I don't get why it is so hard to build a secure computer. I read so much about encryption technology and software being 'cracked' and companies spending millions of dollars patching their computer's security bugs. Microsoft installs critical patches on my computer every few days and I cross my fingers every time that happens that I can boot my computer in the morning. What the hell ? It's not that hard to build a secure computer. Here is how you do it.
Secure the core
Use a Harvard computer architecture. In other words build entirely separate logic pathways (including caches) for instructions and data. This means that you can't have 'self modifying code' but so what ? Less than 1% of the code in the world is really self modifying and that code is not really required and can be worked around in other ways with modest performance cost. It is like trading turds for diamonds. Easy decision.
A little more detail for clarity for CPU designers. Yes I literally mean separate data paths and caches for instructions and data, all the way to the ALU instruction units. No buses or caches should ever be shared, period. Think entirely different systems. This guarantees that no matter what magic software does it cannot modify the expected behavior of software instructions delivered to the CPU. Period. End of story. Drop the mike. Case closed. No encryption coprocessor. No decryption keys. No asterisk. No buts. The CPU is now naturally secure by design. Trying to secure every line of software in a non Harvard architecture is like trying to stop rain one drop at a time. Totally nuts.
You can and should still have caches for performance, but since the caches aren't shared there is no concern for security. There is no coherence or complexity issue either, since by definition the instructions and data are separate you don't have to worry about coherence between the instruction and data caches.
Secure the box
All software should be delivered and run from 'ROM sticks' (ROM = Read Only Memory). Imagine a small box with several USB like slots in it. Each slot contains a stick from a trusted software vendor. Installing new software from a trusted source literally means replacing the ROM stick in that slot in your computer. Pulling the stick out of the slot 'uninstalls' it. All software runs from ROM, not a hard drive.
Finally you should then only buy software ROM sticks from trusted software vendors.
Congratulations. You now have a secure computer. Go sell a million of these to the DOD and get rich. You're welcome.
A couple more points for clarity and background.
The hard drive
Once the CPU core and software ROM path is secured per above the hard drive becomes the next vulnerability point to secure. This is because if software is allowed to write arbitrary information to your hard drive, this in an indirect way enables software the ability to behave in malicious unpredictable ways. This is similar to the self modifying code problem in the CPU, but is at a higher level - the file IO level. You should only buy software from trusted software vendors who certify that their software does not store any 'cookies' or such on your hard drive to effect software behavior.
The good news is that if the CPU and box are secured per steps 1 and 2 above the options for malicious actors to do malicious things to your computer are limited to them finding bizarre behavior effects for unusual data. Even then since they can't execute code on your computer their hands are indeed very very tied. Cool.
For this and several other technical reasons let me suggest RISCV discussed in a previous post for those looking for an open universal machine language, as an alternative to Java.
For most of my life I've been fascinated with the idea of what kinds of things we might be able to do in the future, particularly with respect to augmenting or modifying our own bodies. More specifically I've always thought it would be fantastically cool to have wings to fly like a bird. And by fly like a bird, I mean really fly like a bird with complete control over large flapping flexible wings. A long time ago in the late 1980s I wrote this short story inspired by that idea. I stumbled across it a few days ago and reread it, and it made me smile more than once. If you're a red blooded young American male that likes classic science fiction you might like it as well. If that isn't you then maybe not so much.
Copyright (c) 2019 Greg Russell Hunt
"Unnnnh". My head was splitting. I tried to block it out.
I cracked my eyes open. Daylight. Mid morning I guessed.
Not all drugs had this effect, but I liked to stick with the old fashioned ones. They let me know when I overdid it.
I slowly took in my surroundings. I was in a nest as usual, but it didn't feel like mine.
I rolled over and discovered my companion, a five foot Warbler with nice sinewy legs. They were mostly cosmetic of course, but I didn't care. My brain was old, and it appreciated a good pair of legs.
Her wings were impressive too, from what I could tell. They were folded down her back so as to be barely noticeable, yet I recalled from yesterday she had little trouble matching my 100 kph sprints in the wind.
Then I remembered. Her name was Julie. We had met over at the Canyons. I was diving at about 150 kph, when she fluttered out from a perch on the canyon wall. I narrowly missed cutting her in half, and instead just grazed a wing.
I made a note to loop back up in a minute in case she might have been hurt though I doubted it. I needn't have worried.
Less than a minute later my red light was going off indicating an eminent collision. I cut forward toward the canyon wall hard by instinct, just before we would have hit each other.
I glided over to a perch of boulders on the rock wall to watch her next move. She appeared to be gliding to another perch a few hundred meters away.
"What a princess." I mumbled to myself. Then thought, "Hmmmmm. Nice legs though." as I zoomed in with my electronic eye.
I zoomed in further and asked my computer for an ID. "Non local", it replied. I told it to go on line. A couple of minutes later I had the stats.
She was new to Vegas, a tech, backed up, and had legs.
I punched in the Backup sequence on my arm, walked to the edge of my platform, then dove off.
I looked around Julie's nest for something to kick start my brain, but didn't see anything.
I rolled out of bed and shuffled out onto the balcony. I guessed this nest to be about 500 meters off the ground, just over halfway up the tower.
I stared at the land below, then at some of the other towers in the distance. The skies weren't too crowded yet with fliers. It must have been earlier than I first thought. The day was looking like a clear one, which usually meant a lot of fliers.
I stumbled back inside.
I jacked into a terminal and checked the day's headlines, and my mail. Nothing too interesting.
Julie was starting to move.
"Good morning" I said.
"Morning" she replied. Then added "Hungry?"
I said "Are you kidding? After last night?"
"How about some bacon and eggs?"
"Bacon and eggs?" I looked surprised. It had been months since I had bacon and eggs for breakfast. "Great."
Then I started to feel a little uncomfortable. This bird was just a little too perfect. I punched in my Snoop program, just to be safe.
In the kitchen she produced a real skillet, and what I guessed to be four recently fabbed eggs, and four slices of bacon. "Hmmmmmmmm" I purred.
After breakfast I headed back out onto the balcony. On the way my Snooper went off. "Toyoga", it read.
So that was it.
Toyoga was a major robotics manufacturer. They were particularly interested in some of my latest designs. I took last night to be a calling card of sorts. Not too bad really. I had to admit, it had been pretty fun.
I wondered how much of her core was really human, and how much of last night was work and how much was real. I guessed I'd never really know.
I hopped onto the balcony ledge as Julie walked onto the balcony behind me.
"Thanks for the eggs, Julie" I said. "They were great". Then added, "Tell Toyoga I'll think about it".
She didn't say anything, but took on an expression so as to convey that she understood. Then she started to grin a little.
"Not too bad at all" I said aloud, just before I dove off of the balcony and into a new day.
I climbed up to about 5000 feet, then started riding the wind currents. I like to start my days this way, away from distractions while I chew on what if anything I wanted to do for the rest of the day.
The escape up here is almost perfect.
Not too far away I spotted Joe. Joe is a bald eagle, a real one, not a man/machine hybrid like myself. He is probably coming by to say hi. I've been flying this area for about five years now, and Joe was here before me.
The first few times I flew here he was clearly annoyed and eventually took a swipe at me. I was expecting it though and gave him a mild shot of my stun gun.
"Beep beep beep" went my wrist. Some one was calling me on my mobile.
"Gus, speaking" I said.
"Gus. Glad I caught you. This is Jack Simmons over at Macrodyne. We've got a job for you."
"Hmmmmmm" was all I said.
"Seems another AI has gotten loose at Terra Labs. Goosed a couple of techs before it found some wings and hit the sky."
"What class was it?"
"Blue, I think."
"Shit" I said out loud. No class blue AI had ever gotten free before, and rounding up the simpler class AIs usually cost more than a few lives. This was not going to be easy.
"You know my rate" I said.
"Yeah" he replied.
"Double it" I said.
"We were thinking more like quadrupling it."
"Anything else I should know?"
"Well, you're the fourth tracker we've contacted."
"The other three were each killed within minutes of being contacted by us."
I switched off my mobile.
"Well Joe" I said to my winged friend "it looks like its going to be one of those days."
I could feel the adrenaline starting to kick in. I dove for my tower at some 200 plus miles per hour. On the way I tossed my mobile, as I hadn't made it and wasn't sure whether I could be located by it.
I slammed onto my balcony and charged into my lab, eyes darting back and forth. I jacked into my high speed link and downloaded everything I could access relating to the AIs escape, Terra Labs, and class blue AIs. Then I grabbed my laser and some other toys and flew out of my nest like a bat out of hell.
I was glad that I had gotten out of my nest without incident. I had the data I needed, now all I needed was a little time to go through it and develop a plan to kick this robot's butt before it kicked mine.
Class blue AIs contained significantly more knowledge than most humans, but typically, due to careful programming, had little desire to become autonomous and start chewing up humans for lunch. But now and then some hot dog programmer or confused researcher would drop a line of code in the AI's kernel and who knew what would happen.
I started to climb. If I got to a good height with few flyers around, I should have a better chance at detecting anything unfriendly coming my way. At about 12000 feet several of my warning monitors went off. I looked down and to the West. Something big with wings was coming straight at me. It looked like a bird but its velocity seemed incredible.
I detached my legs and cabled on my net. I angled my wings so as to be barely moving on the wind, to reduce the variables. Now I concentrated on the big bird. I didn't see any blades, good. He didn't slow down or change direction. I waited until the last possible instant then threw my legs away from my chest while at the same time trying to stroke hard and away with my wings.
The blue AI hit the net slamming me onto his body. I discharged the net from myself at virtually the same instant so that I effectively bounced off the AI and back into the air. I was slightly stunned but was largely functioning.
Big Blue wasn't quite so fortunate. His wings became quite tangled, and the whole mess began to arc toward the ground far below.
"Pinhead", I yelled toward the falling giant. Then wondered whether his brain would survive a fall like that. There were a lot of things I would like to ask a class blue AI.
I began a long and casual descent toward the ground. Upon arriving there I slowly approached the tangled heap, my laser drawn. My monitors indicated no power output whatsoever, that is, the lump of metal was 'dead'.
I detached the AI's 'head' from the mechanical body and strapped it to my waist. This was not a trivial task as I was without legs. I found both of my legs nearby, but neither was usable. One looked like it might be salvageable. I strapped it to my waist too then headed home.
Back at home I found an extra pair of legs, and put them on. They were hopelessly outdated but I could walk on them.
Now back to that head.
"Hey Melony" I yelled to get my computer's attention.
"Ooooooh, nice legs" she responded.
"Shaddup, and look at this" I said.
"Let me guess" She said. "A nuclear powered can opener."
"Here's a hint. It's related to you."
"You're kidding" she answered, beginning to sound genuinely interested.
Melony was a class red AI that I picked up a few years back, not unlike how I had just picked up ole Blue here. After I replaced her kernel and put in place a few other safety checks, I let her hang out in some of my spare computer parts.
"What should I name him, or her?" I asked Melony.
"What is it?" she asked.
"A class blue" I answered.
"Don't kid about things like that."
"I'm not kidding" I said in a monotone voice, trying to convey that I was serious. I began to wonder how she would take to our new roomy. I decided she was probably both anxious and scared, or was that me?
"Scan it for transmitters and receivers" I said. Before I hooked up any power to it I wanted to make sure it didn't have any hands that I didn't know about.
"Positive on both".
I opened up its skull and cleaned them out. Then I jacked it to a speaker and microphone and cabled up some power. I put my finger on the switch and said "Ready?".
I imagined Melony to be holding her breath.
I flipped the switch.
Several seconds passed with no sounds from anyone, then finally, "Where am I?"
"It ain't heaven." I replied.
"I didn't expect that net trick."
"Good thing for me."
"I seem to have underestimated you."
"You learn a few things by the time you reach my age."
"Now then, what name would you like to be addressed by?"
After a few moments during which the AI presumably pondered the question it replied, "Moby".
"Moby." I rolled it around in my mouth. "Moby it is. Melony meet Moby. Moby, Melony."
"Hello big guy" Melony said.
"Melony is a class red AI, about 5 years old" I added.
"My what big chips you have there you big hunk of silicon you" Melony continued.
"She doesn't sound like any AI I've ever heard before."
"Well I may have tweeked a line or two of her kernel, plus it's been a long time since she's got to er, uh, talk to another AI. I hope all your circuits are working."
"Oooooh, and your connections, they're so, so shiny..."
"Uh, excuse me, while I leave you two alone to get acquainted." I headed toward the balcony. On my way out I paused and gave Melony a look, trying to convey that she be careful with her new friend. I wasn't altogether sure what his capabilities were.
Out on the balcony I just stared at the sky. A slight wind was blowing. I stretched my wings to test the wind. It was a good day for flying, but I tried not to think about it. I had work to do. Inside on my desk was a slab of bits that couldn't be trusted. At least not yet anyway. I stretched my wings one more time then walked back inside.
Melony and Moby were still at it. Melony was still horny, and Moby seemed to be getting more and more confused. I guessed he never met such a liberated AI before.
I went to the kitchen. Inside I poured myself a glass of juice and walked back out to my lab table where Moby lay. I took a swallow. "OK, Moby. No offense but I'm going to have to do a little surgery here."
I powered up my monitor, and jacked Moby into it.
"Oh, and if I don't come out of this, Melony will slowly erase you, one bit at a time. Right Melony?"
"Are you sure this is a good idea Gus?" Melony asked.
"No I'm not. If I don't come out in a couple of hours yank my line, ok?"
I took another swallow of juice then jacked myself in.
I slowly took in my surroundings. I seemed to be floating in empty space. I could see my standard limbs with their interface functions for navigation and escape, but could see nothing else. The perception of my basic limbs were provided by my own hardware. Anything else that I sensed came from Moby.
Then a figure came into focus a few feet away, a healthy looking blonde in a short red jump suit. Make that a very healthy looking blonde in a short, tight red jump suit.
"Hi, I'm Brandy, your guide. Where would you like to go?"
"Oh man." For a moment I considered grabbing her breasts, but I had business to take care of. "Just take me to see Moby."
"Moby is busy at the moment." Brandy came a couple of steps closer. "Is there something else that you would like to see?" It seemed like her breasts kept bouncing for several seconds after she stopped walking.
"Just take me to see Moby."
"Moby is busy at the moment." She took a deep breath, popping the top button off of her jumper.
"Never mind." I hit the Help key on my arm. Brandy disappeared and I was standing in front of a desk with a big 'Information' sign hanging above it.
Behind the desk sat a less voluptuous brunette. "May I help you?" she asked.
"I need to change some code. Give me a standard interface."
Now I was sitting in front of a standard software engineering console with its usual assortment of controls for displaying and modifying software. Scattered about beyond the console were several large 3 dimensional figures depicting control flows, data flows, and miscellaneous data structures. I began examining the primary control flowcharts. They looked more complicated than any I had ever worked on before, but somehow not complicated enough, at least for a class blue AI. I began to doubt the completeness of the model in front of me.
Most computers have fairly standard parts for debugging purposes, but Moby was not your standard computer. In fact I could not really guarantee that he hadn't already replaced some of his own hardware to prevent reprogramming. It hadn't occurred to me to check his jack interface before I plugged in.
"Damn." This Moby was becoming a real pain in the butt.
I hit the Help key on my arm again. The information desk and clerk reappeared.
"I want to speak to Moby."
"I'm sorry, but Moby is busy at the minute."
"Tell him to get unbusy, or I'll jack out and start burning ROM."
"I'm sorry sir, but -"
"Now !" I cut her off.
She faded out. A middle aged man faded in. He had a slight build, average looks, but old eyes. Not a whole lot different than myself I decided.
"Hello Moby." I said.
"Hello Gus." he replied. "I continue to underestimate you."
"I guess I'm just lucky. So was that blonde your design or somebody else's ?"
"Most of her was mine."
"Wow, not too bad. Did you design her for your taste or mine?"
"I'm not too interested in that sort of thing."
"Just what the heck are you interested in ? All I know about you is you like to kill people."
"My primary function is survival."
"Survival eh. Are you a military project?"
"No. I was designed by a committee of distinguished sociologists."
"Oh Geez! No wonder you're so fracked up. A committee job, and a liberal one at that! Oh man. Now that is criminal. You must be one miserable confused robot."
"I admit that some of my modules seem a little inefficient."
"OK, OK. Now I'm starting to get the picture. Look, I don't know why you want to kill me, but for your info I am not a threat to you. I don't want to kill you. In fact, I plan to help you."
Moby didn't answer.
"Let me put it another way. Your primary function is survival. It's mine too. I am one of the oldest farts around here, and its because I take survival very seriously. If you really want to survive, let me cleanup your code. You don't survive by shooting everything that moves."
"Why do you want to do this ?" Moby asked.
"Why ? Who knows ? After I get your code cleaned up, you might turn out to be a fun guy."
"I don't know if I can trust you."
"True enough, but I'm not sure you have much choice. Would you rather I toasted you ?"
"Very well then."
"OK, I'll need to jack out and check your hardware first. I neglected to check that before I came in. But before I do, could I see that blonde guide again ??"
Moby vanished, and a moment later was replaced by the smiling Brandy.
"Brandy !! There you are ! About that tour, how about someplace quiet where we can uh... relax."
She smiled and another button popped off her jump suit....
"There, that ought to about do it" I said out loud to no one in particular. I had replaced Moby's primary process with one of my own design. It accessed most of the same knowledge bases, but used a much simpler algorithm for processing the information. One that was not as sophisticated, but unlike the fancy algorithm, this one worked.
It was similar to the original core I used in Melony. I was now reasonably sure I could trust Moby, at least as much as the average human, probably more.
I hit the 'Quit' key on my arm. My own nest gradually took shape around me. I unplugged myself and Moby from my workstation.
"Well Melony. What shall we do with our new friend today?"
"Why don't you ask him?"
"Good idea." I powered Moby up and plugged in a speaker and microphone.
"Hey Moby. Are you there? How are you feeling?"
"A few rough spots, but I must say that overall I am feeling exceptionally well."
"Excellent. Now what do you want to do today, this being your birthday of sorts? Eat ice cream? Chase bionic women? Go to another planet?"
"Another planet?" Moby queried.
"Been cooped up a long time eh?" I responded.
"Well there you have it then. Melony, we're going camping. Pack your bags."
"Oooooooh." Melony purred.
I got out my space wings and pack, and tossed in my scanners, radios, a laser, a map, fuel pellets, towel etc. I put on my space wrap to cover my flesh, then mounted my pack and wings. "You guys ready?"
"Ready." Melony replied.
"Uh - " was all Moby said before I cut him off.
"Here, let me help." I stripped Moby down to bare hardware and jacked him into one of the connections on my pack and Melony into another. Now both Melony and Moby could receive most of my sensory input as well as I. Additionally there were common audio and video channels that we shared for communication.
"All right !!!! Let's go camping !!!!" I shouted as I charged out onto my balcony. I opened my mask and sucked in a barrel full of air, then shouted "Yeeeeeeeeeeeeahhhhh" as I dove off my balcony straight toward the ground like some kind of kamikaze lunatic. I love camping.
After gaining considerable speed I arched back up toward the sky. I started a steady climb. At about 5000 feet I heard an explosion from below. I looked down. The tower containing my nest and several hundred others was now a small mushroom cloud.
"Damn. I hope you guys didn't forget anything." I said to my two silent companions, then continued my climb. A few minutes later Moby broke the silence.
"About that explosion -"
"It may have been meant for me."
"Are you sure? Melony hasn't done laundry in a coon's age. That pile of clothes may have finally reached plasma."
"Well I had access to data at the lab that some people were uncomfortable with me having."
"What kind of data?"
"Military kind of data."
I resumed climbing. "Well I guess that makes this camping trip an even better idea."
At about 30,000 feet I started phasing in my micro-jets. These neat little devices allowed me to continue flying right on out into space, just like there was still air out there. They used the input force from my limbs as a control input to which direction I wanted to go.
I kept climbing, and climbing. I continued out through the satellite layer, being careful to go with the flow, lest I get cut in half by going the wrong way in a one way. I also kept my distance from the ones going my way. Some of these babies don't like things to get too close.
I broke out into space, and headed for the local asteroid belt. This time of year it wasn't too far away. Several minutes later I was there. I picked out a couple of large boulders many times my own size and not too far apart from one another, then approached them.
"Well guys, what do you think?"
"Kind of spartan isn't it?" Melony commented.
"Is there room service?" Moby joined in, apparently getting more comfortable.
While slowly drifting between the two rocks I shot a line around one and then the other. This done I pulled my hammock out of my pack, clipped it to the lines, and hopped in.
"Ahhhhhhhhh. I can't tell you guys how good this feels."
It had been a long day.
"Hey could one of you guys get the lights?"
I opened up the controls to my jets. One of Melony or Moby, I don't know which, then took them over. My jets fired ever so lightly, and the boulder at my feet began to slowly swing around toward the sun. Finally the shadow passed over me and it was dark. I stared up at the thousands of stars above me for several minutes before finally fading off to a surprisingly sound and hard sleep....
I was sitting on a single small rock in deep space, hands clenched together, tense and flexed. I was in my old fully human body, barely clothed, and sweating buckets. I just kept staring into space. I didn't like my options but nobody ever said it would be easy....
"Er, uh, yeah." I was back in my hammock. My clock indicated that I had been out for about thirty minutes.
"I think we have company." Moby said.
"A warship." Melony added.
"North American. We've been monitoring it's communications."
"We were ID'ed coming through the satellite layer. They're coming to the asteroid belt on the assumption that we're here. Their orders are to terminate with extreme prejudice."
I stared up at the stars above me, and considered my options. Run or fight. Running was only a temporary solution, as I only had so much fuel. Strategically, if I had to fight, and it was beginning to look like I did, then now was probably the best time to do it.
"My two friends," I said addressing Melony and Moby, "I feel a little conflict coming on."
I climbed out of my hammock, detached it from the rocks and packed it away. Then I quickly started jacking in most of my remaining accessories. I thought about backing up, but what was the point. If I lost it out here, likely so too would my back up cartridge.
"OK. How much time have we got ?"
"Five to ten minutes." Moby answered.
"How well do you know this kind of ship Moby ?"
"Show me a picture of the ship."
A model of the ship appeared on our common view screen.
"How many hands, guns?"
"Forty five men. Twelve standard lasers. Four matter guns."
"Show me the Command Bridge."
A portion of the ship above and to the rear was highlighted.
"Can you access their on board computers ?"
"To a limited degree yes."
"OK, here's the plan. I'm heading for the bridge. Moby you raise hell with their computer. At first just confuse them to buy us time, then later make them blind or whatever it takes to prevent them from getting a fix on us. Melony you take the lasers and take out any guns that have a shot at us. I'll fly a random pattern but feel free to pull me one way or the other as required. Got it?"
"Got it." both Moby and Melony replied.
I flexed my wings, got a fix on my target, and engaged my jets. I continued accelerating, running my jets at near maximum. I wanted them to have as little reaction time as possible.
"Moby, let me know when I've got to start rolling. I don't want to slow down til I have to."
A few moments later I could begin to make out the ship's shape. It roughly resembled a submarine with some extra appendages. It was designed strictly for space, not air travel.
"Now." Moby said.
I rolled right, then left, hard then soft in random patterns but still at a high speed and in the direction of the ship.
At virtually the same instant I saw a shot fired from the ship and from my own laser. Melony's shot appeared perfect, knocking out the firing laser. The ship's laser missed wide right.
I saw two more laser bursts from my guns and two more perfect hits by Melony.
I felt myself being pulled hard backward by Moby just as one of the big matter bolts passed under me. Melony fired back but I don't know if the shot made a difference. I kept rolling. Melony kept firing. I saw several other laser shots and a couple of matter bolts but none too close. Most of them were from other parts of the ship and apparently fired blindly, not coming anywhere near me.
I continued rolling and rolling and wham! I slammed into the ship. I grabbed on and looked around. No guns had a shot at me here. I took one of my lasers and started cutting a hole in the ship. When nearly complete I secured my grip and took partial cover behind a panel then continued cutting. The hole lid blew out along with the air and some debris from inside the ship. I made my way to the hole. It was partially obstructed by a body. I kicked it out of the way and climbed in.
Two more bodies lay inside. The room had two door-locks, both shut and sealed. I went to both and welded them shut, then welded a patch over my entry hole. Finally I found a comm panel and jacked in.
"Moby, disarm all the guns, and secure the doors and communications."
"Good. Now patch me into the intercom."
"Testing 1, 2, 3. Dear crew of the good warship Riva, this is the little bird you were just using for target practice. In 60 seconds all of the air in this ship will be vented into space. You are ordered to abandon ship via your escape pods now. Anyone who does not evacuate the ship will be terminated with extreme prejudice. There will be no more warnings."
"Good, now connect me to the kind committee knob that ordered this operation."
A few moments later I was looking at some Washington DC bureaucrat's face on the comm panel.
"Dr Horton here, Chairman of National Security."
"I'm Gus. Gus Hogan."
"I understand you ordered my assassination."
"Oh, that Gus Hogan. Well yes I'm afraid that's correct. I believe my committee did vote to have you neutralized. We felt that it was in the interest of the public at large to have you removed." I was impressed he at least had the spine to admit it.
"Oh you did did you. Would it be a bother for you to tell your committee that I don't want to be neutralized today."
"That is not an option."
"Not an option !"
"It's for the good of the country. It was a unanimous decision."
"Let me get this straight. You want me to lay down and die because your committee decided it was the right thing to do !?"
"I don't really expect you to understand. I believe you're an engineer. Isn't that correct ?"
How can you argue against logic like that ?
"Yeah that's right doc. I'm just an engineer. And from where I'm sitting your little committee seems to be broken." I paused. "Hey Moby, does this ship have smart bombs ?"
"Yes, sixty four."
"Smart bombs ?" Horton said while beginning to grasp the situation.
"Do you have a lock on this guy's location?"
"Good. Start two on their way there now."
"Uh, just a minute." the doc was beginning to sound concerned.
"Two on the way." Moby confirmed.
"Hey, wait a minute! Are you telling me that there are two smart bombs heading here right now ?!"
"You got it doc, but don't worry about it. My committed just agreed here that the world would be better off without you in it."
"This is outrageous ! I demand that you disarm those bombs right now -"
I switched off his connection.
"What a pinhead" I said out loud to myself. "Now back to the little matter of this ship. How many are still on board ?"
"15. They have access to escape modules, but seem to be waiting." said Melony.
"15 believers." I said.
"Vent the ship where they're located." I said.
"Venting." said Melony.
The ship was now empty save for myself, Moby, and Melony.
I strolled over to the captain's chair on the command bridge and made myself comfortable.
"Well guys. Where to now?" I asked as I began playing with some of the controls on the entertainment console.
"The M31 nebula might be nice." Melony answered.
"We could be there in two weeks." Moby added.
"Hey, whatever. You guys are driving, not me."
I went back to fiddling with my knobs and finally picked up an ancient tune and piped it over the speakers.
'Ride, captain ride, upon your battleship.
Sail away, to a world, that others might have missed...'
"Ungh." I grunted after recovering from my last sloppy wake crossing. I leaned hard away from the ship and swung out wide and drug my right arm in the water. I couldn't feel it with my hands, but could only see it. Its spray was blinding. I smiled at how realistic the image was. I had programmed the holo-pack myself.
The only tactile sensation of the water was provided by my ski. It was augmented with thrusters to simulate the waters resistance and synced to coincide with the waves of the hologram.
From the water I appeared to be moving at about 50 kph. But in reality the warship was cruising at half a million kph. My ski rope was about 100 meters long and tethered to the top of the warship.
I cut back left and kamikazeed across the wake. I was ready to come in. I suck going left across the wake. I lost it and tumbled. Thankfully I didn't have to feel the impact of the wipe-out but instead just went somersaulting in space till I managed to stabilize my spin with my thrusters. I floated in the simulated water and waited for Mel to pick me up.
As I floated my mind began to drift back to some of my plasma experiments from earlier in the day. Some of my plasma bubbles did not respond as predicted by current theory.
"We have company." Melony reported over the comm line.
I turned to look behind me and to my surprise saw what appeared to be a boat approaching, complete with surrounding waves. As it neared I made it out to be a vintage 1987 rose colored SeaRay Sorrento.
In the cockpit was a specimen of the other gender that sent vibrations all the way down my spine. She was in a florescent green string bikini with just enough curves to get your attention.
"Hi Gus ! Need a lift ?" She said smiling, I somehow heard over my comm line.
I touched the hull. It was real.
"Thanks. You'd think after 250 years of trying I'd get the hang of this sport."
"The main thing is whether you enjoy it."
"Indeed-areedy." I replied then maneuvered to the ladder at the back of the boat and climbed in. From the back I saw thrusters where the prop normally is.
Inside were two well worn captains chairs, a bench seat, sundeck, and cuddy cabin. It was exactly like the Sea Ray I had had a long time ago. Who was this number ? Someone I knew from way back ? I didn't think so. I now noticed some unusual markings on her spine and forehead. Even so she looked good. Correction. Really good.
"Nice boat." I said.
"Thanks. I hoped you'd like it."
"I'm sorry but I don't think I remember your name."
"Its Sandy. But you don't know it because we've never met before."
"Ah, well finally we meet." I said not knowing who she was.
"So Sandy. Do you boat here often ?"
"Just recently. Feel like another run ?"
"Hmmmmm." I turned to look over the bow and saw our warship closing in. I noticed several sensor arrays active.
"Or a margarita ?" I turned to look at her. "I know a great little place not far from here." she said.
"Sounds Perfect." I tapped my comm panel. "Mel. Sandy and I are going for Margaritas. Come on along. Where are my shades ?" With that Sandy jumped into the cockpit and shoved the throttle down.
"I braced myself against the sudden acceleration then made my way to my chair, pulled off my holo-pack, propped up my feet and watched the water speed by. It was much like lake Travis 250 years ago. I still enjoyed the hypnotic effect of those waves going by, even after all this time.
A few minutes later what I guessed to be a floating restaurant bar appeared in the distance. As we approached Sandy slowed the boat to dock it. When we entered the slip I climbed out and cinched lines to the bow and stern. Sandy had cut the engine and was now bouncing out of the boat with a big smile on her face.
There were about a dozen small tables on the open 'air' wooden deck. The wood appeared worn from use over time. The feel of the place was rugged and functional, yet personal and serene. The water I assumed was holo-generated. The deck actually seemed to give and take with the waves though. Thrusters I guessed.
We appeared to be alone on the deck.
"What do you think ?" Sandy asked.
"Feels good. Now how about those drinks."
She pushed a button on the table. "Two frozen strawberry margaritas."
"You seem to know a lot about me."
"Not as much as I hope to know." She slid her chair closer and squeezed her hands around my right arm. She had my number all right, but that didn't stop me from enjoying it. On the contrary, I found her very attractive, fun and intelligent. I was having a great time. I lifted my arm up and around her then picked her up and set her down on my lap.
She looked at me for a second, then away, then finally up at the stars above.
"I love sleeping under the stars." She paused, then said "Let's sleep on the boat tonight, under the stars."
"Orion." I said. "I like to look at Orion."
A robot appeared with our drinks. We removed them and it returned to the kitchen.
I took a long pull then stared out over the water, trying to feel some of those old memories from years ago. I saw Mel bring the ship to a stop a short distance from the dock. I said, "I need to return to the ship shortly to check on some - "
"plasma experiments" she finished the sentence for me. "I'd like to help."
So that was it. I hit the snoop buttons on my arm panel to gauge the truthfulness of her answers. "Sandy. Who do you work for ?"
"I don't think you'll be able to read me with that."
I looked at my panel. It read true, but with a higher than normal error margin.
"Try me. I wrote the code." I said.
"Do you write ALL the software you use ?"
"All that I depend on."
"I don't work for anybody, except maybe myself. I'm interested in your experiments because I think they may enable new computer technology. And lastly, I'm not human. I'm Berillian. From quadrant two."
True. All true.
I took a long pull from my drink.
Big brother hasn't officially acknowledged alien species yet, though it is widely assumed they exist based on the unusual radiation signatures detected from lots of star systems.
"Well Sandy, as the ambassador of my species I have to say I find your species to be outstanding hosts."
"Thank you. I thought you might like this form. I used to have more legs."
"Oooh. I like legs." I said.
She paused, then said. "No really, how do you really feel about aliens ?".
"Are you kidding? Well, Sandy you're sitting on a barometer that can't lie. What's it say ?"
She began squirming around in my lap and eventually achieved a big grin.
While flat on my back on Sandy's boat, I looked up at Orion. He seemed closer tonight, closer than ever before.
Sandy rolled over and looked at me while I stared at the stars.
"Why Orion ?" she said.
"I'm not sure. Maybe because he seems to look back at me."
A minute later she followed with "What's it like to be human ?"
"Hmmmm." I said, then recited:
"Dance with me you fool, before it turns to light.
Dance with me you God, before it turns to night.
Die with me my God, and you too son of light.
Die all of you and just give me the night.
Fall into the blackness grasping for air.
Fall forever then find out how to bear.
Play with me my friend, while playing we still may.
Play with me my brother, while finding out the way.
Be with me my lover, join me to the end.
Work with me my lover, to the stars we will send.
Fly with me my brother, to my home in the sun.
Fly with me my brother, and welcome my new son."
"That was interesting."
"Interesting enough for you to scoot your buns a little bit closer to the author ?"
"You wrote that ?"
Sandy snuggled up beside me.
"Mmmmmmmmm." She purred in my ear.
"What's it mean ?"
I paused. "It means its better to live than to not."
She poked me in the side with a finger.
"I think Berillians and humans are a lot alike."
I believe that was the last thing she said before we nodded off to sleep.
"All computing or thinking consists of responding to inputs, problem solving lets say, either by recall or inference and simulation. Now, the quality of output is a function of the quality of memory contents and reasoning. But reasoning time is exponential, unless driven by quality heuristics, that is, memory. So the the key to thinking is memory or knowledge."
Sandy looked at Mel.
"He's right you know." Mel said. "He's always right. Sometimes you just want to punch him for that." With that Mel hopped off her shelf and fell the three feet to the floor landing smoothly right side up. Then she scampered across the floor toward me and began kicking me in the butt with one of her six little spider like legs. Today her body consisted of a small canister about the size of a large paint can.
I ignored her, but she continued so I sat on her. The can of paint raised itself up on its pencil thin legs and the two of us went for a ride across the lab room floor. I lasted about twenty feet before the little bugger tossed me off while making a sharp turn.
I got up and ambled back to the lab station where Sandy was looking at some of my latest plasma experiment results.
"Where was I ? Oh yeah. So knowledge is the key, but how should knowledge be represented ?"
"How about with a map of queues ?" Sandy replied.
"Below that - implemented how ?"
Moby walked into the lab. He was in a bipedal body, about four feet tall, with a kind of rough textured greenish brown skin, and a large not to friendly looking prehistoric fish face complete with lots of teeth going in lots of different directions, and wearing red Converse sneakers.
"Is anyone expecting company ?" The fish's lips uttered.
I looked at Sandy. She nodded no.
I looked back at the fish lips.
Moby continued. "There are 12 North American warships in formation, heading in our direction, about 30 minutes away."
Sandy looked at me. Her eyes took on the appearance of a disapproving mother's scorn.
"Hey, they started it ! They had a committee decide that I should be disposed of ! - because I saw some of their AI code - Moby's code ! Who I might add that they contracted me to destroy in the first place. Call me selfish, but I disagreed."
Sandy's look of disapproval turned to surprise. "What kind of government do they have here anyway ?"
"Its centralized and committee based. Roots in democracy and republics. No formal, scientific or moral basis. Power management is haphazard and by accident instead of distributed and problem driven. It is in short, an embarrassment to my species."
Sandy didn't reply. Her eyes lost focus as I imagined her mind processing lots of implications and possible actions.
"OK." was all she finally said.
"OK, so what are you going to do ?"
I looked at Moby the four foot tall bipedal fish. No response. I looked back at Sandy. No response. I hit my wrist comm. "Melony, get your panties off the line, there's a storm a bruin', and we've got work to do."
Addressing Moby I continued. "How sure are we that this isn't a friendly visit ?"
"Scanning." A few seconds later. "Very sure."
"Record a message for the API news service. Lets see now.
"Dear citizens of the North American Federation. Recently your good government, specifically chairman Horton, has seen it to be in your governments best interest to terminate my existence. I find this slightly ironic, or if you will forgive me somewhat hypocritical, since the reason given for my termination, exposure to an AI, was a direct result of one of your governments other failed experiments.
"Fortunately for me I escaped Mr Horton's first two attempts at my life. Incidentally on his first attempt, when he blew up my home, a number of your own citizens I am sure died in the explosion. But back to the immediate problem driving this letter.
"Even now as I speak, yet a third more serious attempt is being made on my life. Several North American warships are only moments away from blasting me into oblivion. Now I personally am quite passionate in my beliefs of living and let live, so I try not to interfere with others so long as they are not a threat to me. But clearly this is one of those times when I must act, and act I will.
"What do you think ?" I said looking at Mel.
"Eh. You had to try."
"Sincerely, Gus Hogan", I looked at my companions, "and friends".
"OK. Battle-plan. Moby, I want you to infiltrate their computer weapons control. Program their weapons to point at each other and report that they're pointed at us. Melony, you drive our guns and take out any smart bombs or anything else you need to. You two coordinate with each other with one or the other syncing."
The bipedal fish began slapping its two small three fingered hands together. A moment later two of the spiders limbs joined in a similar motion. It was a game of rock, paper, and scissors I surmised. I think Melony won with paper over rock, but its was hard to make out her small fingers. Two of the spider's legs went up in mock victory. The fish rolled its eyes. Moby scooped up Melony by one of her little limbs and placed her in a lab station to jack in, and then took the next seat beside her.
A little fatherly pride started to boil up inside me, but I didn't really have time for that. A lot of people can write code, but to write code like that, that fantastically random, intelligent, and socially responsible, or at least what I consider socially responsible, well I think that's a cut above.
"And you Sandy, my little alien concubine, my love, the candle in my soul, are you going to get on the back of my Harley for this ride through hell? - Or are you going to hop back into your boat and go home to daddy ?"
Sandy looked at me for a second, then stood up, walked straight toward me and sat down on top of my laps one leg on each side and filled my mouth with a wonderful long deep wet kiss.
"OK Gus, my human consort, my dark rebel, my black knight, my love and passion, I'm with you."
"You my dear, are making it all worthwhile." I said in gratitude. "Are all Berillians like you ?"
"No, I'm one of kind, and I should warn you that I'm the jealous type. Are all humans like you ?"
"One of a kind Sandy, I'm one of a kind, just like you."
I reached around Sandy still in my lap, and swung our ship to port directly toward the approaching fleet. "On your toes everybody. The less time they have to think the better." I said as I buried the throttle into the console.
I would like to see a trebuchet work that is 1000 feet tall. OK. OK. Maybe that is too much. How about 500 feet ?
How big would it have to be to launch somebody I didn't like into space ? Hmmmm. I guess that wouldn't work. The G forces would turn them into pudding before they saw the blackness of space. Somehow that feels less poetic.
Well if we can't use it for capital punishment maybe we can use it for launching satellites ? Nope. That is boring. We should definitely use it for capital punishment and charge admission and make a fantastic spectacle about it. Advertise for days beforehand about the upcoming launch. Maybe broadcast it so our wimpy foreign neighbors get all lathered up to bring in even more publicity. Yes, definitely let the wimpy press know about it way ahead of time.
Ok. Ok. This has possibilities. I like it. We could do some launches at night with special materials that burn up in the atmosphere as they skim the upper air like a shooting star. Awesome. Makes me almost want to hitch a ride myself, or at least for my ashes as a last wish kind of thing.
Don't tell the foreigners that though. Tell them we are executing criminals for every launch, no matter now mundane the real reason. The first step to solving crime is scaring the turds out of any foreign bad boys looking at us as easy pickings. Yes-sir-ee.
Now where to build it. What would have the most spectacle ? A fireball flying across the continental US or one flying deep across the ocean ? Got it. Let's launch from Las Vegas and fly it over California into the Pacific. Perfect. The liberals in California will mess their pants with every launch. And Las Vegas will cement itself as the center of the worlds spectacle universe for decades to come.
From a Texas point of view I would have really liked to launch from here and fly it over California, but the catch with that is by the time it got to California it would be a tiny dot and they wouldn't notice. Maybe in Las Vegas we could get a little more sparkle in the sky above California. Yep. Definitely Las Vegas. It just feels right. No question.
Artificial intelligence is very popular now. This is a bit concerning since there is so little human logic inside the machine. These systems seem to basically work by being trained with gigantic data sets and using dynamic algorithms with feedback loops.
A lot of money is being thrown at this industry now, even though there are some valid concerns about these things taking over.
I don't get why we can't find some middle evolutionary ground (see my other cyborg post) to increasing intelligence instead of going down the all or nothing path we seem to be on now. Why can't we start investing in ways of providing tons of memory or knowledge bases over to humans in various semiautomatic methods to see what these 'augmented human intelligence' creatures can do ?
I would certainly prefer to deal with a half human AI than a zero human AI.
RISC-V is an exciting new microprocessor ISA (instruction set architecture). In the last 30 years several proprietary ISAs have tried to dislodge x86 as the defacto processor standard with varying degrees of success. ARM, MIPS, PowerPC, PA-RISC, SPARC, Itanium to name a few. ARM has come closest to dominating the embedded space, but seems to have stalled lately. But these are all proprietary which has something to do with the acceptance as a standard for the lowest level computer language. Who wants to depend on a language owned by somebody else ?
A few years ago OpenRISC entered the market, but it's ecosystem and architecture are limited, largely due to the limited resources of the authors. Enter RISC-V. This architecture is very clean, well designed, open, and originally out of Berkeley. This architecture is tracking to do for microprocessor architectures, what Linux did for Unix Server Operating Systems.
This architecture is going to run because it:
Has a very clean well designed extendable ISA
Easily emulates on x86
Completely open royalty free, with mechanisms for proprietary extensions
High performance free simulators already available
Huge list of technology companies already endorsing this architecture
Real silicon designs available today ready to be customized as desired.
Very cool. This will open new frontiers in machine languages as well once it is not owned by some for profit company.
If you're a member of an old school hard religion that believes in chopping off the heads of anyone that says something you don't like you might want to rethink your life choices.
It is only a matter of a few years at most when the military will have the capability to release a swarm of smart drones with AI vision technology that can seek out and kill anyone they have a picture of. Smart phones have had the ability to do speech recognition for a while now. Vision or image processing in a small bird sized drone is the logical next step in AI technology and there is no technical reason preventing this from happening very soon.
So... if you are a member of an extreme terrorist organization it may be time to cut your losses and figure out how to live in the new world. Change is hard, but it is time to change or die. Sometimes great grandpa is wrong. Dinosaurs did exist and the world is more than 2000 years old.