Seeing John struggling with the answer, Steve decided to help this lad. He cut off John and asked a different question, “To a boss, or a manager, what do you think is the most important quality of an employee or an underling?”
“Of course it’s his skill and work attitude,” John answered without any hesitation.
“Well, that is what you have been told since you were a grade school boy.” Steve took a sip of coffee and then leaned his body a little closer to John. “Let me tell you a secret that you will never learn from any school: the most important quality of an underling is the capability of being trusted even though every boss would claim what you just mentioned to be the most important. I guess even the novelists don’t often teach you about that.”
“That makes a lot of sense,” John complimented. Although he was not very sure which one was more important between the capability of working efficiently hard and the capability of being trusted, he was quite sure both were all important.
“But what would you say the most important quality that would make a person trusted by his boss?”
“You are quite right. Honesty is fundamental for being trustworthy. However, lacking honesty is also a major weakness of human beings. Most bosses or managers would demand the honesty of their underlings, but they could not simply just always trust it.”
“Then I think it would be loyalty,” John added.
“Loyalty is definitely important. With loyalty, even if someone lies on something, the boss might be okay for that since he knows a loyal person would not hurt him or his organization. However, loyalty is also something that could be faked. Over human history, we have heard countless stories about some supposedly loyal people betrayed their bosses. Sometimes even enemies could pretend to be loyal in disguise.”
John started to feel a bit lost about what Steve was trying to make a point of.
Steve did not wait for John to add more answers for how to get trusted. He continued with his own comment.
“What you just mentioned, honesty and loyalty, are all important qualities for being trustworthy. Of course, what you mentioned earlier, which are related to the capability of being productive are also important factors of being trusted, but in a different sense. However, as we just discussed, altogether they are still not enough. You know why?”
John did not answer because Steve did not sound like asking him to answer.
Steve stood up from his chair. He put his right hand on the conference table and leaned his body towards John. “The reason is that the bosses or managers don’t know what their underlings are really thinking in their minds. Do you get it?”
“Sure,” John knew that he had to respond this time, even though he did not get it at all.
Steve smiled, “You still don’t get it, but I don’t blame you.”
He left his seat and walked a few steps in the room and then came back to sit in his chair.
“Now let’s look at this issue from another angle.” He grabbed up his coffee cup and had a sip of coffee. “What kind of benefit could the capability of being trustworthy bring to an employee?”
“I think trust is important for a good relationship.”
“That’s an issue at another level. Every employee would like to have a good relationship with his or her boss, but that often is not a major concern of the boss.” Steve’s comment made John feel a bit embarrassed.
“For an employee, the most important benefit of being trusted by his boss would be the potential of a bright future as long as he would work for the same company or the same boss,” Steve said.
“I guess so,” John murmured. He felt more confused about where Steve was trying to lead the conversation. As a new graduate, a good new career itself was the start of the bright future, and the importance of a good relationship with his superior had been just common knowledge to him.
“Let’s say there are two employees, Jack and Jim. Jack is technically a bit stronger than Jim, but the boss feels that there would be less chance for Jim to cause any threat to him personally. If there is an important job, who do you think the boss would assign this job to, Jack or Jim?”
“I think it would be Jim.” John was just following Steve’s hint.
“Correct. Now let’s suppose the boss feels that Jack and Jim the same loyal to him, then who would you think the boss would assign the job, Jack or Jim?”
“It would be Jack now,” said John.
“Correct,” Steve concurred. “You just started your career now. Very soon you will find that it will make a big difference for anyone in a corporation whether he could have the chance to do something important or not.”
“I believe so.”
“A corporation is like a reversed tree with its root on the top and leaves at the bottom. Of course, trees don’t have circular trunks as corporations do, but you know what I mean, right?”
“Or we might say that a corporation is a stratified structure with many inner circles. The higher the level of an inner circle goes, the smaller its radius and the farther its reach is. All these circles are set around a common center, which is the head of the corporation. That’s why everyone in the corporation would like to get into some higher-level inner circles. By the way, the majority is hopeless to get into any of those inner circles, but they are still very eager to know what are going on within those circles because that might affect their own benefits, which is one important reason for people to be interested in all kinds of corporate rumors.”
John was fascinated by this eccentric lesson of corporate politics from Steve. He almost forgot that this meeting might be of critical importance to his future in K Corp. Then he heard Steve asked him.
“Would you like to stay outside all those inner circles or to get into those circles?”
“Of course I would like to get into the circles if I could have the chance in the future,” replied John.
“Life might be full of surprises, for good or for bad. Sometimes chances might appear when you are not expecting them, and then all depends on whether you could catch them or not.”
Steve stared John in the eye seriously and meaningfully. “Tell me why I have spent the time to discuss all this with you?”
John was about to say something and then stopped. He hesitated for a second and then answered in an apologetic voice, “I am not sure about that.”
Steve smiled at him. “Normally I would have this type of conversation only with a candidate for a high rank manager position.”
John was overwhelmed by that remark of Steve. He felt that he should say something to show his appreciation, but he could not find the proper words, and just looked at Steve in awe.
Steve then asked John another question, “Have you heard that we will have a new organization because of our new relationship with F Corp and their IB technology?”
“I heard about that,” replied John.
“I have been appointed to lead that organization.”
“Then who will be the head of HR department?” John asked.
“The new organization is an expansion of the original HR. It will contain the department of SR, meaning Strategic Resources, and the department of HR. Jeff will be the director of the SR department, and the head of HR has not been finalized yet. Under the SR, there will be two groups. One is the marketing group which would help the F Corp to sell their system around the world, and another is our internal IB system group which would overlook the implementation and operation of the IB system in K Corp.”
John felt thrilled at this news. Any IB related news could make him excited at that moment since he had already considered his IB training as a markup of his personal market value.
Then Steve said, “Come back to the question I just asked you, the answer is that based on your performance during the past weeks of training, we feel that we can trust you, and thus we decide to bring you into the new department of SR.”
“Thanks a lot,” John expressed his gratitude promptly.
“Do you have any question about that?” Steve asked.
“Uh…Who else would be in this department?”
“Jane would be the leader of that marketing group, and you will be working in that group. I believe that we could make use of your international business background in your new position.”
“Of course,” John responded ardently and affirmatively.
“Beside Jane and you, we hope Alice could also join your group, and right now Jane is talking to her. You will also have one or two consultants from F Corp as your technical support. Meanwhile, several of your training classmates would join the new SR department, but work in the inner IB system group, which will be headed by Alex whom you have not talked to yet. They will get some consultants from F Corp as well. We are still discussing with F Corp the number of the consultants for that group. Of course, you guys will get your own secretary for the new department. That’s pretty much of it.”
“How about Don?”
“He has done a great job in the IB technology training, and he will continue to work on that as a consultant to K Corp from F Corp. Jeff cannot work on that. So we will assign another HR manager to work with Don. It is important to the future of K Corp.”
“Are you going to wear the red hat as well?” John had never seen any HR manager except Jeff wearing the red hat in the training class for demonstration.
“Good question. The answer is no. Neither I nor any other HR or SR manager will wear the red hat. That means we will count on you guys to instruct or give demos to our clients in the future.”
While excited, John still had many questions in his mind, but he was not sure if he should ask or not. When he was hesitating, he heard Steve asked him, “In your opinion, what makes us trust you?”
The relaxed nerves of John were pulled back to high strain again. “I believe I am an honest person. I can do the work and I will do my best as I have always been doing in my life.”
“Confidence and positive attitude are important traits of a person. We certainly value it. But what you feel about yourself would not be enough for us to trust you. It’s true that your performance and how you dealt with others, and so on, during the past weeks have given us a good impression, but that’s also not enough.”
Steve got up from the chair and walked to a desk against the inner wall of the room. John just noticed that there was an old style desktop computer on the table, and a laser printer beside the computer. There were also different kinds of AV equipment on the desk and on the floor. Steve turned on the computer on that desk and then typed his credentials on the login screen.
John did not move but stayed in his seat. After a short-lived joy of knowing that he had been selected into the new department, his mood was shadowed by the issue of trust again.
After entered into his account in the HR system, Steve did not do anything with the computer but came back to his previous seat facing John.
“Come back to the topic of trust. Do you remember what I said about the biggest difficulty for a boss to even trust supposedly honest and loyal underlings?”
“You said the boss will not be sure about their honesty and loyalty because he could not know what is in their minds.”
“Exactly,” Steve said and patted the table with his hand. “But now we can overcome that problem, can’t we?”
“How?” John still felt lost about what Steve was trying to make a point of.
“Think about what your new department is supposed to work on,” Steve gave him a hint.
“You mean the IB technology?”
“Exactly,” confirmed Steve.
“So you could actually use IB technology to know what I am thinking all the time?”
“Not all the time,” Steve answered in a flat voice. “But whenever you are in the premise of K Corp as you agreed.”
John was shocked. He could not believe what he just heard from Steve. He could not believe because he did not want to believe. Even though, as a non-technical person, John still did not know how Steve could know what was in his mind through the IB system, he was extremely uncomfortable with the affirmative answer from Steve about knowing what was in his mind.
One voice inside him started to urge him to stand up and protest against the violation of his fundamental human rights, but meanwhile another voice was telling him not to do anything that might ruin his career in this great company.
While John was struggling badly in his heart, Steve picked up his mobile phone and sliding his finger on the screen without paying attention to the changing color on John’s face. Finally, John recovered from the shock and decided not to say anything that might be considered rude by Steve.
Steve stopped playing with his phone and looked at John by seeing into his eyes. “I know a lot of people like to keep their own personal secrets only to themselves. But over human history, no matter in a dictatorial regime or a so-called democratic system, people in powerful places would always like to use those whom could be known better instead of strangers. Would you agree with that?”
“Yes, I agree,” John answered in a feeble voice and attempted to avoid the cunning eyes of Steve.
“Good. That is an important knowledge, and I am glad that we are on the same page on that.” Steve was then completely confident that the conversation would be navigated to his planned target shore.
“We also know that people in high places never limit their ways of knowing others only to using flesh eyes and ears. They would use a lot other means. Not only that, they actually are always capable of using the most advanced means before most other people around the world could have access to them. Do you believe so?”
“I guess now you could see the logic here. Powerful people would use those whom they know best, and they would always be able to make use of the most advanced technology to watch their underlings, and the most advanced technology in our time is the IB technology.” Steve paused to give John a chance to comprehend his logic. Then he continued. “Now you have the advantage of being among the very few who are able to use the IB technology which would give you the ticket of an express track to some inner circle as we just talked about. If you don’t take this advantage, then you would lose your chance to someone else who would like to get into an inner circle whatever it costs.”
Once again, John was enticed by the temptation of that inner circle. Although Steve had never really told him what the inner circle was all about, John sensed that it must be something different from the ordinary life of most people in the world.
“I…I am glad that I have been selected into your new department,” John acknowledged.
“Excellent!” Steve went to the computer and printed some document. Then he came back with the pages that he just printed. He put the document face down on the table so that John could not see its content.
“You need to sign some new documents for this new assignment. This is not required for most of your training classmates. But you need to sign it because your new assignment is a bit different. Besides, as an incentive for you to take a step in helping this world to adapt the new IB technology, we will increase your extra income from 50% to 100%, which would be independent of any other bonus or increase. That means, if next year your salary is increased by 10%, that extra income would also be increased by 10%, so you would actually have 20% increase without counting other bonus.” Then he quipped, “I guess that alone would be worth the effort of signing some new documents, right?”
“Of course, I appreciate it.” John dimly tasted that inner circle before he even knew what it would really be.
“But before you sign the document, I would like you to ask me any question you still have concerning what I have told you about the job.”
“I…I was thinking…but…never mind.”
“Don’t worry…in the new organization, we will be working like a family. I don’t want you to have any feeling that I am not honest with you or I am taking any advantage of you.”
“I don’t have any question about it.”
“Please. Be brave. It will not hurt me or you by asking any question now before you sign the papers,” Steve encouraged, and John could feel his sincerity.
“I was just wondering whether it is legally allowed for a company to peek into the mind of its employees and make use of the data.” John summoned the courage and picked the most proper words he could find at the moment to ask the question that really bothered him. After saying that, John felt much relieved because he did something in protest against the violation of not only his human rights but also what he had been always believing since very young.
“A very good question… and I am very glad that you brought this up,” Steve amiably said. “Whatever K Corp has been doing with the IB technology is completely lawful. I am not sure if you were careful enough when you read the employment agreement before you signed it on the first day of your job. Do you remember what the Clause 29 was about?”
Steve was a bit surprised to hear John’s answer since according to his experience nobody would carefully go through all the sentences in the agreement, not to mention to remember it after several weeks.
But there were things about John that Steve did not know yet. First of all, John had a very good memory; and secondly, as a graduate from one of the best schools of International Business in the world he learned during his college time that he had to always read any contractual document very carefully.
“What is it about?”
“I think it was saying something like according to the new Digital Data Law passed by the congress, K Corp could make use all digital data collected by any digital equipment used on the premise of K Corp,” John recalled.
“Very impressive. I guess that answers your question about the legality of our practice of using the data collected by the IB system.”
John did not respond to that remark. Actually, the moment when he started to answer the question about the Clause 29, John already realized that he would not be able to challenge the legal validity of what Steve was doing.
“I am glad that you could frankly express your concern. We need everyone in our new organization to do so in the future. Is there any more questions that you would like to get an answer from me right now?”
“No. I am good.”
“Good. As I just told you that we don’t have many people in your new department at the beginning, so I hope we will really trust each other like in a family.” He paused and then asked John, “May I ask some personal questions?”
“How did your old friends, like Amanda and some others, think about your new job when they came to visit you a few weeks ago?”
Another shock to John! This time it was even stronger than last time.
“I thought you only collect data within the premise of K Corp.”
“But…I have never mentioned any of my old friends and their visit to anyone of K Corp yet. How could you know the name and the visit?”
“Let me show you something.” Steve took his mobile phone, and used an app from the screen to remotely connect to the computer that he worked on a moment ago. On the display of the computer, John could see that Steve opened one folder. In that folder, there was a subfolder titled as “John Potter”. Steve entered that folder and clicked on an audio file named as visit-of-old-friends.
From the speaker boxes on the floor, John heard the clear voice of his own in rehearsal for talking to his friends about his new job before going to meet them in the train station.
John was completely embarrassed when he heard his own voice, while extremely confused and horrified. It sounded exactly like he was talking and the content was something that he was thinking in his mind sometime in the past when he was still in the class, but of course he did not actually speak that out at all. As a matter of fact, he would never actually say that out anywhere on this globe.
John turned to Steve for help, who was looking at him with a sly smile.
Steve stopped the audio play. “Any question or concern about this?”
“I am so embarrassed.”
“Don’t feel too bad about rehearsing for something in your mind. Some recent psychological study has shown that self-rehearsal is a common human mental activity.” Steve offered his consolation to this poor lad in front of him.
“Thanks for saying that. But I am completely confused because even though I did have the thoughts in my mind as sounded in the audio, I never spoke it out anywhere. How could you turn it into audio?”
“What really matters here is the content that was extracted from your real mind activity. The sound is fake. We added it just for the sake of the demonstration to show how real we could hear what you are thinking.”
“Even if it is fake…I still don’t get how you could make it. It just sounds like me.”
“That’s just the simple speech synthesis technology. It might sound unbelievable for non-tech people like you and me, but it’s not a big deal for those tech gurus,” Steve explained. “The only fancy part F Corp added in this vein is that the IB system did some analysis of the parameters of your voice when you read the sample sentences loudly for training the IB system to learn your mind.”
“But we were told that the IB system only listens to our mind and would not listen to our voice.”
“That was also true, but its meaning was not what you thought to be,” Steve said. “It only means that the IB system doesn’t get your meaning from your voice. But that does not mean it cannot hear your voice. It still can record the sound you pronounced and use it to analyze your voice.”
“So we were tricked to read the sample sentences loudly at the beginning not for the sake of training the IB system to learn our mind, but only for the system to analyze our voice?”
“That’s not true.” Steve explained, “The main reason that you were asked to read sample sentences loudly is that when a person reads the sentences loudly, his correspondent brain wave pattern would be clearer, which could help the IB system to recognize it.”
“So it does those two tricks at the same time?”
“It’s a computer system, so we can have it to do thousands of things at the same time.” Steve laughed.
“But it still baffles me…How was the content of my mind extracted?” John gazed in awe at the computer as if that was the IB system.
“That part you actually do need to know because you might need to explain it to your clients in the future.”
Steve then explained to John how the content of mind was extracted into the system. “Like PC or smart phone or any smart product, IB system is a so-called digital system. All input to a digital system would be converted into digital data. The fact that you could input text into the computer by the activity of your mind means that your brainwave detected by the red hat has been converted to some digital data and stored in the system.”
“But that piece of thought recorded in that file was not what I intended to input into the system.” Moved by the friendly gesture of Steve, the dismay or anger when John heard his own voice from the audio system had been dispelled by his curiosity about the miraculous power of the new technology.
“Based on what I learned from the engineers of F Corp, a great part of human mental activity, especially for grownups, is conducted by means of language. That means even though you don’t speak a word loudly, your mind is still using words to do the thinking. That seemed to be the case with you when the IB system recorded your mind about meeting your old friends.”
“Uh…You’ve lost me here.” John was puzzled.
“That’s nothing to feel embarrassed and you will get it soon,” Steve smiled at John. “When we are thinking using words, no matter in English or in Spanish or in any other natural language, our brainwave would exhibit some characteristic pattern for each word, which would get more crystallized as the age grows, but might get blurred when some aging symptoms appear.”
Although John did not fully understand what Steve was telling him, but he was very impressed by the knowledge of Steve, considering the fact that Steve was not a technical staff. Obviously, he had made a great effort to pick up the knowledge. That might be the reason for him to be appointed to head the new organization.
Steve further explained, “What IB system does is just to analyze the characteristics of the brainwave detected by the red hat on your head, and then translate them into natural language. Therefore, it does not matter whether you intentionally use your mind to type a text into the system or you are just doing your own thinking, as long as some vocabulary of natural language is involved, then the IB system would translate it into the relevant words.”
“Then how could the system tell whether I was doing typing during a test or just normal thinking,” asked John.
“Suppose I give you a quiz right now and you give me the answer. Can I recognize which part is your answer to the quiz and which part is just our normal conversation?”
“Of course you can,” answered John.
“The IB system is also smart enough to identify various contexts of your mind activity. It involves something called advanced pattern recognition, which is part of the AI technology.”
“Amazing,” John complimented.
“However, everyone has his or her own characteristics of brainwaves. It is just like everyone’s fingerprints are unique. That is even called as brainwave signature, just like your writing signature on paper, which is unique for every different person. ” Steve added.
“Now tell me,” he gave John a quiz, “how could the IB system recognize the messages contained in each person’s brainwave?”
“Based on what you just said, uh … I guess that’s why we need to train the system to know our mind.” John provided the answer indirectly.
“Exactly,” Steve confirmed John’s answer. “That is just like some earlier versions of the sound recognition software. The user needed to train the software to learn the signature of his sound by reading some text before he could use the software. You might be too young to have used that kind of software.”
“I never needed to train any sound recognition software,” John said. Then he asked, “Since we don’t need to train the sound software from the market, why do we need to train the IB system before we use it?”
“That is because brainwaves are much more complicated than sound waves.”
“Is that why we are not allowed to exchange our red hats with each other?” John asked.
“You are partly correct on this because that is compulsorily necessary only at the beginning when the IB system does not know the brainwave signatures of the users,” Steve responded. “When the IB system obtained your brainwave signature after you trained it, it would store that signature in our big data system. Now even if you use another person’s red hat, the system could find out who you are.”
“So we might exchange our red hats with each other after the IB system knows about each of us?”
“No. We still don’t encourage that even though IB could tell who you are, no matter which hat you wear, after it knows you,” Steve answered. “This is for two reasons. Number one, it would be much more efficient for the red hat to work if everyone uses his own set; number two, it could help to enforce that everyone who has signed up for the red hat would have it all the time on K Corp premise. That’s why we bind the red hat with your badge so that you have to wear it to work.”
“That makes sense,” John agreed. A moment ago, John felt like facing a frightening monster when he first heard his mind talking in the computer; but now he came back to the inner circle mood. The whole system looked quite reasonable and full of potential to him again. “I guess, someday in the future, the IB system would not even need the user to train it, just like sound recognition software.”
“It could be,” Steve responded. “But that is not our current concern.”
John cast a glance at those several pages of paper Steve put on the table and expected Steve might let him sign whatever new documents necessary for his new assignment. But then he was surprised by another question from Steve.
“Do you like Alice?”
“Sure. We are friends.”
Steve then further interpreted his question to avoid ambiguity. “I meant do you feel very attracted to Alice as a man to a woman?”
John felt embarrassed again. He did not expect Steve to ask such a question. He even had an impulse to stand up protesting against such an act of invasion of privacy. But that just lasted a very small fraction of a second.
“I don’t know what to say… ”, he smirked dryly for a second. Then he looked at Steve and begged, “Maybe we should change a subject.”
“Sure,” Steve laughed for a second, and then pressed on, “but do you know why I asked that question?”
John realized that whatever he had thought about Alice must be already recorded by the IB system, the same as his thoughts about the visit of his friends.
“You heard my thinking about that through the IB system.”
“You are right,” Steve confirmed.
“Then I guess you also heard what Alice was thinking?” Hardly had John spoken that sentence out than he felt sorry for what he just said.
“Yes!” Steve answered.
John predicted that answer right after he asked and it was exactly what he did not want to hear from Steve.
“We were glad to find out that both of you could share the same feeling about each other,” Steve added.
John sighed and then put a helpless wry smile on his face. As a matter of fact, he was in a struggling mood. The last sentence that Steve just said was actually the best news he heard in the day, something he had dreamed of during the past weeks. But he didn’t expect and didn’t want to learn this news in such an awkward way.
Steve finished his cold coffee, which reminded John that he still had a cupful of coffee. So he had a mouthful of coffee to tranquilize his very disturbed nerves.
“I am very glad to see that you have proved yourself as a very smart young fellow,” Steve said.
Although he had a very rough time since he entered this conference room with Steve, John still had to admit from his heart that what Steve did was based on goodwill to help him.
“Now you might sign these documents. But read through them carefully before you put on your signature.”
Just when Steve passed those pages of paper to John his mobile phone rang. Steve picked up the phone and stepped out of the room to answer the phone.
John started to work on those documents after Steve left the room.
There were three documents. The first one was an addendum to his employment agreement, the second one was the confidential agreement, and the third one was application to be an entry-level member of an organization named as Brilliant Machines Association (BMA).
The addendum to his employment agreement was an overwrite of the previously agreed amount of extra income since his new extra income would be 100%, instead of the previous 50%, of his regular salary independent of any kind of bonus or commission. He quickly signed that addendum. Then he read through the confidential agreement, according to which he must not disclose certain classified information to anyone outside their own department without the permission of the high management of K Corp. He signed that agreement without any hesitation since it sounded very reasonable.
However, John was very confused with the application to that BMA, for which the name of Steve was printed as his reference. John went online using his mobile phone to search for the Brilliant Machines Association, but he could find nothing about it. He decided to ask Steve about the Brilliant Machines Association before signing the application.
A few minutes later, Steve came back.
“We got more good news,” Steve sounded excited. “Jane just called me and told me that Alice has agreed to join us. Now you two would work together in the same department.”
“That’s good news.” John tried not to show too much of his excitement.
“You guys don’t disappoint me.”
John grinned, “I can only promise you that I won’t.”
“Surely you will not. But don’t think too much about Amanda at the same time,” Steve winked at John.
“Wow. I gotta be very careful about what I am going to think from now on.”
Both of them started to laugh.
“Did you sign all the documents?” asked Steve.
“I signed those two agreements,” John answered. “I have not signed that application form yet because I don’t know what the Brilliant Machines Association is about.”
“Oh.” Steve lowered his voice. “That is a very powerful private club. If you talk about inner circle, that is a very important inner circle. They have many rich members, and they invest heavily in the future technologies.”
“But you have to start from an entry level. I will be your reference.”
“Thanks a lot.” John felt very obliged to Steve for all his kindness towards himself. He filled out the application and put on his signature. Steve also signed his name on John’s application.
“We have to go now. Let me show you the new office room for your group, and then we need to rush to the HR party.”
John took a look at the room before he stepped out of it. The meeting just happened there had subverted his fundamental view of life, and he knew it would change his life as well…