Welcome to Hypercube

Submitted into Contest #150 in response to: Write a story where an algorithm plays an important role.... view prompt


Science Fiction

“Welcome to your first day at Hypercube. Let me just check that your paperwork is in order. Remind me of your name again, please.”

The receptionist’s voice was like a recording and her smile was plastic. “Dr. Walt Rombaucher.”

“Welcome, Dr. Rombaucher. I have to be very thorough. Give me a few minutes while I check that all of your paperwork is in order, mmkay?”

I already hate this. I can’t let Carol down, though. We need the bigger apartment, after all. I’m as ready as she is to get the baby out of our room.

Her movements are so stiff and robotic. Maybe it’s because she has done this hundreds of times before. Or, maybe after working for a tech company for so long, she has started to become more like a robot. I could test her with a question. “There was a paper I signed that said Hypercube is allowed to monitor me for a year after I quit, even in my own home. I get that security is necessary but that seems excessive, doesn’t it?”

“Dr. Rombaucher,” her smile and jovial tone unflinching, “I assure you that Hypercube has rarely ever had to enforce that. If you want all the benefits of working for Hypercube, the reputation, the amazing team, and not to mention the money, you will have to agree to the conditions. If not, we can fill the role with someone else. So what do you say? Are you on board?”

I thought her smile as a fake form of friendliness but as she said this it seemed to be mocking me. For a moment I thought about walking through that large glass door behind me and going back home with Carol and the kids but Carol would kill me. She’s always saying I’ve got high potential and low ambition. “It was just a question. I’m on board.”

“Good. Well, it looks like everything is in order. Follow me.”

She grabbed a card from inside the desk and stood. The smile she held since I walked in vanished and she looked more human. She waved the card in front of the door at the back of the room and tit slid open to reveal a large open workspace.

In contrast to the gray tones of the receptionist’s office, it was colorful and inviting. My last office job was rows of gray cubicles. There where translucent glass orbs hanging from the ceiling and shapes sticking out from the walls. As we passed through the rows of cubicles I realized the shapes were corners of cubes peaking out. It looked as though the the cubes were there before the building and after construction they cleared them away. All except those that were stuck in the walls. The cubicles where white and pristine. Fake greenery adorned a few desks and corners. People didn’t even look up from their work as we passed. They were easy to overlook amongst all the decoration.

We stopped at an office in the corner of the building. The walls were made of glass but with the sunlight pouring in through the window it was difficult to make out more than just a person behind a desk.

“Here you are, Dr. Rombaucher. This is Tom, who is the head of the whole Algorithm Team.”

Tom was a large man with short, greasy looking black hair. He sat at a large wooden desk that suited his frame. He wore a bright, Hawaiian shirt that was nearly as colorful as the decorations outside. I took my seat in the black swivel chair across from him.

“Nice to meet you.”

“Nice to meet you, Walt. Mind if I call you Walt? We’ve almost all got Ph.D’s here and we go by first name’s.”


“Also, you’re overdressed. It’s your first day, so it’s understandable, but we never wear ties around here. In fact, go ahead and take that off before you meet the rest of the team, if you don’t mind.”

I knew I shouldn’t have worn a tie. Carol had insisted. At least I had the opportunity to teach Joe how to tie a tie this morning. He’s grown so much, we don’t have many father son bonding moments anymore.

The knot slid down in a satisfying fashion and pulled the tie out from around my neck. Then it occurred to me I had no place to put it so I just held it awkwardly.

“You can leave that on your desk after I show it to you. In just a minute I’ll walk you around by your desk and show you where your team sits. Don’t let me forget to show you where the free snacks and coffee are. We want you to be comfortable, both at work and away. Are you happy with your salary?”

“I can’t complain about that.”

“Well, sure you can. We believe in rewarding good work. Every six months there will be an evaluation and an opportunity for a raise. You’re still at the bottom rung but do well and in a few years you will be making much, much more.”

“That would be great. My family spends so much shopping on Hypercube, it will be good to get some of that money back.”

I got a smile from Tom.

“Now, you are a mathematician, so I assume you are familiar with van Wees’s theorem?”

“Yes. Basically, it states that there exists a topology on which a DNRJ Neural Net model mimics the functionality of a human brain. It’s a very famous theorem. Even many laymen know about it and there is an online documentary.”

“Good. Although I think most non-academics would just say that there is some math that describes a human brain but we don’t know how it works yet. They have no idea what a DNRJ Neural Net is or what is precisely meant by terms like mimic.”

He was giving me a chance to show off and I was gladly taking the bait. My body lost the tension I’d been carrying all day. “Yeah, I suppose when a non-mathematician uses the term mimic they aren’t thinking in terms of isomorphic identities. By the way, my research was on DNRJ Neural Nets. But, to be honest, my work wasn’t related to van Wees’s. I was looking at the algorithmic complexity of certain minimally connected topologies as the size of the net tended to infinity.”

Tom leaned forward in his chair, his elbows nearly stretched to the end of his desk. It was strange to feel so physically small in the presence of another man. “I know. I was interested in your work. It’s what made me think you would be a great fit here and why we offered you the job after just a phone interview.”

I was flattered to have my work acknowledged outside of academia. Few people understand research level mathematics and even fewer read academic articles. He’s proven that Hypercube employs some highly intelligent people. Now I’m one of them. Maybe Carol was right. This was the next step for my career and our family.

Tom leaned back in his chair, relaxed, and began to fiddle with a pen before setting it down and pushing his fingertips together. “Walt, there’s something I like about you. Get ready, because I’m about to blow your mind. I’m not sure how much you keep up with pop culture, but are you familiar with Arjun, our CEO?”

I’m a math nerd, not a hermit. Arjun, founder and CEO of Hypercube, is one of the world’s most famous billionaires. He’s just Arjun, no surname needed. I nodded.

“When Arjun learned of van Wees’s theorem, he had a deep belief from the beginning that he would find a topology that would mimic the human brain. He told me the universe doesn’t open such a door and then stop us from passing through. So, he employed many of the world’s top minds and had them search for a topology under strict confidentiality. We worked for years and, nearly a decade later, we’re there. We found a topology, then a whole space. The human mind is malleable, you see, and different people have different topologies. Now we are working on algorithms that represent how experiences and time morph one mind into another. But we have done it. We have found a mathematical model of the human brain!”

My mind went blank for a moment. How? The space of topologies was infinite. Methods for comparison to a real human brain were still uncertain. But they’ve been working in secret for this long, who knows what they have come up with. One thing is for certain, if they have found such topologies then they certainly have programmed computers to store these brains.

The implications were mind boggling. This could impact neuroscience, health care, artificial intelligence, robotics. Maybe that receptionist was a robot. That’s not nice, I shouldn’t think that. I brought my mind back to the present moment.

“So is it all still theoretical or have you already found applications?”

“Oh yes, we have applications. We have been using the algorithms for about a year and they work.”

“Why haven’t you shared this with the world? There is so much good that can be done.”

Tom chuckled and shook his head. “That’s true. One day I’m sure our research will do a lot of good and I hope Hypercube leads the way. But this isn’t academia, Walt. When you join a company, you work to make the company stronger. Right now, handing over our results to anyone else will give our competitors the opportunity to catch up to us. It can’t stay secret forever but right now it’s keeping us ahead.

“And just in case you are thinking you should take it upon yourself to share the results, I should remind you of that paperwork you signed. If you share anything, you will be blacklisted from any job, even minimum wage, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. You’ve mentioned your family. Families take care of each other. Now you are also part of the Hypercube family.”

A chill went down my spine. I shuffled my feet under the desk and wondered what would happen if I walked out now.

Tom must have been reading my body language. “Believe me, you don’t want to be the one who leaks the results. Neither do I. But, keep your mouth shut about this and otherwise it’s a great company to work for.”

“So what is the application for Hypercube?”

“Marketing. That’s how Hypercube makes its money. The process is really two-fold. We have one team that tests ads on various brain models to see how they react. Our goal is to match ads to the brain models that light up the happiness centers and reduce the self control centers. The other group looks for ways to track human behavior on our platforms and match real people to models. We have already made a lot of progress and I think you will find it fascinating. Think of it like mind control with an algorithm. And now your job will be to learn the algorithm and make it even better.”

“So someone is using your apps, you use their behavior to map out their brain, and then you point curated ads that will make their particular brain structure less resistant and happier to make a purchase.”

“You’ve got it!”

“Do you ever feel guilty that there is so much good you could be doing?”

“Welcome to industry. We’re not good. We’re survivors.”

My knee was bouncing up and down. This wasn’t right but Tom’s gaze was fixed on me. I signed all those strange agreements and now I knew why. My stomach began to churn.

I took a breath, pushed down on my knee to hold it still, and looked up at Tom. He was staring back at me impatiently. I decided for the moment to push the good person inside me down somewhere within. One day, when the opportunity arose, that person would reemerge. For the moment, I had to think of my family. We were survivors, too.

I extended my hand and Tom shook it firmly.

“Welcome to Hypercube, Walt!”

June 16, 2022 12:18

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