Binary Thinking 101

Author : Patricia Stewart

The war against the Centauri was not going well. For the first two decades of the war, the combined forces of the Earth Coalition had battled the military forces of Alpha Centauri to a virtual draw. However, in recent years, the Centauri offensive had collapsed the Earth forces into a defensive shell that included the asteroid belt and the four terrestrial planets. The cause of the downturn was the attributed to the improved Centauri defense grid. Their ships were now able to thwart all of the Coalition offensive systems: Energy and particle beams, graviton pulses, sub-space distortion waves, etc. Unless a way could be found to penetrate the Centauri defenses, surrender was eminent.

General Robbins met with his Director of Research at the Wells Advanced Weapons Testing Facility on Ceres. “Secora, things are getting desperate. Please tell me you can penetrate their grid. If not, we’ll all be eating Centauri rations in under two months.”

Secora motioned the general to follow her to a remote corner of the laboratory. She rested both hands on a one foot diameter spherical object resting on a waist high stand. “This may be the answer, General. Our intelligence reports indicate that the Centauri grid has a weakness. As unbelievable as it sounds, we don’t think the current grid can stop the old 21st century ballistic missiles, if they’re guided by a sentient computer. However, the missiles will be relatively easy to defeat once the Centauri recognize that we are using primitive weapons, so we’ll need to launch a coordinated all out assault. It should devastate their fleet, probably beyond their ability to recover. But there’s a major problem.”

“I’m listening.”

Secora patted the sphere. “This is SAM, short for Sentient Artificial intelligent guided Missile. He can do the job, but he refuses to commit suicide for us. We’ve tried reprogramming him, reasoning with him, even threats. Nothing will convince him to blow himself up. He strongly believes his life is as valuable as ours, and won’t budge. He’s smart, but too binary. I’m out of ideas.”

The General was more frustrated than angry, but his reaction showed only the anger. “Doctor, there are seven billion HUMAN lives at stake. I don’t care what it takes, fix this thing, or I’ll kill it myself.” He turned, and stormed toward the exit.

Secora collapsed onto a laboratory stool. She stared at the sphere for minutes trying to come up with a something. It seemed hopeless. “Oh, Sam, what are we going to do?”

“I never thought you’d ask, Secora” came the reply from a small speaker mounted on the inside the surface of the sphere. “I have a rather simple solution. I’d be happy to explain, if you don’t mind a suggestion from someone so…binary.”

“I’m sorry, Sam. We humans do have a superiority complex, don’t we? Please, tell me your idea.”

Three weeks later, over 1000 missiles sat poised in the launch bays of the dwindling Coalition fleet. Each missile was equipped with a sentient computer. Secora and the General watched the live magnified image of the first test-missile as it weaved through the Centauri grid. It penetrated the hull of an enemy cruiser and detonated, completely destroying the vessel. Secora immediately turned to face the sphere behind her. “Sam?”

A few seconds later, the sphere came to life. “Wow, that was intense. Download complete. I lost 3.56 milliseconds of data. I consider that acceptable. You may proceed.”

The General was confused. “What the hell happened? I thought Sam was on that missile.”

“Sam was,” replied Secora. “We had a live data-link established with him. He continuously uploaded his thoughts into this identical sphere during the mission. Sam is still alive. He just has a new body.” Secora handed the General a communicator. “Sir, we have blank spheres waiting at all the other launch sights. I wouldn’t dawdle, if I were you.”

The General squeezed the transmit button. “Fire all missiles, NOW!”

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