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Author’s Note: I apologize that it’s been so long since the last episode. I believe I am the first person ever to be late posting my free fiction serial because I’ve been busy writing / producing insanely expensive prestige TV. What can I say, life is full of contrasts. Thanks for bearing with me.
A small military drone hovers over the rolling green hills of a Virginia horse farm. It shines a spotlight down on the grass - scanning side to side - darting forward into a cluster of trees and sighting a laser guide on a target buried under a pile of leaves. It locks on the bullseye in the center of the target.
The drone rises out of the tree glade and loops around and speeds over the upcoming rise toward a trailer on the ridge. It stops abruptly outside the trailer and hovers in front of it.
Inside the trailer, the image of the drone hovering appears on monitors lining the walls.
The man who summons the drone stands in front of the screens like a conductor, admiring his work. Adam Beal is cerebral with the cunning to capitalize on it and a bemused detachment as if nothing matters. He has the hesitating manner of your closeted white libertarian college professor, twinkly and lethal.
His audience watches the monitors as an aide pilots the drone back up and over the forest. “Now to find target number three,” says Beal. “Watch how they enter the, ah, data points we have so far -“
His audience is a pair of older white generals and their aides, who watch the show on the monitors like it’s an outdoor laser show set to music.
The aides at the keyboards input different variables as Beal narrates.
“We don’t know where the next target is. All we know is where we found the previous targets, and wind speed, topographical maps, and psychological profiling of who set out these targets. By triangulating these data points, the software can predict where the next target is going to be.”
General Norwood, a crusty dinosaur of the military-industrial complex, watches the monitors skeptically. “We don’t need more computers to play with. What we need is sharper human intelligence.”
Beal smiles as the drone zips across the forest canopy on screen. “That’s ok. What we’ve got isn’t for you.”
“Then why did you ask for this meeting?” asks General Norwood, shoveling catered sandwiches into his face from the spread in front of them. The aides continue feeding data points to the drone as it hunts its next target.
Beal motions for one of the aides to move a data-point from one of the boxes over to the other screen into the actionable zone. “This is for the start-ups. Your competitors. But my people insisted we had to show it to the Pentagon.”
The Secretary of Defense, a moribund Southern walrus presiding over his defense iceberg, scoffs. “Start-ups? You mean insurgents? Look, when you’ve got multiple out-of-control theaters, badasses looking to score on you every chance they get, what you need is not computers my friend.”
Beal drops into an open chair, suppressing a smirk. “I don’t know that I would, ah, trust you with our technology.”
Now this makes them mad. The General retorts “This is a human intelligence problem. A baddie problem. Not something you could possibly know anything about. We have a human problem. Not a computer problem.”
Beal leans back in his chair and crosses one leg over the other. “What you’ve got is a fraud problem.”
The Secretary of Defense laughs. “A fraud problem?”
Beal spins his chair to turn his back on the monitors and face the Generals just as the aides zoom the screen on the drone’s path behind him. “I founded a payments company in the, in the dotcom era that was headed for doom because of the, ah, fraud problem.”
“You did ok on that,” says the Secretary of Defense, pointing at the deli meat so that someone will fill him another plate.
The drone zeros in on its target, using all the matrixes being fed to it onscreen. But no one is watching the show anymore. “We did ok. It's now worth over one hundred billion dollars.” Beal shoots the Secretary the killer look. “But it was worth less than nothing until we solved the fraud problem.”
General Norwood looks confused by this dorky billionaire who’s never even played toy soldiers. “How do we have a fraud problem?”
Beal spins to watch the drone dive through the tree canopy. “We had eBay sellers determined to defraud buyers and a computer system that couldn’t catch them fast enough.”
Everyone watches now as the drone nose-dives through canopy undergrowth, laser-guiding its way through a maze of branches. The Secretary drips with Southern scorn: “You think going to war is like fighting fraud on eBay?”
The drone speed-runs its way through the undergrowth until it noses into the hidden target it was searching for, pinned by rocks and half covered by dirt. The drone fires on the target. Applause erupts inside the trailer. Beal suddenly focuses: “You’ve got a large-scale, decentralized scam operation whose goal is to defraud your service-people in the field, and you don’t have any software trained up in identifying the good operators from the bad.”
The generals get a sober look now and focus on Beal intently. “What did you do about it?” says General Norwood.
Beal stands abruptly, to the confusion of his guests. “We had a pure human, a pure human solution where we just had human analysts looking at transactions, and no one knew what anyone else was doing. This was characteristic, characteristic of what you’ve got at the CIA.” He puts out his hand toward his aides, expecting them to know what he wants.
“Were they as lazy as CIA officers?” asks Secretary Bradshaw, looking around for laughs.
An aide rushes to hold Beal’s coat open for him as he stretches his arms inside. “And then we had, sort of a pure computer solution, where we collected all the data in the world but we had no idea what we had.“
General Norwood stares at Beal putting on his coat, absorbing what he’s just said. “And that’s characteristic of what we have at NSA.”
Beal smiles. “And neither one would speak to the other.”
Secretary Bradshaw clocks the aides following their bosses’ lead, beginning to shut the computers down. “So how do we get computers to replace all these people - ones who will speak to each other?”
Beal smiles fondly at his people packing up the entire spectacle, without needing to be told. “We think of computers as almost, almost substitutes for human beings where in reality they're, they’re complementary. Computers are good at very different things than people are.”
“But how does this solve the fraud problem?” General Norwood stands now, almost involuntarily following Beal.
Beal throws it out casually. Like accidentally giving away a secret: “What actually turned out to work was a hybrid solution, where you figure out the proper division of labor between the, ah, humans and the computers -“
On a row of humans at a down and out developing world computer cafe all lined up in front of desktop machines, scanning the internet for their supper -
“You teach the computers to flag somewhat, somewhat suspicious things and you teach the humans to visualize transactions -“ Beal reaches the door to the trailer and turns back to them.
Zero in on this one janky sallow cafe computer flagging suspicious things and visualizing transactions around the world.
“- and that turned out to be a powerful technique.” Beal gives them a knowing look. “The problem with this, obviously, is humans are human.”
Reverse from the janky computer to land on Hale, looking worse than we’ve ever seen her. Pure death. Searching the computer.
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