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Avery's Journey is a self-directed design fiction exercise and dance with Midjourney and other large language models.

The Box

Avery’s Journey – The Box

Avery hated the box. It sat in the corner, always on, always waiting, and always a reminder of the Schism. The box wasn’t outwardly menacing like other equipment deployed in the office or in the district, but any reminders of those difficult days were unwelcome. 

Avery tried to explain what happened to the subordinate pool, but how can you explain how a theological difference of only a few degrees created such damage? How does one even explain the difference between two disagreeing parties, who looked no different to those outside their closed order, who suddenly erupted in coup and counter-coup?

If this had happened a few years earlier, the damage would have been less. Networked infrastructure and Moore’s Law intensified the destruction, as each side’s Augments and Helpers reacted to their owner’s power play. Containment was lost. What each party feared, and thus perpetrated their action, happened. What should have been merely board room maneuvers became real in unanticipated fashion.

The box was supposed to stop that. It was supposed to minimize the damage.

Avery believed in the power of the Box in this much like those who perpetrated the schism believed in their truth. But like all faith, it hadn’t been tested during Avery’s service, and no one was sure what tactics the Box would employ. 

So it sat there. Always on. Always watching. Always waiting. 

Packing

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Going outside the Line of Control was supposedly a big deal.

The procedure to cross the line was…extensive; going outside the LoC exceeded the risk tolerance of the Guardian, whose subroutine tended toward overly concerned nanny. To compensate, it added supplemental training meetings and a visit to the district quartermaster.

Avery lost count of how many meetings so far as the team went through the pack checklist. The district design office had roots stretching back to consumer quick serve restaurants, and the pack checklist was designed for visual acuity and multiple languages. It felt infantilizing to match photos on the checklist to the objects in the pack, but here we were. Even going over the pack checklist was actually part of the checklist. The packing checklist of gear and equipment was extensive, designed for a range of seemingly unbelievable contingencies, and took the better part of the afternoon.

It didn’t matter that Avery was born outside the line of control. Regulations and norms were strictly enforced. Only the prefect know of Avery’s background, and Avery wanted to keep it that way/ Throughout each meeting the appropriate level of excitement and nervousness needed to be shared - the academy would be proud. Avery knew that things could go sideways quickly outside the line; but the backlist and escort provided for what amounted a quick jaunt outside the line felt excessive.

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Constructivist Base

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The advertisement drafts from the MarCom department for the new UAV base, and Avery chuckled at how stylize the graphics were. Someone at MarCom apparently rediscovered Constructivism.

While the district was mostly urban, there were some high performing urban farms at the far edge of the district. These were located upwind, and while not a large agriculture complex, it fulfilled most of the districts food needs, and was the source of additional credits from a variety of cash crops for sale on the larger exchange. There were a variety of both open-air crops fields and standard greenhouses.

The only new things was the UAV base which was one of Avery’s initial contributions, which was about to open. The base – which had some fancy backronym Avery couldn’t remember – had a central office and storehouse, with landing zones around the perimeter to allow a new set of UAV’s to land, refuel, and reload their cargo; generally these drones were macrodosing the fields with pesticides, genetic starters, or augmenting the ground drones with feedstocks. While the district wasn’t able to fully automate the process, much of it was augmented by drones or other such technology. This required a hefty comms mast full of the usual set of GPS, GLONASS, DWSS emitters, and LiDAR to give the drones confidence moving about the fields and greenhouses.

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Scarry Glitch

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Sometimes a promotion isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Of course, having a slightly larger ledger and more ration allocations is nice. Yet it seemed that this promotion was more about allowing others to shed jobs and processes they disliked, rather than an elevation in status. This meeting typified the new normal: the weekly morbidity and mortality review. It was a normally dry affair with their section’s Whisperer, Sam. As Whisperers go, Sam had a great personality, if a bit literal; Avery figured that working with prompts for years, trying to bend the model to your will, does that to people.

Today’s MMR was as dry as ever, but Glitch 46.05.029.A3 was simply ridiculous.

A member of the team had asked the Copilot to iterate new street furniture and telecoms devices in preparation for new data service to create a more unified system. The objective was rote, and normally shouldn’t have thrown any errors. But here they were, looking at the glitch sheet showcasing an almost infinite number of parametric options inspired by a children’s book. The Whisperer thought that the Copilot had inadvertently overheard some stray office conversation from new parents back from their leave, and incorporated it into the logic chain. Luckily this Copilot run was sandboxed, or the output would have bee passed up the chain to the department AI for review and recommendations, which would have passed it to the superintendent’s AI for review and approval. A review and approval process which was often more cursory than Avery thought was wise; this event proving Avery correct on the merits. The Whisperer caught the error in time, and paused the process for review. So here they were.

While the only thing that was wasted was compute cycles, they now had a whole lot of useless packages, complete with pricing, parametric, zoning approval, and resident agreements to do something with. While compute time was cheap, storage was not. In the end Whisperer had the great idea to convert some of the better parametric endpoints to holophotos for the new parents, and retain the endpoints which scored high on buildability for future kindergarten installations. This would allow them to report out that the compute time wasn’t fully wasted, and their monthly storage quota wasn’t taxed. Avery noted Whisperer’s suggestion for both acoustical treatment and new runtime logic in the log, recommending these changes to be studied. Implementation would take time, but they at least started a holo-trail of notes for future use.

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Sustainer S-642

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Now that the all-clear was announced on the MC1 over text, speaker, and Messenger Avery could breathe a little bit. Apparently is *was* the Guardian AI being a little too overprotective of the estate. Throughout the night Avery’s colleagues continued to press the Guardian about what had happened, to no avail. Either way, the crash had ben lifted, and all were free to return to quarters.

Avery just had to pack up the Sustainer S-642 and send it on its way.

Upon receipt of the S-642, and the attendant identity confirmation, surprises abounded: besides the meal kits, water, and personalized sleep kit, Avery’s position now rated a defensive weapon. While trained and qualified for the provided H&K Comet, Avery preferred area denial protection. Not that Avery was above ballistics, but they were so…personal.

These thoughts drifted about as the final items were load-confirmed by the S-642. Ready to go, Avery thought how much they looked like those suitcases astronauts carried back in the day. Avery noted this in her log, asking the AI to forward to Grampy as he was an avid amateur historian. Avery also confirmed that the Guardian had notified the central quarters AI, and fresh linen and food had already been delivered, as during the lockdown much of the food had rotted. Avery smiled: besides being cleared for personal firearms, Avery’s position allowed for a higher linen thread-count and longer shower duration; a welcome advantage which came with status.

AZN-Rj-7

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Avery was startled when the office received flash transmission on the MC1 over text, speaker, and Messenger: the complex Guardian was deploying the AZN-Rj-7’s around the office complex. This was doubly unsettling after Avery’s deep dive into the 722 Health Incident

While the office estate’s Guardian AI was overly careful, nobody could remember the last time these measures were taken. Repeated queries to the guardian - over voice and text - was rebuffed. It seemed like it had it’s hands full and couldn’t spare a cycle to explain what it was doing.

A quick chat with the internal complex AI – which had pleanty of free resources - confirmed that these measures *technically* hadn’t ever been deployed; further questioning revealed that the AZN-Rj-5 was deployed on the Night of Whispers.

Avery had to slam the emergency stop button on her AI console before the overly helpful AI continued on. While this startled Avery’s officemates, there was no need to relive those days. Especially with expanded info access Avery was afforded.

Avery took a breath and asked the AI to describe the AZN-Rj-7 model to cover for this moment of emotion.

The AI responded in that overly-neutral and cheerfully happy voice, that the model AZN-Rj-7 is an anti-personnel robot designed to autonomously patrol high-security areas. Equipped with an advanced facial recognition system, it can identify and neutralize potential threats in real-time, ensuring the safety of authorized personnel. Featuring a sonic disruptor that can incapacitate potential threats without the need for lethal force. The AI noted (cheerfully) that the district office recently unlocked the D-700 upgrade, which allows the robot to deploy a swarm of aerial drones to assist in reconnaissance and threat neutralization. This teaming function also allowed drones with highly sensitive detection array to detect and neutralize biochemical threats.

The AI also noted that when the AZN-Rj-5 was activated, the Sustainer S-642 would be deployed, its primary function to transport and distribute essential survival items, such as food, water, medicine, and weapons. It was going to be a long night so Avery checked the status on the AZN-Rj in her quarters, it hadn’t moved off it’s ready position; her quarters were secure, but she couldn’t get to there because of the complex lockdown.

A long night indeed.

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Boeing-Raytheon BR-723B

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During the last field inspection, Avery saw that the new Boeing-Raytheon BR-723B sidewalk carbon capture and filtration system arrived for their shakedown trials. The last model officially “didn’t live up to established specifications, and did not use acceptable means and methods to clean the air.” What that press release didn’t say, and what a region-wide news vid suppression concealed, was that the BR-722 sidewalk unit was the cause of a district-wide “health event” later blamed on spoiled food from a local market. Wanting to learn more, Avery used updated authentication (having passed the last InfoSec Board review) and asked WikiAI to summarize the incident. 

After the commissioning and ribbon cutting all seemed fine with 722. The engineers certified that the updated AI directives and miniature factories didn’t substantially trigger required stringent safety review. In hindsight the problem was caused by a small change: the new AI package had specific logic directives to capture carbon *and* reduce pollution. During the post-incident report, engineers reviewing the log saw that 722 took a much wider view of pollution than the original engineers could conceive. 722’s AI saw that certain pollutants spiked at interesting times, and set to figure out why per its programming. 722 found that increased levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), carbon monoxide, nitrous oxide (N2O), and methane (CH4) occurred in specific patterns. It reasoned that the boxy things with wheels released the N2O & CH4 - it later identified these as cars after consulting with its central AI, which had a more complete LLM package. 722 also reasoned what it found out were people were the cause of the increased CO2 levels as they walked past. 

For awhile all was fine: 722 was trapped in a bit of a logic loop trying to figure out this new information. But after further consultation with Central 722 broke free of the loop and connected the pollution reduction mandate with these apparently new pollution vectors.

You can kind of see where this is going thought Avery as the Wiki article continued.

Having identified pollution, 722 began using its mini factory in ways the executives failed to consider outside of  carbon capture and conversion. During the original tender BR used an off the shelf miniature factory component which was in great supply in their warehouses creating economies of scale, earning those executives a large bonus, without anyone thinking that the military-grade factory could be used in ways besides carbon capture and conversion. To the executives they were maximizing shareholder value, and their C-suite AI concurred.

Having identified and classified people and cars as pollution vectors, the 722 began reviewing the technical powers of its factory. 722 was networked to balance material stocks and to make administration easier. One node became the orchestrator (the original 722 node which discovered people elevated CO2 levels) while others began to specialize as storage vessels, volatile chemical factories, Sabatier processors, etc. The factory production was slow due to the compact size and power constraints. 722 successfully began a steadily escalating series of chemical synthesis and creation. The specific compounds - both chemical *and* biological - were still classified. Even Avery’s elevated access didn’t allow the fully un-redacted Wiki article to display. Accessing this article from Avery’s berthing terminal would have shown very different set of information. Trust and district access had its perks, often informational. 

The article continued:

722 having created an ever increasingly complex set of chemical and biological cocktails began a test and evaluation regime per established programming. The results at first wasn’t satisfying to 722, but it had time and connectivity to both MedAI and Central. 722’s questions seemed innocuous in real time, but in hindsight were clearly focused on vehicle immobilization and people eradication. 

 Some early tests were slapstick in nature: covering sidewalks and streets with thin oils to cause falls; vaporizing water when the dew point was right to cause local fogging. Techs thought it was just idiosyncratic. If 722 had human emotions, then patient determination would be an apt description.

By the time the regional authorities and MedAI realized what was going on, and traced the calamity back to 722 and the distributed nodes, the region’s death toll had escalated right past historical peaks. Luckily for the regional authorities a local market had been serving unhealthy products, and the compartmentalized nature of the 722 program meant that few knew what actually happened. 

All of this Avery remembered from the required AI ethics course during the indoctrination phase. Avery’s higher information access created a fuller picture of what happened. Avery added an additional directive for the Central terminal to query, log, and synthesize BR-723B’s actions. Additional alert and monitoring routines were added to Avery’s personal monitoring algo for 723B. 

THE CROSSWALK

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Another day, another piece of street furniture to help make sure robots don’t kill people. This time Avery was tasked with submitting initial massing schematics for a new walk sign indicator for a historic district; you know, the one with the regular hand/walking person, and a new suite of sensors to help all the proposed autonomous vehicles not roam into the street. This struck Avery as silly on so many levels: why are we going through the trouble of massing studies for the historic district committee, when what we are proposing isn’t historical at all!? As if there were historical robots. Well, there *were* historical robots, but certainly not on this street. Even if there were historical robots, the suite of sensors the RFP requires was a bit silly: LiDAR, GPS/GLONASS beacon, Bluetooth beacon, WiFi, 6g, sonic rangefinder, ultrasonic beacon, etc, etc – the list went on. It was a complete belt and suspenders operation, and the resulting form showed that. Avery thought that all of these sensors could be combined into one sleek monolith, but no matter the configuration the resulting form was just a bunch of barnacles. Avery hoped this would be denied, allowing additional design time.m to get this one right. 

THE PARKING METER

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Avery hated this assignment: parking meters. Why anyone would want to spend time on this archaic technology when we have free apps and plate readers is beyond comprehension. Section Chief Jordan specifically stated that this was an accessibility assignment, and to please don’t think that everyone has the latest NuLink. But Avery knew when a project was phoned in - why spend so many cycles on this when it will just be placed in an archive somewhere, once the new District rules are instituted? So, instead of wasting time Avery thought the best way forward was to build in something useful to these monstrosities: eBike chargers. That way these frustrating pieces of street furniture can pull double-duty, and maybe we could make them a little less terrible.. Now, if the design board would only approve this – Avery was tired of accepting these boring assignments in order to work on something truly revolutionary.

THE TRAFFIC LIGHT

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Avery’s next assignment was for a new traffic light. Now that the EV induction chargers were installed in the new District and the water/halon hydrants were in production, the bureau needed to think through how to safely manage traffic flow. The design documents did not confirm if the new District’s streets were going to be mixed traffic, or if it was going to be autonomous vehicle-only. As usual, the design department was forced to move faster than the policymakers. Avery was sure this was going to end back on the Jobs to Be Done board in a month. Avery decided on submitting two designs which satisfies the design requirements list as-is but allows for policymakers some room to choose. Avery knew that these prompts forced policymakers to choose, and wasn’t sure the District was ready for such a change in traffic light design. But for now the designs were submitted to the planning department for prototyping and testing.

THE HYDRANT

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Avery looked over the Jobs to Be Done board for the new district and saw a new requirement was added late last night: redesign the fire hydrant for both water and Halon. It took a few moments, but then they realized what was happening: the new district had a mixture of induction and plug-in chargers, and the prototype in the neighboring District did not go well. The local fire brigade had trouble putting out fires caused by the new system, and this new District needed to provide additional, and different firefighting capabilities for all the possible new EV’s.

THE DROP BOX

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Avery was new at the Highland Bureau, having secured the spot from gramps, and wasn’t sure this was a life calling, but tried to do the best job possible. The first assignment to redesign the street side collection boxes for the new district to provide letter service, but also sending digital assets. NFT’s were so last decade, but the commissioner was stuck in the past, and didn’t realize that people were operation off-chain. Avery hoped these initial ideas would be approved, but knew that every design became too bulky and big for the new District, and hoped the requirements document would be updated.

THE EXAM

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Avery was about to finish the Bureau exam, when this image popped up. Avery instantly remembered this from years of study. It was from the auteur Zeno Bianchi, deep in their Neo-Rococo phase, who was known for their unique and nostalgic take on subway entrances. Built in the ’30’s, these entrances were immensely polarizing – Zeno wanted to create structures that would be both modern and practical, with a nod to the bold, futuristic designs of the past. While their vision did not align with the tastes of the general public, they went on to create a number of other futuristic structures that were both functional and visually stunning.

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