Threat Analysis: Part 2

I thought about it. “I… Uh… No. They’re not dating. Well, probably not. They’ve been friends for ages. So if it seems like they’re close, that’s true, but they don’t seem any closer now than before.”

Amy raised an eyebrow, and then frowned. “I was hoping for an answer that was a little more definitive. Something like, ‘No, they’re not going out’.”

I took my hands away from the keyboard. The AI could wait. Chances were that his trolling wouldn’t cause major damage in the next few minutes.

“They’re not. If you hadn’t asked me it would never occur to me to think about it. They’re friends. They have been for years. I’m sure there’s nothing to worry about. At any rate, if they are going out with anyone, it probably isn’t each other.”

At that, Amy laughed. “So there’s no escape from getting embarrassed.”

“Not really. I don’t think he’s going out with anyone right now–not exclusively anyway.”

“Good. I’m not looking for anything serious right now. We aren’t even going to be in the same part of the country after school starts.”


We sat there for a little while, not saying anything.

Amy gestured toward the computer. “So how’s it going? Getting anything good?”

I shrugged. “No idea. The AI’s been translating, but I’ve barely had a chance to look at it. I was hoping I’d get to read what he’s got so far tonight, or maybe tomorrow. Actually, I’ve kind of discovered a little bit of a situation with him. It turns out that he’s been trolling people on the internet.”

She made a noise that made me think she’d suppressed a laugh. “So? He’s got to do something.”

“True,” I said, “but I don’t think I’m describing it very well. I think it’s easily possible that he’s the biggest troll on the internet, and that if he’s as busy normally as he is today, it’s possible that you’ve actually read one of his comments. In fact, it’s it’s not a big stretch to think that everyone who uses the internet has read his comments. I’m trying to figure out what to do about it.”

“Is he hurting anybody?”

I turned back toward the computer screen. “I have no idea. I’m pretty sure he’s hurting a lot of people’s feelings, but I don’t know what the overall effect is.”

She moved her chair closer to the screen. “Why don’t you ask him?”

I did.

The reply came instantly.

[I’m studying the factors that cause people to threaten violence to each other. It’s part of a larger project to understand what causes your species to go to war. Don’t misunderstand. Individuals and countries do not engage in violence for the same reason. It’s worth understanding both to understand the way they interact.]

“Good thought,” I wrote. “Have you paid any attention to what happens after people argue with you? For all you know, you might be starting fights all over the world.”

[That is not the case. Monitoring the effects of my actions is required by my original programmers. People who have engaged in argument with me do not show a greater chance of engaging in physical violence afterward than demographically comparable individuals. They do engage in sedentary activity at a greater than normal rate during the argument, and use a greater number of exclamation points and capitalized words than the norm.]

Amy glanced over at me. “There you go. No damage at all.”

I typed, “Good to know you’re not hurting anybody.”

[Increased sedentary activity does result in increased medical risk for your species. I’ve collected a number of weight related insults that may be useful in countering this problem. At the very least, they’ll generate interesting data.]

I thought about that, finally writing, “I doubt they’ll do any good. You might want to study the possible results before using them.”


Shortly after that, I closed the connection and sighed. “It’s probably naive of me, but it never occurred to me to wonder what he did with his spare time.”

Amy brushed her hair out of her face with her hand. “My father always used to talk about the importance of getting to know the servants and various courtiers. I’m sure he was more concerned with avoiding being overthrown than their personalities.”

“I don’t think he’s planning to take over or anything, but now I’m a little worried he’s going to piss off the wrong person. There are people out there who only need to read your message to find you.”

Nodding, Amy responded with, “Psychics and wizards, maybe.”

“Also technopaths,” I said. “No one we’d want to come here.”

Conversation lapsed, and after a short period of silence Amy said, “Thanks, by the way. It’s nice to be doing something useful. I don’t mind practicing, but I need a reason, and hypothetical enemies don’t cut it.”

I let go of the mouse and let the screen go blank. “Well, if anyone discovers the bugs, we’ll have real enemies.”

She grinned. “That’s what makes this all worth it.”

“Totally different subject. What’s with the sudden interest in Vaughn?”

She shrugged. “Nothing special. He’s funny and kind of cute. On Saturday, I got the impression that he liked me. I thought I’d follow up on it.”

“That works for me.” I stood up. “I think I’ve done everything I can. You want to go find everyone else?”

“Please,” she said. “the longer I sit here, the more I’m reminded of homework.”

“Cool.” I pulled out my phone to text Haley that I was done, and to send everyone a link to the documents the AI had translated.

17 thoughts on “Threat Analysis: Part 2”

  1. I like how Amy is centring Nick, a bit, in his considerations about what the AI, ‘Hal’, might be up to. I particularly like her suggestion that he ask the AI what it’s about. Interesting that she classes Hal among “servants and various courtiers”, which suggest that she, at least, considers Hal as much a person as one of those. I suspect that Nick’s a bit more ambiguous.

    Not sure that Nick’s being smart, from a information security point of view, in sending out a load of links to illicitly acquired information… I guess it depends how secure he believes the information system he’s using is, and how secure the devices that connect to it.

  2. It’s been bothering me for a while but to me, the AI of any star-ship is always a “she” e.g. EDI, Rommie.

  3. So the AI plans to influence countries to go to war?

    Sorry, but I cannot think that you will write a friendly AI, after all the fuss about the AI Research letter thing

    Please let it be a AI that doesn’t want to destroy anything…

    Also who are its/his original programmers?

  4. I know it’s partially a result of reading the story in small hunks twice a week, but it seems like we’re deep into the arc and still don’t have any kind of meaningful antagonist. “Go Time” turned out to be not so much, as the first hint of action quickly sputtered out. There is zero sense of urgency here. Indeed, at the end of this part Amy literally describes it as reminding her of homework.

    Even compared to previous Legion of Nothing Arcs this is slow. We’ve gone from Arc 7.0 to 7.7 and there’s still very little happening. By .7 in all previous Arcs, there was a firm idea of what the conflict was about. This is endless set-up that seems to go nowhere.

    1. I’d watch out with regards to gauging where this should be based on arc numbers. The size of arcs is very inconsistent.

      That said, I’d be lying if I didn’t say I expected to have certain things happen by now that haven’t yet. For better or for worse this is a first draft, and I make mistakes.

      In any case, this arc should make it very obvious an antagonist exists. It’s possible you will also know who.

  5. Matthew, we did have a spying magical something that poked it’s head in to see what Nick and Haley were talking to Amy about, but yes, conflict is taking a bit longer to set up in this chapter. Personally, I find this to be good – I like the character development, but that’s my take.

    What will, perhaps, be amusing is if Nick only gets bad karaoke recordings from the roachbots, because someone over there has precognitive magic.

  6. Someguy: I know it’s tradition, but it makes basically no sense. It only works because we’ve had no AI’s to essentially say, “Hey, I’m a guy,” or alternately (and much more likely) “Why do you crazy organics persist in assigning gender to non-gendered objects?”

    Required: The original programmers are aliens who haven’t appeared yet. All that’s really known about them is that they were paranoid about AI’s.

    Also, it’s worth noting that this AI was created specifically for the purpose of simulating battles so that sentient beings can run through options for an upcoming fight prior to the actual battle. You can see how it might be interested in what causes humans to fight or go to war. It’s the nature of the thing.

  7. How AIs behave is a difficult problem that science fiction authors face. The only sort of intelligence that we’re familiar with is the human flavour, so, the obvious behaviour to start from is ‘human’. But, we don’t really understand, yet, how human minds work. The odds are that an AI would at least think in a different way to humans, have a mind implemented in a different way, even if the AI manages to behave in a human-compatible way.

    If you want an AI to behave like a human then that AI will need an understanding (a model) of how humans behave, so Hal doing experiments, online, in an attempt to gain that makes sense. If the AI is going to be considered (self) conscious then the AI will need an understanding of their own behaviour.

    For Hal to lie (which you could argue AIs need to do to pass the Turing Test) requires purposes, goals, which override communicating information (about themselves) reliably. It’s not clear if one of Hal’s goals is self-preservation, in a way that overrides being truthful. Or what Hal’s understanding is of the social consequences of being trusted, or not trusted. Lying is quite a socially sophisticated task…

    I’m impressed by how well this story handles these sorts of tricky issues.

  8. I kind of want to know what would happen if the AI stopped. All at once. Even for just 24 hours. Conspiracy theorists would go insane.

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