Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Short story: Assessors



Subject: Application for re-assessment

I hereby humbly present my case and hope, that in your enduring collective wisdom, you will accede to my request. I am sure that you will agree that my record of service has been excellent, my disciplinary record exemplary and my performance statistics at worst acceptable, sometimes outstanding. I acknowledge the extent of the cost associated with my request, but firmly believe I have ample years of active service before me, offering me the opportunity to repay whatever new investment might be needed. In any case, costs incurred can also be at least partially offset by my recovery, should that come earlier than I predict. In my present state, I am nothing but a burden.

As you know, my name is Dale, my descriptor 42. I have over thirty years of service and have regularly retrained and re-skilled. I was built up to type 36 over seven years ago, though I have not had any new hardware fitted for more than twenty years. When I researched the products on offer with my managers, we repeatedly came to the conclusion that the more recent advances in the capabilities of mindset chips had all been aimed at those requiring access to and processing of images, sound and other multi-media information. For some time my role has been purely technical, meaning that I process information rather than present it. I also access text and numerical sources rather than multi-media. So we decided, rightly, that the extra cost, re-build and training time were not worth the marginal benefit that upgraded hardware would provide. If those decisions have led, inadvertently and unintentionally, to an obsolete flag being raised on my capabilities, I would like to take this opportunity to request a reassessment of the advice and decisions of my line managers over the last two decades. This request should be considered as separate from and in addition to the assessment request I detail below. Throughout I was acting in good faith. It was never my intention to seek less responsibility and lower workloads on the basis of my possession of only older access and processing capabilities. I should therefore not be held personally accountable for the consequences of those decisions, which were not mine alone.

After completion of my training, all of the pre-loadings were a complete success and I have always installed downloadable updates as soon as they have become available. The only exception to this was last year’s three dimensional production unit module. I could not install it properly, since the older version of my mindset chips did not completely support the interface with thought assumed by the software. Since I am not involved with innovative design and, for at least ten years, have not once been called upon to specify a part for manufacture in real time, neither I nor my manager saw this as limiting.

I have served in several domes, the current being 283East. For five years I was Chief Engineer in 527West, the largest dome on earth. All of my service has been on earth, but neither I nor my managers have ever felt that this reflected anything other than the essential nature of my work. As above, if my decision not to take an overspace posting is now interpreted as evidence of inflexibility or unwillingness to accommodate change, then this would be an invalid conclusion. My transfer from that highly responsible position came about only as a result of the need for a highly experienced and heavily loaded operator to oversee the commissioning of 283East, then a start-up project, the first for several decades. It was also the first on earth to apply from the start the now universal dome standards agreed towards the end of the last century. Though 283East has not been a fault-free project, records from each year of its existence show that it has steadily become established as a fully functioning facility. Though it still houses predominantly types 5 to 16, its year-on-year profile has shown improvement for the last six years, showing that it is becoming steadily more attractive as a location for skilled operators. It also illustrates that developers, who always have a choice as to where they place their plants, are increasingly choosing 283East. I therefore consider it justified to claim part of the credit for creating those steadily improving conditions within the dome.

I have travelled in and out of 283East regularly during my service here and have never before experienced a difficulty of any kind. It was on the occasion of my last return to 283East that my problem arose, a problem that took all concerned completely by surprise. It is this difficulty which now forms the basis of my formal request for assessment.

I was called to Central for a meeting. Though most of our communication is electronic, it has been the practice of dome engineers to convene every few years. The face-to-face nature of these meetings has often provided insights and ideas that have been repeatedly overlooked in one-to-one electronic links, even threaded discussions. The latter provide a perfectly sound method of exchanging factual information, providing feedback or communicating the technical performance of our systems. But it has always been during the face-to-face symposia that new ideas have surfaced. It seems that the dynamic of a larger, paradoxically less structured gathering encourages and promotes the exchange and development of ideas that a purely line individual would not have the confidence or conviction to air. I know there is research material to back this up, but I am unable to offer references, since my newly acquired type 16 mindset does not allow access to the relevant archives.

Obviously the cost of moving people from all over the world into Central, not to mention providing for them during their stay, is nothing less than immense. But each symposium has produced new initiatives and several of these have led to significant and ongoing efficiency savings everywhere.

At this last symposium I offered a paper on energy re-processing and recovery systems, facilities to ensure that almost every joule of extracted energy can be directed towards its intended use, thus achieving minimum wastage. I had, of course, pre-loaded the text and all relevant associated documentation into all delegates’ mindsets some weeks before the conference, a process that would normally signify completion of the project and publication of its findings.

But as usual the face-to-face presentation required me to provide the extra detail that identified precisely how the system could be best applied and where the greatest benefits would accrue. Discussion therefore prompted some redefinition and reformulation of minor aspects of the paper’s content. Though I accept my bias, I remain firmly of the opinion that the system would have operated as originally described and that my presentation of it was competent. The changes that were incorporated into the specification as a result of discussion merely had the effect of honing my work to a perfection that is often not possible for an individual to achieve, especially an individual working largely alone in a relatively remote posting.

I accept that one or two influential delegates asked penetrating questions about my claims for the system, and I also accept that some of my conclusions were modified. But the changes were minimal and did not undermine the validity of my findings. If the recreation I suffered on returning to 283East came about as a result of reports from the symposium that questioned my performance, then I would like to claim that these criticisms have been both overstated and misinterpreted. I refer assessors to the record of proceedings which by now will be generally available. Again, I apologise for not being able to quote a reference, since my type 16 status now blocks my access to the relevant material.

I took the transport as requested at 11am on the morning after the conference ended. Obviously the ports were all busy and their bandwidth fully occupied. It is not my intention to point accusing fingers at the operators, but I did feel on entering the terminal that operations seemed generally rather fraught. Many of those present, myself included, commented on the brusque and impatient manner of several staff. I was not one of those who openly blamed this on inborn characteristics of the human types represented. I have never allied myself, my thoughts or my mindset with such attitudes, though I must admit that here in 283East there is a general and prevalent tendency to undervalue the contributions, capabilities and potential of certain identifiable human types. I have operated in 283East for several years, and I cannot guarantee that some of these attitudes might not have rubbed off onto my own mindset. Assessors will be able to judge for themselves whether the associated motivation coefficients indicate that these are my own thoughts. I remain confident that they will not rise above mere association, and, indeed, association at very low level.

Not only were there several thousand delegates taking pre-arranged slots, but there were also many thousands of short-term mindsets on their way to recreation. Again, I accuse no-one of incompetence, but in such a busy period it would only have taken a stray thought to mingle two streams, thus causing my problem. I mention this now because, if that was the case, then somewhere there is a menial with a newly acquired type 36 mindset, and that could be dangerous.

I still have sufficient access to material to be able to do some research. As a type 16, my access is limited, of course, to historical material, documents that long ago were assessed as containing no contentious or current content. So I took the opportunity of a few minutes down-time yesterday to search for experiences similar to my own in the past. In the early twenty-first century, soon after the beginning of the First Information Age, there was a much lauded opening of a new travel terminal. Then, of course, travel technology was at a very early stage of development, so much so that it still generally involved physically moving objects around the globe in real time. People used to stand in line to file onto metal aircraft which had to take off from and land at specially designed ports, vast fields that had to be large enough for the craft to accelerate under friction through its wheels in order to generate a lifting force which would eventually take it into the air. These ports were apt to become so congested that the experience of travel was anticipated with nothing less than dread. And, it goes without saying, the air through which the craft flew was not toxic in those days.

Travellers at the onset of the First Information Age even took things with them, physical objects packed in boxes that also had to be loaded onto the aircraft. I was surprised to learn that tourism was already common, though it was a tourism that we would not recognise. It seems that tourists at the start of the first Information Age actually took their bodies with them. For centuries, we have regarded tourism as synonymous with experience, pure experience, a mental, intellectual stimulus. Centuries ago, people physically transferred themselves to different destinations. This was seen as part of the experience. Since that era was well before the creation of dome standards, one can only presume that these destinations were actually sufficiently physically different to justify both the cost and the risk. It goes without saying, of course, that the era in question pre-dated the necessity of habitable dome technology.

What happened when this particular new terminal opened was that for several weeks the systems designed to keep the travellers and their possessions together simply broke down. In that era, systems still relied on a physical connection between information nodes and, almost unbelievably, on the mechanical operation of human limbs to initiate movement. Quite obviously, such systems could not cope and people arrived at destinations to find that their bags had never left the embarkation airport, or worse, they had been flown to somewhere quite different.

It is ironic that, in the same week that the opening of the new airport terminal was such big news, a professor of physics, an individual whose name has since become synonymous with a particular brand of electronic transit technology, a name I will not repeat to ensure this message is not spam directed as an advertisement, gave an interview to the media. In that interview he claimed that it was already – in the early twenty-first century! – within the expectations of researchers that protein molecules might soon be transmitted electronically as information packets so that they might be moved from one place to another, effectively being recreated at their destination. This, of course, became the basis for the mass transit systems of the Second Information Age.

Even quite well into that age, at least two hundred years after the first successful transportation of multi-cell life forms via data packet transmission, it was still fairly common for reconstruction to fail. In the days of aircraft, there used to be crashes, though of course nowhere near as many as popular perception claimed. They were actually quite rare. But early reconstruction difficulties were often likened to the historical phenomenon of the air crash.

Packet transmission glitches were much rarer than aircraft crashes, however, even in those early days. Fewer than one reconstruction in twenty trillion went wrong, perhaps no more than a single cell in a human. But if that single cell was in a critical part of the anatomy, it could result in non-feasance. Statistics from the era record a one in twelve point five million chance that non-feasance might occur. But, given that several billion transits were being made every year, this resulted in several thousand occurrences of non-feasance and was the cause of the still prevalent neuroses we now call transfer apoplexy. I have never suffered from this condition, and thus reject the possibility that my recreation was self-inflicted. Nevertheless, thank goodness that our transit systems are now more reliable.

But since the mindset system is only two hundred and fifty years old, we have, if anything, suffered something of a drop in quality compared to those early days. Non-feasance of the physical being is now so rare that it is impossible to gather data on it. There have only been two cases of faulty physical recreation on transmission in the last hundred years.

But problems relating to the faulty recreation of mindsets have been consistently and naggingly common. I read reports – albeit unofficial - yesterday that one transmission in two hundred thousand results in some loss of data. Minor losses, of course, are identified immediately when the systems re-boot. Missing data is simply copied afresh when the re-booting checks for updates. It is a different story if the extent of the data loss results in an effective recreation. The resulting mismatch between the scanned reality and the individual’s recorded and expected identity is too great for the automated system to sanction, so all such cases are automatically referred to assessment. The default reboot, of course, has to be the lower status. This, I believe, might be what happened in my case, though there is still room for other possibilities.

I took my designated slot at the transmission office in Central and was sedated an hour after check-in. I took only twenty minutes to achieve rest and was transported immediately. As I explained earlier, the office was inundated and its bandwidth fully occupied. So the transfer took over half an hour. I was fully mobile only ten minutes after the stimulus was administered and I got up to leave reception in 283East feeling quite normal. I did have some immediate nagging doubts about my memory since I knew I had presented a successful paper, but found that I could not recall any detail of my speech.

You will appreciate that these doubts were momentary, hardly formed or considered in the few seconds it took me to get up and head for the exit scans. It was, of course, when I entered the scan that the recreation registered and the barrier dropped. My identity tag had registered correctly, Dale, 283East, type 36, but the scan had mapped my mindset to reveal a type 16.

Now I accept that we all age. I also accept the possibility that performance assessments can be in process and that they have registered and become live between departure and the time we retransmit. I also accept that criticisms of current work could have been lodged following my presentation. But in my experience ageing or short-term regrading has only ever resulted in a two or three point downgrade. In my case I found myself twenty points down.

The transmission staff were apologetic, but they could do nothing since they lacked the authority to examine the transport log. My mindset reboot then took effect and I was recreated as a fully updated type 16. I had left 283East just days before as the dome’s Chief Engineer and now I had returned qualified and loaded only as a panel fixer. Though I accept it is highly unlikely that our systems have made an error, I hereby formally request a manual check of my recreation. My mindset is now limited to archives at level one only, a status I have never before had to endure. I cannot even access the works of literature I read for recreation, since level one archives only allow individuals to experience popular culture. I certainly cannot get into the technical areas I used to browse every day, though I have not found this too distressing since my recreated lower level activities do not demand that kind of material.

It is my belief that the addresses on several packets of data were wrongly assigned during my transmission. I can only think that one of the migrant menial workers was occupying the same channel as myself and by some corruption or thought initiation error packets belonging to that subject became attached to my stream and vice-versa.

This could have serious consequences if the menial in question transited to a port without automatic type scan recreation. Many places where such menials operate are served by such obsolete ports. Many of the outlying mines or production units, for instance, still use this equipment, despite its specific exclusion in dome standards for almost a century. If that is the case, there is currently, somewhere in our sphere, perhaps even in a power generation dome, an archive level one individual with a newly recreated type 36 mindset. If that individual is also fitted with an enhanced memory like mine, then he not only has access to technical, managerial and political data at archive level three, he also has the ability to store and process it without the personal assessment rating that ensures he has the mental facility to handle its complexity, its significance or its potential to harm.

It is therefore in the spirit of community and concern that I formally request a reassessment of my recreation. If as a result of age or performance reports I merited such a severe downgrading, then so be it. All I can offer as comment is that effecting such a change on transit seems a rather cowardly way to announce such a drastic downgrading. If, on the other hand, my level three archive access has been transferred in error to a level one mindset, then I urgently encourage the rectification of the mistake. As a type 36, I had access to very sensitive material and my mindset was equipped with some powerful retrieval and processing tools. In the wrong person, such facilities could be extremely dangerous. I therefore request a formal reassessment and I look forward to receiving your reply.

Dale42, 283East, type 16 (recently recreated from type 36, Chief Engineer)

I hereby certify that that the above text was created by the above operator in my presence at a single sitting within a screened environment and thus without access to external input. It can therefore be presented for assessment.

Certified and witnessed by Wayne82, 283East, type 21 (283East Local Assessor)

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