Dec 1, 2013

Post-Singularity Science Fiction

Bubble Telescope by Ciro Marchetti
Artificial Mind. If it is possible for biological life forms to make artificial life forms that have human-like minds, then is a "technological singularity" that will change all aspects of human existence inevitable? I enjoy science fiction stories about artificial life as much (if not more) than the next nerd, but I also have a fascination for science fiction stories that find a way to avoid a mad rush towards a technological singularity.

One low road towards accommodation of the concept of a "technological singularity" in science fiction stories begins with the assumption that Earth should not be the first planet in the universe to approach and confront a "technological singularity". Some other intelligence, in a galaxy far, far away, should have navigated the exponentially transformative rapids of their own "technological singularity" long ago...maybe billions of years ago. If so, then we already  live (and, as a species, have always lived) in the post-singularity era and our science fiction should respect that reality.

Fictional Science. There are some good theoretical reasons to believe that, in our universe, faster-than-light space travel is not possible. However, in science fiction, the goal is to make fun stories, so we need not let theory get in our way!

Handwavium and Pixie Dust. In the Exodemic Fictional Universe, I imagine that the Huaoshy long ago altered the dimensional state of the universe so as to make possible faster-than-light space travel.

Sadly, that act of dimensional engineering by the Huaoshy had unanticipated consequences: particularly the eventual invention of time travel technology, and incidentally, telepathy. It is pure and enthusiastic homocentrism that allows impels us to craft stories in which singular technological advances like the invention of time travel first occur on Earth. The resulting liberation of Earth from the sedronic grip of the alien Huaoshy and the subsequent "time travel war" are described in the Exode Trilogy...with inspiration from the grandmaster Isaac Asimov.

The Gods Themselves
The Exode time travel war is eventually brought to an end when the Huaoshy complete one last dimensional engineering project that creates the universe as we know it (the Buld Reality). Our universe can be called a "trap door universe" since no new species can manufacture sedrons, while the Huaoshy retain a monopoly on technology that makes possible the production of sedrons. Sedrons are the secret of faster-than light travel, so consequently the Huaoshy have a monopoly on faster-than light travel.

Given the technological superiority of the Huaoshy, primitive creatures like we Earthlings have to wonder: what are the intentions of the Huaoshy? With their god-like powers, how will they deal with primitive life forms like us?

Nanotechnology in fiction
Nanotech, Femtotech, Zeptotech
The alien Huaoshy have a billion year technological head start on we Earthlings. Their mastery of sedronic science long ago allowed the Huaoshy to transcend their biological nature and create an entirely new domain of life that is based on sedronic mater where bond lengths between the particles of sedronic matter are zeptoscale...approaching the ultimately tiny size of the Planck length.

There are some science fiction authors who have allowed their work to be labeled as "nanopunk". The Huaoshy are so technologically advanced that nanotechnology seems as primitive to them as a steam-powered car seems to us.

The Exode Trilogy includes nanites with components composed of conventional matter, but also even smaller "devices" made of hierions and sedrons. The image below is a rather whimsical illustration of a femtobot. With components made from hierions, an artificial life femtobot could fit into the active site of an enzyme.
Femtobot inspects a molecule

An absurd steamprank
Steampunk. I read The Difference Engine not long after it came out, but I could not engage with the idea of an alternate reality in which pre-microelectronics technology allowed for an "information technology revolution" based on punch cards. Devising a fictional universe with convincing alternative technologies can be tricky.

Life on Kepler 62e.
What if the Huaoshy long ago established a post-singularity existence within an artificially constructed sedronic domain of the universe? Within that sedronic domain, the Huaoshy exist as artificial life forms according to physical parameters that are startlingly different from those experienced by us within the domain of conventional matter. Assume that the Huaoshy have about as much interest in we Earthlings as we might have in some random stromatolite on a distant shore of a far exoplanet. What kinds of interactions would the Huaoshy have with primitive creatures like us?
Syon and Katherine in their Urgark laboratory.

The damesel is not deed, but pinnen
Katherine and Humget
The image above is a whimsical depiction of Syon and her understudy Katherine at Urgark. In my previous blog post I introduced the idea of Katherine being taken to live out her life at Urgark in the Koly star system and play a role in training an Interventionist agent (call him Humget) for a mission to Earth. Syon has at her command some advanced sedronic femtobots, but she has no interest in trying to provide an Interventionist agent with knowledge of advanced technologies that are not found on Earth.

As described previously, although Parthney is the main character in Exode, there have been previous "versions" of him who were trained as Interventionist agents. Rechmain was the first such "clone of Thomas" who was trained at the newly established Lendhalen when it was created as the replacement for the destroyed Urgark training base. Humget is trained at Urgark by Syon and Katherine.

The Interventionist agents must be recruited from the planet Hemmal, a world that is perpetually struggling to keep pace with cultural changes occurring on Earth. Syon must make careful decisions about how to raise Katherine. Syon wants to speed the development of a scientific culture on Earth, but in the year 1270, England seems a dismal location for cultural advancement. During this time period, Syon tried to train Interventionist agents who could help philosophers like Roger Bacon bring astronomical ideas from the East to England and support the development of chemical thinking and the use of chemical energy in the form of coal and gun powder.

Syon runs a primitive scientific laboratory at Urgark where she trains Katherine in the principles of metallurgy, steam power and coal-fired furnaces. Katherine and Humget meet at Urgark when they are about 12 years old. Since they have never before known other humans, they grow up experimenting socially with each other as well as learning how to make guns and cannons. A thousand years later, Parthney is not pleased when he learns of the role of Humget in the death of Llywelyn. Parthney hopes for more in life than playing the role of an assassin.

While undergoing his own training at Lendhalen, Parthney learns the fundamental truth about Earth and the origin of the human species. However, Parthney only comes to know "Huaoshy" as the name for the Creators that was passed from the Fru'wu to the Pla. A mystery for both Parthney and the reader is why the Huaoshy allow Interventionist agents like himself to be sent to Earth. Parthney is carefully trained to avoid the Overseers who function as a defense against overly aggressive and disruptive Interventionism. With time, Parthney comes to believe that the Huaoshy have a hidden plan for humanity. For many years Parthney fears that he is an ignorant tool in some vast and mysterious game, but what can he do except play out his role upon the stage of Earth?

Parthney, Rechmain and Humget are clones of Thomas.
I'm uncertain about the wisdom of allowing Parthney to know that he is a clone. While on his mission to Earth he eventually meets Thomas at Observer Base on the Moon, but by then Parthney is well past his innocent formative years.

While in training at Lendhalen, Parthney learns about Humget and Rechmain and their missions to Earth, but there need not be any visual records that reveal the close physical resemblance of the clone "brothers".

Through the centuries, each time the pek "produce" another Thomas clone and send him to Syon for training, there is some doubt about his suitability as an Interventionist agent. Humget, having grown up on Hemmal among hermaphroditic Buld, arrives at Urgark and is fascinated by Syon. At the same time, Katherine has grown up under the care of Syon and has never known a human male. Syon has to stimulate Humget's interest in human females while at the same time making sure that he does not simply decide to live happily ever after at Urgark.

10 Million Years of Anti-Evolution
Foundation and Earth
Syon finds it easy to control both Katherine and Hemget and their emotions. Syon has two important sources of power. First, "she" has at her disposal advanced Asterothrope nanites from 10,000,000 years in the future of the Mallansohn Reality. The skeptic might doubt that humans could exist on Earth for 10,000,000 years yet never achieve their own technological singularity. In The End of Eternity, Asimov explained this technological stasis of humanity as a side-effect of time travel technology.

According to Asimov, the "Eternals", those who could travel through time, were cautious and systematically removed great sources of change from human history, causing humans to exist in a static environment and stop evolving.

Her mission: travel 10 million years into the
past and win Humanity a place among the stars.
I never found that a very believable argument unless I accepted at face value Asimov's suggestion that positronic robots were secretly in control of Eternity. The robotic master mind is R. Gohrlay.

In The Foundations of Eternity, my fan fiction sequel to Asimov's novel Foundation and Earth, Noÿs Lambent discovers that her mission into the past is threatened by the Huaoshy. R. Gohrlay is constrained by the dictates of the Zeroth Law: humanity must be R. Gohrlay resists the further evolution of the human species. However, in order to spread humanity to the stars, R. Gohrlay brings into existence the Asterothropes and when R. Gohrlay finally finds a way to defeat the Huaoshy, it is an Asterothrope agent who must be sent back in time to create a future for humans among the stars.

In addition to the advantages gained from "her" possession of Asterothrope nanites (not the least of which being memories of "her" prior biological existence), Syon can also function as a host for advanced Nereid "nanites".....a happy design feature of Fru'wu robots. The term "Nereid nanite" is a misnomer since the Nereid symbionts inside Syon are actually made from sedronic matter that has zeptoscale bond lengths. The Nereid femtobots that inhabit Syon allow "her" to exist as a bimanoid interface for the Nereids. The reader must wonder: to what extent is Syon an agent with free will? Perhaps Syon is a Nereid puppet.

Syon. So, from the biological perspective, Syon originated as Noÿs Lambent (a modified Asterothrope), the creature and tool of R. Gohrlay, while at the artificial life level, the mind of Noÿs was transferred into a Fru'wu robotic body named Syon, who is subject to "remote control" by the Nereids. Even in "her" "second life" as an artificial life form, Syon cannot escape "her" biological first nature. The Asterothropes were designed to provide an efficient means of colonizing star systems near Earth, and their engineered gynodioecy facilitated that function.

Humans are often horrified by the details of Asterothrope reproduction and since Syon originated as an Asterothrope who was shaped into a pseudo-human who must live among humans, "she" is not eager to describe Asterothrope reproductive process to either Katherine or Humget. Katherine grows up believing that Syon is both human and a biological hermaphrodite. After his arrival at Urgark, Humget is able to convince Katherine that Earth humans are not hermaphroditic, regardless of the biological nature of the Buld and the Prelands.

Kalanchoe daigremontiana
After his initial infatuation with Syon, Humget becomes unhappy with the way Syon has raised Katherine. He demands that Syon explain the purpose of deceiving Katherine about Syon's true nature and he accuses Syon of perverting Katherine.

Among the most baffling aspects of Asterothrope biology (from the perspective of humans) is the role of parabiotic coupling between individuals. The male genitals of Asterothrope hermaphrodites detach and establish connections to the circulatory and nervous system of a female, providing a "built-in" source of male gametes.

The growth of Asterothrope female children is accelerated by parabiotic coupling between adult females and infants. Rather than rely on breastfeeding of children, soon after birth Asterothrope females can establish connections between the circulatory and nervous systems of the adult and those of a young child. In her biological past, as a child Syon experienced this type of connection to an Asterothrope adult.

Upon arrival at Urgark, the development of Katherine's brain had already suffered through three years of developmental perturbation on Earth. Syon initiated an artificial parabiotic connection with Katherine and used "her" advanced nanite symbionts to recover a fairly normal structure for Katherine's nervous system. By age six Katherine was largely independent of Syon from a cognitive and intellectual perspective, but the two remained very closely attached emotionally.

Humget gallantly attempts to build a normal human male-female relationship with Katherine, but she is cognitively closed to the concept. Eventually he abandons his efforts to make Katherine appreciate heterosexuality and he goes off on his mission to Earth.

Gladia Delmarre and robots
Relax; I'm not going to claim that Isaac Asimov invented steampunk. However, his body of science fiction stories illustrates for me the fact that "retrofuture" stories have always had an inevitable place in science fiction. Asimov initiated his Foundation saga during a time when he extrapolated from the technology of the early 20th century into the far (20,000 years) future. The End of Eternity provided a look 10,000,000 years into the future, but, of course, Asimov had no crystal ball and he did not include even a simple cell phone in his imagined futures.

When (after a 30 year break) Asimov began to extend his Foundation stories, I think he felt the need to "revise upward" the level of technology in his Galactic Empire. However, I think this was a strategic error. Luckily, he did not push things too far and by the time when he wrote Foundation and Earth there remained a clear distinction between the run-of-the-mill galactic citizens and the technologically more advanced Gaians and Solarians.

We are forced to assume that Daneel sometimes needed to allow development of new technologies, but for the most part, the Galactic Empire was not allowed to speed ahead with technological changes...particularly in robotics.

Asimov seemed to have a lot of fun with characters such as Gladia Delmarre, Santirix Gremionis and D. G. Baley. Such characters were not interested in advancing science and technology. Presumably Daneel could turn human inventiveness on or off like a light switch. From the perspective of this century, Asimov's futures are retrofutures.

Not that there's anything wrong with that....
For many years it bothered me that the distant futures described by Asimov, Clarke and Vance did not include inventions like microcomputers and cell phones. Then I realized that maybe there is a place in science fiction for stories built around retrofutures.

Might an organization such as Vance's "Institute" prevent technological advances? Might a robot such as Daneel have perfectly good reasons (or immutable programming) for preventing the advancement of science and technology?

There is something fun and endearing about a Pan Am space liner in 2001 or a gigantic "computaplex" printing out carefully calculated alternative futures on perforated films in The End of Eternity

In the Exode Trilogy, the alien Huaoshy are quite certain that it make no sense to turn a beauty spot like Earth over to tool-using primates. R. Gohrlay forces their hand and the aliens relent.....allowing we humans to have a shot at creating a technologically advanced civilization.

Jim Lee
Objective observers like Parthney have to wonder if doing so is anything more than an invitation to disaster.

Spy vs Spy
In Exode, when the Overseers finally stand down and give the Interventionists an open playing field on Earth, the Interventionists themselves rush to install the remaining Observers as the new police force of Earth. With the Nereid agent on Earth neutralized and the Buld who arrive in the Solar System reluctant to interfere with Earth's culture, it is not clear that the bumbling Earthlings will be able avoid falling victim to technological disasters.
In the Steam Stream: "The year is 1895…An evil from a parallel dimension escaped and now roams the city of Boston." Boston Metaphysical Society 
B.E.T.H. is a  secret organization of scientists comprised of Bell, Edison, Tesla and Houdini
Story by Madeleine Holly-Rosing with
art by Emily Hu
"Magic is the sole science not accepted by scientists, because they can't understand it." -attributed to Harry Houdini

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." — Arthur C. Clarke.

Related readings: science fiction as a literary genre.
   barrier to the singularity:   the neural code

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