All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books
The question of whether a computer can think is no more interesting than the question of whether a submarine can swim.
Chapter 1 (“Lobsters”), p. 1 (quoting Edsger W. Dijkstra)
“Sounds kind of long-term to me. Just how far ahead do you think?”
“Very long-term—at least twenty, thirty years. And you can forget governments for this market, Bob; if they can’t tax it, they won’t understand it.”
Chapter 1 (“Lobsters”), pp. 14-15
Welcome to the early twenty-first century, human.
It’s night in Milton Keynes, sunrise in Hong Kong. Moore’s Law rolls inexorably on, dragging humanity toward the uncertain future. The planets of the solar system have a combined mass of approximately 2 x 1027 kilograms. Around the world, laboring women produce forty-five thousand babies a day, representing 1023 MIPS of processing power. Also around the world, fab lines casually churn out thirty million microprocessors a day, representing 1023 MIPS. In another ten months, most of the MIPS being added to the solar system will be machine-hosted for the first time. About ten years after that, the solar system’s installed processing power will nudge the critical 1 MIPS per gram threshold—one million instructions per second per gram of matter. After that, singularity—a vanishing point beyond which extrapolating progress becomes meaningless. The time remaining before the intelligence spike is down to single-digit years ...
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), pp. 38-39
Manfred decides that he’s going to do something unusual for a change: He’s going to make himself temporarily rich. This is a change because Manfred’s normal profession is making other people rich. Manfred doesn’t believe in scarcity or zero-sum games or competition—his world is too fast and information-dense to accommodate primate hierarchy games.
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 41
He’s been off-line for the best part of six hours and is getting a panicky butterfly stomach at the idea of not being in touch with everything that’s happened in the last twenty kiloseconds.
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 54
Annette’s communiqué is anodyne; a giggling confession off camera (shower-curtain rain in the background) that the famous Manfred Macx is in Paris for a weekend of clubbing, drugging, and general hell-raising. Oh, and he’s promised to invent three new paradigm shifts before breakfast every day, starting with a way to bring about the creation of Really Existing Communism by building a state central planning apparatus that interfaces perfectly with external market systems and somehow manages to algorithmically outperform the Monte Carlo free-for-all of market economics, solving the calculation problem. Just because he can, because hacking economics is fun, and he wants to hear the screams from the Chicago School.
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), pp. 57-58
His ideas are informed by a painfully honest humanism, and everyone—even his enemies—agrees that he is one of the greatest theoreticians of the post-EU era. But his intellectual integrity prevents him from rising to the very top, and his fellow travelers are much ruder about him than his ideological enemies, accusing him of the ultimate political crime—valuing truth over power.
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 60
She still believes in classical economics, the allocation of resources under conditions of scarcity. Information doesn’t work that way.
Chapter 2 (“Troubadour”), p. 72
Experiments in digitizing and running neural wetware under emulation are well established; some radical libertarians claim that, as the technology matures, death—with its draconian curtailment of property and voting rights—will become the biggest civil rights issue of all.
Chapter 3 (“Tourist”), p. 88
Things have gone downhill since Mom decided a modal average dose of old-time religion was an essential part of her upbringing, to the point that absolutely the best thing in the world Tante Annette could send her is some scam programmed by Daddy to take her away. If it doesn’t work, Mom will take her to Church tonight, and she’s certain she’ll end up making a scene again. Amber’s tolerance of willful idiocy is diminishing rapidly, and while building up her memetic immunity might be the real reason Mom’s forcing this shit on her—it’s always hard to tell with Mom—things have been tense ever since she got expelled from Sunday school for mounting a spirited defense of the theory of evolution.
Chapter 4 (“Halo”), p. 130
A religious college in Cairo is considering issues of nanotechnology: If replicators are used to prepare a copy of a strip of bacon, right down to the molecular level, but without it ever being part of a pig, how is it to be treated? (If the mind of one of the faithful is copied into a computing machine’s memory by mapping and simulating all its synapses, is the computer now a Moslem? If not, why not? If so, what are its rights and duties?)
Chapter 4 (“Halo”), pp. 146-147
Here we are, sixty something human minds. We’ve been migrated—while still awake—right out of our own heads using an amazing combination of nanotechnology and electron spin resonance mapping, and we’re now running as software in an operating system designed to virtualize multiple physics models and provide a simulation of reality that doesn’t let us go mad from sensory deprivation! And this whole package is about the size of a fingertip, crammed into a starship the size of your grandmother’s old Walkman, in orbit around a brown dwarf just over three light-years from home, on its way to plug into a network router created by incredibly ancient alien intelligences, and you can tell me that the idea of a fundamental change in the human condition is nonsense?
Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 184
Lawyers do not mix with diplomacy.
Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 188
“Friendly fascism,” says Sadeq. “It matters not, whosoever is in charge. I could tell you tales from my parents, of growing up with a revolution. To never harbor self-doubt is poison for the soul, and these aliens want to inflict their certainties upon us.”
Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 201
Well then. Will the naysayers please leave the universe?
Chapter 5 (“Router”), p. 215
Humans are just barely intelligent tool users; Darwinian evolutionary selection stopped when language and tool use converged, leaving the average hairy meme carrier sadly deficient in smarts.
Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 266
“You grew up during the second oil crunch, didn’t you?” Sirhan prods. “What was it like then?”
“What was it ...? Oh, gas hit fifty bucks a gallon, but we still had plenty for bombers,” she says dismissively. “We knew it would be okay.”
Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 269
“Growing old is natural,” growls the old woman. “When you’ve lived long enough for all your ambitions to be in ruins, friendships broken, lovers forgotten or divorced acrimoniously, what’s left to go on for? If you feel tired and old in spirit, you might as well be tired and old in body. Anyway, wanting to live forever is immoral. Think of all the resources you’re taking up that younger people need! Even uploads face a finite data storage limit after a time. It’s a monstrously egotistical statement, to say you intend to live forever.”
Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 279
She may be mad, he realizes abruptly. Not clinically insane, just at odds with the entire universe. Locked into a pathological view of her own role in reality.
Chapter 7 (“Curator”), p. 289
“Not everyone is concerned with the deep future,” Manfred interrupts. “It’s important! If we live or die, that doesn’t matter—that’s not the big picture. The big question is whether information originating in our light cone is preserved, or whether we’re stuck in a lossy medium where our very existence counts for nothing. It’s downright embarrassing to be a member of a species with such a profound lack of curiosity about its own future, especially when it affects us all personally! I mean, if there’s going to come a time when there’s nobody or nothing to remember us then what does –”
He stops in midsentence, his mouth open, staring dumbly.
Chapter 8 (“Elector”), pp. 347-348
“Democracy 2.0.” He shudders briefly. “I’m not sure about the validity of voting projects at all, these days. The assumption that all people are of equal importance seems frighteningly obsolescent.”
Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 353
But if we run away, we are still going to be there. Sooner or later, we’ll have the same problem all over again; runaway intelligence augmentation, self-expression, engineered intelligences, whatever. Possibly that’s what happened out past the Böotes void—not a galactic-scale civilization, but a race of pathological cowards fleeing their own exponential transcendence. We carry the seeds of a singularity with us wherever we go, and if we try to excise those seeds, we cease to be human, don’t we?
Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 356
Humans are not as unsophisticated as mulch wrigglers, they can see the writing on the wall. Is it any surprise, that among the ones who look outward, the real debate is not over whether to run, but over how far and how fast?
Chapter 8 (“Elector”), p. 363
The turbulent lives of their entrepreneurial ancestors led to grief and angst and adventures, and as Sirhan is fond of observing, an adventure is something horrible that happens to someone else.
Chapter 9 (“Survivor”), p. 387
“Simple old-fashioned death, the kind that predated the singularity, used to be the inevitable halting state for all life-forms. Fairy tales about afterlives notwithstanding.” A dry chuckle: “I used to try to believe a different one before breakfast every day, you know, just in case Pascal’s wager was right—exploring the phase-space of all possible resurrections, you know? But I think at this point we can agree that Dawkins was right. Human consciousness is vulnerable to certain types of transmissible memetic virus, and religions that promise life beyond death are a particularly pernicious example because they exploit our natural aversion to halting states.”
Chapter 9 (“Survivor”), pp. 396-397
“Now, consciousness. That’s a fun thing, isn’t it? Product of an arms race between predators and prey. If you watch a cat creeping up on a mouse, you’ll be able to impute to the cat intentions that are most easily explained by the cat having a theory of mind concerning the mouse—an internal simulation of the mouse’s likely behavior when it notices the predator. Which way to run, for example. And the cat will use its theory of mind to optimize its attack strategy. Meanwhile, prey species that are complex enough to have a theory of mind are at a defensive advantage if they can anticipate a predator’s actions. Eventually this very mammalian arms race gave us a species of social ape that used its theory of mind to facilitate signaling—so the tribe could work collectively—and then reflexively, to simulate the individual’s own inner states. Put the two things together, signaling and introspective simulation, and you’ve got human-level consciousness, with language thrown in as a bonus—signaling that transmits information about internal states, not just crude signals such as ‘predator here’ or ‘food there.’”
All page numbers from the mass market paperback edition published by Ace Books
A dark-skinned human with four arms walks toward me across the floor of the club, clad only in a belt strung with human skulls.
Chapter 1, “Duel” (p. 1; opening line)
Time is a corrosive fluid, dissolving motivation, destroying novelty, and leaching the joy from life. But forgetting is a fraught process, one that is prone to transcription errors and personality flaws. Delete the wrong pattern, and you can end up becoming someone else. Memories exhibit dependencies, and their management is one of the highest medical art forms.
Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 22)
I’m wearing black leggings and a loose top festooned with a Menger sponge of empty pockets stitched out of smaller pockets and smaller still, almost down to the limits of visibility—woven in freefall by hordes of tiny otaku spiders, I’m told, their genes programmed by an obsessive-compulsive sartorial topologist.
Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 22)
In my experience, the best way to deal with such people is to politely agree with everything they say, then ignore them.
Chapter 2, “Experiment” (p. 30)
I’m trapped in a fun-house mirror reflection of a historical society where everyone was crazy by default, driven mad by irrational laws and meaningless customs.
Chapter 7, “Bottom” (p. 107)
The idea of Curious Yellow, of surrender to a higher cause, seems to appeal to a certain small subset of humanity. These people manipulate the worm, customizing its payload to establish quisling dictatorships in its shadow, and the horrors these gauleiters invent in its service are far worse than the crude but direct tactics the original worm used.
Chapter 12, “Bag” (p. 210)
If I forget, then it might as well never have happened. Memory is liberty.
Chapter 13, “Climb” (p. 224)
I killed you! And you didn’t even notice!
Chapter 14, “Hospital” (p. 235)
Can I remember— “I remember lots,” I say. How much of what I remember is true is another matter.
Chapter 15, “Recovery” (p. 250)
You know, if I tried to change the minds of everyone who I thought needed changing, I’d never have time to do anything else.
Chapter 15, “Recovery” (p. 255)
Where would dictators be without our compliant amnesia? Make the collective lose its memory, you can conceal anything.
Chapter 17, “Mission” (p. 288)
“Bad day at the office?”
“It’s always a bad day at the office, insofar as the office exists in the first place.”
’Twas the night before Christmas, the office was closed,
The transom was shut, the staff home in repose;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
But St. Nicholas won’t be coming because this is a Designated National Security Site within the meaning of Para 4.12 of Section 3 of the Official Secrets Act (Amended) and unauthorised intrusion on such a site is an arrestable offense ...
Had enough of my poetry yet? That’s why they pay me to fight demons instead.
Like the famous mad philosopher said, when you stare into the void, the void stares also; but if you cast into the void, you get a type conversion error. (Which just goes to show Nietzsche wasn't a C++ programmer.)
‘I wish I was still an atheist. Believing I was born into a harsh, uncaring cosmos – in which my existence was a random roll of the dice and I was destined to die and rot and then be gone forever – was infinitely more comforting than the truth. Because the truth is that my God is coming back. When he arrives I’ll be waiting for him with a shotgun. And I’m keeping the last shell for myself.
If we pursue this plan, by late 2006 any two adjacent public CCTV terminals — or private camcorders equipped with a digital video link — will be reprogrammable by any authenticated MAGINOT BLUE STARS superuser to permit the operator to turn them into a SCORPION STARE basilisk weapon. We remain convinced that this is the best defensive posture to adopt in order to minimize casualties when the Great Old Ones return from beyond the stars to eat our brains.
There is a philosophy by which many people live their lives, and it is this: life is a shit sandwich, but the more bread you've got, the less shit you have to eat.
These people are often selfish brats as kids, and they don't get better with age: think of the shifty-eyed smarmy asshole from the sixth form who grew up to be a merchant banker, or an estate agent, or one of the Conservative Party funny-handshake mine's-a-Rolex brigade.
(This isn't to say that all estate agents, or merchant bankers, or conservatives, are selfish, but these are ways of life that provide opportunities of a certain disposition to enrich themselves at the expense of others. Bear with me).
There is another philosophy by which people live their life, and it goes thus: you will do as I say or I will hurt you.
It's petty authoritarianism, and it frequently runs in families. Dad's a dictator, Mum's henpecked, and the kids keep quiet if they know what's good for them — all the while soaking up the lesson that mindless obedience is the one safe course of action. These kids often rescue themselves, but some of them don't. They grow up to be thugs, insecure and terrified or uncertainty, intolerant and unable to handle back-chat, willing to use violence to get what they want.
Let me draw you a Venn diagram with the two circles on it, denoting set of individuals. They overlap: the greedy ones and the authoritarian ones. Let's shade the intersecting area in a different colour, and label it: dangerous. Greed isn't automatically dangerous on its own, and petty authoritarians aren't usually dangerous outside their immediate vicinity — but when you combine the two, you get gangsters and dictators and hate-spewing preachers.
There is a third philosophy by which — thankfully — only a tiny minority of people live their lives. It's a bit harder to sum up, but it begins like this: in the beginning was the endless void, and the void spawned the Elder things, and we were created to be their slaves, and they're going to return to Earth in the near future, and it is only by willingly subordinating ourselves to their merest whim that we can hope to survive —
Now let me drop another circle on the diagramme, and scribble in the tiny patch where it intersects with the other two circles, and label it in the deepest fuliginous black: here be monsters.
Just as it's possible to write a TCP/IP protocol stack in some utterly inappropriate programming language like ML or Visual Basic, so, too, it's possible to implement TCP/IP over carrier pigeons, or paper tape, or daemons summoned from the vasty deep.
But information isn't free. It can't be. I mean, some things — if anyone could read anything they wanted, they might read things that would tend to deprave and corrupt them, wouldn't they? People might give exactly the same consideration to blasphemous pornography that they pay to the Bible! They could plot against the state, or each other, without the police being able to listen in and stop them!