Random Stuff/Questions

Randomness: I’ve just rewatched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Thus, for anyone who wasn’t around the first time it came up, this is your reminder that wuxia is a good model for what classical melee combat looks like in the ‘verse – only glowier, since space magic, unlike qi, has that as a side effect.

(It only gets crazier when done in microgravity.)


Question: how much are the Imperial Couple permanently vastened by on their coronation; and why?

In the modern day, quite a lot. Coronation comes with a semi-Fusion with the Imperial Presence, which is one of the Transcend’s archai, in addition to serving as a repository for the memories – or, in the earliest cases, the eidolons – of all their predecessors.

(The same thing applies to the various Ministers of the Throne, although on a more temporary basis, who have a synnoetic relationship with the appropriate member of the Ennead, the nine archai which correspond roughly to the Ministries – the Comptroller, the Warmind, the Signet, et. al.. A busy meeting of the Stellar Council can burn through a lot of cycles.)

Why? Well, who can afford a competence gap?


More Randomness: This story; which can be summed up as “Ontario initiates basic income pilot program; people make decisions based on program as it was explained to them; new government cancels program abruptly; people whose decisions were retroactively made bad are really, really pissed at being stabbed in the back”.

Makes an excellent case study for EX0487: Exosophontology of Mass Coercion, I deem. Probably in that subsection titled “Democracies: Naturally Treacherous or Just Incompetent?” (See, this is why we think social contracts, being all implicit and unilaterally modifiable, are what is technically known as “bullshit”. Actual contracts, now those are something you can build a society on.)


Question: In lieu of my previous question: What does the local culture make of the idea of what TVTropes calls the “Humongous Mecha“?

Mostly, that it’s a damn silly idea. Let’s take what could be a perfectly respectable armored vehicle, then give it a huge target profile, a statically unstable single-point-of-failure (in the sense of “shoot it in the ankle, it falls over”) locomotion system and probable ground pressure issues, then strip off some of the ranged weaponry and replace it with melee-range kit.

Then let’s throw the designer out the airlock for thinking any of that was a good idea.

Whatever coolness factor it may have is entirely overwhelmed by the audience’s awareness of just how many Idiot Balls the responsible parties were holding. They may have a certain intimidation factor going for them, but there’s already plenty of that available, and if you need to turn it up to eleven, there’s always the Fight In The Shade maneuver.

(Walkers, they have, for handling certain types of terrain, but they’re sensible low-slung spidery-legged types.)


Randomness: Marines 3D-print a barracks. The world gets a little more like Starcraft every day.

But we have not yet gone full ‘verse until they can print a version with a bioprinter inside that goes on to 3D print Marines


Question: On the subject of pronouns (and particularly Japanese pronoun equivalents): Does eldraeic have any that would fill the role of kisama ( 貴様 ) or onore ( 己 ), for those moments when you really need to call someone out?

It’s not a pronoun, but it is an affix that can be attached to a pronoun. Or anything else, of course.

(And it’s not defined yet, so I can’t quote it for you.)


More coming, but let’s go with this for now…

 

Paracoercion

“…as to your avowed intention to institute a Universal Income, we welcome such systems – as evidenced by our own Citizen’s Dividend – as an excellent answer to paracoercive states. (Para-, in this case, meaning “not really”, but having initially solved the ethical problems of true coercion, which is to say choice-theft, we may rightly turn our attention to the moral concern of those whose volitional phase-space is limited not by the actions of others, but the insufficiency of their own resources.)

“The difficulty, of course, is that one is not permitted to use unethical means in the pursuit of moral ends, for the one is mandatory and the other supererogatory, as is necessarily the case when ill means poison all good ends. For ourselves, the Citizen’s Dividend is a voluntary obligation accepted by all of our citizen-shareholders in their signing of the Imperial Charter, and since citizen-shareholdership is a privilege (which may be denied by the existing citizen-shareholders in Senate assembled on the grounds of philosophical incompatibility), those lacking properly enlightened self-interest or the generosity appropriate to a daryteir are merely denied that privilege.

“As a korasmóníë, of course, such a Universal Income in your case, if attained through political means, would be doing precisely that, inasmuch as it would be funded by institutionalized robbery on a mass scale. We would not, and obviously did not, find this acceptable in our own case. However, in yours…

“In your case, we must acknowledge reluctantly that local conditions do not always admit of the immediate implementation of ethically perfect solutions. I fear I am as unable to offer you advice on this matter as the old proverb would have it. While it is easy for me to advocate the construction of a system such as ours funded by infrastructure returns and externality fees, or one entirely funded by voluntary contributions in the manner of the Plurality, this depends on an existing consensualist governance, or at the least one which can be counted on not to interfere.

“As for the other, you yourself must weigh in the balance the reduction of paracoercion against the increase in coercion actual in the context of progress towards your desired consensualist future, while bearing in mind the risk – I have attached a number of relevant clionomic models – that a nonconsensual Universal Income carries with it a substantial risk of becoming an instrument of mulcting in perpetuity.

“If I may offer a final thought: I would only remind you that “While certainty is best, 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.”

– Meris Ejava, Freedom’s Seed COG, letter to the Second Temne Seed

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.

Trope-a-Day: No Poverty

No Poverty: Played straight in the Empire – and indeed the entire Core Economic Zone.

Well, at least as far as absolute poverty goes. Let us consider, for example, the hypothetical lowest-income citizen-shareholder in the Empire, someone who certainly doesn’t exist, having never had a single original, marketable thought in their entire life, possesses no skills, and who has never found any way to make themselves useful to any other sophonts whatsoever.

That guy, whose only source of income is the Citizen’s Dividend, can still afford a good-sized, luxurious home to live in, and – for less than the price of basic cable *here*, at that – an energy-and-cornucopia-services subscription sufficient to fabricate more food than he could ever eat, more clothing than he could ever wear, and a wide range of other assorted consumer goods even if they’re last year’s relinquished-copyright model; along with information-services access, basic-coverage tort insurance, and comprehensive medical.

That’s only going to stop being true if he manages to screw up deliberately and dramatically – and, given the generosity of Imperial bankrupty/debt law designed to encourage entrepreneurship and leave people able to function and earn more money to pay their debts in future, in fairly exotic ways. (And this is itself unlikely, inasmuch as That Guy is likely to receive a friendly visit from the Guardians of Our Harmony seeking to cure his obvious craziness even before taking it to the next level.)

tl;dr It is within delta of functionally impossible to have less than a well-off middle-class lifestyle in the CEZ in general and the Empire in particular.

Now, to mention what the trope page says is rarely mentioned, if you’re the type to concern yourself with relative poverty, then you can still find plenty of material to get hot and bothered about. The Empire got to its poverty-free post-material-scarcity state of awesomeness through the vigorous and rapacious practice of free markets and greed, and isn’t planning to change any time soon. As such, were anyone to bother computing its Gini coefficient or other such measures of economic inequality, it would undoubtedly cause some serious palpitations and flabberghast, the fantastically wealthy Numbers owning private luxury moons, and so forth.

It’s just that no-one *there* gives a damn, because the traditional ways of “legally stealing” your way to wealth are all illegal, and because it’s hard to convince people who live in big houses and own magic boxes that can make heaps and heaps of anything for twenty bucks a month that they’re being Horribly Oppressed by the 1%, the Man, or pretty much anyone else. At least, it is without idiot primate status-game instincts to help you.

Finally to note, this is something that I do pretty much try to take lightly, at least inside the CEZ. After all, to the lucky people from there, the magic box that makes whatever you want just as soon as it occurs to you to want it is the natural state of the universe, belike.

Of course, when they have to deal with the people from outside there, or, dearie me, with the people from the Unemerged Markets, they have the most terrible – “No comconsoles?” – problems in understanding exactly what the heck this poverty thing is. (See much more under Rich in Dollars, Poor in Sense.) Not having a cornucopia machine of your very own is about as far as the non-cosmopolitan imagination gets.

Trope-a-Day: The Government

The Government: Even though there is one, sort of averted in the (remarkably ungoverned) Empire.  There, it mostly means the Imperial Service, which is about as thin as air – apart from keeping their Universal with them, spending the Citizen’s Dividend, and mailing in their three-four percent on Empire Services Fee Day, the majority of Imperial citizen-shareholders barely notice that it exists in any given year, never mind have occasion to interact with it.

(Although some services it provides are fairly ubiquitous – infrastructure, copyrights, externality management, currency – they’re not really the sort of active, impositional, or obvious things that make people yell “government!”, the runér spend more time acting in their private capacity than via their strictly circumscribed governing authority, and most of the generalized-benevolence functions that get attached to Earth-style governments are devolved to the Citizen Oversight Groups of the Plurality, which lack the sovereign powers of government and aren’t tax-funded and so can be cheerfully ignored by everyone who doesn’t care about what they do.)