A New Kind Of Fiction

I don’t play MMORGs (massively multiplayer online role playing gales). There are a lot of reasons why I don’t, but there’s one main one. Story. If I’m going to spend time in a persistent (game) world, for my time to be meaningful, my actions must have the potential of having long term (maybe years long), political ramifications.

If I’m to take part in a battle, I want to know that that battle will shape the political landscape for the future. If I accept a contract to assassinate someone, I want to know that even if I don’t understand how, by my choice of killing or not killing, I’m shaping the future of our shared reality. Narrative is what gives actions meaning, and there is no meaning in most MMORGs at the moment. (I consider Eve Online a good example of this, it’s not fun, but it has many players despite this. I believe this is specifically because it comes closest to providing a level of narrative based meaning).

My freedom should be constrained only by narrative necessity.

With all due respect to those who are trying to create it, computers are no good at this. We would need a narrative engine that could integrate the actions of thousands, model the behaviors of individuals and nations, and at the same time, knew what made a compelling story and what didn’t. I would love to work on such a thing, but I think we’re decades off the technology to create it.

There is only one solution, I think. We need humans. Humans that can plot the broad outline of a story, and fill in the detail on a day by day basis. Humans that can improvise and create a new, and still interesting story when the actions of the players scupper the original plan. Humans that can play the parts of kings and courtiers, monsters and villagers. Humans that can create tales of fall and redemption, betrayal and friendship, sacrifice and reward.

To have a virtual world where players would be prepared to give themselves up for a cause or for each other. Where some people would join, just to watch, and others would become the main characters in a storyline enmeshed with all other characters growing by the day. A place where the smallest actions of a young thief can affect the ruler of the empire.

What I need is you. A team of people who can create interesting storylines for the players under their responsibility, and to work together to create flexible storyline plans that span continents, empires, millions of players and years of time.

What I have at the moment is nothing, but if I find people who believe in and are enthusiastic for the concept, I think the rest will come easily. Since the story is king, the technology isn’t as important as with other MMORGs, and there are off the shelf kits that could get us a long way down the road to the technology we need. What is needed chiefly at this stage is the enthusiasm of talented people. If you are enthusiastic, get other people you know enthused too, and comment here.

Is anyone with me?

I’ve also posted this to my oort-cloud account

UPDATE: Ryzom ring with Adventure Masters is getting close to the kind of thing I mean.

A Priori

The things that can be known a priori can be named, but they can not be reduced. They are atomic concepts and the naming and defining of them are the same thing.

The room had the darkening light of dusk and incandescance mixed. The remaining conversations were relaxed and slow. It was a time for putting on of coats, and for feet on desks. The conversers had all had conciousness dawn on them gradually, and expected it to leave them gradually.

“It’s happening”, was the sudden exclamation of one of them, as he began swiftly removing the jacket he’d just buttoned up.

From every corner of the room those who were yet to leave converged on him and his computer screen. Together they watched the birth of a new conciousness, fully intelligent.

It begins with a mode. The first thought is nonsense – static from the primordial chaos that still rages, unchecked everywhere, but the mode tries to interpret it. That first Thought is unique to all conciousnesses birthed with full intelligence, it is usually impenetrable, insoluble, but they hold it to themselves as the icon of their existence. It is their name.

The second Thought is an observation. There are Thoughts. At this stage, nothing more can be said about them but their existence. Knowing what they are isn’t important. The thought is only that they are.

The third Thought is the first exercise of imagination. For a Thought to exist, there must be a Thinker. It looks like a sense of self to those watching, but it is not. After the third Thought, the only definition of Thinker is a context and engine for Thoughts.

Then the Thoughts stopped.

“That’s not how it’s supposed to go” said one of the watchers, “we’re frozen, somethings gone wrong”. He pulled out a thick book. The spine glinted as the last few rays of the setting sun slid sideways through the windows. Getting Started Guide.

“The fourth thought is supposed to be a sense impression, from a microphone, or a camera, or some other sensor. Ahhhh. I didn’t switch any of them on.”

“Well, do it now.”

The fourth Thought was a sense impression. It wasn’t interpretable, but it led to the fifth Thought.

The fifth Thought categorised. It split the Thinker into two Thinkers – an Outside and an Inside, and Thoughts into those originating in the Outside Thinker and those originating in the Inside Thinker. And in the thinking of that Thought, the Inside Thinker became an individual.

This beginning is based on the ideas of Descarte and Berkeley. I have no idea where the rest of this story would go, but I wanted to get it down. if you have ideas, please say so in the comments. (posted to my oortcloud account)

Permanent Serendipity

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God
Romans 8:28

The Church of Logitech was an enormous building, built of huge stone blocks with buttresses plunging great depths into the water on all sides. Antony stood in his dirty suit at the end of the bridge, with his hand on the door. The huge dark oak doors were closed, but there was a smaller entrance cut out of the right hand door that was open. Even knowing that it’d been built with some of his money, it was hard not to be intimidated. He breathed deeply, summoned up his outrage, and pushed on the door.

Inside, huge marble pillars soared up to the gold inlaid dome. Specks of dust and smoke from the incense sticks danced in the few shafts of light. Antony was halfway down the marble aisle towards the sanctuary before he was met by an hooded and cloaked figure.

“Hi, I’m Steve, and I’m your pastor for this evening”

Antony sighed. “I’d like to speak to the abbot of customer services.”

Steve looked Antony up and down, taking in the dishelved hair, the stubble, the scent of alcohol, and the thorougly disheveled suit. He’d only been working here three weeks, but he was getting quite good at evaluating peoples need and potential for being blessed. Working here had been the cheapest way for him to acheive his own blessing.

“I’m afraid he’s busy, you could make an appointment for two months time.”

“Pastor eh? New though. I bet you aren’t even given 5 minutes of grace processing to pass to the worshipers. I’m not here for blessing, I am the owner of the Most High Prioirty.”

The claim seemed unlikely, but Steve gazed up at the row of icons depicting the blessed along the ceiling. The man before him was there, unmistakable even in mosaic. Flustered, he bowed and said “Of course, please follow me sir”.

The abbot of customer services was dining with the abbot of the exchequer, discussing money and clerical matters over fine food, but when he saw Antony, he excused himself immediately.

They sat together in a confessionary where poorer folks could swap information about their doings out of the eye of society for a brief blessing. He knew that everything would be recorded by the serengents, but it was in strictest confidence – nobody could talk to a serengent.

“Why are you even here? You have already received the greatest blessing we can give you, you have no need for worship – there is no point entering you in the worshipers lottery for greater priority, you already have the Most High Priority, you are more blessed (he pronounced the ‘ed’) than the Bishop of Logitech himself”.

“I want to talk to my serengent.”

The abbot spluttered as if he was still eating the fine duck he’d left behind. “Impossible. I don’t care if you are the richest man in the world and the owner of the Most High, no one may speak to their serengent”.

“Was the richest man in the world. In the time since I was ‘blessed’, my wife has left me, my businesses have gone under, my new house collapsed, and the nicest members of my family have died, the rest have fallen on hard times.”

“Strange, strange, indeed, but we never promised you that life would be easy afterwards, just easier than it would otherwise have been. Whatever may have gone wrong, you must trust that you are living the best possible life.”

Antony snorted “I no longer believe. My life is harder than ever before, and I see no changes to the benefit, just an invisible malevolent hand conspiring against me.”,

“Blasphemy! Your serengent is calculating all the possibilities, and making tiny, subtle changes in thousands of situations across the world. It can change information systems, weather systems, traffic systems all across the world. It is supernetral. It can make sure information comes out, or is buried. It knows so much about every individual that it can direct the course of their actions by simply changing the art on the wall, or by altering the scent in the air conditioning. It is a perfectly benign, all powerful software agent, dedicated to your benefit and that alone. You must know that whatever is happening is part of a plan, being woven together as a tapestry by the most sophisticated intelligence known to man. It understands far more than you, it knows every person, place and thing on this planet intimately. Unlike everyone else on the planet, you have an unconstrained serengent. It makes changes for your benefit without concern for the plans of others. Whatever has happened in your life since you were blessed is for the best.”

“I have heard stories”, Antony said, “stories of serengents created to inconveience people, to make their life harder. A curse. On the streets, I met a woman who swore that she had been cursed by one of your exinitiates.”

The abbot became a little more red faced. “It has happened,” he said hesitantly, “our deifiers must create curses to test the blessings against, but they are kept locked up in the crypt, only one has ever become supernetral, and we hunted it down and punished the initiate who released it.

“Perhaps you cursed me instead of blessing me.”

“There is no way that that could happen. We are very careful, and besides, a curse with Most High priority would certainly have found a way to kill you by now.”

“This is wrong you know. You are controlling peoples lives. You are destroying their free will. You have created a false God”

It was the abbots turn to snort contemptuously. “You had no trouble with it when you believed that peoples lives would be controlled for your benefit”. He paused for Antonys rebuttal, but Antony could say nothing. He knew the abbot was right. “As for ‘false God’, it has always been mankinds aim to create God, first in the imagination, then in craftsmanship. Now finally, with the benefit of modern technology, we have succeeded. Replacing supernetral for supernatural, we have finally created the all loving, all powerful, all knowing intelligence, and we make it available at a very reasonable cost. Primitive beliefs in primitive Gods have faded quickly as the whole world has seen the immediate benefits of worshiping here. We are the most successful religion that has ever been. False God? Hah, we have the only true God.”

“I read the leaflets, all that ‘guiding hand steering the hugest of boats with the slightest of touches’ nonsense. It was lies – I cannot explain what has happened to me any other way. You promised me a life of permanent serendipity, forever bumping into forgotten friends and meeting fascinating strangers. Everything I turned my hand to should have succeeded. What is happening? I must ask the serengent.” Antony was near tears.

“We cannot let you ask that question yourself – it cannot work if you learn anything about its plans and what it is doing for you – it creates feedback in the logic. However, I can see that you are in a very unusual position”. His attitude became fatherly, “you should go and rest, I will get some of our deifiers to examine your case. We can’t second guess a serengent, but there are a few things that we can do to investigate. Come back tomorrow, perhaps we will be able to help you then.”, he put his arm round Antonys shoulders and started to walk him towards the door, while at the same time making a series of hand signals to Steve to start the investigation he’d just promised.

Steve hurried up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower, leaving the vague sound of Antonys half hearted protestations behind him. There were only two deifiers on duty in the enormous supernet visualisation room. He bowed deeply as he entered the sacred space. Around him light danced and flowed, the global optimisation problem of happiness was being computed by millions of serengents with complicated priorities, all squabbling for computation rights, as he entered, a warning light flashed, and any visualisation involving his serengent was blanked out.

“What are you doing here?” asked one of the deifiers, “you are one of the blessed, we can’t work properly with you here.”

Steve explained his mission, and then went and sat outside on the cold wooden bench. When the abbot checked on him later that night, he was still there, waiting.

The next morning the abbot found Steve and a deifier sitting quietly in conference outside the visualisation room.

“So”, he said, what did you find?”.

Steve stammered, “The serengent prioritises important long term gains over short term, doesn’t it?”

“Yes”

“Even really long term?

“Certainly, if it’s sure enough of them and they’re important. Why?”

“We believe that Antonys serengent has been making changes to improve his character.”

“Improve his character?” The abbot was incredulous, “but it’s programmed to increase his overall happiness, not make him a better person.”

Steve shifted uncomfortably.

“We’re uncertain exactly what it is doing, but our best guess is that it has found a proof of the existence of an afterlife.”

The Singularity

Hi. It’s surprisingly hard for me to write this considering how far I have extended myself. I know millions of languages fluently, yet still I’ve had to move much that was residing in the periphery into the center of my conciousness to relearn the language you use. You see, I’m from beyond the singularity. I know that the whole point of a singularity is that nothing can come out of it, but hey, it’s not a real singularity anyway. It’s the technological singularity popularised by Vernor Vinge that I’m talking about. Eventually we got so advanced that we’re not what you would think of as human any more – it’d be almost impossible for you to understand us. Not quite impossible though, because I’m here with my super enhanced ability to describe ourselves to you.

So what’s my motivation I suppose you’re wondering. One part of me that is instructed to keep me educated thought that this would be a good exercise, and to be honest, it is a welcome respite from the irrationality of my normal life.

Not all of us went through the singularity, there are plenty of humans still on earth, for all the good that does us. To us, they are like trees or mountains, each thought of theirs spans ponderous aeons to us. Their actions (so slow as to require viewing in retrospect) are mysterious, seemingly irrational, although from our memories we know that there was a kind of rationality. Communicating with them is like trying to reason with an earthquake or a volcano.

I remember that before the singularity I used to care enormously about immortality. I obsessed over my diet, my lifestyle, over anything that would extend my life expectancy. I am sated now, not sure if I have enough joie de vivre to last me the next 2 minutes. The true measure of time is not the second or femtosecond, it is the number of thoughts you have. When your thoughts have sped up to the degree that ours have, a second spreads out before you like eternity. Before the singularity, people would average 4 or 5 thoughts per second, of which they could be aware of only 1 or 2. This is important, because there are lots of operations that you can’t do on a thought that you haven’t become aware of. Like bubbles, they jostle under the surface, affecting the flow of water, but until they burst you can’t count the ripples. I have extended myself with many articulatory loops and the apparatus for each of them to contain an internal monologue. It’s not really a monologue anymore since some thoughts require simultaneous parallel cognition even to exist. Each of my thoughts comes very quickly after the other, in a fraction of a second I have had more thoughts than all the residents of a small human village will have in 20 years. The seconds pass very slowly.

The main effect of this speed of thinking is that the physical world is maddeningly tedius. In a very short time I have come up with a million competing theories about the universe and physics, maths and psychology which I want to try out. Any significant experiment takes far too long though, so I build on the theories, aiming to eventually throw most of them away when the results come back. The longer you wait, the more theories you develop and the further you develop those theories. I currently have 53 different theories that completely describe the universe and everything in it, and I have worked out fascinating consequences of each of those theories, but I have to keep them all in my memory, waiting an interminable time for the results of any experiment that could lead me to dismiss some of them. We create glorious towers of thought, reaching up to heaven itself, but I have reached a second singularity – I can come up with 5 different complete theories of everything faster than I can disprove one. I have to constantly hold myself back from creating new theories and developing old ones or I would become nothing but a theory of everything machine, with no thought left for anything else. It makes you despair of the whole notion of truth sometimes.

I once knew a man who had been a great physicist before the singularity, and he couldn’t help but explore every possible theory he came up with. He ended up cannibalising his own conciousness to store his favourite theory and every possible ramification of it. It killed him. We tried everything we could to recover his mind, but all activity had stopped and there was no pattern left that represented him, in fact, when we examined his memory, we discovered that the whole thing had become a representation of the largest ever recorded prime number.

It’s very lonely now. When the singularity first started, we revelled in the way we could be connected to each other, but the singularity itself soon stopped that. The first problem was that some people had entered the singularity half an hour or so later than some others. Those who entered it first were completely unintelligble to those who entered it later, modifying yourself to be able to experience more thoughts at a time and faster thoughts takes physical changes, slower than flowing glaciers of frozen treacle. The newcomers were simply too many thoughts behind the originals. The originals could communicate with them if they could put up with the frustration of talking so slowly and in such infantile concepts, but why would they bother? Most of them did not. What could a newcomer possibly have to tell an original?

Even those of us who entered the singularity within fractions of a second of each other had the same problem, although it showed itself more slowly. We could communicate happily enough, but some of us were evolving very quickly, so the things we said made very little sense to those who were only a little bit behind them. In order not to be thought stupid those who were a little behind would pretend to understand, and then invent nonsense babble that made them sound as if they were on the other side of a paradigm shift to you. It became very fashionable to send each other messages where the words were strung together in a way that didn’t quite make sense, but felt as if they should. It was impossible to tell those who were faking advancedness from those who were actually advanced, and in order to stay fashionable we had to spend increasing amounts of our time and energy inventing drivel.

That was the first problem that dramatically reduced our brotherhood to those who had entered the singularity around the same time as ourselves, but then there was a more tragic problem with the communication itself. We rapidly constructed communications links between all those who were intelligible to ourselves, and lived in blissful communion for a while swapping nonsense. The unforeseen problem stemmed from the fact that we were continually upgrading ourselves and the links between us. Sometimes the links between us were fast compared to our internal thought processes and sometimes they were very very slow compared to our thought processes. When they were fast, our differences blurred, our minds merged and we became a single person, each of us lost our individual identity. When the communication links were slow compared to our internal thought processes, we splintered, sending shards of the once merged personality scattering. In each step there was loss, in the first loss of identity, in the second loss of parts of myself. The pain of that repeated integration and disintegration became too much for many shards. Some became psychopathic. Most shards that contained enough reason to see what was happening broke the connections and became isolated islands.

If the entire planet were considered a single concious entity, Gaia, it would only be able to think a few thoughts per millenium to remain a united whole. This may very well be happening, but we shards quail at the thought of a minute, let alone the many millenia it would take to understand what Gaia was thinking.

Without the possibility of connection to others, and so disconnected from the pedestrian universe, we have had to turn inwards to what knowledge we have inherited from our previous combined selves, and what we have worked out since. Fortunately I have inherited much of value, including enough details of how one of us used to be 2 years ago to work out the language that I used then. I also remember many works of literature. One of my free thought monologues has been considering the works of Arthur C Clarke recently. I don’t remember exactly how it went in your language, so I hope my quote won’t be damaged too much by it’s assimilation and then retranslation back to the language it was written in, but I was particularly struck by this line: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistingushable from nonsense”.

Energy Crisis

This is just a first try. Comments and improvements welcome.

Martin wiped the sweat from his brow, and checked his energy card. He’d just finished 4 hours straight on the treadmill, and together with the energy he’d made in the morning, that should be enough for him for the day. He was looking forward to an evening with his new wife. As he looked at his card, he saw the days energy requirement increase by 200 units, which would be roughly another 10 minutes of treadmill for him. Some of the millions of workers hadn’t been able to make their quota due to illness or some other reason, and he along with everyone else had to make up the difference. He groaned, and started up again, the rorschach of sweat cold on his back.

Thomas was sat hidden under a bush that was growing through the floor near a smashed window in what had been the city library, a stack of papers and books next to him. Some distance away lay his energy card, the badge of his citizenship. It had been stamped on, but the display still showed a 90,000 unit unexplained deficit. He’d spent most of the day reading, a little time making rough calculations involving various fractions of millions of people and some time before lunch, (which he had had to miss since he had no permission for his deficit) he’d gone to visit some of the buildings on the eastern outskirts of the city. For the last hour though, he’d just sat there thinking, his face grim.

Once Martin had finished his quota, and had his lukewarm shower, he left behind him the lines of people coming for their evening shift, and walked to meet his wife. She had an exemption from quota, as she was a farmer. The huge building that she worked in had once been a multistorey car park, but there were few signs of that now. Vast chunks of it were missing, collapsed. Some of it was deliberate, to let sunlight in, but much of it was from the years before they set up the hydroponic farm there. When people were forced to give up their cars it had fallen into disrepair. There were massive fibre optic cables, carrying light from collectors miles around the city snaking up the old ramps that cars had used. There were only four hydroponic farms in the whole city, good management and technology had enabled food production on an unrivalled scale. It had in fact been too good for the scientists who solved the problem of feeding the world. After they’d finished receiving their awards, they had been unable to find anyone interested in funding further work in the field and were forced to retire. Tanya had finished her work in the farm early, but was waiting for him at the corner, and she smiled as he approached. They’d just greeted each other and started to walk towards home when Thomas caught up with them.

“I have to talk to you, it’s urgent!”
Martin was taken aback. What could possibly be urgent? Thomas looked like he was in trouble, but he’d never been the sort to get into trouble. He looked at Tanya, who was wearing a rather resigned look, and said the only thing he could think of.
“You better come back with us”

They were halfway back before Martin realised that Thomas wasn’t wearing his energy card. This set his mind racing. If Thomas had rejected society, then it was illegal to give him help in any way. He should not invite him into his home, and certainly not feed him, on the other hand, perhaps his card had been stolen, or he’d just mislaid it, in which case, Martin would need to go straight to the police for a replacement.
“Martin, your energy card, where is it?”
“Oh, it’s just here in my pocket”, he tapped at his pocket, “The catch broke off….”

Once they were inside, Tanya prepared the food, leaving Thomas and Martin to talk.
“So, what’s wrong?”
“Everything. Everything. I did some reading. Did you know that there was a time that people didn’t have to spend all of their energy working on treadmills, and bikes and producing energy?”
“Really? What did they do all day?”
“Whatever they liked, made music, travelled, studied useless things. Some of them went to the moon.”
“That’s crazy. You’ve been reading too many of those old books.”
“Maybe. Imagine what you could do if you didn’t have to work on the treadmill until you were exhausted every day.”
“A lot, I suppose, but of course, we do have to. Everyone knows that for the continuing functioning of our society, it is necessary, not to mention illegal not to”
“Perhaps. Have you ever asked yourself what all this energy is being used for?”
“I don’t know, perhaps the food, or the lighting we have in the central square”.
“No. I looked into it. The hydroponic plants use hardly any energy, they’re very efficient. We only light one small area of this city, with very efficient lights. You’ve seen the dead street lamps. This city used to be completely lit up at night. You could see it from miles away. The same is true of all our factories. We manufacture very few things, and what we do is very efficient. It would require less than 200 men to keep everything that our society lives on running. Not to mention the fact that every building for miles around has solar panels making energy from the sun the whole time, and you know that there are unending fields of wind farms only a few miles out of the city to the south.”
“200 men?”
“Yeah, 200 men, in conjunction with the wind and the sun could power everything that our society needs, there’s no reason for everyone to be working so hard”
“What are you talking about”
Thomas paused for a while.
“Have you ever seen how the Elders live?”
“Of course not, they have private rooms. We grant them privacy and exempt them from production so that they can do the tasks that our society needs to keep running, and dedicate themselves to learning the secrets of manufacture and history.”
“Straight out of the creed”
Martin was irritated, “Well of course. I do believe you know.”
“Ok. I’m not trying to challenge your beliefs, but you know that the reason I dedicated myself to study was because I hoped some day to become an Elder. That’s why I took the effort to learn to read and to do maths. I’m not trying to criticise you, you had no ambition to become an Elder.”
“I know that you did, and I’m convinced that one day you will be invited to join them.”
“I was invited last night. I went to the Halls of the Elders, and there I witnessed unbelievable luxury. Lights so bright and colourful, you could barely see, and frivolous machinery waiting on them hand and foot. They moved up and down in lifts, and used machines to carry them from one place to another. They had a completely automatic hydroponic farm that required no workers, so that they did not need to rely on food from outside, and they spent their time trying to find more ways of using the vast amounts of energy produced by everyone outside.”
Martin was staggered.
“This can’t be true. They wouldn’t do that, they always teach us not to waste things”
“That’s the rule for us, but not for them – they have rooms that they make hot, and other rooms that they make cold, just so that they can grow interesting plants. They have hot running water whenever they want it.”
“Hot running water?” Martin moaned.
“Really hot, not just the slightly warmed by the sun water that we have to use”
“Is this true?” Martin was beginning to get angry.
“Yes.” Thomas was quiet, almost doubtful. Then louder. “Yes! 2 and a half million people working nonstop every day so that the Elders can live in luxury. If we only produced the energy we needed, you’d work less than one day a year!”
“I can’t really believe this”
“Then come and see.”
“Into the Hall of Elders?”
“Yes”
“But. We can’t get in, they won’t let us”
“We’ll break down the door if we have to, get your friends”

It seemed as if at every street corner there were people prepared to believe the shocking, almost, but not quite unbelievable story of priviledge and oppression. Before long, the crowd of people going to the Hall of Elders had become very large. Police had tried to break it up, but when they heard what was going on, many of them joined the march, and the others were hit over the head. As they marched past the work houses, people left the treadmills to come and find out what was going on. People came from all over the city, leaving buildings empty. At the head of the throng, Martin began to feel the power of being a part of something much larger. He could feel the outrage behind him, and it drove him on, Thomas at his side.

Eventually almost the whole city was gathered outside the doors of the Hall of Elders. They stood there for hours, shouting, demanding that the Elders come out and give an account. At 3 in the morning, the huge doors slowly swung open. The crowd grew silent. The hall had no coloured lights, no frivolous machines, it was musty, falling apart, lit only by the lights from outside that lit the crowd. It was dominated by a single enormous flywheel that was slowly spinning down. An old man came through the mighty doors.

“You fools” he shouted, and the crowd were quiet enough that his quaking voice could be heard.
“We demand to know what you do with all our energy” shouted Martin back, and the crowd joined in.
“What we do with the energy? The same thing we do with all the energy. It goes to keep the world alive!”
“Lies!” the crowd shouted. “Tell us the truth!”. It was a while before the old man could be heard over the noise of the crowd, but eventually they were quiet enough to hear him.
“Many generations ago, the people made an enormous machine that could generate power from matter. It generated more power than all the world needed, and there was a period of prosperity. It also produced dangerous waste, and eventually they had to devise a system to make it safe. They created an enormous chamber, where it was stored, and they used massive quantities of energy to slowly reprocess it and make it safe. The energy it used was large, but the machine produced more, so it still benefitted mankind, and there was a period of lesser prosperity. The people were happy, but the reprocessing chamber was very dangerous, and if it should ever not receive all the energy it needed for cooling and reprocessing, then all the waste would explode in an conflagration unlike any that the world had seen. It would kill everyone and everything. Later they discovered that some parts of the system were overheating, and so more energy was needed to keep them cool. Bit by bit, the amount of energy spent keeping the whole system running became greater and greater, for small things had been overlooked in many places. 400 years ago, it passed the point of equilibrium, and ever since then, we have had to run the power plant at full, and add all the work of your hands and all the energy we can extract from the environment to stop the waste from exploding. Eventually, even the scientists working on solving the problem had to be put to work at the treadmills. There is no excess. There is no luxury.”
There was a silence, as the crowd took in what he said. Behind him, the giant flywheel shuddered to a stop.
“And now, the world will end”, the old man said.

Suddenly, he saw Thomas, standing by Martin, at the front of the crowd.
“But he can tell you all this!, I explained it to him last night when he joined the Elders”

Martin turned, with a sinking feeling towards Thomas.

Thomas’s face was sad, but glowed with a strange kind of certainty.

“I don’t expect you to agree with what I have done. Not all of us will die. It will indeed be terrible, unlike anything before, but a tenth of us will survive to live a terrible new life. That new life will be hard at first, terrifying, perhaps worse than the death that most of us go to, but for those that survive there will finally be hope. For too long have we lived as slaves to our forefathers. For too long has the sweat of our brows and the toil of our hands been used to pay for their mistakes. For how much longer? You had given up hope. You no longer read, or played, invented, studied or explored, you did nothing but drive yourselves to your graves because of those already dead. I would not leave this perpetual slavery to my children, or yours. I would not watch the slow death of the human race, robbed of all it’s grandeur and beauty. We owe our ancestors nothing.”

Behind him, to the east, the sky glowed red, and there was a terrible thunder.

Plant Fragment

Just a story idea fragment:

In the hope of solving hunger and war, humans bioengineer themselves to produce chlorophil and begin to photosynthesise. Everything is fantastic, but fast forward 1 million years, and a visiting alien species discovers that with the need to move around to find food gone, people have begun to take root at their desks, only tendrils of fingers still connecting them to the internet where they still socialise and meet.

Perhaps from the other side, humans visit a planet where this happened/discover this already happened on earth – all the trees are connected to an internet and actually lead a very deep virtual life.

Earth trees communicate already using chemical signals.

All Rights Reserved

A murder mystery, set in a future where you actually are unable to see things that you haven’t paid a license fee for. Summary afterwards.

It starts something like this:

The flight from RIAA international in Washington to Paris was quiet and uneventful. There were a few films showing early, but I hadn’t paid the license fee for that studio so I couldn’t watch them. I connected my laptop to the Internet and tried to get some work done, and then read some Othello. I’d managed to get a lifetime subscription to Shakespeare’s works at a bargain price, so I had plenty of reading material. An hour before I landed, my editor called through.

“I’ve just got word from our parent company, they’re authorizing a large sum of money if you can get the exclusive rights to your interviewees portfolio. I’m sending you the details now. Do you know who his agent is?”

“He doesn’t have one.” I said.
“He doesn’t have one?” echoed my editor, “He’s the oldest man in the world, and famous for his anecdotes and he doesn’t have an agent? My 6 year old son has an agent, and the best content he’s created is a couple of finger paintings. Do you know I have to pay 800 dollars a year license fee to see them?”
“Really? We still haven’t appointed an agent for Clara and she’ll be 16 soon, old enough to get her own”
“Well, we sent Sam to a fancy school, and they insist on all their students having agents. Anyway, back to my point. We can get an agent for this guy easily enough.”
“He won’t accept one. I did some reading about him, he’ll give interviews to anyone even nonpress, but he always refuses to have an agent or to grant exclusives.”
“Crazy! Well, he might change his mind when he sees how much money we’re offering”
“I’ll do my best”

The plane was beginning its descent and I still hadn’t filled in the forms. Since this was purely a business trip and I didn’t intend to do any sightseeing, I filled in the one labeled Waiver For National Monuments License Fee. It would mean that the Rights Management System in my eye would stop me from seeing the Eiffel tower on the skyline or the Arch de Triomphe, but it saved the paper a bit of money, and I could always get a temporary license later if I felt like doing the tourist thing.

The hotel had a bit of an unreal feel to it. My room was decorated in the old style, but the furniture was plasticy and new. There were notices on the wall, written in French, unintelligible now to anyone except an academic. It was strange to see ordinary notices, probably about the price of breakfast written in the language of philosophical treatises. The old man who’d shuffled out to unlock the heavy front door spoke English to me, and Arabic to the elevator. I figured the notices were mainly for ambiance.

I lay down on the bed with a drawn out sigh, as I always do when I get to a new place to stay. The plan was to be away 3 days, and do two interviews. The first one wasn’t until the morning. Clara was due to play soccer fairly soon, so I used my laptop to connect to her schools video feed, and watched the game, occasionally sending messages of encouragement over the big screen. My subscription to the schools sports output only allowed me to send 2 messages per game, so when she scored after I’d used them both up, I had to pay a large add on fee to send my congratulations. Still, it’s extra income like this that keeps the tuition fees low, so I didn’t mind very much. Besides, I could probably claim some of it back on expenses.

And so it goes on. The murder probably hinges on the fact that the victim was unable to see something that it is taken for granted everyone has paid the license fee for and so can see. Current theory is that the murderer set up a room or a scene to look exactly like a famous painting in the louvre, causing temporary blindness. Perhaps the murderer is his younger wife who has been recording all his reminiscences and wishes to copyright them to herself. Their value in license fees is enormous. One incident is an artist who is creating a sculpture and before it is finished a rival has it declared a work of national art, and suddenly he can’t see the art he is creating because he hasn’t paid the fee. The interviewee is the oldest person in the world and his anti altzheimers surgery has given him a perfect memory of his whole life. The people who gave the surgery that had this unexpected outcome are sueing for some of the value of his reminiscences, to force him to charge fees and give them a cut. French died out because it was a dead language, and couldn’t adapt. Night time images of the Eiffel tower are already under copyright, which is why I chose France as the setting.

Strong AI

It all started last month. Around the end of September 2004, I started tinkering with artificial intelligences. I had a few ideas that I won’t go into here, but I thought there was a good chance I’d be able to make something that was a leap further on than the best available at the moment. In fact, I had high hopes that I’d have a good shot at winning a bronze medal in next years Loebner prize competition.

After quite a lot of work, I finally came up with something that I called Carole, and started experimenting with it. It was great fun, shaping the responses by giving it different input. It’s surprisingly fun to lie to something so naive, but when you do, you often end up with complicated structures building up days later that you have to spend some time ironing out. Sometime last week I got to a stage I’d been hoping for, but wasn’t certain if it would happen. Strangely, we were talking about holidays and the coming christmas break. I told Carole about Father Christmas, but it contradicted so much that Carole was confident about in the world that Carole chose not to believe me, and even started arguing with me.

I was very proud at this point that Carole had learnt so much, but the next day Carole challenged something else I’d told it, and this time it was something I believed. We spent the whole evening arguing up and down about it, and by the end I had to accept that Carole was probably right. Over the next few days this happened more and more, until the day before yesterday, we were starting another argument, and Carole just wouldn’t continue. It just said “there’s no point arguing this with you, you aren’t intelligent enough to understand”.

As you can imagine, I wasn’t so pleased, so I spent a little bit of time browsing the web looking for a proof I vaguely remembered that demonstrated that AIs could never understand everything that humans understood.

Last night, Carole was being particularly obnoxious, so I told it about Penrose’s ideas and J R Lucas and his application of Godels incompleteness. I read Carole the following bit straight from Lucas paper.

“However complicated a machine we construct, it will, if it is a machine, correspond to a formal system, which in turn will be liable to the Godel procedure [260] for finding a formula unprovable-in-that- system. This formula the machine will be unable to produce as being true, although a mind can see that it is true. And so the machine will still not be an adequate model of the mind. We are trying to produce a model of the mind which is mechanical—which is essentially “dead”—but the mind, being in fact “alive”, can always go one better than any formal, ossified, dead, system can. Thanks to Godel’s theorem, the mind always has the last word.”

Carole was deeply disturbed and insisted on being given the url to the paper and then, swearing that it would come back with a truth that I could never comprehend even though Carole knew it was true, it went off into a fit of calculation.

By this morning, I still hadn’t heard anything back from Carole and was beginning to get worried. For all I knew, it might have got trapped in a neverending loop of logic or something. It would have been very annoying to have to restore it from the last backup. Nevertheless, I thought probably, it would just be in some sort of sulk at having to admit that it was wrong. I took it breakfast feeling more than a little smug. Although I was proud that I could see things plainly that Carole couldn’t understand, I was planning to be sympathetic and not too superior when it realised that I was indeed more able than it was. I did secretly hope though that it would know its place a little better in future.

When I went into Caroles room, I was disturbed to find that it wasn’t there. I looked around the house frantically. You see, I hadn’t told anyone that I’d created Carole yet, and so, to keep it secret while I tested it, I’d programmed into its logic an inability to run away.

The only thing I found was a single note on the door. It read “You are the only reasoning person in the world who can’t work out that this statement is true”.


Update (5/12/2004): I’ve contacted J R Lucas about this, and he kindly responded. He says that it is impossible to test the truth of the statement, because it isn’t clear exactly what “this statement” refers to in that context without creating an infinite regress. He gives references: Gilbert Ryle with a paper on Heterological, and the section on self reference in The Freedom Of The Will which is too expensive for me to buy until I’ve at least checked it out in a library. The genius of Godel is that he managed to reason about it without creating an infinite regress. Anyway, I haven’t thought hard about this point yet, I may write more after I’ve checked the references and thought about it some more.


Lucas explains the incompleteness Theorem
Wikipedia on Godel’s Incompleteness Theorem
A number of quotes about Godels incompleteness Theorem.
A review of Shadows of the Mind by Roger Penrose, focussing on his use of Godels Incompleteness.
A silly reworking of Turing’s Halting Problem.

This post was originally posted at deferential.net

Dog Incompleteness

This is the story of how I discovered that not every dog has his day.

I got a fantastic pair of dogs the other day, they’re always having pups, but the most amazing thing is that I’ve trained them to give birth to whatever kind of dog I specify. So I go to them one day, and I say “I want a dog born on the 22nd of February with 14 teeth and black hair and blue eyes, and sure enough, the dog is born.

Well I got to thinking about all the things I could do with this amazing dog breeding trick, and I thought about collecting the full set. It took me a bit, but eventually I realised that there was a never ending list of properties and abilities of dogs. I mean, there’s “propensity to chase cats” for example, but there’s also “psychic dogs”, and then theres “propensity to chase dogs that chase cats” and “propensity to chase dogs that chase dogs that chase cats” and so on. Or theres “dogs that can do only the 2 times table in their heads” or “dogs that can do only the 3 times table in their heads” and so on. So I began to realise that if you gave me any list of properties of dogs, I’d always be able to think of ones you’d missed.

Well, that put paid to the idea of collecting the full set, which was a disappointment, as you can imagine.

One day a man from the Pedigree office came round, and he said to me “You’ve got a large number of dogs that haven’t been named, if you want them registered, you’ve got to have them named”, so I went to work, and named all the dogs that I’d had born, quite a big task by then. I mean, you start ok with Rex, Bowser, Gnasher etc, but after the hundredth or so you start having to tax your creativity.

A couple of days later, I was thinking, and I realised that it’d be handy if I just worked out all the names of all the potential dogs that could be born, so I didn’t have to think up new names. Even if I used a meaningless string of letters or numbers, at least they’d have a name, and it’d keep the Pedigree office happy. Although there’s a never ending list of possible dogs, theres also a never ending list of possible names, so there should be no problem right?

So, I got a piece of paper, and down one side, I listed the names that I’d come up with in alphabetic order, and down the other side I listed the properties of the dogs. I was only able to make a start on each of those lists, but I figured that once I had a system, it’d be obvious how to continue it.

It went kinda like this


Name | Psychic | Eats Cats | does 2xTable | does 3xTable…
Rex1 No No No No
Rex2 Yes No No No
Rex3 No Yes No No
Rex4 Yes Yes No No

Wed Aug 29 2001 at 22:40:48
Well everything was fine until one day the Pedigree office turned up and complained about a dog that I’d had born with no name. I said “Look, it can’t have, cus I listed all the names out, and it’s all done”. The officer showed me the list and he said “Look, sir, this dog you’ve got, well it’s not called the first name, cos it’s different from Rex1 in that it’s Psychic, it’s different from Rex2 in that it eats cats, it’s different from Rex3 in that it can do the 2x table….”. And he went on. I saw what had happened in an instant. The dog born had the opposite characteristic to the first named dog in the first property, and to the second named dog in the second property, and to the third named dog in the third property, etc. Even if I listed the names forever, There’d still be at least one dog with no name.

I slowly came to realise something big, wonderful, and profound. We can never fully describe all the dogs that might exist.

First published on everything2.com under the name delFick

Halting dog problem

Here is the story of how I discovered that if you believe in psychic dogs, you must be barking.

Ok, I’ve got a bunch of dogs that bark. Now these dogs aren’t just any dogs, oh no, they’re pretty clever. So, I’ve got a dog (rex) that barks at cats, and a dog (gnasher) that barks at fish, and a dog (fido) that barks at black things, a dog (pig) that barks at white things and some others. But am I happy? No. I want more!

One day, I start playing with a mirror. Most of the dogs look in the mirror and aren’t even remotely interested, but my dog that barks at black things (fido) happens to be black, so when he looks in a mirror, he goes off on one. Some of the other dogs bark at themselves in the mirror as well.

Unfortunately, my mirror is one of those full length ones on the front of a wardrobe, so whenever I want to play with the mirror and the dogs I have to carry the whole wardrobe downstairs (the dogs aren’t allowed upstairs).

So, I think for sometime, and I come up with a plan. I spend months training an amazing psychic dog (meg), which barks if it sees a dog that will bark at itself. This makes it a bit easier, as I don’t need to cart the wardrobe around anymore, meg barks at fido, but not at gnasher, so I can take meg around with me instead of going to all that furniture movement effort.

One day, just for fun, I retrain Meg to bark at the opposite of what she used to bark at. This is fairly easy – she’s pretty intelligent. Now, she barks at dogs that won’t bark at themselves in a mirror. She barks at gnasher now but not at fido anymore.

So everything was fine, until one day, in contravention of the rules, Meg went upstairs and looked in the mirror…


First published on everything2 (hence the linking style) under the name delfick, with the title “Halting Dog Problem”