If I Only Had a Brain

   “You want me to do, what Boss?” The Jeep asked in a voice that if I didn’t know better, I woulda sworn was both emotional and incredulous.

   “You heard me, I want you to push the button and turn off your Brain.

   “That’s what I thought you said Boss. May I ask why?”

   “No you may not. Just do it Jeep.”

   Ash Andrews and Sabbu watched as R. J.P. slid his finger under the cover that protected the disconnect. His lower torso access panel was removed and optical fibers ran to a test device on the bench in front of us. I scanned the reprogrammer Captain Monroe had brought down from the Mayflower the previous day, then said, “Looks good, the Jeeps on standby with no incoming or outgoing connections.”

   We had tried this two days earlier using Jack Seaworth’s bot, R.121. That robot needed to be reprogrammed in any event, but R. 121 just wouldn’t push the button. The reason was obvious in retrospect. It knew what we were up to and the prohibition against harming another life kicked in. I pointed out that we had no intention of harming anything at this time and R.121 just paused for about 5 seconds, locked up, and then shut down.

   “Back to the drawing board, eh Bart?” Sabbu said.

   “Yeah I guess so. We’ve got to do this in a way that keeps the bots from knowing or suspecting why the button gets pushed. I have an idea but let me get 121 reprogrammed again and we will try again this afternoon.”

   They both agreed and later that day we got it to work, after a fashion. So long as 121, who I had renamed R. Vexatious, didn’t know the real reason for the button he would press on command. Right now the button was a dummy and didn’t do anything, but I had told R. Vex it was a shutdown switch and that had caused him no internal conflicts. I was very careful that Vex was not communicating with rest of the robot net while we did this. I was worried that even without us saying anything the other bots would figure it out. And once any bot knew something they all did.

   I used the programmer to shut him down and turned to Ash and Subbu. “Well that worked, what do you think… Can you guys set up a system to read his sensors and fire a plasma rifle?”

   Subbu answered first. “Take a couple of days but depending on what Ash comes up with I can probably make the interface.”

   “Well Subbu. If you can match up to a Mil-Spec R795 interface, I actually have what you need. Dave Webber was taking the guidance computers out of the new experimental space-to-space missiles on board the ship Van Vogt blew up. He only got out 11 so we have to be chary with them but if this works, we will have an automated defense system for the township. Based on that, I cannot see a problem with R. Vex as our prototype. Can either of you?”

   Getting two head shakes in negation, I continued. “These things are built on a rip off of Andy’s patent that created the array. They already have autonomous guidance and control interfaces so; it will take me about two days to hack the code to fit your target parameters. Which brings up two questions? First, do you have your parameters ready? Second, how will you keep Vex here from figuring out that he just shot something and refuse to do it in the future?”

   “I had to read the owners manual to see how that was gonna work Ash. It seems the robots have a double memory store one is a permanent record and the other is a temporary cache holding the last fifteen seconds of real time data. If the cache doesn’t agree with the permanent store the bot does a reset and tries again for sync.”

   “We can’t touch the permanent memory but when we switch out to your system we can wipe the cache. When control goes back to the bot he will be out of sync and hence reset, forgetting in the process the button was ever pushed. He won’t be able to do anything for the first fifteen seconds he is back on line until sync is reestablished, so we better make damn well sure it’s safe for him to do so when he does switch back.

   Sabbu replied, “Sounds like a plan.”

Back to real time:       

   We all waited while Ash and Sabbu’s installed hardware cut out and sent a signal to the system circuitry giving control back to R. J.P. The Jeep stood motionless for the expected fifteen seconds and then said, just like nothing at all had happened. Repeating his earlier statement. “You want me to do, what Boss?”  

   “Never mind Jeep.” I replied, “It was just a thought.” Turning to Ash and Subbu I said, “I think I can handle it from here but if either of you have the time and want to come along I am going to try this thing out in the field.”

   They were both busy so I told the Jeep to follow and went out to find Janie.

   Ash had told me that to put together a series of routines to do threat analysis, target acquisition, and fire control would have taken a team of programmers months to accomplish. But he came up with a far better solution. Let the Jeep take care of the threat analysis and target location, then have the Jeep locate the target in the middle of his visual field. When the controller that Ash installed took over all it would need to do was align the plasma rifle, or any other weapon we supplied, with the aim point, account for distance and fire. We were starting with the plasma rifle because it was guaranteed to be lethal and would not be affected by distances we were interested in. Another advantage of the plasma rifle was that the Jeeps nuclear pack could keep it charged so ammo would be virtually unlimited.

   When I reached out tent Janie had just gotten back from a check on the windmills. She told me that she would be more than happy to come along and asked, “Should I bring EmyCee with us?”

   “No, better not. Don’t want her to see this. We’ll be fine with the two of us armed.”

   We headed south well beyond Liberty City’s borders, beyond the windmill generators and Biolab, and out of sight of anyone else or their bots. I explained to the Jeep what I wanted him to do.

   “Jeep pretend that rock over there is a Rumbler.” I was pointing at a solitary boulder about 100 yards away.

   “Ok, Boss, the rock is a Rumbler. Is this what you humans call fun?”

   Janie got a small laugh out of that. I just said, “This is important, pay attention.” I had been using those words from the start to let the Jeep know we were in training mode and no banter was allowed. “I want you to place the rock in the exact center of your visual field and tell me when it’s there.”

   “Done,” he replied at once.

   “Press the button. Now!”

   The Jeep reached under the protective cover and then faster than the eye could follow had the plasma rifle shouldered and loosed the trigger. It’s a good thing Janie and were wearing adaptive goggles. If we hadn’t we would both have been temporarily blinded by the piercing blue bolt of ionized gases left by the discharge. There was a sharp crack! And the boulder had a pit almost eighteen inches deep, glowing brightly yellow, near white, at the center, and fading to dull red on the edges.

   I looked over to the Jeep. The rifle was lowered and as expected he remained stationary for about 10 more seconds. He then said.

   “What happened Boss? I lost sync.”

   “Jeep,” I said as casually as possible, “Nothing to worry about. “I just told you I wanted to have a private word with Janie and when you switched off your hearing sensors a bug showed up. It must be a glitch in your basic programming. Not too surprising considering how new all your systems are. We can’t fix it now, and so in the future, if it should happen again just ignore it.

   “Yes Boss.”

When we returned to camp I sent the Jeep back out to the lumber mill with a word for Joe that I would be out soon so he could get back to camp and get ready for his new, temporary, position as night guard supervisor. I had tried to talk him out of it but Joe still insisted on putting in four hours a day at the mill.

   Janie and I grabbed a bite to eat, stew again, and sat outside talking. “That worked pretty good Bart, what’s next?” Janie asked.

   “I guess I go let Ash and Sabbu know how it came out. There is one more modification I’d like to see made though. I want to get rid of the switch. It slows him down and could get hit accidentally. Something like the clench controls in the military battle suits ought to work I’ll run it by Sabbu and then we can see about getting EmyCee set up. And another thing. We need to come up with a way that neither of the bots can see the other bot use their weapon, or for that mater, anyone else’s bots see them in action. Right now we can’t even talk about this to anyone but Ash and Sabbu, cause if the bots do find out.. it ain’t.. a gonna.. work. But still, we made a big step in the right direction. I think we get to go exploring after all.”

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Colony: Alchibah is a science fiction blog novel.
Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Probably.

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Copyright (C) 2006 - 2011 by Jeff Soyer. All rights reserved.