Cryptics — A hard science fiction novel by Dr. Shiva Kintali
I have been writing a series of three novels for almost a decade now. The first book in this series is almost ready. It is titled ‘Cryptics’.
What is Cryptics ?
Cryptics is a hard science fiction novel and a technological thriller aimed at introducing some of the most amazing concepts of cryptography, blockchain, zero-knowledge proofs, artificial intelligence and mathematics in a fun, exciting and a memorable way.
It is a story of five middle school students, who meet at a talk given by Dr. Shiva Kintali, a billionaire mathematician and a technologist. Doc brings their attention to a puzzle, whose solution is worth $10 Billion. The students compete with some of the best cryptographers, cypherpunks, mathematicians, coders and hackers of this generation. In the largest global treasure hunt ever. In the history of humankind.
Yes. The billionaire in this story is me. Some of the incidents, lifestyle and mannerisms of this character are based on my real life. If you don’t know me, visit my homepage. I am NOT a billionaire in real life. Not yet ;)
Most of the events in this story take place in the Bay Area between January 2018 and January 2020.
The origins of Cryptics
I got the idea of writing this series of books in 2009, during my PhD days at GeorgiaTech, after teaching some classes in complexity theory. I taught some of the most elegant, amazing and exciting concepts in this course: asymmetric key encryption, zero-knowledge proofs, undecidability… to name a few.
I constantly noticed that students often find these concepts boring, because we teach them in a “theorem…. proof… theorem…. proof” style. Most of the students forget these concepts right after the end of semester. There must be a better way to teach these concepts in a fun and a memorable way. I started making a list of mathematical concepts and started writing several short stories about them. Eventually, I merged all these short stories into three long coherent stories… one of them is Cryptics.
What to expect from the book ?
Cryptics story is aimed at curious learners of ages from middle-school level and above. It reveals several mathematical concepts in an interesting, fun, suspenseful and an exciting way. Concepts from cryptography, blockchain, cryptocurrencies and theoretical computer science are revealed first in a subtle way in the story, developing a sense of curiosity in the reader’s mind. These concepts are expanded as the story develops. All the essential concepts are eventually explained at the right time with the right context. Sometimes the readers must solve simple puzzles, connect hidden clues in the story to understand some concepts and appreciate the “Aha moments” in the story. The entire story invigorates a sense of creative puzzle-solving with applications to real-world technologies.
Chapter 0 is posted below. It is loosely based on a real talk I gave in Sunnyvale, California. Below is a screenshot of that meetup with an abstract of my talk.
Cryptics — Chapter 0
Chapter Title: Silicon Valley Bitcoin Meetup
Chapter Subtitle: “Welcome to the real world”
January 9, 2018
Bitcoin price has surged to $20,000. More than 400 people have gathered at the Silicon Valley Bitcoin Meetup at the Plug & Play Tech Center in Sunnyvale, California.
Dr. Shiva Kintali is giving a talk titled ‘Blockchain Scalability: Algorithms, Data Structures and Game Theory.’ He is dressed casually — laceless white Skechers and dark blue jeans paired with a black tri-blend ‘Black Sabbath US Tour 78’ t-shirt and a brown leather jacket.
He projects his last slide: a large triangle with the three vertices labeled ‘decentralization’, ‘security’ and ‘scalability’.
Doc: (in a wistful tone) “That’s the trilemma. Currently, there is no blockchain achieving all these three properties simultaneously.” He fixes his gaze on the audience, eagerly expecting technical questions.
Several hands shoot up simultaneously.
“How high do you think Bitcoin will go?” asks one person.
“A million dollars, maybe?” follows another.
“Which ICO should I invest in?”
“My mom took a reverse mortgage and bought Bitcoin. Is it a good decision?”
“What are your thoughts on BitConnect?”
Doc scans his audience again, his expressions are a mixture of confusion, shock, disbelief and cringe.
As Doc nears the exit gate of the Plug & Play Tech Center, a self-driving car stops right in front of him. It is a pristine white Mercedes-Benz GLC 300 4MATIC SUV with beige interior and custom-made self-driving functionality. As Doc approaches the car, the rear passenger door clicks open. He slides onto the plush seat, still in a state of disbelief. The car is driving itself to his mansion in Atherton. Just as he places his slim royal blue laptop carry case to the side, a sober male voice from the car’s twelve surround speakers says, “Alright, let me guess what happened.”
Doc: (with a heavy sigh) “How do they not appreciate the elegance of technological breakthroughs? They just want to speculate and make a quick buck.”
Car: “Welcome to the real world. You should have stayed at Princeton. In academia. The real world is not for you.”
Doc: “Blockchain is an amazing technology! It is frustrating to watch it get tarnished by speculators, charlatans and scammers.”
Car: “Hey Doc, did you know — in 1706, Hauksbee playfully designed a machine that generated static shocks. It was quickly embraced by conjurers and street magicians to trick common people and make a quick buck. It was not until much later that intellectuals embraced it. And then the world witnessed,”
(raising its voice) “an electrical revolution!”
Doc: “No, I did not know that. Thanks for enlightening me!”
Car: “Is that sarcasm, Doc?”
(after a brief pause) “By the way, you have a new invitation to talk in March.”
Doc: “Nope. No more talks.”
Car: “This one is from a middle school in Los Altos.”
Doc: “Middle school?”
Car: “Yeah. They are organizing a ‘STEM Career Day’ for 7th and 8th graders. They invited you to give a talk about your research and entrepreneurial journey.”
Doc: (shaking his head) “When I was in middle school, we played cricket with friends, flew kites and had lots of fun on the streets. We never cared about career, research or… ”
Car: (interrupting Doc) “Oh yeah? Welcome to Silicon Valley”.
Doc: “Remind me to upgrade your sarcasm module. All you say is, ‘welcome to this’, ‘welcome to that.’ “