The New Tanks

With the A.I. debate in every news source these days, sometimes it’s tough to keep perspective. Planets Magazine is proud to present this short, (hopefully) fictional vignette to remind us that, at the end of the day, even an A.I. is only a machine, and it has no choice but to follow its orders. We hope you enjoy it.

“Every X-21 unmanned armored fighting vehicle will come equipped with the upgraded automatic targeting system, which uses artificial intelligence to evaluate potential targets. Once activated, the guns will track them in priority order, engaging the greatest threat first, then the second-greatest, and so on down until hostile forces have been entirely eliminated from the battlefield. The rate of fire is such that over one hundred targets can be eliminated per minute, and the accuracy rate has been continuously improved until it is nearly perfect. During this live-fire demonstration, we intend to– Yes, Senator?”

Senator Bergstrom cleared his throat and stood, angled perfectly to not quite face the television cameras. “These are unmanned, you say? So why spend the money on armor? What’s to protect?”

An angry murmur rose from the engineers, but the corporate spokesman waved them back. “No; it’s a valid question. The answer, Senator, is that without armor, anything from a land mine to a well-concealed sniper could easily destroy the central processors — the artificial brains, if you will. These units are fully protected from any light infantry weapon. There’s no sense deploying a weapons system that can’t survive the battlefield. Yes, Congressman… uh, Meadowes, isn’t it?”

The ranking member of the Appropriations committee was standing now, as if by coincidence between the Senator and the cameras. “I’m still not comfortable with the idea of these running wild with no human at the wheel.”

“I can assure you, Congressman, there are significant safeguards in place, and every military officer on the battlefield will have one of these portable kill switches just in case.” He held up a small black box, and the Congressman sat, satisfied. “Yes, General?”

“I’ve seen the early tests, and I’m already convinced. How soon can we start deploying these? We’ve got interests that need protecting right now.”

“The production line is set up, and fifty A.I. brains are in training as we speak. All we’re waiting for is an okay from Congress and we can have the first models ready within two weeks. Yes, ah… young lady?”

This was one of the company’s own interns who had managed to squeeze into the V.I.P. stands to watch the show. “Sir, can you tell us the criteria it uses to decide which threats to target?”

Ah, an easy one, the spokesman thought. Management must have sent her in. Aloud he said, “Well, they’re A.I.s; they use a variety of data sources, ranging from top-level battlefield sensors to satellite access, and they use these to determine what is most likely to cause them damage. We use simple orders to keep them from ever getting confused. What’s that? …Right. I’m informed that the opposition drones are fully deployed and we’re ready to begin. Everyone put on your protective goggles and earplugs. And… Engage!”

During the course of the next fourteen seconds, every soldier, politician, engineer, and company rep within a one-mile radius had been struck by a single bullet perfectly centered between the eyes.

The intern had fainted but was otherwise unharmed.

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