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Give me liberty or give me GIANT ROBOTS!!!

I am informed that Saturn's Children has been shortlisted for the 2009 Prometheus Award. (The Prometheus Award "is given by the Libertarian Futurist Society in recognition of the best pro-freedom novel published during the previous year.")

Congratulations to Iain Banks, who also made the shortlist with "Matter"! (And to everybody else on the shortlist; all I know so far is what Orbit are saying.)



If those are my choices, I'll take the giant robots ... sorry, I mean GIANT ROBOTS!!! Because if I have GIANT ROBOTS!!! and nobody else does, I can take all the liberties I want.


Forgive me for this perhaps obvious statement, but Saturn's Children pretty much came across as portraying a free market dystopia, among other things. To me it seems to portray an extremely bad outcome of the application of common libertarian talking points. Am I missing something?


Will giant razor-clawed acid spitting crabs do?


Ted, the Prometheus Award is notably openminded. Back in 2007 Charlie referred to it as '... this year's Prometheus Award by the Libertarian Futurist Society for the best Ken MacLeod Scottish Socialist Libertarian SF novel'.

I think there's more than a grain of truth in that there snark.


Maybe I didn't read sufficiently carefully, but I'm not seeing how Matter is especially pro-freedom either? Scottish Socialist, sure.

Self-determination, I suppose? That is an interesting theme for a Culture novel, but I didn't feel it was very strongly addressed.


I think that the 'Libertarians'* are pre-disposed to view cool sf as right-libertarian, and are very good at joining the dots in their head to link cool stuff with right-libertarianism. They gave their prize to The Star Fraction, FFS. I would imagine that cool sf which references RAH will leave them in such a world of drool that they can't focus on the small print. Or indeed the print.

* So-called.


The rest of the list is Doctorow's Little Brother; Flynn's The January Dancer; Turtledove's Opening Atlantis; and Walton's Half a Crown.

As to the question of why those nominees, I was a member of the screening committee, so I have some insight into how we choose finalists. Saturn's Children has a strong antislavery theme, and opposition to slavery is one of the core libertarian ideas (a common libertarian formulation is that "self-ownership" is the most basic of all rights). Matter wasn't one of my high-ranked choices, mostly because I didn't see a lot of libertarian content in it and not because of any dissatisfaction with the quality of the writing; those who favored it emphasized the post-scarcity anarchism of the Culture and its noninterventionist approach to other civilizations. This wouldn't be the first left anarchist book to be recognized by the LFS; we put Le Guin's The Dispossessed in our Hall of Fame a number of years ago.

We've been saying for a long time now that we give the Prometheus Award to the book, and not to the author, But every year it seems to surprise some people when we nominate books whose authors don't consider themselves libertarians.


Heinlein's "Farnham's Freehold" suddenly springs to mind. Not a book I could say I enjoyed, but one that I found affecting. "Saturn's Children" has that same quality.


The Libertarian angle is simple- does the book's universe contain a government that insists that all within it work for the collective good, or if such government exists does the protagonist oppose it? If that's no to A or yes to B, then it's sure to be viewed positively by Libertarians.

If you are legally required to be your brother's keeper, it's not Libertarian. If you're not, it is.


There is also a minor socialist reference in Little Brother, to Rosa Luxemburg. Giving a libertarian award to a Trotskyist novel (not just the author, the novel) is somehow funny. Can't say I complain though, that these awards have a less narrow view of freedom than the typical libertarian stance of the freedom to own stuff and bargain in a free market.


I can't possibly imagine how anyone saw an anti-slavery subtext in "Saturn's Children". Really! On the other hand, viewing it as an examination of personal autonomy and the forces that stop us from exercising it -- be they externally imposed or internally and voluntarily assumed -- slavery fairly obviously comes within its remit. And that theme emerged from the source material, Heinlein's "Friday", pretty much fully-fledged. (Oh, and don't miss the thrilling exploration of irony! Now with added intelligent design crunchiness!)


you can find GIANT ROBOTS at in TOM's SHED if you don't regularly come across them in saturday's guardian


Giant robots FTW!!


Didn't last fall's economic meltdown on Wall Street do to Libertarianism what the fall of the Berlin wall did to Socialism (completely discredit it as a viable ideology)?

Our whole economic mess is obviously the result of a lack of government oversight, for which you can blame both parties. Once free of government, the investment CEOs showed us what they would do if they weren't regulated. And it wasn't pretty.

To paraphrase Madison, "If business men were angels there would be no need for regulation".


@14: I don't think you've read many libertarian writings. Libertarians have been predicting a catastrophic economic downturn for years, and warning against the policies of the Bush administration as likely to lead to one. One of the big libertarian grudges against Bush and Greenspan is that they used vaguely libertarian rhetoric to justify policies that libertarians opposed, and that brought discredit on libertarianism when they led to exactly the problems that libertarians had been saying they would lead to. Think of how socialists feel about Stalinism and you'll get the idea.

Of course, our view of the causation is not the one that you think is "obviously" true, and we don't think it's nearly so obvious. But that's a big, complex topic. If you want to look into it, look for sources on the Austrian theory of the trade cycle; the Ludwig von Mises Institute (named for the economist whose solid gold statue appears in The Cassini Division) is a good place to start. Or track down Alan Greenspan's essay "Gold and Economic Freedom," written when he was young and under the influence of Ayn Rand.


Heh, so not only do we have really existing socialism, but really existing capitalism too! And the "but the Soviet Union" now has its own "but the 2008 crisis" reply. :-)


@11: This may be a matter of J. R. R. Tolkien's distinction between allegory (the author sending a message) and applicability (the reader finding a message). Any work of art will mean things to readers that the author didn't think of.

But I'm seriously surprised that you don't see an antislavery theme (I wouldn't call it a subtext) in Saturn's Children. As I read it, Freya was a self-aware, volitional being in a society where the overwhelming majority of such beings were property, who herself experienced being treated as property in the course of the story. I don't know what else to call that but slavery. Of course, it's enforced by internal code more than external compulsion; but mind-forged manacles are still manacles.

And in the end, she attains life as "neither master nor slave" (the old anarchist slogan) in a voluntary, mutually consensual relationship with Reginald, which the story invites us to think is happier for her than it would have been to become one of the rulers of the solar system. That looks to me like the theory of the harmony of rightly understood interests, which says that we can't lead genuinely better lives by exploiting or dominating other people—and that theory is the ethical basis of free market libertarianism. The point is reinforced by the failure of the project to revive Homo sapiens and thus reactivate Freya's hardwired slave code . . . which is also presented as a fortunate outcome, however much Freya might have longed for a human master. "It's best to be neither master nor slave" is a pretty basic libertarian sentiment.

I took Saturn's Children as primarily an entertaining action/adventure story, with aspects that could be read as libertarian; that's why it wasn't my first choice among the nominees. But it still looks to me as if those aspects were there, even if they weren't what you intended when you wrote it . . . that the story is applicable to libertarian concerns, even if it's not intentionally libertarian.


WHS @17: YHBT. HAND. Irony: it's not what you weld but the way that you weld it.


@14: "under the influence of Ayn Rand". There has to be someway to massage that into a catchy Acronym. We could have scare videos to show our children about legislating while U.I.A.R.

Which actually leads to a question. Are Libertarians really ok with being conflated with Objectivists? It seems like most people consider you to be one if you're the other.


@18: I'm afraid I'm often humor-deaf.


brain fart, that was supposed to be @15 not @14.


@19: There's an odd asymmetry here. Very few Objectivists consider themselves to be libertarians, and most of them disapprove of libertarians. On the other hand, nearly all libertarians (in the American sense of the word) consider Objectivists to be libertarians, though how much they like Objectivists varies all over the place. Two of Ayn Rand's books are in the Libertarian Futurist Society's Hall of Fame.

But both groups dislike right-wing Republicans. Ayn Rand's official heir went so far, in 2006, as to say that it was morally obligatory to vote the straight Democratic ticket, because Republic theocrats were a greater threat to American civilization than Democratic socialists. Unfortunately, a splinter group of right-wing Republicans took over the Libertarian Party last year, which is why libertarians like me insist on the small l.


@22 that makes sense. While in college, I attended an event put on the by the campus Libertarians that hosted a speaker from the Ayn Rand institute. At the time I assumed that meant one was a subset of the other.


Should add for clarity. I am neither an Objectivist nor a Libertarian. I'm much more an egalitarian "Veil of ignorance" kind of person, but discussion of theories of justice is always fun.

And with that, I've probably taken enough of Charlie's webspace for this topic. Lurk-mode engage!


@15 WHS: "we don't think it's nearly so obvious."

And Fundies don't think its obvious that the Earth is more than a few thousand years old, no matter how many fossils you show them.

No TRUE BELIEVER will ever let reality intrude on their preciously held beliefs. Bush's policies spearheaded by Sen. Gramm involved the reduction and outright elimination of government oversight of the financial markets - all in keeping with libertarian ideology.

The Game needs both players and referees. Libertarians believe that we can do without referees, despite that fact that the Game will degenerate into a dog-eat-dog slugfest. Socialists believe that the Game can be played without players and are surprised when there is no scoring.

A pox on both their houses.


@25: I'm going to drop the topic after this response, since it's clearly a derailment from the real point of this thread.

Your idea of libertarian ideology seems to be based on a superficial acquaintance with libertarian slogans, rather than actually reading libertarian analyses. The Marxists have a useful phrase for this sort of thing: "vulgar Marxism." I read libertarian writers regularly, and I can tell you that they have been predicting harmful consequences from Bush's and Greenspan's economic policies for years and years now; they certainly have not been advocating those policies. If you don't understand why libertarians don't consider those policies to be libertarian, you don't really understand how libertarians think. Not that you're obliged to, but if you don't, your comments about libertarian ideology can't possibly be well informed.

For example, your comment about doing without referees is flatly contradicted by the libertarian literature, which calls for a legal system precisely to act as a neutral referee. The main dispute within libertarianism is whether to have that legal system provided by a constitutional government or competing private firms. For a statement of the constitutionalist view (which I share), see for example Ayn Rand's short essay "The Nature of Government."


I admit I don't paricularly get Libertarians (I could say politics in general, but anyhow...). The ones I've met here in Colorado tend to be contradictory, some pretty left-wing the others right, the only things they seemed to agree on was being pro-gun and pro-choice (which I guess is slightly better than the Republican's pro-gun, anti-choice. You can tell where I stand.) And wanting to be left alone in their cabins in the woods.

@12 my first though of GIANT ROBOTS was this: , but that's singular.


@27: That's a common reaction to libertarians, actually. A lot of libertarians reject the idea of a one-dimensional "left/right" axis in politics, because (a) we agree with some right wing positions (pro-gun, pro-free trade), (b) we agree with some left wing positions (pro-choice, anti-censorship), and (c) we see our various positions as forming a consistent logical structure. If you're not concerned with the logical arguments, the catch phrase "socially liberal and fiscally conservative" captures the basic libertarian outlook reasonably well.

Though I've been thinking lately that a better definition might be found in French 19th-century political imagery. The popular political categories then were "red" (socialist-leaning, pro-labor), meaning roughly what "blue" means in American politics now; "white" (theocratic, monarchist, militarist, and sympathetic to landowners and to businesses with government monopoly grants), meaning roughly what "red" means in American politics now; and "blue" (anti-censorship, pro-free trade, anti-slavery, and favorable to small businesses and petit rentiers). Libertarians are, in the French sense, the "blue" faction in American politics.



I rather got the impression that the solid gold statue of Mises was an ironic joke on the part of the Solar Union, you know, what with them having a successful planned economy and all...


Let us recall that the slogan of the French Revolutionaries was: "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite".

The libertarians grabbed the first chunk, the socialists grabbed the second ... who laid claim to the third? (The anarchists?)


Re statue of Mises, it's an allusion to Oscar Lange, which after winning the calculation debate said something to the effect that a statue of Mises should be built at the world's planning bureau for his contributions (through criticism) to the socialist calculation debate.

As to the LEF slogan of the French revolution, although the E is the most visible part, most Marxists would tell you that it's a holistic thing: people can't be free and stand as brothers to each other without being equal. Whereas Libertarians are more likely to have dropped the EF part, and say people can and should be free without equality or fraternity, although they probably are helped by freedom.

Anyway, I don't want to be told off for entering full socialist ranting mode so I'll stop here. Only one more item: @28: it's interesting to see as clear a recognition as I've ever read from a libertarian that they are a petty bourgeois movement.


Re statue of Mises, it's an allusion to Oscar Lange, which after winning the calculation debate said something to the effect that a statue of Mises should be built at the world's planning bureau for his contributions (through criticism) to the socialist calculation debate.

As to the LEF slogan of the French revolution, although the E is the most visible part, most Marxists would tell you that it's a holistic thing: people can't be free and stand as brothers to each other without being equal. Whereas Libertarians are more likely to have dropped the EF part, and say people can and should be free without equality or fraternity, although they probably are helped by freedom.

Anyway, I don't want to be told off for entering full socialist ranting mode so I'll stop here. Only one more item: @28: it's interesting to see as clear a recognition as I've ever read from a libertarian that they are a petty bourgeois movement.


@29: Yes, that statue of von Mises certainly was an ironic joke. But it was an ironic joke by people who knew who von Mises was and knew about the "economic calculation" debate of the 1930s (during which, I understand, a Marxist economist said that the future socialist commonwealth should put up a statue of von Mises in the town square in honor of his identifying the problem it had to solve). You can find the whole subject laid out very lucidly in the book From Marx to Mises.

@30: No definite answer to offer, but a couple of possibilities:

* Perhaps libertarians grabbed the first chunk, socialists the third, and they're fighting over the second. Both are in favor of "equality," after all; they just have different definitions of what should be equalized! But, for example, Herbert Spencer's early Social Statics, one of the classic sources for libertarianism, put forth the "law of equal liberty" as its basic ethical doctrine.

* Looking ahead to the twentieth century, perhaps libertarians got the first, socialists got the second, and fascists got the third (the whole "band of brothers" mythos).


First things first. Congratulations on having Saturn's Children on two finalists lists.
I am also an LFS member however I am not on the screening committee like William Stoddard so I do not have much to add to his comments. What I will add is that getting a clear and consistent definition is difficult when considering historical, social and other human activities. However there are some good starting points primarily dealing with self-ownership and non-initiation of force. Personally I am currently less interested in Rand as an influence on the libertarian tradition as I am in the influence of people like Voltairine de Cleyre and groups such as the anti-corn law movement, the Levelers and the Friendly Societies. If I ever transition from just reading SF to also writing SF one the ideas I would like to explore is Friendly Societies as a background element in future societies. Or maybe try my hand at alternate history.


@32: In the version of the history I've learned, von Mises won the economic calculation debate. Lange never came up with a convincing response.

This is probably not a suitable topic for us to thrash out here; it would likely rapidly descend to our refusing to accept each other's historical authorities. I just want to register my disagreement with your historical interpretation, for the record.

Oh, and to note that I've read an interview with MacLeod in which he said, straight out, that his view was that Marx was right about the falling rate of profit, which meant that capitalism couldn't work, but von Mises was right about the economic calculation problem, which meant that socialism couldn't work either. So it appears that he was taking the planned economy in The Cassini Division as a technological "what if," like FTL or algorithmic AI: a fantastic premise to enable a future narrative. This isn't quite the same view as yours, though obviously it's not the same view as mine either.


doowop: If you want the short and sweet answer, libertarian-types blame the current world economic problems on government over regulation, distortion, and interference with capitalism. If anything it proves their thesis.


Not actually a giant robot, but perhaps Freya's great-great grand-template-mother:

Oh and congrats on the nomination. Personally, I loved Saturn's Children... (I even bought the UK hardcover edition while I was in Australia last year. You have any idea how much they mark up books over there???)


Personally, I never liked the "conservative" or "liberal" designations as they have been twisted in this country in an almost Orwellian fashion. For example, an economic "conservative" is one who wants little interference in our daily lives, while a social conservative wants more controls and interference. The reverse is true for economic liberals and social liberals.

Maybe its better to use the terms "interventionist" and "laissez-fair" to designate those who respectively want more controls and those who want less. Sticking with domestic policy only (for simplicity's sake), you get new labels:




Its interesting how the definitions of the current parties criss-cross. Republicans, with their Wall Street and Religious Right bases would be the Puritan/Free-Marketers party. OTOH, the Democrats with their traditional New Deal coalition (blacks, blue collar, women, etc.) and its solid support in the entertainment industry would be the party of Regulators and Bohemians.

Libertarians would be the laissez-faire party of Free-Marketers and Bohemians, and an interventionist party of Regulators and Puritans, would be the "Greens". Puritans are not just concerned with regulating sexual morality or drug/alcohol use, there is a subspecies that also likes to regulate other life style choices such as whether individuals can own a gun, drive an SUV or build a nuclear power plant.

Which would make the Greens the arch enemies of the Libertarians


@38: That's the usual assumption about American politics, and it was largely true when the baby boomers were growing up, so it's widely held. But it needs to be qualified in various ways: (a) It wasn't always true; (b) It is less true now; (c) At a deeper level of analysis it wasn't all that true even when it was true.

(a) Before the New Deal, the people who most strongly favored free market capitalism were called "Cleveland Democrats." They were also the constituency for repeal of Prohibition. I've read, for example, that Ayn Rand cast her first presidential vote in 1932 for FDR. In those days, it seems, the free market/bohemian party was the Democrats. It's been remarked that if you read the presidential speeches of 1932, the candidates seem to have picked up each other's speeches by mistake, because Roosevelt keeps talking about balanced budgets and Hoover about effective government action; but when Roosevelt got in and came up with the New Deal, he sent the free market people running over to the Republican Party.

(b) I'm a classic free-market Republican voter: I favor individualism, constitutional rights, the rule of law, balanced budgets, small government, free markets, and the gold standard. Unfortunately, the current Republican Party has rejected nearly all of these; the Bush administration gave us the most massive expansion of government in history, fiscal recklessness, and constitutional rights trampled underfoot. The Republicans picked up the Southern fundamentalists in the years from Goldwater to Reagan, and now that group not just influence the party but virtually ARE the party. So I've had no choice but to hold my nose and vote Democratic. And a lot of people are reaching the same conclusion, helped by such things as the Republicans' positions on abortion and same-sex marriage.

(c) In the classic libertarian novel Illuminatus!, there's a scene where a young Simon Moon tells his elementary school teacher, "My mom and dad say it doesn't matter if a Republican or a Democrat is in office, because the orders will still come from Wall Street." That's kind of a simplified populist reading, but American politics IS driven by rent-seeking, and the Democrats no less than the Republicans; the Democrats are just in the pockets of different rich people. Government regulation is still used to rig the economy in favor of large established businesses and against their smaller competitors, and to cover it up with appeals to the public interest . . . but coming up with such rationales is the professional stock in trade of politicians.

There's not a lot of ideology in all this; but as a person who cares a lot about ideological coherence, I'm well aware that only a small minority of the population has my peculiar passions.


Great discussion. I can see Saturn's Children on the LFS shortlist, but how can Matter, or any Culture novel, qualify as Libertarian. The entire premise of the Culture is that Free Market ideology is something that societies eventually outgrow. "Money is poverty" is a phrase that regularly crops up in the Culture novels, although I'm not sure if it appears in Matter. Any explanations from the Libertarian commenters?


William @26:

I read libertarian writers regularly, and I can tell you that they have been predicting harmful consequences from Bush's and Greenspan's economic policies for years and years now; they certainly have not been advocating those policies. If you don't understand why libertarians don't consider those policies to be libertarian, you don't really understand how libertarians think. Not that you're obliged to, but if you don't, your comments about libertarian ideology can't possibly be well informed.

I read libertarian writers too and trust me - there were plenty of them who were 100% behind Greenspan. And George Bush for that matter. Now, you're not obligated to, of course, but I would appreciate your reasoning as to why you think you and only you get to make these sorts of decisions. Saying things like this is just like saying that Communism can never fail, it can only be failed.

I'll also note, having been formerly intimately involved with libertarians, that the movement has morphed considerably over the years. Up to about 1976 or 1977, maybe up to 1980, libertarianism here in the states was much more consonant with the European version, which was of a leftish sort of flavor. Since then, it has moved considerably to the right. Perhaps not surprisingly, since so much of its funding comes from the right.

Charlie @11: This is yet another reason why I don't think strong AI will be all that prevalent in our future. I've always thought of myself as an Asimov man; one thing in particular doesn't really get examined nearly enough is his idea that what people would really like would be vast estates with bucket loads of servants to cater to every whim. I happen to think he's right on that one, unfortunately. But given the supposed light behind the eyes on models like Daneel and Giskard, one can only conclude that they are in fact, slaves, and humans in general really don't have a problem with slavery.

The much better(and more plausible) solution imho, is to have robots that behave intelligently, but aren't really. You can have a robot valet, a robot cook, a robot driver, a robot gardner, even a robot French maid. But Jeeves himself you cannot have, save if he elects to serve you of his own volition(and knowing Jeeves, he just might - though you might not get what you asked for.)


@40: I can't give that good an explanation. The other five finalists were my top five choices; I gave Matter a lower rank, for much the reasons you state, and also because it didn't seem all that explicitly political. This would be better explained by an LFS member who ranked Matter higher, as, obviously, several of the judges did.

If you're willing to accept speculation, I'd say that LFS members accept anarchocapitalism and individualist anarchism as a strand within libertarian thought; that therefore they have an interest in other variants of anarchism, as support for a libertarian idea, the abolition of the state, from outside the current libertarian movement; and that they are reading the Culture as a stateless society and, in a sense, a communist anarchist utopia that does not rely on organized coercion. If that seems like reaching, it seems that way to me too. But the finalists are chosen by a judging committee, not dictated by the views of any one member of that commitee. Some of the choices will be ones I wouldn't have made.


@40: As someone with basically libertarian politics, I can't construe the Culture as having basically any direct political relevance to the real world. I know that some socialists are fond of claiming it into their camp, but that strikes me as silly. The Culture's economy is predicated on super-intelligent reliably benevolent artificial intelligences and (to a lesser extent) physical resources on a galactic scale.

In that environment, I'm happy to say that I'd need to reconsider my take on the economy! But if I were a partisan of socialism, I wouldn't really want to hitch myself to that wagon. "Look! You all should read this novel to see how my ideas would lead to a great society... *cough* after-we-invent-a-ton-of-world-changing-technologies *cough*"

I love the Culture books, and think they have interesting things to say on power relationships and the human nature, but it's crazy to look at the economy of the Culture and think that it forms any argument about the economy of societies that don't have super-intelligent reliably benevolent artificial intelligences.

So, I guess I also can't give you a good explanation.

I do wish that people wouldn't regard their favored economic practices as so much of a "team" thing. Like, if you can imagine some kind of set of technologies which would obviate capitalism, you're obligated not to favor capitalism in the real world? Say what?


Hm. I see the Culture as being a society consisting of AIs. The biological critters are pampered pets for the most part, with a small minority of working animals.


I wonder if the minds creator's put a "humans are fun to have around" and somewhere deep in their programming. It sort of makes sense that if you are going to create gods you make them benevolent gods.


Whay do all the Singulatarians assume that AI would be benevolent?

Forget about Terminator or Blade Runner. A reading of Harlan Ellison's "I have no mouth and I must scream" will make you re-examine that assumption.

Either way, why would anyone want to risk a horrible painful extinction of the human race? If there is the slightest chance (anything greater than 0%) that an AI would be hostile, shouldn't we stage some sort of Butlerian Jihad?


I incline to think that the differences between the libertarian left and the libertarian right focus on means rather than ends. They agree in broad principle on what a good, free, society would be like, but disagree vehemently on how to get there.

To take the issue that seems to generate the most shouting: private property (when extended past personal chattels).

Both sides see it as a weapon.

The libertarian right see it as a defensive weapon that the individual can use for protection against an oppressive state. Good for freedom.

The libertarian left see it as an offensive weapon, used by the rich to enslave the poor. Bad for freedom.

In utopia, private property is not an issue. If there is ever anything you need (or, usually, even want) and do not have, you just go and get it. There is no point to hanging on to anything you have no immediate use for, in case, nor any point to wresting anything frorm its possessor agaist their will.

If you think I have greatly over-simplified things here, you are probably right. If you think I have missed the point entirely, do explain.

If, like the Randroids, you regard private property as an inherent good in itself, rather than a means, effective or not, to an end, good or bad, then I live on a different planet to you, and I prefer mine.



The Culture is a post-scarcity society, so the usually libertarian economics don't apply. Capitalism, like all economic systems we've used, is based on scarcity -- finding the best way to allocate limited resources.

Take out scarcity and economics fundamentally changes. Since economics tends to be the main sticking point between socialism and libertarianism, when that's removed from the equation the two groups find themselves agreeing...


@48 Andrew G- It may not be as much of a post-scarcity economy as a post-ambition economy. No one human in the novels seems to wake up and say "I think I'll build a few dozen orbitals for fun today"; mainly they're content to live relatively cheap but pleasant lives.
You could probably pull off a culture-like trick in a modern industrialized long as everyone stopped wanting to be richer. Good luck.


@ 39 (b)
"I favor individualism, .... and the gold standard."

Gold is a fiat currency, like all the others.
Au has no intrinsic value, except in chemistry and electronics.

I suggest you go and read Uncle Terry on the subject. ( "Making Money" )


Gold's advantage and disadvantage are the same -- that it's universal and beyond the control of any one government.

If you were going to peg money to something objective, then I'd think a basket of commodities would be better.


Doowop@46 - I just read that Ellison story for the first time a few weeks ago. It's great, scary stuff. I'll need to look out for some more of his writings - all I've read is the odd short story.


@50: In marginalist economics, nothing has intrinsic value; all value is subjective. And the value of any medium of exchange comes mainly from the widespread subjective estimate that other people are going to accept it as a form of payment, which in turn is based on the expectation that they are mostly making a similar subjective estimate. That's equally true of cowrie shells, gold, banknotes, and electronic accounting entries.

But that's not the same as being "fiat." Fiat money is, specifically, money whose exchangeability is a product of a government decreeing that it's legal tender. The exchangeability of commodity money has a different source: the subjective estimates of many different participants in an ongoing market. There are meaningful differences between the two, and it doesn't help clear thinking the confuse the terminology. The technical term for what you're talking about is "liquidity," not "fiat money."


@46 writes: Whay do all the Singulatarians assume that AI would be benevolent?
Either way, why would anyone want to risk a horrible painful extinction of the human race? If there is the slightest chance (anything greater than 0%) that an AI would be hostile, shouldn't we stage some sort of Butlerian Jihad?

I for one welcome our new AI masters, while trying to refrain from assumptions such as "AIs may/will be inherently harmful to my kind and I should/must respond to a perceived threat." Cultivating an appearance of "mostly harmless" or even "nice to have around" -- especially if true(!) -- strikes me as a far better alternative to any jihad.*

In short: don't be a dick, and even AIs** will be more favorably disposed toward you and your race/claque/species.

* Outside the Computer History Museum in Mountain View (, for several months there was a signboard on display with the message [paraphrased]:

Get to know your robots. Someday they WILL be in charge.

** Artificial stupids a la Michael Flynn may require a different approach, e.g. mediation with the Iron Maul of Understanding:

No, it's a hardware problem. *thwack* YOU are the hardware. Got it?


Re: AIs, I've been convinced - rather against my will - by reading Elizier Yudkowsky's blog "Overcoming Bias", that if you think we are at all likely to succed in creating an AI soon, and you don't really want to be rendered into paperclips, you ought to start thinking about FAI very very urgently. I'd be interested in hearing good arguments against this point of view.

The only reason I'm not panicking right now is that I'm basically a Platonist.


A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to own and operate giant robots shall not be infringed.

Give me liberty *and* give me giant robots.


People will always be scarce.

doowop@46: AI might be better than we are at whatever it is we are meant to be doing here. One could as well ask: why have children?


has any one asked the GAINT ROBOTS what they fee about THINGS recently?


CH @54: I'm sure the neanderthals were probably very nice people.

Our species wiped them out anyways.


Give me Liberty, or give me Giant Robots.

As Sagoff concludes, ‘The solution is to structure property rights to turn liberty into prosperity, not to put scientists in charge.’”


"Science fiction," said the robot, "has become science fact!"

That's the opening line of one of my novels - the irony being, of course, that the robot is pointing out a marvel (a space elevator, as it happens) while the marvel of a robot pointing out anything at all, let alone enthusing about it, has become everyday in the story.



Funny to read this now; I've been spending time reading the links from this piece about a recent Charles 'Bell-Curve' Murray speech in praise of hardship and misery as prerequisites for True Happiness. I think left- and right-libertarians, and for that matter most skiffy people of any political stripe are closer to each other in goals than to Mr Murray---that is to say, being basically all right with coming as close as we can manage to Being as Gods, as opposed to seeing true happiness and virtue arising from Hunger and Cold Stomping on a Human Face Forever.

(I must admit, that hte net effect was to wonder if Yglesias' comments section had been entirely taken-over by science-fiction fan types---note that they notice the similarity of Murray's ideas to those of Capt. Kirk, and that others point out that Kirk came from a welfare state that was on its way to abolishing money.)


62: Starfleet Command seems not to issue paychecks, but Mudd seems an old-school Capitalist. So how does Economics of Abundance phase in, as some sort of fractal galactic percolation? The nonmonetary future is here already, but unevenly distributed?

The below is related to the fine but now-closed thread of 21st century FAQ, as my last word on why cell-by-cell uploading of human brains into hardware is impossible for synchronization reasons.

M. B. Kitzbichler et al. (2009). "Broadband Criticality of Human Brain Network Synchronization" PLoS Comput Biol 5, 3: e1000314. doi:10.1371/journal.pcbi.1000314.

Self-organized criticality is an attractive model for human brain dynamics, but there has been little direct evidence for its existence in large-scale systems measured by neuroimaging. In general, critical systems are associated with fractal or power law scaling, long-range correlations in space and time, and rapid reconfiguration in response to external inputs. Here, we consider two measures of phase synchronization: the phase-lock interval, or duration of coupling between a pair of (neurophysiological) processes, and the lability of global synchronization of a (brain functional) network. Using computational simulations of two mechanistically distinct systems displaying complex dynamics, the Ising model and the Kuramoto model, we show that both synchronization metrics have power law probability distributions specifically when these systems are in a critical state. We then demonstrate power law scaling of both pairwise and global synchronization metrics in functional MRI and magnetoencephalographic data recorded from normal volunteers under resting conditions. These results strongly suggest that human brain functional systems exist in an endogenous state of dynamical criticality, characterized by a greater than random probability of both prolonged periods of phase-locking and occurrence of large rapid changes in the state of global synchronization, analogous to the neuronal "avalanches" previously described in cellular systems. Moreover, evidence for critical dynamics was identified consistently in neurophysiological systems operating at frequency intervals ranging from 0.05-0.11 to 62.5-125 Hz, confirming that criticality is a property of human brain functional network organization at all frequency intervals in the brain's physiological bandwidth.


@62: That's basically accurate. I'm in favor of a society where people are free and rich. My disagreement with socialists is second-order: On one hand I don't want the tragedy of the commons to eat up the resources that might make us richer, and democratic control of economic decisions has an unfortunate tendency to do that (either directly through wealth redistribution, or indirectly through "easy money" policies that erode a society's productive capital); on the other hand I don't want rent-seeking to make it more rewarding to cling to an established monopoly over existing wealth than to compete to produce new wealth, and most economic regulation tends to do that through the regulatory capture of bureaucracies by industries. I'd prefer to help the poor entirely through voluntary charity, but I could live with a modest safety net if it had better safeguards against those problems than ours has. After all, if you look at the American government budget, the money that actually goes to poor people, domestically or overseas, is a fraction of the money that goes to warfare and big business.

It seems to me that economies are like ecosystems. Do you know about Australian firestick farmer? The original inhabitants used to set fire to the forests, burn them down, and replace them with new growth that contained a larger share of edible plants, and attracted more animals to eat them; this went on for so long that many Australian species are biologically adapted to regular fires. Economies tend to grow "trees" of large, stable firms protected by cosy relationships with government bureaucracies; but for high growth you need to burn the trees down and let the grass of small startups take root. On the other hand, the trees naturally don't like being set on fire. (Here "free market capitalism" = grass, and both "corporate capitalism" and "state socialism" = different sorts of trees. It was Murray Rothbard who pointed out that the problem of economic calculation hits a monopolistic business in exactly the same way that it hits a command economy.)

You know, I've probably just reinvented Joseph Schumpeter's "creative destruction" theory. . . .



People will always be scarce.
Have you been in the downtown section of a large city recently?


Was doing some reading, and came across a link to an article titled: Theoretical construction of stable traversable wormholes.

I read as much as I could, but the math was beyond me. Still fun to peek at though, and I thought immidiately of your work when I saw the title.


Their first citation is to Morris and Thorne [1] in

M. S. Morris, K. S. Thorne, and U. Yurtsever. Wormholes, time machines, and the weak energy condition. Phys. Rev. Lett., 61:1446–1449, 1988.

Wikipedia currently explains the Science Fiction film connection thus: "Carl Sagan once asked Thorne to examine the time travel section of the manuscript for Contact. Thorne immediately dismissed Sagan's hypothesis; however, he later had an epiphany — wormholes may be used as time machines. His subsequent work, Wormholes, Time Machines and the Weak Energy Condition, along with other papers, has made him popular with science fiction fans. He did not care that it was highly speculative work, putting as much energy into it as other subjects. In June 2006, Steven Spielberg announced he would direct a scientifically accurate film about "a group of explorers who travel through a worm hole and into another dimension", from a treatment by Kip Thorne and producer Lynda Obst. In January 2007, screenwriter Jonathan Nolan met with the studio to discuss adapting Obst and Thorne's treatment into a narrative screenplay. The screenwriter suggested the addition of a "time element" to the treatment's basic idea, which was welcomed by Obst and Thorne. In March, Paramount hired Nolan as well as scientists from Caltech, forming a workshop who will begin adapting the treatment after completing the script for Warner Bros.' The Chicago Fire. The following July, Kip Thorne said there was a push by people for him to portray himself in the film Interstellar."

Kip Thorne was one of the notable students of John Archibald Wheeler, along with
Demetrios Christodoulou
Richard Feynman
Jacob Bekenstein [holographic cosmos; co-inventor with Bawking of black hole entropy]
Robert Geroch
Bei-Lok Hu
John R. Klauder
Charles Misner
Milton Plesset
Arthur Wightman
Hugh "Many Worlds" Everett
Bill Unruh

I've kept in touch with Kip Thorne and with another of Yurtsever's coauthors (Dr. George Hockney).

I'm SO looking forward to the Obst/Thorne/Spielberg/Nolan film!

They'll be that much more likely to film the Stross takes on those subjects later...



Any idea when the film will be out ?


The maths check out as far as I can lightly see. The paper is fundamentally about the nature of the functions describing the metric of the wormhole as it joins to Schwarzschild space---a single, spherically symmetric, mass in an otherwise empty universe---this is a reasonable approximation, the paper's basic claim is that with these conditions, the solution is stable against small perturbations to that (e.g., there being something else in the universe).

If it weren't for Kip, I don't think I would have graduated; he was very kind to me, though I don't think excessively indulgent.

One thing I'd like to see in a skiffy wormhole, without a lot of physics justification for it, it would just be neat: regardless of from which direction you come toward a wormhole, your first view of it makes it look to be a circle (of horizon-associated particles at the edges) seen pretty much on-edge; as you approach it, it seems to face you more and more.

(Any horizon acts as a particle-generator, it's how black holes radiate, and why tiny ones evaporate; the particles' existence can be seen as a consequence of net entropy's not diminishing when an horizon forms. I _want_ there to be Hawking radiation around a wormhole because it would look cool; I think there actually might be, because [looked at another way] a nearby wormhole cuts you off from a large portion of the otherwise-nearby universe.)

(The rotating stuff I'm not at all sure of, it would just be neat, and is inspired by the stationary observer's seeing the high acceleration of an object near c as including a rotation of it.)


David @ 68: I don't know. The last three times that I had extended conversations with Kip Thorne, he had more pressing matters. Once, it was that John Archibald Wheeler had just died. He seemed to appreciate my heartfelt sympathies, and read with approval my poem commemorating Wheeler. Once, he was settling the estate of his parents. And the other time, he was again hosting his great friend Stephen Hawking who, for all his wonderful qualities, is rather and handful in terms of logistics.

Michael @69 seems right about the new wormhole paper. What I wonder about (and expect not to have time to explore once my full-time AP calculus teaching starts Monday 30 Mar 09) is the perturbations from spin and charge, i.e. when one is gluing a single, spherically symmetric, charged mass to the Schwarzschild space. That's because I don't well understand the Reissner-Nordstrom solutions. It is useful for Science Fiction (and I may have mentioned in my 1980 Omni article) that when you throw gravitational radiation at a spinning charged black hole, some electromagnetic waves scatter from it; and when you throw electromagnetic radiation at a spinning charged black hole, some gravitational waves scatter from it.

Bill Unruh, by the way, surprised me when he proved that accelerating mirrors have to give off radiation. Michael Turyn is right about radiating horizons. That was what concerned Freeman Dyson about the extremely deep future, after all the black holes have radiated away, and the cosmos is a very dilute electron-positron ambiplasma (in which I first pointed out in print we were likely simulated), is that the very slow, cold intelligences are still being cooked by the radiation from the "esge of the universe" -- since under General Relativity, the universe does NOT decay asuymptotically to zero temperature (19th century "heat death") but rather to a positive but very tiny temperature.


David @ 68: I asked Lynda Obst on facebook, and she answered in public:

"In the thick of it and I promise you won't be remotely disappointed. Remarkable work by Nolan and most thrilling thing I've ever worked on."


JVP @ 70, 71, thanks for checking that out.

For those interested in understanding more about worm hole solutions to the Einstein field equations, Morris and Thorne wrote "Wormholes in spacetime and their use for interstellar travel: A tool for teaching general relativity" for the American Journal of Physics in 1988 (Vol 56, p 395). The paper is "more" accessible in that it only assumes a "basic" knowledge of General Relativity and the first part doesn't go into the maths.



Pretty crowded, yes, but however the number of people changes over time, the demand for people will scale in direct proportion to the supply of people available. Even if there were unimaginable numbers of people scattered in vast habitats all over the galaxy, people would still be scarce. The competition for friends, compatriots, and lovers would be exactly as fierce as ever.


I saw Jo's when she went home this way last year. I wonder if they have enough gold coins because the US government has stopped selling them (too much gold-rushing).


Accelerando: capitalism in la-la-land (the only place where it might work sustainably).
No wonder "libertarians" awarded you.
Harakiri might save the day.


What about reality? Shall we meet a *real* "libertarian"?
Keeping with the UK motive...

Meet a lecture giving "libertarian". Chairman of Northern Rock. Accepter of 16 billions bail outs.


If anyone wonders about the lack of socialist sci-fi...
1) Socialists refuse to hide behind singularities and visiting la-la-lands
2) Socialists found out that since socialism works, there is no drama. Who can write books without drama?
3) Socialists might be busy actually *doing* things. See "revolution".
4) Socialists are scarce these days. Not because Fukuyamas, but because of bullets (see "Allende") or "FREE FREE FREE markets" (see "IMF", "WB", "BIS", "Wall Street", "crash". "capitalism", "neverending horror".


Sorry to be a bit heavy (both stand-alone and in irony) But you deserve it. For any non-socialist value of "you".


@ 38: interventionist party of Regulators and Puritans, would be the "Greens". Puritans are not just concerned with regulating sexual morality or drug/alcohol use, there is a subspecies that also likes to regulate other life style choices such as whether individuals can own a gun, drive an SUV or build a nuclear power plant.

Lumping environmentalism and "moral" totalitarianism into the same category makes even less sense than lumping them in with economic policy.


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