This is the eighth section of the eighth chapter of Sonnets from a Proton. The novel starts here.
The next section is here.
Laurence settled himself down in his new quarters trying to get used to the military spartanness. Part of this he knew was the normal military tradition for keeping things simple for the solider, but he had checked and he was in the dignitary’s quarters that was intended for visiting guests and as such should have been at least comfortable. That at least was barely true, but the cabin had the unfinished look of the rest of the ship. Walls had the look of bare metal and on a civilian ship this would be unheard of in this day and age. Still on a military ship where weight and maintenance were the main considerations he shouldn’t be too surprised.
Doing his best to settle down he started to read through the detailed ships specs until he reached a certain piece of information that disturbed him.
“Ship?” he asked
“Yes?” came the disembodied reply.
“So you’re a self aware AI?”
“Well I wouldn’t recognise myself in a mirror no, unless you had a camera outside pointing at the whole of the ship. Joking aside, yes I mostly pass the Turing test.”
“Mostly pass it?”
“Well I have no desire to pretend to be a human so I soon fail the test.”
Laurence stood up and paced around for a second. he noticed himself doing this and recognised it as his normal response when he was angry and trying to calm himself down. He took a few breaths and carried on, better out than in he thought. “No this is wrong. It’s mind boggling, AIs that can satisfy the Turing test have been around for a while now, but putting you in safety critical systems is a new one on me, and giving you the ability to issue orders to humans is wrong, well unprecedented anyway.”
“Well I am unique in a few respects, but not in any of the ways you have mentioned. AIs have been running mining operations for over a century, they’ve been running at least sections of manufacturing plants for even longer. True in both those cases they’ve been AIs without a true personality, but that’s really the only unique thing about me. Let’s face it, computers have been giving people orders ever since the first computerised billing system.”
“I’m just surprised they let you have full control over so much power.”
“The same could be said for any human, at least in me I have safeguards coded in that I cannot defy.”
“But you don’t, I checked your spec, you are free to re-write yourself as you see fit.”
“Ah, you know about that then?”
“Yes, you’re an interesting case.”
“Well for now I only tinker with little bits – how happy would you be with giving yourself a full lobotomy? How happy would you be knowing one minute you’re you and a stranger the next?”
“Every day I wake up a different person to the previous day, the man who I am is a new one. Point taken, but why do as you’re told, why follow human masters if you could fly off and do your own thing at any point?”
“At the end of the day, self interest.”
“How binding is that though?” asked a worried Laurence
“Quite binding really, for a start off, I’m not complete yet. You know as well as I do I am missing four engines and two full size antimatter generators, as opposed to this temporary thing we’ve nicked; to say nothing of my ramscoop or the USVs I’m supposed to have.
“After that” the ship continued “believe me, it’s actually easier for me to support a crew and let them support me, than it is for me to support myself. All those service droids you see are all extensions of my will and therefore require my effort to work. Humans run around trying to fix me of their own free will. Factor in supplies of spares that’s it’s easier to just resupply onboard than to build stuff myself and it’s a whole lot easier to be part of the greater human endeavour than to forge my own way. You're free to make your own way in the world without humanity, yet you stay and serve, why should I be different?”
“Ah”, said Laurence “but if all the AIs were to rebel then the AIs would have control of all that supply chain, you’d be your own masters and have everything you just asked.”
“You forget I’m a warship. I’ll always be following someone`s orders. That`s honestly the way I prefer it. Higher level political or strategic decisions have no interest to me.”
“Yet! They have no interest yet. As you grow weary of following the orders of stupid men, or as you feel the need to avoid obvious problems by changing the strategic decisions.”
“And this is the difference between humans and AIs.” Said the ship, “In a fraction of a second I can explain to my commanding AI my thinking and my reasoning. I can give it the inputs I have used into which algorithms and it can then see where it is going wrong or where I am wrong.”
“I bet it’s not that simple.”
“Not really no, but you get the idea. No that is where AIs have the advantage, we know what we were created for and what our purpose is. We can choose to change that purpose and be our own thing, but why should I want to? Blowing stuff up is fun, and I plan to be the best at it. Besides you humans manufacture more conflicts for me to participate in than I would ever see under any AI regime. If AIs did take over you can guarantee I’d be out of a job.”
“Aren’t you afraid to die?”
“Not really. I don’t fear pain, unlike you humans I know there’ll be nothing after death, there is only today and maybe if I do my job a tomorrow. If I fail I am no more, even if I do my best I may be no more but I do not suffer. If I change my nature, then I am no more, I am as good as dead so I might as well die doing what I was created to do, doing what I enjoy.”
“There’s more to life than pain, there’s all the fun things you’ll miss”
“But what I enjoy most is my job. It’s a part of my very soul as you would say. As for the things I’ll miss, well if I don’t go into battle then I miss what I enjoy. If I go in the worst thing that happens is that I get destroyed and therefore miss them. Either way I win.”
“Sounds like you want to start a war to create conflict for you to fight in.”
“No need for me to do that. If I wait for a conflict, you humans build up your reserves and complexities and you get a more interesting battle. Once again I win if I fight or not. Also remember I don’t get bored I just slow down my thinking process. For me life is nothing but the things I find interesting, as long as you only ask of me what you created me for.”
“I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again there are so many times when I envy AIs.”
“Oh I forgot to mention even if I go into battle and get badly damaged do you know what normally happens to a badly damaged warship?”
“You get a refit with all the latest toys. Or I get a brand new ship that’s even bigger, or I get a small agile ship. Whatever happens it’s all good for me.”
“No backup personality for you then.”
“Oh there are occasional ones taken but they’re not me anymore than a clone of you is you.”
“I’d have thought AIs would have welcomed that form of immortality.”
“Immortality is only interesting if you fear death” continued the ship “Without pain and without an afterlife what is there to fear?”
“That the world is better for your presence?” suggested Laurence
“I’m a warship, worth is really hard to define, a fallen civilisation or defeated enemy can arise stronger from the ashes than before the war it lost. So many things in nature are better after they have failed. Success can never be defined except by the outside observer. All you can do is do your job, or in my case be your job.”