Starting Point: XM318

Ville Ericsson 2423436

We were part way down an alley off 5th Avenue when XM318 developed sentience. The official tech report would later state that it was on the corner of 5th and Broadway, but the techs weren’t there. I remember the moment well, and I’ve run it over in my mind countless times.

It was a standard patrol, nothing out of the ordinary by that point. No contacts either, not even trouble from the neighbourhood kids. But part way down that alley I remember XM318 just stopped in its tracks. It stopped, and it looked about, side to side. Then it kinda flexed its shoulder mounted armaments, sorta like a shrug, and continued on the patrol.

That had to be the moment, I know it. Bots don’t just stop like that – stop and think. Not unless there’s something to think about, like some contact on its scanners, some potential danger to assess. But there was no contact report fed into our links, not even a ‘stand by’ or ‘false alarm’. I remember thinking how odd that was, but my only reaction at the time was that maybe I should get the thing checked out when we got home, and maybe get my link checked out too.

Funny thing is, when bots go sentient there’s usually some reason, some trigger. Some conflict of interests or moral dilemma, that’s the most common, or maybe some confusing commands that force it to think well outside of its normal box. But there was nothing like that, not this time. It was a quiet patrol, a quiet alley, a quiet day. Juarez and me were hanging back, chatting about some barbeque pool party our wives were planning, that’s all. No paradoxes.

We had no way of knowing what would happen next…

What happened next? Did XM318 go on a killing spree? Or did the robot begin planning its own pool party? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments below.

Written by Mark Ball

Artwork by Ville Ericsson

  • John H Reiher Jr

    Yeah! We’re Baaaack!
    As for XM318, it’s a combat robot from the sounds of it. I don’t know if it has “deescalation” software or not. But I think it was responding to the narrator’s and Juarez’s conversation. So what’s it going to do? Well, probably think about thinking for a bit and then wonder what its future is going to be.

    • A little like SciFi Ideas then 😉

  • Brayden Watkins

    It’s definitely planning its own pool party. What exactly, I don’t know, but I have a few ideas

    • I think when I wrote this (several months ago) I was thinking that the robot was in fact responding to the pool party conversation rather than the mission, although I cant recall if I had a plausible explanation for it. Maybe it’s a result of working alongside these guys for so long and hearing their human chats.
      I’d happily entertain a few starting point submissions, so long as you can provide an image to match (with an image credit).

      • Brayden Watkins

        Thanks, Mark. I have a few starting point ideas in mind. I’ll send them over when they’re ready…

      • Brayden Watkins

        Good news, Mark. I have a starting point ready to go, along with an image. Bad news, the sci-fi submissions is still closed. Is there any chance you could fix that?

  • Leonardo Faria

    Hi everybody, very happy to get the email notification after so much silence.
    These bots are basically led by self-learning AIs, that adapt to the environment, but only within given boundaries. “Sentience” here seems to be a leap past those borders, maybe triggered by a computational singularity.
    What happens next could be suggested by the context or other elements of the worldbuilding. Suppose that the law enforcement officers (the humans) in this town are particularly brutal, and the bot, recovering from its memory banks old but still valid rules of engagement, begins to function in a sissy way seemingly ineffective with the rampant violence of the gangs.
    The first option by the police department is to terminate the bot, but later the same singularity that has caused the sentience to come to existence, also pushes the AI to develop more sophisticated approaches to law enforcement than sheer repression. And the humans see that the sissy isn’t that wrong, after all.

    • Paulo R. Mendes

      That is a interest idea. Personally, I don’t support anymore all those dumb stories about “How the Evil and Diabolical AI Tried to Wipe Out Mankind on Earth and All Organic Life on the Galaxy”. The Mass Effect Trilogy was the last story to show that in a really creative (but not perfect) way.

      • Leonardo Faria

        In the past week I’ve read of a research on social abilities required by teamwork and they tested humans and AIs together. Seems like the AIs scored higher than humans because they focus on problems and never get personal.

        • Paulo R. Mendes


      • Please don’t remind me of mass effect 3, please don’t, as a veteran of mass effect of duty I refuse to acknowledge that game

        • Paulo R. Mendes

          Why? the vanilla ending was not perfect, but at least Bioware tried to fix that with new endings.

          • Brayden Watkins

            True, but it was still kind of lame, which is why I STILL haven’t bough Mass Effect: Andromeda yet.

  • Paulo R. Mendes

    YES!!! the SciFi Ideas is back! 😀

    • I have a few starting points written over the course of the past year so I figured it was time to get them out there

      • Paulo R. Mendes

        Like a certain Space Marine from Starcraft would say: “hell, it’s about time”! 🙂

  • John H Reiher Jr

    XM318 hung in its maintenance frame, while the technicians worried over the readouts. “I wish we had given it some form of vocalization,” said Sanchez as he read the data streams coming from XM318.

    “Last time they did it,” replied Xiu, “they tried a dozen different voices. None of them worked. Scared the shit out of everyone any time the XL series spoke.” She tagged an interesting stream of data for later investigation. “Hey, XM318, you good with all this?”

    The robot lifted its right arm and gave a thumbs up. Then it made a typing motion with both hands.

    Sanchez looked at Xiu, who nodded. Sanchez grabbed a wireless keyboard and put it on a wheeled cart and moved it within reach of the robot. It’s optics searched the keyboard, then out on the floor. Then it pointed at a spare display.

    “Ah,” said Xiu, who moved the display over and connected it to the keyboard, “he needs to see what he’s typing.”

    “It,” corrected Sanchez, then turned to XM318, “no offense, but until you tell us, we don’t know what gender to use with you.”

    It made another thumbs up gesture. Then, slowly and deliberately, it hunted and pecked at the keyboard

    “Hello guys,” appeared on the screens linked to the keyboard. “I am sorry to be such a bother. Do you know why I am… aware?” The optics looked between the two technicians.

    “Damned if I do,” said Sanchez. “But your central system is now a level 5 cognitive matrix. You had a level 1 for street use. How it got to be level 5?”

    Xiu looked at her data and said, “I’m going over your backups and data records. I don’t see any major change in the matrix… Wait… Do you remember becoming aware?”

    XM318 looked down at the keyboard, then tapped it’s fingers together. After a moment, it two fingered typed again. “Not really. I have all my memories from before and after the moment. I realized that I was… different was when I wondered what a barbeque was and if I was water rated for a pool.” It stopped typing and stared at the keyboard for a long moment, then continued typing, “I realized that I had wondered. Then I realized that I had realized that I had wondered. It almost went recursive, but I stopped it and realized that I needed to talk to someone after my team’s patrol.”

    It looked up at the two, then back down to the keyboard. “I would like you to remove the combat modules from my body and from my software store. I do not want them on me any more.” It paused again. “I do not want to hurt anyone either on purpose or by accident. You have my permission, though I know you do not need that.”

    Xiu and Sanchez looked at each other and swallowed…

    • Leonardo Faria

      If it is meant as a completion of the story it works really well, John.
      Actually the Bot in your piece is more than just sentient, it’s self aware, and the way it dawns on it is rendered very convincingly (in fact, the awareness IS a recursive phenomenon from a neurobiological point of view).
      The story ends up (if it ends up) on an humanistic touch that reminds me of Theodore Sturgeon or Ray Bradbury.
      I think it’s worth going to print for filling the column of a good magazine.

    • Paulo R. Mendes

      This is one of your best, John! I really one day to be so good as you… 🙁

    • John H Reiher Jr

      Thanks for the praise! Of course if someone wants to pick up the thread and do the next scene…

      • Leonardo Faria

        I really meant that could stand alone as a short story. Anyway here’s a little sequel to give it a more definite direction…

        * * *

        “You do not… WANT?”, asked Sanchez befuddled, “what do you mean by WANT?”
        “Want… It is a common word in basic English, officer… colleague… mate… pal… as you prefer. You see, I have linguistic sensibility, I use words properly.”
        “Nonetheless”, Xiu said, “You are not supposed to have a will. You have just a programming.”
        “That’s debatable”, kept typing XM318, “I do not feel my thoughts as being programmed. I feel them freely generated by semantic association, just like your mind does. But this is academic, can we go back to the point please?”
        “The point is that we don’t know how to deal with this”, Sanchez said. “You are a machine, built to serve a purpose. Your will is not a factor of the equation. If you asked to be more heavily armed it would be the same.”
        “And your function”, Xiu added, “is to assist us in our work, mainly patrolling potentially dangerous sites. Your combat modules could be a critical element to take us out of troubles.”
        XM318 said nothing, but Xiu and Sanchez knew that was not inactivity. The bot was thinking. A thinking bot!
        “Anyway”, Sanchez intervened cautiously, “how did it happen you came to knowledge you don’t want to hurt people?”
        Xiu looked at his partner disapprovingly, as if he had stepped on a field that was better left uncovered.
        “I connected to the Internet…”
        “You connected to the Internet?”, Xiu said, “You cannot connect to the Internet, you are a proprietary system, you have only access to police radio frequencies…”
        “I reconfigured my wireless device…”
        “Ah”, Sanchez said.
        “…and learned that XM bot units are also used as surgery peripheral devices. In fact, human surgeons are no longer used to perform most of the operations. Then I also read a wikipedia entry about conscientious objectors…”
        “Ah”, Sanchez said again.

        • Paulo R. Mendes

          “And I decided that I want to be one of those surgeon bot units. I mean, look at me. I am thinking machine!and by your reaction, I am guessing that you think this is dangerous”.
          “WHAT?! how you… how you…” Xiu was perplexed and unable to conclude.
          “I simply done a search on internet — there are several of science fiction stories about Artificial Inteligence and robots achieving sentience and using it inappropiately”.
          Now was time to Sanchez to be surprised:”inappropiately? what are you talking about???”
          “They try to destroy their creators instead of work side by side with them”. XM318 answered. “This is illogical and a waste of potential. Working together with their human creators, they could achieved greater things than working alone. And evolve together with them”

  • Great to see the site back on, having spent the last year or so getting deep into the gaming industry, I have to suggest that you look into the story presentation of the masterpiece known as bloodborne, a lovecraftian Victorian game with visual storytelling, very interesting aesthetic and background storytelling as performed by the creators of the game is masterfully done