The Kiev Metaphor

Author: Steve Smith, Staff Writer

Walter moved purposefully around his small kitchen, pulling out bottles and tins, each marked with black ink on hastily applied white labels. Jasika read them while he worked; garlic powder, dried dill weed, flour and bread crumbs, and a jug of what looked like cooking oil beside fresh lemons and a strange leafy vegetable she didn’t recognize.

“Parsley,” Walter said, “here, beat these with some water”. He handed her two brown shelled eggs, and a moment later a ceramic bowl and whisk.

Walter turned his attention to a plate of raw chicken breasts, which he dutifully pounded flat as paper, before depositing a stick of frozen butter in the middle of each and carefully wrapping the meat around it.

“Do you cook?” Jasika shook her head. She boiled noodles a lot, mixing in packets of tofu or dried meat and powdered sauce, never anything like this.

“This helps me think” small pieces of bamboo were being carefully inserted into the meat and butter, preventing it from unraveling. “I’ve been trying to figure out how best to test the wetware processor Torva stole.”

Walter starting mixing bread crumbs and spices in another bowl “Suppose you needed to do calculations with a terabyte of floating point numbers, what sort of processors would you use?”

Jasika didn’t hesitate “I’d build a massively parallel floating point array”

“Ok, let’s say they were fixed point numbers instead” Walter dunked the chicken bundles one at a time in Jasika’s abandoned egg mixture before depositing them into his bowl of bread-crumbs and spice.

“Then I’d build an integer fixed-point array instead” Jasika was visibly puzzled by this line of questioning.

“What if you didn’t know what you were going to be processing?” Walter turned his attention to a cook-top where he was heating oil, and in a second shallow pan tossed a handful of onion shavings into a pool of melting butter “Or what if what you were processing changed as you processed it. Could you fabricate a cluster that could handle that?”

Jasika thought for a moment before answering “You can engineer a processor grid with any combination of integer and floating point units, and a controller to regulate the flow, you’d just have to determine what the likely ratio was up front so as to optimize the array”

“That wetware unit – do you know what it does?” Walter was now pouring heavy cream into the pan with the onions. Jasika shook her head as he continued. “It’s a processing engine, but it makes what it needs of itself as it processes. It’s kind of like a pot of stem cells – each one is nothing to start with, but could be anything. As the data flows in, the cells adapt to it. Each cell conforms to its own bit of the data, and they cooperatively formulate the appropriate response to it.” He stopped and turned to face her “Any data, no matter what type, no matter how fluid, it adapts and processes, reshaping itself in real-time.” The smell of hot vegetable oil filled the small room as he turned again to the range, and the coated bundles dropped in series into the fryer.

“With your processors, you have to predict what they’re going to be used for. You put data in one end, it’s acted upon in a predefined way, and you get data out the other end. If the data changes, you have to run it again, maybe on a different configuration of chips.” Walter picked up a tin of red curry sauce “Watch this” he motioned to the white creamy sauce thickening in the second pan “think of the sauce as three streams of data, onions, cream, butter, the pan is the processor, and the heat is the energy causing it to percolate through. I get out exactly what I expect, but what if I add another stream of data, one with its own inherent potential for change” he began pouring the curry into the sauce, stirring, the white sauce quickly turning pink “all of the data is changed, almost in an instant to reflect this new input, each bit is still cream, and onion, infused with butter, but now it’s all tempered with curry. The existing data adapted to the new input all on its own, I didn’t have to know about it in advance, or change the pan or start from scratch, I just poured in something new and the entire equation changed. That’s organics, your binary machines can’t do that, no matter how sophisticated, they can’t expand multi-dimensionally of their own accord just because someone poured a new stream of data into them.

Walter turned off the cook-top, and fished the crispy chicken bundles out of the smokey oil, depositing them on a nearby towel.

“That beautiful little unit in there – that’s my sauce, fluid and infinitely adaptable – I’m going to be the curry.” Jasika stared at him, struggling to wrap her head around this sudden shift from food to his metaphor “I’ll need an inhibitor to make sure it won’t fry my brain. I could use your help with that, I’ll want something solid state, not anything that little beauty can rewire on me. Then I’m going to jack that right into my head, let it have access to all the data I’ve got up here” Walter paused to tap his temple “and let it do what it does. We’ll see what a super efficient computational engine can do with everything I know. This is mind expansion the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Timothy Leary taught at Harvard”

Jasika didn’t have a clue who Timothy Leary was, and she wasn’t sure what to think of any of this “Are you sure you know what you’re getting into?”

Walter divided the food onto two plates, smothering the chicken kiev in the curry sauce “No, I don’t know yet, but once I’m jacked in and stabilized, I’ll know beyond a shadow of a doubt. I’ll know everything beyond a shadow of a doubt. Then we’ll do some serious cooking!”


  1. Jatayu

    ‘I just poured in something new and the entire equation changed.’ Your story-and the curry-as paradigm-shift- is a magnificent metaphor . Well done 🙂

    • Stephen R. Smith

      Thanks very much!

  2. SimonJM

    I like chicken kiev and I like curry, but mostly I like them separate 🙂
    I was half expecting her to be the missing unit (and hence cybernetic) so it was nice to see she was just a naif (although, mind you, I know of Timothy Leary, but a couple of generations after me …?) Apart from plugging himself in (plug in, turn on ..?) I agreed with hi,

    • Stephen R. Smith

      Most things can be improved with curry!

  3. Jae

    I have never been one to obey the ‘write what you know’ maxim, preferring the ‘write what you can be convincing about’ approach. However, there is always a level of detail you can -never- be convincing about unless you have actually worked within the subject.

    This story, apart from being excellent, is a masterful demonstration of that.

    • Stephen R. Smith

      Thank you! Very much appreciated!

  4. xdhz8

    The data processing is over my head, but I like the story and the chicken Kiev sounds delicious. 🙂

    • Stephen R. Smith

      Thanks! Pretty much a complete recipe in the story if you wanted to try it!

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