowest mobile, or it will lose. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a mobile or a pair of glasses — when Apple comes up with its next product, you’d better be running.”

However, with different groups keenly contesting this race, there were side-effects that had to be borne by the common man. For instance, heat transfer principles and a unique ‘Spin Chill’ technology had resulted in a portable device that could chill a drink in half a minute, but mankind, on an average, spent 130 hours or over five days a year waiting for computers to load a program, application or file. In other words, all the time saved in chilling a drink was spent waiting for a computer to get warmed up.

Even the world of finance fell prey to this bizarre phenomenon. On one hand, tech whizzes had come up with software that could predict where a burglary was most likely to occur next.

The program could study crime patterns and relevant data collected over the past decade, sweep hot spots and come up with calculated predictions about the next criminal activity likely to occur in a neighbourhood. Using this, they could bring down the crime rates in residential localities to a reasonable extent.

However, another set of scientists had come up with an equally revolutionary invention — a wallet that runs away when it feels that its owner is spending excessively. Working in tandem with a book-keeping app named Zaim, the wallet, if forcibly picked up by the owner and opened, even screams for help.

If the owner persists and takes money out of it, the wallet resorts to its ultimate weapon — it sends a mail to the wallet owner’s mother.

Now, everything would have been fine if only the two inventions had chosen to co-exist peacefully. But since that goes against the grain when it comes to the theory of evolution and survival of the fittest, one had to cannibalise the other. As a result, the wallet that ran away sometimes lost its way and thus became a prime target for thieves.

So, the program that predicted the next burglary would inadvertently also predict the exact location of the wallet (if it was the wallet that was being stolen). Conversely, if the location of the runaway wallet was found, it would make it easier for someone to steal it, thereby leading to a burglary — which was already predicted by the software. This was now getting complicated.

The situation was best summed up by a geek. “The process of predicting a burglary that involves a wallet would lead to the owner holding on to it and possibly spending more, which would lead to the wallet running away. But locating the wallet would give away its coordinates, which would lead to it being stolen.”

A young physicist who heard it took notes furiously and surreptitiously. ‘Ah, the uncertainty of it all… This could do wonders in quantum mechanics,’ he muttered to himself as he rushed to the lab.

The next morning, the world was introduced to Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle.

sureshl.india@gmail.com