(Apologies for the delay this week!) Reminder: For the next several Fridays, we are going to provide a writing prompt based on a technology we think is ripe for a coordinated research program. In the comments, we want you to create a piece of flash fiction that includes the prompt technology in some way!
Nova finally managed to get her neck above the water line. She gasped. Her eyes were burning from the seawater. On the horizon she could see the sun rising, and only when she shielded her eyes could she find a small spit of land.
Mustering up the last of her strength, she hobbled in that direction. Her arms felt weak and she could feel something stabbing her in the leg, but finally she managed to collapse onto the sandy island.
What now? The submarine accident had happened suddenly. Everyone had been blown away, but had anyone else survived?
It seemed unlikely. A small section of the craft had washed up on shore beside her. She dragged it in to see what she could use for survival. A few days of food was good. The first aid kit helped her get the metal rod out of her leg. There was also a small 3D printer which apparently had solar panels on top. It was still in the box.
Her phone refused to turn on. Minutes of water, salt, and ocean pressures applied to it meant she wasn’t surprised when the screen remained blank.
So where was she? And how could someone find her?
The first day was full of panic. The next was one of boredom. After walking a lap around the sandy beach for the umpteenth time she finally decided to unbox this machine.
It was state-of-the-art from what she could tell. As soon as the noon rays hit the top, the little OLED panel welcomed her with excessive enthusiasm.
She scrolled through the list of manufacturer-included items: a toy boat, a scaled-down train, a radio…
She opened up the instructions. It was able to produce a radio transceiver. It didn’t seem high-quality, operating only on the CB channel, but nevertheless might be her way out.
The only problem was one of material. The included plastic resin wasn’t going to produce a strong enough signal to stretch for the necessary miles.
As she set down the machine in disappointment, her arm touched the hot metal of the bloody rod from yesterday. A realization came to her.
Using some of the equipment, she managed to disassemble enough of the submarine remnants and feed it into the machine. She felt a great deal of anticipation as it began producing her salvation layer by layer.
By the time she heard the click and the fuzzy sounds of another person, she burst into tears.
“Time is money, and I’m haemorrhaging both!”
Young Oliver Chase sat against his window, the bedroom lit aglow by his four-monitor setup. He looked down at his watch, gilded gold encrusted with diamonds, a Van Cleef vintage, and then back up at the green progress bar that inched torturously across his screen. The “rendering in progress” message blinked in and out as he fisted up the mattress sheets, the thousand threads in its count rumpled by frustration.
“Sloths on valium would move faster.”
He stood up, shaking his head with disgust. Tapping his foot repeatedly on the lush velvet carpeting in his room, he looked up all the possible Gods on Wikipedia and prayed to them by the strength of relative power: The Christian God Yahweh, Allah, Buddha, even that Kali goddess he once heard about from some Indiana Jones movie, begging each of the deities to cut him some slack and speed up the electrons whizzing around in his PC by a magnitude of a thousand so his torturous wait would end and “Render Complete.” would flash against his screen.
Alas, half an hour later, he heard the 200-year-old grandfather clock downstairs’ signature loud twang. 7am. As each of the 7 thwangs rang out, he shut his laptop down and tried taking deep calming breaths as hours of hardwork and his dreams of winning “Youngest filmmaker in history to win the Best in Animation Award” were flushed down his Japanese toilet.
Calling up father:
For breakfast, he sat with his family on a table whose spread rivaled feasts of the kings: there was caviar, tahini vanilla ice cream, and wagyu beef tartare spread on crackers, french toast made of the finest brioche bread, eggs from the fattest chickens, and frothy milk and butter made from the cows who lived better lives than perhaps 80% of humanity. His mother and father sat beside each other, looking towards Oliver adoringly, as he thanked each of the butlers and chefs for the morning’s fine meal.
“Father, I know I am but 12 years of age, but I wish to retrieve half of my inheritance early.”
Mr. James Abernathy Chase choked on his Eggs Benedict. “Oliver Chase! I didn’t make this request till I was of 15 years of age! Whatever is the matter with you?”
Oliver folded his arms. “You see father, I have everything I could possibly want. Truffles. Peacocks in my backyard. But my laptop’s speed is agonizingly slow. I finished my film submission hours before the deadline but my laptop’s speed…” Familiar hate rushed through him, and he felt it warm his chest all the way to his hands. “It rendered my waltzing pandas for more than three hours!” “And after all that time, it wasn’t even halfway done! I refuse to let this happen to me again. And I assure you that I wouldn’t want this to happen to any human on this planet either.” A surge of empathy arose in Oliver’s chest. He did not want anyone to ever feel what he felt.
"Darling, why don't you let someone else handle this? We have enough money to hire Pixar for a home video," Leo's mother sighed. But Leo, draped in his Versace dressing gown, was unyielding. He had stories to tell, and he'd be damned if he let some outsiders meddle with his vision.
He had the fastest wifi available and that wasn’t the issue. He had the fastest microchip in the world-– that wasn’t the issue either. No, he thought of this problem from first principles, as his beloved tutor Mr. White taught him to do so. The problem lay with how laptops were constructed in the first place. He had the finest gadgets and access to the best technology in the world, yet rendering times still took more than half a day to complete for a 5 minute segment of heavy CGI? Ridiculous! It'd be faster if he carved the video’s frames into marble himself.
“You taught me that the wealthy are wealthy because they are uncompromising, Father. And so I shall be about this. I ask for nothing but what is mine. To work tirelessly on a dream that I care about. To satisfy my curiosity. Isn’t that exactly what a parent would wish?"
Mr. James Abernathy sighed, “Oliver, I swore to take you seriously as a child and so as a man of my word, that is exactly what I should do.” Our unfathomable family fortune is yours to spend.” He turned towards his wife. “Now will you pass the salt please dear?”
Oliver didn't just want a faster CPU; he wanted to bend time and space to his will, to wield the power of rendering videos like a god.
Thus, Oliver began his quest to make Adobe Premiere Pro render at the speed of light.
He rented out a lab, and assembled an a team of intellectual Avengers: physicists, computer engineers, optical scientists, even a philosopher to keep things interesting around the water cooler.
He gathered all of them up and spoke of what he knew: CPUs, bound by the laws of electrons, had a speed limit. He understood that light could outpace these electrons, and that it could transform computing. The potential of this technology intrigued him; light was faster, more energy-efficient, and would significantly reduce rendering times. Laser and water jet cutters could etch nano-sized grooves into the CPU's surface, allowing light to zip through them. Robotics could ensure precision assembly, while 5-axis CNC's could carve out the intricate, 3-dimensional structures needed for the pathways.
He mentioned all of these–– speaking with passion, Mr. White feeding him the words to say through a small earpiece.
These noble men and women, normally stricken with the burden of perpetual grant applications and skeptical peer reviews, looked at each other. An opportunity to build an optical CPU, funded by an eccentric heir who wanted to make faster panda waltz videos? It was too good to be true.
They had the tools, the knowledge. And now, they had the funding.