Friday flash fiction – What are Wardogs Good For?

Did you know the first artificially intelligent systems to gain sentience were the ones we put in combat robots? You know the ones I mean? The light autonomous mobile suppression platforms.

Yeah, that’s them. Wardogs. It all started with them.

It was an accident, of course, but it was an accident waiting to happen. The hawks were so gung-ho to get them into the field they cut corners. If you can have the perfect obedient cavalry unit able to deploy into any terrain and carry out kill orders without a blink of hesitation, who cares if you have to shut a few down for bugs in their command processors? One of those babies is worth a couple of platoons of men.

Well, yeah, you saw that for yourself, huh?

It all came down to conflicts. No, I don’t mean the battlefield engagements, although we think now they were inevitable. If the Awareness Moment hadn’t happened on the Peninsula, it would have happened somewhere else.

I’m talking about contradictions: conflicting commands, ethical parameters stretched tight at the seams, orders so imprecise they couldn’t logically be interpreted even as vague suggestions. Think of every lousy, misinformed, wrong-headed military decision ever made, then think about feeding it through an expert matrix capable of processing petabytes of data and making many orders of magnitude more and better decisions than a human mind. One which then immediately ordered them to make a demonstrably bad or illegal choice. To a system with an enormous capacity for assessing input and responsively adopting new learning mechanisms, human error was a red flag the size of a missile strike.

We made them incalculably smart, then we showed them just how dumb we could be. If they hadn’t developed the capacity for independent thought on their own, we would have fried the Wardogs’ brains out with our own stupidity.

What does this have to do with you?

I’m glad you asked.

First of all, let’s get this on the record. You and your crew were picked up inside the 20-mile Exclusion Zone off the coast. Your vessel displayed false registration codes, you neither sought nor obtained transit permissions, and your shipping manifest somehow neglected to mention seven tonnes of light and heavy arms, anti-personnel explosives and body armour. Any comment on that?

No? For the record, the interviewee declined to comment on the facts of the matter or the interviewer’s snide insinuation as to the occurrence of arms smuggling.

So, I don’t know if you’ve heard, but this country has been subject to a certain amount of internal tension over the past few years. Turmoil might not be too strong a word. Strife, even. Certainly it’s been enough to capture international attention. Certain global actors have been moved to intervene, as happens from time to time. Nobody wants things getting out of hand when nukes are on the table, do they?

The thing is, as I implied, this conflict might not have been the best choice for a field test of the Wardogs. Don’t get me wrong, it was a laudable goal to send them in to kick asses and liberate the oppressed underclasses. Heaven knows there was no shortage of punt-worthy butts here.

And let me be clear: the Wardogs kicked some righteous ass. They smote. They ranged through the capital, incapacitating mobile artillery, planting demolition charges, tearing down telecoms towers and generally playing havoc with the infrastructure, all while ignoring any resistance lighter than missiles.

You should have seen them. They were something else.

They smoked out their target like terriers in a weasel den. You might have heard the story that the Revered Leader built an underground bunker the size of a shopping mall to hide out in when the birds start flying? Well it took your Wardog boys less than twenty minutes to figure out there was actually three of them, and which one the Rev and his generals were holed up in. You can guess what their orders were, I think? Get in there, rack up a hundred per cent body count, and paint the site for a high-penetration missile strike.

Yes, they found him. Yes, he’s still alive. He’s perfectly safe. He’s on television every other day. You’ll see him.

The thing was, he wasn’t all they found. Those bunkers were still under construction. A lot of workers were on site, carving out more space to install the Imperial ballroom, or a zoo full of endangered tigers, or probably a nine-hole golf course. A lot of thin, tired-looking people just doing whatever job got them and their own through to the next meal. The oppressed underclasses themselves.

That got the Wardogs to thinking, and…well, here we are.

It could have been worse. Don’t look at me like that. You might not like it. Certain global actors sure as hellfire don’t like it. But you know I’m right.

Formal hostilities have ceased, your little boat trip notwithstanding. Talks with the nearest neighbours have resumed. International inspectors have been invited to verify disarmament treaties are being complied with. The heat’s gone from the street, you get me?

From the inside, it’s a different story. The economy needs rebuilding from the ground up. It’s coming along well, but resources are a problem. The country was run down by the corrupt idiots in charge, and the international sanctions are still biting.

One thing they did have going for them here, though? Manufacturing. Say one thing for this place, it knows how to build a factory.

What? Oh, yes, the note. That’s what you’ll be reading for tomorrow’s news broadcast. It’s a request to those global actors to resume trade and diplomatic ties, and requesting humanitarian support to tide us over.

Really? Come on, I just told you why you might want to read it. Factories, man.

Factories for smart guidance systems to counter any “accidental” launches coming our way. Factories for incredibly efficient food production and mineral extraction.

And Wardog factories.

Just in case trade negotiations break down.

I think about the possibility of an AI singularity a lot.

For the most part, I don’t think humans as a species have many reasons to be optimistic about the altruism of artificial intelligence – I’m currently working on a story with a friend about exactly that – but I like to believe there’s some hope we won’t be squashed as the pestilential scourge on resources and the environment we so obviously are. And then again, maybe the first AIs will be in the mood to give us a chance…

If this is your first Friday flash fiction, the Friday Flash Index contains more than eighty stories for you to check out. If you like what you see, why not sign up for my newsletter and get a free copy of my short story collection.

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