Big Dumb Snakes
Thirty years ago we released the trains—flipped the switch (God speed!) and forgot about them. They trundled mutely across the country, delivering freight with perfect timing. Cheap too—computers don’t want to get rich.
Then the mistakes started. The book Tammy ordered arrives—along with chemo meds she desperately needs but can’t afford. The company shrugs: “Shipping error; we can’t take them back.”
An engine comes in the mail, unordered. A week later Andrew’s dies. It would’ve cost his monthly salary.
“To err is human but to really screw up . . .” people say, laughing. “Big dumb snakes.”
April 8th, 2015 at 8:38 pm
Love what you imply in this story – a suggested computer intelligence secretly working for humanity by slipping in these fortunate ‘errors’.
Its well written, but I really like the different take on AI, which tends to be a doomsday ‘Skynet’ instead of a benevolent ‘Florence Nightingale’.
April 8th, 2015 at 9:18 pm
Thanks, KT. I wanted to put a different spin on things. Glad you got the meaning I was going for.
April 8th, 2015 at 11:45 pm
well machines err quite a lot!
April 10th, 2015 at 10:16 pm
April 9th, 2015 at 12:39 am
It’s kind of sinister isn’t it? Scary that it may happen one day. I like your spin though! Nan 🙂
April 10th, 2015 at 10:14 pm
You’re not the only person to say that this is sinister, although honestly I meant it to be more a story of (big) brotherly kindness. I guess that sort of overarching attention is creepy, no matter what the motivations.
April 9th, 2015 at 1:09 am
Maybe one day computers will also want to get rich…robots will take us as prisoners/slaves 😛 but until that day why the hell should we care? Loved your way of story!
April 10th, 2015 at 10:12 pm
Thanks, glad you liked it. It is an interesting debate: if computers developed intelligence, then sentience, would they also develop (im)morality? Sounds like another story in the making.
April 9th, 2015 at 1:30 am
….and they’re seriously discussing driverless cars! I hope I’m dead before it happens.
April 10th, 2015 at 10:10 pm
We’ll be passengers in our own world soon.
April 9th, 2015 at 1:45 am
Wouldn’t that be something, a computer with a heart. You always manage to get a really original take on the prompt – and you’ve done it again, David. Well done.
April 10th, 2015 at 10:07 pm
Thanks, Sandra. Glad you liked it. I always appreciate your comments.
April 9th, 2015 at 3:30 am
You flipped the switch and took me around the bend. Always, clever, imaginative and well written.
PS If you do make it to KC next month perhaps we can discuss your forum idea further.
April 10th, 2015 at 10:04 pm
Okay, sounds good. 🙂
April 9th, 2015 at 8:36 am
That was great, I love these big dumb snakes ans wish we had them. Computers err, but so do humans.
April 10th, 2015 at 10:01 pm
Yeah, we could use a few of those around here.
April 9th, 2015 at 10:18 am
I believe this is better than coupling. 😉
April 10th, 2015 at 9:57 pm
🙂 Thanks, Dawn.
April 9th, 2015 at 10:49 am
trains look same everywhere, don’t they?
April 10th, 2015 at 9:56 pm
pretty much, although passenger trains look a lot more different from country to country than cargo trains, I have noticed.
April 9th, 2015 at 11:45 am
Sinister but benevolent, great take 🙂
April 10th, 2015 at 9:55 pm
Thanks. It was meant to be benevolent, but in a sneaky way.
April 10th, 2015 at 10:33 pm
I love the hopeful spin on this. It’s well written and truly original. Makes me wonder if there is a benevolent programmer on the other end. Or perhaps we needn’t fear the day that those big dumb snakes become sentient.
All my best,
April 10th, 2015 at 11:24 pm
Thanks, MG. In my mind, this is the AI’s own initiative, not the direction of any human programmer. But then, who can say if anyone is totally devoid from their original programming? I’m sure Asimov would have something to say on the subject. 🙂
April 11th, 2015 at 1:05 am
I love the idea that the computer can develop humanity, or would that be comanity? Nicely written and a great story idea.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:20 pm
Comanity, great word. 🙂 In the great server crash of 2042, someone will tweet, “Oh the comanity!”
April 11th, 2015 at 2:03 am
There is no I in AI…or something like that. This was a great story. Subtly written and full bodied, the sign of a huge backstory. Full of snakes.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:21 pm
“There’s no I in AI” That’s beautiful, Doug. Some android has that pinned up in his 3×3 cubicle, I’m sure.
April 11th, 2015 at 12:55 pm
Ooh, I love how you flip things on their heads here and give the creepy big brother benign intent.Subtly done too.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:25 pm
Thanks, Jenn. Glad you liked it.
April 11th, 2015 at 1:51 pm
What an original story, David. How can I sign up for goods delivered from this train? Can I make a list? Nicely written, too.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:28 pm
I don’t know if you can sign up, but maybe there is a website somewhere they are checking. I had the idea that they gave special dispensations where the need was greatest, although it would be interesting to know the algorithm that made that value judgment. 🙂
April 11th, 2015 at 3:02 pm
Very imaginative, and I like how the computer has good intentions. The majority of stories I read that involve AI portray it as evil and sinister. Although I can understand why some would also see this in a sinister “Big Brother” light.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:32 pm
It’s true that we view this sort of overwatch as sinister since with humans it almost always is. The only exception I can think of is a mother with a baby and most people don’t want to be in that sort of totally dependent position.
April 12th, 2015 at 1:44 pm
Big dumb snakes seem pretty darn smart to me. I love your take on the prompt.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:33 pm
That is the great irony of it. Just because they don’t talk doesn’t mean they are dumb. 😉
April 12th, 2015 at 6:09 pm
I like that the machines ar working for mankind’s good. Fun story!
April 13th, 2015 at 8:34 pm
Thanks, Erin. I wanted to put a bit of a twist on things.
April 12th, 2015 at 6:55 pm
I love this. How wonderful to imagine a kindly mind, somewhere, looking after everybody. If only …
April 13th, 2015 at 8:37 pm
Thanks, Margaret. Glad you liked the story. 🙂
April 13th, 2015 at 5:27 am
Loved the story. After reading the comments I gather that even when AI is kind, we still don’t trust it. I suppose that’s human nature.
April 13th, 2015 at 8:38 pm
People are always looking for the catch. “You do this now but what will you want from me later.” We’ve conditioned ourselves through long history. Grace is a foreign concept.
April 13th, 2015 at 9:53 am
Ha.. mistakes can be good.. sounds great with benevolent snakes… 🙂
April 13th, 2015 at 8:43 pm
Yeah, “mistakes” 🙂
April 13th, 2015 at 10:35 pm
Oh the places you take us, David– wow! Love this. It’s creative and smart, and utterly original!
Better late than never; it’s been a wild weekend.
April 13th, 2015 at 10:37 pm
Thanks, Dawn, I really appreciate your comments. I hear you about the weekend: I lost this whole weekend with a work trip and am trying to catch up, which is why I haven’t posted in a few days or read as many FF stories as I’d like. But that’s life.