Chapter 6

Conference Call.

Henry had not batted an eyelid when it was requested that Ellie take some time alone with her colleagues prior to his joining in. He suggested he would arrive 30 minutes after they had started, and to let him know if there were any difficulties or delays.

Willie and James tuned in on time, James was just completing a tweet and quickly squirreled away his phone as the cameras kicked in. The initial formalities comprised of introductions between Ellie and James. Willie then gave Ellie the story of how he came by the data. Ellie seemed interested in what had happened to the original offsite backup tape. She asked him if anyone had actually signed for it.

James then briefed her on his work, Ellie came up to speed very quickly. She excelled in quantum mechanics at MIT, which led to her maser work at Caltech, this was however a completely different application.

James touched upon the research into Computational Complexity. This was an area of research that harkened back to Alan Turing in the development of Turing machines in 1936 and led to the cracking of the Enigma codes of the second world war. Chaos theory and computational complexity sparked a resurgence in the field and quantum computing slotted straight in.

Ellie asked James about the difference between chaos and complexity. Willie sighed, and gave Ellie a stare while imitating a movie director motioning ‘cut’ with his index finger. James immediately took a liking to Ellie and went on to explain that chaos theory is emergent and describes how complex systems are extremely sensitive to initial conditions. Computational complexity, by contrast, was exploring the limits of problem simplification.

James illustrated with the example that two prime numbers can be multiplied trivially to gain a result. The prime numbers that create the result however cannot be trivially found knowing only the result. At this point Willie had had quite enough and stepped in to redirect the focus. Ellie smiled at Willie’s discomfort. She was also keen to get to the nub of the story, but was enjoying the interplay between these two.

After being presented with the outcome of the preliminary analysis Ellie quickly came to appreciate the implications of the findings, even though it was peripheral to her field. In her subconsciousness and with the talk of an adaptive signal something began to tickle her scientific nerve. The reappearance of prime numbers was unsettling, it was like a Newtonian deterministic clock ticking the seconds of some elusive universal computer.

She recalled her recent conversation with Kent. She also reflected briefly on David Drumlin whose untimely death left her in the role of the first voyager on the machine. It left her feeling again that the next small moves may be someone elses to take, with her role evolving to one of guidance. She decided there and then that she had more to contribute as a mentor.

At the appointed time Ellie opened the door for Henry and performed introductions. “Professor Henry Miller, I’d like you to meet Dr William Sharpe.”

“Call me Willie.”

“Please call me Henry.”

“… and James Frazer. James is a postgrad student with Willie. Coincidentally the signal being analysed at SKA is also being analysed by James.”

“Hi,” wave.

Ellie continued. ”I gave your data file to Willie to see if he could identify it. Willie and I go back to the SETI program in its infancy where he was involved in signal analysis. Willie can you bring us up to speed?”

“Sure. Ever since SETI I have built a catalog of signals through a library of spectrograms. This library allows a rapid ID of any signal and included the telemetry signals from Ellie’s encounter in the SETI machine. This is where we hit the match.”

Henry had at one stage installed SETI@home on his desktop and understood how hungry the signal analysis could be. He had assumed that this was some innocuous hijacking of resources. This now seemed partly verified and was probably some over exuberant postgraduate student.

“Pardon me Willie,” interrupted Henry, “you say you are analysing the signal at your facility. Could you also have a researcher analysing the signal at our facility?”

“Not a chance!” and “No way!” were echoed simultaneously by both James and Willie.

Willie continued, in a more conciliatory tone. “Our research here is contained between James and I, primarily James. James you should give a quick abstract.”

James cleared his throat and chimed in, “the research project is in solving BQP equivalence to QMA complexity problems or P=NP with Quantum Computing. For this we need a suspect BQP sample, this is where Ellie’s signal comes in. The signal is not the root of my thesis, it is simply an artifact that I am analysing.”

Willie stepped in again, he felt this was enough ‘blinding with science’. He provided his own summary. “Henry, we saw the signal as an intractable one and thought we’d try to solve it with James’ quantum computer. The origin of our signal was from the offsite copy following the event. The original international Machine Consortium data was seized during the conspiracy inquisition. If you are curious how this signal comes to be with you, I suspect that it came via the data retrieved from the IMC.”

“You are probably correct, and it fills in some of the gaps we have.” Henry then continued. “Just to fill in your gaps I was recently told of a quid-pro-quo arrangement between the South Africans and the US government, one that appears to have worked too well. The receivers are nearly done as a result, and the ‘bench-testing’ time on the computing facility is now in the critical path. We are coming under increasing pressure to yield results.”

Ellie was thinking rapidly now. She had a rough plan in her head and this next part would require some delicacy. She mustered up all of the lessons learnt in the SETI rollercoaster. Firstly, she needed a small teaser. “Willie, at this early stage of your research are there any indications that you may be able to solve the conundrum of this signal?”

James was about to answer but Willie overwhelmed him. “We’ve had some small successes, it needs more work and funding.”

“And would it be useful to see if conventional computing could solve the problem?” Ellie was fairly certain it would. Willie and James voiced their agreement.

Ellie now redirected her attention. “Henry, if the SKA is no further behind than you would have been without the project management help, I would like to request the calculation be allowed to run its course for a short while. Perhaps we will learn who is involved. If the calculations are aborted now, everyone would simply go to ground. Besides, the signal is astronomical in nature after all.”

“Ellie, how long are you asking for.”

“Just let me find out who is behind it, let’s say a fortnight.”


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