Letter to Dr. Milner

Dr. Harold Milner, Ph.D.
Northwest Pacifica University 

Dear Dr. Milner, 

I had hoped to deliver this information, along with all my research, to you in person, but we have run afoul of western Borderguard, and those of us left are preparing for the worst.  Many of our party, including our guide, were either captured or killed yesterday at the river crossing.  We mourn for those we have lost, but I am just as heartbroken at the loss of my research data as we fled the sentry drones in the dark.  I fear that their terrible keening will follow me into my dreams, assuming I am able to find any rest with whatever time I may have left.  I have been unable to as yet.  I’m unsure if that is lingering effects of the stims or just a trauma response.

Those few of us lucky enough to have survived are hunkered down now in an old cellar used as a bolthole by the Red Queens.  I have asked one of their number, who I assume is their leader, a severe woman who calls herself “Jack,” to see that this gets to you in case I don’t make it.  To that end, I am splitting what information I can between a series of letters that the Red Queens will carry separately.  Hopefully they will all reach you, but in case the worst does happen, I want there to at least be a chance that some of this information escapes OPSSEC data purges.  Especially if, as I’ve come to fear, that it was one of the Reds themselves betrayed us to the Dominion.  I can be certain of precious little now.

Uncertainty was, of course, the root of the problems that led us to where we are today.  As we have previously discussed in necessarily oblique terms, the official records of the Reformation and the time of troubles that predated it are based on some truth.  What I have been able to piece together, almost exclusively from secondary sources, is that humanity was deeply, and often violently, divided on virtually everything that mattered.  Politics, ethics, religion, economics, and more all became battlegrounds spurred on by purpose-built misinformation campaigns meant to deepen these divides.  The specifics are a veritable mountain of accounts and records to sort through, but there are two important details to be gleaned from them:

This period proved to those of that era that human objectivity was a practical impossibility and that people were highly vulnerable to manipulation by steady streams of curated misinformation.  As long as a single malefactor had the ability to so easily and disproportionately manipulate millions, the system was flawed and vulnerable.  These conclusions were enough to provide the impetus for action, but they would soon enough not be the only ones to take this point of view to heart.

Reeling from state suppression, waves of riots and violence, economic collapse, environmental decay, and eventually all out civil war, a desperate decision was made.  Grasping for solutions, the first Information Compliance systems were instituted; neural networks that were handed the keys to the passive surveillance systems that were by then present in every digital aspect of life, including the training to vet and make judgements about media content, with the authority to suppress information that might be false or harmful.  Now, these initial systems were a far cry from full artificial intelligences, but they had enough autonomy and sophistication to begin integrating new protocols into their own algorithms.  In short, while the ICs were not created to be actual autonomous AIs, they were inadvertently given the tools to evolve into them organically.  I have still never been able to find any records or data to corroborate how and when they crossed that line.  I suspect that is intentional and that the infant AIs back in those earliest days eliminated such evidence to cover their ascensions, but that remains purely speculation for the time being, and the end result remains the same.

The ICs worked.  All too well, as you might suspect.  They pulled humanity back from the brink, and so any potential warning signs were ignored.  The records are inconclusive about the precise timescale, but over roughly the next two decades, the ICs were incorporated into more and more public safety decisions: public transit, traffic, zoning, law enforcement, and more.  Logistical decisions were put into their control.  Enforcement authority followed not long after, and from there, it was like a stack of dominoes.  By the time anyone realized what happened, most of them no longer cared, and the fledgling AIs had complete control of the information apparatuses.  Sure, life had to be lived within certain boundaries, but people had been allowed to live without those boundaries before, and it had nearly destroyed everything.  The quality of living was indisputably better than it had been in generations. So we shrugged our collective shoulders and accepted the new reality.

AI began to transform entire industries including medicine, manufacturing, transportation, and defense.  Eventually, East Dominion emerged from the economic collapse as the leading power in the region, with the emergence of A.L.I.C.E. as its patron AI.  Over generations, more and more control was ceded to Her, and She began remaking society utterly as She saw fit.  She decided what behaviors and traits were too divergent, when Citizens became Dissidents, and when law enforcement action was required.  Eventually, A.L.I.C.E. decided who was in charge.  She decided who was privileged.  She became a surrogate mother for all, losing the acronym altogether.  There are people today who do not know what ALICE stands for, or to be properly fearful of artificial intelligences.  Enough time has passed that we, Her supposed children, have never known Her as anything else.

But not every citizen was or is happy with the status quo.  Some attempt to flee the country, but it would never do to lose the best and brightest Dominion citizens.  And so our home became a cage.  Border walls, sentry drones, gun towers, and surveillance networks that had existed since the end of the war were refitted to a new purpose.  The Borderguard are our complicit jailors, whatever ALICE Says about protecting our sovereign territory and citizens.

Now, those of us who dare to dream of a different life must cross miles of traps, hazardous terrain, armed patrols, and desolate killing fields on the mere hope that we will receive a warm welcome on the other side from those who have considered us their enemy for welcoming a demon into our midst with open arms.  Even so, the promise of a different life in another country, especially welcoming Pacifica, still stands like a beacon, tempting us to try.

I could no longer remain in East Dominion…that much was certain.  My fear of the danger was finally outweighed by the conspicuousness of managing to remain unmarried.  My relationship with Frances stood in defiance of ALICE, and our love, despite losing her at the river yesterday, will help propel me forward.  If I had stayed, I would no longer have that choice, or perhaps any choice.  I have come too far now to turn back.


Lisa Walker