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This is a continuation of A Cadence Carol. Be sure to read the previous installments!
They continued traveling, ending up in a small garage in East Palo Alto. There Ben espied a half-dozen young people, all huddled around their computers and talking to each other.
“Where on earth is Bob and Mary?” one of them asked. I am sure they left their office ages ago.”
“I believe they both stopped at a Starbucks, to discuss the situation with Tiny Time.”
“Tiny Time? Is that what they’re calling it, now?”
“Well, using this machine learning algorithm, we can reduce the processing time by ten,” said a young woman, whose name was Martha.
“Martha, that’s brilliant! Tiny Time, indeed!”
At that moment, the garage door opened, and in swept Bob and Mary. “How is our little Tiny Time going?”
The interns all gathered around Mary and Bob. “He’s little, but he goes so fast!” “He placed and routed our design so quickly!” “Oh, but we did have to take extra time with training him to fit these edge cases…”
“All is good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets quite meta, sitting by himself so much, and comes up with the strangest thing you ever heard. I tell you,” he said, conspiratorily, “that he hoped that others may see his reasonings, and know that AI may be the saviors of us all, what with what it can do in medicine, in security, in datacenters, in automotive…” Bob’s voice was tremulous when he told them this, and trembled more when he said that Tiny Time was growing strong and hearty.
The others laughed. “If only we had a processor that could go at the speeds we need for vision processing, as well as audio and RF… Tiny Time will become so strong and viable!”
“Now,” said Mary, “What have you all gotten yourselves into today? I think we’re overdue for our standup.”
The interns all stood around the Ping-Pong table in the garage, and each of them named off the work that they had done for the last day, all of them hoping to get to the end of their sprint with the least number of blockers. They were all so dedicated, so passionate, to a person; Ben watched the spark in their eyes as they talked about the new system they were designing.
“Spirit,” Said Ben, with an interest he had never felt before, “Tell me if Tiny Time will live.”
“I see a vacant computer,” replied the Ghost, “in the garage, and an intern without a job. If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, the project will die.”
“No, no,” said Ben. “Oh no, kind Spirit! Say he will be spared!”
“If these shadows remain unaltered by the Future, none other of my work family, “returned the ghost, “will find him here. What then? We don’t need new engineers. We don’t need new tools. We just need to make do with whatever tools we have now. There is no innovation to be made, from here on out.”
Ben hung his head to hear his own words quoted by the Spirit, and was overcome with penitence and grief.
His reverie was cut short, however, when he heard the voice of Ben: “Mr. Easer!” said Bob, “We must remember that Ben has made this all possible!”
“Possible, indeed,” said Mary, reddening. “I wish I had him here. I’d give him a piece of my mind to feast upon, and I hope he’d have a good appetite for it.”
“Mary, the interns!” said Bob. “Come on.”
“Well, I will thank him for his income,” said Mary, “Such as it is.”
“Now Mary, without Ben, we wouldn’t be able to afford to pay these fabulous interns, and not have this bounty of creativity to see us through.”
“Well, okay, but I simply can’t believe that he’s so closed-minded about using machine learning to assist in the regular design cycle. It makes so much sense.”
“Yes, I agree. But he will come to understanding in his own time.”
“Thank you, Bob,” said Mary. “You’re right. I just hope he can come to understanding in time for Tiny Time to come into his own,” she said.
They were not a handsome work family; they were not particularly well dressed; their computers far from being the most recent; and they might have known the experience of looking on the job boards and trying to update their LinkedIn profiles to include the perfect SEO keywords to get the perfect jobs. But they were happy, grateful, creative, pleased with one another, and took each innovation on top of innovation, without greedily requiring acknowledgment for each individual contribution.
By this time it was getting dark and raining pretty heavily; and as Ben and the Spirit went along the streets, the brightness of the computers in the offices, kitchens, garages, and all sorts of rooms was inspiring. Here, the flickering of the screens showed innovations of all kinds, making applications for the technology that was beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
Eventually, they ended up in a familiar-looking place; he knew the place to be Cadence itself. “Ha, ha!” laughed Fred, the Cadence AE. “Ha, ha ha!”
If you should happen, by any unlikely chance, to know a man more robust in a laugh than Fred, all I can say is, I should like to know him, too. Introduce him to me, and I’ll cultivate his acquaintance.
It is a fair, even-handed, noble adjustment of things, that while there is infection in stagnancy and despair, there is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and ingenuity. When Fred laughed in this way, his friends laughed as heartily as he. And their assembled friends, being not a bit behindhand, roared out lustily.
“He said that IC design is a humbug, as I live and breathe!” shouted Fred. “He believed it, too!”
“More shame for him, Fred,” said another AE.
“He’s a comical old fellow,” said Fred, “and that’s the truth: and not so pleasant as he might be. However, his offenses carry their own punishment, and I have nothing to say against him.”
“I am sure he has lots of experience, Fred,” said another, “that’s the truth; but his experience is no use to him. He hasn’t the satisfaction of thinking—ha, ha, ha! —that his experience will lead to anything new.”
“I have no patience at all with him,” observed the first.
“Oh, I have,” said Fred. “I am sorry for him. I couldn’t be frustrated with him if I tried. Who suffers by his antiquated views? Himself and his business, as always. Here, he tries it into his head to dislike us, and he won’t come over for coffee. What’s the consequence? He has interminable design cycles and less-than-normal ideas about how to move forward in the absence of Moore’s Law!”
“Indeed, I think he loses some very good coffee,” interrupted the AE. “And only his business will suffer.”
“Indeed and indeed,” said Fred. “Now listen, I want to share with you some new applications that might use Tensilica. I just saw over Bob Cratchit’s shoulder that he was working on some machine learning algorithm to improve the IC design process. I wonder…” he trailed off and opened his own laptop.
The other Cadence employees milled around, eventually coming back to their own computers and their own tasks. “I know that Ben would love this,” muttered Fred. “I bet there is some way…” he trailed off.
Ben and the Spirit then faded from this scene, moving all around Silicon Valley, then heading around various places in the United States, then crossing the vast ocean (popping in on some intercontinental flights where engineers worked in the sky, with only the stars above and the ocean below) to England, then south to Israel, then India, China, Japan, Korea… worlds of engineers in want of inspiration and tools, wanting and receiving the sparks and droplets from Lip-Bu’s protein shake and water bottle. As they flew, Ben observed that the Ghost grew older, clearly older. Ben observed this change but never spoke of it, until he could wait no longer.
“Is Lip-Bu’s life so short?” asked Ben.
“I am not Lip-Bu Tan, I merely take his form,” said the Spirit. “Lip-Bu is long for this life and will continue with the health and well-being of the Cadence organization. I, however,” he said, “will not be on this globe for much longer. My life,” he said, taking a sip of water, himself, “ends tonight.”
“Tonight!” cried Ben.
“Tonight. The time is drawing near.” The chimes were ringing at that very moment.
“Forgive me if I am not justified in what I ask,” said Ben, looking intently at Lip-Bu’s robe, “but I see something strange, and not belonging to yourself, protruding from your skirts. Is it a foot, or a robot?”
From the foldings of its robe, it brought two robots; wretched, abject, frightful, hideous, human-like. They rolled away from the garment and held out their wretched robot arms in supplication.
Ben started back, appalled, “Spirit! Are they yours?” Ben could say no more.
“They are EDA’s,” said the Spirit, looking down upon them. “And they cling to me, for want of innovation. This one,” he said, gesturing to the one on the left, “is respin. And this one,” indicating the one on the right, “is incompatibility. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware Incompatibility, for on its brow I see that written which is Doom unless the coding be erased. Deny it!” cried the Spirit, stretching out its hand towards the world of engineering.
“Have they no creativity? Have they no innovation?” cried Ben.
“Do we need new engineers? Do we need better tools?” said Lip-Bu, turning on him for the last time with his own words. “Do we just need to make do with whatever tools we have now? Is there innovation to be made, from here on out?”
The bell struck twelve. Ben looked about him for the ghost and saw it not. As the last stroke ceased to vibrate, he remembered the prediction of all Moore, and lifting up his eyes, beheld a solemn Phantom, draped and hooded, coming, like a mist along the ground, towards him.
...to be continued...