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Home > The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(18)

The Lost Symbol (Robert Langdon #3)(18)
Author: Dan Brown

Trish Dunne didn't know what story Katherine Solomon had heard, but clearly it had her on edge. Her boss's usually calm gray eyes looked anxious, and she had tucked her hair behind her ears three times since entering the room--a nervous "tell," as Trish called it. Brilliant scientist. Lousy poker player. "To me," Katherine said, "this story sounds like fiction . . . an old legend. And yet . . ." She paused, tucking a wisp of hair behind her ears once again.

"And yet?"

Katherine sighed. "And yet I was told today by a trusted source that the legend is true."

"Okay . . ." Where is she going with this?

"I'm going to talk to my brother about it, but it occurs to me that maybe you can help me shed some light on it before I do. I'd love to know if this legend has ever been corroborated anywhere else in history."

"In all of history?"

Katherine nodded. "Anywhere in the world, in any language, at any point in history."

Strange request, Trish thought, but certainly feasible. Ten years ago, the task would have been impossible. Today, however, with the Internet, the World Wide Web, and the ongoing digitization of the great libraries and museums in the world, Katherine's goal could be achieved by using a relatively simple search engine equipped with an army of translation modules and some well-chosen keywords.

"No problem," Trish said. Many of the lab's research books contained passages in ancient languages, and so Trish was often asked to write specialized Optical Character Recognition translation modules to generate English text from obscure languages. She had to be the only metasystems specialist on earth who had built OCR translation modules in Old Frisian, Maek, and Akkadian.

The modules would help, but the trick to building an effective search spider was all in choosing the right key words. Unique but not overly restrictive.

Katherine looked to be a step ahead of Trish and was already jotting down possible keywords on a slip of paper. Katherine had written down several when she paused, thought a moment, and then wrote several more. "Okay," she finally said, handing Trish the slip of paper.

Trish perused the list of search strings, and her eyes grew wide. What kind of crazy legend is Katherine investigating? "You want me to search for all of these key phrases?" One of the words Trish didn't even recognize. Is that even English? "Do you really think we'll find all of these in one place? Verbatim?"

"I'd like to try."

Trish would have said impossible, but the I-word was banned here. Katherine considered it a dangerous mind-set in a field that often transformed preconceived falsehoods into confirmed truths. Trish Dunne seriously doubted this key-phrase search would fall into that category.

"How long for results?" Katherine asked.

"A few minutes to write the spider and launch it. After that, maybe fifteen for the spider to exhaust itself."

"So fast?" Katherine looked encouraged.

Trish nodded. Traditional search engines often required a full day to crawl across the entire online universe, find new documents, digest their content, and add it to their searchable database. But this was not the kind of search spider Trish would write.

"I'll write a program called a delegator," Trish explained. "It's not entirely kosher, but it's fast. Essentially, it's a program that orders other people's search engines to do our work. Most databases have a search function built in--libraries, museums, universities, governments. So I write a spider that finds their search engines, inputs your keywords, and asks them to search. This way, we harness the power of thousands of engines, working in unison."

Katherine looked impressed. "Parallel processing."

A kind of metasystem. "I'll call you if I get anything."

"I appreciate it,Trish." Katherine patted her on the back and headed for the door. "I'll be in the library."

Trish settled in to write the program. Coding a search spider was a menial task far below her skill level, but Trish Dunne didn't care. She would do anything for Katherine Solomon. Sometimes Trish still couldn't believe the good fortune that had brought her here.

You've come a long way, baby.

Just over a year ago, Trish had quit her job as a metasystems analyst in one of the high-tech industry's many cubicle farms. In her off-hours, she did some freelance programming and started an industry blog--"Future Applications in Computational Metasystem Analysis"--although she doubted anyone read it. Then one evening her phone rang.

"Trish Dunne?" a woman's voice asked politely.

"Yes, who's calling, please?"

"My name is Katherine Solomon."

Trish almost fainted on the spot. Katherine Solomon? "I just read your book--Noetic Science: Modern Gateway to Ancient Wisdom--and I wrote about it on my blog!" "Yes, I know," the woman replied graciously. "That's why I'm calling."

Of course it is, Trish realized, feeling dumb. Even brilliant scientists Google themselves.

"Your blog intrigues me," Katherine told her. "I wasn't aware metasystems modeling had come so far."

"Yes, ma'am," Trish managed, starstruck. "Data models are an exploding technology with far- reaching applications."

For several minutes, the two women chatted about Trish's work in metasystems, discussing her experience analyzing, modeling, and predicting the flow of massive data fields.

"Obviously, your book is way over my head," Trish said, "but I understood enough to see an intersection with my metasystems work."

"Your blog said you believe metasystems modeling can transform the study of Noetics?"

"Absolutely. I believe metasystems could turn Noetics into real science."

"Real science?" Katherine's tone hardened slightly. "As opposed to . . . ?"

Oh shit, that came out wrong. "Um, what I meant is that Noetics is more . . . esoteric."

Katherine laughed. "Relax, I'm kidding. I get that all the time."

I'm not surprised, Trish thought. Even the Institute of Noetic Sciences in California described the field in arcane and abstruse language, defining it as the study of mankind's "direct and immediate access to knowledge beyond what is available to our normal senses and the power of reason."

The word noetic, Trish had learned, derived from the ancient Greek nous--translating roughly to "inner knowledge" or "intuitive consciousness."

"I'm interested in your metasystems work," Katherine said, "and how it might relate to a project I'm working on. Any chance you'd be willing to meet? I'd love to pick your brain."

Katherine Solomon wants to pick my brain? It felt like Maria Sharapova had called for tennis tips.

The next day a white Volvo pulled into Trish's driveway and an attractive, willowy woman in blue jeans got out. Trish immediately felt two feet tall. Great, she groaned. Smart, rich, and thin--and I'm supposed to believe God is good? But Katherine's unassuming air set Trish instantly at ease.

The two of them settled in on Trish's huge back porch overlooking an impressive piece of property.

"Your house is amazing," Katherine said.

"Thanks. I got lucky in college and licensed some software I'd written."

"Metasystems stuff?"

"A precursor to metasystems. Following 9/11, the government was intercepting and crunching enormous data fields--civilian e-mail, cell phone, fax, text, Web sites--sniffing for keywords associated with terrorist communications. So I wrote a piece of software that let them process their data field in a second way . . . pulling from it an additional intelligence product." She smiled. "Essentially, my software let them take America's temperature."

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