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Author Topic: EP406: Freia in the Sunlight  (Read 1447 times)
eytanz
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« on: July 26, 2013, 04:41:52 AM »

EP406: Freia in the Sunlight

by Gregory Norman Bossert

Read by Shaelyn Grey

--

Freia is beautiful, and she knows it.  Richard Wooten says so, at 0:47.

Wisps and curls whip overhead, limned blue by starlight; the fog ceiling is lowering, the top tattered by the offshore wind.  She drops another three meters, switches on ultrasonics.  There are patches of trees here — “unmarked obstacles up to thirty meters” the map says — and she is skimming just twenty meters above the ground.  The woods show up as ghostly towers in the sonics, blurred and dopplered by her two hundred thirty meters per second; further to her right the hills run parallel to her course, solid in passive radar and the occasional glimpse in visual light through the fog.
That occasional glimpse is a problem, of course; what she can see can see her back.  Her beauty is hidden, these days, wrapped in night fogs and silence, not like the Demo in the sun.  But today is different.  Her Intelligence Package has been pulled, and the Extended Performance Metrics Recorder; a single unit fills her payload bay, an isolated control subsystem and minimal I/O.  The last time she’d flown without the IntPack was at the Demo; it is possible, she thinks, that the mission today might be another, that the target will be a wide field in the sun, a billowing crowd, a platform and podium and Richard Wooten.  She’d replayed the video during the long incoming leg over the ocean, rebuilt her profile of the Demo field, ready to find a match in the terrain ahead.

Richard Wooten says at 5:49:
What you are about to see is a first here at the Paris Air Show.  In fact, it is a first at any public event, anywhere in the world.  What you are about to see is fully autonomous flight. We’re not talking about an autopilot, or a preprogrammed route, or a replay out of one of the overused attack libraries our competitors are demonstrating at this same show. The mission parameters we’ve given are simply to maximize visibility to the target –that’s all of you (chuckles) —  while covering the full range of flight capabilities, minimums to maximums.  Those parameters were provided in  natural language by the ApInt Director of Marketing.  Yes, that’s me, ladies and gentlemen, Richard Wooten.  No pilots,  no programmers, no technical staff.  Everything, from the analysis of the terrain and weather right down to the choice  of route and individual maneuvers, _everything_ you are about to see, will be determined in real-time by the onboard  systems of this extraordinary unit.

    She layers the latest weather data over her terrain map, a constantly updating stream from the satellites that swim overhead, from official sources and otherwise; even an encrypted feed can be spoofed or simply inaccurate, so she stacks and judges and constructs a situation model that she can trust.
And that model says that the fog on this side of the hills is dispersing under the dry southwesterly wind.  The increased risk of detection from the scattered towns ahead outweighs the advantage of the shorter route to the target.  She banks, and follows a finger of fog up a gully, and into the hills, where a canyon snakes inland over winding water.


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2013, 12:27:51 AM »

I am the king under the mountain... and this is the first post on this thread.

Anyway, I liked this one. It was a neat, sad story about how the things we make sometimes aren't exactly what we planned for them to be... and how that can be tragic. It made sense, of course. How could you explain to a machine that you built to understand mass and velocity and trajectory all the complications of its mission? How could you explain to this machine that it's job is to kill? So, of course, "she" misunderstands her mission and screws it all up...

Freia's journey towards understanding beauty as rightness (there's more to beauty, of course, but I think I can forgive a drone killer who had to come to understand what beauty means on her own, by surfing the web, for having a somewhat simplistic view of beauty) was, well, beautiful. Her ultimate fate, of course, is sad, because there can be no peace for Freia. Either her targets will eventually kill her, or she'll run out of fuel.

One little thing I kind of liked: new brain science is teaching us that actually, all decision making is emotional. Oh, sure, you think that the ideal is to be all Spock-like and weigh the options, but it doesn't really work that way. If I went into your head and gave you a little selective brain damage, severing the connections between your forebrain and your emotional bits, not only would I totally screw up your social life and cause you to die miserable and alone (sorry 'bout that), the most immediate consequence is that you would lose the ability to make decisions. Even little things, like "which color socks should I wear" or "which color pen should I use to write this down?" would take you hours.

So, to the extent that Freia had to make decisions, she had to have emotions, which is what screwed her up. However, to the extent that she was a machine and hadn't been built to understand the larger context and stakes of her actions, she was ultimately incapable of making the decision. So the problem wasn't that Freia was a machine whose complexity led her to have feelings... the problem was that they didn't go far enough. They didn't teach Freia to understand what she was doing, to hate her enemy and want them to die.

Ultimately, this brings on a final layer of complexity to this story.

Freia was built to make war in the way that we wish we could make war. I think that a lot of people like to see war as clean, abstract, pure, and glorious. It is a clash of nation on nation, ideal on ideal. We don't want to think that we hate and fear our opponents: we want to think that our interests conflict with theirs, and we will use military force to decide who gets what they want and who has to do without. This, however, is total bull. War is not clean. It's awful and hellish and people die, or come home broken in mind and body, and we do it because we allow our hate, greed, and fear (rather than our love, compassion, and generosity) to influence the decision-making process. Freia was built to make war in the way we imagine war to be... and as a result, she couldn't do it.

By the way, another neat brain science tidbit: if you want people to make nicer decisions, make them eat cake, ice cream, and other oh-so-good-but-oh-so-bad-for-you treats. Apparently, eating treats makes you feel like a bad person, so you then have to try to balance the scales by being nice to people. By contrast, eating health food makes you less likely to be nice or helpful. In other words, pie makes you a saint and granola makes you a jerk.

Cheesy
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flintknapper
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2013, 09:49:38 AM »

The Robot Paladin just summed up a lot of my thoughts regarding the underlying narrative better than I could. It was was a decent story. The AI was used to explore the conundrum which is war. Narration was solid as was the writing. However, for some reason, this one did not stick with me some like some of the other more recent escapepod stories. I am not sure why.
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adrianh
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« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2013, 03:42:10 AM »


So, to the extent that Freia had to make decisions, she had to have emotions, which is what screwed her up.


The niggler in me has to point out that just because homo saps greasy evolved hack of meatbrain works that way - doesn't mean Freia has to. I can't see that there is anything intrinsic in decision making that ties it into emotion.
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adrianh
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« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2013, 04:02:44 AM »

One thing Electric Paladin didn't mention were the religious aspects of the story. Or maybe worship or ritual would be a better term. Freia's reinvention of the call-response and something akin to prayer. Having that emergent from her newly discovered sense of beauty was nicely done.

As for the story itself - it left my strangely unmoved. Despite loving stories in the area of consciousness / AI, etc. Not sure I can put my finger on why. Maybe it was just trying to pack too much into the space available.

It also made me remember another short story I read not too long ago - about an autonomous drone / armament evolving a sense of ethics. I've got David Brin in my head as the author - but Google's not finding it. Anybody else recall it? Might even have been an EP episode... my memory sucks ;-)
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Windup
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« Reply #5 on: July 28, 2013, 11:22:31 AM »

This is the type of AI story I love -- where the AI is not a "human in a box," but rather an alien intelligence with its own set of motivations and non-human ways of organizing and processing information.

For a while there, I thought that Freia was going to go all Jason Bourne on her creators, and I'm glad the author resisted that impulse.  I found the thought of her streaking off and using the finite life granted by her fuel supply to search for "the beautiful" deeply poignant.  I think that's what drama is all about -- letting you "feel" the situation of another.  Even when "the other" is as different from us as Freia is.

Beautiful.
« Last Edit: July 28, 2013, 07:25:41 PM by Windup » Logged

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InfiniteMonkey
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« Reply #6 on: July 28, 2013, 01:11:08 PM »

I will admit this story proved a little confusing for me, partly because it plays with time and sequence in the narrative, and partly because of personal bias. I thought Freia was on her way to the Paris Air Show demo, where of course everything would go horribly, horribly wrong, because you don't let weapons think. But in fact the Air Show is a memory for Freia and the mission was something else entirely.

And did anyone clearly hear the name of the "Second [BLANK] Conflict"? It sounded like Burr, but that makes no sense. Something about the reverb made hard for me to make out.
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ElectricPaladin
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« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2013, 03:56:10 PM »

So, to the extent that Freia had to make decisions, she had to have emotions, which is what screwed her up.

The niggler in me has to point out that just because homo saps greasy evolved hack of meatbrain works that way - doesn't mean Freia has to. I can't see that there is anything intrinsic in decision making that ties it into emotion.

I can't argue with that. Totally valid rebuttal. Nevertheless, I could see how it might be hard for our greasy meatbrains to create something that makes complex decisions in a different way. Or, to put it more clearly, I could see a story in which the premise is that in order for human programmers to create a machine that makes decisions in as complex a way as humans - rather than simply algorithms - they might end up putting a little too much humanity into it.

This story didn't go there, though, so both our interpretations are valid.

One thing Electric Paladin didn't mention were the religious aspects of the story. Or maybe worship or ritual would be a better term. Freia's reinvention of the call-response and something akin to prayer. Having that emergent from her newly discovered sense of beauty was nicely done.

I didn't mention that, and I agree that it was very well done.
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #8 on: July 29, 2013, 06:54:46 AM »

Apart from a few recording glitches, and the occasionally slightly over-heavy reverb on Richard Wooten's words, this was a good story very well presented.

I did have a bit of a niggle with all the speed references - 500 MILES per SECOND is absurdly fast! Meteors hit the atmosphere at less than a tenth of that and burn up before it even gets dense. I'm guessing the text says "mps" meaning metres-per-second.

One thing Electric Paladin didn't mention were the religious aspects of the story.
It was an interesting parallel, subtly done. I didn't pick up on the comms-protocol-as-prayer image (if that's what adrianh intended) but the corporation/marketer demanding worship struck me as an interesting image. (Some echos of Dead Merchandise?)

As for the story itself - it left my strangely unmoved.
Yes, which is a little odd.

It also made me remember another short story I read not too long ago - about an autonomous drone / armament evolving a sense of ethics.
Dark Star, anyone? Would it have mattered if they taught Freia phenomenology?
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matweller
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« Reply #9 on: July 29, 2013, 08:42:51 AM »

I will admit this story proved a little confusing for me, partly because it plays with time and sequence in the narrative, and partly because of personal bias. I thought Freia was on her way to the Paris Air Show demo, where of course everything would go horribly, horribly wrong, because you don't let weapons think. But in fact the Air Show is a memory for Freia and the mission was something else entirely.

And did anyone clearly hear the name of the "Second [BLANK] Conflict"? It sounded like Burr, but that makes no sense. Something about the reverb made hard for me to make out.

"Eighty-two percent of mission failures in the Second Burma conflict were due to missing or falsified intelligence." - See more at: http://escapepod.org/2013/07/26/ep406-freia-in-the-sunlight/#sthash.W3Mx05Ib.dpuf
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matweller
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« Reply #10 on: July 29, 2013, 08:45:11 AM »

I did have a bit of a niggle with all the speed references - 500 MILES per SECOND is absurdly fast! Meteors hit the atmosphere at less than a tenth of that and burn up before it even gets dense. I'm guessing the text says "mps" meaning metres-per-second.

It actually says "meters," and I apologize for not catching it.
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Max e^{i pi}
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« Reply #11 on: August 02, 2013, 02:24:21 AM »

I too was strangely unmoved, by this story, but I chalked it up to listening to the story on inferior playback equipment while jerkily driving a stick-shift through dense traffic.
I re-read the story, and am slightly more moved.
I like how Freia became her own person and grew beyond her design parameters. The significance of her name was not lost on me (Freja, Norse goddess of (among other things) beauty) and I liked where that lead.
When I envision synthetic intelligence ("artificial" is a harsh word, just because an intelligence was created in a lab or factory it is not any less real) I too imagine it starting out as something akin to human thought patterns, since we built it, and we can only build what we know. But it will, by necessity, be something entirely new, foreign to us. Alien, in fact. And its thought patterns will be difficult to foresee. And I see this as a very real scenario: the synthetic intelligence completely missing the point of its existence. Whether on purpose, rejecting its designed function because it wants something better/doesn't want what we had planned for it. Or by accident, completely not grasping something that we take for granted. Like the fact that a war plane is built to fight a war. To drop bombs, destroy things. Did we bother to tell it that that's what it needs to do? No, form should dictate function. It's a war plane, it should fight a war. We shouldn't need to tell it that.
Freia also understands that form dictates function. "This is one beautiful bird" Her form is that of a bird, and so she flies. Her form is beautiful, and that is what she quests after.
The fundamental error came when Richard took for granted that Freia will fight wars because that's what he thought he was building. But Freia had other ideas. New ideas. Alien ideas.
Brilliant.
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #12 on: August 02, 2013, 05:09:19 AM »

Freia also understands that form dictates function. "This is one beautiful bird" Her form is that of a bird, and so she flies. Her form is beautiful, and that is what she quests after.
The fundamental error came when Richard took for granted that Freia will fight wars because that's what he thought he was building. But Freia had other ideas. New ideas. Alien ideas.
Brilliant.
Entirely agree! And totally believable. There's a well-known, possibly apocryphal, story of the self-learning neural-net image recognition system that was trained to identify tanks, with apparently very high success, until they tried a completely random set of new images, at which point it identified sunbathers on a beach as enemy vehicles. The net had picked up on a subtlety of photographic technique that the researchers hadn't.
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PotatoKnight
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« Reply #13 on: August 02, 2013, 01:37:26 PM »

Just adding in my voice as another person who had no structural or aesthetic complaint but wasn't super-touched by this one. Possibly this piece was a little on the intricate side for audio? The key bits a little too hard to catch the full impartance of without the ability to pore over the text?  Just a guess.
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Sfwanderer
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« Reply #14 on: August 03, 2013, 12:34:53 AM »

I may just be a bit too literal, but I thought Freia was on a demo mission in front of the Paris Air Show the whole story, so I just missed the whole concept before coming here.
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Yeine
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« Reply #15 on: August 03, 2013, 10:08:04 AM »

The over-done reverb on this one made it difficult to hear properly, and was so distracting that I found it difficult to build investment in the story. It's a shame, because there were aspects of it that I think I liked, but as a whole it mostly slid right over me.
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matweller
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« Reply #16 on: August 03, 2013, 11:54:38 AM »

I'm not saying that I couldn't have overdone it, but I generally try to be pretty light-handed on effects specifically so they don't distract. Unfortunately, every kind of speaker, every kind of headphone, and every device one might play an MP3 on sounds enough different that you needn't have a very attuned ear to catch it. Sometimes this can make effects take violent swings. I know the effect is clear on my portable headphones, my studio cans and my car speakers, after that, there isn't much I can do. You may want to try playing on another device or different headphones. Or, just go read it. http://escapepod.org/2013/07/26/ep406-freia-in-the-sunlight/
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evrgrn_monster
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« Reply #17 on: August 04, 2013, 07:10:06 PM »

I will admit this story proved a little confusing for me, partly because it plays with time and sequence in the narrative, and partly because of personal bias. I thought Freia was on her way to the Paris Air Show demo, where of course everything would go horribly, horribly wrong, because you don't let weapons think. But in fact the Air Show is a memory for Freia and the mission was something else entirely.


This was me the entire story. I was just waiting for her to set fire to Paris. Totally with you, bud.

Although this story was beautiful in terms of imagery, I felt like it missed the mark story-telling wise. The time shifting was confusing and I spent the majority of the story, as previously stated, wondering when she was going to make it to Paris. Then the other drone showed up, and I got even more confused, as far as where the two of them were, and when it was taking place. I thought the flight scene between the two of them was jumbled and filled with too much jargon, so I just became lost in their dance and the words of the creator. So, pretty story, but a miss for me.

(Also, this thread has got the word "niggle" stuck in my head.)
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TheArchivist
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« Reply #18 on: August 05, 2013, 03:24:34 AM »

I may just be a bit too literal, but I thought Freia was on a demo mission in front of the Paris Air Show the whole story, so I just missed the whole concept before coming here.

Interesting. Several people seem to have been confused by that. I admit, I wasn't totally sure at first, but I'd cottoned on to what was really happening fairly quick. However, I'm going to assert (possibly unsuccessfully, but we shall see) that this is actually a strength of the narrative.

The plot of this story hangs on a crucial distinction between the manufacturer's intent - that Freia would be a weapon of war intent on destroying the enemy - and Freia's understanding that her purpose is to be beautiful. The manufacturer makes an obvious but unstated assumption, with the inherent "clear distinction" between showing off Freia's capabilities in an airshow demonstration, and using them in a live-fire combat scenario. And that is the same distinction around which the plot turns - the show is about beauty, capability, grace, while the true mission is about destruction.

Freia fails to meet the manufacturer's aspirations because she doesn't make the distinction, isn't even aware of having two distinct roles never mind knowing which is more important. She does not see this current mission as different, in any way, from the air show demo. The narrative gave us, the readers, enough clues early on that we, who know the nature of military technology and understand the dual-role of sales demo and combat mission, should pick up on Freia's error. But Freia still thinks she is at the Paris air show or something exactly like it. So the narrative, from Freia's point of view, must present the scope for us to misunderstand as so many here did, otherwise it would not be true to itself.
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Mouseneb
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« Reply #19 on: August 06, 2013, 06:19:59 AM »

Reverb was an issue for me too, didn't quite catch quite a lot of those portions unfortunately, but to be honest, that is often how it sounds through the speakers at a real show, so points for authenticity! Smiley I assumed (wrongly apparently) that the garbled effect was intentional and that whatever I didn't quite catch I wasn't really supposed to catch anyway, and thought at first that perhaps Freia's misinterpretations had been at least partially caused by an inability to understand the audio clearly, but then realized she had the transcript, so that wasn't true.

Although I was clear that she was on a live fire mission and no longer doing a demo for the air show as she supposed, I was also slightly tense waiting for her to go off book and destroy something she shouldn't have. When that didn't happen and she simply abandoned her mission in her quest for beauty, I felt it was nice to have something a bit unexpected happen, but also felt slightly let down as all the tension drained away with such a small payoff.

I also wondered a bit about Richard Wooten himself, and if he was even still involved in the Freia project...

All in all an interesting story though!
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