Mar 2, 2013

Role Reversal

Robin as a poster girl.
In my previous blog post I discussed how in Chapter Three of Exode, Robin becomes a conduit for contact between Parthney and the Huaoshy. While at Lendhalen and in preparation for his mission as an Interventionist, conversations with Robin start Parthney along the path of discovery towards a realistic understanding of the role that the Interventionists play on Earth. This is a bit of a tease for readers, because a central mystery that lasts through the entire story is just how things will ultimately turn out for we Earthlings, so Parthney is only given hints. For part of Chapter Three it looks like Robin is going to be a distraction that will keep Parthney from completing his mission to Earth, but that is just a trick that results in desperate moves by Parthney's handlers, moves that reveal critical information to Parthney that he otherwise would not receive before his trip to Earth.

By the relentless logic of stories set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe, the role of Interventionists is intimately tied to that of the Overseers. In this blog post (and continuing on into the next two posts) I expand on the dynamics of the interaction between Interventionists and Overseers and how that dynamic will ultimately be changed by the arrival of a Buld spaceship in the Solar System.  

left, Parthney; middle, Robin; right, Leymaygn
Major Spoiler. A key issue is that the Interventionists have been led to believe that they are causing dramatic changes in the culture of Earth, but in reality the major source of that change has been on the Overseer side of the balance of forces. The Interventionists have grown comfortable thinking of themselves as the agents of social change on Earth, but the Huaoshy are actually trying to turn the Interventionists into a conservative force that will guard Humanity from technological disaster.

It is the Interventionists who have contact with the Fru'wu, an alien species that managed to destroy their own home world in a technological disaster. The Buld Interventionists are becoming cautious after receiving alarming reports from Earthlings such as Gwyned about growing dangers facing Earthlings, including nuclear Mutually Assured Destruction. In contrast, the Overseers only oppose cultural change on Earth due to a kind of reflexive and automatic programming, an almost religious faith in the validity of their role in preventing outsiders from altering the course of events on Earth. Of course, they are oblivious to the fact that they and the Observers are the major external force that has long prevented Earthlings from developing according their natural potential.

The Observers believe that their role on Earth is the collection of data, but they are the source of the nanites that infect Earthlings. Those nanites had long inhibited the natural human capacity for using written language and developing advanced technologies. All that is needed to thrust the primitive humans of Earth out of the stone age is for the brake imposed by the Overseers and Observers to be removed. The Interventionists need do nothing. So why bother creating an elaborate apparatus that sends Interventionist agents to Earth?

20,000 years ago the Interventionists discovered that the brains of Earthlings were hosts for large numbers of nanites. In contrast, the "false" Buld on planets like Hemmal carry relatively few nanites in their brains. The Interventionists developed the hypothesis that by introducing certain gene combinations found in "false" Buld into the human population of Earth it would be possible to make Earthlings immune to nanites and set them free to use written language and advanced technology. So, for thousands of years Interventionist agents from planets like Hemmal have been spreading their genes on Earth. However, the main reason why use of written language and advanced technology never blossomed on Earth was because of the fact that anytime the Observers reported development of a written language or a new technological advance, the Overseers stepped in and put an end to such changes.

Why were the Overseers so persistent in preventing humans on Earth from developing a technological civilization? The Huaoshy have long experience with many human-like species that developed technological civilizations only to end up destroying themselves with a technological disaster. The Huaoshy use the pek to systematically collect and "culture" creatures like humans; the goal is to domesticate them and transform them into a modified form that will not destroy itself. In the case of humans, the Prelands represent the next step in directed human evolution: a kind of ape that can be trusted with advanced technology.

However, there is a gray area in the data concerning the self-destruction of technological civilizations. First of all, the Huaoshy themselves survived their own technological adolescence without help from outsiders.

Secondly, some Interventionists like the Nereids believe that species like we humans should be given a chance to survive rather than automatically be replaced by the safer Prelands. Were the decision left to the conservative Huaoshy, Earthlings would not have been allowed to make use of written language and develop a technologically advanced civilization. However, the Nereids represent the bolder elements of the Huaoshy who are willing to give species like we humans a chance to survive, rather than simply be replaced by the safe bet, the Prelands.

Role Reversal
Exode takes place about 20,000 years after the Nereids helped initiate a plan for giving humans a chance to develop a technological civilization on Earth. That plan is reaching a critical point: a Buld spaceship will soon arrive at Earth. How will the Earthlings respond to First Contact?

What Makes You So Special?
What was special about the Huaoshy? Why have so many species been destroyed by technological disasters while the Huaoshy managed to avoid that fate? One important factor was that the Huaoshy originated in a dwarf galaxy where the level of metals was low. This resulted in several species that evolved on planets with just enough metal in the core to make a protective planetary magnetic field without there being high levels of metals in the crust. These species slowly developed technology under cultural conditions that allowed for caution in the application of advanced technologies like nanotechnology.

Eventually (and about 1,000,000,000 years ago), several species began interstellar travel and merged together as a new form of artificial life that humans refer to as the Huaoshy.

Again, Asimov
One of the most interesting ideas that Asimov explored in his fiction was that it might be possible to engineer human brains so that people would have the equivalent of the Laws of Robotics built into them. Asimov suggested that it took the telepathic robot Daneel 20,000 years to figure out how to build the equivalent of the Laws of Robotics into human brains. Similarly, the pek have been engaged in a 7,000,000 year long artificial selection process aimed at producing a primate with innate ethical behavior and a low probability of destroying itself by self-inflicted technological disaster. The "big question" in Exode is if we Earthlings have "the right stuff" or if we should be put into the evolutionary "discard" pile and replaced by the hermaphroditic Prelands.

Dors Venabili by Leonardo Falaschini
Interestingly, Asimov also explored ways by which you could program positronic robots to get around the Laws of Robotics. For example, Dors Venabili was able to kill in order to protect Hari Seldon. And going the other way, Blissenobiarella was able to over-ride her ethical programming and kill in order to protect Golan Trevize.

For 20,000 years the Interventionists have been striving to give Earthlings the chance to create a technological civilization on Earth. By the time Parthney is ready to go to Earth, some of the Interventionists are worried that the bumbling Earthlings might not be ready to deal with powerful technologies like nuclear weapons and nanotechnolgy. How can you measure the wisdom of a species? Of course, the Huaoshy have been developing their science of wisdom for hundreds of millions of years. Just as a horticulturalist might be able to make an educated guess about the ability of a particular tropical plant to survive in a harshly cold climate, the Huaoshy can accurately predict if a species is likely to destroy itself with its own technological excesses.

Major spoiler. The Huaoshy know that there is a good chance that the Earthlings will not survive their technological adolescence. After all, that is why the Huaoshy have long been designing the Prelands as a replacement for we Earthlings. The Huaoshy have been forced (by the Nereids) to go down the same path with Humanity that was explored with the Fru'wu. Lesson previously learned: don't leave all of the eggs in one basket.

Some species like the Nereids don't like the standard strategy of the Huaoshy that involves replacing naturally evolved instincts of species like ours with a new set of artificially generated constraints on behavior. Still, even the Nereids recognize that they have sent the Earthlings down a dangerous path. The Huaoshy, in keeping with their ethical rules, don't allow themselves the luxury of directly altering the behavior of Earthlings, but they are willing and able to make sure that Parthney is prepared for his mission to Earth.

The Huaoshy have long sought human gene combinations that will make human behavior patterns that are compatible with a technologically advanced culture. Having succeeded in that goal with the Prelands, the question during the past 20,000 years has been if those same gene combinations can be transferred from Prelands into Earthlings and still adequately constrain human behavior. The Huaoshy can make an educated guess, but it will be up to we Earthlings to find out for sure if we are an evolutionary dead end. In Chapter Three of Exode, Parthney begins to understand that the key issue facing Interventionists is not removal of nanites from the brains of Earthlings, but rather, the transfer of Preland gene combinations into Earthlings and the question of the ability of those foreign genes to provide we humans with an innate ethical sense that can guide our species through the dawning age of science and advanced technology.

Robin, as a tool of the Huaoshy, prepares Parthney for his participation in the process by which the old Interventionist-Overseer dynamic can be replaced with a more sophisticate mechanism for trying to make sure that Earthlings don't destroy themselves. The Interventionists need to adopt a new role, one in which they start taking responsibility for necessary controls on the pace and nature of human technological change.

In Asimov's Foundation saga, he developed the idea that First Foundationers needed to be unaware of the details of Seldon's plan and the role of the secretive Second Foundation. For 20,000 years the Interventionist forces in places like the Koly star system are kept ignorant of their true role. Why? Until the people of Earth begin to construct a technologically advanced civilization the Genesaunts of the Galactic Core are cognitively closed to the dangers that powerful technology can pose for a primitive species like we humans. During those 20,000 years the Interventionists are given a simple and powerful motivation: the belief that they are liberating the people of Earth from the evil clutches of alien invaders. Finally, in Parthney's generation, the Inteventionists can begin to understand the true role for which the Interventionists have been created. After 20,000 years of imagining that they are rebels working in defiance of the Huaoshy plan for Humanity, the Interventionists discover that they have been carefully crafted by the Huaoshy as the only chance that we Earthlings have for long-term survival.

Traditionally, Interventionists have been sent to Earth without even being aware of how they were teleported from the Galactic Core to Earth. However, Gwyned tells Pathney about her efforts to understand teleportation technology. Parthney has a terrifying dream about being teleported. In his dream, when he materializes on Earth he can see all the elements of his body being coalesced and among those elements are alien nanites that effectively make him the puppet of the Huaoshy. In his dream he is able to fight off those alien elements and liberate himself from alien control. There is some truth in Parthney's dream.

While at Lendhalen, the Interventionists make sure that they have none of the crudest type of nanites in their brains; no simple nanites that can be inactivated by a powerful magnetic field. However, those crude nanites are like a Trojan Horse. The Huaoshy have more sophisticated and even smaller zeptoscale nanites that the Buld have no technical means to actually detect, even if they do suspected their presence inside humans. Through his discussions with Robin, Parthney develops an intuition about the possibility of there being multiple "generations" of nanites, the most advanced of these having even smaller components than atoms.

In my next blog post, I discuss how Pla'kao, co-director of Lendhalen, is changing the goal of the Earth Intervention program and engineering the Interventionist's role reversal.

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