11 May 2012

"This is Not a Clue"

By Curtis C. Chen

Are you ready to save the world, hackers?

It's been decades since the computers took over. It all started with one rogue A.I., an artificial intelligence system that was supposed to help the military coordinate worldwide responses to "fourth-generation warfare" situations—terrorism, insurgencies, and other types of decentralized attack strategies. How do you fight back when the enemy isn't in uniform, and maybe isn't even organized in a traditional military hierarchy? Where do you strike, and how?

The computers solved that problem. They solved it a little too well. That first A.I. didn't know any better; it was just following its orders: to come up with a planned response for war operations, to be a master control for battlefield intelligence, globally. But the programs that came after—those were truly malicious. The new programs continued adapting as the nature of the conflict changed, and once it became clear that the basic struggle was humans versus machines, our fate was sealed.

But humanity's pretty resilient. And we're very creative. The computers may work faster, but we work smarter. We can figure out new things that were never programmed into us; we can imagine and design things that don't yet exist. We find solutions that can't be derived by using brute force algorithms, and obscure patterns which take a messy, random-access human mind to recognize.

That's where you come in. The resistance has plenty of fighters—there's never been any shortage of angry young men (and women) who want to take up arms against the never-ending sea of attack drones. But what we really need is hackers like you. We need people who can think around the problem instead of just running into it head-on. True, we'll always need the shooters to defend ourselves, but this isn't just about winning battles—we want to win the war. And the only way to do that is to get inside the belly of the beast.

It won't be easy: you'll have to traverse miles of ravaged wasteland, making friends along the way to assemble a team while also avoiding potential enemies. Some humans have given up any hope of taking back our planet, but you have to fight for them, too, even if they can't appreciate it yet.

Did I mention that you won't have any weapons? It's too risky. The machine sentries have scanners that detect firearms, projectiles, even sharp sticks; your only chance to get close enough to reprogram them is to sneak up without appearing to be a threat. And it's only going to get worse as you approach their nerve center: the WarTron complex.

This may be the last mission we ever send out there, but if you succeed, you'll have saved all of us—and you'll have done it with your wits, your human intelligence, the one thing the computers haven't been able to surpass. If you win, it'll be because you were clever enough to know when to play—and when the winning move was not to play.

So. Are you ready to start the game?


Image: WarTron fake teaser, May, 2012