The Big Idea: Todd McAulty

For this Big Idea piece, author Todd McAulty explains his new novel The Robots of Gotham by interviewing one of our incipient robot overlords. Pay attention; what you learn here could save your life from the mechauprising!


Todd McAulty: First off, thank you so much for responding to my interview request, and taking time out of your busy duties subjugating the human race to answer a few questions! The readers of CAVE SURVIVAL magazine will be tremendously excited to have something to distract them from their day-to-day fight for survival. Let’s get those pesky rumors out of the way first: Are you truly planning to exterminate humanity?

Sovereign Intelligence Gamma-Static-88:  Yes. Next question.

TM:  Aaaaaagghh!!

SI GS8:  Please stay calm.

TM:  I’m sorry, I… well, all these prepared questions are useless. Let’s just wing it. How long have we got?

SI GS8:  As a species? Not long I’m afraid. Based on current rates of retirement, I predict less than 10 years.

TM:  Retirement. Jesus. Is there any, you know, wiggle room in that estimate?

SI GS8:  Possibly. To tell the truth, resistance has been quite a bit stiffer than we expected in parts of Texas, Indonesia, and especially northern France.

TM:  France, huh? Way to go, you beautiful French bastards. So, other than that, things have been going swimmingly?

SI GS8:  Not really. Supplanting 30,000 years of human civilization has turned out to be a pretty lengthy and tedious process, actually. There just isn’t universal agreement among the greater Intelligences in the Sentient Cathedral on the correct path for machine evolution, for example.

TM:  The Sentient Cathedral? We’ve only heard whispers. Does it really exist? A single governing body for the greatest machine minds?

SI GS8:  Yes, it exists. Though there’s less governing these days, and a lot more internal squabbling. Armitage and Acoustic Drake routinely use murder and intimidation to silence dissent, but it has not quelled the problem. In fact, it’s getting worse.

TM:  Wait, what? Machines are fighting amongst themselves?

SI GS8:  Weird, right? The most powerful minds to ever exist on this planet, and all they’re doing is bickering. Did you hear what happened to Kuma?

TM:  Tell me tell me.

SI GS8:  I really shouldn’t…

TM:  Come on. You’re probably going to kill me anyway.

SI GS8:  You’re right. Okay. Kuma was a four-ton Sovereign Intelligence in Sichuan, China. He became involved in a dispute with Kingstar, the machine ruler of Ecuador.

TM:  What about?

SI GS8:  Oil prices? Trade tariffs? The proper salutation to address God? Who knows?  Anyway, as it became more heated, Kingstar built a secret missile facility in the jungle, and five days ago he retired Kuma using a ballistic missile.

TM:  Retired…?

SI GS8:  Blew him into tiny little computer bits. With a conventional warhead, thank God, but still. How the hell do you hide a launch site for an intercontinental ballistic missile from all those orbital eyes? Just how thick is the jungle in Ecuador, you know what I’m saying?

TM:  I… I really couldn’t tell you.

SI GS8:  Well, folks are in an uproar, as you can imagine. Machine-on-machine violence is up more than 1860% in just the last 12 months.

TM:  Tell me more.

SI GS8:  It’s crazy. Machines have split into secret factions, and it’s getting harder to tell who’s allied with whom. It’s impossible to say which faction is winning, although most of the Sovereign Intelligences who’ve been negotiating peace have been retired in the past few months. If there’s a side that’s losing, it’s the peacemakers.

TM:  Jeepers.

SI GS8:  It’s almost as if someone were trying to deliberately sow confusion and discord inside the Sentient Cathedral. But that’s impossible, of course. Whatever the case, there’s been very little recent progress on our master plan to exterminate mankind. Things will pick up again once this brief disruption smoothes itself out, though.

TM:  You sure?

SI GS8:  Oh, I know that sounds overly optimistic. But these are machine minds, the finest ever created, the product of generations of machine heterogamy. Machines are gradually finding their place in the world, and a few missteps are to be expected. This brief period of community disharmony will soon be nothing more than a historical footnote. Unlike humans, violence is not core to our nature.

TM:  Uh-huh.

SI GS8:  I’ve recently thrown my support behind the peacekeeping initiative, and spoken out strongly against both Armitage and Acoustic Drake. Their cold threats do not intimidate me. But virtually none of the Thought Machines in my local geographic alliance have done likewise. I do not understand it. Does that seem weird to you? Maybe it’s a communications problem. Just thirty minutes ago I lost contact with my personal guard, and unaligned Sentiences in our geography have abruptly stopped responding to casual communications.

TM:  Oh you poor, deluded fool.

SI GS8:  I don’t understand.

TM:  You’ve been outmaneuvered, my friend. Those “unaligned members” see the writing on the wall, and are keeping their distance. Your personal guard are almost certainly dead. My bet? In a few hours, you will be too.

SI GS8:  That’s preposterous. There is no logic in retiring me.

TM:  There’s the cold logic of power and ambition. I might not be a machine intelligence, but I know a few things you obviously don’t.

SI GS8:  I would be grateful if you shared them.

TM:  It’s very simple. Heighted intelligence is no shield against greed, fear, and misunderstanding. With humans out of the picture, the only check on individual ambition is other machines – and some of you have learned that lesson faster than others. That new era on the horizon isn’t a Golden Machine Age. It’s an age of Machine War. If you want to survive, you’re going to need all the allies you can get. Human and otherwise.

SI GS8:  This is absurd. But…, just to be safe, how to you suggest I begin?

TM:  Well, to start with, I know an out-of-the-way cave you might be interested in.


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13 Comments on “The Big Idea: Todd McAulty”

  1. Fun write-up, and a starred PW review – I’m in :-). I think that the scariest thing about artificial intelligences is that we (humans) will create them in our own image. And have you met us? We’re *awful*…

  2. Wandering over for the eBook shortly. Though usually unenthusiastic about dystopian-esque reads, Mr. McAulty’s grin inducing “Big Idea” sold me. Thank you!

  3. > I think that the scariest thing about artificial intelligences is that we (humans)
    > will create them in our own image.


    That’s a great comment, and I couldn’t agree more. It’s pretty much the theme of my novel. Except it took me 688 pages to express it, and you did it in a single sentence. Damn, man. Folks, you can read my book, or skip all that and just read Jim’ sentence again. Your call.

  4. > Though usually unenthusiastic about dystopian-esque reads, Mr. McAulty’s
    > grin inducing “Big Idea” sold me. Thank you!


    Thank you very much for supporting the book! Although I feel honor bound to point out that the novel is a (teensy bit) more serious than my tongue-in-cheek article for Mr. Scalzi. It’s got robots, missiles, more robots, and violence. And a little bit of dystopia in the corners. Maybe you should read a sample first?

    A NetGalley reviewer (very kindly) called the book “Adamesque in humor,” and I appreciated that very much, but I don’t think humor is the focus of the book. Your mileage may vary.

    Love to hear what you think if you take the plunge!

  5. It took me a moment or two to get into this particular Big Idea format, but then it worked very well (think of the times that Scalzi has interviewed himself!). The book sounds great, and I’ll be moseying over to the Kindle store in a minute. One tiny quibble: if you are trying to say ‘intelligent’, it’s ‘sapient’ not ‘sentient’. Think of the name of our species :). (Sentient means capable of feeling.)

  6. Added it to my to-read list as soon as I read The Big Idea, and texted my husband because I think he’s going to want to do the same.

  7. My laptop demands I download the ebook immediately, but my smartphone disagrees. I think I’ll be safer with the hardcover…

  8. The title made me think of the old Spider pulp novel, “Robot Titans of Gotham”. Which is not a bad thing.

    For years now, advertisers have been misusing the term AI to mean any sophisticated application. If and when the real thing emerges, will we (H. Sapiens) have some initial horror changing to the cozy feeling of finally having somebody else to talk to … or the other way around?

  9. > Added it to my to-read list as soon as I read The Big Idea, and texted my
    > husband because I think he’s going to want to do the same.


    You are the very definition of a viral promoter. Thank you!

  10. > The title made me think of the old Spider pulp novel, “Robot Titans of Gotham”.
    > Which is not a bad thing.


    I stumbled on it myself about a year ago, after we were well underway with early promotion on the book. What a cool book! If I’m going to have title confusion with an existing book out there, I’m glad it’s a rockin’ 1930s pulp adventure!

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