O GALILEO LET ME GO
"Haven't you heard? The world is coming to an end. We need a pilot, and your fighting skills."
And before you ask, I know some of the info I've written here doesn't match up to the events in Alternative. THAT IS ON PURPOSE.
"Sir." Burkhart once again chose her words, not waning to appear ignorant but not wishing to appear arrogant. Even so, the infuriated tone cmae out in her voice. "Was I denied need-to-know information?"
Wilkes canted his head at an angle, something Elle had never seen him do before. "In my office. I'll call Lumumba."
So it's going to be one of those meetings. Burkhart followed the Colonel in. Wilkes walked over to his desk and pressed a button. Twice. No words spoken, but Burkhart wondered if Lumumba had a dedicated line or pager from Wilkes' office. The Colonel picked up a book from the table, one that he seemed to have been reading.
"Do you read the Bible, Lieutenant?"
"No sir." Elle stood at attention, wondering what Wilkes was getting at. The gun was not on the table, and this relaxed her nerves a bit.
"You should. Learn a lot from it." Wilkes opened up to a page he had marked. "And I saw heaven opened, and behold a white horse; and he that sat upon him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he doth judge and make war. His eyes were as a flame of fire, and on his head were many crowns; and he had a name written, that no man knew, but he himself."
"Book of Ezekiel, sir?" Elle hazarded a guess.
"Revelations chapter 19, verses 11 and 12." The Colonel shut the black book, but did not seem offended. "My dad was a preacher. The old son-of-a-bitch died telling everybody that the BETA were God's angels come to cleanse earth of the unrighteous."
Burkhart said nothing.
"Then again, he also said I was born a devil and should have been stoned at birth." Wilkes eyebrow raised as he saw Lumumba enter. The colonel gestured to have the door closed. "So there you go."
"Had to finish that last memory expansion upgrade." Lumumba then gave Elle an odd look. "You look lively today."
Burkhart's tone was flat. "I've just had my first talk with Asakura."
"Oh." Lumumba shook his head and shrugged. "So. Has he tried to sleep with you yet?"
Burkhart's freezing look told him all.
"Don't mind it. He'll lose interest soon enough." Lumumba's words did not reassure Burkhart in the least, but she did not want to discuss the pilot at all. "Did I hear right? That old goat Min-jae was laughing?"
Wilkes gestured to Elle. "Care to explain yourself, Lieutenant Burkhart?"
"Colonel. I think I'm being denied important need-to-know information." Burkhart was less restrained in her timbre. "About what the project is about."
"What you know is everything you need to know." Wilkes looked at Lumumba, the latter responding with a perplexed shrug. "You don't come in here and ask me for explanations."
"Then why call Lumumba up?" Elle let that site, and when no response came she went full attack. "Why did you really have me transferred here? It's not to babysit your pilots and it's not to safeguard your weapons technology. What are you asking me to do, Colonel?"
"I know damn well what I asked for, LIEUTENANT."
"Well, I DON'T!" Burkhart hadn't meant to raise her voice, but didn't really care. This assignment was as much of a farce as her time with Zerberus. By now, Elle stopped considering what was proper and appropriate behavior. "You're ordering me to keep an eye out for the pilots, and for spies. But I don't know what the hell you're looking for. What you're trying to protect. I need to know what's going on. If you're not happy with that, then pull that goddamn gun out your drawers and just shoot me!"
Wilkes' face was a livid shade of red, but remained quiet. The Colonel massaged the temples of his head as he strode to his desk, opening up one drawer. For a split-second, Elle thought Wilkes really was going to pull out a gun and shoot her.
The Colonel then casually tossed a can, which Elle caught easily.
"Spam?" Burkhart looked quizzically at the object in her hands.
"I like a bit of meat during the day." Wilkes drawl was sarcastic.
"That's what we are to the BETA. What we all are." Lumumba answered for the Colonel. "TSF pilots, tank drivers--doesn't matter. A can of Spam. Open it up, bite into the soft juicy red meat inside."
Burkhart swore she would never eat Spam again.
"Just a bit of show and tell. To prove a point." Lumumba continued on. "Humans are just bags of meat. Armor's just putting that meat in tin cans. In the end, meat is still meat. The BETA made that very clear. It doesn't matter how sophisticated or powerful the weapons we make become, the human inside is always the unavoidable weak spot."
"TSFs by their very design are limited," Wilkes cut in. "Since they're intended for human pilots, even the best TSFs are bound by human tolerances." Wilkes punctuated the word 'human' with an almost disgusted tone. "Even Raptor and the Berkut are just sockpuppets. Approximations of what a TSF can do. Of what a TSF can REALLY do. Life support for human pilots, that's what keeps them from operating at their fullest."
Is that the reason for the heavy, specialised fortified suits? Elle was still piecing the puzzle together. A TSF going beyond the bounds of its designed tolerances would kill its pilot regardless of how little actual damage was taken.
"A TSF designed without a pilot has no such limit." Lumumba replied, an air of justification in his voice. "We're not just testing TSFs and their weapons. This is a whole new concept of warfare. One that doesn't need humans in the mix."
"No human, no problem." Wilkes' eternal smile was utterly wicked. "It's easier to make and replace machines than to train skilled pilots that survive the BETA."
"And giving the TSFs names somehow leads into this grand plan." Try as she might, Elle could not pull off the same level of sarcasm that Lumumba had.
"Iori isn't the name of the TSF itself. It's a program in the TSF's computer systems." Antoine replied, and for the first time Elle uncomfortably started to take notice of the conversation's flow. "Iori is basically the name given to Icon-2's Operating System. A thinking computer program, if you may." Lumumba seemed engrossed in this, like a man proud of his only child. "ICON. An Intelligent Computer Operations Network. A program designed to operate the TSF and engage opponent independent of pilot input. All three Icon TSFs are part of this network."
"How are they 'Networked'?" Burkhart asked the question, but recalled the odd data streams between Icon-2 and -3 during her flight time in the UCAV. "Phantom Arc is part of it, isn't it?"
"ICON is a decentralized network system. Each of the three Icon TSFs are separate and independent units, but are linked by a data network." Lumumba had a habit of gesturing with a finger in the air, as if pointing accusations to god. "The TSFs each have different loadouts, so their respective computers have a different response for each situation. After every test flight and mission that data gets distributed amoung the TSF and Pit computers to analyze. Icon-3 is Abyss, Icon-2 is Iori. And Icon-1 is Clarice. Each of them test a separate aspect of TSF units. Icon-3 tests the ranged weapons systems. Icon-2 tests avionics and close-in weaponry."
Lumumba deliberately ignored the question. "Other support systems here in the Pit work with the Icon TSFs. The mother arming computer, the maintenance database. Yes, even Phantom Arc is part of it. This is what the next generation of TSFs is like. Fourth-generation TSFs won't be just combat units. They'll be part of a larger integrated whole, yet completely autonomous."
"Each TSF and the UCAV are nodes in the network. Separate and independent parts, but still part of ICON." Wilkes crossed his arms. "Phantom Arc watches over both pilots and Icon flight's behavior during tests. It's also a data relay back to the Pit. Everything the Icon TSFs and Phantom Arc learn during exercises is analyzed and adapted by the ICON network. That way, all machines involved learn from the experience."
"I can see why you're pushing for a more networked system." Burkhart replied, but a void in her gut seemed to grow her doubts. "But TSFs already have a built-in autonomous combat program."
"Standard issue isn't good enough." Wilkes voice was calm, somewhat detached now. "At its best, the autopilot is half as good as a rookie pilot. At worst they just get in the way. It's a complete waste of data storage space."
"You can use Slave Mode." Elle was reaching, trying to find some excuse to get out of this now-maddening conversation. Slave mode was a little-used remote control option on unmanned Tactical Surface Fighters that allows a pilot to remotely control one or more TSFs. The very same system being used in UCAVs like Phantom Arc.
"Not the same. One pilot juggling two, three or more TSFs at once is too much work. The Icon program has to be able to make human-like decisions, make interim measures and quickly adapt." Lumumba shook his head. "TSFs aren't like your UCAV, Lieutenant. There's a lot more involved than just flying the machine. Human pilots are necessary in TSFs because of on-the-spot decisions and flexibility. Current autonomous machines can't make those decisions, and remote control systems have range limitations and delay times."
"What we need is something that'll go further than a human being." Wilkes again. "Have human-level or better responses to unexpected situations, but with a reaction speed that only machines can employ. All of a man's strengths but none of his weaknesses. This isn't just so we can stop the BETA on earth." The smile twitched painfully, the first true movement Elle had seen on Wilkes' frozen lips. "We plan to hunt down and kill every last BETA in existence."
"Designed well enough, a machine will operate for longer than a human being can." Lumumba took over before Elle could retort at the craziness of Wilkes' statement. "It can also react faster, as the Colonel said. Fast enough to dodge a ranged attack by Laser-class BETA."
Elle thought it preposterous, both Wilkes' outburst and the idea that a machine could just dodge a laser barrage. "Is that why you were disappointed that no Laser-class BETA showed up?"
"THAT." Antoine stopped, realizing he was about to lose control. Breathing twice, he paused before continuing his reply. "It's more than just that. We're not certain if the Icon TSFs really can think for themselves."
Burkhart gave Antoine a flat look. "What."
"We don't have definitive proof that the Icon TSFs are fully functioning thinking machines." Lumumba was the one on defence now. "Icon-2 and -3 have so far just been working as per normal TSFs. The pilots have been running them. The machines haven't really demonstrated anything like mental phenomena."
"Or a mental state." The colonel seemed quite well-versed in what Lumumba was discussing, prompting Elle to wonder if Wilkes actually assisted Lumumba with the actual tech and concept development of ICON. "For example when Asakura was leaning over you, you were experiencing mental phenomena. He was in your face, and you either wanted to run or to punch his lights out. That's a fight-or-flight response. You can program a machine to defend itself. But it'll only run it as a program, not out of actual self-preservation."
Crane's response during the test. The pilot refered to Icon-2 by name, suggesting that it disagreed with the JIVES simulations. Crane seemed to think Icon-2 was already capable, But Elle also thought he was mentally unstable. Just like Asakura and everyone else in the Pit, actually.
"So how can you tell?" Burkhart asked. "If 'mental phenomena' are things like what goes through your head, how will you know it's actually happening and not just running a program?"
"Short of throwing it at BETA?" Wilkes shook his head. "No idea."
"Some developers think that a computer that simulates the human mind is just a simulation of the mind. Others disagree and say it really is a mind." Lumumba was clearly struggling to explain his view. "Say if you copy a human brain, it's thoughts personality and everything into an artificial brain. If the artificial brain functions exactly the same as the original flesh-and-blood brain--Is it just a copy of that human brain, or is it actually a real human brain? I don't have the answer to that, either. We're trying to develop a Strong AI. One that for purposes of dealing with the BETA, is an actual human mind. But one that's not limited by human frailties."
"Human beings are programmed by our genes, our culture. Education. Work. Peer pressure. training." Wilkes voice took on a more critical tone. "The difference between a human being and a machine is consciousness. That 'mental phenomenon' is called self-realization. A computer can have mental phenomena if it runs the right program. Because at our root, humans are just organic thinking machines."
"Like the BETA are organic machines?"
"That's what they are. Organic machines. All they do is process the same set of programs: Eat. Breed. Occupy. Repeat." Wilkes took a seat, then folded his hands in a mockery of prayer. "If organic life can be made that functions like non-sentient machines, then the reverse is possible as well. Materials aren't important, the actual process or program is."
"Most researchers in the field of thinking computers are concerned with theory. Whether practical application works or not is unimportant--the only thing that matters is that the process is satisfactory. There's only one problem with that line of thinking." Antoine smacked a fist loudly into his palm. "If we're wrong and ICON is just blithely running a program without actually being aware of the situation, then the BETA win anyway."
The shifting between Wilkes and Lumumba was starting to oppress Elle, but neither could she just break away. The dialogue was mad, but she needed the answer. "That would require a lot of power to run, wouldn't it?"
"The most advanced computer systems we have to date can use up to 10 Megawatts or more. An ordinary TSF's combat computer uses at the least 875KW on standby. An average human brain on the other hand, uses a whopping 20 Watts of power." Lumumba smirked. "That's less than what a military radio requires."
"Still, trying to make a thinking machine that controls something like a TSF?" Elle was still floundering beneath this overload. "That would require a computer bigger than the TSF itself can carry. Human brains have trillions of brain cells."
"That's a very human-centric conceit. The human brain is just organic hardware. It's irrelevant. Your brain doesn't actively and consciously calculate millions of fractions a second everytime you take a step. Your body does it automatically." Antoine tapped his forehead. "A thinking machine shouldn't need to, either. Actual computing power isn't a factor. Programming is. Even if you made the biggest thinking machine in the world, it's not going to be smarter. Faster, yes. But if it's running the same operating system as everything else, it's no different from weaker machines. A faster calculator is still just a calculator."
"I don't see how all that can work." Elle retorted. "If you're not even sure your machines can think, how do you know it's even possible to build one?"
"Well, there's this crazy witch in Japan who's done it." The colonel's eyes had that mildly crazed look to them. "The XG-70 prototypes used at the Battle of Sadogashima and for Operation Cherry Blossom both had prototype thinking computer systems installed in them." Wilkes stabbed his desktop with pointed finger. "THAT is why we are now in the middle of taking back Europe and not being the main course in a BETA family picnic! I don't care what anybody else thinks, IT WORKS."
"So this whole time you're programming the Icon TSFs to think like humans?"
"No. ICON is programmed mainly to adapt and learn. What it actually DOES learn is taught to it by its pilots." Lumumba replied to Burkhart without turning to face her. "The pilots are basically training the Icon computers through missions, giving them the ability to learn and realize things on their own. Not that much different from a parent teaching their child things as they grow up."
"That's not a very efficient way of teaching a computer."
"It's a proven method. The 00-Unit they used during the Original Hive operation was tuned by a TSF pilot."
"Tuned?" Burkhart found the use of the word odd. "You mean to tell me this 'tuning' is the pilot teaching the TSF computer to fight?"
"Tuning means just that: fine-tuning. More precisely: What we're doing is teaching ICON to survive."
You could have picked more human pilots, Elle silently complained.
"Crane and Asakura were selected for their piloting skills and their affinity for machines. They're not people persons." Wilkes answered, as if reading Elle's mind. "When you replace man with machine--If you're going to make a machine that excels at killing, you don't toss it in with the peaceniks."
"The only way we can prove that the thinking machines work that is to put the Icon Flight in an actual threat situation." Lumumba nodded. "Until then, this whole thing is just a big Chinese Room test."
"Chinese Room?" Burkhart didn't understand the reference.
"This might need some explanation. I'm assuming you don't understand Chinese, Lieutenant."
Elle shook her head.
"Suppose you're locked in a room, and you're given a set of rules--a program, essentially--that allows you to match a number of symbols together. These symbols are chinese words." Antoine gestured with his right hand, drawing an infinity symbol. "These rules basically let you respond in written Chinese, to questions also written in Chinese. It's sophisticated enough that anyone writing to you in Chinese will think you understand the language. But you don't."
"The chinese room basically is the same as a program run by a computer." The colonel finished for Lumumba. "The program lets the computer carry on an intelligent conversation in written Chinese. But the computer itself doesn't understand what it's doing at all."
"Well said." Lumumba now looked at Elle. "And that's the main question. How do we know for sure that the thinking machine actually understands what's going on?"
Elle did not hesitate. "Context."
Antoine stopped. "Excuse me?"
"Language isn't just a set of rules. Culture and family influences play a part." Burkhart spoke, but the words and thoughts were her father's. An Australian father and a French mother, and never really belonging to either country. "Australians and Americans both speak English, but there are terms and sayings that are uniquely Australian. Likewise, Americans have terms and sayings that are unique to them. A term that means nothing in America would be considered offensive in Australia, and vice-versa.
"You can speak another language, but if you're not native to that culture, some things will simply never make sense to you. And since machines don't actually speak human language, how do you even know they're thinking?" Burkhart could not help but remember her father's sad rants about history. "Victorian-era England thought that non-white people like africans were non-sentient. Because they didn't speak the same language and came from a culture thoroughly alien to them, the English and later Americans regarded them as non-human. It wasn't that. They simply grew up in a different culture with different values.
"It's not good enough for a machine to understand and carry out your orders." Elle suddenly wondered why she felt like the voice for the machines. "Your thinking TSFs have to understand the context behind it. Otherwise they're not 'thinking' at all. Likewise, we have to understand the machines if they're communicating back to us."
Lumumba looked at her with a new sense of respect. "So she DOES have a brain in that little blonde head of hers."
Elle ignored the insult. "So, the only way you can prove without a doubt that your TSFs really are thinking on their own is to throw them at the BETA and hope something happens."
"You have a better idea, Lieutenant Burkhart?"
"No sir." Elle wasn't convinced, but had nothing left to stand on. "Unpiloted thinking machines that can dodge lasers and are dedicated to killing BETA." Burkhart ended the sentence with an unintentional chuckle. "You're insane. Both of you. All of you."
"It's an insane world." Antoine walked to the other side of the room, knocking on an image on the wall. Only now did Burkhart realize the side of Wilkes' office had the very same fedora-wearing spook etched on, though not as blatant as the one in the mess hall. "The people watching over it have to be even crazier."
"All right." Burkhart stood with fists clenched, fighting the fight or flight response in her veins. "And where do I fit in this scheme?"
Wilkes gestured toward Lumumba with flourish. The dark-skinned man seemed uncomfortable as Elle looked at him.
"Your callsign, Watchtower." Antoine brought up his falsely-earnest smile. "It's rather appropriate, don't you think?"
Elle remained silent, questioning.
"Phantom Arc is basically intelligence and support for Icon. It also can monitor any external attempt that Icon Flight or anyone else is trying to transmit outside of the Pit," Lumumba's smile cracked. "The first flight you were on, we were hoping you would catch something. No joy."
So that's why you let the Germans shell Icon Flight? Elle did not open her mouth with the accusation. To scare the spy out of hiding? "What happened to Phantom Arc's previous pilot?"
"I got tired of sitting in that coffin." Wilkes scoffed. "You seem to like it, Lieutenant."
"The information that's being leaked out is about Icon's testing and development. The actual source code of Icon was made available to outside parties in the US and Japan. We don't know if the Europeans or Soviets have anything." Lumumba counted off items on his fingers. "Test results, weapons performance we can ignore those. Not important. But we can't afford for ICON itself to be made public, much less compromise it's software."
"The actual ICON programs were stolen?"
"Not the entirety. But notable blocks of code were copied. They started turning up in other programs. The pilot-response and learning algorithms showed up in Lockweed's F-35 Block 5 upgrade. Some reaction speed improvements also turned up in some of the Japanese Type-04 Shiranui Second units that Boening inspected. All source code and software developed by Phantom Works in-house for ICON." Antoine's jaw set, hiding a very personal anger. "MY coding. Not even Boening or the main branch of Phantom Works has access to ICON's code. And I don't give things out for free."
"I wasn't kidding when I told you to watch the pilots. Everyone in the Pit is under suspicion outside Lumumba and myself. And you, if only by default." The Colonel's knuckles crunched as he squeezed them, and he picked up his bible once again. "There's a Japanese contingent out to visit us in the next month or so. I haven't got proof, but I think our spy has given them the suggestion. Antoine and I think the spy is going to pass some info directly to them."
"Assuming I find out who it is," Burkhart's heart caught in her throat. "What do I do then?"
"At your complete discretion. That goes for you too, Lumumba."
Elle and Antoine looked at each other. There was a gap of distrust between the two that would not be easily resolved.
"Revelations chapter 19, verses 17 and 18." Wilkes read the scripture, and Elle could see how the colonel's father would have preached. "And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried with a loud voice, saying to all the fowls that fly in the midst of heaven, Come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; That ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great."
The book slammed shut in Wilkes' hands.
"Eat or be eaten, Lieutenant."
Last edited by wavehawk; 2013-10-19 at 02:33.