6

I read in an anthology book in 1975. It starts with two people watching a “robot” plane glide high and then dive into an opening of a factory causing a massive explosion. I’m not sure but I think the people may have orchestrated the attack on purpose to get the robot armies fighting each other in the hope that it would diminish robot army capabilities and bring them under control. The robot wars did occur, but at the end of the story the people discover a tube sticking out of the ground that is periodically shooting something into the air. Nearby they find a canister that did not get launched out of the “cannon” successfully and it was broken open. After close examination they discover tiny “ants” on the canister that are actually tiny robots which are rebuilding the robot war factories. The robots have adapted and will keep trying to fulfill their mission. This story may have been in a booked edited by Roger Elwood, but I cannot guarantee it.

  • As I recall, the men got the two factories fighting by placing a pile of valuable material exactly half-way between them. – Beta Mar 25 '15 at 23:21
9

The story is "Autofac" by Philip K. Dick. Not in any Elwood anthology as far as the ISFDB knows; you may have read it in the Silverberg anthology Beyond Control. You can read it at the Internet Archive. Here is the Wikipedia page. Here is a quotation from the story:

The cylinder had split. At first he couldn't tell if it had been the impact or deliberate internal mechanisms at work. From the rent, an ooze of metal bits was sliding. Squatting down, O'Neill examined them.

The bits were in motion. Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully—constructing something that looked like a tiny rectangle of steel.

"They're building," O'Neill said, awed. He got up and prowled on. Off to the side, at the far edge of the gully, he came across a downed pellet far advanced on its construction. Apparently it had been released some time ago.

This one had made great enough progress to be identified. Minute as it was, the structure was familiar. The machinery was building a miniature replica of the demolished factory.

"Well," O'Neill said thoughtfully, "we're back where we started from. For better or worse . . . I don't know."

  • Loving the jaunty hat look. – Valorum Dec 21 '14 at 23:23
  • It is Autofac by Dick! Thank you. My memory was not 100% correct because what I described as the starting scene was toward the middle of the story. Because this response is displayed first in my browser I am selecting it as the correct answer. – OldSciFiReader Dec 23 '14 at 18:19
  • @OldSciFiReader, you need a better browser :) User14111 beat me to the answer by about 60 seconds, but since I worked hard on mine, I left it up. As Richard said, one needs to be up early to beat User14111. – ImaginaryEvents Dec 23 '14 at 19:36
8

This is "Autofac" by Philip K. Dick, published in the November, 1955 issue of Galaxy Magazine.

The story occurs after a (human) war, but surviving pre-war automatic factories were using all the resources humanity needed to rebuild. The factories couldn't be re-programmed or shut down. They finally destroy the regional factory, but a still operating section is sending its output to the surface.

The exit valve of the conveyor tube was concealed in a tangle of vines and ruins a quarter of a mile beyond the factory. In a slot of rock at the base of the mountains the valve poked up like a nozzle. From ten yards away, it was invisible; the two men were almost on top of it before they noticed it. Every few moments, a pellet burst from the valve and shot up into the sky. The nozzle revolved and altered its angle of deflection; each pellet was launched in a slightly varied trajectory.

...

Plastered against the towering wall of rock was a crumpled pellet; by accident, the nozzle had released it directly at the mountainside. O'Neill climbed up, got it and jumped down. The pellet was a smashed container of machinery, tiny metallic elements too minute to be analyzed without a microscope.

...

The bits were in motion. Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully--constructing something that looked like a tiny rectangle of steel. "They're building," O'Neill said, awed. He got up and prowled on. Off to the side, at the far edge of the gully, he came across a downed pellet far advanced on its construction. Apparently it had been released some time ago. This one had made great enough progress to be identified. Minute as it was, the structure was familiar. The machinery was building a miniature replica of the demolished factory.

  • You both get an upvote but you'll need to get up very early to pip @user14111 to the post... :-) – Valorum Dec 21 '14 at 23:23
  • You are correct, too. See my reply to user14111. Thank you for your help. – OldSciFiReader Dec 23 '14 at 18:20

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