“Anna, you should look at this.”
The PA’s voice was so gentle, so calming, that Anna was sure whatever news her assistant had to give her, it was bad. He held out a sheaf of papers, each bearing an official government seal.
“What is it?” Anna asked. She looked at papers suspiciously.
“Well, it’s from the National Department for Homeland Security,” Britt replied, still holding out the sheaf of pages. “It came by courier.”
“Homeland Security?” Anna repeated incredulously. She took the papers and skimmed the top page for a few moments, then read out loud:
“… audit and inspection to determine if any and all novel artificial intelligence technologies … it says they’re sending ‘security auditors’ tomorrow. At 1pm. How can they give so little notice? We’ll have to show them around… it doesn’t say how many are coming, or what it is they want to see… they have a warrant providing for unrestricted access to all electronic records… an inspection of all offices and laboratories will also be carried out…” Anna looked up from the pile of paper and asked her assistant: “Britt, what the fuck is this?”
The normally unperturbable PA cracked a smile at his boss’s uncharacteristic swearing.
“Well, Rayni just signed for them a few moments ago, but I think it’s pretty obvious what this is about. We’re working on advanced machine intelligence. They’re worried that we could be developing androids for military purposes.”
“What?” Anna wrinkled her forehead. “That would be illegal.”
“Well, exactly,” Britt drawled.
Anna looked at the pile of paper again. “Do they have any idea how disruptive this is going to be? As if we weren’t pressed enough for time already. It’s ridiculous.”
“They’re the government,” Britt said philosophically, “they can do what they want.”
Anna sighed. “Well, OK. We obviously can’t get out of it. We’ll have to rejig all of tomorrow afternoon. Do you think you could show the, ah, inspectors around? I can do the Campten meeting without you, if you could get me everything I’ll need beforehand… Oh goddammit. This specifically says that I have to be there to show them around. We’re going to have to postpone Campten. They’re going to hate that.”
“I could ask to move it forward, say to 11am,” Britt suggested.
“Great, do that. Hopefully these inspectors won’t want to hang around too long. I really don’t like the sound of that ‘warrant for unrestricted access’ – they do understand that everything we do here is a trade secret, right? Marty reeeeally isn’t going to like it if they want to poke around in the lab, he doesn’t even like it when I go in there.” She shook her head. “Things are so tight already, why did this have to happen now?”
“I suppose it’s to do with the war in the East,” Britt mused, “things are hotting up over there, both sides have deployed more troops. It makes sense that the authorities would worry about someone trying to break the Convention.”
Warfare was governed by the International Convention on Armed Combat, which had been in place for four hundred years, since the close of the Great War. The Convention placed strict restrictions on the types of weapons permitted: nuclear and biological weapons, unmanned drones, and all “broad spectrum” weapons which caused widespread devastation without distinguishing between combatants and civilians, were banned, as were genetically-altered combatants, and both types of non-human combatant; animals and androids. Nations discovered to be flouting the rules were punished with a crushing total trade embargo lasting twenty years. After a brief, disastrous period of total war, the Convention had resulted in a style of warfare not much different from that which had predominated in millennia past: two groups of humans, heavily armoured and armed with ballistic weapons, met in a field far from any towns or cities, and methodically inflicted horrific injuries upon one-other until one side or the other either was wiped out, or surrendered.
“Ridiculous,” Anna said, “we’re building an electronic courtesan, a companion, not a weapon. The government must really be paranoid, if they think a pleasure-droid could be used in warfare.”
“Well I don’t know,” Britt mused drily, “they could seduce the enemy forces. It could be a devastating new strategy.”
Anna laughed. “Well, don’t tell that to the government people tomorrow,” she cautioned, “they might not have a sense of humour about it.”