We are very pleased to welcome Mick Ryan to the #SciFi #AI series with his short story about Jason and the Augo-Strats.

The adversary had destroyed two of the new submarines over the past week. In both instances, swarms of mini-submarines using biological propulsion had been able to approach and attach themselves undetected. Their charges had been enough to puncture the pressure hull and send them both hurtling to the bottom of the ocean. Both represented multi-billion-dollar investments and took with them over sixty sailors each.

Jason winced as the Chief of Navy threw her arms in the air, uttering choice curses just loud enough to be heard by others in the secure room. This had not been a great simulation activity. The Navy chief, normally a quiet, thoughtful non-augmented leader, was frustrated. The monthly strategic war game run by Jason and his elite team of augo-strategists had been designed to identify weaknesses in their contribution to the next phase of military operations in the Pacific. Using bespoke artificial intelligence (AI), and connected to secure databases distributed around Australia, it had compressed a month of maritime, air and space actions into two hours.

The sinking of the submarines, which occurred in 99.897% of the 125,000 near instantaneous simulations of one potential course of action, was just the beginning. Fuels deliberately contaminated by the enemy had grounded nearly the entire airlift fleet and meant that nearly all ground combat forces were unable to move out of their deployment areas. More disastrously, simulated pol-info war feeds had resulted in a vote of no confidence in the national government, resulting in the new prime minister electing to consider pulling all of the nation’s manned and unmanned military units from the coalition forces.

“Let’s call that a day ladies and gentlemen. I think we have seen enough to know we need to go back to the drawing board on many aspects of this contingency campaign plan.” The AI being applied provided an automated feed of the results and multiple recommendations instantly to the feeds of Jason and the senior officers assembled.

Jason and his team had been running these games for the past several years. All of them were augo-strategists; humans with cognitive implants that allowed them to better link their brain to various external databases. This also allowed Augo-Strategists to link together, forming a version of a hive mind that was able to out-think any assemblage of un-augmented human-AI teams. These neural links didn’t come cheap, however, so they were still only used judiciously in most military organisations across the alliance. It was also prohibited to augment Service Chiefs or senior joint officers; the theory was the most senior decision makers still needed to be ‘fully human’, retaining the full measure of ‘personhood’ in order to retain the confidence of the government and the people.

Before he had been augmented, there had been some concerns in academia and the clergy about the ethics of augmenting humans. Safety and the potential for medical complications was one area of worry. Perhaps more concerning for many had been issues about the humanity of augmented people. Were they still humans, or cyborgs? And of course, was this procedure reversible – and would reversing it in future be moral? However, the disaster of 2029 had seen the government pass the new ‘Technical Augmentation and Addition of Human Persons’ Cognitive Functions’ legislation that had over-ridden these concerns.

His thoughts drifted back. June 2029. Jason had been a young crew commander of one of the new armoured infantry fighting vehicles that the Army had been so keen to deploy. He had spent several years training with his crew and was just young enough to be excited about the prospective expeditionary operation that his boss had briefed him about. And he would have deployed if it hadn’t been for the Manus Island debacle…

The neuro-prosthetics and trauma suppression algorithm of his augmentation kicked in just as thoughts of 2029 rose into Jason’s consciousness. Jason subconsciously scratched the small scar at the base of his skull and wirelessly linked to his deputy. He sent an instant note through their augo-link network to run a million-cycle analysis of the decision making by the assembled generals, admirals, and air marshals.

“Kelly, I will need that in two hours for my debrief of the chief. Also, send a draft of the brief to the US augo-strat networks in Pearl Harbour, Alaska and Armstrong Base.”

His deputy nodded silently and left with two other non-augmented assistants.

Jason pondered to his next task.

Not only was he the head of the military’s Augo-Strat Corps, he was also responsible for recruiting new members and ensuring they were developed, once they were augmented with the latest generation of neurotechnology. Before the development of augmentation, building first-rate strategists was a hit and miss process, and took years or even decades. This was now a much shorter process, taking about a year to identify candidates from across society, recruit them, provide the implants, condition newly augmented personnel to using their enhanced cognitive skills and then have them travel the world to collect experience by speaking to some of the great academics and strategists, as well as the senior military leaders across the alliance.

It was a process that had been developed through trial and error. Originally it had been hoped that the augmented strategists could do all their learning online and through digital libraries. Even through recruiting the brightest from across society, initial generations of the augo-strats across the alliance had underperformed relative to non-augmented personnel. It was only when the online and virtual learning was combined with a broad range of human experiences and interactions with world experts had the Augo-Strat program delivered the phenomenally gifted people that now populated this elite group.

There had been issues with translating knowledge about how neural-firing patterns-built memory to perform complex tasks had to be overcome. Then it had been blood leakage and rejection of implants by the brain. When these technological hurdles had been overcome, there had been some brain hacks which (again) highlighted the need for secure links and networks. But, gradually, building on decades of research and years of iterative improvements, augmented personnel began to outperform normal humans. They now formed an elite corps across the alliance, all linked in a common mission to develop superior strategy and support decision making of military and civilian strategic leaders.

Jason accessed the military personnel-net from his auto-start network and pulled down the profiles of several candidates he had been observing for periods ranging from months to years. He was going to have to make a decision on the next batch of augo-strat contenders in the next 24 hours. The neurotech-ethics board, the committee comprised of societal representatives, elected representatives, clergy and ethicists that was the clearinghouse for all candidates, had programmed their next hearing for the day after next. While a bureaucratic speed-bump, the committee was a mandatory step for new candidates. It provided a level of oversight for the government to ensure that legal and ethical concerns with human augmentation were addressed.

With a quiet sigh, he selected seven candidates, placed them in the feed for the neuro-ethics board, and turned to his next task. Sitting down in his office, Jason’s augmentation gently placed him into a slow-wave sleep, resulting in his losing consciousness. These short naps – one in the morning and one in the afternoon – helped to de-stimulate his brain. Using decades of research into neurobiology and sleep, two twenty-minute naps per day helped the members of the augo-strat corps to reenergize their body’s cells, clear waste from the brain, and support learning. Coupled with nutrition discipline, it allowed Jason and his team to retain peak cognitive efficiency for their 18-hour work days.

*****

His mid-morning nap complete, Jason snapped back to consciousness and again called up his priority task list through the augo-link network.

Today was his bi-weekly meld-session with his US counterpart in Washington. Each week, they linked through a secure meeting ‘room’ over the augo-link.  The purpose was to share the strategic discussions of senior military leaders, potential national policy changes and good ideas in developing their respective augo-strat personnel. It was something he had come to look forward to and enjoy; it was one of the few times where he felt sufficiently intellectually challenged.

The link came up instantly. His counterpart, Jane, appeared. As had become their tradition, she started the conversation.

“I thought this morning I would share some breaking intel with you. It has me quite worried, enough that I have had to retune some of my augmentation’s de-stressor algorithms. We have a source in Shanghai that has passed us some very troubling information.…it appears that one of our adversary’s augo-strats has evolved beyond a level that our had scientists anticipated. Somehow, and we are still figuring this out, this individual and her augment have managed to adapt and evolve its integral AI. It looks like this AI has achieved the Holy Grail…human level intelligence…”

Major General Mick Ryan is an Australian Army officer. A graduate of Johns Hopkins University and the USMC Staff College and School of Advanced Warfare, he is a passionate advocate of professional education and lifelong learning. He is an aspiring (but very average) writer. In January 2018, he assumed command of the Australian Defence College in Canberra, Australia.