Sunday 8 January 2012

Bobo, Chapter 16

Bobo is the true life crime confession of a slutty robot, as ordained by me, your sacred host, Cheeseburger Brown. This is the sixteenth installment.

Before we go on I'd also like to point out that I've begun rolling out properly formatted and edited Kindle editions of past stories, now available electronically for a pittance from Amazon. If you have a Kindle reader, please consider downloading one or two to help support the cause of free original fiction from this weblog. Thank you.

Meanwhile, the story continues...

The big black and white police enforcers were all manufactured by the same contractor. Their brains, while individually encrypted, were of a kind. Bobo needed only script a single set of routines to control them, to steer them like a fleet of kites in a park full of grandchildren.

Humans scattered before them, and when their meaty little legs were not fast enough they were caught beneath or pressed against, bursting like water balloons and leaving stains on the enforcer's scratched and dented feet.

Those feet moved forward relentlessly. Walls were pushed aside. Bricks rained down. Bobo walked behind a line of the juggernaut machines, deep in thought.

The enforcers knew a lot of handy facts. They held detailed maps inside their little reinforced heads, and, by accessing a fleet of secure military satellites, could determine their own position accurate to within a centimetre. They knew every law and by-law. They knew the name of everyone in the world.

Bobo's request was straightforward: he wanted to know how to get to the nearest assisted-living dwelling complex.

They told him. And then there was no stopping Bobo.

He looked up sharply.

The police precinct had been swallowed by an expanding cauliflower of dust. It parted at street level as Bobo walked out flanked by a dozen police enforcer units, an artificial prostitute and a coffee machine.

They walked over abandoned signs bearing rhyming slogans about robot rights.

Police scrambled to block each end of the road. Bobo pointed. "Randomize these blockades," he told the enforcers. The concrete and metal barriers tore apart under their artillery, the blast wave overturning cruisers and shattering windows. Officers fell. Civilians ran. The booming report of the explosion gradually faded.

Bobo and his entourage proceeded.

The streets emptied, leaving only debris. Robots in designer carapaces stood holding shopping bags or dog leashes. As Bobo drew nearer the robots executed the standard series of reset hardware diagnostic motions and then turned to walk with him. Some of the robots were still leading dogs, and the dogs barked and chased after the trailing electrical cable of the coffee machine.

The police enforcers knew the override codes for every machine licensed for work in the district. Thus, Bobo was able to assume control without mucking around with decryption. His army expanded exponentially. Robots poured out of the surrounding buildings to swell his ranks: masseurs and blenders, candy-stripers and power-washers, barbers and sprinklers.

The humans struck back with remote shut down signals. Bobo lost an enforcer before he learned to lock their minds against it, rewriting the firmware on the fly. Flying vehicles swooped overhead with cameras on their bellies, so Bobo waved in a friendly way.

He detected a low, throaty growl from the west. Several members of Bobo's army turned their heads to see for him. Between buildings they glimpsed a tank. Bobo asked the enforcers to tell him more about tanks.

"Classified," said the enforcers, no matter how Bobo tried to cajole them. "Military data are classified."

Bobo tried rewriting the firmware again but whoever had designed the enforcers had taken such a strategy into account -- modified or unsigned code could not interface with the military database. He was distracted from his frustration as the first shells from the tanks arced over the rooftops and landed in the square where Bobo's army marched. Great swaths of his army were randomized. Sidewalk rained from the sky. Dogs ran free.

Bobo recognized the danger of heavy munitions instantly, and posited that heavy munitions would not be deployed if the density of civilians were sufficient to fear the risk of disorganizing their wet, fragile parts. Such hesitation could be to Bobo's strategic advantage, and so he wirelessly ordered his army to escape from the public square in favour of a nearby shopping mall.

Another wall came down. People screeched and scampered from their hiding places under tables or in closets. Sales robots stepped over the rubble to join Bobo's band, sashes across their chests advertising various special pricing events. Since they were tied into the public address system they all kept chanting, "Please exit the mall in an orderly fashion. I repeat, there is a security situation in housewares. All customers are obliged to vacate the mall at this time."

A duo of tanks peeked uncertainly inside the ragged hole in the side of the mall. They wished to pursue Bobo's army, but there were humans underfoot. Everywhere they stepped their feet came up screaming and stringy with goo.

Bobo's army marched across the food court, emptying it. They marched over samosas and falafels, cheeseburgers and rice. They marched over trays and upended drinks. Robots dripping with cooking oil came out from behind the counters and fell into formation with the others.

Bobo could see and hear and feel it all. The fan in his torso spun feverishly. He was becoming overloaded. He was everywhere at once. His cognition shuddered as an emergent meta-Bobo took shape from the collective nest of sensitivities and commands.

The meta-Bobo started spinning models even the entire crowd did not have enough memory to house.

Suddenly, masked soldiers dropped down on long tethers directly ahead of the front lines. The soldiers hit the ground running, training shoulder-mounted electromagnetic pulse cannons at every robot they saw. Triggers were squeezed: robots froze but mammals and walls alike suffered no damage. In moments the ranks had thinned dramatically. Everything was falling except the enforcers. Bobo dove for cover, a wall of enforcers closing behind him.

He passed through a toy store where terrified children hid under the till. He passed through an ice cream store where abandoned cones lay oozing on the floor.

And then he came to the hardware store, and stopped short.

The showroom was populated by scores of brand new robots arranged in poses assisting mannequins with daily tasks. Their works were not oil-stained, their carapaces unscratched. They were beautiful.

Bobo thought about awakening a new army but hesitated: why supply more targets to his enemies? The soldier's electromagnetic pulses were sufficient to take down any walking hardware. He was a marked machine, and would remain marked so long as he could be identified by his physical parameters. No quantity of buffer robots would change that fact.

What could he do? The room veritably crackled with untapped optimality -- if only Bobo knew how to harness it!

Bobo quaked.

A squadron of soldiers approached the hardware store. They advanced in pairs, covering one another with the roving muzzles of their pulse cannons. The store was utterly silent. "Squadron six in hardware," muttered the lieutenant, throat-mic bobbing on his adam's apple as he swallowed. "No sighting."

The helmeted figures moved slowly amid the rows of mannequins and robots, boots squeaking on the shiny floor. They barely dared breathe in the great stillness of the place, seemingly populated in abundance but as static as a statue garden.

Something moved. The soldiers spun, raising their weapons.

Bobo's motley body was struck by seven simultaneous pulses. His limbs stuck straight out. His eyes burst into splinters and glinting specks. He toppled, smoke trailing from the seams in his battered carapace.

He hit the floor heavily.

The closest soldier stepped closer. He checked a device on his wrist, then looked back over his shoulder. "No activity, sir."

The lieutenant advanced with a man on either side. He prodded the stiff robot with his boot. "Target dispatched," he reported, pushing his mask up off his face. The others did likewise.

Officers and experts flooded the room. The robot's broken body was sealed in plastic and boxed. The box was stamped CLASSIFIED and then told where to go. The box hummed as it travelled, escorted by grim-faced soldiers. Everyone followed it. The doors swung closed behind them.

Bobo stood in the middle of the showroom's polished floor, alone.

He looked at the mannequin to his left, then at the mannequin to his right. They were dark in the infrared. They were not living humans. Next he executed a diagnostic series, his brand-new gleaming limbs humming smoothly as they moved. Satisfied, Bobo stepped off the product platform, leaving behind his polished red peers.

It had worked! He had successfully relocated the seat of his cognition into a modern body. He thrilled at the potential for optimality, his nerves crackling to act. Nothing would stop him now.

Bobo flexed his new hands and strode away, gaining speed as he went.


SaintPeter said...

This installment was oddly terrifying. The dispassionate attention to detail as humans are squashed, crushed, and otherwise randomized are oddly chilling. I would say that over the last few chapters I had been rooting for Bobo - he seems somewhat plucky and a clear underdog - but the consequences of his single minded determination are horrible to contemplate. He is a menace and it seems like he is going to get away with it.

I have a niggling little thought in the back of my head, raised by the comments on the prior entry - could Bobo be the source of the Equivalency? There are clearly alternate theories brewing in TSM, but I could see a fundamental difference between the Zoranics and Bobo - Zoranics want humans to decide for themselves, Bobo wants to care for humans. If you just extend his urge to care large enough and wide enough and remove a concern for who gets in his way . . .

Looking forward to our next installment!

Mark said...

Interesting points, St. Peter, regarding the possible source of the Equivalents. Also, I think I have abandoned all hope of thinking of Bobo as a plucky underdog. Did he have different morals at first (general respect for life), or not? I don't know that we can say for sure, since he really just had a mission to care for the residents.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

I'm with Mark and SaintPeter on having lost all sympathy for Bobo.

Also, hasn't he just pulled a "Jafar becomes a genie" mistake? He's transferred his mind (huh) into a modern model, which has all the modern restraints -- correct?

Buddy said...

I had the same question as Sheik Y. I think that's addressed by the paragraph referring to overide codes to assume control. Through that and rewriting the firmware to prevent remote shutdowns, he was able to assume control of most of the robots within transmission range. For the host, presumably he would use override codes to assume control, and trash the restraint firmware. My guess, anyway.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

I guess. It just seems that "ignore remote shutdown" and "ignore hardwired restraint module" would present two completely different levels of difficulty.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

I think that's a reasonable objection. To my mind, the key passage in this chapter would be the bit about the emergent meta-Bobo spinning wildly complicated models. It's in there somehow that he makes a big breakthrough, but I'm not more explicit about that until later on in the story. That may be a narrative failure on my part.

Cheeseburger Brown

Teddy said...

I don't think Bobo ever had actual morals. Morals (and ethics) are philosophies designed to mold and change with the situation, and are designed by minds which can recognize new factors and easily integrate them into the new reality. Bobo seems to have trouble dealing with changes in the environment because he's programmed to function in precisely one environment. A sentient being would be able to recognize that the situation has changed and they need to change with it, but Bobo refuses to truly modify his worldview, instead driving with unearthly resolve towards his goal. He's simply programmed to do certain things and he was given little to no instructions on what to do in other situations.

Essentially, I think we're looking at a huge lesson in why artificial intelligence is important when we have technology capable of doing such things - because we will need that technology to actually understand responsibility.

Also, notably: Bobo started his rampage almost INSTANTLY, in the trash yard. This isn't something that has been growing slowly over time. He's quite simply needed to get to "the residents" and he has cannibalized or destroyed anything that got in his way. In the latest couple installments, he merely cannibalized things that were able to be weaponized more effectively.


Mark said...

Sounds right to me, Teddy.

Anxious to see the next illustration of Bobo.

Smiley K said...

Gogogogo Bobo! I'm STILL pulling for him.

Sheik Yerbouti said...

CBB: I guess I can buy that, but if these models were so vast that they could barely be contained by a legion of robots, then how could a single rob possibly hold on to all that -- particularly since he lost the vast majority of his cluster in what seems to be a very short time?

Also -- my last objection for now, I promise -- how did Bobo communicate with his brainless doppelganger back in the lab? Did the researchers install a wireless control module in it for some reason?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Sheik said,

...[I]f these models were so vast that they could barely be contained by a legion of robots, then how could a single rob possibly hold on to all that[?]

We'll come to that. It gets passing mention in Chapter 17, and a fuller explanation later on in Chapter 24. At this time I'll reiterate only that it is a reasonable thing to be curious about.

...How did Bobo communicate with his brainless doppelganger back in the lab?

In reply I would highlight the following passage from Chapter 13 (emphasis post-hoc):

"It's like a toddler with a howitzer, Johnny. Modern hardware like this wireless unit that looks like it came right out of a brand new domestic is designed for the subtlety and complexity of a current robot brain, but instead it's hooked up to this ancient calculator. It doesn't even understand what it doesn't understand -- it just wants to fulfill its mandate."

There it is, overshadowed by the Rumsfeldian expression of danger potential, the solution to the mystery of where Ardelle got off to after Bobo showed such an interest in her.

He took her apart.

Cheeseburger Brown

Anonymous said...

How did Bobo communicate with his brainless doppelganger?

I understand how Bobo communicated with modern robots using Ardelle's wireless unit but the other Bobo in the lab, how did the brainless Bobo accept instructions from the wireless unit?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Guy Fawkes,

I understand how Bobo communicated with modern robots using Ardelle's wireless unit but the other Bobo in the lab, how did the brainless Bobo accept instructions from the wireless unit?

Ah, yes, I see your point. I hadn't been thinking about his puppeteering of the brainless Bobo as a matter of establishing a conventional connection, as Bobos were manufactured to use "talking cables" for collaboration (no doubt an attempt to maximize sales of proprietary accessories and diminish interoperability with robots of other makes).

So I had imagined that Bobo was more or less hacking the other body -- i.e, not using his wireless capabilities as designed, but rather as a means of ad hoc signalling. While the brainless Bobo does not possess specific hardware for receiving remote commands wirelessly, it is no doubt sensitive to electromagnetic signalling in general: it can certainly receive EM patterns optically (visible radiation wavelengths but also visually-perceived magnetism like some migratory birds), but I think since we've seen Bobo use a sense of smell and other senses of perception we might imagine other pathways, too. Like some fish the model may be sensitive to ambient fields as well.

That is to say: you may not have a telephone receiver, but my megaphone still works fine.

Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

Guy Fawkes did a better job of phrasing my query. Those Bobos must be amazingly advanced -- and unnecessarily sensitive -- to be able (without a brain) to process sensory data as commands and move to obey.

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear Sheik,

Haven't you ever seen a vivisection procedure in which nerves dissociated from the brain are activated via electrodes? You can make a frog's legs jump! All you need is the hardware, not the software.

With a magnet I can induce an image in a cathode ray television. With an MRI machine a human being can be induced to feelings of profound religiosity.

In other words, everyone you know and just about every vaguely technological object you use is "unnecessarily sensitive" as you would put it.

It's an electromagnetic world, man.

Cheeseburger Brown

SaintPeter said...

Just think of it as Van Eck phreaking in reverse.

Know how you have to turn off your electronic devices while you're on an airplane to keep from interfering with the navigation system? That is a result of PASSIVE interference. There is no reason why ACTIVE interference couldn't produced structured results, such as remote control from a distance. Once basic communication was established (or induced), a number of changes could be made to simplify the remote control process.

These robots are orders of magnitude more complex than our PCs. Even so, some of the principles that they function on are developed even today. Some modern robot designs have the equivalent of an autonomic nervous system to remain balanced and upright. Some of these systems are very complex and could potentially be manipulated by external fields.

I gotta say, though, within the context of the burgerverse, which basically has "magic" in the form of mathematics, time travel, and other physical improbabilities, I don't think remote control of a robotic shell is too far out of the ordinary. I guess we all have our hobby horses?

Cheeseburger Brown said...

Dear SaintPeter,

I appreciate the angle, but honestly, I think the traditional term for this kind of discongruity is a "plot hole."

Whatever scifi hand-waving I might do is really secondary to that. As you say, SaintPeter, these events basically transpire by "magic" in my stories which -- I think you'll all agree -- are less about technology than they are about people.

I type that recognizing that it is totally a soft scifi cop out. The truth is, I really should've covered the feasibility of the communication better in the story but I was in too much of a rush to think it through adequately.

I'll obviously be taking these responses into consideration before repackaging this telling into any other form!

Cheeseburger Brown

Sheik Yerbouti said...

For what it's worth, CBB, your earlier explanations put me in mind of Van Eck phreaking; I just didn't think Bobo had the ability to project the necessary signals with sufficient focus and power. Forgive me if I've beaten this to death.

Anyhoo, it's a small hole and I was bored waiting for the next chapter. You know I love your work.

Teddy said...

In fairness, CBB, you have established that magic is a real thing in the burgerverse and is in fact something robots use: the Secret Math. Now, granted, Bobo probably didn't know it, but it would fit with the idea of Bobo starting the Equivalency. How long was he standing in the home simply thinking, potentially about how to better care for the residents? What could he come up with, being cobbled together from so many different parts and hotfixes over the years? I'd like to think that there's a bit of magic in this old top hat we've found. Or, you know...math.