Karl Schroeder was last mentioned here regarding his first ’21st century military scenario’ book featuring nanotechnology and commissioned by the Canadian Army. The book was titled Crisis in Zefra. From the Feb. 16, 2009 posting,
There was an excerpt, prior to publication, from the novel, Crisis in Urlia in a May 1, 2011 posting on Vanguardcanada.com (Note: Links have been removed),
Excerpt from a new book by the Directorate of Land Concepts and Design to be published in late summer/early fall 2011
“Where is that water? How can we be expected to be good hosts without fresh water?” Hazir Rumay stalked over to the door before remembering that he had his Augmented Reality glasses on. He tapped the arm of the glasses and looked through the floor to see where his eldest son was. The low-resolution image of the boy revealed that he was just coming up the stairs carrying something.
Hazir made a quick scan of the rest of the building. His employees were all at their stations, working dutifully despite the distant crackle of gunfire from what he hoped was only another riot. Uneasy, he moved to the window and adjusted the glasses’ display to show local traffic. The grey concrete towers, their windows shaded by dusty solar energy films, the streets crisscrossed with frayed cables, all faded slightly as cars, trucks, and jitneys leaped into stark relief. You could even see them through the buildings themselves,(1) an effect that had impressed him ten years ago but which he took for granted now. Several driverless taxis were nosing their way through the traffic and the few darting, white-masked people who’d dared the streets today, but otherwise the streets seemed empty. Suddenly, two military vehicles rounded a nearby corner. They’d been invisible in his Augmented Reality view of the street, which now that he thought about it made sense from a security perspective, but was still a bit disconcerting. These Canadians had some sort of power over the AR system. Something to ponder later.
“Ah!” He headed for the stairs as the vehicles pulled up in front of his building, his limp returning as it always did when he hurried. The exoskeleton he wore to ease the strain on his right leg gave an extra thump to his footsteps on the stairs; everybody in the factory knew when he was coming because of that thump. He reached the ground floor just as five foreigners were buzzed through the front door.
“Welcome, welcome!” He extended both arms to encompass them all while the facial recognition software in his glasses overlaid glowing names over their heads. “Lieutenant Colonel Desai, I’m so glad you came in person, it’s an honour to host the CHERT.”(2) He shook the colonel’s hand vigorously.
“You’re a very important man in Urlia, Dr. Rumay” said Vandna Desai with a warm smile, “and Canadian military doctrine is to coordinate our forces with other agencies and institutions, including businesses. We call it the Comprehensive Approach. I’m here to see how we can work together to help resolve your city’s crisis.”
Rumay returned her smile while trying to assess her. She had Hindustani features, but her accent was pure Canadian. He guessed she was in her mid-forties, but then, it was hard to judge anybody’s age these days, especially if they were from the Americas. “Well, to a tiger, a sheep is very important; but I’d prefer not to be important in quite that way.”
“That’s why we’re here, to take some of the pressure off people like yourself. Ah, let me introduce Carter Arkin, he’s a tropical disease specialist from Health Canada. We have him because his lab is affiliated with ours at DRDC.” Hazir had already read this from Arkin’s AR tag, but smiled politely as he shook the scientist’s hand. His software couldn’t identify the other three men, but from their size and the unobtrusive exoskeleton cuffs poking from under their collars and sleeves, he guessed they were soldiers. One of them was herding two cargo bots loaded with olive-green bags and boxes from the back of the second transport.
As they entered the warehouse behind the front foyer, Desai switched from English to Pashtun. “This is all your stock?”
“We don’t need much space for what we do.” The switch to one of the local languages made it possible for his employees to listen in on the conversation, which he supposed was why Desai had done it. Still, it was a bit annoying; he had few opportunities to converse in English these days, especially since every device he used automatically translated between the major languages.(3)
“Carter, I’ll be upstairs if you need anything,” said Desai to the scientist, and then she accompanied Hazir to the stairs. “I really do appreciate your accommodating us,” she said as they walked up to his office. “Your cooperation is going to open other doors for us.”
“Oh, I know that very well,” he said with a smile. “Your people are all over Urlianet talking about this ‘comprehensive approach’ to military operations. I have to admit I’m not sure what a ‘combination military and civilian agency’ looks like, much less what it is exactly that you do.”
“It looks like this,” said Desai, spreading her hands. “You and us working together.” She could obviously see from his expression that this wasn’t enough of an explanation, so she added, “It’s something called the ‘whole of government’ approach. CHERT wasn’t sent here by just one arm of the Canadian government, but Canada as a whole. From your perspective, what that means is that we have to pay attention to more than just primary effects — you know, drop off the water and leave. We have to plan for the secondary and tertiary effects of what we do here — like, for instance, the effect on local businesses of us setting up a new desalination plant. And we can bring in other departments, or our own business advisors, to help sort those things out. We’d like you to be one of them.”
Rumay nodded. “In that case, you won’t mind if we pose for a few photos before you go. I’d like to tag(4) our building — oh, why not the whole block? — with images and interviews from your visit, so everyone can see how we’ve been fully exonerated. Maybe the attacks will stop once people know we weren’t responsible for the outbreak.”
He didn’t have to tell the colonel that the building had become a fortress of sorts. He’d originally chosen it because the ground floor was windowless, thinking to avoid theft. In hindsight that had been a good decision. What Desai hopefully didn’t know was that he’d supplemented the usual building security software with nanowire(5) bomb-sniffers and cutting-edge commercial pattern matching software. If anybody so much as looked at the place the wrong way, his sensors would tell him.
The liaison was an interface to Pantheon, the commercial stakeholder management service(6) that Hazir used. Pantheon was as big as Google had once been, and hugely influential, supplying the liaison software and a back-end that provided virtual liaison services for nearly every company and organization in the world. When Rumay had heard that the CHERT team was coming to Urlia he’d downloaded the CHERT liaison. He hadn’t expected anything to come from it, but had given it some information about his own interests and concerns. To his surprise, it had contacted him this morning and asked whether he would like to meet with Desai.
“I’m glad you’re using Pantheon,” said the colonel. “Now that I’m here I can give you a secure liaison to replace this one. I’ve also got secure liaisons for our partners in this operation, if you’d like them.”
Hazir noticed that Desai didn’t even move her hands to upload the new liaisons to his office. The Colonel wasn’t wearing augmented reality glasses like he was, but clearly she had some interface to the net — probably video contact lenses. No doubt she was also festooned with sensors; wasn’t everybody these days?
Partly to test this suspicion, Hazir said, “You can see our situation,” and gestured to the windows behind the liaison. To the naked eye the view showed only the facades and windows of the other buildings on the street, but even Hazir’s low-level data subscriptions fed him a wealth of information about what was going on locally: weather, pollution levels, the number of people in the street and how many were loitering. That number — the loitering index — had been going up for days. It was a bad sign; the index had shot up just before the recent attack.
Desai nodded gravely, then said, “You understand that I can ask certain questions off the record, but there are things we need to know. People are saying the sweating sickness was genetically engineered, and you’re one of the only local gene splicers.”
“You want to know whether I have customers besides the U.N. and the regional agricultural council,” he said. “I do — but not who you might think.”
Desai paused a moment, then said, “I understand what you have to do sometimes to get things done. There’s a fine line between the legal and the illegal, and” —
Hazir retrieved the container he’d earlier placed on the desk. He’d been right to bring this prop up from the warehouse; now he opened the case and displayed the little green eggs in it. “They’re called tick-stalkers. A kind of bird, I don’t know if they’re natural or were genetically engineered. Anyway, they’re a special order from the mud flats.”
Desai frowned minutely. “West of town, right? We’re aware that somebody’s doing biodiversity work there, but not who it is. Do you have a client?”
“Yes, but not a human one. That’s the point. The order for these came from the flats themselves.”
The colonel sat motionless for a moment. Hazir guessed she was interfacing with whatever resources she had at her disposal — online encyclopedias, people, even AIs that might be listening in and triangulating on everything they said — in short, the normal, expected systems any business person might carry around these days.
“So it’s true,” she said finally. “The flats are an autonomous legal entity.”(7) The flats were an engineered ecosystem, designed to function on their own after being initially seeded with new and traditionally local species. The whole idea was to create an area of biodiversity that could flourish without human intervention; Desai should not be surprised if part of that autonomy included legal and economic independence of a sort.
Hazir nodded. “The entire Urlia watershed is saturated with smart dust sensors. They’re the eyes and noses and ears of a botnet (8) AI that represents its environmental interests. These were seeded there by a radical ecological group — with the city’s blessing, of course. They then registered the watershed as an autonomous legal entity so that it could be self-sustaining. Effectively, it owns itself. And, since the watershed provides an ecosystem service — water purification — the city pays it. This is cheaper than building more water filtration plants. And the watershed — well, in this case, the mud flats — can use that money to buy things. For instance, tick-stalkers to fill an empty ecological niche.”
“So there’s an AI that thinks it is the mudflats.”(9)
He shrugged. “That’s putting it crudely, but yes. The City is trying to get the flats to process more of our grey water, but it refuses. Says it has to look out for its own health first. But it’s still interested in the business, so it’s paying me to upgrade the” –
But Desai wasn’t listening; she suddenly stood up, frowning.
PATTERN MATCH: POSSIBLE RPG.
The letters appeared suddenly in the top-left of Hazir’s field of vision – projected there by his glasses. He’d been half-turned toward one of the windows when it happened. “Excuse me,” he said and held up a hand while he focused on the letters with both eyes. “I need to check something.”
Across the street was a band of open windows. These were apartments that he’d long ago stopped noticing; but somewhere a camera, either the ones in his glasses or one of the ones mounted on the outside of the building, had spotted something.
There was an open window over there, and movement in it –
– And suddenly he felt Desai’s hand on his back and the colonel was shouting, “Down!” as she shoved Hazir towards the teak desk. He stumbled forward and Desai hauled him down just as glass shattered and then the room was tumbling around him. He’d heard nothing, just felt a shock over his entire body and then he was face down in broken plaster and spears of teak.
Miraculously, his glasses had stayed on. There was nothing to see but swirling dust an inch from his face, but their display was still working; so he was able to watch the local loitering index suddenly plummet from about two dozen, to zero. He could picture the scene: everybody on the street running pell-mell as the echoes of the rocket attack faded.
These modern conveniences, he thought in wonder. And then he passed out.
2. In this scenario, the Comprehensive Humanitarian/Environmental Response Team (CHERT) is Canada’s successor to DART.
3. This technology is very old by 2040. Much of world commerce relies on it.
4. Location-dependent tags are a major component of augmented-reality systems. For an example current in 2010, see http://www.psfk.com/2009/08/mobile-augmented-reality-tagging.html.
6. Stakeholder management systems allow an organization to track the needs and act on the concerns of customers, business partners, etc. Stakeholder management is an important tool in this implementation of the Comprehensive Approach.
7. The 1992 Paraguayan constitution recognizes the rights of nature. This concept derives from Bolivian foreign minister David Choquehuanca’s notion of buen vivir or “living well.” Buen vivir includes the notion that Nature should have rights. In Urlia the legal framework for natural rights is adapted from the American precedent of granting corporations rights as legal persons.
8. Botnets are a form of distributed computer system that are non-localized and hence do not have to be “hosted” by a human or organizational patron. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Botnet. The mudflat AI is simply a resource-allocation botnet whose “herder” is an algorithm dedicated to maximizing the biodiversity within the mudflats.
9. Natural intelligences evolved to identify themselves as their physical bodies. There is, however, no reason why an artificial intelligence would have to identify itself with its actual systems. It could experience its “body” as anything its designer chose it to be, including distinct physical objects such as the mud flats.