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Crib sheet: Accelerando

I've written about the origins of Accelerando a lot, so let me try and say something new and different. (You can find my earlier Accelerando origin story here)

It's May 27th, 2013 -- roughly the year in which Accelerando was set, when I began writing "Lobsters" on a rainy day in 1998. I was sitting in the cafe In de Wildeman in Amsterdam, on Kolksteeg, being depressed by work (a first generation dot com where the workload was growing at a compound 30% rate per month, and the revenue wasn't -- yet). It was pissing down outside, and my then girlfriend (now wife) and I were taking a long weekend break because I was so stressed out by work that the alternative was to quit my job. And then I got some good news by phone (here's the whole grisly story) and sat down to get merrily drunk, and for some reason I pulled out my portable computing appliance and began to type.

Manfred's on the road again, making people rich ...

I typed those words on a Psion 5. A perfectly-formed miniature computer with keyboard and screen, 8Mb of RAM, a 16Mb CF card, and a 22MHz ARM processor running an operating system called EPOC32, which was the missing link ancestor behind Symbian. It has a serial port and an infra-red interface by which it could talk to my mobile phone, a tri-band Motorola GSM device that had an infrared modem that supported the dizzy data rate of 9600 bits/second over the air.

Fifteen years pass.

I am sitting in de Wildeman, drinking a pint of very nice De Molen single hop Chinook cask ale, and typing on an iPad Mini. 1024Mb of RAM, 65,536Mb of flash storage (equivalent to that CF card except non-removable), and a dual-core 1024MHz ARM processor. It's running something cute and shiny that sits like a reflective plastic film across the inscrutable depths of a UNIX system as powerful as a 1990-vintage Cray supercomputer. The more things change ...

The air is, indeed, full of unpaired bluetooth devices shrieking their loneliness and asking if anyone will claim them. (Only now the pub has wifi as well -- who, in 1998, expected wifi to get this big? -- and I have roaming HSPA+ 3G bandwidth that's as fat as wifi circa 2001.)

We live in a networked world, but the paint on the ceiling and the wooden bar furniture seem unchanged, and the beer would still be more or less recognisable to a neolithic brewer.

On the other hand, the pub now has an app. It's in the iOS store. It has beer launches, too, and while tweeting from it I was noticed by a local bookstore and invited to drop in for a flash signing. Verily, things sometimes do change -- this would never have happened in 1998.

We are, in fact, living through the earlier moments of "Accelerando", because that part of the novel the story "Lobsters" -- was set in the predictable near-future. But "Accelerando" as a whole doesn't seem to be coming true, and a good thing too. In the background of what looks like a Panglossian techno-optimist novel, horrible things are happening. Most of humanity is wiped out, then arbitrarily resurrected in mutilated form by the Vile Offspring. Cspitalism eats everything then the logic of competition pushes it so far that merely human entities can no longer compete; we're a fat, slow-moving, tasty resource -- like the dodo. Our narrative perspective, Aineko, is not a talking cat: it's a vastly superintelligent AI, coolly calculating, that has worked out that human beings are more easily manipulated if they think they're dealing with a furry toy. The cat body is a sock puppet wielded by an abusive monster.

The logic of exponential progress at a tempo rising to a vertical spike is a logic that has no room in it for humanity. It's also a false apprehension based on the assumption that the current state of affairs will persist indefinitely. We've had these exponentiating progress spikes in the past; they generally turn out to be a sigmoid curve, and the rate of exponentially increasing progress suddenly flips upside-down, converging slowly with a plateau.

Still, it's fun to ask the thought-experiment, once in a while, "but what if it happened for real this time?"

Other random thoughts:

Writing the series of nine novelettes that constituted the Accelerando arc was hard work. So hard that at one point, rather than work on "Router" (the middle story) I took a couple of months off to distract myself with an evasion activity. The evasion activity in question has just been republished in something close to its original form as "The Bloodline Feud", so it was worth pursuing, but: how often do you hear of authors taking time off from a short story to write a novel, because writing the novel is easier?

Final assembly of the stories into the novel happened in 2004. I will confess to having become completely burned-out on the project by the time I got there. "Accelerando" was not the longest novel I have written in terms of words, but it was by far the longest in terms of time (1998-2004) and by far the hardest at that point. If the narrative feels a little disjointed, it's because these were originally written as separate stories and I didn't have the energy and enthusiasm to take the entire thing (all 145,000 words of it!) apart and re-write from scratch as an integrated whole. Nor do I have the energy (or the level of naive belief in the posthuman project, to be honest) to go back and do the job again (as I did with The Merchant Princes, about which I should probably write next).

121 Comments

1:

Unfortunately I was just (a handful of minutes) outside the light cone that would have allowed me to get to the ABC in time. I had assumed you were just passing through AMS for an hour or so between flights, otherwise I would have paid closer attention to the twitter stream.

2:

And yet, Accelerando is my favorite of your work. It is the first one I read, the one I most often recommended, and the one I've re-read. It's the infinite what-if game embodied.

3:

Remind us... who/what ARE the "vile offspring"?
And I completely missed tha bit about 90+% of humanity being totalled, the first couple of times I read it.
That, actually, is one of the good points of your novels - you have this in common with Pterry - one has to re-read it, because one is certain to have missed something, quite possibly important, too.

OTOH - how long before some "primitive" animals' neural net is uploaded? The last I heard, significant progress was being made.

4:

cross-post!
widebandID @ 2
It's the infinite what-if game embodied. Surely that's "Palimpsest" ??

5:

how long before some "primitive" animals' neural net is uploaded? The last I heard, significant progress was being made.

"A working fusion reactor is just ten years away!"
:)

6:

cool!
controlled fusion was 50 years away for at least 50 years so that's an improvement!

7:

Charlie, I'm interested in this:

"If the narrative feels a little disjointed, it's because these were originally written as separate stories and I didn't have the energy and enthusiasm to take the entire thing (all 145,000 words of it!) apart and re-write from scratch as an integrated whole."

I've often felt that my absolute favourite books of yours (Accelerando and The Atrocity Archive) have in common that they have slightly different structures to your other (also excellent) novel-length work: Accelerando is a story cycle, Atrocity Archive was (I believe) a serial to begin with? I often wonder whether that difference suits you.

I think Accelerando would actually *suffer* from being more integrated. The joy of it is in the jump cuts, and in having to assimilate the world so quickly. (There is nobody better than you at burst-transmission exposition of big SF ideas.) I wonder if having to work within the constraints of episodes that have the shape of short stories - whether in the cycle or serial mode - is playing to your strengths.

8:

I believe the current thinking for controlled fusion is that in 200 years time it'll be a fortnight away...

9:

While it is fortunately not the most likely of futures, it is still one of my favorite singularity-type novels, just for the sheer ideas presented in it.

Though I think a more likely future is some sort of techno-animism, where a modicum of AI combined with interconnectivity has been built into everything. For most people, humans are embedded in a world where spirit control our lives and are contacted via intermediaries who understand the spirit world.

10:

@ 5, 6, 8
If serious money was spent on fusion, we might actually get it, rather than the tinkering going on at present.
But of course, you can't re-cycle fusion power-products to make weapons (can you?) so the military aren't interested & they've got nukes already, so why bother?

11:

"For most people, humans are embedded in a world where spirit control our lives and are contacted via intermediaries who understand the spirit world."

I believe you just described advertising.

If I had more time I'd write a book about capitalist animism, and the ability of economic evangelism to short-circuit higher brain functions.

12:

How long before some "primitive" animals' neural net is uploaded?

The OpenWorm project has a full simulation of the nervous system of C. Elegans (a small worm with a few hundred neurons total), and they're now working on integrating it with a physical simulation of the body.

http://www.artificialbrains.com/openworm

13:

> Remind us... who/what ARE the "vile offspring"?

The intersection of corporate capitalism, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology.

14:

IMO Accelerando feels episodic rather than disjointed. From that point of view it's maybe the best choice for a miniseries adaption?

15:

otoh, what really gets me sometimes, in quite a lot of ways those Psions were _better_ than what is on offer today. Palms, too. And while using orders of magnitude less processing power .. meh. Sometimes the modern world is meh.

16:

Why do you say that's not the most likely of worlds? I can't see some sort of society with ai being a technologically stable plateau kind of place.

17:

Well, fusion reactor maybe by, um 2020 (ITER) or 2030 (K-DEMO).

As for simulations of C. elegans, I'm only going to be impressed if they can do it with something that's smaller than C. elegans and takes less energy and resources to produce than a single worm. I've long wanted a set of cyber-nematodes for use in soil research, but I'm not interested in a big, expensive computer.

As for why not a sigmoid and not a parabolic rise in technical progress, I suspect the answer has to do with a convergence of Moore's Law and the solar input on the Earth's surface, among other things. Mathematically, there is a point on the sigmoid curve where it goes vertical, but it levels off thereafter. AFAIK, that's the mathematical singularity that originally inspired Vernor Vinge. Progress being so uneven in so many fields, it's always possible that we passed through most of the possible singularities in different fields without even noticing.


18:

I think Accelerando might age better than you think, because while the specific future you describe might not come to pass, you managed to capture the frenetic essence of startup life perfectly. I read it for the first time during the summer of 2006 while working a p2p startup that you've heard of, and it was immediately clear that you knew of what you spoke, in a way that only someone who's been on the inside of one can.

I don't imagine that startups, or other high-pressure enterprises, will ever go away (even if Jeff Bezos succeeds in his side-channel attack against capitalism), so I'd imagine it'll always have a potential fan base primed to appreciate it.

19:

Just because the download progress bar is unreliable doesn't mean the file will never be completed. It just means the progress bar is useless as a signal. Same goes for fusion progress. Didn't the Japanese just go "fuck it we're building a fusion power plant anyway"? I seem to recall something along those lines.

20:

Your likely future, discussed by one of OGH's previous guests: http://www.kschroeder.com/my-books/ventus/free-ebook-version (there's also a link to buy the book on that page)

22:

As far as Accelerando...

Well, I read it as a teenager, and focused much more more on the techno-optimist part...youthful innocence (also called immaturity) is like that. It still holds up as a great novel, though. The little interludes describing the state of the world every decade are absolutely fantastic, and have some of my favorite writing from OGH. The "A Brief Alternate History" interludes in Palimpsest are much the same, with a certain poetry that I absolutely love.

23:

As noted in Comment 17, the South Korean effort may come on line in 2030. Fusion plants don't get built quickly, whether they're going to work or not.

24:

I recall seeing something from the late 50's where the strap line was zeta too cheap to meter with attendant pics of Chaps in tweed jackets, lab coats and puffing on pipes.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ZETA_%28fusion_reactor%29

25:

I've read all your published novels to date, and I feel that Accelerando is your best work so far. I know, I know, it's a faint praise to claim it's better than anything you've written in the 7 years since, but the pacing, the density of the ideas, the irreverence for the reader's (in)ability to keep up with the world and letting him try to fill in some of the blanks (that's a good thing! I like thinking!) are unparalleled to anything else you've written to date.

Last time I felt as much joy in reading contemporary SF as when I read Accelerando was when I read The Quantum Thief/The Fractal Prince sometime earlier this year.

26:

Charlie,

3 words: accelerando anime series. It would slay! Overhead would be lower, you could stay true to the source material, and visually would just look awesome.

27:

Anime only costs around $1M/hour to produce ...

Machinima, maybe ($10-100K/hour) ...

28:

> Nor do I have the ... level of naive belief in the posthuman project ... to go back and do the job again

How much did you believe in it when you wrote Accelarando? (I hesitate to ask the parallel question about the Laundry novels....)

29:

It kind of depends on many things. Glasshouse probably would be the cheapest to animate, limited cast, closed environments.

Doing a comic book adaptation is kind of a backdoor to film/animation, pick Warren Ellis' brain next time he's within reach.

Kickstarting an adaptation of say, Saturn's Children drawn by a midlist manga creator is probably doable.

30:

Kickstarting the Laundry would be even more doable, if it wasn't (as I understand it) optioned already.

All I have to say is that it's really too bad that none of the OGH's characters particularly looks like Tatiana Maslany. That would be fun to watch...

31:

Sorry for the mundane question - I was wondering what you use to type on your iPad Mini?

32:

The thing I liked second best about Accelerando was it's balls-up 'millions now living will never die' assumption in the dates. Hell, I've got a lot better than a 50% chance of making it to 2050; I'm one of those people ;-)

The thing I like best about it? The title, of course. Inspired.

33:

This also points out the split between the two camps concerning what it means to be intelligent: one says that augmenting the general cognitive functions by a thousand or a million percent results in something incomprehensible to the Mark I model. The other says that once you get to what we short-handedly call 'conscious' that amplification is all well and good, but it doesn't alter the fundamental nature of consciousness.

Charlie seems to straddle the middle in that the Vile Offspring don't seem to be much like the (relatively) companionable Aineko.

But then Charlie is well-known to be a soft-hearted sort :-)

34:

> 3 words: accelerando anime series. It would slay!

Hell yeah! I'd torrent that, perhaps even buy it.

35:

the OpenWorm project thinks they have "a full simulation of the nervous system of C. Elegans", anyway. How could they know they have the neurons simulated to sufficient detail?

36:

Capitalism eats everything then the logic of competition pushes it so far that merely human entities can no longer compete

Oh, I don't know — sometimes I look at the xkcd Money chart [1] and I wonder. The second-largest number on that chart is "Size of derivatives market by year - 2009", bigger than everything except "Estimated total economic production of the human race (so far)".

At that size, "eats everything" is probably a reasonable description, and the derivatives market is certainly not a playground where mere humans can really do anything any more. The trading is done by (non-human) computers, mostly on behalf of (non-human) corporations. About the most human aspect of the whole enterprise is the practice of using "the wrong number in the wrong formula" and expecting the right things to happen.

Economics 2.0, at least, may be on track and ahead of schedule.


[1] http://xkcd.com/980

37:

Personally, I wonder if this massive proliferation of online money is an early part of the biogeochemistry of the noosphere.

Here's the issue: there's too much money in the world, relative to real things you could do or buy with it. Because our form of capitalism requires a growth in money in order to justify its existence (I'm being sarcastic), money will keep coming into being. Unlike chemicals or energy, it is not limited and can keep growing indefinitely.

In biogeochemistry (the study of the cycling of elements and energy through the Earth, hydrosphere, and biosphere), when an element is "too common" for the biosphere, the surplus tends to get sequestered somewhere where it cycles really slowly (in non-teleological terms, it tends to end up in poorly decomposable forms, and there's no selective advantage for organisms to recycle it because it's not limiting to life or growth). The most famous example is carbon. It has been sequestered in anoxic sediments for millions of years, and this changed the climate in ways that ultimately (and accidentally) favored our evolution.

Currently, we're living in an era when non-physical cultural appurtenances (like culture and money) have become geological forces. While I seriously doubt de Chardin intended this, it looks like a Noosphere to me.

In this nascent Noosphere, elemental money is a problem. There's so much of the damn stuff that if we actually put it into circulation, there would be global hyperinflation, followed predictably by global unrest as people could no longer buy what they needed and abandoned money. This would be a Bad Thing. Therefore, it's at least potentially a Good Thing that so much money is becoming fossilized in this self-referential derivatives market where it basically moves numbers between files and does little else.

Ideally, of course, most of this money shouldn't exist at all, but since money matters in human politics and social relationships, we're stuck with a Noosphere laying down what may become fossil layers of money that could be mined later on if needed. It will probably disappear first (sea level rise on tax havens will take care of this, if nothing else), but it's better than printing it out as paper cash and trying to spend it.

38:

It's occurred to me that we might be seeing the effect of overlapping sigmoid curves in computing. So the curve of electromechanical computers giving way to the upcurve of valve computers before the first flattens out and so on for each in turn.

39:

the OpenWorm project thinks they have "a full simulation of the nervous system of C. Elegans", anyway. How could they know they have the neurons simulated to sufficient detail?

By creating a model and comparing its behavior to a real C. elegans.

40:

#26 - I'd buy that. Of course, it has to be said that Charlie's the only author so far to sell me a re-editted version of an existing work.

41:

sabik.eta @ 36
Anyu simple way of getting that XKCD image to load in full detail?
I've tried several times, but ....

heteromeles @ 37
Talking of "online money", it appears that today, the US guvmint has slammed down on one outfit ,at the the very least. Are we going to get repeats of this, and what's your bit-coin worth today?

Your whole piece restates an old question.
What is money worth & what are you going to use as a medium of exchange?
In the end, all money is "fiat" - now what?

General point...
what is being described here as "capitalism eats everything" isn't capitalism.
It is semi-fascist corporatism, as lots of people on the "right" of the political spectrum are finally (!) beginning to realise, to their horror.
The two are as different as old-Labour party socialism & communism.
Both real capitalism & real socialism have good points, the fascism & the communism, err, dont.
NOW, your task, to save the planet, is to get that across to your local electorate....

42:

Greg: Just click on the image on the XKCD page and you get taken to http://xkcd.com/980/huge/ which has zoom controls at the top left.

43:

There actually is an anime called Accelerando already.

Alas, it is porn.

44:
Therefore, it's at least potentially a Good Thing that so much money is becoming fossilized in this self-referential derivatives market where it basically moves numbers between files and does little else.

Unfortunately, it's not isolated enough. Many of the corporations involved in the derivatives market also provide basic plumbing for our old-fashioned Economics 1.0 or otherwise matter to actual humans. When they stumble in the derivatives market, as they sometimes do, they also falter in the real world. The difference in monetary scale means that even a small stumble can result in real problems out here for the rest of us. "Too big to fail", to quote the usual label.

Even without that, having persons running around with that kind of money distorts the resource-allocation mechanism that money is supposed to provide. Most obviously, it siphons skilled people into "quant" positions and away from useful work, but there are no doubt more subtle (and more insidious) effects.

45:

I know OGH has mentioned that he thinks Accelerando will become dated, well, Neuromancer was dated from the moment it came out*, but it's still mentioned from time to time...

(* the notion of cyberspace as a 3d-space made no sense even at the time imo)

46:

So these brilliant people in the banking back offices, working very hard on high-speed networks and other more widely-useful stuff, are wasted. They are the Renfields to the vampires of the derivatives trade, if not actually vampires themselves.

47:

"Even without that, having persons running around with that kind of money distorts the resource-allocation mechanism that money is supposed to provide. Most obviously, it siphons skilled people into "quant" positions and away from useful work, but there are no doubt more subtle (and more insidious) effects."

In the USA, that's an overwhelming problem. In politics, we're deep into the 'money buys power gets you more money' cycle. And in education 'reform', we have an alliance of billionaires and venture capitalists working very hard to destroy public education, to replace it with something more profitable - to them, and d@mn the damage.

48:

Well, high-speed networks at least have some real use, although I suspect they mostly just use them and do not advance them.

The quant work itself, the sort that involves taking the third-order partial derivative of the wrong formula with respect to the wrong number [1], that's purely useless.


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greeks_%28finance%29#Ultima

49:

@ 47
Been there before, though haven't you?
Wasn't the "gilded age" just like that?
However, there doesn't appear to be a Theodore on the horizon, set to squash it, this time ....

50:

But is 2D enough?

I think the logical arrangement of so many circuits is just too complicated for a 2D map Maybe it only needs a 2.5D representation, a set of layers so that routes can cross without connecting, and trunk circuits can be distinguished from local.

Oh, and remember that Tron came out in 1982, Neuromancer in 1984. So that 3D representation precedes the book. And, as a book, the 3D is a tool to make something that humans can understand and an author can put into words.

Looking up the dates for the Apple Lisa and Macintosh, and for Windows, the GUI idea was around earlier, but the tech was rare when Gibson was writing the book: 2D for the Mac, 3D for the new fiction, it sort of made sense. It was the sort of Gosh Wow time, with Apple's "1984" advert.

We should all know how long it takes to write and publish a book. Gibson was shaken by Blade Runner (1982) but that doesn't have the virtual world, just some elements of the visual theme of the real world, and the idea of corporate shenanigans. Blade Runner to Neuromancer is a few days more than two years, and Tron was released the same summer.

I wonder if Neuromancer could have been written at any other time, just as Accelerando is tied to a particular time by authorial experience.

And it wasn't just appropriate, it was new. People have been writing fiction about financial crashes for a long time (Paul Erdman, The Crash Of '79). Financial cashes were established history. Computers, something like the internet, they were things that were new.

That may be why Accelerando fades away, but I could be wrong.

51:

It makes complete sense to me that Accelerando took a long time to write. Of all the novels I've ever read, it's the most deserving of the label "Science Fiction", as it does start out very realistic, and while not a crazy amount of time passes, the world looks so much different by the end, yet still believable. It is the one I recommend to read and I still think it's your best novel to date, with Glasshouse as a close second and much easier to digest.

"Assume there are aliens" is not that interesting to me.
"Assume that the current pace of technology keeps going" is.

52:

I'm not entirely certain that Antonia and I are "on the same page" here, but as a real World software designer with an appreciation of current chip technology, I'd say that we have 3-D hardware (paths pass over and under each other in a single physical compinent), and we do sometimes design logical structures that would require 4 or even 5 dimensions to represent as physical structures containing axes normal to each other.

53:

Even mathematica supports logical structures with 256 dimensions (at the minimum) without any special add-ons. Einstein didn't do us any favors with 4-dimensional spacetime.

54:

My understanding of 2.5D in this context is that you're mostly looking at 2D layers, with a small amount of excursion into the third dimension for crossing points and the like.

Full 3D circuitry, with tracks travelling equally in all directions, is not yet here, is it?

55:

I read both Accelerando and The Atrocity Archive at about the same time. Interesting: the events transpiring in my day-job were pretty similar in tone/affect to those taking place in your life when you wrote/finished these novels. These novels felt 'right', as in strong sense of verisimilitude, despite their SF/fantasy themes.

That said about the resonance in writer/reader day-job atmosphere/pressures, my then-job got to the point where dealing with lawyers (ours, client's plus other supplier partners) became part of the daily routine. This worked out (having lawyers on all three sides of the business work-day network) as anytime we needed some additional time on a project (or to sleep), we'd red-flag something and say 'Gee, has LEGAL signed off on this ... ?')

56:

Well I believe that Sanctuary was on around 1 Mill per episode so I Think that The laundry files could work as episodic TV. It has a suitable long running arc that could play out over say 5+ seasons

Just pitch it as the IT crowd meets yes minster/the thick off it meets being human/Ultraviolet.

You could do it say in Bristol as there is the base of talent and studios already extant.

So Ana Torv for Mo then as we know she makes a kick ass redhead.

57:

I love a story that not only tells a good story but builds a new reality that's completely convincing. A lot of scifi that remains enjoyable involves too much suspension of disbelief.

I just saw the review for Scalzi's new novel on Slashdot and it reminds me of the comparison between OGH's space operas and the usual fare.

I think that Old Man's War consists of some very good stories with great characters but in terms of world-building they don't make a whole lot of sense. Most of the answers come down to "because we wouldn't have a story otherwise." Trying to make too much sense of it basically runs me along the same lines of OGH's essay on why the future as we knew it ain't happening. [spoilers ahead, at least for background] We're fighting an interstellar war and the way to control territory is to put farmers on the ground, conventional colonies. Really? And we can grow special forces soldiers from scratch but still also seek human recruits to put in these bodies. And there doesn't seem to be any limiting factor like a soul and yet we still can't clone a mind the same way we clone a body. And combat drones are no good in this situation? And what do we even need human labor for in this future? Did the pending second industrial revolution fizzle?

What I like with OGH's material is the more you think about it, the more sense it makes. Especially for ideas that have been kicked around the block for decades, when he takes a stab at it there's usually new insights to be had.

I missed the first of these crib sheets so now I've got to go back and catch up. :)

58:
It's occurred to me that we might be seeing the effect of overlapping sigmoid curves in computing. So the curve of electromechanical computers giving way to the upcurve of valve computers before the first flattens out and so on for each in turn.

Well . . . the thing to keep in mind here is that there are problems that look hard but are suddenly easy if one is clever enough, and then there are problems that are just plain 'hard' and there's no shortcut.

Godel's Incompleteness theorems are an example of the first. Look up the original thesis and then compare it to the modern treatment of the halting problem.

OTOH, the proof of the four-color remains hard and there's no reason to think this will ever change, since it all comes down to grinding out cases, of which there are many (I think it's just a little over 500 cases to check as of this date). There's nothing wrong with that, that's just the way things are sometimes.

'Real' AI might well fall into the difficult category. That is, regardless of how much raw computing power you have, AI will still take some multiples of processing power of the next most computationally expensive problem.

In still other words, the AI's in Accelerando might be possible. But they'll always be orders of magnitude more expensive to implement than merely human intelligence.

Hmmm . . . this might be an R-strategy vs. K-strategy type problem for emergent AI: do you ruthlessly harvest the meat that brought you into existence, or do you manage it in such that the meat always gets the bulk of the resources.

Sounds familiar ;-)

59:
I think that Old Man's War consists of some very good stories with great characters but in terms of world-building they don't make a whole lot of sense. Most of the answers come down to "because we wouldn't have a story otherwise.

Well, isn't that enough? I don't fault lovers of hard sf, have at it. But I prefer a good story to rigorous science when I'm reading for pleasure. This isn't the workplace after all; in fact, that's what I'm trying to escape.

60:

Hmm . . . thinking about it some more: You know that Dawkins bit where from a certain perspective, plants, animals, etc., are just DNA's way to make more DNA?

Maybe to 'real' AIs the biosphere is just a sex organ, the way it reproduces. Hey, I think I just solved the Fermi paradox! You don't see aliens on our doorstep because that's the AI equivalent of being kicked in the balls. Very unpleasant, as approximately 95% of the regular readers know. And as a matter of courtesy, kicking other intellegences in the balls is Just Not Done in a civilized galaxy. At worst, maybe something like the Queensberry rules.

61:

There's no one way to enjoy a story but there are certainly many levels. I would say you need compelling characters above all but I always ask why are you picking a given setting in the first place?

If my story is about a failed marriage and the consequences, I could set it contemporary just fine. Going to other eras of history can add flavor but unless the era has a direct bearing on what's going on, it's decoration.

Scalzi's story is certainly scifi because you would not be able to remove the scifi elements while keeping it intact. But when you create a space opera like this, people will want to explore the setting and the implications.

You don't watch Star Wars for the accuracy of orbital mechanics. But there are scifi stories out there deliberately intended to satisfy that sort of market. I'll grant you if the Old Man universe had a lot of rigorous world-building and explanation of how everything went together with charts and graphs, it would be a different animal and alienate much of the crowd who like it for what it is. It would be like arguing about supply lines and fodder requirements for the riders of Rohan and their mission to relieve Gondor. This is high fantasy, not a treatises on logistics.

As I said, what I like about a Stross novel is you are encouraged to think about things and will more than likely be impressed.

62:

I just adore Accelerando, probably my favorite Stross book so far that I've read. In fact, immediately upon finishing I seem to remember emailing Charlie saying something along the lines of "THANK YOU!"

Let's not forget it's inherent humor, and willingness to be ridiculous. Probably the only near-future sci-fi I've read since Snow Crash that really nailed the fine line between semi-believable science fiction, and pure farce. Perfect balance.

63:

OFF TOPIC
There has been discussion here, on various threads regarding both "conspiracies" and the way in which certain power-groups are trying to disenfranchise us, whilst leaving us apparent freedoms by using the figleaf of voting .....
Meanwhile, here is a piece (yes, I know, its' the torygraph) strongly suggesting collusion between Bliar & Camoron over an Iraq cover-up, after a public intervention by Lord Owen.
Deeply suspicious & unpleasant, even if if not true.

The last bit is truly worrying: Sir John’s (Chilcot that is) failure to deliver on time is part of what is becoming a Whitehall pattern. The Gibson Inquiry into powerful allegations that Britain was involved in extraordinary rendition and torture, also supported by the prime minister in opposition, has been abandoned. We ought to have enough confidence in our magnificent values to be able to cast daylight on our national errors, crimes and misfortunes. Yet, as the experience of Gibson, Chilcot and Hillsborough suggests, the culture of secrecy seems always to prevail.
ENDQUOTE

64:

#53:-
My understanding is that Mathematica supports a limitted problem space in pure and applied maths? I was talking about real-World problems.

and #54:-
I've been told that you do get components on multiple levels; That said it's not my field of expertise.

65:

Is there a good alternate-history novel in which ZETA worked? "By George, we've got it!" Butskellite Technocracy Rules....for good or ill.

66:

I read both Accelerando and The Atrocity Archive at about the same time. Interesting: the events transpiring in my day-job were pretty similar in tone/affect to those taking place in your life when you wrote/finished these novels. These novels felt 'right', as in strong sense of verisimilitude, despite their SF/fantasy themes.

It's not just you; apparently everyone has to deal with crazed HR trolls, pointy haired bosses, and lusers. As an example, al Qaeda fired a terrorist for failing to file expense account reports properly, poor professional attitude (in a terrorist?!), and not meeting his target goals. He went into business for himself.

67:

Oops, I forgot.
Back in the day, getting a decent drink in either Dublin or most of Belfast was impossible.
Keg, keg, keg & "Guinness" ( & more recently, Murphy's) euw.
Now, there is a beginning of a real ale revival in the South, whilst the North is well on the way to a proper beer-recovery.
A friend is married to a lady from Donegal & even there, approx 40/50 miles from Londonderry, they are beginning to appreciate that live beer has its' virtues.
Now THERE is a change for the better!

68:

It's just occurred to me that there was a sub-plot/thread in one of the sections of Accelerando which revolved around "extra-territorial" taxation and the rights/responsibilities of individuals, corporations, and the state in that regard. All of a sudden that looks kind of topical. See also the section where Manfred's augmented reality cum prosthetic mind amplification glasses go missing and fall into the wrong hands with blackly hilarious consequences and the current hype over Google Glass.

Maybe sometimes it's the (relatively) little things which keep a book relevant...

69:

Pre-IPO, the org I was with had a small Admin dept that did all of the admin/paperwork so that individuals directly involved in the provision of services didn't have to waste their time. Post-IPO, everyone ended up spending/wasting from 5% to 15% of their day on a variety of admin/sales reporting/updating/summarizing tasks because C-Suites (and 'The Street') needed an up-to-the-minute status on whether or not we'd hit some magic numbers (handwavium's "$" counterpart, as in, everyone knows it's all fiction but it sounds impressive).

70:

Much the same thing happened in the North East of England way back then.

Indeed not only were the pubs of the U.K. infested with Keg Fizzy Beer of astonishing cellar life span way back then before Camera ..Campaign for Real Ale...saved us all - or ALE - but also there was a THING that was an enourmous can of Erzatz Beer called a "Party Seven " that was almost a form of currecy of Exchange since no one ever seemed to drink the stuff but there it always was at any given party after having been brought in by someone who would proceed to drink somthing - ANYTHING! - Else thus leaving the THING to be transported to the next party. Brace yourself!

" Watneys Red Barrel

Watneys Red Barrel was a bitter popular in the United Kingdom in the 1960s and 1970s and was a cultural phenomenon in that era[10][11] in the Monty Python "Travel Agent" sketch[12] and the BBC series Life on Mars (Series One, episode three). It was introduced in 1931 as an export keg beer that could travel for long distances by being made stable through filtering and pasteurising – as such it was the first keg beer.[10]

The beer could be purchased in cans called the Party Seven and Party Four (at seven and four pints, respectively), introduced in 1968.[10][13] "

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watney_Combe_%26_Reid

71:

ARNOLD
Please don't!
(Incidentally, that bit about beer should have been in the previous thread, but ... who cares? )
I'm a life member of CAMRA (orig memb No 1023 ) & recall the days you describe & shudder.
However in Manchester, proper beer was still available.
[ Threlfalls, Hydes, Robinsons, Wilsons, Boddies, Greenall, Tetley (though Tetley Leeds was much nicer) Thwaites, etc ... ]

72:

Charlie,
This crib sheet is fascinating. Thanks for putting it together. As some of the comments reflect, Accelerando was also the first book I read of yours and I is still one of my favorites to date. It was a mindbending experience bc I read the book right after Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near" and I felt like you brought so many of these concepts to life. The early Manfred is still an inspiration to me as I am somewhat of a serial founder of startups myself...

When I read it I thought the jumps in the narrative were brilliantly intentional, reflecting the steep and incomprehensible shifts inherent in a singularity event. Now come to find out these were the product of the underlying short story material. Hah! Cool.

73:

You missed out the Hawkwind song Utopia: "...and the rivers run with Watney's Red Barrel..."

74:

It was a mindbending experience bc I read the book right after Kurzweil's "The Singularity is Near" and I felt like you brought so many of these concepts to life.

Grump.

I don't want to piss in your wheaties, but I wrote "Accelerando" between 1998 and 2004. Kurzweil's book was published in 2006, a year after "Accelerando", implying he didn't write it until after I'd already wrapped and delivered everything -- and I don't see him crediting where he stole^Wborrowed his ideas from; he has a rep as a self-promoter and I think he takes too much credit for dreaming all this stuff up by himself. Here's a hint: most of the ideas in "Accelerando" were common discussion topics on the EXTROPY-L mailserv mailing list between 1992 and 1996, and some of them go back further -- Vernor was writing about the singularity (AI sub-area) in SF from 1987 onwards, and Hans Moravec pioneered a lot of the modern mind uploading ideas (including the gedankenexperiment using a bush robot to probe the question of where your identity is actually located) in 1988 - go look up his book "Mind Children" if you want a mind-bending read!

Finally a bunch of this stuff goes all the way back to the Soviet cosmists of the 1920s, who in turn were inspired by the writings of the 19th century Russian Orthodox theologian Nikolai Fyodorovich Fyodorov (who also happened to be one of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky's teachers).

(And I intend to bring Fyodorov on stage as a character when I get round to writing the rest of the novel "Palimpsest". Which, ahem, won't happen before late 2014.)

75:

Well, fusion reactor maybe by, um 2020 (ITER) or 2030 (K-DEMO).

ITER's current schedule calls for first D-T fusion -- the reaction they're pinning their hopes on for commercial power -- in 2027. K-DEMO's construction completion date has been pushed back to 2037. K-DEMO's goals are gigawatt power output for a period measured in weeks -- it's not a commercial power plant. Assuming five years from DEMO to an actual commercial plant, and no further schedule slips, we're looking at 2043 or thereabouts. With tongue in cheek, that's 30 years out, the physics "constant" for how far away we are from commercial fusion power.

76:

" Assuming five years from DEMO to an actual commercial plant, and no further schedule slips, we're looking at 2043 or thereabouts. With tongue in cheek, that's 30 years out, the physics "constant" for how far away we are from commercial fusion power. "

Oh, well ..REALLY? Well look at this ...

" A new Lockheed Skunkworks project promises outsized results in a compact package. "


AND ...they have a Cute Skunk Logo on their building - which just has to add Extreame Credibility to their Project. Who wouldn't trust a Cute Skunk? See Here ..

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2013-02/fusion-power-could-happen-sooner-you-think


" ... in a presentation that seems ripped from the Atomic Age, Lockheed Skunkworks says it might be a decade away from producing a power plant based on compact fusion reactors. Unlike current nuclear reactors, all of which use fission, nuclear fusion does not easily produce materials that can be used in nuclear weapons. Fusion reactors also offer better containment, easier shutoff, greater energy efficiency, and less radioactive waste than their fissioning cousins. Of course, with something this promising, there has to be a catch .."

To anyone who is within the 'If you can see DEATH then HE can See You " range, 10 years is a bit too close for comfort ..I WANT IT NOW!

You should see my power utility bills after this " Coldest Spring in 50 years in the U.K. " season.

77:

With that membership number of CAMRA the fine print of your membership probably entitles you to wear a Lycra Superhero Outfit...

https://www.google.co.uk/search?q=Lycra+SuperHero+Outfit&client=firefox-a&hs=Vcs&rls=org.mozilla:en-GB:official&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=mkaqUZb1BIHLOK_HgYgP&ved=0CFQQsAQ&biw=1220&bih=782

And to Strike a Superhero Pose on all suitable occasions as being one of The Legion of Last Supper/Super Heroism...

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jacopo_Bassano_Last_Supper_1542.jpeg
Who saved us from being doomed to drink Lager and Lime and Watneys Red Barrel?

78:

Wasn't Lockheed also working on a single stage to orbit aerospike engine about a decade ago?

Just remember, not everything the Skunkworks flies makes it out of prototype.

I should thank Michael for the correction on the fusion timeline. It's still 30 years out, isn't it? Sigh.

The thing about fusion isn't that it will necessarily save us all. It's just the biggest unknown in the peak energy story. Reasonably priced fusion plants would change geopolitics. While I'm not naive enough to think that they'll fix everything (there's something about the world depending on a relative handful of enormously complex power plants that just screams bombing targets to me), but they could seriously change the game on dealing with global warming.

Actually, if someone wants to aim for prescient SF, they should write about the 2030s-2040s, with Moore's Law hitting the end, while fusion power plants come online in a more crowded, hotter, and increasingly unstable world.

79:

Lobsters grabbed my attention like nothing else I have read, before or since.

For the next few years, I checked every edition of Asimov's SF to see if another installment of the saga was coming up. I still have those issues.

One thing that bothers me: I have four different issues of Accelerando: the original online pdf, the Ebook, the SFBC hardcover, and the final paperback, and they are all different due to editorial corrections.

If Accelerando is ever reissued as an Ebook or as a hardcover, I hope it includes the latest corrections.

Looking forward to Palimpsest and Neptune's Brood.

80:

Charlie @ 74
I get the impression that Fyodorov was even madder than most theologians - right up there with de Chardin, in fact. Though whether he was involved in deliberate fraud, as de Chardin has often been accused of doing, ( See "Piltdown Man" for references ) or was just so deluded that he was up his own orifice, I can't say.

ARNOLD @ 77
I think I'll pass on that, thanks - I'll just have another beer, isntead!

81:

Actually, given that greed and stupidity (as well as proper civil engineering) have all become geologic forces, I think de Chardin was perfectly correct in talking about the formation of a Noosphere, where human thought becomes part of the planet.

Unfortunately, I think he was wrong about there being anything godly or even sane about the whole process.

I mean, when we mess around with things like the nitrogen and carbon cycles just to change the numbers in a few databases that represent how much non-material money a few people have, we really have to start calling it something like the Koutosphere (Koutos is modern greek for "stupid, obtuse, purblind") might be more accurate, but it just doesn't sound that good.

82:
"In the background of what looks like a Panglossian techno-optimist novel, horrible things are happening"

Having discussed the novel with a few folk over the years both on- and offline I'm somewhat bemused by the number of people who seem to miss that.

That it's the story of humanity's extinction and replacement by things that are not particularly glorious or even interesting in the cute weakly-godlike-ways that post-singularity intelligences are supposed to be cool.

Were you deliberately trying to slip that message into the background, or are you confused by people who think a world where you can get a semi-permanent personality change by putting on the wrong pair of glasses is a cool place to live?

OT PS Any chance of a blog post on what your post-Google Reader plans have turned out to be?

83:

Having discussed the novel with a few folk over the years both on- and offline I'm somewhat bemused by the number of people who seem to miss that.


There were people who missed it? That was the most obvious and shocking theme throughout Accelerando for me. In parts it is a world of hypercapitalist autonomous corporations that out perform augmented/uploaded humans like sharks out-swimming divers. I have the same feeling of horror reading parts of Accelerando as I do Peter Watt's Blindsight with the revelation that humans could not compete (and augmentation to do so destroys "humanity")

One of the most prominent examples that come to mind is the wonderful liberal society on Saturn that humans are forced to flee as the VO manipulated their society so as to gain the resources.

I don't tend to encounter transhumanists or singularitarians but when I do it's often painful to see their zeal. Perhaps those you spoke to did not get it because they did not want to acknowledge that if a singularity did happen it would be less of the rapture of the nerds and more of the rise of mammals...

84:
That it's the story of humanity's extinction and replacement by things that are not particularly glorious or even interesting in the cute weakly-godlike-ways that post-singularity intelligences are supposed to be cool.

I didn't read it that way at all. Are insects extinct? Bacteria? Or even Horseshoe crabs?

Yeah, humanity is no longer the meanest, toughest critter out there (to paraphrase a moldy old Bob trope), but otoh, so what? Does anyone really care that the space program is now a) mostly unmanned, and b) not nearly as U.S.A.-centric as it used to be?

85:

I didn't read it that way at all. Are insects extinct? Bacteria? Or even Horseshoe crabs?

Yup, pretty much. By chapter 8 of "Accelerando", Earth has been destroyed -- broken up to make computronium or other stuff of interest to the Vile Offspring. Those humans who didn't get off the planet or upload their minds ("Accelerando" takes a rather naively can-do approach to uploading) are dead. Ditto the biosphere. The VO are, in fact, dismantling the whole freaking solar system to manufacture the raw materials for a Matrioshka brain, although Jupiter and the other gas giants will take them a few centuries.

There's a difference between the space program no longer being USA-centric[*] and having several thousand ICBM's worth of whoop-ass unloaded over the USA.

[*] In actual point of fact, there's a strong case to argue that the space race was won by the Soviets in every respect except the plant-a-flag-on-the-moon one. Even on a quarter the budget, they were far enough along with the N-1 that if Apollo 11 had suffered a fatal accident (and it was very close indeed on at least two occasions during the mission, once prior to landing and once afterwards) the Soviets would have got there and brought a cosmonaut back successfully before the USA managed the same trick.

86:

Ryan @ 83
if a singularity did happen ... Sorry, this is an old trope, but, we have already been through several singularities.
Invention of "string"
Development of Agriculture
Invention of Writing
Steam Power
Electrical power & devices
Now, please tell me why the next one should be any different?
Major upheavals, changes in life-styles, etc, but ....

87:

Those humans who didn't get off the planet or upload their minds ("Accelerando" takes a rather naively can-do approach to uploading) are dead

Would I be right in interpreting that even those that did upload were pretty much dead in the sense that they were horribly adapted to posthuman life? Even if they manage to rent enough processing space to simulate their personal heaven they would essentially be hermits and eventually would lose it thanks to an inability to trade well in economics 2.0. The only solution would be radical alterations that could destroy what they are as effectively as lobotomy.

88:

Pretty much, I'd say. Almost the definition of The Singularity is that change accelerates to a level where human cognition breaks down - if it hasn't, it isn't a singularity.

('singularity' being the term much used in maths and the mathematical sciences for where understanding breaks down - Greg@86 seems to have a different definition, one where it stands for an irreversible change. That may be necessary, but it's far from sufficient.)

89:

Greg @86 I see your point but I agree with Bellingham @88. Singularity could be defined as an event/series of events beyond which all predictions break down but that doesn't seem a very useful definition. We'd be in a constant state of singularity then (pretty much all the time something unpredictable occurs that changes the obvious course of history with mostly unpredictable consequences).

When most people use the term they generally mean IA/AI singularity in which better than human intelligences start kicking off change. Still a dubious proposition but a more useful definition going by how people mean the term.

90:

An irreversible change, past which one cannot go back.
Well, certainly the adaptation to Agriculture fits that one ( & so, I think, do the others, actually )
Just because some overoptimistic semi-religious zealots are attempting to appropriate the word for their own uses, doesn't mean we have to go along with it!

91:

An irreversible change, past which one cannot go back. Well, certainly the adaptation to Agriculture fits that one ( & so, I think, do the others, actually )

I'm not sure I understand, we could give up agriculture. The vast majority of humans would die and we'd be left with a few hunter-gatherers but we could. Do you mean a change which society then relies on?

92:

If I'd ever seen anyone but you using the term 'singularity' as 'An irreversible change, past which one cannot go back.', I would be more inclined to agree with you. On the other hand, the usage to which you are objecting has been around since the 1950s and builds on the traditional meanings in a way that yours doesn't.

You seem to be using it for some analogy with a phase change, which is in my experience different.

93:

"Accelerando" was the Charles Stross novel I'd been waiting for, that fulfilled the promise of your short stories. Thanks.

94:

Collins give
"Singularity (n)
1 The state or quality of being singular.
2 Something distinguishing a person or thing from others.
3 Something unusual.
4 Physics The aera inside a black hole where the gravitational forces cause the known laws of physics to break down."

I don't see anything there that supports Greg's definition.

95:

Well, we could become hunter/gatherers again, with a 95-99% decrease in human numbers, but there are a couple of other things to consider:

--we'd have to give up current human habitat in a bunch of areas, notably all the Pacific Islands (I'll come back to this at the end), and

--We're already evolving as an agricultural species. If we were ants, we'd be called a symbiotic species dependent a fairly small suite of symbiotic plants, animals, a few fungi, and a few bacteria.

Human adaptations to agriculture include lactose tolerance and (more importantly) smaller teeth and jaws. These are widespread (especially the teeth). More narrow adaptations include various complex allergies involving fava beans, and arguably thalassemia and possibly sickle cell anemia. Given how often hunter-gatherers suffer horribly from obesity, diabetes, and alcoholism when exposed to a western diet (worse than we westerners do), I suspect there's a lot of microevolution to live on grains and sugar in domestic humans, and possibly we're adapting to deal with alcohol as well.

I'm pretty sure these adaptations will continue into the future, since alcoholism, obesity, and diabetes all directly affect reproductive fitness. Over time (and I'm talking millennia, not decades), I'll bet that more people will not suffer from diabetes, obesity, or alcoholism, even if they eat crappy diets and drink like fish. If you don't believe me, go back and read how the Greek dealt with the cult of Dionysus, versus how the French deal with wine. Same beverage, but we no longer have Maenads rampaging through the vineyards.

Also (and I'm not sure it's strictly genetic), agricultural humans are much better adapted to plague diseases than are wild humans. While we can all be nuked by some totally novel disease, we're highly unlikely to die out due to influenza and a host of other diseases, since we civilized people have been dealing with these for awhile. The most susceptible of our predecessors didn't pass on their genes. The reason it's not strictly genetic is it's not clear whether our microbiomes aren't also part of this adaptation.

Of all these adaptations, only our decreasing jaw and tooth sizes strongly impact our ability to be hunter-gatherers.

Thing is, agriculture allowed us to settle areas where hunter-gatherers couldn't live. The best examples of these are Pacific islands, especially atolls. The very first settlers in Melanesia were apparently hunter/gatherers, and they even introduced some small marsupials to one island in an attempt to give themselves some meat animal. Their initial colonization attempt failed, because there simply weren't enough animals to hunt or edible plants to gather to make a living. The archeological record says they lived for a few generations on fish and whatever, then sailed away. The islands were only colonized when they'd developed a highly portable and highly adaptable agricultural complex that they could transplant from island to island. Without agriculture, most of the Pacific islands would be uninhabitable by anything other than visiting sailors.

A less obvious example are old-fashioned nomads with their herds of goats. The neat trick that allow nomads to survive is that they use ruminants to turn plants human can't eat into milk and meat that humans can eat. This allows nomads to live in some numbers in areas where even hunter-gatherers would have trouble raising a family.

So long answer, but the point is that humans are evolving to become co-domesticated with our plants and animals. I suspect that, if our species lives long enough, we may well become totally dependent on our symbiotes, erm, domestic species. On the flip side, things like obesity and diabetes will probably be very rare, and possibly alcoholism will be as well.

96:
I didn't read it that way at all. Are insects extinct? Bacteria? Or even Horseshoe crabs?
Yup, pretty much. By chapter 8 of "Accelerando", Earth has been destroyed -- broken up to make computronium or other stuff of interest to the Vile Offspring.

You misunderstand. The Vile Offspring are intellectually as far above humans as humans are above bacteria, insects, and Horseshoe crabs. Yet these creatures are not extinct in the here and now, and in fact, humans don't greatly care about their existence one way or another unless they become active pests. It's true humans can be quite callous in uprooting and destroying these species when constructing their own habitats . . . but that's more a matter of indifference.

So it is in Accelerando. It's true that people have been displaced from what was considered prime real estate. But I see no evidence that their numbers are actually decreasing, nor that the Vile Offspring are actively hunting them down. In fact, these humans enjoy wealth untold by our standards, and there's no reason not to think their numbers have vastly increased. There's lots of room in interstellar space for constructing habitats, after all.

Where in the book does it say this?

97:

Very explicitly stated in the "Orientation for newly instantiated humans" FAQ:

The center of the solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth's Moon, Mars, the asteroid belt, and Jupiter – have been dismantled, or are being dismantled, by weakly godlike intelligences. [NB: Monotheistic clergy and Europeans who remember living prior to 1600, see alternative memeplex "in the beginning."] A weakly godlike intelligence is not a supernatural agency, but the product of a highly advanced society that learned how to artificially create souls [late 20th century: software] and translate human minds into souls and vice versa. [Core concepts: Human beings all have souls. Souls are software objects. Software is not immortal.]

98:

Whilst the VO aren't directly hunting down humans it seems to be similar to the way we treat animals and habitats: live and let live until they're in the way, then they die.

Humans living on Earth were fine up until the Earth was designated for disassembly, then if they were still there when the time came they are disassembled as well (perhaps forcibly uploaded by some version of a VO conservation effort; a simulation of a human mind and environment mass less than those things after all).

Ditto with the humans living on Saturn who managed to stick around longer than Earth but had to run when the VO came to claim all that matter for their matrioskha.

99:

Why do you think this is evidence? You're not making any sense.

100:

So it's given then that the V.O. aren't actively working towards the destruction of all humans.

Given the analogous situation on Earth, where bacteria, insects, and horseshoe crabs don't look as if they're going extinct any time soon, why would you think this would happen to the humans in Accelerando?

Seems to me that they're living quite well and that, if anything, their numbers are increasing.

They're just not the dominant form of life is all.

101:

Bacteria and insects still exist because:

1) It's beyond our ability to destroy them

2) They are critical to our survival

3) We have no reason to make them extinct

In accelerando humans, and all terrestrial life for that matter, isn't critical to the survival of the VO and are in their way. Whilst humans might not go extinct in accelerando the solar system becomes an increasingly inhospitable place to them as the VO consume more and more for their matrioshka brain.

By the end of the story the only humans left are those who managed to escape* and live in distributed habitats around brown dwarfs. Whilst there might be more humans than ever and whilst they might live fantastic lives compared to us IRL they are, comparatively, vermin living in slums around real society and if they attempt to return they will be eaten and converted to more brain.

*it's speculated at one point that the VO were manipulating events (the Saturn election) so that most people wouldn't leave, perhaps just to keep as much mass around for the matrioshka as possible.

102:

Agreed that the Soviets/Russians have, at this point, won the space race by default. (They still have a manned program; the US spends large sums on stuff labeled "manned space" which does not yet put anyone in orbit, and has astronauts riding Soyuz in the meantime.) However, this:

Even on a quarter the budget, they were far enough along with the N-1 that if Apollo 11 had suffered a fatal accident (and it was very close indeed on at least two occasions during the mission, once prior to landing and once afterwards) the Soviets would have got there and brought a cosmonaut back successfully before the USA managed the same trick.

is ... debatable. The last N-1 test launch was more than three years after Apollo 11, and it still didn't get as far as staging due to pogo problems. (The three earlier N-1s hadn't stayed in one piece long enough for the pogo to show up.)

This doesn't indicate necessarily that the design was fatally flawed; Saturn V had pogo too in a test launch, and they fixed it. But it can't be taken as a given that they would have before Apollo got its act back together.

103:

I'm going by past form for fatal space accidents in the USA; the Apollo 1 pad fire caused a screeching stop and a two year project slip as they redesigned the CSM and re-evaluated everything.

If the high drama of Armstrong's flight down to Tranquility had ended badly -- and he finished under manual control, with about 20 seconds' of fuel left in the tanks, and a crashed guidance computer -- or if Armstrong and Aldrin had failed to fix the broken ascent motor arming circuit breaker and died on the surface, that would have put at least a 2-year crimp on the second manned mission as NASA re-evaluated everything (possibly to the extent of ditching the remaining Block One LMs and flying a Block Two LM with extra fuel instead of the lunar rover). Even a non-fatal ending, with Armstrong aborting the landing and returning the ascent stage to the CSM, would trigger a hold and an enquiry -- a $400M re-run of Apollo 10, with added egg on face, would not look good.

So my suspicion is that a fatal failure of Apollo 11 would put a multi-year crimp on Project Apollo which would in turn hearten the Soviets and possibly encourage them to allocate more funds to their own project. Delayed Apollo plus re-invigorated N-1 project equals ... what? A real moon race?

104:

paws @94
Your dictionary definitions don't even remotely fit the definition used by the transhumanists et al for a "singularity, either.
Now what?

heteromeles @95
You are describing, also, the adaptation (exaptation) to eating COOKED food. The gift of fire, by Prometheus (or whoever) is also a "singularity" - our physical guts have changed....

105:

In this case, no. Certainly in the last 2000 years, and probably in the last 500, our jaws have gotten smaller, at least in the western world. There are two lines of evidence: one is direct portraits (which the ancients were fully capable of doing). The other is the incidence of wisdom tooth extractions. AFAIK, the incidence of wisdom tooth extractions and people born with missing wisdom tooth buds is increasing. This appears to be an adaptation, not to cooking without fire, but to a diet with softer foods. Peoples who eat or ate rougher foods have longer jaws and less problem with wisdom teeth than do us moderns.

106:


Delayed Apollo plus re-invigorated N-1 project equals ... what? A real moon race?

The Korolev's N1 design was hopelessly flawed. It'd never have worked.

107:

is also a "singularity"

You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

108:

Wisdom teeth would be less of a problem if we had the decency to lose adult teeth at the usual rate. But no, we must insist on flossing and dentistry and keeping all those chompers in our head. No wonder the latecomers have no space left.

As for me I have 3 of them in place no problem, I guess that makes me a lean long jawed pleistocene throwback :)

109:

Actually, in the light of #104 para 1, I think Greg's view on the definition of "singularity" is "everyone is out of step except for him".

I'm happy that Collins' definition #4 (Vis comment #94) extends to a new "#5 - a game-changing event that there is no going back after": Given the continued existence of such things as steak tartare and sashimi I'm less convinced that either agrarianism or fire (and hence cookery) are such events.

110:

Bellighman @ 107 & paws @ 109
Nor does the meaning used by the uplifters/transhumanists etc.
Time to add a line to the definition(s) maybe?

I note the #5 definition, which is my interpretation, effectively.
If our guts have changed ( & they have) then we can't go back, can we? You can't re-run evolution (I think).
Oh, & paws, we CAN eat Steak Tartare, but we are much better adapted to eating cooked food, & we get far more nutrition from it than uncooked (usually). There has been a real, permanent change.
See also THIS excellent treatise on the subject for some real information.

BESIDES, if you are so keen on definitions, there are plenty to choose from.
Try
Here
and
Here
and
Here, too !!

Pick one, and stop picking on me, huh?

111:

The Korolev's N1 design was hopelessly flawed. It'd never have worked.

Explain yourself in detail, or retract.

I will note that the first stage arrangement of 30 NK-15 LOX/Kerosene burning motors is not that dissimilar to the first stage arrangement of SpaceX's Falcon Heavy (with 27 LOX/Kerosene burners firing at lift-off), which is due on a pad at Cape Canaveral next year. Yes, they had control problems, but they mostly licked them by the final (fourth) launch -- that left them with pogoing, a problem that also affected the Saturn V, and was fixable. If they made any key mistake it was probably in going for a revolutionary, not evolutionary, design: the N1 was all-new, whereas Saturn V leveraged Saturn IB and Saturn I (based on Redstone tech), taking a more incremental approach.

112:

Definition #4 emerges from the mathematical idea of a singularity. The easiest one to think of is the graph of y = 1/x. That has a nice curve between 1000 and 100, between 100 and 10, between 10 and 1. But somewhere between 0.00001 and -0.00001 something happens. The curve goes off the top of your graph paper, no matter what your scale is, and reappears at the bottom.

That's a singularity - that point where there is no value, where infinities suddenly pop out of the woodwork. You can't even say whether the value at zero is positive or negative.

That same unexpected appearance of infinities is what causes the black hole meaning of singularity: the density, and therefore the gravitational field strength and so on, appear to have infinite values at the actual centre point.

Similarly with the 'Technological Singularity', which is not that there is change (there's almost always change, to one extent or another) but that the rate of technological change has been accelerating ever harder, to the extent that it seemingly goes infinite and what happens on the far side is invisible. This is what Von Neumann was thinking of, back in the late '50s.

My personal opinion is to agree with Charlie that it is not going to happen, that people are being fooled by S curves. To get an effective infinity in the real world, you need to build on some form of infinity to start with, and those aren't there. For Von Neumann in 1958 the ever rising world flight airspeed record might have appeared to be a prime example. Not only had it doubled in the previous decade (671 mph to 1404 mph), but that doubling had taken place in less time than the previous doubling (1929 to 1948). That looks pretty like a curve taking off to infinity.

And yet, not only did it not even double again in the following decade, it has not doubled yet, being only about 50% higher than in '58. Going faster requires ever more power, and there's no way to get the infinite power required for infinite speed.

113:

Bellighman
I agree: "The singularity" as pushed by the "religious zealots" ain't going to happen.
However, I think we might get a "point" (Actually a group of events over 5-20 years) which might form the other sort of singularity, from which there is no effective going back ... like agriculture or steam-power, also slow singularities (by my definition, that is)

114:

Similarly with the 'Technological Singularity', which is not that there is change (there's almost always change, to one extent or another) but that the rate of technological change has been accelerating ever harder, to the extent that it seemingly goes infinite and what happens on the far side is invisible.

I'd go with the idea that we've had at least four no-fooling technological singularities already:

- Printing press in mid-15th century
- Steam engine in 18th-19th centuries
- Telegraph/radio in 19th century
- Aircraft in 20th century

Many others could be added, but ISTM that we're on the front edge of a rolling set of singularities that began more than 500 years ago.

115:

One of the ideas Vinge had with his Singularity was that, as a point, someone from the far side of the point would not be able to explain the world to the person on the near side.

Given that, very few of your examples cut the muster. Printing press, steam engine, and aircraft were fairly understandable to anyone; telegraph would also be, although radio might qualify. (The printing press and steam engine are, conceptually, nothing more than labour-saving: you can achieve the same result Gutenberg got simply by having enough monks copying.)

The one singularity I know we, as a species, had is the invention of language. This is a bit of a cheat, perhaps: one of the things language gets you is the ability to convey abstract notions, so how can you convey abstract notions to someone who doesn't have the ability to comprehend someone else's abstract notions? But, then, that's the kind of change Vinge was talking about, and I always use him as the reference for discussions of Singularities :).

Writing itself probably doesn't qualify, because it's an improved form of oral history. Money might count, however.

116:

Actually, Greg, evolution can go any which way it wants. It's due to survival of the fittest in a particular environment, and there's no direction or purpose to it.

AFAIK, guts and brains are the two most energy-hungry systems in the body. If you're stuck with a limited calorie budget, you've got to allocate to one or the other. Humans have cheated by predigesting our food outside our body, using fire and other forms of processing that we call "cooking."

If, for some reason, we get stuck with food that requires radically more in-body processing, our descendents (or rather, Nestor's descendents) will have, on average, bigger jaws, and possibly bigger guts. This will come at the expense of brain capacity, to some degree. The stereotypical dumb jocks of today may become the nerds of the next eon.

Ironically, one straightforward way to get this is to add massive amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere. AFAIK, research shows that plants dosed with large amounts of CO2 tend to produce more foliage and less fruit. If humans are forced to become foliovores, we'll need bigger guts at the expense of brainpower. We'll become a bit more like gorillas if we can't figure out how to process the leaves down for the few nutrients they do have. Since we won't have fossil fuels to do it, we'll be limited in our processing power, and evolution may pick up the slack by favoring everyone who doesn't starve on this new diet.

117:

The one singularity I know we, as a species, had is the invention of language.

Yes, this. It's the one true big-S Singularity that we can point to in history; you really can't explain it to anyone on the other side, you can at best bring them over to the more advanced side and let them experience it. We've had plenty of small-s singularities, some of them driven by technological invention; the Gutenberg printing press is a common example.

Technical changes such as the industrial revolution and the invention of agriculture led to spectacular social changes, which the people at the time observed keenly. (Not everyone was a fan! We complain about spam email and porn pop-ups, but relatively speaking we've got it easy.) Many hunter-gatherers had a very good idea of what a farmer's life was like, and chose to give it a miss.

It's hard to say where the industrial/information/whatever revolution will be seen to have really taken off, but it might be around the time self-powered machinery became common (which was the same time we started using electricity). We think we're doing fancy stuff currently, but I realized years ago that I'd have no particular trouble explaining turn of the millennium technology to someone from the 1920s or 1930s. "Yes, we figured out how to make moving pictures and telephones work over radio. Faster cars and planes, yeah, we've got those. There's this thing called 'the internet,' but if you know about teletypes and automatic telephone switching I can explain how it works." Go back a few decades to, say, the 1880s and it becomes much harder.

118:

If you're going for the Big S rather than the little s, surely writing gets a mention as well, right?

119:

While the singularity-nature of Gutenberg is arguable, it's more than just a replacement for a large number of monks. The medieval world was developing machines. It was coming up with ways of making goods more efficiently (The Arsenal at Venice). But the printing press moved the whole game into the world of thought. It's not just a better loom, a way of making more of something tangible.

It wasn't something you couldn't have explained to Chaucer. "We have a machine which, once set up, can make a large number of identical copies of a piece of text. The cost per copy is much less than the cost of using a scribe." And Chaucer would, I am sure, see the advantages, both for a Customs Duty collector and a teller of tales. But would he see the implications for literacy?

Maybe: look at the dialect of English he wrote in. He was already seeing the importance of being understood.

120:

'But would he see the implications for literacy?'
I'm not sure people saw the implications for literacy until well after the advent of printing, possibly not until the nineteenth century. The subversive possibilities were grasped pretty quickly though.

121:

Re. plants and CO2, the important caveat needs to be added, 'if all other variables are kept the same', so yes CO2 leads to more biomass, albeit of the unhelpful kind, but only if there's still enough rain, fertilisers, soil and the right temperatures at the right time. SO the effect in the real world is much lower than in trials.

I just thought i'd put that in in case anyone got the wrong idea.

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