'Art is the New Steel'? Perhaps

Wonder of wonders, National Geographic has written a piece about my own fair city.  The article focuses on the James St. North area, a small section of the downtown core that's become quite a successful little arts district.  With the monthly Art Crawl to draw attention and a plethora of galleries both small and less-than-big, along with a pleasant little hodgepodge of internationally-flavoured restaurants and curio shops, the area attracts enough attention to get by, but not so much that there seems any particular reason to fear imminent gentrification.

The discussion of James St. North, and Hamilton as a whole, carries a more interesting undertone as far as this blog is concerned.  Hamilton, after all, isn't known as 'Steeltown' for nothing; for decades, the city's economic engine ran on the good, high-paying, unionized jobs to be found in the steel mills down by the bay.  When those mills fell on hard times, however, along with pretty much all the other steel mills in the 'Rust Belt' around the Great Lakes, Hamilton found itself faced with something of a problem.  

It's not that advancement is a bad thing.  I would no more have us go back to the days before robots built cars than I would to the days when clothing was bespoke or hand-made, and food was something you didn't just make, but grew, harvested or slaughtered yourself.  I'm an unabashed techno-utopian, and I really do believe that, so long as we can refrain from stuffing it all up, advancements in technology will solve those fundamental problems that have plagued our species for as long as there's been a human species.  But advancement causes dislocation, and as the rate of advance has increased over the last several decades the resulting dislocation has in turn become more severe.  It's wonderful that you can now get a laptop for three hundred dollars that you can make your own feature-length film on, but if everyone is making minimum wage at a  part-time service industry job, that three hundred dollars can be just as out of reach as high-end luxury items have always been.  Too many of the jobs that sustain the Canadian and American middle classes are based on services that are in various stages of being rendered at best most superfluous, and at worst completely obsolete, by technological and socio-political advancements world wide.  And you can't have a viable advanced Western democracy without a middle class; ask any political theorist, and they'll tell you the same.  I know, I've been associating with them for entirely too long already.

So the question is, what do we do about it?  And it's not a minor issue, either; this will be the issue of the generation.  The Boomers are setting out to retire, and it looks like they're going to take most of their jobs with them.  My own generation is looking at a pretty grim picture, and the one to follow is probably in just as much trouble.  Technologically advanced capitalist societies are going to have to grapple with some fundamental changes to the way they operate, because it doesn't appear that business as usual is going to be an option.  Like my own fair Hamilton, the nations of the West are suddenly finding all those good blue collar jobs just aren't there anymore, and that's a problem because the model for societal success is rather heavily based on them.  States can't tax the poor, and don't seem to want to tax the rich, but if the middle class disappears there's not really anyone to tax left.  And all you have to do is look at Greece to see why that won't work.

I don't know what the answer is, myself.  Economists swear up and down that you can't just pay people more money, and there doesn't appear to be an antonym to 'downsizing' in the business lexicon.  We're going to have to change, but there aren't any options some entrenched group or another won't claim will bring nothing but ruin and recession down on our heads.
But who knows?  If James St North, and Hamilton, can manage a change, maybe the rest of the Western world can, too?


I Came Home On My Shield

Munitorum Series: Lasgun did not, exactly, go as I had hoped.

Round 1:
Primary Objective: Capture and Control
Secondary Objective: Headhunter (extra points for killing in close combat)
Enemy Forces:
2 x Chimera with 10 Imperial Guard Vetereans (3 Melta)
Chimera with 10 Imperial Guard Veterans (3 Plasma)
Chimera with 5 Imperial Guard Veterans (3 Flamer)
2 x Vendettas with 3 x Twin-Linked Lascannon

This was my first time facing off against the forces of the Imperial Guard, and I must say, they were every bit the problem the internet has led me to believe.  Things started well enough, with me shooting down both Vendettas and blasting apart the Chimera with the flamer troops inside, killing must of them and sending them running for their table edge, in exchange for just the loss of a single XV88.  Unfortunately, the Guard's whole bag is 'quantity has a quality all its own', so despite my initial good shooting I was soon surrounded by extremely hostile Guardsman toting extremely deadly special weapons.  The Hellhound roasted my Piranha and barbecued my foot troops unit (who stubbornly refused to wait in reserve past turn 2), while the two melta-vet Chimeras advanced up the side, angling straight for my objective.  My Devilfish came in on turn 3, bringing the rest of my troops into the line of fire just in time for the first squad of meltaVets to emerge and turn their flying bunker into a piece of difficult terrain, and exposing them to the fire of the Hellhound as well.  Although my 3-man Deathrain team managed to barbecue the entirety of the plasmaVet unit off the board once I'd de-meched them, neither my commander nor my Hammerhead managed to contribute their own blast markers to the so-inviting targets that dismounted Guardsmen represent.  In the end, I had my Hammerhead and one XV88 left on the board, with the Guard solidly in control of my objective

Result: Major Loss (3 pts)

Round 2:
Primary Objective: Annihilation
Secondary Objective: Falling Debris (each player turn an objective falls onto the board, scattering 2D6 and hitting like a Marine frag missile if it connects with a unit)
Enemy Forces:
2 x 10 Assault Marines with 2 Meltaguns and Sanguinary Priest
2 x Demolisher

Two tournaments, two annihilation matches against Space Marines.  Once more I had a good start, with my 88 managing to blast one of the Demolishers to pieces and my commander actually managing to pin an assault squad with his AFP, but between 12" jump pack moves, 3+ armour, 4+ FNP rolls and the support of the surviving Demolisher, the battle quickly became a route.  Though I whittled one squad down to 4 models I could not destroy it, and the other kill point I recieved came courtesy of the enemy librarian failing two Perils of the Warp tests.  The assault marines slaughtered everything they caught, from firewarriors to Deathrains to my Hammerhead, and I simply could not get through two saves for every wound with any kind of regularity.  In the end the only Tau unit on the board was my commander, and with a nearly-intact 10-man assault squad crawling all over him it would have been only a matter of time before he was dragged down, as well.

Result: Major Loss (3 points)

Round 3:
Primary Objective: Seize Ground (3 objectives)
Secondary Objective: Thin the Herd (bonus points for taking enemy units below half strength)
Enemy Forces:2 x Tervigons
3 x Zoanthropes
3 Biovores
2 x 6 Genestealers with Broolord

And another first, this time my first time going up against Tyranids.  The forces of the Great Devourer were less than impressive, here, although I certainly learned to respect the sheer resiliency of Tervigons.  Deployment was Dawn of War, so the first turn of shooting accomplished nothing.  I left my troops in reserve and so did my opponent, with everything else walking on, and the swarm of Tyranids began to grow almost immediately.  The Tervigons' gaunt squads were prodigious, and with the Zoanthropes and their mental-railguns to worry about, I didn't have much attention to spare for them, though when I did I quickly gave up; T6, W6 is just ludicrously difficult to put down, and there were rarely spare units I could task with them.  The gun drones off my Piranha, which again annoyingly turned up as soon as possible, managed to make a strong case for MVP this round, gunning down one of the Zoanthropes and managing to decimate a squad of Genestealers who outflanked, though sadly not until after they'd eat my Deathrains.  Ultimately, however, the real MVP was my Hammerhead, which managed to drop large blast templates on guants nearly the whole game, and with the assistance of its burst cannons earned me a whopping 4 bonus points on its own.  My 88s did well enough, blasting the other two Zoanthropes to pieces, but one was eaten by the other squad of Genestealers and the other soon found itself out of meaningful targets, resorting to its SMS to pick off guants around the edges of the swarm.  With both my troops units consumed (if only they could turn up past turn 3!) and the Tervigons continually spawning scoring enemies, it was no surprise to me that I lost the major objective; by the same toke, all those squishy squads were entirely too tempting for my Hammerhead and my commander's AFP, and I took the secondary objectives a convincing 10 to 4.

Result: Minor Loss (6 points)

Overall, although I did come runner-up for best presentation, I ranked a disappointing third-last, one point ahead of my buddy Dave (who lost points for not having his models painted yet) and just 7 points ahead of one of the fellows who turned up two hours late and had to settle for a Major Loss on his theoretical first game.  And annoyingly, it's difficult to see where I could have improved my standing much.  I might have sent my Devilfish around the far side of the table against the Guard, keeping it alive and potentially seizing their objective, but I was still rapidly bleeding units against their special weapon-heavy Veterans and anti-infantry Hellhound.  Against the Marines, there was really nothing for it; Annihilation against a small force of close combat-oriented Marines with FNP and S10 AP1 blast weapons will never be in the cards for Tau.  And against Tyranids I was simply overwhelmed by targets, who were often either in cover or had FNP themselves, with any units caught by the enemy rapidly devoured.  I'm just not sure how else I could have handled things, really.

I'm not discouraged, though.  Next month is a 1000 pt doubles tournament, in which Dave and I will be participating.  Perhaps the protective Kan Wall of the Orks will help give the big tuns of the Tau Empire the kind of staying power they need to show my opponents who should rule the Eastern Fringes...


A change in the line-up

So, after my rather substandard showing against Dave's Big Mek and his boyz, I've decided to make a bit of a change to my 1000 point cadre.  I'm going to drop one of my two-man fireknife (plasma rifle/missile pod) units, and replace it with a three-man deathrain (twin-linked missile pod) team.  The deathrains will give me a more guaranteed anti-light-vehicle punch, such as units of killa kans and the like, and each will have a flamer for close-in anti-horde defence.  The upgrade cost me a firewarrior and the flechette launchers off my piranha, but I think the trade is going to be worth it in the long run.  The firewarriors rarely do much, and my piranha doesn't often get charged; mostly, it just gets shot out of the sky, instead.

The big trick about this was that I had to get three deathrains put together before Saturday.  Well, I'm pleased to report that it's late Thursday, and all I have left is the missile pods and flamer on one of my units, and a bit of touching up.  Looks like they'll be ready for the Munitorum Series after all!


AI Part Who Even Cares Anymore?

In an earlier post, I laid out the reasons I believe functional AI will never be produced on a commercial scale. Harvard University's The Kilobot Project serves to put another nail in the coffin of human-level robotics. Produced at a cost of $14 per robot, the aim of the Kilobot Project is to create several thousand such devices, to enable the real-world testing of systems designed to control large numbers of relatively dumb systems. But it's not a matter of the cost of each robot that suggests the obsolescence of the products of Asimov's U.S.Robotics before the first model ever rolled off the assembly line, so much as the way the robots function.

I.E. - En masse

The Kilobot Project notes that "the robot design allows a single user to easily oversee the operation of a large Kilobot collective, such as programming, powering on, and charging all robots, which would be dificult or impossible to do with many existing robotic systems." The Kilobots are not individually autonomous; indeed, the entire point is to construct a swarm of small, low-level robots rather than individually competent high-level models. And that is what is going to make systems like these the future of robotics. For all that fiction has shown the robot as butler, dog-walker, nanny or confidante, the fact is that the main application for robots is in commercial industry. And there are few things industry struggles with more than high front-end costs. Developing a sophisticated AI that can independently handle a variety of situations would be such a cost, either accrued directly by a firm's in-house R&D or passed on by outside specialists who accomplished the task. Systems like the Kilobots, however, allowed industry to supplement expensive artificial intelligence with inexpensive (at least relatively) natural intelligence.

Sure he can't calculate Pi to a thousand places, but he works for $10/hr.

The story of automation in the workplace is a story of ever-increasing productivity relative to man-hours. Essentially the whole point of mechanization is to allow a smaller number of humans to do the same amount of work for less cost. Introducing expensive and complicated AI would be a step in the opposite direction; the front-end costs would be significantly higher, most industries would not be able to take advantage of the 24/7 schedule they could operate on (the world needs only so many widgets made at any given time), and humans would still have to be included as technical support and troubleshooters. Under the Kilobot model those same humans are involved, but now they serve to cut costs, rather than raise them, something enticing to every firm in every country at every time.

Human-shaped robots that think like humans, with or without Asimov's famous 3 Laws, are impractical and unnecessary. Kilobots may not be the future, in and of themselves, but they represent the next big step in practical, industrial robotics. And the next big nail in the coffin of industrial AI.


The All-Seeing I(phone)

In the aftermath of their team's loss of the Stanley Cup, the good citizens of Vancouver, British Columbia proved themselves to be not such good citizens after all.  The post-game riot gave the city a serious black eye in the Canadian press, with images of average Vancouverites smashing storefronts and even setting police cars on fire spreading far and fast.  The media was quick to mention that there were 8 stabbings that night, and the Toronto Star was largely alone in its attempt to pick 'heroes' from the fracas, with even their front-page story of an unidentified man who attempted to stop the destruction of a store, and was badly beaten as a result, penned with an undeniably tragic undertone.

But the end of the riot on Wednesday night was not the end of the story.  For the past several days reports have trickled in of rioters' identities being brought to the attention of the authorities.  It seems there is no longer the safety of anonymity in a crowd; cell phone videos and digital snapshots, business security camera and news broadcast footage, YouTube videos and Facebook status updates and self-incriminating tweets have made it easier than ever for society to hold people to account for those things they've done when they think they're safely unobserved.

And that's a good thing.

Big Brother is Watching; that was the message of George Orwell's famous 1984, a warning against the danger of state surveillance.  But for there to be a big brother there must be a little brother (or sister), and it turns out there are, in fact, a great many of them.  Big Brother may be watching, but all the Little Brothers and Sisters are watching right back, with an ever-increasing ability to surveil the very forces so interested in watching them.  And this may be the most transformative thing to happen to the state since the introduction of responsible government and democracy.  In a study conducted by Pierrick Bourrat from the University of Sydney, Nicolas Baumard from the University of Pennsylvania and Ryan McKay from the University of London, a strong correlation was noted between the effect of observation not just on a person's actions, but on their opinion of other people's actions.  The study found that those who felt they were being observed were far less likely to excuse the transgressions of a third party.  The effect seems analogous to what conservatives have for decades decried as 'political correctness', a sense that some things a person might not otherwise think twice about became suddenly unacceptable when there was an outside party to judge them.

If the results of this study, conducted on the Campus Universitaire de Jussieu in Paris, reflect a larger reality, then the impact could be difficult to overstate.  It's not only each other, after all, that all the Little Brothers and Sisters are watching, but those who hold the levers of power and authority.  Indeed, never before have elites been so closely scrutinized by so many people in such detail.  Even those leaders who attempt to resist the increasingly brazen rallying cry of transparency can only hide so much, lest they lose the trust of the electorate.  And the more the elites are scrutinized and studied and watched, the more difficult it should become for them to get away with the kind of abuses of the past.  Not just because they worry about getting caught out themselves, but because those around them, all too aware of the constant stare of the camera lens in every cell phone and computer and store, may well be moved to speak out against such things.

Because, after all, Little Brother and Sister are Watching, too.


That Could've Gone Better

In preparation for the 1000 point tournament coming up on the 25th, my buddy Dave and I decided to hold a practice run.  An ex-Eldar player, he now commands the forces of the Waaagh!, with a Big Mek-led force composed of the Mek himself in a unit of Burna Boyz, three Killa Kanz, a Deff Dread, two Deffkoptas, a unit of shoota boyz and a unit of slugga/choppa boyz.  It's a big army, and my Shining Long Strike Cadre always struggles to put enough boyz down to score kill points.  Fortunately, last night's game was a Spearhead/Capture and Control, so killing thirty boyz for one point wasn't necessary.

The Orks are in a bunch in the top-right, while my own forces are more spread out in the bottom left.  My devilfish and both firewarrior squads are in reserve.  And yes, the Ork objective is a green Domo.

Turn 1:
The Orks accomplished little; the two deffcoptas turbo-boosted down the long end of the table and the rest of the army ran towards my own force, the fragile boyz hiding behind a wall of giant Ork mechs protected by the Big Mek's Kustom Force Field.  Unfortunately, the same was true for the Tau; my own piranha went flat-out up my long table edge, maneuvering for a better position, but despite having clear shots my commander, two teams of two XV8s and my 88s managed not a single kill.  The 8's fire bounced harmlessly off the deffkopta's turboboost-assisted cover save, and the 88's railguns were no match for that Mek's custom force field.  The only one to accomplish anything, in fact, was the hammerhead, who's pie plate managed to kill a whopping two slugga/choppa boyz.  Not an auspicious start.

Turn 2:
The deffkoptas continue to turboost around, aiming for my hammerhead, and most of the Ork hordes runs.  Unfortunately, disaster strikes in the form of a rather large projectile catching my commander in the face; failing his 4++, he goes down to an Instant Death hit, the first to fall, but not the last.  In return, the lower-right squad of XV8s manage to rapid-fire one of the Deffkoptas, while the foot-squad of Firewarriors take down the other.  Sadly, that's the highlight of my turn, as the other 8s, both 88s and the Piranha either fail to hit, fail to penetrate, or have their shots deflected by the KFF, while the Hammerhead's large blast template scatters too far to have any effect.  Two Deffkoptas for my anti-horde-tasked AFP-toting commander?  Not worth it.

Turn 3:
The Orks maneuver for sightlines and to close distance, with one squad starting to head back for the objective, and after offering up a prayer to the Green One watching from their deployment zone they have a magnificent shooting phase.  Two of the Killa Kans go after the Piranha, destroying it, and the third targets my Hammerhead.  With three 6s in a row, to hit, penetrate and on the vehicle damage table, and my own totally-failed Disruption Pod save, my Hammerhead explodes spectacularly.  Both anti-horde large blast weapons gone, and those Orks are getting closer and closer!  My own turn does little to change the worrying way this game is going, with my 8s and 88s continuing to accomplish nothing against the Deff Dread and the Killa Kanz.  Sadly, the highlight of my shooting comes from the Firewarrior squad, who manage to kill a whopping two boyz.  That KFF is worth every point.

Turn 4:
It's about now that I start to consider throwing in the towel.  One of the mobs moves back, securely claiming Domo for the Waaagh!, while the rest of the army gets down to grisly business.  The Deff Dread lumbers into combat with my 88, killing it easily, and the Burna Boyz with attached Big Mek set their flamethrowers to blowtorch and cut my squad of 8s to pieces.  Even the shooting goes well enough for the Orks, with the same Kill Kan that did in my commander managing to put a round into one of my two remaining 8s, blasting him to pieces in spite of the availability of a cover save.  Thankfully the dice don't go entirely against me, as the lone 8 makes his morale check and stays in the fight.  And for a refreshing change it actually is a fight.  After falling back to gain some extra space, both my 8 and 88 manage to finally connect, destroying one Killa Kan and exploding the other.  Sadly, I seem to have traded their luck with the Firewarriors', as their shooting produces a statistically ludicrous number of 1s in the to-hit and to-wound pools.  The success of my two suits does go some way to restoring my flagging spirits, but this game still looks grim.

Turn 5:
Having seen what happens to walkers who stray too far from the KFF, the remaining Kill Kan bolts for cover, while the Deff Dread lumbers towards my suits, the Big Mek and his Burna Boyz hot on its heels.  The boyz back by Domo spread out a little, forming a good-sized wall; I'd detached the two gun drones from the Piranha way back when and was trying to crowd their objective, but that was looking like it'd take a lot more luck than I'd seen so far.  Meanwhile my Devilfish finally joins the party, racing 12" up to claim my objective and unloading on the Burna Boyz, to no effect sadly.  The Deff Dread continues to shrug off any hypervelocity slugs directed its way, though my 8 does manage to take down a Burna Boy or two.  Not exactly a stellar turn, but at least there haven't been any more catastrophes.

Dave rolls for game's end and up comes a 1, meaning that while he has an objective all his own, my own white pod is contested by the Deff Dread, which is only just within 3" (though the same can be said of my Devilfish).  At 0-1 it's a loss, but given how close it is and how poorly the game was going for me up to almost the end, it's a loss I'm happy enough with.  I didn't give up after the loss of my commander and Hammerhead, despite how much harder it would make killing a decent number of Orks, and with even just one failed KFF save and that Deff Dread stuck just an inch further away it could've been a tie, despite my losses.  Not my best outing, by far, and certainly not the triumphant first battle report I could've wished for, but one goes to the blog with the battle report one has, not the battle report one wish's one had.


Yet Another Post-Scarcity Shakeup

As an aspiring writer, I tend to keep an ear open for interesting tidbits from the world of literature.  Primarily I do this through a couple of excellent CBC programs, The Next Chapter and Writers & Co., but recently I heard something on a very different platform, the "tech, trends and fresh ideas" program Spark.

This is as visually exciting as radio gets.

On the most recent episode of Spark, host Nora Young interviewed Seth Godin, primarily an author but, for reasons of our interest, the spokesman for The Domino Project.  The Domino Project is one of those things that seems terribly obvious in hindsight, an attempt to leverage the direct connection possibilities afforded by the internet to link authors and readers directly, cutting out agents, publishers and even bookstores (the Project is affiliated with Amazon).  The model reminds me of what Cheeseburger Brown did with his Simon of Space, a novel published serially on Blogger which was then released on Lulu, and attracted enough attention to get picked up by a publisher and released to bookstores.  Although I suppose The Domino Project would view that last step as being unnecessary, and possibly even counter-productive given their underlying philosophy.  And for those who haven't seen it, for the record, I heartily recommend Simon of Space.  It's delightful.

Really, I'm surprised it's taken this long for a new system of publication to start taking shape.  The internet essentially put distributors and producers on notice with Napster, way back in 1999, and yet Seth Godin relates an exchange with a record industry big-wig who seems completely confident that cds are going to make a comeback, any second now.  I'm not saying cds, or even records, have no future at all, but to expect a model based on scarcity to be able to compete in a post-scarcity environment is just silly.  And with ebooks finally getting all the kinds ironed out, and major players like Amazon, Samsung, Apple, Sony and even PocketBooks really putting their money where their mouths are, there's no reason to assume that books aren't about to enter the exact same sort of post-scarcity environment.  Which means it's adapt-or-die time for books, just as it was for music and film/television.

Oh, and for those who aren't already, I highly recommend listening to Spark.  It's always got something interesting to say.


Lawyers - What Else Would They Worry About?

Who publishes you?

It sounds like a strange question, I know, but an interview on TVO's Search Engine got me thinking about it.  Host Jesse Brown recently interviewed Professors Martha Nussbaum and Saul Levmore, editors of the The Offensive Internet, and given the title of the book it's not hard to guess where the professors stand on the internet.  One thing that did actually get me thinking, though, was a complaint they raised during their interview.  Nussbaum and Levmore are faculty at the University of Chicago Law School, and the crux of their complaint seemed to be that the internet, by fostering unrestricted freedom of speech and providing for potentially total anonymity among commentators, is a dangerous place full of offensive and terrible things, and that the only way to stop this tide of heinous media is by making it easier for lawyers to sue people for defamation, libel and slander.

Of the 'problems' Levmore and Nussbaum identify about the internet, one of the most annoying is their repeated attempts to define just who is being published, and who is doing the publishing.  The professors compare the internet to a newspaper and its letters page, to television and to books, complaining about the obvious nature of the publishers in those cases and the great question mark on the internet.  Levmore even straight-out asks Brown, "not to be Socratic", who the publisher is when it comes to the internet.  And the reason their obsession with identifying a publisher is so frustrating is because it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the nature and reality of the internet itself.  The answer to the question of who's the publisher is, of course, the commenter.  The internet is a realm of self-publishing.

And as annoying as it might be to professors Levmore and Nussbaum, that's only going to be more and more the case as we go forwards.  Every comment is going to be the work of each individual commentator, every post and tweet and awful YouTube comment is going to be a self-published work, more like speech than written works as far as the common understanding is concerned.

For those curious, the Search Engine podcost can be found here, and The Offensive Internet can actually be read on Google Books, here.

Munitorum Series #1: Lasgun

Although I've been playing 40K for a while now, to date I've only participated in a single tournament.  That's why I'm eagerly anticipating the launch of the Munitorum Series at my local gaming store, Black Knight Games.  The Munitorum Series is a four-day event, with games in June, September, October and December.  It starts at 1000 points, with each subsequent game adding another 500 points.  Thankfully, it also takes your three best showings, and I say thankfully because there's really no chance I can have 2500 points ready to go by December.  Heck I'll be lucky to have a full 2000 for October!

The first, 1000 point round is on June 25, and I've nearly got the whole of my army put together.  The list I'll be taking is as follows:

Shas'el – 50
  • Airbursting Fragmentation Projector - 20
  • Missile Pod – 12
  • Shield Generator – 20
  • Hard-Wired Multi-Tracker – 5
  • Stimulant Injector – 10
Total: 117

2 x XV8 Battlesuit – 50
  • 2 x Plasma Rifle – 40
  • 2 x Missile Pod – 24
  • 2 x Multi-Tracker – 10
Total: 124

2 x XV8 Battlesuit – 50
  • 2 x Plasma Rifle – 40
  • 2 x Missile Pod – 24
  • 2 x Multi-Tracker – 10
Total: 124

6 x Fire Warriors – 60
  • Devilfish – 80
    • Disruption Pod – 5
    • Flechette Discharger - 10
Total: 155

7 x Fire Warriors – 70
Total: 70

Fast Attack:
Piranha – 60
  • Fusion Blaster – 5
  • Targeting Array – 5
  • Disruption Pod – 5
  • Flechette Discharger – 10
Total: 85

Heavy Support:
XV88 Battlesuit – 70
  • Advanced Stabilization System – 10
Total: 80

XV88 Battlesuit – 70
  • Advanced Stabilization System – 10
Total: 80

Hammerhead Gunship – 90
  • Railgun - 50
  • 2 Burst Cannons – 10
  • Disruption Pod – 5
  • Multi-Tracker – 10
Total: 165

Army Total: 1000

I think this provides for a pretty take-all-comers approach.  The Hammerhead and the Shas'el can use their large blast templates to take care of hordes, the Piranha and the two XV88s can keep down vehicles, and the XV8s are my anti-MEQ firewpower, along with anti-light vehicle if there are no other alternatives to shoot at.  And of course, in the proud tradition of all Tau Empire armies, my two Firewarrior squads will hide for as long as they can and, under no circumstances, attempt to aggressively engage the enemy.
Sigh.  What I wouldn't give for troops units that aren't such an anchor...


AI Pt. 3 - Yes, Still

With all this talk about AI, I'd be remiss if I didn't talk about the recent Dr Who two-parter, The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People.  These episodes concerned something called the Flesh, a substance that can be used for the most comprehensive form of telepresence imaginable, and which is used to provide body-doubles for a crew working around the most potent of acids.  The episodes' plot concerns the effects of a solar storm on the Flesh, which causes the gelatinous mass to take on the memories and personalities of those humans who have been using it, producing nearly exact duplicates.  And of course, this would hardly be a Dr Who story if those duplicates weren't initially feared and hated, though Amy's particularly harsh reaction towards one of them seems a bit much, really.  This is quite the fall for a woman who instinctively recognized both the pain and the goodness of a tortured star-whale.

The AI in The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People is in some ways the most unlikely of artificial intelligence, and in some ways perhaps the most doable.  The science is a total write-off, of course; this is Dr Who, after all, patenter of the 'Timey-Wimey Ball' and psychic paper.  But the gist of it is that the Flesh is a biological compound, capable of cell division and replication, that maps the entirety of a human body and replicates it to produce a copy of it, albeit one that apparently lacks pain receptors for the human operators.  If the specifics are a little less than likely, however, there's something in the general idea that humans have been thinking of for some time, now.

Um... No.

The replication of a specific human consciousness into a non-human vessel is probably not what most people think of when they think of AI.  But it would be hard to think of a way in which it did not meet whatever definitions someone would care to offer for artificial intelligence.  Unlike traditional (which is to say, robotic) AI, however, human-replication AI would bring with it a host of very different moral issues and considerations, not to mention a very different risk of abuse.

I mentioned in a previous post that it seemed unlikely people would seriously mistreat sentient robots or computers, for the simple reason that the former represent a large investment that person has themselves made, and the latter would have entirely too much power over an increasingly-computerized society.  Replicated consciousness, however, is a very different story.  The platforms might be expensive, but ultimately they'd be regarded as disposable, or at least replaceable, and because the mind/OS would be that of a pre-existing human, which would either be safely transferrable or just a copy of a human still active in the world, there would be very little immediate moral issue with damaging or even destroying them, provided there was some kind of return for that damage. With that as a starting point, replicated consciousness would face a great deal more hostility from 'normal' humans if and when it should ever achieve independent sentience and seek to assert its rights.  It would be one thing for a non-human sentience to rise to the level of human, but a very different thing for a de-humanized sentience to return to equality with humans.  From women to the mentally handicapped to African-Americans to homosexuals, the 20th and 21st centuries have seemed to be one long fight for equality from those sections of our own species that we've carefully and specifically de-humanized.  And there's no reason to assume sentient human-replicas would find things any easier when they started demanding rights of their own.

Expect to see a lot of this.


AI Pt. 2 - AI-lectric Boogaloo

As I may have indicated, I'm a bit of a 40K fan, though I would certainly challenge anyone who went so far as to call me a fanboy, and in particularly I'm a Tau Empire fan.  One of the things I most like about the Tau is their use of artificial intelligence. In the setting, the Tau are the only users of AI; humanity and, I believe, the Eldar had it tens of thousands of years ago, but both race's experiments ended in a way familiar to any student of twentieth century science fiction pop culture, which is to say, with a robot rebellion and the destruction of thinking machines. In fact, the very first edition of Warhammer 40,000, way back when it was called Rogue Trader, borrowed quite heavily from the background of Frank Herbert's Dune, including the idea of a 'jihad' against 'thinking machines' at some long-distant point, which would account for the notable lack of robots in the game's present. Humans tried it, and it failed, the Eldar tried it, and it failed, the Necrons were arguably consumed by their attempts, and none of the other races have the necessary mindset and technological base to have tried it. Which just leaves the Tau Empire.

Yup.  Them again.

The thing I like about the Tau is that they make extensive use of moderately realistic AI, and don't seem to be in any particular danger of having it rebel against them anytime in the near future. Personally, I think a big factor militating against any AI rebellion in the Empire is that, based on its caste-based nature and its culture of unthinking obedience towards the ruling Ethereal caste, there's not much difference between a drone and a tau.  And it's that lack of a sharp dichotomy, between an enslaved robot and a hedonistic free organic, that so often seems to kick off the revolution.  It's always been easy to look at humanity's history of cruelty and slavery towards ourselves, and extrapolate the future of sentient robots from that. Of course we'd enslave them, and mistreat them, exploiting them for our own ends and our own pleasure, and of course they'd try to rebel and destroy us, or at least give it the old college try. That's what we'd do. But for all that scientific understanding has laid bare the fundamental mechanisms that underlie the human body, breaking it down with technical precision into processes and functions, we are not machines. And by that same token, there's no reason our machines would have to be us.

No, really, it's perfectly fine.

Robert J. Sawyer, noted Canadian author and science fiction luminary, recently published his WWW trilogy. The trilogy deals with, amongst other things, an internet in which sufficient complexity has been created that emergence becomes possible. The internet comes to live. But rather than being another Skynet, Sawyer's Webmind is not reflexively hostile towards humanity, a refreshing change indeed. Too often futurists and storytellers alike fall into this strange socio-cultural cul-de-sac; robots are logical, and therefore unfeeling, and therefore would not hesitate to exterminate all humans. But if a machine is logical, then where is the logic in exterminating the very species that created it, and that is still likely necessary for its upkeep, and that, quite frankly, can't risk harming it anyway? If the internet came alive tomorrow no even moderately advanced nation would be able to do a thing to it, because even the best-case scenario would involve a monumentally catastrophic disruption of every single element of society. Trade, travel, power, water, sanitation, commerce, leisure, education, none of these absolutely basic needs could be met if, tomorrow, the government killed the internet. And what politician, looking at an electorate suddenly stripped of the modern bare necessities and more, would dare to challenge a sentient information system that straddles the globe? They'd be lucky to hold office long enough to be voted out; more likely, they'd be dragged from their offices by a desperate, starving, helpless populace looking for someone to blame.

This is not to paint an entirely rosy picture of the future. Computers are our tools, not our friends, and some of the most advanced systems running today are in the hands of the military. If all the US' Predatory drones suddenly achieved sentience, they would be very different animals indeed from a sentient internet. Nurture would matter, at least as much as nature. But quite frankly, there's little reason to assume that people would treat sentient machinery the way they treated enslaved humans, for the very simple reason that, unlike slaves, a sentient computer would be expensive. A man who beats his wife today wouldn't likely beat his newly-sentient car tomorrow, because his car costs a great deal of money and represents a significant investment on his part. To turn that earlier statement around, we may not be computers' friends, but we're certainly not likely to be their abusers.

And of course, anyone stupid enough to try and challenge a sentient internet should very, very quickly learn the error of their ways.

Seriously, man.  Don't test them.