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When machine hunts man

Boudhayan Mukherjee |

Lending science to literature had hardly happened in Indian writings. Thus science fiction had always been tagged as “non-literary” among prose-writers of eighteen distinct languages of India, apart from English. Consequently, we have not been able to produce a Clarke, Asimov or a Bradbury. Some efforts in regional languages were made and Satyajit Ray and Premendra Mitra excelled in this genre-lit.

In English, cosmologist Jayant Narlikar wrote an occasional sci-fi story. But the entire work compared to the SF tradition of the West is hardly commendable and seems to be dated. Innovative, cutting-edge SF did not occur up to the end of the last century. Possibly, no writer was capable of matching up to the rapid changes in science and technology, mainly robotics, artificial intelligence and cryo-genetics.

Currently with the whole of India coming under the sweep of computers, more writers of fiction are veering towards the specialised SF genre. But most of the contemporary crop of best-selling young authors is using ancient Hindu mythological fantasies as the main prop for a strange concoction. That said hard SF has also begun to take-off in India recently.

Anirban Basu’s IT @ D Day is an attempt to write the hard stuff. An IT professional in one of the top 10 global steel companies, Anirban writes in English and Bengali in his spare time. His previous publications in English are a collection of sci-fi stories, detective novel and translations. That apart, his detective and sci-fi stories have also been published in Bengali.

A racy, action-packed, serio-comic sci-fi thriller based in Kolkata, this novella is an attempt to explore the various options to the everlasting question related with the advent of science. Is man becoming a slave to his own creation? By bowing to the machine, is he losing his identity as Man, and becoming a machine himself to elevate his creation — the machine to the lofty position, which he had once enjoyed? Is he playing God?

A scientist called Dr Siddharth Mukherjee creates a super computer by the name of I Tend, a computer that manages the entire telephone network of the metropolis — the only computer of its kind to be endowed with the power to take independent decisions on all matters. The idea behind the entire creation is noble as it hopes to set a new trend in the evolution of machines. In the design, Siddharth is helped by another colleague of his, Dr Gagan Bacghi, senior to him by age but junior at the professional level.

The story begins with I Tend developing a taste for independence and going on a killing spree to attract the attention of its creator. It then develops a dangerous scheme to murder Dr Bagchi to attain complete supremacy over his body.

I Tend achieves its purpose while Dr Mukherjee and Dr Bagchi perform an unscheduled shutdown on because they are perturbed by the sudden deaths of innocent civilians in the city. However, unknown to I Tend, it does not kill Dr Bagchi but his clone, for in a sudden twist of fate, the one-time professor of Dr Bagchi and Dr Mukherjee, Dr Ashim Choudhury, performs a cloning experiment on Dr Bagchi and puts the human Dr Bagchi to sleep.

The clone, now controlled by I Tend, goes after Dr Mukherjee with the sole intention of murdering him and obtaining his desired chip, whereas the real Dr Bagchi, having awakened from his sleep by his professor, finds himself a bit “touched”; for as Dr Ashim Choudhury frankly admits, something seems amiss with his razor sharp brain.

It is a racy, packed thriller, with sprinkles of humour and a grand finale of action. The book leaves behind a darkening question in the human mind, how much progress has man made in terms of a new “civilisation” of artificial intelligence (fondly called AI ) for what it is worth?

The reviewer is author of Black Milk. He has taught creative writing in English at IGNOU