Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Protocol Error

H-M and H-F were top-of-the-line robots from SurvivalFittest Industries.  H-M, from the M line, was engineered to do the heavy work and to defend against predators.  H-F, from the F line, was designed to give attention to detail, and to make sure the habitat was comfortable.

The two robots were required to communicate with each other without much overhead.  The communication protocol (called InterMingle) had gone through a gradual evolution.  It was version 4.334 now, in the year 2276 AD.  This protocol was very efficient and enabled both H-M and H-F to understand each other quickly and clearly.  Sometimes the protocol could reliably predict future messages and the robots could undertake predictive execution of what needed to be done.

SF Industries were very proud of what they had produced.

In 2277 AD, after a great many of H-M and H-F robots had been put into operation, it was discovered that in some instances H-F was restricted in certain acts that H-M was free to undertake.  When the factory designers were interviewed, they mentioned that in their design, H-F and H-M both had their areas of strength.  They said that careful evolution of the line had specialized H-F for safe tasks.  It was not designed to operate in conditions which had chemical effluents, possibilities of electrocution and extreme temperatures.

These findings were unacceptable to the Robotic Equality Commission.  It was decided to allocate enormous resources to all the regions in which H-F and H-F were supposed to operate.  Those regions were to be made safe for H-F as well.  Re-engineering H-F instead was considered too complex an undertaking.

This safety exercise took many years, but still all areas could not be certified as safe for H-F.  Never mind, most areas were.  The commission was mostly satisfied.

H-F could now be expected to operate in almost all conditions that H-M earlier did.

And obviously, the protocol InterMingle also evolved.  It went through a rapid cycle of revisions.    Now it was at version 12.3.

In this version, however, there was an enormous overhead to the communication.  Less messages were substantive, and more messages were about control and negotiation.  Predictive execution was non-existent.  There was much repetition and re-transmission for messages to go through the channels.  Frequently, messages were unacknowledged and the robots displayed a kind of competitiveness, even hostility.

Nobody knew what had gone wrong.  It was felt that perhaps H-F was still not at an equal footing.  On the other hand, H-M was increasingly suspected to be creating unsafe situations for H-F.  More and more resources were poured into enforcement of H-M's activities and to make sure H-F was safe not just from the elements, but from H-M's machinations as well.

The protocol, now a mess, was not comprehensible to any single researcher.  Teams of scientists were now allocated to work on making sure the protocol was mostly bug-free.

It was consuming enormous resources at SF just to keep the protocol functional.

A new researcher at SF came up with, it then seemed, a brilliant idea.  He decided that the robots would negotiate their own protocol whenever they came together.  Instead of operating from a fixed protocol, the robots would engage in bargaining and come to a mutually acceptable set of messages and interactions.

The InterMingle protocol was abolished.  The existing robots continued to work with their protocol stack, but they could no longer communicate with the newer line.

Because of this new computational load on the new line, the new line robots started running out of their charge.  They needed to be charged every half hour now.  The old robots, some of them still running InterMingle 4.334, were able to run for days without requiring a recharge.  And inexplicably, many robots, of all lines, were getting stuck in protocol processing instead of executing the acts.  They required a manual reboot to again get going.  Many robots were found to be unfit for general activity and were isolated in a military complex.

SF Industries went bankrupt in 2311.

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