“If I determine the enemy’s disposition of forces while I have no perceptible form, I can concentrate my forces while the enemy is fragmented. The pinnacle of military deployment approaches the formless: if it is formless, then even the deepest spy cannot discern it nor the wise make plans against it.”
— Sun Tzu, “The Art of War”, Datalinks
The video the player is treated to upon constructing the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm depicts an abstract, regimented landscape wherein a mysterious small red object meets its demise amidst a largely-blue background. All the while, a famous quote from the ancient strategist Sun Tzu is read. There’s really not a whole lot here in isolation.
The key to a deep understanding of this video is an understanding of the cultural background of the audience that Reynolds is intending to reach. As we’ve seen before, Reynolds is making this game in the late ’90s for people that he expects to be conversant with the broader world of science-fiction. In this case, the color scheme and art style is clearly intended to make the viewer think of the movie Tron. The blue constructs represent the computer resources that are working for the benefit of the user of the system, the large pyramid is the seat of control of the system, and the red object furtively approaching it is the invader seeking to do harm.
In the game, this secret project is an application of Pre-Sentient Algorithms that, when constructed, makes the faction immune to most hostile probe team activity. Attempts to steal technology or subvert bases or troops owned by the faction with the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm just automatically fail. This essentially removes the biggest downside for having a poor Probe rating on the Social Engineering screen. It’s so powerful, in fact, that the makers of the expansion felt the need to create a way for other factions to override this advantage in some circumstances. From a practical perspective, I believe that this was yet another mistake made in the expansion in the attempt to make more, “cooler” abilities rather than focusing on SMAC’s real narrative strength.
Anyhow, with this context, the purpose of the selected quote becomes clear. The Hunter-Seeker Algorithm is a very powerful proto-AI that approaches the cybersecurity problem from a novel direction. Normally, what’s done is that security personnel establish provably secure protocols and then try to get their organizations to adopt them more and more closely. With each breach, another set of holes are closed, and the hope is that the difference between theory and practice converges to zero over time.
But from the name, the video, and the quote, it seems that the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm approaches security in a less static fashion. Instead of building walls and carefully watching over them, the Hunter-Seeker Algorithm actively seeks out and eliminates potential threats to the system. There are no security protocols to carefully analyze. The system presents no fixed sub-patterns of behavior. It just notices if someone is using the system in an unusual or potentially dangerous way and then ruthlessly shuts them down. So there’s nothing there to hack into; to try just opens one up to get hacked in return.