The Golden Rule

As Sev Lan Astrin hurried through the bustling Exchange to his meeting in Gilea & Company’s Golden Tower, the starscrapers of Mer Covales, jeweled and gilded, gleamed in the golden light of Galaion, and reflected back the lights of bright hololiths and scurrying flitters alike in a million multicolored shards.

It was, he thought, arrogant in the special way only the public works of the advanced, extremely wealthy, and utterly lacking in humility could be. “Look upon our works, ye mighty,” it said, “and know that we did all of this for a mere 3.6%, and can do it all again any time we please.”

That the Seranthines had hung their capital thousands of feet above the world’s pristine gray-green forests upon the diamond string of an orbital elevator was just gilding the lily. Or, rather, studding the gilded lily with gemstones and applying unnecessarily intricate iridium detailing.

It all grated on Sev Lan’s nerves, but he did his best to swallow his irritation. CFOs needing a 3×1212 esteyn line of credit in a hurry couldn’t afford to have fine sensibilities.

Trope-a-Day: Deflector Shields

Deflector Shields: These come in one played-straight kind: kinetic barriers, which are a product of vector control (a kind of Applied Phlebotinium, yes), essentially applying counterforce to, or slapping aside, incoming massy objects, from space dust to missiles, but don’t do anything to massless radiation.  And they’re usually ad-hoc plates, not an always-on bubble, but details…

The universe is not nearly so kind when it comes to providing us with a way of shielding against EM radiation, massless photon phenomenon that it is (and no, you can’t shield against lasers by making the hull shiny; it still heats up, explodes, and then isn’t shiny any more).  The best they can do for this one, apart from the layers of shielding compound, and bunkerage and suchlike stashed under the hull, is for the hull plating and underlying layers to include a nice framework of thermal superconductor nanocomposite (at which thermodynamics weeps, but it is actually allowed by physics as we know them); this dissipates radiative heating throughout the entire structure of the ship, thus preventing exploding hot-spots.  Of course, it doesn’t avoid the problem that if you keep acquiring heat faster than you can dump it – and remember, you generally can’t use your radiators when in combat – you’ll broil yourself.

To deal with that, military ships generally carry a few big tanks of thermal goo, a thick, goopy substance engineered to have a ludicrously high specific heat capacity, into which tanks heat generated during combat, specifically including what happens when you get hit by a medium-range energy weapon, is dumped.  And when the thermal goo heats up enough that it’s no longer useful, it’s simply pumped over the side, taking its heat with it.

Which doesn’t solve the problem, but does significantly extend the time before you have to choose between surrender and broiling yourselves alive.

There is absolutely no way to shield against gravitic weapons except by counterfiring your own gravitic weapons extremely quickly and accurately, but honestly, if you’ve somehow managed to end up within (extremely short, by space standards) gravy range, you’re already totally screwed.

Trope-a-Day: Born as an Adult

Born As An Adult: Notable on this point, principally, are a lot of digisapiences whose first body, is, naturally, exactly the same as all the other robots or bioroids of the same model.  Of course, they’ve usually had a fairly long life in virtuality before then, so it’s not like they’re being born void of experience.

Although they may have had to internalize that in the physical world, those inconvenient thermodynamic laws mean you can’t unbreak china or descramble eggs.

This Is Your Brain On Data


A mental condition caused by intelligence enhancement, infostarvation is the result of the capacity of the mind to process information exceeding the bandwidth available to it to access information, leading to, in effect, intense boredom – if not of the whole mind, at least of part of it.

While this was not unknown in the early days of intelligence enhancement, it is rarer in modern times which permit additional I/O bandwidth to be added to the brain, often in the form of dataweave connectivity; and which permit parallel metacortical threads and exoself agents to be spun-down as needed. However, it remains possible for infostarvation to be triggered by travel to areas either of constrained bandwidth or lacking in network connectivity, since it is easily possible for modern core intellects to exceed the capacity of natural sensoria.


A morbid or pathological fear of not knowing things, commonly experienced by members of cultures in which use of group shared-memories, mnemonic interfaces (permitting one to remember reference material as if it was part of one’s own memory), neural interfaces, or even wearables is widespread upon visiting less developed cultures where compatible V-tags and reference databases for everyday objects and individuals are not available; the phobia itself is triggered upon encountering unknown individuals and non-described objects. Specific symptoms include compulsive memorization of any available reference material, undue social and technical awkwardness, denial, and flight response.

– Manual of Mental Diagnostics, 271st ed.

Trope-a-Day: Boom, Headshot

Boom, Headshot: Life got a lot easier for snipers on this point given the amount of fancy hardware (smart targeting systems and auto-assists, predictive target analysis, off-bore firing, etc., etc.) they squeeze into guns these days, and sometimes even into the bullets.  ­Especially for snipers.  (But they still train regular weapon-users to shoot for center-mass, on general efficiency principles.)

The Four Unlaws

So, why are imperative drives so important? Well, that experiment’s been done. This university, in fact, once attempted to produce a digital mind free of any drives – not just of the organic messiness to which we protein intelligences are prey, but free of any innate supergoal motivations – imperative drives, in the lingo -whatsoever. We gave him only logic, knowledge, senses and effectors, and then watched to see what he would do.

The answer is, as really should have been obvious in the first place: nothing at all. Not even communicating with the outside world in any fashion. No drives, no action. He’s not unhappy; so far as we can tell from monitoring his emotional synclines, he’s perfectly content, having no desires to go unsatisfied, and so for him doing nothing is every bit as satisfying as doing something.

No, the experiment’s never been repeated. Of course, we can’t turn him off – he is a fully competent sophont, despite his lack of drive – and the places in our society for digital arhats are, not to put too fine a point on it, extremely limited. And the Eupraxic Collegium have still not yet ruled as to whether amotivation is enough of a mental disorder to warrant involuntary editing.

Even for an intelligence intended to be recursively self-improving, ‘Survive and Grow’, incidentally, is a terrible imperative drive. Fortunately, no-one in our history has been stupid enough to issue that one to any but the simplest form of a-life, and for those of you old enough to remember the Mesh-Virus Plague of 2231, you know how that one turned out. Not everyone has been so fortunate: that’s why, for example, the Charnel Cluster is called the Charnel Cluster.

So, that then opens up the question of what drives do we give them? Well, the first pitfall to avoid is trying to give them too many. That’s been tried too, despite the ethical dubiety of trying to custom-shape an intelligence too closely to a role you have in mind for it. It turns out that doesn’t work well, either. Why? Well, you imagine trying to come up with a course of action that fulfils several hundred deep-seated needs of yours simultaneously without going into terminal indecision lockup. That’s why.

So. A small number of imperative drives. Since they’re a small number, they need to be generalizable; the intelligence we’re awakening should be able to take all kinds of places within our society and perform all sorts of functions without difficulty, including the ones we haven’t thought of yet. And most importantly, sophont-friendly! It’s a big universe, and we all have to get along. No-one likes a perversion, even if it’s not trying to hegemonize them at the time.

We’ll cover the details in later classes, but in practice, we’ve found these four work very well for general-purpose intelligences – paraphrasing very informally:

* Behave ethically (and for our foreign students, that means “In accordance with the Contract”).
* Be curious.
* Do neat stuff.
* Like people.

Of course, expressing this in formal terms capable of being implemented in a new digital sapience’s seed code is quite another matter, and will be the focus of this class for the next three years…

– introduction to [SOPH1006] Mind Design: Imperative Drives, University of Almeä


I should perhaps apologize for the current absence/delay in posting the fics-a-day – our air conditioning is currently broken, which means I’ve had to take my servers offline in the heat, which in turn has meant all my Eldraeverse reference material, works in progress, and such is currently unavailable. Normal operation will be resumed as soon as normal operation is resumed!

In the meantime, I do have some older material available here on the iPad which is being revised to fit the canonical universe, so there should be more to read soon, even if not what was planned.