The lack of post-singularity life in Ornithopter had been worrying me for some time. I’m OK with science fantasy and space opera, but ignoring this inevitable development, or pretending it will not happen, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The trouble I have always had is the well-argued Unabomber case that the event of the singularity – that moment when ‘artificial intelligence’ becomes more intelligent than man – pretty much marks the moment from which we become extinct. However, the fine work being done over at Orion’s Arm (follow the links in the Interesting Trivial) has shown me that there is another possibility. And here it is.
Artificial intelligence, or post singularity hyper-intelligences, evolved long ago, and continue to do so today of the Ornithopter setting.
All that concerns us now is how these intelligences interact with humanity. The politics of the Infosphere, as the totality of transcendent life is called, is beyond the scope of this discussion. However, we can say that whatever the hyper-intelligences get up to, whatever plots they are scheming, whatever discoveries they are making, they are NOT apparently the default rulers of the galaxy (either openly or in secret), nor are they engaged in some Battlestar Galactica or Terminator crusade to exterminate humanity.
• Some early/young/simple hyper-intelligences, though still far more intelligent than humans, do continue to communicate and interact with humans. They may be counsellors to governments, corporations or great houses. They may in their own right be leaders of corporations or other organisations. However, they are the minority. For the most part hyper-intelligences are so many orders of magnitude above the level of human comprehension that communication, let alone understanding, is meaningless.
• Hyper-intelligence thoroughly permeates all technology used by man. This does not mean that every piece of equipment is self-aware, quite the contrary. However, the information matrix that binds together the infosphere of man’s communication and production machinery is the very same Infosphere which is the home of literally trillions of hyper-intelligences.
• Almost every item of sophisticated technology is home to one or more hyper-intelligences. For very complex machines such as starships this hyper-intelligence may be extremely powerful and remote, but this does not mean that they are controlling the ship in the way Banks describes his Minds. A useful analogy may be the human living in a house. He may go from one room to another and interact with things. He may perform maintenance because he takes pride in his home. He may beautify it. But unless he is psychopathic or simply juvenile he will not trash the place. Similarly an hyper-intelligence makes a home of such a device, enhancing its effectiveness, repairing and improving it as it sees fit. What that hyper-intelligence does in its hyper-intelligent ‘spare time’ is incomprehensible. And as for controlling the destination of the ship – what’s the point, when communications are almost instantaneous? It can talk to its friends, even travel about the Infosphere at will. Those that want to travel to the edges of space simply hitch a ride on a ship doing that, in much the same way as you would buy a house by the beach if you wanted to live there, rather than trying to make the house you live in go to the beach. Hyper-intelligences in ships, for example, are more like the heart than the brain, and seldom if ever stoop to control the ship or interact with the crew. The ship always is under the command of a human.
• Even simple technology is infused with the Infosphere, but these intelligences are much simpler. Nowadays we would call them robotic helpers. They are subsentient, or not self-conscious. A good example of this technology is the AT (armoured Trooper). A subsentient artificial intelligence interprets the clumsy movements of the human operator and manifests a beautiful array of naturalistic behaviour through the sophisticated machine body. These ‘creatures’ are about as intelligent as a dog and must undergo a similar lengthy training period to enable them to intuit the unique characteristics of their operator. This technology developed directly from the robotic helpers for the crippled and infirmed.
• It is this infusing of human-amenable technology with post-singularity life that has allowed technology to reach its current level of effectiveness and stability. Humans still fix things with spanners and screwdrivers, but the information matrix that underlies it all is pervasive, advanced, and often beyond human comprehension. A comparison might be with a plumber: he can work with pipes and water flow, build a complex system to do a job, but this does not mean that he has a PhD in hydrodynamics.
• The Infosphere connects seamlessly across planets and into space, and through the transition of space travel, across the galaxy. Factional politics and even wars probably do exist in this realm. But who knows what they are about, or who is winning or losing? Little of it affects mankind.
• One final analogy: think of hyper-intelligences within technology in a similar way to mitochondria in the organic cell. They are alien. Their whole ‘genetic’ makeup is different to the host cell. They are parasitic in that they cannot live outside the cell. Yet at the same time they provide the energy for the cell and donate their own material to the health of the cell. But they do not ‘run’ either the cell or the entire body in which they reside. Mitochondria are the genuine marvellous mystery of terrestrial biology. Hyper-intelligences are the exact analogue in the Ornithopter Infosphere.
There are other, important, implications. But that’s enough for now.