Escape Artists


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Author Topic: EP090: How Lonesome a Life Without Nerve Gas  (Read 35068 times)


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Reply #50 on: July 24, 2007, 02:43:43 AM
Fun one! Absolute romping fun.

More Union Dues, please!


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Reply #51 on: August 07, 2007, 04:28:37 PM
My favorite EP story of all time.  I kept thinking of Div from Penny Arcade of Bender from Futurama turned into a gas mask during this story.  That's a scary thought.

Those who would sacrifice liberty for safety deserve neither.

H. Bergeron

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Reply #52 on: July 13, 2008, 07:53:57 AM

I don't doubt that the helmet was programmed to be patriotic, but I think it is worth entertaining the possibility that once a computer as sufficiently advanced AI as to be self aware it would be capable of stretching the truth to make it look as good as possible.

Excellent point.  But if it wasn't patriotism, then what was the helmet's motive?  There isn't much else offered in the story, except perhaps desire for a more blood-thirsty owner.  Or, more chilling, it did it because it could.

I'm convinced the helmet was lying throughout, especially about its patriotism. The protestations were just too much for me. Apparently, the murderer was always singing patriotic songs, but the murder victim didn't like them. The murderer always followed the letter of all mission parameters (which would make for a dangerous combat accessory), but the murder victim deviated from them and refused to explain. The murder itself was an enormous overreaction to what was (at best) an ambiguous display of loyalty. The helmet came to the most extreme conclusion very quickly and acted on the most extreme response. The decision not to excrete the toxins used to kill speaks to premeditation.

The motive seemed clear enough: a moderately self-aware machine with an inflated opinion of itself was bored with taking orders it didn't like from someone it didn't respect. It found an excuse it thought it could rationalize and buttressed it with character assassination of the murder victim on the stand.


I hate to perform thread necromancy, but I feel the strong urge to disagree with you - I'm listening to all of Escape Pod, from "Imperial" to now, during my vacation and have been perusing the forums for the threads for each story after listening.

I don't believe at all that the helmet is not actually patriotic - it's utterly, absolutely patriotic.  It just isn't as smart as it thinks it is.  The helmet reminds me of a backwoods, redneck type - the sort who would do his best to scare away strangers to his town, never knowing that the stranger is searching for a place to start up a factory.  Or something like that.  The helmet is programmed to see absolutely everything in terms of Us (YAAAY THE EMPIRE IS AWESOME) vs. Them (BOO HISS GO TO HELL).  Patriotism is not a front for it - it's built into the helmet's very circuits.  Every god damned electron that rolls through the silicon of that helmet is PULSING with patriotism.

The reason for the helmet killing his soldier is the whole Us vs. Them conflict and a lack of considered analysis.  This is understandable for a designer - who wants your helmet to be rationalizing whether or not it should be doing what it's doing?  The creators of the helmets would want it very simple.  The helmet protects the soldier.  Period.  Except this presents a problem - the helmet can't be allowed to be used against the Empire.  We don't want arms dealers selling them to Martian commandos, do we?  Hell, no.  Especially if we have a giant war machine.  War machines need loyalty, patriotism.  The helmets, guns, any kind of AI needs to be specifically designed to bolster that.

I'm rambling.

What I'm trying to get at is that the helmet is practically made of patriotism.  The problem is that the helmet is too smart for its own good, but not quite smart enough.  It thinks of itself as eloquent, poetic and well-treated, but it's really just a goddamn helmet with a computer that they made smart enough to compute ballistics and inform the wearer in a sensible manner.  The helmet is too big for its britches, so to speak.

In other news, I loved the story.  Yes, the overall trend of what was going on - what the helmet was going to do, what the soldier seemed to intend - was obvious from the beginning.  The only thing that was in doubt was whether or not the soldier was really betraying the Empire or just ingratiating himself with the enemy.  It hurt, when he talks about how long it took the soldier to die - made it seem like the helmet truly did feel remorseful for what it did, even if it believed that it was justified in its actions.

Formerly Ignoranus - now too big for my britches, literally and figuratively.


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  • Hipparch
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Reply #53 on: July 13, 2008, 02:37:35 PM
I'm not suggesting that this is indeed the case (ie. that troops are being conditioned to put aside human feelings and become automatons), but that is one of the things that people fear. See Stanley Kubrick's "Failsafe".

As long as this thread has been resurrected (and this being the first time I've read it), I'd like to point out:

Kubrick had nothing to do with Fail-Safe but did make a similar film at the same time (Doctor Strangelove) and pressed Columbia to release his film first.

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El Barto

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Reply #54 on: September 09, 2009, 07:01:11 PM
Bam!  5 stars.   I loved it for many of the reasons people listed above.  Fantastic story.

I love the debate here about the helmet's true motives.   Working at a company that makes software and then tests it I can tell you that there is no way that anyone can ever test something fully before releasing it.  I'm sure the government/army quickly pushed out software updates to handle the situation described, and that somewhere a development team sat shaking its head that they hadn't thought to QA the scenario of the helmet feeling so conflicted.


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Reply #55 on: February 11, 2010, 06:02:31 PM
Great story, great choice of narrator.  Yet another strike against RPPs.

My favorite part was the interaction between Tortuga and the judge, especially with the purple descriptions.  It's fun to write ridiculously purple descriptions, and by doing it in this way, the writer could get away with it and hang a lantern on it by having the judge point it out.  And I loved the attempted simile after the chip removal "I felt like a device meant to serve its master who ended up killing him instead" or however that went.  :)

The problem with it's programming seemed to boil down to one simple thing:  It had conflicting axioms hard-coded into its systems:  The Master is Good.  The Empire is Good.  When the axioms conflict it had to improvise and came to the conclusion Empire > Master, and acted accordingly.  I like how it's patriotism wasn't at all based on logic--it's just hard-coded.  It IS patriotic and there is no chance for alteration.  After all, if your helmets start rebelling and killing your own soldiers then that could turn the tide of the war against you in a moment.