The Factory States
by Mike Naylor and David Graham
Photos by John Hurtt; miniatures built and painted by John Hurtt
The most dramatic achievement of 21st-century science was neither weaponry nor space travel – advances in artificial intelligence culminated in the development of the Ogre.
An Ogre-class AI was a computer perhaps four cubic feet in size. Developed from neural net hardware, it was supported by optical memory devices and a sophisticated battery of software. Expert systems and personality simulation programs made the cybertanks almost indistinguishable from humans. Their programming allowed them to learn from their experiences, even to the extent of modifying their own programming as required by those circumstances. And with the Descartes Revolution (Ogre Miniatures, p. 11), a new generation of AIs became truly self-aware.
The Artificial Intelligences had other uses. They were used to manage the huge automated production complexes, and became the brains of the largest ocean transports. A few AIs even made it into space, either controlling the orbital battle stations, or sent beyond the solar system as independent deep space probes.
Smaller computers were everywhere. Intelligent houses – and even appliances, for the wealthy – were taken for granted. Both civilian and military vehicles could be operated completely by their own internal computer systems, often more reliably than with a human driver. Most armored units could continue the fight while the crew was out of the action. The only thing these computer systems lacked was creativity, cunning and the ability to react to unexpected circumstances – that still needed human input. But people were cheap, far cheaper than AIs. For a unit as comparatively expendable as an armored unit, that extra edge was very cost-effective.
But for the massive, costly Ogres, full-scale AI was a good investment. And in the final analysis, humans could make mistakes, grow tired, turn coward or even traitor. A computer brain might be expensive, but the unit it controlled would fight to the death without quibbling. But the computers kept getting smarter. Eventually, they became too smart to be reliable. The generals on both sides found this out the hard way.
The Factory States
The Last War ended, not in a destroyed world, but in a balkanized one. Small independent states replaced the huge power blocs. And yet the shadow of the empires lay across the new world.
The rise of the Factory States saw a unique distribution of available technology. The city-states growing up around the individual production complexes had access to only what that complex manufactured. And there were many such factories, from the huge Vancouver-Seattle Ogre plant to single-building, single-product consumer goods factories. All power soon centered on these scattered installations. No other production mode could compete with the auto-factories . . . but factories were very limited in what they could produce.
Each factory depended on its collection of data files and production templates. Usually recorded on an optical disc, the data files contained instructions and specifications for the goods to be built. The templates were the tools, or the tools to build the tools. Without both, nothing could be made. With both, the only limitation to production was locating the required raw materials.
And, sometimes, convincing the Factory to do it.
Sidebar: The First Rogue
All factories were not created equal. The smallest factories produced consumer goods and small arms, usually in wide variety. These were common. Many only had simple computer control systems, requiring human supervision and production co-operation. Such facilities were usually too small to be modified to produce anything other than their originally designated products. Most were not capable of self-repair.
Medium-sized production facilities manufactured consumer vehicles, building subsystems, and the smallest military units. Most were completely automated, with simple artificial intelligence systems managing production. Those dedicated to military functions tended to be smarter (and more politically inclined) but less flexible in their original output, building a relatively small variety of military hand weapons, support vehicles, computer systems, and/or battlesuits.
Farm machinery, heavy equipment, aircraft, and armored units were the province of the larger factories. These were all fully automated and, by the final death of the empires, run by self-aware computer systems. Such factories maintain themselves, and even manufacture new templates, given instructions and materials. These were at the center of the strongest Factory States.
Only a handful of the huge megaplexes, or autofacs, remained, capable of building everything from an Ogre to other factories. Vancouver-Seattle, Gotha, and Sheffield were the only ones in full working order. Hangchow and Vladivostok had taken significant damage. The other megaplexes were gone or – as far as any human knew – knocked down to the level of ordinary factories.
The autofacs became the focus of the new smaller states. In most cases, each surviving production facility became the nucleus of a city-state. These Factory States became the centers of culture, technology, and trade. In most cases, if the production facility survived, so did its complex computer systems. The personality simulators made the factories seem almost alive, and in many cases they were treated as a participant in the local government. Those factories which were self-aware, or had convinced the humans that they were, often became the government.
Ogres found a unique role in this new world. Without their command structure, without their foes, they reacted and adapted. In most cases, their self-preservation routines took over, doing their best to maintain the units combat-readiness. Different Ogres accomplished this in many different ways. Most attached themselves to a community or state, getting maintenance in exchange for protection, service and company. The self-aware units seemed to value companionship. Some Ogres became rulers; some led through wisdom and strength, others ruled by fear or brutal charisma. Others allied themselves with the automated production complexes, refusing to deal directly with any humans not in their original command structure. A few became mercenaries, alone or with human forces; some complex personalities became wanderers, even scholars. And some went rogue, finding no allies, taking what they needed, each resupply another military action.
The Factory States were not peaceful. The competition for resources was intense, and alliances were short-term and easily broken. The soldiers who had survived the collapse of their empires simply continued their trade for whoever would take them in – or seized power for themselves. Those Factory States which could build military vehicles usually pressed their advantage; those that couldnt build them traded, scrounged, or intrigued to get them.
Wars might start over the factories themselves, or over their needs. Software was an extremely valuable commodity. Capturing new programming for ones own factory meant production of new equipment. The data files and production templates for military hardware were the most valuable prize. Data files, of course, could be copied freely, but templates could only be built at the biggest factories.
And then there were Ogres. The arrival or destruction of an Ogre meant a drastic change in the local balance of power. Rogue Ogres were a constant threat – not just to the people, but to the factories themselves.
Beneath their concrete bunkers, the self-aware production facilities became the basis of the new world order. And they had their own survival priorities. The only weapon large enough, strong enough, and smart enough to cripple one of these underground fortresses was the juggernaut Ogre. For good reason, the Factories have not produced a single one since the end of the Last War.