To Protect and to Serve

We're back at the Gu launch again.

By now everyone has been served canap├ęs. The attendees have twisted round in their seats and are watching the two Gu figures put down their trays at the back of the room, which has a gently raked audience seating area. They link arms, and abruptly dissolve into several hundred small spheres, which bounce and roll down among the audience. Most manage to grab one or two; those who don't look disappointed, but the two dancers emerge from backstage and begin tossing the balls that reached the front to those who missed out, amid applause.

You're still in Callie Arnold's viewpoint, from which the room now resembles an unusually well-dressed kindergarten. You broadcast your attention request a couple of times, then put your fingers in your mouth, whistle loudly, and shout, "Oy!". You smile, and subvocalize: They're going to sell it for us.

The audience slowly settles enough for her to continue. There has been a complete transformation of the mood of the room, from resentment at being present to broad grins and a party atmosphere.

"You received a locked file on your way in," you say. "Here's the key."

You don't get the flowering of the data in the file; instead, you watch the reactions. You have a head-up display in your left visual field which is tracking a number of key technology stocks in real time; several of experience a sudden flurry of activity, and you smile to yourself. People's eyes are unfocussed as they highload the data and start associating it, and their lips move slightly as they talk to their bosses - every head in the room now has a donkey over it (van der Plotz's is Eeyore), the audience has multiplied by at least fivefold in the past ten minutes. A whisper comes to you in Serena's voice: "Feeding frenzy, upcoming. Two or three people are feeding this live. You want me to alert the hotnodes, or just wait for it to happen?"

You subvocalize, "Hold off while I talk about the limitations."

"Naturally, the technology is in a very early stage," you say aloud, to less than complete attention from the room.

"Resolution is at the limits of vision - you can see a roughness if you squint - and response is in the sub-second range, just. The overall effect currently is somewhat 1950s-Japanese-monster-movie." Laughter from those of the audience who are paying attention.

"These are not the only things we believe we can improve. Currently, the material is not highly robust and is, of course, expensive, since we are making it in laboratory lots rather than on an industrial scale. Color and texture are something like pale silvery rubber, all the time. It becomes less flexible the more you morph it. And so far, we can't have internal discrete parts, such as wheels.

"I invite you, though, to look ten to fifteen years into the future. That's about five product cycles. By that time, I confidently expect Gu to be controllable in the micrometer scale, quickly enough that the motion appears entirely natural. It will be extremely strong, perhaps almost as strong as steel, but much cheaper than steel weight-for-weight - within everyone's budget. It will be able to change color and texture and convincingly imitate a wide range of other materials. It will have an operating life of years, and be able to take on a complex internal structure. Currently, any sensors and other electronics would have to be made of conventional materials and embedded; we believe we can eventually make them integral."

A uniformed man at the back, large but not tall, is narrowcasting a continuous point-to-point speech request at you and looking increasingly unhappy. He is from the Pentagon, according to his metatags. You speak to him aloud.

"Colonel, you have a question?"

He stands. No cut to his viewpoint. If you interrogate the dex's features menu you discover that he is now deceased, and as a former Pentagon employee his memories are naturally not publicly archived.

"Yes, Doctor, what thought have you given to the security implications of a substance such as this being commercially available?"

Arnold's mental translation comes through clearly: Why shouldn't I classify this and disappear you into a military lab for the term of your natural life?

"Good question, Colonel. I have several pieces of good news for you on that score, however. Safety was at the forefront of our thinking, and we've built several safety features in at the deepest level.

"Firstly, the faster a piece of Gu is moving, the softer and more absorbent of impact its internal structure becomes. Essential for any transport applications, as you'll appreciate, but it also means that if you fire a Gu bullet at someone - which you couldn't do out of a Gu gun, at least not with explosives - what will hit them will effectively be a small piece of foam rubber.

"Secondly, at least at its current level of development, Gu will not take much of a cutting edge. Not only does it make a terrible gun, it doesn't even make a very good knife.

"And finally, because it is controlled by holographic projection, any item composed of Gu can be readily disrupted by shining a sufficiently strong laser beam on it. I believe the military has a number of strong laser beams it can use." You smile broadly, not concealing your satisfaction. "Of course, this also means - unfortunately for you - that the military applications of the technology are relatively limited, though I'm sure you can find some. You're very creative people that way. But it does mean that, with appropriate monitoring, terrorist use of it can also be limited, without keeping it off the shelves at Hardware King." In your peripheral vision, several stocks in companies manufacturing lasers for military and security applications are showing activity.

The Colonel frowns, but your gaze moves elsewhere, dismissing him, and he reluctantly - you see out of the corner of your eye - sits down.

Cut to Halwaz's viewpoint, interviewing Arnold, present day.

"You rather dismissed the poor Colonel's concerns, didn't you?"

"Yes, Susan, I did. At the time, we thought we'd done enough to make Gu safe and even militarily inapplicable, but of course we didn't think like terrorists or military people or even criminals. Some military uses of Gu have points in their favor, of course. Using Guplicates to enter dangerous areas is just as applicable to aid workers, emergency personnel, miners or construction workers, for example." Overlaid visual of Guplicate troops deploying in an urban setting, somewhere in Burma by the looks. "Exoskeletons for greater speed and power, well, they also help disabled people and the elderly and, again, construction workers." A montage of images; troops running with exoskeleton assist, an old lady in an exo weeding her garden, the famous quadriplegic artist nMay walking down the street in her exo and working in her studio, a team of construction workers picking up heavy flagstones. "Espionage and surveillance, well, we knew more or less that it would be used for that, you can't prevent it. We were already a watched society anyway, for better or worse. It's just that now any passing cat may belong to the NSA, and keeping industrial secrets is even harder than it was before. And things like drop-wings, that's a wonderful sport, I've done it myself." A squadron of paratroopers glide in silence on albatross wings of Gu.

"But?" you say. The viewpoint shifts to Arnold's. You are upset.

"But people are so damned ingenious about finding ways to hurt each other." You look away from her, staring at the floor without seeing it. "I mean, I'm not quite a pacifist - I'm not that brave - but almost, and it cuts me up to see people using something I helped to invent against their fellow human beings. I just wish they'd apply the same ingenuity to learning to live in peace."

"You're thinking of the May 7 group?"

"May 7, yes. I mean, I know they would have found a way to do it without Gu, but they did it with Gu, and that bothers me. Bothers me a lot."

Your eyes mist up with tears. Halwaz leaves a long silence before ending the scene.

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This entry was posted in Brandy and Clint, Callie Arnold, crime, drop-wings, espionage, exoskeletons, Guplicates, limitations, May 7, military applications, pacifism, Sally van der Plotz, security, terrorism. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to To Protect and to Serve

  1. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    Callie Arnold is speaking for me here. Like her, I am not brave enough to be an actual pacifist (or not idealistic enough, perhaps), but I’m fairly close. I did manage to do a six-month contract with the NZ Defense Force as a computer consultant and retain a clear conscience, because the NZDF mainly does peacekeeping, disaster relief and search and rescue and New Zealand’s foreign policy is to be such a good neighbor to everyone possible that nobody is going to want to stomp us (and if anyone ever does we’ll have lots of friends). That foreign policy is one of the few things I agree with the present government on.Anyway, I wanted to have Gu be different from the usual technological path – followed by many of the great boons we enjoy in daily life, including computers and the Internet – of starting out military and gradually transitioning to civilian applications. It’s civilian from the start, and one of its design goals is that it’s hard to make a weapon out of it. “Hard”, of course, doesn’t mean “impossible”, and we will hear in the next post or two about some of the ways it’s been misused – as well as some of the ways the authorities are using it against criminals in turn. Be prepared for superheroes, of a sort.You may notice among the tags “Brandy and Clint”. Fellow fans of Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash will probably get the reference, which relates to the second paragraph. There’ll be more about Brandy and Clint in due time.

  2. Steve S says:

    Hi Mike,enjoying your work, loved city of masks, which lead me here, and Gu is holding my attention too. Thank you.Didn’t realise til this post you were a kiwi. me too. Good summation of NZ foreign policy, but then we don’t have too many other options in a tiny country like this.Thanks for sharing your good work with us Mike. Looking forward to you next few posts about the weaponisation of Gu.

  3. Mike Reeves-McMillan says:

    Thanks, Steve, glad to hear it. I suppose my observation would be that while this is clearly a good foreign policy for a small country – might it also be a good foreign policy for a larger country?To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton on Christianity, the problem is not so much that this has been tried and failed but that it’s never been tried.

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