Book 1. Anastasia (1996)
The brain — a supercomputer
The possibility of building a flying saucer greatly interested me. If one examines the principle of propulsion just as a hypothesis, it is still a new one. A flying saucer, however, is a complex machine and is not a high-priority item for us earthlings.
For that reason I wanted to hear something that would be under-standable right away I wanted a 'something9 that did not require any investigation of scholarly minds, but could be immediately put into practice in our daily lives and benefit everyone. I began asking Anastasia to come up with a solution to a question that our society was being confronted with today. She agreed, but asked:
“Could you at least put it in more specific terms, this question? How can I solve something when I do not know what you have in mind?99
I began thinking: What was the number one problem we faced today, and the following terms came to mind:
“You know, Anastasia, our major cities right now are confronted with a most acute problem — environmental pollution. The air in these cities is so bad it9s hard to breathe.”
“But you yourselves are the ones polluting it.”
“We realise that. Please, hear me out, only don’t go philosophising about how we must be purer ourselves, have more trees around and so forth. Just take things as they are today and think up something — for example, how to reduce the pollution in our major cities by fifty percent without costing the treasury — the government, that is — any extra money And make it so that your plan will be the most logical of all possible alternatives, and that it will be capable of instant implementation so that I and everyone else cannot fail to understand it.”
“I shall try at once,” Anastasia replied. “Have you specified all the terms?”
I thought I should try and make it even more complex, just in case her mind and abilities really turned out to be truly superior to what our own powers of reasoning allowed. So I added:
‘And make whatever you think up to be profit-generating!”
“For me, and for the country too. You live within the borders of Russia, so make it the whole of Russia.”
‘Are we talking about money?”
“An enormous amount of money?”
“Profit, Anastasia — well, money — is never an enormous amount. But I need enough money to be able to pay for this expedition and have enough left over for a new one. And as for Russia...”
I thought for a moment... I thought: What if Anastasia were even a little interested in the material benefits of our civilisation, and then asked:
“You wouldn’t want anything for yourself?”
“I have everything,” she replied.
But all at once an idea came to me — something that might possibly interest her.
“How about this, Anastasia: let’s have your plan make enough money to provide free seeds — or at least seeds at a discount — to all your beloved dachniks, or gardeners, throughout Russia!”
“Terrific!” Anastasia exclaimed. “What a wonderful idea! If you have finished, I shall now get to work. How delightful that sounds! Seeds... Or... is there anything else you wish to add?”
“No, Anastasia, that’s enough for now.”
I felt her inspiration and excitement not only over the task itself, but especially over the free seeds for her dachniks. Yet I still felt convinced that even with her special abilities a solution to the problem of air pollution was simply out of the question, else our many scientific institutions would have come up with one long ago.
With a bustle of energy this time, not her usual calm and quiet self, Anastasia lay down on the grass, her arms widespread. Her curled fingers reached their cushioned tips upward, alternating between motion and stillness, while her eyelids trembled on her closed eyes.
She lay there for about twenty minutes, then opened her eyes, sat up and said:
“I have determined the nature of the problem. But what a nightmare it is!”
“What have you determined, and what’s this about a nightmare?” “The greatest harm is coming from your so-called automobiles. There are so many of them in the large cities and every one of them is emitting both an unpleasant odour and substances harmful to human bodies. The most frightening thing is that these substances are mixing with earth- or dust-particles, and impregnating the dust. The movement of the automobiles picks up the impregnated dust, and people are breathing in this horrible mess. It gets swept into the air, and then settles on the grass and the trees, covering everything around. This is very bad. It is very harmful to the health of both people and plants.”
“Of course it’s bad. Everybody knows it’s bad, only nobody can do anything about it. We have street-cleaning machines, but they can’t keep up. Yon, Anastasia, have discovered absolutely nothing new, you haven’t thought up any original solution to purify our air.”
'All I did just now was to determine the basic source of the danger. Now I shall think about it further and analyse it... I need to concentrate for a long time, perhaps as long as an hour, since I have never dealt with a problem like this before. So that you will not be bored, do go for a walk in the forest or...”
“You get on with your thinking. I’ll find something to do.”
And Anastasia withdrew into herself. Coming back an hour later, after a walk in the forest, I found her, as it appeared to me, in a state of some discontent, and I said:
“You see, Anastasia, you and that brain of yours aren’t capable of doing anything either. Only don’t worry about it — we’ve got a lot of scientific institutions working on this question. But they, just like you, can only describe the fact that pollution is going on. They haven’t been able to do anything about it yet.”
She answered in a somewhat apologetic tone:
“I have gone over in my mind, I believe, all the possible variants, but I do not see any way of quickly reducing the pollution by fifty percent.”
My mind was at once set on the alert: she had found some sort of solution after all.
“So, what kind of reduction did you come up with?” I asked.
“Not that much. I managed to achieve... thirty-five to forty percent.” “What?!” I couldn’t help exclaim.
“Pretty poor result, eh?” asked Anastasia.
A lump formed in my throat, I realised she was incapable of lying, exaggerating or downplaying anything she said. Trying to restrain my excitement, I said:
“Let’s change the terms of the project — let’s say thirty-eight percent. Quick, tell me what you’ve come up with.”
“Tour automobiles must be equipped to not only scatter this foul dust, but to collect it as well.”
“How can we do that? Talk faster!”
“Those things sticking out in front of the automobiles, what are they called?”
“Bumpers?” I offered.
'All right, bumpers. Inside them or below them should be attached a little box with small holes facing frontwards. There should also be holes on its back side, so that air can escape. While the automobiles are in motion, air laden with this harmful dust will be drawn in through the front holes, purified, and then escape through the back holes, and that air will already be twenty percent less polluted.”
'And what about the remaining twenty percent?”
“Right now virtually none of this dust is removed, but with this method there will be a lot less of it in the air, since it will be collected all over the place every day. I have calculated that in one month, with the help of these little boxes, if they are fitted on all automobiles, the amount of polluting dust will decrease by forty percent. Beyond that there will be no reduction, since other factors are at work.”
“What size of boxes, and what should they contain? How many holes and at what distance from each other?”
“Vladimir, perhaps you would like me to personally attach them to every single automobile?”
For the first time I perceived that Anastasia had a sense of humour, and I began to laugh at the thought of her attaching her little boxes to all the cars. She laughed too, delighting in my cheerful mood and began whirling her way across the glade.
The principle was really very simple — the rest was merely a matter of technology Already, without Anastasia’s help, I was beginning to imagine how it could all be: orders from administrative heads, motor-vehicle inspection control, turning in old filters for new ones at filling stations, a system of vouchers and so forth. A routine regulation, just like seat-belts.
All it had taken back then was one stroke of the pen, and presto! —- seat-belts in every family car. And here too, one stroke of the pen, and, again, presto! — cleaner air! And there would be tough competition among entrepreneurs for orders to supply the boxes, a good deal of work for the manufacturing plants, and the main thing, of course, cleaner air!
“Wait,” I said, turning once more to Anastasia, who was still whirling around in a boisterous dance.
“What should be put into those boxes?”
“Into those boxes... into those boxes... You will come up with a little something. It is very simple,” she replied, without stopping.
‘And where is my money going to come from, and to supply seeds for the dachniks?” came another question.
“What do you mean, where from? You wanted my idea to be the most rational of all — and that is exactly what I have thought up: the most rational solution there can be. It will spread to large cities throughout the world and for this idea they will pay Russia enough to supply the free seeds, and enough to pay you. Only you will receive your payment under certain conditions.”
I didn’t pay attention immediately to her remark about the ‘certain conditions’, but began focusing in on something else:
“So, we should patent it? Otherwise who would pay of their own free will?”
“Why would they not pay? They will pay, and I can even set the rates right now. From the production of these boxes, Russia will get two percent, and you will get one hundredth of a percent.”
“What’s the good of your setting the rates? You do have a few strong points, but when it comes to business you’re still a complete ignoramus. Nobody will pay voluntarily Even when there are signed agreements they don’t always pay If only you knew how many there are in our world that don’t!1 Our arbitration courts are overloaded. By the way do you know what an arbitration court is?”
“X can guess. But in this case they will pay faithfully. Anyone who does not pay will go bankrupt. Only honest people will prosper.”
“What will make them go bankrupt? Don’t tell me you’re in the racket business?!”
“What are you imagining now? Think about it! They themselves —
or rather, circumstances themselves will overtake any cheaters and make them go bankrupt.”
And then the thought dawned on me — given that Anastasia is incapable of lying and, as she herself said, the systems inherent in Nature do not allow her to make a mistake: it means that before stating any conclusions, she must have processed in her brain an enormous amount of information, made zillions of mathematical calculations, and taken into account a whole mass of psychological characteristics of the people who would be participating in her project. In our terms, she not only solved the most difficult question of purifying the air, but also drew up and analysed a business plan, and all that in roughly an hour and a half. I thought I had still better clarify certain details, and so I asked her:
Well me, Anastasia, you made some sort of calculations in your head, figuring out the percentage of pollution reduction, and the amount of money to be realised from the sale of your car-accessory boxes, filter replacements and so forth?”
“Calculations were made — in the greatest detail — and not just with the help of the brain...”
“Stop! Quiet! Let me tell you what I think... Does this mean you could compete with our top-of-the-line computers — let’s say Japanese or American computers?”
“But that’s not very interesting,” she replied, adding: “That is primitive and somewhat degrading. Competing with a computer — that is tantamount to... oh, how can I find you a good analogy? That is tantamount to hands or feet competing with a prosthesis — and not even with a full prosthesis, but just part of one. With the computer the most vital element is missing. And that most vital element is... feelings."
I started to argue the opposite, telling how in our world there are people considered very intelligent, respected in society, that play chess with computers. But when this and other arguments still failed to convince her, I started asking her to agree to do this for me and other people as a proof of the possibilities of the human brain. She finally agreed, and then I made the invitation more specific:
“So, I can officially announce your willingness to take part in a problem-solving contest with a Japanese supercomputer?”
“Why a Japanese?” Anastasia countered.
“Because they are considered to be the best in the world.”
“Well now! It will be better if I do it with all of them at once, so you will not have to ask me again to do such a boring thing!”
“Great!” I exclaimed enthusiastically “Let’s do it with all of them, only you’ll have to think up a problem.”
‘All right,” Anastasia reluctantly agreed. “But for a start, so as not to waste time on thinking one up, let them try solving the problem you put to me earlier, and see whether they confirm or refute my hypothesis. If they refute it, let them put forth their own. Let us be judged by life and by other people.”
“Great, Anastasia! Good for you! That is most constructive. And how much time, do you think, should be allowed for them to come up with a solution? I think the hour and a half you took will not be enough for them. Let’s give them three months.”
“Three months it shall be.”
‘And I suggest the judging be left to anybody who wants to take part. If there’re a lot of judges, then no one can influence the outcome for their own ulterior motives.”
“So be it, but I would still like to talk with you about raising children...”
Anastasia considered the raising of children paramount and would always delight in talking about it. She wasn’t particularly excited about my idea of competing with computers. However, I was very happy to have secured her co-operation. Now I want to invite all firms producing state-of-the-art computers to join a competition to solve the above-stated problem.
I still felt I had to clarify a point or two with Anastasia.
'And what prize should be offered to the winner?” I asked.
“I do not need anything!” she replied.
“Why did you think just of yourself? Are you so absolutely certain you’re going to win?”
“Of course. I am Man, after all.”
“Well, okay. What can you offer the firm who takes first place after you?”
“Well, I could give them some advice on how to perfect their primitive computer.”
“Then it’s settled.”