September 23, 2014

Paging Doctor Bowman...

Freefall has gotten complicated lately. Spoilers below.

So now we've met Dr. Bowman, and he's a surprise. (A big surprise.)

There was originally a project to genetically engineer chimps to make them into soldiers. Bowman is the last surviving of those; the others all died long ago. The chimps created by it were intentionally vicious and aggressive, because it was assumed that was desireable in cannon fodder.

Bowman's brain add-on isn't capable of controlling it, and he's subject to fits of violent rage. That's why he's confined. But he was key to the design project that created the intelligence bolt-on first implemented in the Bowman's Wolves, like Florence, which works far better. Which brings us to tomorrow's strip (as I write this).

"Then I'm coming back and changing her security settings so every imbecile with a remote doesn't have a direct pipeline into her brain!"

THAT'S interesting... he's going to do this with external access, too, maybe by playing strange tones like the one the remote plays, or with odd smells (like the factory override). If he can change her security settings and make her immune to the remote, I wonder what else he can change?

Can he restrict the list of people authorized to give Florence direct orders? Or eliminate it entirely? Will he?

I wonder how many backdoors he engineered into the design?

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Entertainment at 08:20 PM | Comments (13) | Add Comment
Post contains 228 words, total size 2 kb.

1 "Dvorak, get some feet! You're messing with my metaphors!"

I love this strip so much.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at September 23, 2014 11:22 PM (ZeBdf)

2 I'm going to hope that "external interfaces" mean something like sub-dural inductive pickups, something where you have to be within touching distance to get useful bandwidth using, say, a helmet. (Or, hey, I know! A halo!)

And I hope that Bowman's security settings include permanently disabling some of them, possibly disabling the interfaces themselves. Of course that means loss of access for medical reasons, or research, but hey, most of us have to get by with that.

Posted by: refugee at September 24, 2014 05:31 AM (ayoGu)

3 I think there are several possibilities. We already know that certain sounds do things, and certain smells. Another possibility is that certain abstract images can turn on or off flags.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 24, 2014 07:43 AM (+rSRq)

4 I never got the impression the chimps .  Regular ones can be like that too, more or less.
It's possible that was explicit and I missed it, but I'm not going to go back through the archives and look for it.
Clearly in-universe people didn't think the entire thing through.    While an argument can be made that the wolves aren't yet, the "any imbecile with a remote" is a powerful counterargument for leaving them there...or at least leaving them so open.

Posted by: RickC at September 24, 2014 09:36 AM (ECH2/)


The shut-down ability wasn't considered diagnostic, it was considered a safeguard.

It's a fully autonomous, mobile, self-replicating, artificial intelligence. You don't build something like that without an off switch.

Florence herself managed to temporarily immunize herself against that sound by putting water in her ears, so it's not foolproof.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 24, 2014 10:00 AM (+rSRq)


By the way, when Dr. Bowman claimed that Florence was broken, I wrote an email to the author:

Subject: Florence isn't broken!

The Mayor's Assistant ordered Florence to do whatever she thought she needed to in order to save the robots. And he outranks Mr. Kornada.

He doesn't outrank the Mayor, obviously, but the Mayor never gave Florence any order which Florence is now disobeying.

So she isn't broken in any way.

And he responded:

Well, at least she's housebroken.

Mark Stanley

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at September 24, 2014 10:29 AM (+rSRq)

7 > diagnostic
I was speaking loosely.  Nonetheless, I still agree you don't leave that shutdown lying around where anyone can use it.

Posted by: RickC at September 24, 2014 12:11 PM (ECH2/)

8 Also, this is kind of pedantic, but her creator may take a more expansive view of what "broken" means than most.

Posted by: RickC at September 24, 2014 12:12 PM (ECH2/)

9 You're hinting at what engineers call "broken by design"?  

"She's behaving exactly as she was programmed to behave!  That's not how I wanted her to behave!"

Posted by: Mikeski at September 24, 2014 03:31 PM (luDkn)

10 More or less, or even just "that's not quite what I wanted" where nobody else would notice.
Just about everyone else treats her and the robots like they're toys.  In her case, and probably the robots', that's clearly not right.

Posted by: RickC at September 24, 2014 04:50 PM (0a7VZ)


Man! I love it when you get intellectual philosophy and humor blended like this. It's like Stephenson when he's really on his game.

Posted by: Avatar_exADV at September 24, 2014 07:14 PM (zJsIy)

12 This is another take on a robot life cycle.

In Dr. Bowman's case, it would be easiest to throttle the robot creation factories output rate down.  To one robot a year, maybe.

Posted by: Mark A. Flacy at September 25, 2014 05:37 AM (vEp0w)

13 The prologue of that book reminds me a LOT of Tierra.

Posted by: RickC at September 25, 2014 01:23 PM (ECH2/)

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