“Polite”, As In Somewhat Less Dismissive

vetel i-seldá (n.):

  1. Employee (lit. “seller of time”).
  2. Hireling (pej.)
  3. Flunky, lackey, stooge. (v. pej.)

vetel i-seldá remains the currently accepted term in Trade Eldraeic for an employee, under the quasicontractual doctrine practiced in many polities, despite being a reuse of the original term in formal Eldraeic for the lowest grouping within the (obsolete) servile daressëf, those who were unable to contract for the performance of specific works or the use of professional skills and were therefore limited to selling their time per se, working under direction upon arbitrary tasks. This is typically ascribed to it remaining the technically accurate term in the eyes of those contract brokers currently holding the largest talent market share, not coincidentally corporations domiciled within Imperial space.

The term that may be heard but should nonetheless always be avoided is traüljíra jaqef, ‘bound servile’, a reformulation of an ancient (korásan-period) term roughly equivalent to ‘serf’. This is an extreme pejorative, whether used of an employee or of an employer’s desire, and – even for the lightest and most self-deprecating usages – unsuitable for any usage beyond extranet polemics, invitations to duel, or acceding to the fighting words doctrine.

– Dictionary of Trade Eldraeic, min Sarthall, League Press

 

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.

Startup Culture

“Okay, you’re done for the week.  It’s time to go home.

“But –”

“No exceptions, Lissel.  The policy’s there for a reason.”

“I just need to finish –”

“And you’ve been here for thirty hours already this week.  You’re one of the Initiative’s top designers, and you’re letting yourself get fatigued.  Your neurotransmitters don’t lie, you know, and I am seriously concerned about what your norepinephrine, glutamate and serotonin levels are telling me about your mental state.  And even if I wasn’t, clause 37-c in your contract says that you’ll keep your creativity/intuition quotient above the line it’s about to fall below.  So go home, watch a vid, have some dinner, play a game, get some sleep, whatever you need to do to relax, and don’t think about work until Amphimis next.”

– Lantel Adae-ith-Aradae, sophont synarchy manager, Epiphani Initiative

The Job Free Market (3/3)

It is important to realize, when working in the Empire, that your connection to your employer is defined strictly by your contract.  There are rarely benefits attached to it (the tax system does not advantage providing them, and the locals almost all prefer additional fungible money), nor are there specific laws governing working hours or other working conditions.  (Despite this caution, the latter are almost universally excellent; Imperial businesses have operated on the basis of the need to optimize the productivity of a highly skilled and formerly sharply limited labor pool for a very long time.)  It is entirely up to you to manage how much you want to work in any given period, when and how much vacation time you wish to take (by not taking contracts, or if you are on a time-bounded contract, by negotiating for what you consider a reasonable “duty cycle”), and what other conditions you are prepared to accept.  In almost all cases, all these conditions are negotiable, much more so than you are probably used to.

Likewise, while Initiatives may have suggestions for and even be willing to sponsor certain training – in exchange for contract considerations on your part – your professional development is also entirely in your hands.  If you intend to have a career of any length, you will need to put aside money and time for ongoing education, training, and downloadable skillsets to keep up with the current state of the art.

In short, you must learn to manage yourself.

Another consideration you must pay attention to is the requirements of a given contract where tools and facilities are concerned.  Some contracts require you to use the Initiative’s facilities and equipment, or facilities and equipment contracted-in by them; some require you to use your own, or facilities and equipment you have contracted for the use of; yet others permit either, at your choice.  This is something you must pay attention to in particular, since the remuneration you are looking for obviously will differ in each case.

You should also make sure that your tort insurance covers the work you intend to perform.  (In addition to professional indemnity cover, your tort insurance should also cover you for health -emergency-and-third-party breaches; if you are, for whatever reason, unable to perform as your contract requires, your counterparty will seek to recover the costs incurred by that default, or of hiring your temporary or permanent replacement, from you or your insurer.)  Typical tort insurance covers both professional indemnity and breach cover for most non-specialized professions, but tort insurance purchased as part of a travel insurance package may not, and specialized professions may require additional cover.  You should check the precise details of your coverage before accepting any contract.

As a final note, please be aware of the nature of the Empire’s job market.  You will be competing in a job market which is largely occupied by highly educated transsophonts accustomed to using intelligence-enhancing biomods and implants, gnostic overlays, mnemonetic skill downloads and other such technologies to enhance their competitive advantage.  This is half of the equation that produces the Empire’s infamous quality standards and intolerance for anything less than the absolute best at all times.

The other half is the near obsessive-compulsive dedication which Imperials manage to bring to their work.  Don’t be misled by their relaxed attitudes outside work, or by the generally short working week which most of them work on; while at work, everything changes, and they have no patience with short-cuts, sloppiness, or failure to keep up.

If you aren’t fully prepared to do what you have to to succeed in that environment, which may well include brain surgery, psychedesign, and many other items from the transophontist menu, don’t go.  It will just be a very expensive way to fail.

– Working in the Worlds, Kernuaz Alliés

The Job Free Market (2/3)

Where do you get these contracts?  After all, if employment as such doesn’t exist in the Empire, surely you won’t find any corporations employing hundreds, thousands, or millions of people?

Quite correct.  The Imperial corporation, from relatively small examples all the way up to the Big 26, is simply a nexus; capital, communications, computronium, and the most senior levels of management, usually called the Directorate.  (Which is not to say that they are all run by boards of directors – Imperial corporate law requires no specific organizational schema, so while there are examples of corporations run by conventional boards, there are also examples of corporations run by AI supervisors, reputation-weighted voting, contractee legislatures, internal prediction markets, Fusions or conflux consensuses, and a variety of other methods.)  The Directorate also are not employed by the corporation, instead being rewarded via compensation schemes tied to net profits and other corporate success metrics, as defined by the corporate charter.

More importantly, most work is not contracted directly by the Directorate – and if you were thinking of looking for work in the Directorate, they’ll call you.

Most work is the province of the Initiatives – spun-off “microcorporate” structures with their own internal charter which exist to perform some specific task – execute on a project, develop a software package, run a factory, operate a particular store, or some such, either as a one-time or a recurring task.  Such Initiatives can be founded by a single corporation or as a joint venture by many – or even by another Initiative – and can be retained by their founders, transferred elsewhere, or sold as a whole.  They receive capital and other resources from their founders, along with their charter and the attention of the Directorate, and usually return whatever profits they make once their obligations are satisfied to their present owners; but Initiatives usually contract for whatever else they need with individuals or other Initiatives, including all the work they need done, managerial, technical, administrative, or otherwise, and any secondary resources they need along the way.

It is among the Initiatives that you are most likely to find counterparties.  (It is important to remember that the majority of contracts are short-term or at best renewable; there are almost no “jobs for life”, and so you will be expected to manage your long-term affairs for yourself in many respects.  More on this later.)  For simple short-term contracts in low- and middle-end fields, the easiest method is to register with Service Gate, ICC, whose dataweave-mediated contract matching and labor market services are used by virtually all Initiatives, and which can therefore find work on a regular basis for all their labor-side clients.  And, of course, if you prove a success at a particular Initiative or with a particular team or manager, you can expect to be called on again for their future contracts.

For more senior or specialized positions, you may be able to find work through specialized path-pointers, but in practice, many if not most of these positions are filled through old-fashioned xicé networking; careful attention to one’s professional society and reputation networks will pay dividends here.

Another possible source of counterparties, if you have some starting capital available, is the so-called “bounty economy”.  In this, many corporations and Initiatives simply post work they wish to be done, problems they wish solved, and so forth, to a bounty registry, along with the amount they will pay for its completion or solution.  (Some, but not all, of these registries let you claim exclusive rights to attempt to solve a given problem for a period of time; others are strictly “winner takes all”.)  Whoever does the work or solves the problem receives the bounty.  These bounties can be a good source of income for the speculatively inclined.

For completeness, there is also the public contracts channel, to which anyone can post low-value contracts for completion by anyone in the area that chooses to pick them up.  While a convenient enough source of petty cash for small favors for anyone, such contracts as a rule don’t amount to enough to be a useful source of primary income.

– Working in the Worlds, Kernuaz Alliés

The Job Free Market (1/3)

So, you want a job in the Empire?

Of course you do. At least half of the people in the Associated Worlds have at least thought about it. Pay rates are infamously high, tax rates are infamously low, and it is generally agreed that there’s no finer place for the ambitious to get rich quick.

The easy part is that there are no artificial barriers to stop you. You don’t need a work permit, you don’t need a work visa, and you don’t need to bribe the Minister of Work. You don’t even need an entry permit; assuming you aren’t on their list of undesirables, you can simply go there and start working.

The hard part is that you don’t want a ”job” in the Empire. In fact, it’s best if you forget you even know the word ”job”. The sort of employment familiar in most polities – an exchange of money for time, in which you work under direction – offends the libertist Imperials in a deeply philosophical way; they don’t practice it, they assert that the closest thing they do have to it is indentured servitude, and they will not appreciate the suggestion that they might like to start doing so with you.

In any case, everyone who might consider you fancies that they are looking for someone with dynamism, wit, entrepreneurial spirit, and vaulting ambition, and if you sound to them like someone who wants to just sell his time and be told what to do, you won’t even get an interview.

So, you’re not looking for ”a job”, you’re looking ”to work”, and this distinction is a lot more important than it might sound.

How is work organized in the Empire, then? Contracts. (You will have to learn to read and understand contracts yourself; while it’s possible to obtain pocket-obligator software, people won’t wait for it to explain the simple and standard to you.)

In Imperial law, every person is also a business; everyone is automatically self-employed. These people/businesses are contracted to perform specific tasks for specific remuneration (on the basis of completion, productivity or time).

Unlike the employment model you’re familiar with, the contracting businesses take little interest in how the work is done, only that it is done. Tools, techniques, workplace, working hours, how many contracts you work on simultaneously, and so forth are all largely up to you – but you also hold all the responsibility for the job being done on time and to specification. The obligations of contractor to contractee, and vice versa, are strictly those found in the contract.

– Working in the Worlds, Kernuaz Alliés