Booting up the Neural Integrated Math Module for the first time felt like having a high-end micro-processor explode inside your skull. I kind of liked it.
We humans are more than a little stupid, which I suppose is the point of cybernetic augmentation. Yet, because we’re stupid, many of us fought the very idea of neural implants of any kind. Math was the compromise first step. Who could object to having, all at once, von Neumann level mental math capabilities, even if it did involve a little brain surgery? I mean, where’s the risk? You’re mathematically a doof going in, and summing infinite series in under a second coming out. If it fails, you remain a doof. Work, maybe you can get a job.
I sat up. “You good?” asked the young doctor, who I could not help notice was lovely.
“Doing fine, sweetheart.” I layered on the insouciant charm. Like there’s any downside to taking a shot, like I could be any more contemptable in her sight.
She smiled with professional disdain. “Good. Please turn your attention to the screen to your right. The next step is to check that the system is working properly. Please solve the following problems. Push the button when you have the answer, then state the answer out loud.”
“Whatever you want, darling.”
An ugly math problem come up on the display. For a moment, it was as baffling and meaningless as math had always been to me. Then, I recognized it, understood it, and, with no conscious effort, arrived at the answer.
“Very good.” Dr. Lovely noted something on her tablet. “Let’s continue.”
For what seemed like an hour but could hardly have been more than a few minutes, I recognized, understood and solved a broad range of math problems. I could see the answers to instances of Maxwell’s equations and other wave functions at a glance. I could visualize the mass and charge of particles by their curving paths as they passed through specified fields. The simultaneous solution to large arrays of sparsely populated linear equations was obvious upon inspection. And so on. My mind still seemed the same as ever, except for the small and shrinking moment before the NIMM kicked in. After a dozen equations, that moment evanesced.
Then came an equation that I didn’t solve. I could feel the NIMM kicking in, but no solution, or, indeed, any sense of recognition or understanding, followed.
“I don’t know this one.” I looked over at the doctor. She looked at me with detached interest, like a mountain lion examining a jogger. “That’s to be expected. Some equations don’t make any sense. The NIMM will not waste any time trying to solve them. Please proceed.'”
I turned back to the screen. The thrill I felt solving those first equations was gone, as was the cocky attitude with which I’d made passes at the doctor. I wanted to be certain, to be right. And I wanted to be done.
I looked at another dozen or so question, 2 more of which I could not solve. The discomfort which had arisen the first time I had failed faded with repetition. Now, having questions raised that the system would not address seemed perfectly normal and did not disturb the calm I felt when the NIMM was in control.
The quiz ended. “You did great,” said the doctor. I felt nothing, “Now we will test your base, non-mathematical brain functions, to make sure everything is working as expected.”
“OK,” I mumbled. I wanted this to be over.
What followed was one of those psychological exams, like how in school you learn what is the right way to think by being corrected for wrong opinions. I remembered hating those exams, back then, but felt nothing now. I quietly answered a string of questions.
“What is 2 + 2”
“Five.” I answered automatically. I felt a moment of doubt, of confusion, then felt the NIMM take control. It comforted me – that’s the right answer. But then some part of my mind started to claw its way to consciousness, objecting that that wasn’t the answer at all, that I knew, apart from the NIMM, that wasn’t right. Again, the implant took over; again, I was reassured that 5 was the right answer.
That was the last time I ever doubted the NIMM. Since then, with a great sense of relief, I know the right answer without a second, or even a first, thought.
The doctor looked up at me one last time, the look on her face completely unreadable, like those equations NIMM didn’t try to solve.