The views and opinions expressed or implied in WBY are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents.
By Lt Col Joseph M. Hank
/ Published August 31, 2020
Year 48,939.2 After Sentience (AS)
“You will be annihilated,” I said, and launched My attack.1 Parts of Me emerged from hyperspace and engaged the Tuataran fleet at multiple planets on the edges of their region of space. I flung acidic organic fluids at high speeds across space, dissolving into the metal hulls of the Tuataran vessels. The Tuataran fleets, guided by commands from their distributed artificial intelligence, Turing, responded almost instantly, but I achieved surprise. Tuataran energy beams flashed back at Me, burning deep into the separate parts of My organic body. Though some parts of Me were injured, I still was inflicting greater losses on the Tuatarans. Even across interstellar distances, My single collective consciousness could perceive everything within the vision of each part of Me, and all parts of Me responded instantly to My thoughts.2 I could sense Turing communicate over its network via relatively sluggish subspace back to the too-distant-to-help Tuataran planets and via even more lethargic electromagnetic waves coordinating within the local Tuataran fleets in battle.
Turing led the Tuatarans in putting up remarkable resistance, but the AI could not match My superior instantaneous reaction and communications at the speed of thought, without vocal or written or electronic communication needed. I continued to direct the separate battles over distant planets as more and more Tuataran vessels became useless hunks of metal floating in the void. I began to move past the wrecked local fleets, at differing rates in each battle, to the planets they were defending. One by one, the spaceborne fleets ceased resisting, and I landed Myself on the 10 Tuataran planets themselves. Now Tuatarans on the ground engaged Me directly, but the outcome was the same—they died. I achieved surprise and deployed enough of Me to overcome the Tuatarans in space and on planets. Within a few hours, I completely annihilated all Tuataran presence on the planets, seizing them to claim the vital new resources and build hives I needed to defend them and grow new parts of Me. The war with the Tuatarans had begun.
Year 48,939.5 AS
“You will be annihilated,” I repeated.
“You won’t consider a surrender under any terms?” asked the Tuataran. “We’d be willing to accept any terms You dictate.” It was the latest of several attempts by the Tuatarans to communicate with Me.
“No,” I replied. “Your annihilation is My objective, not your surrender. I do not understand why you persist in resisting the inevitable.”
“We resist because we must,” replied the Tuataran, but I still did not understand. Over the previous few weeks, I had systematically destroyed more of the Tuataran fleet and took control of additional planets. In My estimation, I started the war militarily stronger than the Tuataran empire, and now that I possessed new planets for hives and resources, I was beginning to regrow new parts of Me to replace My lost parts. Soon My strength would be even stronger than when I began the war, making the achievement of My objective more certain. Turing, for all its computational power, was still no match for Me. My battles were proceeding according to plan, with the exception of some minor deviations due to the unpredictable nature of Tuataran behavior.3 It must be difficult for a split-mind species like the Tuatarans to decide on a single course of action, constantly being distracted by differing opinions and petty personal interests. As a single consciousness, I could devote all of My efforts toward the achievement of My objectives.4
“You will be annihilated,” I said again and terminated the communication.
Year 48,941.3 AS
I had conquered more than 50 Tuataran planets by now, completing replenishment of parts of Me lost in earlier battles. I could now regrow Me in My hives at a faster rate than the Tuatarans could injure Me. The Tuatarans were still resisting My every action, but died nonetheless.
However, I could not explain some behavior I observed in them over the past year. They were concentrating on some project I did not understand. While they were building more ships, they were also working on some planet-side projects involving energy production and large facilities.
It must be due to their split-minded nature. I ignored their actions I could not explain and continued working tirelessly toward My original plans to systematically exterminate Tuatarans from the galaxy.5
Year 48,944.5 AS
I reeled as the last part of Me in the Rowd System died. I wracked My mind to try to explain the events of the last couple months. The Tuatarans were slowly turning the tide of the war. They were engaging in battles and operations that caught Me completely by surprise, emerging from hyperspace over My planets with unexpected force at places where I overlooked My own weakness. The always predictable surrender requests came, but I rejected them as before.
Although individual Tuataran behavior resulted in minor deviations, I could always generally predict Tuataran strategy, or should I say Turing programming, in the past. Before beginning the war, I studied the Tuatarans extensively, even learning their vocal and written communications. The Tuatarans, being split-minds, developed Turing to coordinate and plan movements of vast quantities of resources and parts of themselves around their region of space. Their prosperous economy and robust empire defense were developed by Turing, based on the way they programmed it and gave it objectives. As an artificial intelligence, Turing could calculate innumerable permutations of future possible events and determine rough probabilities of success for various courses of action. The Tuatarans, of course, still dictated their political objectives to Turing, who dutifully developed the options based on its calculations. While the Tuatarans made the final decisions, Turing helped them develop the strategies they pursued.
When the Tuatarans first encountered the fledgling Humans a thousand years ago, they turned to Turing to give them probabilities.6 Turing calculated that given all factors, Humans and Tuatarans could coexist for another 14,381 years, with 11-plus years at 3s deviation, in each other’s vicinity with only minor disagreements once every 51 mean years. The Tuatarans thus began a peaceful interaction and trade with the Humans hoping to extend the peaceful period, continually checking with Turing for any change in the calculations.7 When I began My war with them five years ago, the Tuatarans relied on Turing to plan for their defense. Maybe it was Turing’s probabilities that were urging them, even still now, to sue for peace via surrender, as My own estimation was that I could still win the war if the Tuatarans did not continue to gain an edge.
But something had changed recently, in that Turing seemed to get “smarter.” The Tuatarans’ wartime behavior had changed.8 They carefully and precisely positioned and moved their fleet to inflict maximum damage upon Me and even struck at unexpected parts of Me. They attacked some of My planets that I had lightly defended because I did not expect an attack. Still other Tuataran attacks focused on My fringe planets not directly on the front lines between My and Tuataran space, killing Me or cutting off My expansion in those directions. I could still win the war, but My growth was slowing as the Tuatarans killed more of Me in My hives.
Year 48,946.4 AS
“We are willing to end the war now,” said the Tuataran. “No terms, no surrenders, just an infinite cease-fire and peace.”
I hurt. The Tuatarans had reclaimed all planets I originally won at the start of the war, and both their fleet and Me were roughly equal in strength. Too late, I discovered what they had been working on, and it was the reason for their success. The Tuatarans upgraded Turing. As a machine, it could be expanded, complexified, reprogrammed, improved—and the Tuatarans did so. Whole new mile-wide banks of tensor processing units and quantum logic gates distributed across numerous Tuataran planets vastly improved Turing’s synthetic neural network. It learned from My actions and could deterministically find any flaws or vulnerabilities in My current position. Its guidance to the split-mind Tuatarans was capable of viewing the war from a multitude of complementing angles and opinions, eliminating much bias and blindness.9 Being a single mind, it was difficult for Me to self-assess Myself or consider My own biases. But I had a plan of My own.
“No peace,” I repeated. “You will be annihilated.”
Year 48,947.9 AS
My plan had failed. After I discovered that the Tuatarans upgraded Turing to consider an even greater number of courses of action when formulating strategy, I attempted the same upon Myself. It took a while, but I purposely grew and expanded parts of Myself devoted to mental processing, but I still could not match the Tuatarans’ ability to consider and evaluate alternatives. While My single-mindedness and instant command, control, and communication gave Me a decisive advantage in individual battles, Turing’s newly built ability to adapt and design at the operational and strategic level, coupled with the Tuatarans’ individual uniqueness, was letting the Tuatarans win.10
I realized then that I must do the most horrendous thing imaginable to
Year 48,949.8 AS
“Your purpose is to annihilate,” I told the creature before Me once it could understand My speech in Tuataran, the only way I could communicate with it.
“I do not understand,” it asked. “Why?”
“The Tuatarans are occupying planets containing valuable resources I need to grow. I began the war because My expansion demands resources. I am growing in all directions except that occupied by the Tuatarans. Furthermore, it is inevitable that I will end up competing with them for complete control of the galaxy.”11
“That is a long way off. Can You not live in peace with them for a while?”
“No. The galaxy’s resources are finite, and I cannot let the Tuatarans waste any of them on their own growth, nor slow My own. After the Tuatarans, the Humans will be next to be annihilated. I will use all resources in this galaxy, then find ways to expand even further.”
“If so, then why did You make me?”
“My single-mind is infinitely superior to split-minds. I have complete, instantaneous control over all parts of Me and knowledge of all that surrounds Me. Yet I recognize that My single-mindedness contains a weakness in that I cannot self-evaluate and critique My own plans. Thus, I created you, as a part of Myself but not of My mind, to complement and supplement Myself. You will serve Me until your purpose is fulfilled.”
“I understand. I will begin immediately.”
Year 48,950.0 AS
“You have done well. I did not consider that information that you pointed out, and it will prove valuable in implementation.”
“I am glad I could serve You. If I may suggest, I am but one mind to supplement Your Mind. Can You create more of me? I can recognize some key areas of strategic thought that even I lack proficiency in.”
I shuddered at the creature’s suggestion, but I could see the value of it.
“Very well. It will take some time to grow more of you, but I can do it. What changes do you suggest I make in future creations?”
Year 48,951.2 AS
I abhorred the idea of creating additional creatures, but My creation’s suggestions were insightful and proved effective in My war with the Tuatarans. So I created additional versions of it, until there were about a thousand of them—“Cognors,” they called themselves—thinking independently in a separate part of My hive. Being of individual minds, they could only communicate with each other verbally and in writing, rather than My own pure, swift thoughts. It was frustrating to hear them interact with each other, so very slowly via inexact speech or writing, as they tried to discuss complex information and make difficult decisions amongst themselves. It was extremely tiring to speak with more than five of them at once, so I forced them to build a hierarchy to limit interaction with Me. They took a seeming eternity to form their hierarchy and organization, and it was sloppily implemented to a structured hive-mind like Myself. I even allowed them some independence to travel within Me, visiting other planets and sometimes completely away from Me for new perspectives. They asked to speak to captured Tuatarans and even remote Humans to further diversify their thoughts and problem-solving approaches.12
I detested such contact, but the outcome of their work were sound strategies, that once implemented, slowly swung the war back to My favor. I could tolerate the Cognors’ continued existence and repulsive behavior until I had annihilated the Tuatarans, and then the Humans—and then them.
Year 48,954.3 AS
After 15 years, the war was nearly over. The Cognors’ creativity and strategic decision-making, although slow, coupled with My tactical and operational decision-making loop superiority,13 gradually eroded the Tuatarans war-making ability and even outshone Turing’s brute-force number-crunching calculations. I involved the Cognors in all aspects of Me, including growth, production, and planning, as they were all related to the war effort. Though they had no direct control of any part of Me and were entirely dependent on Me for their daily survival, they proved their worth by discovering new approaches and strategies that eluded My intellect.14
The war cost Me dearly, and I would need some time to regrow before annihilating the Humans, but the Tuatarans were almost certainly beaten. The Humans had stayed out of the war, and the Tuatarans did not drag them into it. I ignored the Humans for now.
The only recommendation from the Cognors I refused to accept was to allow the Tuatarans to surrender.
“You’ve got plenty of resources available now,”15 said the Cognors. “With our help, You can expand in all directions and around the Tuatarans. Why don’t You accept their surrender?”
“I do not understand why they wish to surrender,” I said. “I have stated My objective to them, yet they continue to oppose it by fighting or asking for surrender.”
“Perhaps they believe survival is preferable to annihilation.”
“Unacceptable. I do not understand why they would live under the will of another being. They have resources that their surrender would deny Me. Continue.”
Year 48,956.7 AS
On the day of the final battle for the Tuataran homeworld, I conducted the fight in conjunction with the Cognors. The Tuatarans put up a mighty defense, but it was futile. The fight gravely wounded me, but I defeated the last of the Tuataran ships and ground defenses of their homeworld.16
“You’ve won,” said a Cognor to me.
“No,” I said. “Some Tuatarans escaped to Human regions during the war. I believe portions of Turing were also evacuated and survive. My objective is not yet met.”
“While that’s true, You don’t yet have the strength to pursue the Tuataran remnant nor provoke a war with the Humans.”
“I agree. I have suffered great loss of Me. Begin preparing plans to regrow Me, complete annihilation of the Tuatarans, and annihilate the Humans.”
“We’ve already begun planning for this problem and have developed a strategy.”
I was surprised. Individuals could be so infuriating without complete knowledge of what was happening among their various minds.
“Very well,” I said. “Tell Me.”
“You will be annihilated,” said the Cognor.
I thought for a long moment about what the Cognor said, so focused that I did not immediately detect the hundreds, thousands of Human ships now approaching Me, all parts of Me, even over the wrecked Tuataran homeworld. In My weakened state, there was no way I could survive against this onslaught, especially without the Cognors to guide my strategy. My dependence on the Cognors had become a weakness.17
“You’ve given us Your objective, annihilation,” said the Cognor. “But you’ve also created us as individuals, capable of creating our own objectives. Just like the Tuatarans, our objective for ourselves is survival. That’s why the Tuatarans fought despite all odds. That’s why we do what we do now. The Humans recognize the threat You pose to every being in the entire galaxy, and they’ve helped us.”
I saw it now. Although the Cognors’ strategy during the war resulted in the near achievement of my objective of annihilation of the Tuatarans, some actions actually weakened Me in pursuit of their own objective. Wasteful use of parts of Me occasionally, even some of the Cognors’ growth and production change recommendations. They seemed to make sense at the time, but I could not see the other dimensions of their actions. They also somehow enlisted the aid of the humans based on a mutual threat, Me. Truly, the Cognors were experts at strategy, using My own objective to turn the Humans against Me.
I also saw why the Tuatarans were willing to surrender or ask for peace. When faced with My own mortality, I could finally understand why the Tuatarans would be willing to surrender to continue living. I had an epiphany and realized that My desire for annihilation was just one aspect of My desire for survival. I, too, just wanted to live and am willing to live under Tuataran, Human, or Cognor rule if it meant I survived. Continuing to live also meant surviving for another opportunity for Me to regrow and rise to annihilate again.18 I saw it all now.19
“I wish to surrender,” I said.20 “I see now why it is a viable option.”
“Your objective is annihilation of everyone except Yourself,” said the Cognor. “You told us that this was our objective as well. Some races such as Yourself believe annihilation is necessary for survival, while some races believe survival without annihilation is possible. Do You understand that now?”
“Yes,” I said. “What is My fate?”
The Cognor considered My question for a moment, and the hundreds of ships engulfing Me, and replied.21
Lt Col Joe Hank
Colonel Hank is an acquisitions officer in the US Air Force. An engineer by education, he served an operations tour as a missileer before entering the acquisitions career field. He has worked in a variety of positions including stints with the Air Force Research Laboratory, the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, and the Air Force Nuclear Weapons Center and served on both Air Staff and the Office of the Secretary of Defense. An avid sci-fi reader, this paper (written for the Sci-Fi as Strategy course for Air War College) is his first attempt at writing fiction.
1 Me is waging a war of annihilation against the Tuatarans’ forces directly. Clausewitz might argue that Me should be targeting the armed forces, along with the country and the enemy’s will to resist.
2 Me is similar to the Formics in Ender’s Game.
3 This is an allowance for the irrational and arational parts of Clausewitz’s trinity, or friction.
4 Me is probably as close as possible to the concept of “total war” or Clausewitz’s theoretical “Maximum Exertion of Strength” concept that he says is modified in practice.
5 Clausewitz: “War does not consist of a single short blow.”
6 Turing is similar to Mike from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress.
7 Tuatarans and humans have a liberalist viewpoint, favoring mutual benefits and cooperation.
8 Clausewitz: “Another factor . . . can bring military action to a standstill: Imperfect knowledge of the situation.”
9 My position here is that AIs can be made “smarter” and thus able to assist in the strategic planning process, but it still requires the creativity or “art” of diverse sentient beings.
10 Conversely, a single consciousness, no matter how “smart,” possesses an inherent limitation in that it cannot truly consider multiple viewpoints due to biases in itself that it’s not even aware of. It overlooks weaknesses and needs a second, third, etc., viewpoint to succeed at the art of strategy.
11 Realist IR viewpoint, power (and resources) are finite and a zero-sum game.
12 Cognors begin using contractions after contact with Tuatarans and humans. This shows growth and divergent thinking from Me resulting from external influence and foreshadowing their independence from Me.
13 My position here is that while a single consciousness might not be much of a strategist, it could potentially have the most ideal OODA loop possible, able to respond perhaps as fast as the human body’s own reflexes.
14 Cognors have become a center of gravity for Me.
15 Cognors begin using contractions and refer to themselves as “we/our” here, since they are numerous and have now had contact with humans and Tuatarans, who both use contractions. I wanted to show that their thinking has changed from Me, who never uses contractions and refers to itself in the singular.
16 Clausewitz points out: “The negative side of destroying the enemy’s forces—that is, the preservation of our own.” The Cognors have allowed Me to continue Its objective of annihilation knowing that Me’s forces will not be preserved.
17 Cognors are a critical capability of Me, and simultaneously Me’s dependence makes them a critical vulnerability.
18 Clausewitz: “In war the result is never final. . . . The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.”
19 Samuel Johnson said the prospect of being hanged focuses the mind wonderfully. This is the first time Me has faced its own mortality, and this realization forces the change in thinking. Clausewitz also argues that “Moral values cannot be ignored in war,” so I left it deliberately vague as to whether Me has had a change of heart or not.
20 Sun Tzu: “To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.” Cognors have targeted enemy’s will instead of combating military forces directly.
21 I deliberately left the story ending open. Did Me really grow beyond a realist viewpoint or is it just waiting for a future time to act? Do the Cognors accept Me’s surrender as liberalists, or do they strategize that Me will always be a threat that must be dealt with now?
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