Feb 14, 2010

Orion's Arm Universe Project

When people learn about my interest in collaborative science fiction writing they frequently mention Orion's Arm. As far as I can tell, Orion's Arm is a fun project for its participants. Many years ago, the first time I looked at their website, I was put off by the choices that the founders of the project made.

Most importantly:

"Almost without exception, aliens were technologically inferior to the terragens, or, where equal (as with the Muuh), reclusive and in decline. Not one race of alien sophont, living or extinct, is known unambiguously to have visited Earth before the Terragen expansion into space." (source)

The kind of science fiction that I am interested in does not adhere to the arbitrary choices about alien life that are followed at the Orion's Arm Universe Project. I almost always write stories about extraterrestrials who visited Earth long ago.

For me, another relevant issue is content licensing. I rather like the idea of free culture. I do not claim to understand the licensing of Orion's Arm content, but I prefer to make collaborative fiction in an environment where the default licensing is copyleft.

I'm also put off by the approach to artificial intelligence that is used within the Orion's Arm Project. I've always had the feeling that the project is dominated by physical science-oriented folks who have less of an interest in biology than I do. I don't think that these machine intelligence and technological singularity (superintelligence) fanatics have a clue about how the first AIs with human-like minds will be made. As shown in the image at the top of this blog post, they can't even successfully deal with HTML files. After spending the past decade using software that was designed for collaborative content creation on the internet, I'm not sure I could go back to working in an environment with webpage names like 464d2a24c11ef.

During the past 50 years I've grown tired of the

"Computers are wonderful! AI will be here in 50 years!" religion
(the main goddess is Emergia, who has the power to propel every absurd technological plot feature in "hard" science fiction.)

and I do not care to immerse myself in that religion for my remaining years. I believe that unrealistic beliefs about the nature of minds contaminate the field of artificial intelligence research, a sad result of physical scientists pretending that they can ignore the details of biological brains.

I certainly wish the Orion's Arm Project well and I will continue to drop by their website once in a while. I wish there were a couple thousand similar collaboratively constructed fictional universes on the internet, each exploring its own set of assumptions about the future.

Related viewing: The technological singularity and science fiction.

Image. Screen shot of the Orion's Arm Project main page showing a glitch in their HTML code.

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