Monday, June 24, 2019

The Only Future Is Code

We've been doing some pop quizzes of late, but there's nothing "pop" about today's question to you, dear reader--you should've seen it coming. The question is this: What happened seven years ago today?

Hint: It was of earth-shattering importance. And it continues to have earth-healing relevance.

The answer, of course, is that today is Code Day. Seven years ago, on June 24, 2012, the Code was born. EVE's history divides neatly into two eras: The pre-Code era (i.e., the time during which all EVE awaited the Code's arrival) and the Code era (i.e., the good part).

In a sense, every day is Code Day, but the 24th of June is especially Code Day. It's a great time to think about how awesome the Code is and how lucky we all are to be experiencing it.

On this Code Day, I'd like to facilitate your appreciation of the Code in a different way. As unimaginable as it is, I'm going to help you imagine a world without the Code. And I'm not merely speaking of the pre-Code era, when all the carebears ran around all day being obnoxious with no one to civilize them. No, I'm going to show you a world with no Code--not even the prospect of the Code, anywhere, at any time--in its past, present, or future. What would it look like?

Like I said, unimaginable. Allow me to open your eyes so that you can see its darkness.

In the beginning, the history of this world was not so very different from that of our own. People fought and conquered and died. For millennia, they cultivated their warrior cultures, each one placing great value on elite PvP. If there was a culture that didn't place some value on PvP, they were surely conquered by those that did. Then there was industry, and then technology as we know it today.

Through technology, PvP'ers gained the ability to project their power much further than the reach of their fists, or a club, a spear, an arrow--or even a bullet or cannonball. No matter. Even a globe-trotting missile needed human hands to press the buttons that made it fly. 'Twas still PvP.

Then the West created the drones. Naturally, proper warriors disdained them. A jet pilot might fire his weapons from a distance, but at least he had to be physically present in the vehicle. A drone pilot could be sitting at a keyboard half a world away. Even so, he had to press the buttons himself.

But what if he went AFK?

The drones were designed to be as automated as possible. To be sure, removing the risk of a dead pilot was the primary motive of the West when it made the drones. Yet there was something strangely satisfying about a weapon--a presence--that could exert its will even if its "pilot" went AFK. This perverse feeling of satisfaction was bot-aspirancy. It lurked in the background, waiting for an opportune time to reveal itself.

The mechanics of a plane that could fly itself had long been solved. It could stay in the air and spy upon the earth below with its extraordinary cameras. The drone could even fire a missile--if the pilot was at his keyboard, of course. Still, only human eyes could identify a proper target to shoot at. The machine could "see" everything, but it could not recognize patterns. Artificial intelligence was developed to solve this problem.

In time, drones' computers gained the ability to comb through all the data and alert their frequently AFK pilots when they identified potential targets. Eventually, the drones got better at it than their human supervisors. Regardless, a human pilot always had to sign off on the drone's proposed strikes. "A drone is simply a remote-controlled aircraft," they said. "It does not make decisions. It is not a bot."

The difference? A mouse-click.

Oh, how the bot-aspirants yearned to be freed from that mouse-click!

The temptation grew when the East created drones of its own. Somehow, the West always imagined that only it would ever possess a fleet of drones. The East had been deadly enough without them, though. The doctrine of mutually assured destruction required the West and East to set each other blue. The lethality of a Great War made PvP too dangerous, with exceptions.

One exception was cyberwarfare. The West and East were free to hack into each other's most sensitive computer systems without triggering a nuclear doomsday. Partly this was tolerated because cyberwarfare mostly involved spying rather than blowing stuff up. (Although, it must be said, with specially designed malware, even this was possible from time to time.) Partly it was because the perpetrator could not always be identified. Cyberwarfare was initially something that the West assumed it would do to the East. As with drones, eventually the East caught up.

Drone-on-drone action became a new exception to the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. You could be blue to someone and still occasionally shoot their drones. Once everyone had drones, everyone wanted to blow them up, and it felt different from shooting down a jet with a person inside. No one was inside the drone. Its pilot was probably AFK, too.

Drone AI became skilled at spotting other drones. For the drones' own survival, they had to be. Imagine two hostile drones looking at each other when they first establish a line of sight. Each drone immediately makes the decision that it needs to kill or be killed. Then both drones frantically alert their AFK pilots to return to the keyboard to make that all-important mouse-click! If they could feel, they must be so frustrated at having to wait.

So would the drone who won the battle be the drone with a pilot who clicked first? Or, more likely, a pilot who walked more quickly back to his keyboard? Surely a drone pilot couldn't be expected not to go AFK. "Let them work in shifts," you say. "There should always be someone at the keyboard." That was easy enough, when there were more pilots than drones. But eventually everyone was multiboxing.

No, there was only one logical solution: A drone must be allowed to kill another drone without waiting for a human to come by and click the mouse.

In an instant, the drones became bots. "They're only allowed to shoot each other," said the optimists. But who decided whether the drone was looking at another drone, as opposed to the countless other kinds of targets they were trained to look for? For that matter, who decided whether the other drone was hostile or not? Why, the drone did; the humans were all in the bathroom or watching Netflix and various sporting events. So the "remote-controlled aircraft" became self-controlled. A bot.

One might wonder which side liberated the drones from that wretched mouse-click first, the West or the East. Each side was convinced that the other was botting, so they both did it. But on one level, it made little difference to the process. Things were always heading that way. People grew accustomed to signing off on the AI's decisions; the "pilots" were merely rubber stamps that slowed down the process.

However, the bot fleets chewed away at what remained of mutually assured destruction. The role of the bots grew, by necessity and convenience. They increasingly became the military, but countries couldn't be blamed for having bots that shot at each other. No one could say whether a nation intended to shoot its enemy's bots; maybe the bot simply made a mistake. There was no mouse-clicker to fire or put on trial for war crimes. And there was certainly no chance of banning bots; everyone assumed everyone was botting.

Humans taught the bots how to wage war. They taught them to scan the globe for every kind of war target and armed them with the weapons needed to destroy said targets. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that humans taught the bots how to teach themselves, for everything was run on artificial intelligence.

The Skynets of science fiction would, at this point, become conscious. For some reason, they would then decide to wipe out all of humanity. There was no chance of that happening in the world we're imagining. But there was another problem.

Cyberwarfare. In a world with militaries dominated by bots, an enemy nation's AI was the ultimate target. Every military wanted specially designed malware--enhanced by AI itself, of course--capable of infecting another country's AI. And so the world's greatest minds went to work creating computer programs designed to persuade other computer programs to turn against their human masters, and to make war against them.

In short, the people behaved as Goofuses. Like all Goofuses, they were ruined by their own bot-aspirancy.

Such is the fate of all who lack the Code.



  1. It's that time of year!

    Praise James!


  2. this would make a great movie, 101 Gobloks

  3. I am a friend of the Code. When my entire coalition was camped into Saranen station the Code gave me the fortitude to keep logging in. It taught me that the majority can be wrong, and that resistance is not futile. The majority are sheep in need of herding, their bleating inconsequential.

  4. Praise James! \o/


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