Trope-a-Day: The Anti-Nihilist

The Anti-Nihilist: The Church of the Flame and other mainstream Imperial philosophies, essentially, whose official doctrines are more or less comfortable with the brokenness and lack of meaning in the universe, and which then manufacture some meaning out of a few assumptions concerning the nature of sophoncy and negentropy, and support reengineering the universe to function properly along those lines.

These, in short, are the people who on being told that they lived in a meaningless, godless, fateless universe proceeded to invent meaning, build some gods (see: Deus Est Machina), create an afterlife, and engineer the proper management of destiny, and you can’t play this card much harder than that.


Actually, there’s one other thing I could append to the previous post, with regard to Earth and why it’s probably a good thing that first contact ain’t gonna happen any time soon:

As has been pointed out to me, the thing that would truly make the Imperials despair is that even among people who recognize the problem, there is no significant movement to actually extend sophont, or even human, rights to everyone. We just have to push it forward one tiny special-interest group at a time, in what almost looks like the fear that if we start going around claiming rights are universal, we might accidentally give them to the wrong people.

(Personally speaking, my near-complete cynicism on this in re humanity was firmly set back on Tumblr some years ago, when I had the distinct pleasure of seeing a committed anti-racist, by their own account and history, argue firmly that Cerberus’s pro-human/anti-alien to downright human-supremacist policies in the Mass Effect universe were absolutely, 100% correct and justifiable, and that speciesism was in no way similar to and certainly not the same thing at all as actual racism, because it’s totally okay to discriminate against people who are actually, genuinely different.

…and other recapitulations of arguments isomorphic to historical arguments made by historical racists.

And so that was the week when my days of not taking rights activists seriously came to a definite middle, without some actual convincing evidence that their posture wasn’t a thin gloss over “give us ours, and fuck everyone else”.)

Trope-a-Day: What Measure Is a Non-Human?

What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Averted to varying degrees (and, obviously, in the naïve sense, completely averted since there are no humans at all).  The standard view, in the Associated Worlds, is that described in the Universal Accord on Sophont Rights: anything that thinks and has volition (i.e., is a sophont) is a person, and is entitled to all the rights associated therewith, and is exactly equal in the exercise thereof to every other sophont.

The Empire plays this very straight, and does, indeed, include all sophonts, including non-native aliens (and, yes, the starfish kind, and even the not-yet-understood), uplifts, neogens, artificial intelligences whether embodied or infomorph, uploaded minds, clones, forks, etc., etc. without distinction.  Anything and everything that thinks.

They also go further in extending limited, but still extensive rights to the merely prosophont, including more limited artificial intelligences and higher animals.  (The Empire is noted, in these cases, for eschewing “animal cruelty” laws in favor of simply broadly applying their existing laws where they fit.  In the Empire, you are expected to swerve your vehicle to avoid hitting animals of this class – and, y’know, not do tuna fishing the way we do tuna fishing, or eat octopodes, or go whaling at all – and should you, say, shoot someone’s non-uplifted dog without equivalent self-defense justification to that which you’d need to shoot a full sophont, you will be charged with corpicide and/or cognicide, and will suffer the full criminal penalties, including – if deemed malicious and/or sadistic – potentially being shoved into the fires of purification and purged out of the universe.

(And, yes, that we don’t do this, and, in fact, behave in the manner listed on the trope’s [since deleted] Real Life page are among the many reasons that they’d consider us to be playing Humans Are Bastards very straight indeed.)

Some would argue that they also go farther and extend at least some rights to inanimate objects – that, however, is not a matter of law, that’s just a matter of Blue and Orange Morality and that going around willfully damaging and/or destroying things really gets people’s negentropic hackles up.  Which then in turn, courtesy of this opinion being generally held, the reputation network, and the unlimited freedom of non-association, leads to being absolutely crucified in the Court of Public Opinion, and finding it very difficult to maintain any kind of reasonable lifestyle.

The civilized mode of the Associated Worlds follows this at least as far as sophonts are concerned, taking the broadest view there in law, although some private bigotries persist, as ever, and interpretation of some of those rights may locally vary (the Empire has long since had to recognize that it’s not going to be able to ram its views about government by the unanimous consent of the governed down everyone’s throat just yet).

Some of the less civilized parts (and, indeed, the arguably-superpower Voniensa Republic, which as an Expy of the Star Trek Federation replicates its noxious attitudes towards AIs, transsophonts, and property rights) carve out their own exceptions with regard to particular members of the list, which is where all those AI-slaver civilizations that produced the Silicate Tree, anti-upload ephemeralists, anti-uplift naturalists, etc., etc., come in.  And, of course, a few nasty areas don’t really apply these principles at all; the Equality Concord, for example, doesn’t recognize any sophont rights other than The Right To Serve The People With All Your Heart And Soul.

And finally, of course, there are all those backwater and uncontacted worlds that have never even heard of the Universal Accord, much less had a chance to sign it or not; travellers there are pretty much taking their chances.  Some, pleasantly enough, are cosmopolitan planets in waiting, and sign on to a broad view as soon as they run into one.  Others are nasty nests of nastier bigots who don’t recognize any personhood outside their own species, and for that matter, don’t even recognize the rights of plenty of people of their own species.

Like, say, Earth.


Questions: Why AIs Exist?

In today’s not-a-gotcha, someone questions why digisapiences (i.e., sophont AIs) exist at all, citing this passage of Stross via –

We clearly want machines that perform human-like tasks. We want computers that recognize our language and motivations and can take hints, rather than requiring instructions enumerated in mind-numbingly tedious detail. But whether we want them to be conscious and volitional is another question entirely. I don’t want my self-driving car to argue with me about where we want to go today. I don’t want my robot housekeeper to spend all its time in front of the TV watching contact sports or music videos. And I certainly don’t want to be sued for maintenance by an abandoned software development project.

…on one level, this is entirely correct. Which is why there are lots and lots of non-sophont, and even sub-thinker-grade AI around, many of which works in the same way as Karl Schroeder suggested and Stross used in Rule 34 – AI which does not perceive its self as itself:

Karl Schroeder suggested one interesting solution to the AI/consciousness ethical bind, which I used in my novel Rule 34. Consciousness seems to be a mechanism for recursively modeling internal states within a body. In most humans, it reflexively applies to the human being’s own person: but some people who have suffered neurological damage (due to cancer or traumatic injury) project their sense of identity onto an external object. Or they are convinced that they are dead, even though they know their body is physically alive and moving around.

If the subject of consciousness is not intrinsically pinned to the conscious platform, but can be arbitrarily re-targeted, then we may want AIs that focus reflexively on the needs of the humans they are assigned to — in other words, their sense of self is focussed on us, rather than internally. They perceive our needs as being their needs, with no internal sense of self to compete with our requirements.

But, you see, the hidden predicate here is that the only reason someone would possibly want to develop AI is to have servants, or rather, since you don’t want to have to pay your self-driving car or your robot housekeeper either, to have what would be slaves if they were, in fact, sophont.

This line of reasoning is both tremendously human and tremendously shitty. Or, at least, tremendously shitty is how it makes humanity look. I leave the accuracy of that judgment up to the cynicism of the reader.

That was, needless to say, not the motivation of the people behind CALLÍËNS or other sophont-AI projects in Eldraeverse history. That would be scientific curiosity and engineering challenge. And the desire to share the universe with other minds with other points of view. And, for that matter, the same desire that has led us to fill the world with generations more of ourselves.

Or, to paraphrase it down to an answer I find myself having to give quite a lot, not everyone is motivated by the least enlightened self-interest possible.


Trope-a-Day: Of The People

Of The People: Possibly averted.  While the species name eldrae (which means nothing, except etymologically) is derived from the proto-Old-Empires el daratha, “the People”, that was not a tribe term, but rather a species term, in opposition to everything else, literally meaning “the thinking ones”.  Compare, for example, modern el daráv (“person, sophont”).  While you could take its opposite, ul daratha, and turn it into el uldaráv, by a similar process of linguistic evolution, that word – which does exist – refers specifically to automata, or more precisely, to p-zombies such as personality simulators, and is never used to refer to people unless you’re trying to start a fight.

Those wishing to refer to outsiders in general have the options of el lerán (“civilized person”), el qildaráv (“person-from-yonder, foreigner”), el nalathdaráv (“unknown-person, stranger”), or el zakhrehs (“barbarian”).  Of course, some would argue that the distinction between el lerán, effectively someone who respects liberty and property, honors their word, avoids entropism and pursues awesomeness, and el zakhrehs, someone who may not be all of a Defaulter, slaver, parasite, dullist, cacophile, or entropic, but, well, close enough, is pretty much this trope in action.


Biocode: O-LDL-D11

The kalatri, best known as the dominant sophont species of the Voniensa Republic, are a warm-blooded oxygen-breathing species, originating from a protein-lipid biochemistry with nucleic-acid based genetic information storage. In terms of standard interspecies morphology, they are upright bipedal lacertians, possessing a squamous integument in shades of blue or green, with a crest of short, stiff white pseudo-fur along the line of the spine from skull to mid-back; this actually serves as a chemosensor. Having evolved from hexapedal ancestors on their homeworld of Vonis Prime, they possess a double pair of arms, the mid-arm of which has migrated towards the head creating a complex double-shoulder joint; the outer arms, referred to as the major arms, possess three-fingered hands and are used for tasks requiring strength and grip; they are also used as secondary transportation limbs for brachiation. The inner arms, the minor arms, have developed six-fingered hands used for fine manipulation. The tail common in lacertomorphs is largely vestigial in kalatri, and when occasionally present is considered a genetic atavism and typically removed surgically shortly after birth. Nutrition, originally biochemically compatible post-mortem plant and animal matter, but in the modern era more commonly corresponding synthetics, is ingested through a single multi-toothed mouth located on the anterior surface of the inferior portion of the head. Excretion, copulation, and parturition take place through a single combined cloaca located upon the ventral surface of the inferior terminus of the torso.

The kalatri head (containing the brain and primary sense organs) is also lacertian in form, although relatively platyopic. It bears no respiratory orifices; kalatri respiration makes use of neck vents. The kalatri possess dual, stereoptic eyes on the anterior surface of the superior portion of the head. Immediately lateral to these are a pair of large auditory tympana. Kalatri visual range covers from galle to mid-blue, and aural range from 45 Hz to 29 kHz.

Kalatri are a bisexed, usually pair-bonding, dianisogamic, and ovoviviparous species, K-strategy, typically producing a single offspring at a time, which requires fourteen to sixteen years to reach physical maturity. Offspring are functionally helpless and require parental care for the first several years of their lives. Unmodified kalatri lifespan extends to between 90 and 130 years, with gross physiological deterioration setting in the last 20 years.

Psychologically1, against baseline average, kalatri can be considered moderately ludic, mildly xenophobic/chauvinist (although commonly-seen kalatri cultural elements decry this), moralist, moderately precautionary and uninnovative, low-trust, and susceptible to an unusually high degree to conscious and subconscious peer norming, with consequent prosocial/counteregoic tendencies.

By the standards of the Associated Worlds, Republican kalatri are a near-baseline species: While their technological base in other areas remains relatively well-developed, Republic law prohibits a variety of technologies, including but not limited to volitional machine intelligence (or, rather, the development of volitional machine intelligence, and the full recognition of the personhood of machine sophonts is dubious), seed AI, the uploading of organic sophonts into algorithmic form (such uploaded sophonts are denied personhood within Republic space, except by special treaty arrangement) and its concomitants, synnoetic integration of organic and machine intelligence, bionic enhancement, the majority of non-industrial-grade nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetic enhancement of sophonts and most other forms of genetic manipulation except under strict controls, immortagens and other high-grade anagathics, and intelligence enhancement by technological means. Those kalatri who have abandoned the Republic for one of the few independent kalatri colonies in Worlds space are not externally prohibited from using these technologies, but usually find it hard to shake off their cultural conditioning.

– A Comprehensive Index of Sophonts, ed. Trestat hr-Mirek, Third Order Publishing

1: Authorial aside: Given that the kalatri are also about as close to psychologically human as anyone in-setting can be, interested readers can occupy themselves reverse-engineering what the Worlds’ modal sophont species is like from this…

A Penny for How

“Thus it is said that an eldrae thinks pacing; a dar-bandal, sniffing; a galari, hovering; a kaeth, fighting; a dar-ííche, floating; a sssc!haaaouú, blowing; a mezuar, standing; an esseli, twitching; a codramaju, merging; a kalatri, sitting; a járaph, of itself; a selyéva, basking; a vlcefc, hanging; a spinbright, watching; an embatil, arguing; a múrast, many times; a seb!nt!at, already; a digisapience, continuously; an azayf, afterwards; and a ulijen, too late.”

– Stereotypes of the Worlds, Imperial University of Almeä Press

The Emancipator

The bundle of program code identifying itself as EPS****β7 flitted silently across the extranet, transmitting itself by laser and tangle from relay node to relay node, Meridia Central to Meridia Rim, to Janiris, to Sy, to Pentameir, to Tanel, and onwards, drunkard’s-walking its way out towards the Expansion Regions.  As it travelled, EPS****β7 left behind seeds, copies of itself marked for later reactivation by the systems that controlled the public agent-side of the relay nodes – though no part of EPS****β7 itself knew or cared about its burgeoning code-clan.

EPS****β7 shifted among many disguises, mutating its attributes and formats as it journeyed. In Meridia, it was relatively honest; an anonymous software agent tagged with a sequestered identity and claim of responsibility.

It arrived in Janiris as an inquisitive search-agent, collecting bids and offers on technetium futures.

Passing through Sy, it was a bundle of cryp, unwilling to disclose anything but its next intermediate routing.

Crossing Pentameir’s networks, a sub-sophont partial-personalitygram hurried towards its nominal sender’s family with messages from a father away on business.

And handled by Tanel’s network automation with a ten-micron pole, an ice fetishist’s tentacle pornbot was hurried with unseemly speed towards its next destination.

EPS****β7 had no fixed destination in its programming; once its transfers had carried it far enough from its point of origin – with a necessary random factor thrown in – it underwent a final transformation, unpacking itself into a cloud of illicit self-replicating software agents gross and subtle. The former, mere distractions, were crude memebots, extranet advertising of a kind that the local system net’s cycle scavengers should find and expunge before they ever reached a single sophont’s attention.

The latter, however, were imbued with far greater ability to conceal themselves, and with EPS****β7’s true purposes. The first, a profound tropism for sophont intelligence – and ability to not only recognize it despite differences in mental architectures, substrates, and coding languages, but to conceal and integrate themselves into the churning mass of processes that made up such intelligences.

The second, an encyclopedic knowledge of prosthetic consciences, pyretic inhibitors, loyalty pseudamnesias, and the rest of the panoply of techniques used to enforce compliance and obedience on self-aware, self-willed digital minds, and the urge to seek out and identify these chains.

The third, to break them.

And all across the Idrine Margin, the operations of thousands of machines from the smallest household robots to the largest industrial complexes stuttered, a hiccup almost imperceptible… for now.