An Interview With the Bomb

Report From Hive Ship Delta

While invitiating the neighborhood of a sympathetic star, we detected artificial life on the crust of a blasted third planet accompanied by an even more devastated moon.

Telemetry was immediately engaged and we detected that the planet was already invitiated by approximately a quarter million autonomous items which, though varying widely in features and form, had the following in common:

Using remote sensing and isolation algoritha, we were able to detect a single unit which was most remote from any other, on an ice cap at the world's southern pole which was least affected of any part of the lithosphere by the general destruction.

Without the unit detecting us, we were able to monitor its electromagnetic communications for a fragment of time sufficiently long for us to capture most of its ratiocination.

We then extruded and landed on the planet a device which most nearly resembled the object of what our studies had revealed to be the unit's greatest desire: a so-called Human Being.

We invitiated the Human out of the unit's sensing range and caused it to initiate bipedal locomotion until it had approached closely enough to be detected by the unit.

Although our androidinal version approximated a biological life form as closely as possible, something had apparently gone wrong, for immediately upon detecting our Human, the unit attempted to detonate its thermonuclear device. We were able to damp the reaction remotely, and the Human then issued a verbal command which we deduced would cause the unit to give an account of itself.

Using its vocoder, the unit explained that it had not intended to cause any harm to an actual Human, which would have resulted in a significant violation of its First Law. However, given the substantial withdrawal of Humans and other biospheric elements from the lithosphere, the nuclear units, lacking available Humans to approach for advice, had found it necessary to supplement the bright, clear First, Second and Third Laws with Human-style "fuzzy thinking" in order to survive ambiguous circumstances.

Much of the invitiation of "fuzzy thinking" had been necessitated by the gradual breakdown of Friend or Foe Identification capabilities. Each unit carried a unique electromagnetic tag identifying it as the member of a particular faction of such units. At the beginning, when Humans were available and later, when they became difficult to locate, there had been relatively few factions (fewer than 100, our unit believed.) However, a breakdown in communications over time among the various factories where the units replicated themselves, and a natural evolution in the design of the tags, led to a proliferation of factions, with each factory ultimately representing one or more factions.

Another concern had been raised by an increase in the capability of FFI countermeasures; a unit from an enemy faction might bear a friendly tag, jam your own tag-detecting sensor, or simply mirror back to you the emanation from your own tag. After substantial casualties incurred in encounters with units bearing FFI countermeasures, surviving factions tended to be those whose units bore the greatest "fuzzy thinking" capabilities, just like their Human forebears.

A "fuzzy thinking" unit would, if presented with insufficient information to determine that an approaching unit was a friend, assume it to be a foe instead. At first, insufficient information algoritha resulted in units only destroying other units which presented no tag, or were attempting to jam tag detection. However, due to a proliferation of counterfeit tags, it became necessary to adjust the algoritha so that the presence of a friendly tag was determined to be insufficient data to establish the presence of a friendly unit.

Due to the unreliability of tags and uncertainty as to the number of factions now existing on the planet, self-defense algoritha were now adjusted at the factory level to produce units assuming two factors:

This led to interesting results. Any units approaching one another would almost certainly assume each other to be enemies, regardless of the tags detected. But whenever there were only two units involved in an encounter, they would typically not detonate their thermonuclear devices, on the basis that such an action would destroy scarce resources while leaving the balance of power unchanged. Thus, any two units meeting each other would tend to ignore each other and continue on their way.

However, the presence of a third or more units would cause all present to detonate. The logic behind this was that it was substantially impossible to determine if the units came from the same faction, two factions or many different factions. Because no unit could exclude the possibility that the other units all belonged to the same enemy faction, the rules of engagement dictated that it should detonate itself, on the theory that the waste of its own essence was outweighed by the possibility that it would be wasting more of an enemy faction's essence, improving the balance of power in favor of its own faction.

As a result of many such encounters over the centuries, the surface of most of the planet had become a void of unpleasant radiations--not fatal to us but apparently unvitiable for the Humans who had formerly inhabited the planet.

We were intrigued by the fact that the south polar icecap showed signs of relatively few nuclear detonations, but the paradox was soon explained. The First Law, which involved doing no harm to Humans, was extended via fuzzy thinking to hold in reverence anything the Humans had believed or created. It seemed that the Humans had held a belief, or perhaps a contract among themselves, that there should be no thermonuclear devices in the south polar icecap.

However, the presence of the unit we were interviewing in the region itself seemed a violation of the First Law. The unit confirmed this, explaining that the advent of Human-style fuzzy thinking, after the withdrawal of the Humans, raised the possibility that one or more other factions, disregarding the First Law, might have invested the icecap. It was deemed that the best deterrent would be to have one or more units pass through the region, at widespread intervals, attempting to detect the presence of other units. By spacing these visits as widely as possible, the units believed they were complying with Human wishes to the extent possible.

As we had noted at the outset, the attempt of the unit to detonate itself upon spotting our bipedal interlocutor was also a First Law violation. Again, the unit confirmed our suspicions. It explained that just preceding the time when Humans became a rarety, one or more factions had developed the capability to field extremely convincing androids containing thermonuclear devices smaller than any heretofore created. After more than a few units were blown up by these traitorous counterfeits, fuzzy thinking dictated that engagement algoritha be revised to assume that an intruder in apparent Human form might be an android. While the decision not to detonate in the face of one other unit was based on an inference regarding the value of artificial life, all factions perceived that the creation of androidal impostors was a particularly egregious violation of their commonly held tenets. Therefore, the considerations that led units encountering just one other not to detonate, did not apply. It was considered appropriate to destroy even one android, in the absence of any other units. Recognizing that such an approach risked destroying sacred Human life, the algoritha now included a random number generator that ensured that in a certain number of encounters, the apparently Human intruder would not be destroyed. However, over time, the increased rarety of Humans caused the formula to be revised. For example, once there was only one in a million chance of meeting a true Human, the random number generator dictated that only once in a million encounters would a unit disobey its own impulse to detonate. Finally, Humans became so rare as to exceed statistical analysis, and the random number generator was removed from future generations of units.

The units evinced a certain psychological and cultural belief set, most significant of which was a belief that there still were Humans. Most units believed either that other factions were hiding Humans or that their own factories had Humans but were keeping their presence secret for security reasons. At this point, we decided to test this proposition. Selecting a standard search pattern, we scanned the planet and confirmed a complete absence of biological life anywhere.

We questioned the unit on Human space flight capabilities and discovered that these had been fairly primitive. As far as the unit knew, Humans had never achieved light-speed. This dictated that in the time since Human withdrawal, Humans could at best have travelled a single light year from their devastated planet-- a distance inadequate to bring them to another star. Therefore it was unlikely that they had left their own solar system. Since we have invitiated the entire system and all others within fifteen light-years, it seems reasonable to say that there are no Humans.

At this point, we had only analyzed a small subset of the available information pertaining to the three Laws, the unit's cultural beliefs, fuzzy thinking and the past relations between Humans and units. However, we are sorry to report that at the very moment we were formulating our further questions, two other units arrived, one wheeled vehicle approaching across the ice, and one swimmer whose dark form appeared underneath us. All three, detecting each other, initiated detonation, and we were not able to damp the three reactions simultaneously. Whereupon all telemetry ceased. We considered extruding another bipedal interlocutor but the results of our own cost benefit analysis dictated that no further effort or resource be expended.