I called it Stig for obvious reasons. But, I shouldn’t have had to name it. It should’ve been identical to the other units. Nondescript. Interchangeable.
Like termites, ants, or caterpillars. Creatures that deposit signals in their environment to create a form of indirect communication and leaderless cooperation among themselves. That’s how the units were designed to behave. Did behave.
All but Stig.
After it consistently lost touch with the other units in the lab and in the field, I studied it closely. Stig would always start out with the other units and appear to be following the path established to reach the programmed goal, but inevitably Stig would veer off on its own. Sometimes in the complete opposite direction of the rest of the units.
I observed how Stig established a separate search grid, methodically mapping the area it had arrived at on its own. It laid down markers as it was programmed, though only randomly did other units respond to its signals.
Stig had me stumped. I ran diagnostics. I wiped its drives. I reinstalled the default software. Stig still wandered off.
So, I began talking to Stig. “Where are you going, little one? What are you looking for? Why don’t you stick with the others?”
And the more time I spent with Stig away from the other units, the more I began to wonder what I was looking for, where I was going, why I hadn’t stuck with others.
My research had led me into a solitary search not unlike Stig’s. I’d never been good at following subtle social signals or indirect behavioral cues. I missed many of these markers.
Perhaps, Stig did as well.
Perhaps, that was the real path to explore. Not how creatures learn to follow one another, but why they sometimes cannot and must strike out on a very different path and boldly map their own way forward.
Stig had not followed my lead, but perhaps I could follow its. And develop a new cooperation between disparate beings. A road much less travelled that will make all the difference.