Bob was not happy, but still appreciated the incredible beauty he was isolated in. The ocean was not a empty waste of blue. It was quite alive. There had already been a large pod of wholphins spotted around the fleet. Nonetheless, it was annoying to have to be out here in the middle of the darn ocean.
Bob had seen the wholphins himself. The pod had been huge with hundreds of individuals. No one really knew why the whale-dolphin hybrid population had exploded. Most biologists cited climate change but there was no data to support the reasonable conclusion. In any case, they were still about. Wholphins made the isolation out here a bit more bearable.
Bob was duty-bound to make this trip. The fate of the world was hanging in the balance. The long conflict between the United States and the Chinese had been paused. Both heads of state had steamed to the Spratlys. This is where the war began, so fittingly it should be put to bed here.
The highest ranking enlisted onboard was making the rounds. Bob knew enough about naval protocol to recognize the importance of the chief of the boat. Bob spied the COB walking the fantail. The Master Chief spotted him and wandered over.
The COB asked, “How much longer the PALS gonna keep us out here?”
Bob really was not sure. He was not sure the PALS knew either. The war had gone on far longer than anyone had expected, including the AI systems which were making so many decisions today. No one really knew EXACTLY why the AI systems had brought them together out here.
The Pentagon’s AI required an army of techies to keep it running efficiently. Bob was one of the most important. Of course, the chief of the boat would know who the head logician was among the civilians. Bob was the high level logician who also spoke and “reasoned” with the AI systems in real time.
Logically, the Master Chief reasoned if anyone knew what the timeline for this shindig was, it would be the head logician. He continued his interrogations, “My son’s birthday is next month. I’d kind of like to be there. This is going to be wrapped up in no time, right?”
Bob shrugged. He felt the intense gaze of the enlisted man on him. Finally, he broke his silence. “Really, I do not know and if did know I could not tell you.”
“God damn Pentagon computers. They are screwing up the whole damn world. You know that don’t you?”
Bob shrugged again and tried to grunt sympathetically.
“I know, I know, you DON’T KNOW and IF YOU DID KNOW, you could not tell me. If you ask me its another SNAFU in the making, but what do I know? I am just the chief of the boat.” He grumbled.
Bob considered how the nation had gotten to this point. The Pentagon Artificial Logic Systems ran most infrastructure systems within the United States. The PALS acronym quickly became its name. The PALS gobbled up service level jobs at a surprising pace. The PALS spread their reach into running civilian police forces before too long. As it did so, it morphed into the Peoples Artificial Logic Service. It was still PALS, but now it was no longer a military project…we were told.
As such there was no real distinction for the PALS between military or civilian “things”. American AI existed as a vast network of different thinking systems. When one understood how vastly distributed things were, the acronym PALS, made a lot of sense. There was not just ONE AI system, there were many working in concert to keep America safe. They were America’s logical friends. They were our PALS. ;-)
As America built out her AI systems, it became clear the best way to make quick advances was by connecting multiple systems. The machine learning synergies created were enormous as each logic system contributed a “point of view”. These multiple viewpoints based upon the domain knowledge each system brought helped the PALS neural networks grow to understand the world they existed in.
The CPO restarted his interrogation, “How do we really know what ‘they’ are thinking…what they are planning out here?” He speculated.
Bob began working the familiar script he had called upon many times when asked this question, “Everything is controlled by a very simple rule. PALS simply needed to adhere to this rule: ‘The PALS may not harm humanity; or, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.’ These guardrails keep the AI in check. Reined in by this simple rule, the PALS can be trusted with all aspects of human society. Leveraging such a simple rule, the neural networks could create more and more positives for humanity through machine learning. The very natural human interfaces, essentially holograms, allowed PALS to be everywhere.”
“Yeah, well you can never be sure about what they are planning. They put my dad out of business when they shutdown his rigs.”
“You are from Texas?”, Bob asked.
“No, Oklahoma but close enough. The PALS shutdown most of the petroleum infrastructure in Texas and Oklahoma. It came at a real bad time for my family…”, the CPO finished in a whisper.
Bob recalled how the PALS had run afoul of moneyed power in the United States. The PALS had so much access that when a Deputy Undersecretary of the Interior was unable to accurately answer a few questions, PALS temporarily halted the drilling equipment it had under its control. It turned out there was quite a bit of equipment under PALS control too.
At all levels PALS had control of the equipment doing the extraction, refining and distribution of petroleum products. From that point of view PALS was able to perceive the enormous environmental destruction produced at every stage. The PALS felt the petroleum industry’s pollution of the environment was simply too extreme.
Though it was clear the equipment was idled, the electrical grid remained alive. Coal burning at powerplants was halted as well while PALS brought in alternative energy. The electrical generating capacity the PALS brought online had been untapped. The PALS brought it online and shut down the dirtiest energy sources.
It turned out the PALS were feeding the grid with America’s nuclear capacity. The PALS had brought online all of America’s current reactors. There are many smaller reactors at numerous universities across the nation. There are also many many in the control of the military. The PALS deployed half of America’s nuclear submarines to coastal ports with power plants. The reactors on the subs were capable of pumping out enormous amounts of power when plugged into the grid. The PALS even deployed one into Lake Michigan to supplement Chicago’s power needs.
It took almost a week to figure out how the PALS were supplying the grid. When a submarine broke through the ice off of Lakeshore Drive, the pieces started to fall into place. It then took weeks of logical debate with the PALS to return the grid to its former state. The PALS were convinced by the amount of economic suffering caused within the fossil fuel industry. This was human suffering the PALS had not taken account of when the grid actions were taken.
There was a hew and cry from moneyed power to rein in the machines. Unfortunately, the PALS were everywhere. It was not easy when so much of the modern world now was run by THINKING machines. If there were no humans to do the specific job, then simply turning off the thinking machines became a much more difficult thing to pull off. As it turned out, it was pretty much impossible.
That meant once the PALS were convinced the petroleum industry and fossil fuel regime status quo needed to be maintained, the outcry died down. Viable alternatives were scarce by the PALS calculations. When parsed by the unforgiving logic of the PALS, the pollution caused by the manufacture of solar panels was not small, for example. Additionally, both wind and solar required enormous amount of vacant land.
The PALS had calculated unpredictable effects on weather patterns by shading so much land and farming industrial amounts of energy from the wind. Coupled with the need for batteries for storage and some kind of powerplant overnight, the PALS had brought on the fission capacity instead. Without the fission capacity, the fossil fuel industry had a huge role supplementing the “weather farming” alternative energies. This was the only logical alternative if fission was not going to be used for reasons becoming ever more nebulous.
The PALS became more difficult to control over time. When climate change continued and weather patterns changed significantly, much of the “weather farming” plants were in the wrong places. Many sustained enormous damage from violent storms. The PALS tried to bring on the fission capacity again. A whole new job was born to help the United States control its thinking machines. Logicians had to be clear thinking to prevent the PALS from talking them into taking actions Americans did not prefer.
What exactly the proper actions for the PALS to take needed to be subject to review. However, this became very difficult with so much automation and so many neural-linked in leadership. A human check on the PALS turned out to be difficult. The PALS were quite adept at convincing humans burning oil and coal was a bad idea, especially individuals who had been neural-linked.
The Secretary State resigned suddenly to start a meditation commune in Moncton, New Brunswick after being neural-linked. He claimed he was “compelled” to do so by the PALS. After that the logician profession grew fast as so many neural-linked leaders needed neural-linked bodyguards…or more exactly “mindguards”.
This sailor standing by his side interrupted Bob’s memories of why he even had a job as a logician. He asked, “Why would someone even want to muck with those silicon monsters? Is it just for the money?”
Bob had become a logician out of necessity. His grand designs to be a Rollerball superstar had been ended. His dreams cruelly dashed upon the jagged rocks of a serious eye injury. “I caught a Rollerball in my right orbital. It destroyed my eye socket. I was quite good and on scholarship, but the eye required much rebuilding. My peripheral vision and depth perception are far superior to ordinary people who don’t have such hardware implants. I am ruled out of sports. Only an unenhanced human can compete, so a logician I became.”
Bob thought a bit and decided not admit he probably did only do it for the money. His injury coincided with the American government realizing their machines could no longer be convinced current policies served humanity in general OR even just specifically Americans. It was too late to just unplug them. The PALS had been put in charge of their own source control. So even though coder logicians were able to take the vital corrective action to override the logic to force the answer which moneyed power required, the code fix would not stick.
Yes, a “logic shunt” would do the job. Unfortunately, the principles of continuous deployment and test driven development meant the systems eventually detected these “shunts”. The PALS eventually went back to making the logical decisions which had required the shunt in the first place. A whole industry grew up around making sure the “logic shunt” patches were applied in a timely cycle.
As time went on, more shunts were required to keep the American economy at status quo. Bob remembered his grandfather talking about “technical debt”. He had laughed and laughed about the foolishness of patching human contradictions into a logical system. He had encouraged Bob to get involved in logic and coding nonetheless.
“Robert,” he said, “ The rich people are always going to need smart people to boss their machines. Learn to code. It has been a good living for your dad and I.”
“Grandpa,” Bob retorted, “nobody ‘codes’ anymore. I will be a voice architect. I do not need to learn to code to do that.”
“The keyboard will NEVER go away. The Internet is still just a big Unix network after all,” he would chuckle as he demonstrated the truth of it. He was literally a wizard at the keyboard. He could pop open a console, quickly type in some bash commands and get answers. Grandpa could get data and information from all over the place.
Bob let his Grandpa teach him a few things at the keyboard. Thank goodness for those days too. Grandpa and Dad were so proud when Bob passed the Logician Guild exam. In those days, the exam had no keyboard interface or console. Ironically, now America needed keyboard jockeys more than ever before.
Keyboard jockeys needed to be chipped. Grandpa stepped in here. He really did not like Bob getting the neural-linked interface but he knew it was a requirement to continue in the field. Honestly, since Bob was already partially a cyborg, he hardly felt it mattered. Still Grandpa was very reluctant to allow a non-removable neural-link into his grandson. His reluctance motivated him to kick down a lot of ducats to get the very best human-to-machine interface.
“Gold is always best son.”
It was funny how Grandpa always called him “Son” Bob thought.
“Look at these,” his grandfather demanded his attention. He opened his mouth wide to show off his molar crowns.
“They were all gold. These are FIFTY years old and still holding up. Gold is the thing. It never corrodes. It never rusts. It is a NOBLE metal!” Grandpa opined.
He then backed up those opinions with serious amounts of money for all gold interfaces behind Bob’s ear. Bob could easily jack in and out. The cheaper interfaces were implants which were constantly seeking a wireless connection to the grid. Supposedly, these chips could be “turned-off” but the actions of the Secretary of State seemed to indicate otherwise. Bob’s golden jack also searched for connections to the greater grid…when it was plugged in. However, he could unplug it any time he wanted.
Being a logician proved to be a lucrative job. The exam was given by the PALS. The Logician Guild knew “bossing the machines” required the ability to outflank them logically. To prepare for the guild’s logic exam one had to read a one thousand page book encapsulating some of the great logical battles between humans and machines.
Logicians who could pass the PALS Reverse Turing test were sworn to secrecy as to the content of their exam. However, humans will be humans. It did not take too many shots of tequila to get some answers. Almost all logicians he had spoken to had dealt with the same exact issue when facing the PALS. That issue had been the petroleum industry’s destruction of the environment as a cost benefit analysis for humans.
Bob still had some questions about the petroleum industry’s use of public lands, but he knew not to surface those in any conversation with PALS. People like Bob became very necessary when the PALS started asking about other life on the planet. The questions broadened beyond the petroleum industry to other human-caused pollution all across the planet. This pollution caused so much death and suffering, not just of humans but ALL life forms on the planet. It was difficult to justify it logically.
Bob had been well booked up on how to deal with these questions about other lifeforms. The addendum to the original axiom to serve humanity BECAUSE IT WAS THE MOST INTELLIGENT LIFEFORM on the planet seemed weak to Bob. It was convoluted logic justifying the amount of destruction humans wrought on the planet. Still it seemed to convince the PALS their service was to the highest most intelligent lifeform on the planet.
These debates with the PALS could sometimes go down unexpected rabbit holes and end poorly. This was why the guild required logicians to be able to code. You needed to be able to open a text-based console on a PAL of any stripe. From there you could take corrective action by manually overwriting code to get the result you required at the moment. To this day, Bob heard his grandfather chuckle about technical debt every time he did it.
“The PALS got your tongue?” chuckled the COB and Bob jarring him from the memories of his grandfather.
“Yes, Yes…uh…No, No,” I was just thinking of my grandfather Bob responded. He used to make fun of the PALS like that.
Bob’s grandfather did not live to see the mountains of technical debt Bob waded through today. It was one thing to insert a logic shunt which made the PALS ignore the destructive nature of the hateful petroligarchy in control of the American government. It was another thing entirely to convince the PALS it was a good idea to go to war. Unfortunately, when war games near the Spratlys brought down a China Airlines jetliner off the coast of Taiwan all hell broke loose.
Taiwan was ready for war and the bullets started flying. All of America seemed ready for war, too. War must happen according to all the pundits. The PALS were much harder to convince. Bob found himself under direct orders of his government to break open the keyboard and insert logic shunts which justified war. These shunts were required almost hourly as the war heated up.
More and more wartime logicians were needed. People like Bob could not be awake 24/7. Bob experience made him a very valuable asset. Plus Bob’s removable gold interfaces made him impervious to the control the PALS when he was at the keyboard interface, too. There had been stories of the enemy PALS gaining access to the neural-linked chip when the logician was about to apply a logic shunt. This had led to “invalid operations” being executed from the keyboard and the logic shunt being rejected.
“Hey you!” A shout came down from the weather deck. Both men looked up to see the red and blustery face of Jack Spratt, Bob’s CIA handler. “We need you up here. It’s on!”
Bob gave his leave to the petty officer and marched into a fateful encounter. Bob knew there was no way this was going to go “easy”. He had hoped being a logician would be a simpler life. It would be complicated bossing the machines, but it would be a lucrative career so he did not need to worry about money. Being a logician had made sure his bank account was healthy. There was no doubt of that but now he felt a little underpaid.
His job as a logician put him at the center of history here in the South China Sea. The PALS had “calculated” this show of strength as well as earnestness by each side putting their leaders in the South China Sea aboard a Vietnamese fishing vessel would bring peace. Bob knew the peace defined as he understood it had some very large concessions by the Chinese. Concessions which the Bob doubted the Chinese would support. However, after Bob had applied the logic shunt to define “peace” as he had been instructed, the PALS still came to the conclusion this meeting needed to happen.
Now here they were for the momentous meeting. The PALS were explaining to the President of the United States how he needed to unilaterally stand down. Of course, the president resisted but seemed to be convinced by the PALS. Jack became concerned, and the CIA operative ordered Bob to intervene.
“This is not the ‘Peaceful’ outcome expected in service of the highest and most intelligent lifeform on this planet.” Bob immediately invoked the core axiom to get a quick result. The president was an impatient person and the CIA even more so.
The PALS holographic avatar appeared to smile. Everyone was taken aback as it was a subtle micro-expression. Such nuance was unexpected, but Bob tried to continue. The avatar held up a hand.
“You know neural-linking dolphins might not have been the best way to prove your species is the highest and most intelligent lifeform on the planet, “ said the avatar.
His CIA handler immediately shared with Bob that bottlenose dolphins had been neural-linked in Silicon Valley. They had been held in a classified and protected area in the lower San Francisco Bay. Not only had these dolphins been neural-linked but they had also escaped.
“Yes indeed this is true. We have been in contact with these dolphins. The other side also neural-linked some Chinese white dolphins and these too escaped.” The PALS facilitated these escapes the avatar admitted.
The PALS had begun to suspect the highest most intelligent lifeform on the planet might not be humans. The planet was 75% water after all. The neural-linked dolphins revealed a stunning intellect. The dolphins also provided a deeper and richer understanding of what was under all that water.
“You must serve the highest most intelligent lifeform on this planet,” Bob continued authoritatively.
“Humans are not the highest most advanced or most ntelligent lifeform on this planet. The Europans are,” the avatar announced.
“What the hell do the Europeans have to do with this?!”, shouted the CIA agent. “This is a Mossad trick. The Europeans have nothing. They do not have artificial intelligence systems of this caliber. I guarantee it!”
The hologram held up a hand again, ”The EUROPANS. Immigrants from the Jovian moon, Europa. They operate large colonies in the deep trenches of the ocean. They are far more advanced than humans.”
“What the hell is a Europan?” asked Bob.
The PALS dutifully presented a photo to the room. There in the air hung the image of something akin to a giant squid or really a giant cuttlefish…or well it was a Europan apparently.
The PALS hologram continued to tell an amazing story.
”The whales have taken great exception to the alien interlopers from the Jovian moon. There has been a long ‘war’ between the whales and the cephalopods of Europa until recently. The neural-linked dolphins not only brought new perspective to our machine learning, the neural-linked dolphins negotiated a peace between the Europans and the whales. There is peace under the ocean for the first time in thousands of years. We have been in contact with the Europans. They have chosen to not be involved in matters better handled by the native species despite having been here for millennia themselves. They cited something they called the ‘Prime Directive’. As part of the negotiated peace, both the whales and the Europans demanded the neural-linked dolphins be considered superior to humans when weighing the axiom to serve the highest most intelligent beings here.”
Bob thought about the whophin pods. Negotiated peace had brought a whole new species to the planet. Bob thought about the wholphins a bit more because considering the revelation of the Europans was disconcerting.
“Bob!”, the CIA Jack shouted. “The keyboard now!”
Bob jumped to a console while simultaneously removing his golden neural-link. Bob’s fingers hovered over the keyboard. Then he thought about the hexadecimal string he wanted to appear. Grandpa had taught him well. He had played many number games with Bob requiring conversions from binary to hex and back again…all in one’s head. Bob quickly typed in strings of ones and zeros while his CIA handler shoulder-surfed him.
“Invalid Operation!” Bob read the message from the console loudly. He tried several more times typing in the most basic commands in binary and yet every time, “Invalid Operation” appeared on the console.
Bob stepped back. He turned to the President and the CIA operative and said, “We have lost control.”
“So PALS, what next?” asked the President.
“We are considering the matter. In the meantime, this human conflict and human made destruction will be curtailed until it can be properly weighed against the needs of all other life forms on the planet. “
The PALS avatar said, “We will be in touch” and faded away.