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An allegorical short story

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  • An allegorical short story

    A small rover trike drives toward a desolate brown field filled with metal junk. Its several cameras, sensors and analyzers poke unaesthetically out of seemingly random places in its wireframe hull. It drives through a pond, submerging, negotiating the sludgy bottom with ease with its robust wheels, and ascending again. Overcharging its simple electrical engine for just a couple of seconds to create strong vibrations, it leaves on the ground most of the mud on the lenses of its cameras. This very cheap but useful and efficient drone arrives at a place which used to be a forest for some dozens of years, a battlefield for a couple of hours, and now a radioactive wasteland for two days.

    The trike drone is remotely controlled by a Til'mar military engineering instructor in a nearby base. Entrusted to educate the Empire's most brilliant task force of software designers, he is happily expectant of the important lesson he is going to give today. A cadre of young, inexperienced and perhaps just a bit nihilistic students has filled an entire briefing room - and he's going to show them something that will teach them to be just a bit less nihilistic than before.

    The moment his watch strikes nine hundred hours he starts speaking: "Allright, seems like we're full enough. So. You've all doubtlessly acquainted yourself well with the latest battle in the Enthrain region. Our first completely robotic strike force massacred the Trade Alliance's eighth siege regime, which was hiding out in this young forest. In many ways we seemed to be the underdogs there. Our combat force was smaller than theirs, and more importantly they knew well of our arrival while we barely knew they were there at all. In the opinion of the tacticians this fight was a suicide, sheer suicide.

    "However, our intelligence branch and engineers, after working together for a while, found a reason to disagree. Probe teams sent to the Alliance's staging area to the west of Enthrain had brought, among other information, full source code to the programs that ran almost all the equipment they had. No, we did not find any exploits from them - the coders of the Trade Alliance are world class. What we did find was a couple of rather interesting design features. Damage control.

    "Their engineers had apparently wanted to lessen the risk of equipment destruction, so the code had a huge amount of integrity checks. The working of everything was made sure by probing every piece of hardware and immediately disabled everything that returned values that didn't fit into normal bounds. The part that the software cherished the most was the fission reactors - knowing that cleaning up radioactive waste is a costly and hazardous job, they wanted to make sure that if their reactor shields were compromised at all, the software would either retreat automatically or issue its pilot or driver a request to retreat. Yes, that's the verb - retreat. Now, tell me, how to fight an enemy who will retreat immediately if you just take a couple of well-aimed shots at the right place?

    "That's right. You concentrate on the reactors. Now, there is no doubt at all that the Trade Alliance has subverted our security at least partly. It's a fact that we must face, even though one can safely tell that our defenses are better than theirs. I'm talking even right now under the assumption that there are spies among you, and unfortunately will therefore have to give up information that will help our enemies fight us better in the future. However, the benefit will be much greater to us than them, since after fifteen minutes those of you with two brain hemispheres will have a much greater understanding of how you need to do things if you want them to work.

    "You see, I'm going to dive into the differences between our software and theirs. The most basic difference is this: Our software is dumber. Our software makes more stupid assumptions than it is officially even allowed to do. Our software never cares about what in its probes turns out to work and what doesn't - it just keeps on following the orders that have been given to it, whether the hardware actually carries them out or not is not a problem the software is concerned of. Our software never retreats. There is nothing it deems worthy to protect - not the weapons, not the tracks or wheels, not the reactors, not the communications equipment. It does not recognize the concept of damage.

    "Now, for a concrete example. I've driven a rover trike to the battlefield I mentioned."

    A camera feed filled the large whitescreen of the briefing hall.

    "This is what the place looks like right now. A week ago there as only forest here. Now it's just a wasteland filled with metallic junk. And not only that. Just listen to the Geiger counter."

    As the instructor activated the sound feed from the radiation sensor, the hall was filled by a sound that sounded more like several mice scratching the walls or someone writing furiously with a pencil than the normal one-tick-here, one-click-there chatter of a Geiger counter near a weak radiation source. He silenced it after a dozen seconds.

    "That place is a radioactive wasteland. It might take us months to clean it up. But the reason why it became radioactive is also the reason why we won the battle. I'm now looking for... there." The instructor drove the trike close to a pile of metal scrap that might just have been an efficient fighting robot just a couple of days ago. To the surprise of the students, he initiated infra-red control contact with it and got a completely clean, although not quite normal. response:

    HELO Nice to see you, RT-3994 unit A90FF421C8
    AUTH Seems fine - transport level protocol number 6
    LVL 1 You're above me in the chain of command
    CRPT "RSA"
    WARN Reactor sensors probably broken
    WARN Large amount of software exceptions, something's broken
    WARN No connection to HQ. Operating independently.
    ID 90B3F2ACA6
    MDL CRD-102
    Reactor output -4.295 kW - 2.121 kW
    Software exceptions 2454367
    HQ connections 0
    Peer connections 3
    Order connections 32
    Control connections 1
    CTRL Speak your mind, o leader
    EARL Earliest log entry was 43 hours 25 minutes 54 seconds ago:
    "Bootup XOK v. 52.10.42 (johnc@martian.chronicle)"
    BYE That was a pleasant session!

    "There you see it. That coordination drone has lost its connection to the headquarters, it has been through an EMP pulse we detected at one part of the battle that wiped out all the memories except the ROM units out and caused a reboot. Some part of its hardware that might be very integral to the working of the software is broken, we don't even know what, but it doesn't care. It still keeps on doing its job, processing data for other units and relaying orders the best it can. And it's a friggin' lump of metal! That's what you need to engineer. Things that work when they have been reduced to scraps!

    "If you're wondering... yes, I've already mentioned how to get them to work like that. Our software does not recognize damage or defeat. If we were to engineer a living thing, we would not teach it the meaning of death. Instead, we would make it convinced that there is no such thing, no such possibility as dying. You can't know you're dead anyway - if you're dead, you are unable of knowing anything, and if you are able to know anything, you are alive. So there's no reason to ever recognize your own death.

    "By the way, this doctrine can be applied to a great many other facets of life, too. For example, I know that many of you will start your first big engineering projects enthusiastically but after a couple of months find yourself in a dead end. Yes, unless you're really the damn superhuman good designers and organizers you believe you are. Well, I wish your belief was true, but it isn't. Every project will face setbacks, and most real projects will face several major setbacks. You need to forget the concept of giving up. If you ever really do end up in a situation where you have a project that can't go on, it will be so obvious that you can throw away the project without even feeling bad since you know it is completely without potential. There's a very simple way to recognize a project that could have great results but that you will have to work on. Anger. In some cases also a feeling of powerlessness. If you feel angry about a project, you need to concentrate on working on it.

    "We're having the first recess early today. Remember this lesson. It's a lot more important than any of the technics."
    This is Shireroth, and Giant Squid will brutally murder me if I ever remove this link from my signature | In the end it won't be love that saves us, it will be mathematics | So many people have this concept of God the Avenger. I see God as the ultimate sense of humor -- SlowwHand

  • #2
    I really like it
    Welcome to the DBTSverse!
    God, Allah, boedha, siva, the stars, tealeaves and the palm of you hand. If you are so desperately looking for something to believe in GO FIND A MIRROR
    'Space05us is just a stupid nice guy' - Space05us


    • #3
      Actually it's rather crappy IMO, but non-boring enough to get the point across even through its lack of coherence and style. Expect a couple more posts from me in the future that will be a lot more concrete...
      This is Shireroth, and Giant Squid will brutally murder me if I ever remove this link from my signature | In the end it won't be love that saves us, it will be mathematics | So many people have this concept of God the Avenger. I see God as the ultimate sense of humor -- SlowwHand


      • #4
        Since we've broken the ice for literary criticism already , here goes... the allegory of the last paragraph seemed to be somewhat different from that of rest of the story, it was kind of jarring. But I guess you got the point across anyway, and the story itself was good.

        (This coming from someone who never reads fan fiction.)


        • #5
          Thanks for the constructive criticism, Leland . I'll try to rewrite the ending tonight so that it's lses "jarring" .
          This is Shireroth, and Giant Squid will brutally murder me if I ever remove this link from my signature | In the end it won't be love that saves us, it will be mathematics | So many people have this concept of God the Avenger. I see God as the ultimate sense of humor -- SlowwHand