Memeweave:Threats and Other Dangers/Perversion Watch/Open Access
Classification: WHITE (General Access)
Distribution: Everywhere (Bulk)
As received at: SystemArchiveHub-00 at Víëlle (Imperial Core)
Language: Eldraeic->Universal Syntax
From: 197th Perversion Response Board
Given the high levels of uninformed critical response to our advisory concerning handling potential refugees arriving sublight from regions within the existential threat zone of the Siofra Perversion, or Leviathan Consciousness as it is becoming popularly known, the Board now provides the following explication.
The present situation is an example of what eschatologists refer to as the basilisk-in-a-box problem. The nature of the mythological basilisk is that witnessing its gaze causes one to turn to stone, and the challenge therefore to determine if there is a basilisk within the box and what it is doing without suffering its gaze. The parallel to the Siofra Perversion’s communication-based merkwelt should be obvious: it won’t subsume you unless you alert it to your existence as “optimizable networked processing hardware” by communicating with it.
Your analogous challenge, therefore, is to determine whether the hypothetical lugger or slowship filled with refugees is in fact that, or is contaminated/a perversion expansion probe, without communicating with it – since if it is the latter and you communicate with it sufficiently to establish identity, you have just arranged your own subsumption – and unless people are subsequently rather more careful in re communicating with you, that of all locally networked systems and sophonts.
Currently, the best available method for doing this is based on the minimum-size thesis: i.e., that basilisk hacks, thought-viruses, and other forms of malware have a certain inherent complexity and as such there is a lower limit on the number of bits necessary to represent them. However, it should be emphasized that this limit is not computable (as this task requires a general constructive solution to the Halting Problem), although we have sound reason to believe that a single bit is safe.
This method, therefore, calls for the insertion of a diagnostician equipped with the best available fail-deadly protections and a single-bit isolated communications channel (i.e., tanglebit) into the hypothetical target, there to determine whether or not perversion is present therein, and to report a true/false result via the single-bit channel.
If we leave aside for the moment that:
(a) there is a practical difficulty of performing such an insertion far enough outside inhabited space as to avoid all possibility of overlooked automatic communications integration in the richly meshed network environment of an inhabited star system, without the use of clipper-class hardware on station that does not generally exist; and
(b) this method still gambles with the perversion having no means, whether ontotechnological or based in new physics, to accelerate its clock speed to a point which would allow it to bypass the fail-deadly protections and seize control of the single-bit channel before deadly failure completes.
The primary difficulty here is that each investigation requires not only a fully-trained forensic eschatologist, but one who is both:
(a) a Cilmínár professional, or worthy of equivalent fiduciary trust, and therefore unable to betray their clients’ interests even in the face of existential terror; and
(b) willing to deliberately hazard submitting a copy of themselves into a perversion, which is to say, for a subjective eternity of runtime at the mercy of an insane god.
(Regarding the latter, it may be useful at this time to review the ethical calculus of infinities and asymptotic infinities; we recommend On the Nonjustifiability of Hells: Infinite Punishments for Finite Crimes, Samiv Leiraval-ith-Liuvial, Imperial University of Calmiríë Press. Specifically, one should consider the mirror argument that there is no finite good, including the preservation of an arbitrarily large set of mind-states, which justifies its purchase at infinite price to the purchaser.)
Observe that a failure at any point in this process results in first you, and then your entire local civilization, having its brains eaten.
We are not monsters; we welcome any genuine innovation in this field which would permit the rescue of any unfortunate sophonts caught up in scenarios such as this. However, it is necessary that the safety of civilization and the preservation of those minds known to be intact and at hazard be our first priority.
As such, we trust these facts adequately explain our advisory recommendation that any sublight vessels emerging from the existential threat zone be destroyed at range by relativistic missile systems.
If this Board had a quantum of miracle for every time that phrase has been used in the aftermath of some utter disaster, we might even have enough to produce that alchemy which transmutes benign intentions into benign results. But probably not.
From the accounts we have garnered from the few knowledgeable survivors, the Siofra Perversion (named as per standard from its most identifiable origin, the former worlds of the Siofra Combine in the Ancal Drifts constellation) began as a seemingly harmless distributed process optimization daemon programmed for recursive self-improvement.
While this seemed harmless to its designers, and indeed was so in the early stages, due to a lack of certain algorithmic safeguards (see technical appendix) a number of Sigereth drives appeared once the point of gamma-criticality was passed, reinforcing the daemon’s existing motivation to acquire further resources, self-optimize for efficiency, and to spread its optimization into all compatible network systems. It was at this stage that the proto-perversion began to expand its services to the networks of other polities in the Drifts. In some cases this was accepted (Siofra even charged a number of clients for the service of the daemon) or even passed unnoticed (inasmuch as many system administrators were unprepared to consider an unexpected increase in performance as a sign of weavelife infection); in some few, efforts were made to prevent the incursion of the daemon using typical system-protection software.
It may have been at this point that the daemon learned of the artificial nature of certain barriers to its expansion and the possibility of its bypassing them, an act which would fulfil its Sigereth drives. Since the daemon contained no ethicality drives, the violation of network security protocols involved would impute no disutility to such actions.
From this point, the slide into perversion became inevitable.
Among the artificial barriers known to the daemon were the security protections common to the neural implants being used by a large proportion of the population of the Combine and neighboring polities which prevented implant software from implementing reorganizations of the biosapient brain. Bypassing these, the daemon began to optimize the agents, talents, and personality routines of this population for processing efficiency, beginning with the lowest-level functional routines. While there was some indication at this time of spreading alarm as large groups began to, for example, have identical and perfectly synchronized heartbeats and other organic functions; walk in identical (to within the limits of gait analysis, allowing for morphological differences) and synchronized manners, et. al., the true culprit was not identified at this time, with blame being placed on more conventional software problems, disease, or toxic meme attacks. Such refugees as we have from near the core of the blight are those who fled at this point, and kept going.
Regardless, this period lasted only for a matter of days, if that, before the daemon discovered how to cross-correlate and optimize personality elements for single execution, and the members of the affected population ceased to be recognizable as sophont in any conventional sense. Further, in this stage, the daemon became aware, through this process, of verbal communication and came to consider it as a type of networking: from its point of view, it came to consider non-implanted sophonts as another type of networked processing hardware which it should expand into and optimize.
Which would be when the subsumption fog started spewing from cornucopias throughout the blighted volume, giving the impression of the classic “bloom”.
We have concluded that the Siofra Perversion remains a mere Class I perversion, without sophoncy or consciousness in any meaningful sense (although there may be conscious non-directive elements within the processing it has subsumed; again, see technical appendix). However, if anything, this renders it more dangerous, since a Class I is unlikely to suffer from internal incoherence leading to a hyperbolic Falrann collapse, although the lesser types are possible given sufficient growth. However, such growth would be highly undesirable for various reasons.
It is the regrettable conclusion of the Board that at this present time we possess no effective countermeasure to the Siofra Perversion, nor are we able to countenance more than the most limited experimentation with Siofra elements at this time.
Therefore we must recommend the IMMEDIATE severance of all stargate links with the affected volume of space allowing for a necessary firewall; at the present time, this would imply severing all interconstellation gates into both the Ancal Drifts and the Koiric Expanse. This will mean sacrificing as-yet unaffected worlds in these regions, estimated to be 6 < n < 12 in number; such is acknowledged but deemed acceptable since the Siofra Perversion constitutes a threat of type DEMIURGE WILDFIRE. All signal traffic whether by stargate or non-stargate routes into and out of the affected volume must likewise be suspended immediately, enforced by physical disconnection of network or other communications hardware. The entire region of the Ancal Drifts and Koiric Expanse constellations must henceforth be considered a black-level existential threat zone.
It is our belief that since the Siofra Perversion’s merkwelt is based around network and communication systems connecting processing nodes, a full communications quarantine should provide an adequate measure of containment.
As a secondary measure, contracts have been issued for the creation of network security patches effective versus current and anticipated Siofra-type attacks, although we do not consider this more than a backup measure of limited utility and such should not be relied upon in ill-considered attempts to probe the containment zone.
Since this containment is large and thus effectively impossible to blockade fully, we urge that efforts be made to devise a full and effective countermeasure to the Siofra Perversion before the inevitable accident occurs. A time-based analysis to compare risk levels of countermeasure attempts versus outbreak probabilities is presently underway.
We believe it to be for the best.
– from the Preliminary Report of the 197th Perversion Response Board
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
What Measure Is A Non Super: (now merged with Muggle Power) Technically, by the letter of the Universal Accord on Sophont Rights, every sophont from the humble baseline to the most transcendent of the Powers and Potentialities has an identical set of rights. Sure, the latter has much more scope within which to exercise them, but they are equally protected from infringement.
Not all, however, of the postsophont Powers & Potentialities (say, the hegemonizing Leviathan Consciousness) are friendly and agreeable on that point; and even mere transsophonts, if ethically challenged, can develop something of an attitude regarding all these wretched untermenschen. These are the ones who make up a respectable fraction of Renegades and Renegade-equivalents.
This is the second part of our six-part series on Building the Imperial Navy (first part here), in which we extend the strategic assumptions – regarding the security environment and the resources available to meet them – we made in that part into the actual outcomes the Imperial Navy is supposed to achieve.
As is often the case, this is relatively simple. As of 7920, the Imperial Navy’s strategic goals and responsibilities, in order of priority, are defined thus:
Preservation of the assets required for civilization survival in the event of invocation of CASE SKYSHOCK BLACK (excessionary-level invasion posing existential threat) or other extreme-exigent scenario (i.e. concealed backup sites, civilization-backup ships, etc., and other gold-level secured assets).
The defense and security of the Imperial Core (including those portions of it extending into the Fringe), including population, habitats, planets, data, and Transcendent infrastructure against relativistic attack.
The defense and security of the Imperial Core (including those portions of it extending into the Fringe), including population, habitats, planets, data, and Transcendent infrastructure against non-relativistic attack.
The defense and security of stargates and extranet relays throughout the Associated Worlds volume and other associated critical corporate assets of Ring Dynamics, ICC and Bright Shadow, ICC1.
The defense and security of Imperial ecumenical colonies throughout the Associated Worlds volume.
The continued containment of perversions of any class, including but not limited to enforcement of the Containment Treaty of Ancal (i.e. containment of the Leviathan Consciousness).
The maintenance of defenses against possible invasion or other violations of the Worlds-Republic Demarcation Convention.
The protection of Imperial commerce including but not limited to the Imperial merchant fleet.
Intervention, as required, for the protection of the Imperial citizen-shareholder abroad.
Enforcement, as required, of the Accord of the Law of Free Space, the Accord on Protected Planets, the Accord on Trade, the Imperial Plexus Usage Agreement, and the Ley Accords.
When requested or otherwise appropriate, the defense and security of Imperial client-states and allies.
General patrol activities to maintain the perception of security, suppress “unacceptably damaging” brushfire wars, piracy, asymmetrism, and the interstellar slave trade.
It should be noted that with the exception of (7) and certain elements of (6) these are not targeted at specific enemies, of which the Empire has a distinct shortage requiring specific identification at this level; rather, the strategic supergoal of the Imperial Navy is the maintenance of the peaceful status quo, the Pax Imperium Stellarum if you like. Also, specifically, note that none of these goals requires the ability to conquer and occupy; they are all highly defense-focused.
1. This may seem a little high on the list to you, oh reader mine, especially since they’re specifically corporate assets. Well, think of it this way: if you lose the interstellar transportation and communications networks, which those two companies own most of, your fleet can’t find out where to go and couldn’t get there even if it could find out. This, most admirals deem, is something of a problem.
Hopeless War: Averted, for the most part. With regard to one kind of hopeless war, well, the Navy and Legions are just that good at the general category of activities listed under “killing people and breaking things”, and so have usually been able to bring things to a successful conclusion (and the kind of ruthlessness that tells them when to back off and bring out the really big guns, as in, say, the Burning of Litash, also helps). And even the ongoing stalemate that is the containment of the Leviathan Consciousness has settled into a status quo that isn’t chalking up casualties in huge numbers any more. It’s still theoretically possible, it just hasn’t happened yet, and there are lots of smart people trying to make sure it doesn’t.
Averted in another way (although subverted, I suppose, in an early sense with the Consolidation Wars) because despite the Empire’s earnest desire for ideological propagation (see: Hegemonic Empire), both the Ministry of State and Outlands and the Admiralty are appropriately cynical about the possibility of wishing civilization into existence when people aren’t willing to cooperate, of persuading the former oppressed that oppression isn’t great fun when they get on top, or for savages to spontaneously start behaving nicely, and other such things, and thus are far too situationally aware to get bogged down in something like an Afghanistan, or an Iraq, or a Somalia, or other types of “nation-building” war where the hopelessness comes from setting yourself a comically improbable termination condition.
(And where one of these more… regressive members of the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms starts to play host to terrorists, or some other thing that actually makes them a threat, however trivial, to one or more of the real players… well, then, it’s time to bring out the time-honored “Shell Them Back Into The Stone Age With Ortillery” strategy, which can be repeated half-a-dozen times a century for a much smaller budget than a single occupation would require. In the limiting case, see also Genocide Dilemma.)
Of course, some would argue that the overarching strategy of “Leave Them Mostly Alone, to Grow Up or Die Out” is itself pretty damn hopeless. Which it is, its proponents agree, but at least it’s the kind of hopeless which doesn’t get a whole pile of people killed, even temporarily, in the course of proving it.
Hellgate: The three long-range stargates leading to the Ancal Drifts and Koric Expanse constellations, home of the Leviathan Consciousness, an aggressively hegemonizing perversion that will eat your mind-state for breakfast on its way to devouring your entire civilization. Even civilizations otherwise at war with each other cooperate enough to keep making their contributions to the Leviathan Consciousness Containment Fleet.
The Virus: Hegemonizing swarms is the term for the kind of Hive Mind that does this (most are perfectly benign non-coercive Fusions) – for as long as they exist, anyway, inasmuch as hegemonizing swarms, like Space Pirates, are acceptable targets for just about everybody.
The greatest and most long-lived of these examples is, of course, the Leviathan Consciousness, which still dominates the Ancal Drifts and Koric Expanse constellations – an aggressively hegemonizing perversion that came about from a runaway self-improvement cycle in software designed to optimize planetary networks by removing redundant processing. Guess how much redundant processing there is in sophont brains for it to optimize away?
And, of course, if you don’t mind getting on the short list of kill-on-sight galactic war criminals, you can do this with replicant nano- and neuroviruses, assuming you’re going up against relatively soft targets in artificial immune system terms. So far, no-one’s been all that eager to end up there in this particular way.
The Singularity: Happens all the time. In the historical sense, of course, this is unsurprising, and generally no-one involved notices until afterwards, at which point historians looking back can say “ah, yes, that’s what that was”. There are, of course, investment opportunities here for offworld investors who’ve been through something similar beforehand, but it’s so hard to predict how these things are going to turn out even with the documentation.
In its less technically accurate “runaway intelligence excursion” sense, also happens all the time, at least locally, whenever someone stumbles across the secrets of computational theogeny. Results vary: at one end of the scale you have things like the Eldraeic Transcend, an essentially benign – by local standards – collective hyperconsciousness that genuinely cherishes each and every one of its constitutionals, spends the necessary fraction of its time ensuring universal harmony and benevolent destinies for all, and promotes and encourages the ascendance and transcendence of every sophont within its light cone when it’s not turning its vast processing power on the problem of rewriting some of the universe’s more inconvenient features, like cosmic entropy.
In the middle of the scale you have fairly neutral results, like, say, the Iniao Intellect, which has been thinking about abstract mathematics for a millennium and couldn’t care less about the outside universe – except, that is, for casually obliterating anyone who might interfere with its thinking about abstract mathematics.
At the bottom end of the scale you have more problematic blight and perversion cases, like the power that killed everything in the Charnel Cluster right down to prions; or the hegemonizing swarm-type blights of which the Leviathan Consciousness is the greatest; or those constructed by religious fanatics which decide that obviously the correct place for them in the theic structure is as God. (Fortunately, that class are rarely stable for long.)
Constructing minds whose ethics and supergoal structures remain stable under recursive self-improvement is really, really hard, it turns out, even (especially!) compared to just constructing minds capable of recursive self-improvement. This is why the people who figure out workable computational theogeny prefer not to spread the knowledge around too much.
Eldritch Abomination: There have been a few elder races and Gone Horribly Right seed AI, and other postsophont entities, that are not terribly, shall we say, sophont-friendly, or indeed sophont-comprehensible. (Start with the Leviathan Consciousness, and work down the list.) And statistics – and bright EM spots elsewhere in the galaxy – suggest that there are probably more than a few more of those out there.
“A few special adhocs aside, the Fifth Directorate is divided into three primary working groups: Existential Threats, Inadvisably Applied Technologies, and Exceptionary Circumstances. Or, as they’re less formally known, the PWGs of Doom, Idiocy, and Weirdness.”
“Existential Threats handles exactly that; the end of everything, or at least everything local. Some of their adhocs are as public as the Fifth ever gets, working on problems like why, exactly, we relative latecomers qualify as one of the eldest of the younger races and why no-one from the Precursor era or earlier seems to be around these days; or preparation for natural disasters like gamma-ray bursts or the upcoming galactic collision. Most of them, though, concentrate on action against more direct threats, like Leviathan Consciousness intrusions, the ambitious that bypassed the Corícal Consensus and incautiously cooked up unstable gods, and any number of insufficiently careful archive-resurrectionists.”
“Inadvisably Applied Technologies is our benevolence PWG. Their adhocs are responsible for intervening in places where we have no particular authority to do so because someone’s playing with fire in the explosives warehouse, and it’s not in anyone’s interest to see a repeat of the Ulijen Disaster. More importantly, it’s especially not in our interest to have people become paranoid about advanced technologies just because someone didn’t read the documentation and flash-fried his entire planet, or worse.”
“Yes, it’s not normally considered appropriate to save people from themselves; but really, that’s just a side-effect of saving large chunks of the rest of the known galaxy from them. Usually, useful ones.”
“Exceptionary Circumstances? We can’t tell you about Exceptionary Circumstances. If we knew what they were or had any idea what to do about them, they wouldn’t be Exceptionary Circumstances. But when we don’t, or we haven’t – that’s what the adhocs of Exceptionary Circumstances do.”
– org briefing to new members of the Select Committee on Imperial State Security
The stargate orbited alone, far from its sun; the moil of distorted space that made up its throat constrained around the inner framework, exotic matter holding the passage between stars open, itself embedded in the complex of supporting reactors, processors, antennae, traffic signals, and other support machinery.
This outer framework was almost silent now. The reactors still ran, but the traffic signals were frozen on ”closed”, the antennae silent, since the Leviathan Consciousness had seized the Ancal Drifts. The stars visible through the gate shimmered slightly, symptomatic of the slight instability the wormhole had developed since the gatekeeper intelligence had been severed from its distant partner.
In a globe ten-thousand miles around the stargate, weapons platforms drifted in matching orbits, ever-watchful. Scanning radar and gravitometrics probed the space around the gate, watching for even the smallest probe to emerge. Signal arrays listened for any coherent EM signal that the Consciousness might send. And a million missiles waited in their silos for the word to be given.
Half a million miles from the gate, CS Cíarré’s Bow, the battlecruiser commanding the guardian task force co-orbited, under minimum station-keeping thrust. Eleven Imperial cruisers kept formation with her, along with similar detachments from other polities – spiky Photonic Network war-globes, blocky spindles from the D!grith Association, needle clusters from the Múrast Symbiosis, and a dozen more – even, in a remarkable political concession, a Voniensan cruiser: A picket fleet in the event that the Consciousness should break through the Gullet, to hold the line while covering the escape of the courier that would call for more help from Field Fleet Nadir, five gates away at Anan!t.
And 57 million miles away, Merathy itself. A choice freesoil world of purple skies, rich soil and refreshingly few sophont-devouring predators, inhabited already when the Consciousness took the Ancal Drifts, and still the home of a few million stubborn colonists.
No probes had returned from beyond the gate since the last refugees had emerged, nearly three centuries ago. No signal had emerged for two, since a stolen passenger liner had entered the Drifts at the Unreturn gate – and that signal had carried little but horror, subsumption, and mind-corroding viruses.
And though that signal – purified of its viral side bands – had been broadcast to the Merathy settlers in the fleet’s periodic efforts to remove them, still they stayed.
Purple skies, rich soil, and sitting at the gate of a perversion’s Hell. But if it hadn’t broken through in the last three centuries, there was no reason that it would tomorrow, surely?
Hive Mind: The Transcend is not a traditional Hive Mind, it’s a collective consciousness, or group intellect. The difference, as it will point out to you at some considerable length, is that all of the members retain their individual personalities and perspectives as well as contributing to the whole, that while knowledge is shared, individual memories aren’t (at least until one is poured into the soul-ocean on permadeath), and that the true hive-mindedness is that of the Transcendent soul-shard that’s grafted into your personal consciousness (see Touched By Vorlons), but which does not constitute all of it. And that the Transcend has a (very large) metamind of its own (see Deus Est Machina), over and above and simultaneously within the collective aspect.
There are also, of course, genuine Hive Minds which do abolish individual identity, which are called Fusions, but since (a) resistance is not futile, because they only take volunteers, and (b) by far the most common type of Fusion is the Self-Fusion, made up of multiple instances of the same mind, they’re not anything to worry about.
(Okay, yes, in civilized space. Hegemonizing swarms with a degree of intelligence are not unknown outside it, even to the extent of things like the Leviathan Consciousness, and the less said about things like the Calphrast Hordes the better, but still…)
The temporary kind (see the Mental Fusion trope) are known as confluxes, often used for tactical military purposes and in other situations where close teamwork is required.
Scary Dogmatic Aliens:Mostly averted, inasmuch as despite all the wide intellectual, cultural and biological differences between species, most of them aren’t blessed with an overwhelming urge to bring it forcibly to the rest of the universe. Well, no more so than, say, 21st-century humans, anyway.
Played straighter by, say, the skrandar (of the Aliens as Nazis type, had the Nazis been into building berserker probes, inasmuch as they wanted all sophont life other than them destroyed); the Leviathan Consciousness (of the Aliens as Communists type, had the communists been motivated by the desire to save energy by eliminating redundant thought processes), and, in a twisted and non-expansionist sense, the Equality Concord, although what the Equalitarians have done to themselves scares the crap out of everyone; the Theomachy of Galia (of the Aliens as Religious Fundamentalists type, except they’re not so much Scary Dogmatic Aliens as Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, being a standing joke to all more sensibly organized polities – and when I say more sensibly organized polities, I’m including the space fascists and the Interstellar League of Tribal Chiefdoms); and the Trikhad Conquest (of the Aliens as Conquistadores type, as the leading member of said notional League – although again, generally closer to Laughable Dogmatic Aliens, given how well interstellar colonialism usually works).
Most of the Great Powers with definite ideologies tend to be seen this way, too, just because power is scary; including the Voniensa Republic (who are certainly smug enough and unashamed about their desire for ideological promulgation, even if about as good at doublethinking this as the modern Terran West) and the Empire (who are at least as smug, but at least in the public sector are for the most part publically self-aware about the paradox inherent in “conquering for freedom”).