Nadia, a story by Miquel Morales.
Discover our last story: Edna’s Garden
Nadia’s eyes were red after hours with the holovisor on. The newer models came with ocular moisturizing tech, but not all companies were eager to take on the extra cost just for the visual well-being of their employees. At least not yet. Her friend Sudi had one of those fancy rigs at the office. Apparently, you didn’t even need to use your hands to manipulate data sets and subroutines. A simple mental order would get the job done. Nadia thought for a second of how lazy humans had become. It was hard to imagine how, just thirty years ago, people like her had to rely on mechanical input devices and raw code to do their jobs.
A pulsating glow on the bottom right corner of her field of vision brought her back from the history tour. The alert was accompanied by a low-pitched beeping sound. She veered right with a gesture of the hand and pulled the message window closer to her.
“Unusual log entry detected,” said the virtual operator in a quirky and piercing male voice.
Nadia had recently configured her AI to sound like Saneer Ziza, her and her sister’s favourite comedy actor. She had to give it to her sister — for the first time in years, she had come up with a pretty thoughtful birthday gift. Perhaps age was starting to weigh on her and she was finally letting some barriers down. In any case, Nadia had been enjoying the company of Ziza’s humour while scouting the network for potential breaches. It made everything sound quite funny, actually. Even that alert.
“Give me a full report,” requested Nadia. Like anyone who deserved to call themselves a data integrity expert, she knew better than to ignore odd entries in the system’s registry of activity. It was one of the thousands of parameters she had trained Ziza to monitor.
“Sorry, Nadia. The event log no longer shows any abnormalities.”
Weird. “What do you mean by ‘no longer’? ” she asked, bothered.
“I have reviewed the records 43,901 times, and there doesn’t seem to be anything out of the ordinary here.”
“Why would you alert me of an unusual entry, then?
“Sorry, Nadia. I cannot answer that question without an irregularity to make reference to.”
“But you just said ‘no longer’, which means you have memory of the irregularity being there in the first place.”
“I was merely referencing my previous statement.”
Nadia sighed and rolled her eyes — not a great idea, dry as they were. These annoying bugs had become more common since the last system update. She couldn’t wait for the next patch.
“Flag this over to maintenance, would you?”
She took the headset off and threw herself on the sofa. The four walls of her studio felt somewhat oppressing after the vastness of the digital world. Stretching arms and legs, she told Ziza to put on some music and got herself lost in thought. Tomorrow was an office day. Plus, she had that new business meeting first thing in the morning. It would be a big deal if they signed this client. Sunset filtered through the blinds, projecting red and orange stripes on the opposing wall.
Nadia took a long sip of coffee and let her gaze go from one person to the other around the conference table. A strange bunch. Even in their formal business attires, she could tell how different they were from one another. Two men and two women, their ages ranging from the early thirties to the mid-fifties. She tried to come up with a background story for each one of them as Tom from sales walked them through the proposal. Raindrops kept hitting the glass wall behind them. It was an unusually foggy autumn day. Nadia could barely see the building across the street.
“And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how we’ll solve your problem. That’s if you decide to move forward with the plan, of course,” said Tom with a polite smile that Nadia knew too well. “Quantum cryptography has come a long way, and we’ve been there since the beginning. Others will promise they can do it too, but our unique encryption system is the only way to fully guarantee that your customer’s data stays secure throughout all transactions.”
RayStar was one of those brand names all professionals know. They were in — well — everything. Financial services, insurance, enterprise software. Anything your average business would need. But recently they had started focusing on the consumer market, using their machine learning expertise and their access to most of the world’s data to develop a new kind of personal AI assistant: Duplo.
The premise was pretty straightforward. Who better to help you manage your everyday tasks than an exact copy of yourself? Somehow, RayStar had managed to aggregate all your data and create an AI that thought and acted just like you do. Of course, your Duplo wasn’t perfect. But it was way more effective than any other AI assistant out there. Media hype was strong.
With the product’s official release scheduled for next month, RayStar was looking to find a security partner that could ensure the protection of user data. AI chips had improved a lot in terms of security, and most AIs were able to run locally on the user’s device or network. But Duplo was simply too complex. A central quantum computer was required to process all the assistant’s responses, and that was a major liability considering how sensitive personal data was. The chances for someone to intercept the information along the way were simply too high. That’s where Nadia’s firm came in.
“Forgive me, but I fail to understand how this, hmm, binding is the only way to protect the data 100%,” said one of the RayStar executives. Clearly more of a businessman than a technical type.
“Ray Goldstein, VP of Compliance,” whispered Ziza’s voice through the earpiece Nadia had on. The exec was talking about the process by which Nadia’s company would ensure the encryption keys remained confidential. RayStar’s CIO, a middle-aged woman with piercing eyes, looked at her colleague with impatience, probably hoping to wrap that up quickly so that she could move onto the next endless meeting of the day. Tom was looking at Nadia, silently begging her to step in.
“It’s entanglement, actually, sir,” said Nadia. “Although binding works as a concept as well,” she added with a smile. “In very basic terms, we encrypt the data by generating two identical sets of random numbers — or ‘keys’ — that we then send to your central system. Your supercomputer can only read and process the data by first using that key to decrypt it, so that…”
“See. That’s exactly what I am saying,” said the VP. “We are trying to prevent someone from accessing the data during transactions by sending a key, the password. But what’s to prevent them from intercepting that key as well?” Nadia could now clearly hear the CIO’s fingers tapping nervously on the table.
“That’s precisely why our real-time entanglement system is the only way the secure your transactions, Mr Goldstein,” explained Nadia. “It all comes down to quantum theory. Sub-atomic particles. Quantum mechanics tells us that, when we generate a password, the value of that password will be altered once we look at it. Meanwhile, the property of entanglement dictates that two entangled keys will be tied across time and space, so that whatever happens to one affects the other.”
“I see,” said the VP, clearly not seeing it at all.
“Think of it as a pair of twins, if you will,” said Nadia. “It is said that twins can feel it whenever something happens to their other half, even if they are thousands of miles apart. Well, here this is actually true. If someone was eavesdropping and intercepted one of the keys, we would be able to detect it. Something would feel off.”
“Oh, I see. Interesting. I actually have a twin, you know?”
To be continued…
Read the next chapter: Nadia – Chapter II
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