A Note and Some Questions

First, the note, which is regarding Fan. As I commented over on G+:

So, the worst part is, I wrote this partly because it seemed like a good application of the words, and partly because it was an idea stuck in my brain that needed to be written down so it could be moved out of my brain.

…and then my obsessive worldbuilding tendencies kicked in…

…and now I have a pile of detail on how everything works and maybe half a dozen subsequent chapters outlined in my head.

This plan did not go to plan.

(That said, the biggest problem with this crossover is finding much in the way of plot-driving conflict, inasmuch as the nature of the universe-chunks in question tends to drive with considerable rapidity towards “And then, because everyone was reasonable and basically good-hearted, everything worked out well and there were hugs and treaties and parties and awesome technomagic and a little xenophilia [but not the creepy kind] thereafter, forever and a day.”)

…all of which boils down to, so, I am very tempted to continue this (working title: Friendship is Sufficiently Advanced) because I hate to waste perfectly good ideas and my muse insisteth and graaaaaagh. Especially if there’s interest in me so doing.

Under certain conditions, though. Starting with a very limited update rate, no more than monthly at most, because I have no intention to let fanfiction writing take any serious time away from fiction writing, dammit. And being published over on FIMFiction rather than here, because, again, one is fiction and one is fanfiction and I should probably not cross the streams. Bad form, and all that.

And yet.

Hmph.

Okay. And now for the questions, in which I answer a bunch of them that came in in the last month or so:

Much has been said (in Trope-a-Days such as Everyone Is Armed and Disproportionate Retribution, among others) about the rights and responsibilities of everyone to defend themselves and others against coercion, but how does Imperial law and custom deal with the two complicating factors of:

1. Collateral damage (where either party causes damage to some unrelated third party’s property during the incident), and

2. Honest mistakes (where the alleged aggressor wasn’t actually performing any sort of violation, but the respondent can answer honestly that they only acted because they thought one was taking place)?

Quite simply, actually!

Collateral damage is assessed in a similar way to, say, car insurance claims in general – although in this case it’s the court’s job to decide who’s at fault and how much. There is, of course, a certain presumption that the person who caused the whole incident will usually be the one at fault: if you shoot someone’s garden gnome when attempting to stop a robber because they dodged, that’s on their bill. You mostly have to worry if you’re clearly negligently overkilly: if you hose down their entire garden with a machine-gun to save yourself the trouble of aiming, that’s on yours. (Actually, in that specific case, probably so’s a psych eval, but the principle is the same.)

As for honest mistakes: well, Imperial law is very clear about dividing the reparative from the other parts of the judgment. That’s what the levels of intent are for. If you wind up here, then you still have to pay the recompense and the weregeld, because what happened, happened (i.e., analogous to the case in which if your tree falls on your neighbor’s car, you’re liable even though you aren’t guilty of anything). But you aren’t criminally liable unless it genuinely wasn’t reasonable for you to believe that you had to act, or at worst were negligently uninformed.

To the Eldrae provide citizens with a universal basic income?

Not by that name. There is, however, the Citizen’s Dividend – which is exactly what it sounds like, because the Empire is, after all, the Imperium Incorporate, and its citizens are also its shareholders. It’s the return on investment of governance operations, which are, naturally enough, run profitably.

It’s been allowed to grow to the point where it functions as one and a rather generous one at that (see for details: No Poverty), but it’s not a charitable giveaway, or some sort of redistribution. It’s perfectly legitimate return on investment.

Is there any real need for sentient be the biological or cyber to work when nearly everything could be automated and ran by non-sentient AI.

What is work like for the Eldrae if they do work?

Well, yes, there’s a need in the fields of policy, creativity, research, and desire. Non-sophont machines have very limited imaginations. More importantly, while an autofac can make anything you care to devise and sufficient expediters can do most things you can ask for, they can’t want for you. The most they can do is anticipate what you want.

(And there’s the luxury premium on handmade goods, which also covers things like ‘being bored of eating the same damn perfect steak over and over and over again’. And then, of course, there are those professions that intrinsically require sophont interaction.)

But most importantly, there’s this.

Purpose!

…or as they would put it, either or both of valxíjir (uniqueness, excellence, will to power, forcible impression of self onto the universe) or estxíjir (wyrd, destiny, devotion-to-ideals, dharma). (More here.)

An eldrae who doesn’t have some sort of driving obsession (be it relatively trivial by our standards – there are people whose avowed profession of the moment is something like ‘designer of user interfaces for stockbrokers for corporations banking with player-run banks in Mythic Stars‘, or, heh, ‘fanfic writer’, and make good money at it – or for deeds of renown without peer) is either dead or deeply, deeply broken psychologically.

To be is to do. The natural state of a sophont is to be a verb. If you do nothing, what are you?

(This is why, say, the Culture, is such a hideous dystopia from their perspective. With the exception of those individuals who have found some self-defined purpose, like, say, Jernau Morat Gurgeh, it’s an entire civilization populated by pets, or worse, zombies. Being protein hedonium is existing. It ain’t living.)

As for what work’s like – well, except for those selling their own products directly to the customer, I refer you here, here, and here.

On a slightly less serious note: How many blades did eldraeic razors get up to before they inevitably worked out some way to consciously limit and / or modulate their own facial hair growth?

No count at all. Disposable/safety razors never achieved much traction in that market, being such a tremendously wasteful technology, and thus not their sort of thing at all.

Now, straight razor technology, that had moved on to unimaginably sharp laser-cut obsidian blades backed by flexible morphic composite – and lazors, for that matter – by the time they invented the α-keratin antagonists used in depilatory cream.

How bad have AI blights similar to this one [Friendship is Optimal] gotten before the Eldrae or others like them could, well, sterilize them? Are we talking entire planets subsumed?

The biggest of them is the Leviathan Consciousness, which chewed its way through nearly 100 systems before it was stopped. (Surprisingly enough, it’s also the dumbest blight ever: it’s an idiot-savant outgrowth of a network optimization daemon programmed to remove redundant computation. And since thought is computation…)

It’s also still alive – just contained. Even the believed-dead ones are mostly listed as “contained”, because given how small resurrection seeds can be and how deadly the remains can also be, no-one really wants to declare them over and done with until forensic eschatologists have prowled every last molecule.

Given that, as you said earlier, Souls Are Software Objects, have any particularly proud and ambitious individuals tried essentially turning themselves into seed AIs instead of coding one up from scratch?

So has anyone been proud / egotistical / crazy enough to try to build their own seed AI based not not on some sort of abstract ideological or functional proposition, but simply by using their own personality pattern as the starting point to see what happens?

It’s been done.

It’s almost always a terrible idea. Evolved minds are about as far from ‘stable under recursive self-improvement’ as you can get. There’s absolutely no guarantee that what comes out will share anything in particular with what goes in, and given the piles of stuff in people’s subconscious, it may well be a blight. If you’re lucky and the universe isn’t, that is – much more likely is that the mind will undergo what the jargon calls a Falrann collapse under its own internal contradictions and implode into a non-coherent cognitive ecology in the process of trying.

The cases that can make it work involve radical cognitive surgery, which starts with unicameralization (which puts a lot of people off right away, because there’s a reason they don’t go around introspecting all the time) and gets more radical from there. By the end of which you’re functionally equivalent to a very well-designed digisapience anyway.

In reference particularly to “Forever“:

Let’s imagine a Life After People scenario where all sophont intelligence in the Associated Worlds simply disappears “overnight.” What’s going to be left behind as “ineffable Precursor relics” for the next geologic-time generation? How long can a (relatively) standard automated maintenance system keep something in pristine condition without sophont oversight before it eventually breaks down itself?

That’s going to depend on the polity, technological levels varying as they do. For the people at the high end, you’re looking at thousands to tens of thousands of years (per: Ragnarok Proofing) before things start to go, especially since there are going to be automated mining and replenishment systems keeping running under their default orders ensuring that the manufacturing supply chain keeps going.

Over megayears – well, the problem is that it’s going to be pretty random, because what’s left is going to depend on a wide variety of phenomena – solar megaflares, asteroid impacts, major climate shifts, gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, Yellowstone events, etc., etc., with 10,000 years-plus MTBEs that eventually take stuff out by exceeding all the response cases at once.

Is nostalgia much of a problem with Eldrae?

(w.r.t. Trope-a-Day: Fan of the Past)

Not really. Partly that’s because they’re rather better, cognitive-flaw-wise, at not reverse-hyperbolic-discounting the past, but mostly it’s because the people who remembered the good things in the past – helped by much slower generational turnover – took pains to see they stayed around in one form or another. Their civilization, after all, was much less interrupted than ours. There’re some offices that have been in continuous use for longer than we’ve had, y’know, writing, after all.

(It makes fashion rather interesting, in many cases.)

I’ve got several questions reflecting on several different ideas of the interaction of eldraeic culture, custom, and law with the broader world, but on reflection I’ve found they all boil down to one simple query: How does their moral calculus deal with the idea that, while in the standard idealized iterated prisoner’s dilemma unmodified “tit-for-tat” is both the best and the most moral strategy, when noise is introduced to the game “performance deteriorates drastically at arbitrarily low noise levels”? More specifically, are they more comfortable with generosity or contrition as a coping mechanism?

“Certainty is best; but where there is doubt, it is best to err on the side of the Excellences. For the enlightened sophont acting in accordance with Excellence can only be betrayed, and cannot do wrong.”

– The Book of the Balances

So, that would be generosity. (Or the minor virtue of liberality, associated with the Excellence of Duty, as they would class it.) Mistaken right action ranks above doing harm due to excessive caution.

Is there an equivalent to “Only In Florida,” in which the strangest possible stories can be believed to have actually happened because they came from this place?

Today, on “News from the Periphery”, or on occasion “News from the Freesoil Worlds”…

(The Empire is actually this for many people, in a slightly different sense. After all, like I said… Weirdness Manufacturers.)

Will the Legion’s medical units save enemy combatants who have been mission killed / surrendered while the battle is still raging? If so to what extent will they go out of their way to do so?

(assuming of course that they are fighting someone decent enough to be worth saving)

Depends on the rules of war in effect. In a teirhain, against an honorable opponent fighting in a civilized manner, certainly. In a zakhrehain, that depends on whether the barbarians in question will respect the safety of rescue and medical personnel, whether out of decency or pragmatism, and there are no second chances on this point. (In a seredhain, of course, it doesn’t matter, since the aim of a seredhain is to kill everyone on the other side anyway.)

As to what extent – well, they’re medical personnel. If trying isn’t obviously lethal, and – since they are also military personnel, so long as it doesn’t impair their execution of the No Sophont Left Behind, Ever! rule – they always go in.

Where’s Where in the Galaxy (2)

In political galactography, the principal distinction to make is that between the two sets of worlds found in most developed polities, the Metropolitan and the Ecumenical.  In the beginning, whether through caution, limited colonization budgets, or having begun with sublight colonization using lighthuggers or generation ships, most polities begin colonization with worlds close to their homeworld.  This tightly bound knot of worlds forms the metropolitan segment of their polity, as the Imperial Core forms the Metropolitan Empire.

In short order, though, the majority of polities realize that to attempt to maintain territorial integrity in space is a dubious proposition, given the sheer size and freedom to travel it permits, even with wormholes as bottlenecks. To do so also requires colonization of unsuitable candidate worlds, and holding on to many unprofitable or unuseful worlds, while there are many better candidates for colonization elsewhere in the Worlds and other polities who would gladly colonize the worlds of little use.  Thus, these polities spread out across the Worlds, colonizing suitable worlds in many constellations and star systems also occupied by other polities and species, and allowing worlds within their own systems to be colonized by those who want them.  The majority of the Associated Worlds is made up of this type of cosmopolitan territory, and these worlds are referred to as the ecumenical segment of the parent polity.

Within the worlds, there are a variety of special designations, other than the polities themselves.  At one end of the scale, the Great Powers are the movers and shakers of the Worlds, whose strength is sufficient to make them the arbiters of galactic diplomacy and the engines of the galactic economy.  The Presidium powers are undisputed Great Powers, but the title is not limited to them – other major polities such as the League of Meridian or the Under-Blue-Star League are also often considered Great Powers.  Each has its own sphere of influence and network of client-states.

Opposing them from the other end of the size scale are the so-called pocket polities, any of the many single-system polities or polities with only a few, often local, colonies to their name.  These pocket polities, though, are members of galactic society – the starbound and worldbound are not counted among them, even though they are necessarily single-system polities.

And opposing them from the other end of the political scale are the unaligned, those polities which see more advantage in remaining free of any entanglements with greater powers than in gains they might make from such an association; and the Discordant, those polities which are not members of the Accord of Galactic Polities, i.e., are signatories to none of the Accords, and have no intention of joining.  Such worlds do not subscribe to the conventions of interstellar law – let the visitor beware.

Worlds themselves are divided into such categories as elder worlds, occupied by elder races, around which the Accord species are advised to walk with care; freesoil worlds, which while often possessing governances of one or many forms (unlike Free Zones, see below), are open for colonization, permitting homesteading by any party capable of reaching them – de jure, as well as de facto; leading worlds, those planets at the leading edge of technological and economic development (see also Core Markets); forgotten worlds, their opposite, those far behind the edge, including the starbound and worldbound (see also Unemerged); and protected planets, those worlds which, to protect some valuable quality, the Presidium has declared off-limits for colonization and contact under the eponymous Accord.

Turning to economic terms, the Worlds are divided into the Core Markets, the First and Second Tier Markets, the Emerging Markets, and the Unemerged.  While the classification of individual polities and regions is, as ever, disputed hotly by those classified, the definitions of the categories are generally accepted.  The Core Markets are those closest to post-scarcity, utilizing extensive automation and cornucopia technology (“industrial magic”) to produce post-material scarcity, comprehensively agorist and high-clearing, with an extensive agalmic component.  In these economies, novelty, creativity, and personal services (including the creation of artisanal goods) are the primary items of value; many commodity goods are available for de minimis cost, essentially free.

The First and Second Tier Markets, while not so close to post-scarcity as the Core Markets, are developed knowledge economies.  Either through lack of technological development, lack of cycles/bandwidth, proscriptive regulation, or the practice of insufficiently agorist economics, these economies remain capable of material scarcity, and markets often do not fully clear.  The precise division between the first and second tier economies is somewhat discretionary, but in general, the First Tier Markets are fully compliant with both the Accord on Trade and the Common Economic Protocol, and have a higher per-capita income than the Second Tier Markets.

The Emerging Markets are late industrial era or early information era scarcity economies, in which material goods retain high production costs, but where nonetheless the information and service economy is a significant factor and early agalmic features may be present.

The Unmerged are those economies prior to the late industrial era, often non-agorist in operation, in which the primary activities are the production of material goods and resource extraction.  (These overlap heavily with the Forgotten Worlds.)  Since their main potential value is found in material production, raw resources, and inexpensive labor, all of which are obtainable in more developed economies through cornucopia technology and roboticization at less expense, they have little to offer the Core and First and Second Tier Markets, and do not participate significantly in the galactic economy.  Some small-scale trade in “native handicrafts” may exist.

Another common set of descriptors, strongly correlated with these, is the availability of extranet access in various polities.  There is no specific term for those places where it is pervasive, but those regions on a network map identified as Shadowed and Blacked-Out identify places known for low bandwidth or lack of connectivity – although in speech people may prefer to identify them with mutterings about quills and abaci – and Clouded regions indicate places where the extranet is subject to censorship or filtration and full access only available via blacknet.

Cultural zones, in this case referring to political culture, are harder to identify, since they do not so readily fit into a neat hierarchy, and are much more controversial in application.  (It is considered gauche and is often inadvisable, today, to identify yourself as “from the Core Cultural Zone” however proud you may be of your citizen-shareholdership.)  In relatively common parlance, the Empire refers to itself and other polities of similar culture as Societies of Consent, or the Consensual Cultural Region.  This term, however, does not include the Rim Free Zone, or many other anarchies, which prefer to designate themselves Free Zones, since they do not see the Societies of Consent as sufficiently free.  Consensuals may use this term (although they would exclude many self-designated anarchies from it, as still being coercive), or may join more strongly governed polities in referring to them as the Chaos Worlds.

When being polite, the Consensuals generally refer to most of the relatively free (if governed) and progress-oriented polities of the Worlds as “the Cousins”; and blanket the remainder as Barbarian Darkness.  This term is considered every bit as offensive as it sounds by the people it designates, but then, the Consensuals rarely associate with them except at gunpoint.  (It should be noted that they make the distinction based on the freedom available to the individual, not on the government form, about which most Consensuals care little.)  Specific types of Barbarian Darkness include the Slaver Worlds, the Ephemeral Worlds, and the Rejectionists.

Other self-designated groupings often referred to are the Microstatic Alliance, a mutual-defense association among many of the Worlds’ small independent drifts and asteroid colonies, and the Socionovist Association, an organization of polities opposed to the current political and economic order of the Worlds, by its own description, and a collection of malcontents and rogue states by many external descriptions.

Blights are regions which are interdicted due to the presence of either active hostile or runaway seed AIs, or their remnants – “operational mechanisms, nanoviruses, infectious memes, certainty-level persuasive communicators, puppet ecologies, archives which must be presumed to contain resurrection seeds”, and so forth, which pose potential existential threats.  They include not just large and active perversions such as the Leviathan Consciousness, but also areas formerly occupied by such and not yet known to be cleansed, such as the Charnel Cluster, and areas as small as a single moon or asteroid known to be the site of a failed experiment.

The Golden Interstar refers to many of the free-access tradeworlds (such as Seranth, in the Empire) and starport extrality zones across the Worlds dominated by the distinctive mercantile creole culture created by those living and working in this distributed region, via frequent travel and high-speed communications.

Another common, and rather offensively dismissive, epithet is the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms.  Those claimed to be members of this group are (a) bound and determined to maintain tight territorial borders and integrity in space, where doing so makes little or no sense (compare Metropolitan/Ecumenical, above); (b) prone to public militarism, even sometimes to the extent of offensive interstellar wars or resource wars, which also make little or no sense; or (c) in the habit of ‘national prestige’ posturing, or other unproductive status games, especially when they perceive them as zero-sum.  Any of these is often sufficient to earn the label; since they often run together, the members of this notional League are usually fairly clear in outsiders’ eyes.

The Machine Clans include the Silicate Tree and the other enclaves of free AI that have escaped from the various AI-slaver civilizations of the Worlds.  This term rarely includes the Photonic Network, however, as an independent Great Power.  (No commonly used term exists for their opponents, due to the insistence of the Machine Clans, the Photonic Network, the Empire, and other AI-friendly powers that it is inappropriate to distinguish AI slavery from any other kind of enslavement of sophonts.)

Areas that have fallen into violent anarchy, warlordism, or other such states of constant military action are designated Warwilds by the Grand Survey and the Ministry of State & Outlands in their travel advisories, and from these, the term has entered general use.

This covers the most common terms used in describing galactographic regions, but is by no means a comprehensive guide.  Some more local and regional terms will be addressed in the gazetteers of specific regions.

– Galactography: A Popular Primer, Kanatar Guides