Saturday, March 5, 2016


"Just disconnect the negative and positive power leads, and short them.  The system will reset and unlearn all previous input."

I thought about what the technician had just said, so casual, so devoid of emotion.  Earnestly, he was providing a valid remediation solution for a problem the harvester droid had picked up with its learning while working the field.  Yet another slab of concrete had been worked up by winter and had created an obstacle when the spring planting program had run three years ago, and the harvester had interpreted it as hard soil.  As a result, it had put a bit more work into getting that soil ready for the cover crop while it was harvesting and had damaged its discs and then furrowed too deeply, creating a low spot in the field.

We hadn't caught it until this year due to a cut budget and shortage of qualified staff to service the fleet.  Now we had a thoroughly damaged harvester rig and a big mud hole in the field with a very scratched up section of what might have once been a parking deck or pedestrian bridge.

The tech returned to his review of the systems but his recommendation remained with me for a moment.  The "learning" had taken time, millions of recorded data points made up the otherwise good programming our harvester had acquired during its service life. It knew what do do with all of our various soil conditions on our 7000 acre tract of old Detroit, and typically we would have gotten the concrete slab out of the way before it became a problem.  Now, with not enough hands to help work the farm or maintain the fleet of droids, we were paying the price.  And soon, our droid would pay the price as well, giving up it's meager awareness for the expedient correction of a problem that baked in software protections would prevent us from tweaking or correcting on our own.

I felt a sense of loss.  All of that time spent learning... gone with a hard reset.  It wasn't that I was anthropomorphizing the harvester, not much anyway, it was all the time that was going to be thrown away.  For want of more skilled help, we were taking a step back three years or more.  The cost would eventually be born by the customers on Luna and Mars, where most of the food we produced in "harsh rehabilitation zones" went after thorough processing, but they in turn would submit their expense reports to their various employers, who would in turn pad their bottom lines when it came time to sell their raw materials back to Earth... and our employers would look at the rising costs and determine that manpower had to be cut, again, rather than some other extravagance, and we'd have something else break next season.

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