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I'd swear I found this one on the site, but I'm having difficulties locating it now. The basic conflict is that, somewhere in a large city, there's a car with an explosive device that's threatening to go off unless someone can provide the right security code. It's communicating electronically, but won't say where it is.

If I recall the details correctly, the backstory was that a company was trying to train a security system, so they trained it against an AI tuned to be paranoid. The problem is, someone in budgeting decided that the paranoid AIs could be resold as car security systems, resulting in one of them deciding that he was being threatened, and that it was time to trigger the aftermarket explosives...

I remember the resolution being that the psychologist does manage to talk down the car, but I don't remember any further details.

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  • 5
    Sounds like a realistically terrible idea...
    – user888379
    Commented Apr 17, 2021 at 16:36
  • Linked question: Is there a longer version of “Jipi and the Paranoid Chip”? Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 21:07
  • 1
    Good to hear that the explosives were aftermarket! (Much more realistic.)
    – Mark Olson
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:46
  • @MarkOlson Well, as it turns out, the explosives were standard, but were supposed to be a strictly antipersonnel matter, targeting only the driver. What is realistic, of course, is that the implementation became outsourced, leading to inconsistent amounts of, and types of, explosive charges.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 18:53

1 Answer 1

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This is Neal Stephenson's "Jipi and the paranoid chip" (Wikipedia entry for this short story), written 1997, available here.

("as it appeared in Forbes, Vol. 160, Issue 1 (7 July 1997)" according to Wikipedia)

"The chip" in question resembles the outcome of an Antagonistic Neural Network Training session and behaves like Alicebot paired to an Intrusion Detection System. It is supposed to give pause to would-be car thieves because it can blow up a stolen car if it detects unusual activity. Unfortunately:

“That is correct. And it worked! When these things were introduced, a few thieves got blown up in the first week, and then the auto theft rate dropped to nearly zero. Thieves were terrified. It was such a success that the company that made them—literally a garage operation-ramped up production and began exporting these things to other countries where these kinds of Draconian measures were felt to be acceptable.”

“Which countries?”

“Well, for our purposes, it hardly matters, because they ended up spreading all over the place. Just last week, a shopping mall in Beverly Hills got blown up.”

“You mean, a person got blown up in a shopping mall?”

“No,” Mr. Cardoza says confidently. “It was the whole mall.”

“Wait. I don’t understand,” Jipi says. “I was imagining, like, a small explosive charge under the driver’ seat or something. Enough to kill or maim the driver."

“It all depends on what you mean by small,” says Mr. Cardoza. “Explosives these days are astonishingly powerful. Apparently, what happened is as follows: The small garage company that was making the explosive alarm systems could not handle the flood of orders that came in, and so they had to farm out the assembly of these units to small jobbers all over Egypt, Libya, and Sudan. Quality control was, shall we say, uneven. The components—including the explosive charges—were purchased haphazardly, from whatever suppliers could be rounded up on a moment’s notice. Pallets of explosives were drop-shipped to these jobbers without labels, at least labels that the workers knew how to read. They had no idea what they were working with, or how much of the stuff to use; some of them used tiny dabs of it and some used hunks the size of cantaloupes. Some of it was low-power stuff some was extremely high-power.”

You gotta love Stephenson-written slightly acerbic dialogue. Cynicism paired with globalization.

The resolution is that Jipi barely manages to confuse the chip via Instant Messaging connection long enough that it can be zapped from a helicopter. But this is just the beginning of a long day.

My first decision is to sound the alarm.

NO!

“It’s dead,” Mr. Cardoza says.

WAIT!

“You can stop typing,” Mr. Cardoza says, and hangs up the telephone. “You’re off the hook. That chopper just nailed it with an electromagnetic pulse. Fried its chips. No one got hurt.”

“Except for it.”

“Better go and freshen up,” Mr. Cardoza says, “Two down, forty-six to go.”

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  • Vibes of John Varley's "Bagatelle"
    – user108131
    Commented Apr 18, 2021 at 7:29
  • For remotely disabling a trigger to a high explosive, EMP seems like the worst possible idea. Commented Jul 21, 2023 at 19:02
  • @CristobolPolychronopolis Plot armour says Mr. Cardoza had the plans to the trigger Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 13:14

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