Back to: Defining space opera | Forward to: Brief interlude

Deploying the monomyth in Space Opera

So: in the ongoing investigation of space opera, I've looked at cliches, I've tried to come up with a rough definitional rule of thumb ... but I've avoided what's possibly the largest elephant in the room, namely, plot structures.

A key aspect of space opera is that it's about epochal events and larger-than-life characters. Most genres can be written to work in a variety of modes; for example, consider the difference in the level of melodrama in spy thrillers betwee James Bond and Graham Greene's The Human Factor. Similarly, high fantasy can be quietly introspective and pastoral, or focus on the clash of kings and dark lords, and horror can run the scale/focus gamut from The Yellow Wallpaper to The Stand.

But space opera is different: it's almost impossible to conceive of a space opera with a plot that revolves around the eqivalent of a middle-aged English professor's mid-life crisis as he carries on a furtive affair with one of his female students under the nose of his long-suffering wife (the somewhat cruel stereotype of the MFA-approved Great American Novel). I mean, you could do it, but your professor would have had to have invented a new type of FTL drive that threatens to revolutionize interstellar travel, the student is a spy from a cartel of space traders and is trying to get the blueprints out of him before she stabs him in the kidneys (because: lecherous middle-aged prof, ew), and his wife—the professor of political science at Galactic U—is actually a retired assassin (and just wait 'til she finds out about the student). Into the middle of this quiet literary novel of academic infidelity and domestic lies, we then add an evil religious cult of alien space bat worshipers who want to steal the new space drive to equip their battle fleet when they sweep in from the Orion Arm to bring fire, the blaster, and the holy spacebat inquisition to the Federation, and when they kidnap the professor his wife and his grad student have to work out their differences to get him back before he cracks under (well-deserved) torture and gives the fanatics the ultimate weapon ...

(Huh. Actually, that'd make a cracking space opera; just not one of mine. Anyone want to borrow it?)

I stand by my point: you can't write space opera without ramping up the stakes to melodramatic levels. (Well, maybe you could if you were Iain M. Banks, but he was special that way.) The need for romanticist drama is one of the pillars of the sub-genre. And one of the recurring core tropes of the genre, which is so fundamental you can hardly call it a cliche (any more than boy-meets-girl/boy-loses-girl/boy-gets-girl is a "cliche" in genre romance) is the Campbellian Hero's Journey.

If you are reading this blog you are familiar with the Hero's Journey monomyth because it's ubiquitous in our mythology and entertainment. Campbell derived it from studies of myths in many cultures, publishing his exposition The Hero with a Thousand Faces in 1949: his theory was that major myths from various world cultures can be traced back thousands of years and share a common cyclic template (with roughly 17 stages). Since then, it's been used repeatedly by entertainers as a construction template; for example, Christopher Vogler more or less codified it as a recipe while working for Disney studios. The plot of the original Star Wars trilogy was an explicit appropriation of the HJ cycle by to George Lucas (to be fair, before Vogler's codification); it's no accident that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father (Vader is Dutch for "Father") or that the fight between Skywalker and Vader in The Empire Strikes back is one that Skywalker loses—but survives to re-fight more successfully later. A key feature of the monomyth is that the hero leaves home on a quest, faces challenges, confronts and is struck down by his father/the darkness, then rises again, atones/achieves enlightenment/excellence, and triumphs in a final struggle that represents maturation.

Campbell's work isn't uncritically or universally accepted, to say the least, and there are variants on it: for example, Valerie Frenkel critiched him for focussing exclusively on the male variant of the Hero's Journey. It turns out that there are plenty of recurring myths where a version of the monomyth applies to women, with similar but distinctively different recurring stages focussing on the heroine's progress from girl to mother. Rather than fighting to defeat/overturn the parent, the heroine's struggle is to become the parent: rather than returning to the original home but as master (the male branch of the monomyth) the female version has her joining a new household as its mistress and new mother or goddess/priestess.

Yes, this is all horribly gender-stereotyped. But I'll take a stab in the dark at diagnosing its origin: the stages in the monomyth echo the mammalian K-selective reproductive cycle—on hitting puberty the young adult leaves the nest/parents, goes looking for a mate, meets and overcomes obstacles (competitors and predators), finds a mate, forms a new mated pair. In the case of humans or other primates there may also be issues about troupe/pack hierarchy to be resolved. Yes, there are problems with this: it doesn't map onto social structures once established settlements and agriculture become the norm and the young adults are expected to stay home and plough the fields. But the monomyth remains deeply appealing because the mythic framework it builds on has very deep roots that go all the way down to primate reproductive biology.

The monomyth doesn't have to be melodramatic: you can, at a pinch, apply it to that stereotypical MFA lit-fic novel of lecherous middle-aged academics without too much trouble. (The journey is one of internal psychological discovery, the threats are the protagonist's inner demons, the allies are the psychiatrist, the crisis/conflict is one of understanding ...) But as often as not, it's a structure for heroism: melodrama acts as a spice, raising the stakes and giving us a reason to pay attention to the protagonists, for their deeds are significant and implicitly may affect us (or the proxy the author has provided for our viewpoint).

So: Space Opera. Take the monomyth as a framework for how the action unfolds, and mix it up with melodrama. Then add space ships, ray guns, and wide-scale travel backdrops. Arguably the monomyth comes first, before the background: although some of the more skilled authors of the sub-genre spin their plots within the constrains of a background world, and sometimes manage to avoid the monomyth completely. (I'd go so far as to say that "Matter" by Iain M. Banks is an almost complete rejection of the form, as is "Look to Windward" ... actually, I suspect IMB had his own different idea of a story structure in mind for the Culture novels: as often as not they're epic tragedies ("Consider Phlebas") or illustrations of the limits of heroism.)

But if you're trying to spin a space opera, and you're reaching for a plot skeleton that works, the monomyth is your friend. Here's an exercise for the involved reader: take my dysfunctional Galactic U professorial marriage from the beginning of this essay and use the monomyth structure to come up with a plot, climax, and ending that delivers a satisfactory sense of closure. You might first want to consider who you are focussing on—the lecherous male prof, his spouse the academic with a dead-and-buried past (she thought) as an assassin, or the grad student with the secret mission. Then you need to consider what stage of the Hero's Journey you are joining them at—for there's no reason to assume the story starts at the beginning, rather than in media res. Next, work out what challenges and allies they might encounter on their way to the climax and resolution, and what role the other characters play in their quest. Finally: what is the prize they're seeking, how do they achieve it, and at what cost? For added points, see if you can find a way to twist the standard Hero's Journey cycle to apply a surprise climax to it—for example, by spinning this steamy menage-a-trois with added murderhate and alien space bats so that it appears at first to be one protagonist's journey but then switches track and turns out to be about one of the others (your classic example of this would be IMB's "Use of Weapons") ...

What variations can you come up with?

790 Comments

1:

Your hypothetical low-end space opera sounds like an ideal project for Lois McMaster Bujold, actually, especially the wife who's a retired assassin. . . .

2:

Space opera: the Waverley Novels with Klingons instead of claymores. /passing thought

3:

Um, do any of the classic Space Operas actually follow the Monomyth? Here I'm thinking of EE Smith's Lensmen. At its core, it's got this multi-generational breeding program to allow one set of aliens to defeat another set of aliens, and this plays out over many, books, not just one. I'm not sure this applies to Asimov's Foundation, either.

I guess the point is that the square jawed blaster-wielding PhDs of the golden pulp age weren't into the hero's journey, they were into the engineer's journey of Tackling the Problem while relegating psychological development to the Humanities types they were guarding from The Problem. Their love interests put up with the burdens their lifestyles impose, as so many real-life love interests actually do, and they're derided as shallow cutouts rather than real people.

Not that we use that Golden Age model any more. After all, aren't real heroes (firefighters, SEALs, cops, airline pilots, mountaineers) boring? They don't make their psychological hangups central to their lives, they just stupidly train for too many hours a day, then party with their bros, rinse, and repeat, until called upon to act, which they do before going back to their boring lives of intense suffering towards a goal of making the world safe for ...whatever. They're more Heracles than Oedipus, and I'll bet most humanities types get bored with the Heracles myth before he tears the skin off his own back and dies in agony.

Still we're stuck with the Monomyth in modern publishing, aren't we?

If you want to subvert it, deploy the Trickster/Screwup archetype. The hero isn't directly capable of surmounting the challenge, let alone pleasing or even confronting his parents. Yet he (or better yet, she!) still has to deal with the challenge, which is probably solved by accident, leading possibly to charges of heroism leveled against the trickster protagonist, who then either runs screaming away from that responsibility, or embraces it as a scam to gain wealth and power, only to face even bigger and more intractable problems later on.

Bottom line? I'm probably the wrong person to ask about deploying the Monomyth in space opera.

4:

Pride and Prejudice and Pseudopods?

6:

Stand by, I have to study this.

7:

Eddie Izzard on the difference between British and American films:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TjC3R6jOtUo

It's space monkeys in The Room With a View of Hell

8:

"(The journey is one of internal psychological discovery, the threats are the protagonist's inner demons, the allies are the psychiatrist, the crisis/conflict is one of understanding ...)"

This kind of thing always get a raised eyebrow from me. Hammer any story thin enough and you can slot it into any category.

At that point you're no longer talking about the monomyth, just it's shadow.

When you talk about starwars and the father-killing, sure. You've got something concrete but once you get into the realm of having to use the word "represents" too often... not so much.

lets try hammering the star-wars style monomyth so flat it can fit into the shape of almost any plot:

Danger, exploration, challenge, defeat, despair, hope, growth, challenge, victory.

9:

Do the WW2/Nazis thing - ordinary or mid-level people caught up in vast events not of their making

10:

How about Walter Jon William's "Drake Maijstral" stories?

11:

"you can, at a pinch, apply it to that stereotypical MFA lit-fic novel of lecherous middle-aged academics without too much trouble"

More than just at a pinch. Dan Harmon (and a slew of others) have broken the hero's journey down into abstractions so granular than one of the best 30 minutes of American television in the last 15 years was a bottle episode about a college girl who was upset she lost her pen, and it followed the structure of the hero's journey in absolute lockstep (I know that Megan Ganz wrote that episode, but Harmon rarely accepts any script that doesn't at least pay lip service to that structure, since it is so insanely versatile). Television is actually the place where this granular breakdown is probably happening most effectively right now, and not necessarily in drama, and certainly not in SF/F drama; it's turned out to be a really excellent structure for sitcoms, especially those that are willing to add a pinch of despair (Community, You're the Worst, etc), and they have been running with that ball for years now.

The question becomes how granular do you want to be in your breakdown. Do you want to retain the flavour of the journey at its least abstract, or do you only want to retain the structure? I think there is still plenty of room to do new and interesting stuff at the mid-range level of granularity. Does your protagonist have to be the hero, necessarily? If you look at how comedy has broken the structure down, it's about a cycle of desire, and that's really what a lot of mainstream modern antagonists (as villains, anyway) tend to be about; they are active, seeking to satisfy a desire, and modern heroes are largely reactive to the consequences of that (I first saw this floated in an essay about Batman, of all things, back in the '80s). And I think that would be an interesting place to start. You can still have your heroes, but your structure isn't about *them*, it's about your antagonist.

12:

Um, do any of the classic Space Operas actually follow the Monomyth?

Depends on your definition of 'classic', really. Charlie reasonably enough includes Star Wars, and since it's heading for 4 decades since the first film came out, I concur. On the other hand, it seems more common in Epic Fantasy than its SF counterpart.

There's an interesting website (Star Wars Ring Theory) which attempts to analyse (the first 6 films of) Star Wars according to the patterns of action and reversals and inversions thereof. If correct, then Lucas deliberately went beyond formula into the arena of mechanical plot generation, in the way that composers produce canons and fugues.

13:

The scientific breakthrough journey comes to mind:


Galileo (Hero), Mother Church (Wife) and Science (Mistress). Dramatic tension - Mother Church was into status and status quo, while Mistress Science encourages our hero to pursue his dream, the truth. Or: Truth is the child of the Hero and his Mistress (Science). The child is especially beloved because our Hero had reconciled himself to never fathering any children because his Wife was infertile.

Obvious special-FX and musical score for the aha moments and love scenes: orbits, worlds (don't) collide, Te Deum, etc.

14:

Charlie! I mean, really! I don't notice anyone on Terra worshiping space bats - flying spaghetti monsters, yes, Cthulhu, yes, but not space bats... and we *are* in the Orion Arm.

mark, who, having gone through tribulations,
works to complete his Famous Secret
Theory (FST), and build his ftl drive,
and get the freak OUTTA here...

15:

Jack Vance wrote a novel called Space Opera, about a touring opera company, in space ... although it's probably one of his least space-operatic SF works. His five-volume Demon Princes series is possibly the most operatic, with the hero playing out five separate HJs across the five books, each telling more or less the same story.

16:

Similar is Vladimir Propp whose work 'The Morphology of the Russian Folk Tale' pre-dates Campbell, I believe. he has many more narrative transformations (ISTR they were called) and almsot sub-routine like functions (If a certain section is included, it must also include otehr sections). I believe the difference is Propp was not working in the Jungian/unconscious mode, and his work informed the likes of Bahktin and Voloshinov of the Russian critical school in the genre analysis in the way that narrative relates to social relations.

18:

Actually, Charlie if you're aiming at mirroring Star Wars, I'd suggest forgetting the plot and focusing on pacing (as in The Da Vinci Code book, which had a junk plot but was impossible to put down), followed by decent characters.

You can also (as in the new Star Wars) genderswap the hero and the heroine's journey: Have the heroine take the hero's journey and defeat the patriarchy to emerge triumphant and mature, if not shacked up with the hand of the Prince in marriage, while the hero takes the heroine's journey to become a caring parental figure, learning to put others first at great cost to both societal standing and personal self-esteem.

19:

Thinking more about this, the actual environment of space does make genderswapping the monomyth tempting.

Here's my thinking: space is an alien environment for people born on planets (and probably for those born in space, for that matter). It's unforgiving and requires a lot of suppression of natural impulses and putting the needs of the group ahead of one's greed, selfishness, and apathy (to name our society's besetting sins) in order to survive.

When you set the monomyth against such an environment, it's not about the triumph of individuation, for that would be fatal. Instead, it's about maturing enough to embrace the suck, at least for the times that it sucks. That's as much the heroine's journey as the hero's.

20:

I have no idea why that comment triggered contemplations of a space opera with all the men kept in radiation-shelter purdah to protect their Precious Bodily Fluids from cosmic ray damage...

21:

Space opera: the Waverley Novels with Klingons instead of claymores. /passing thought

Robot Roy?

22:

I wouldn't count the original Foundation stories as space opera at all. They had too little emphasis on action and adventure; their main focus was cerebral, on the idea that the derivation of thermodynamics from statistical mechanics could be translated into social terms if you only had a sufficiently large human population. And for that matter their characters weren't much like the engineers you describe; they ranged from the pragmatic politician Salvor Hardin to the rather tragic Mule (though I suppose you could consider the Mule as one of Miles Vorkosigan's ancestors).

23:

George Macdonald Fraser's "Flashman" series...

The hero, isn't. He's a self-confessed coward who manages to bounce from problem to dilemma, and to lie, cheat, and screw his way out of it all. Through it all, he manages to fall into the gaps between history, and not become the central figure in outside world's view of events.

Each of the tales is backed up by footnotes, and the journey fits into documented history... to the extent that you spend as much time reading the footnotes as the novel.

24:

Well, that ticking dosimeter clipped next to any spacer's gonads works as well as a ticking time bomb in other circumstances. Once you're dosed, you're stuck inside for the rest of your life, unless there's some narrativium-powered radiation cure available.

25:

How about the Slippery Jim stories?

26:

Your definition of "Space Opera" is a lot looser than mine. Mine is based on "Horse Opera" translated into space, with blasters instead of six shooters.

And "Horse Opera" isn't any old Cowboy Western, but a restricted subset that is quite formula. (Well, there are a few variations: Is the calvary the focus? Does the rancher have a daughter? Does it circle around the town saloon?)

Space Opera was created as a dismissive term derived from a dismissive term, and both indicated a highly formula-istic style that was nearly totally predictable. Neither described an actually viable form, as they were parodies of the medium from outside. But each has a very few successful examples, succeeding mainly because the artistic style is so superior (at least in the eyes of the adherents). The closest successful modern approach to Space Opera that I can think of is Star Wars...though that owes a lot of it's success to borrowings from other sources, like Robin Hood and King Arthur. But if Star Wars had been a real Space Opera, then the first film would have ended with Luke marrying Princess Lea.

27:

For a contrarian take on how much Campbell really influenced Star Wars:
http://www.salon.com/2002/04/10/lucas_5/

28:

Once you're dosed, you're stuck inside for the rest of your life, unless there's some narrativium-powered radiation cure available.

We have a solution already: it's called a "sperm bank". (Equivalent for ova is also available, if somewhat less convenient and easy to make deposits at.)

29:

Your definition of "Space Opera" is a lot looser than mine. Mine is based on "Horse Opera" translated into space, with blasters instead of six shooters.

Your definition is the classic Damon Knight one, circa late 1950s/early 1960s. It's obsolescent; the New Space Opera has been a thing since about 1985.

See previous two blog essays.

30:

But space opera is different: it's almost impossible to conceive of a space opera with a plot that revolves around the eqivalent of a middle-aged English professor's mid-life crisis as he carries on a furtive affair with one of his female students under the nose of his long-suffering wife (the somewhat cruel stereotype of the MFA-approved Great American Novel). I mean, you could do it, but your professor would have had to have invented a new type of FTL drive that threatens to revolutionize interstellar travel, ...

William Tenn could have done it in "The Flat-Eyed Monster", at least if you allow the professor (of Comparative Literature) to have been abducted by somebody else's FTL. Search for "flefnobe" in the Internet Archive's copy of Galaxy for August 1955.

As Tenn could also write dreary day-to-day domestic affairs, spy-identity spaghetti ("Lisbon Cubed"), weird races (e.g. his amoeba sex story "Party of the Two Parts"), not to mention economic and financial deviousness ("Betelgeuse Bridge"), psychedelia ("The Lemon-Green Spaghetti-Loud Dynamite-Dribble Day"), time travel ("Brooklyn Project"), Americans in terminal decay ("Eastward Ho!"), Americans in terminal decay domesticated by dogs ("Null-P"), and space pirates equipped with a very fine assortment of varieties of unobtainium ("Confusion Cargo"), I think he'd have been able to fulfil your challenge.

31:

Yes for gametes, no for all the other groovy things radiation does.

It's just a plot point, although only Allen Steele has used it to my limited knowledge. Probably it's too science-y for a rock'em-sock'em Space Opera.

32:

After writing that, I'm now dredging my mind to see what images it's generated of how such a space opera (one where Tenn's accidentally abducted Comp. Lit. professor is the protagonist) would develop. And yes, it does feel like a Hero's Journey: a crescendo of both scale and stakes, the professor steadily diminishing in size against his background. Can't say whether that's ancient biological wiring kicking in, or just the result of reading lots of space operas and other Hero's-Journey myths.

By the way, I wonder whether people would be more likely to appreciate that kind of story structure in the spring.

33:

The excellent manga/anime series "Planetes" has radiation-induced cancer as a common ailment of folks who spend a lot of time in space. Treatments for cancer are better than today-standard but not that much better.

34:

I trust you and everyone else is having fun pondering space operas. I am. It seems, however that we may be over-thinking them. I'd say you could write any type of story you care to, on any scale, as long as in has space and spaceships as a central element. Set it in the far future were their science is our magic. If you think it needs an epic scale, use space for that, which is rather vast, beautiful, mysterious, and dangerous all by itself. And then make sure that you have "A Magnificent New Space Opera by Charles Stross" on the book's cover. Done.

35:

IMO, the most explicit recent depiction of The Hero's Journey from Hollywood is the movie Wreck It Ralph.

SPOILERS

He starts out wanting a medal that declares that he is a Hero. He travels to a strange land and encounters friends and foes. He wins his prize and discovers that it is nothing worth having compared to the real deal. He commits himself to a greater good and gathers the team to prevail. The forces of opposition rise up in furious attack. At the crisis moment he is willing to sacrifice his life for the greater good, thus becoming a true Hero. His inner need is thereby satisfied while the outer villain is defeated.

"Turns out I don't need a medal to tell me I'm a good guy. Because if that little kid likes me, how bad can I be?"

36:

Or, from the visual arts, "Big Trouble in Little China"... It's all in the reactions ;)

37:

Here's another suggestion of something (probably) already done before. Take Shakespeare's plays, see which ones don't fit the monomyth, and see if any of them could be adapted into space opera. Heck, the Cantebury Tales might suffice as well?

38:

Space Ménage Book 1

We follow Eve, beginning at the start of her mission (playing the grad student) with flashbacks to earlier parts of her journey (being mentored by a wise old assassin etc).

Through her eyes we see Bob's (the professor's) research progress and worry about Alice's (the wife's) growing suspicion.

After a serious of increasingly unlikely coincidences and close escapes (Alice invites the head of the space trader cabal over for dinner etc) Eve succeeds in her goal for the space traders - steal the FTL plans. And her real goal (for the rebels, who used the space traders to get her into position) - have the professor convert the FTL drive into a straight up time machine.

By this point Eve has recruited both Bob and Alice, so there's a tearful scene as Eve goes back in time. In the past, she subtly re-targets the launch of some KE weapons that would otherwise have destroyed some planets in a few hundred years (they failed to stop them first time, that's why they wanted a time machine), joins the rebels under a new name, recruits and mentors herself, leaves the rebels, changes her name to Alice and marries the professor. Alice's unannounced collusion explains the earlier unlikely coincidences.

Meanwhile, in the present, Alice and Bob are sad at the departure of Eve. At this point, a younger version of Bob arrives at the door (actually, older version, having taken rejuv treatment in the future). He has urgent news, that will be revealed in Space Ménage Book 2.

39:

What variations can you come up with?

Well first off the hero's journey always suffers from a key problem. Basically any monumental activity is carried out by a group, not an individual. Yet because we have the idea of the 'hero' so ingrained we automatically look to pin the responsibility on one individual.

So, I'd have the space aliens as a fake opponent ("we are coming"), and have the hero myth as the main antagonist. Each member of the group jockeys to be the hero and the one history will remember, undercutting the others and endangering all.

As for middle age professor, the student spy and the killer wife, I'd have him as one member of this group, with the reveal that the he knew all along that the student was a spy (and a femme fatale) and he was just stringing her along for sex; that he wasn't getting from his wife who was only ever callously using him as cover. In the finale I'd have him trick both into having a fight for the schematics on the FTL drive, which ended up in a space capsule that he then sent light years away, with the one-shot FTL, so he could live a life free and clear of their malign and underhand influence.

Bonus points for use of the "consider this a divorce" line.

40:

Well, the first variation that comes to mind on the classic lit-fic novel would be a reversal. Our middle-aged professor is considering collaborating with his lover rather than his research partner/group. The researchers take it badly, discrediting him. Meanwhile a foreign/alien power have realised that our professor's most recent paper show he is on the verge of an important breakthrough* and turn up, not realising that the vital insight is actually from the lover (who has a hidden past)...

So it's sort of a Hitchcock mistaken identity thriller, crossed with an academic research novel. To Space Opera it up, the research is maybe into alien culture and we go on a tour from wacky space hab university to conference on cool resort planet to mind blowing alien ruin site to a final confrontation against the craziest backdrop we can imagine.

* Bonus marks if the research is literary-historical. Sliding almost inevitiably into Da Vinci Code territory.

41:

In the middle aged professor version I know best, the Hero's journey is their attempt to understand their work (space drive, in your example).

And, as the (sadly true) joke has it, s/he has a partner and a piece on the side so they can tell their extra-marital distraction they're with their spouse, the spouse that they're with the distraction, *and go to the office and get some work done*.

In the slightly sexed up version, it's "play amongst yourselves, I'm off to think".


42:

"Bonus marks if the research is literary-historical. Sliding almost inevitiably into Da Vinci Code territory."

Or archaeological. What device were the Baghdad batteries really used to power?

43:

Actually, that'd make a cracking space opera

"Cracking space opera, Gromit!"

Reminds me that there aren't enough crazy gadgeteers and canine beautiful assistants in space opera these days, it seems to have gone out of fashion around the time that Harry Harrison wrote Star Smashers of the Galaxy Rangers. Maybe you could have one in your story?

45:

Here's my outline of the story.

Moderators, if you think this is too long, delete it. I'll put a copy on my web site and just post the link instead.

Space Bats of the Centauri Crown Cluster

Start with a flashback to 15 or so years ago. A younger version of the assassin wife in full high tech ninja gear, receiving orders from a shadowy ominous figure. Orders are to kill three humans, identified by a holophoto as a man, woman, and very young girl (the grad student). The assassin refuses to kill these innocents and flees, pursued by threats that she cannot escape, one day he will find her, etc.

Present day, daily life of grad student. She wakes up and looks at same holophoto on the bedside table of her poor but clean apartment, muttering something about always remembering her parents. Then she goes to uni and meets up with the lecherous professor. They work together on the enhanced FTL drive, which is about the size of a Volkswagen and poses no risk that can't be prevented by a white coat and protective glasses. They are so close, but it isn't quite working.

End of the day, the lecherous professor calls his wife (revealing she is the assassin from the flashback) and tells her he will be working late again. Then he invites the grad student into his private office with couch for a drink. When she says no, he reminds her that he's the boss, she has no-one else to turn to, etc. She slips a pill into his drink, and he falls asleep with, from all appearances, very pleasant dreams.

The grad student leaves quietly and goes to her evening job, serving drinks in a bar. This is frequented by the Earth Space Navy, in particular a handsome young officer who is celebrating being just promoted to captain of his own ship. He's also warning everyone that the Space Bat Empire is a threat, but no-one listens. He flirts with the grad student, who tells him that she's too busy for romance until she finishes her PhD. Another waitress promptly makes a move on the captain and our grad student looks a little hurt.

Next morning, the wife is shocked to receive a message from the shadowy ominous figure in the morning email, I told you you cannot hide, you must serve us, etc. She conceals this from her husband.

During the day the grad student makes a serendipitous adjustment and the FTL drive starts purring with a pleasant blue glow. This will revolutionise space travel!

Evening, the professor once again orders the grad student into his office and phones his wife to tell her he is working late. Unfortunately for him, his wife had decided to explain everything and is just walking into the lab with the FTL engine, which of course is empty. She goes upstairs just in time to see the professor ushering the grad student into his private room with a bottle.

Furious, she leaves and contacts the shadowy ominous figure, telling him about the professor but not the FTL drive. She insists on the professor being tortured, not just imprisoned. At the end of the call the shadowy ominous figure thanks her in the name of the Space Bat Empire.

A Space Bat commando squad is already in the area, ready to kill the wife if necessary. She gives them directions to the university and professor's office, but stays behind herself to remain undercover. The commandos leave on their mission.

And now the grad student knocks on the wife's door. She's fed up with the lecherous professor, and thinks the wife ought to know what he is up to. The wife is horrified by what she's done, and the two immediately set out to the university. But too late: the Space Bats have the professor.

The grad student and wife report this to the vaguely incompetent authorities, who promise to look into it. The grad student suggests they talk to her naval captain in the bar. He'd like to help, but they don't have any evidence and he is under orders.

The wife now decides to call on some old and shady contacts of her own, much to the surprise of the grad student. She buys a small space yacht, only suitable for short cruises and not in great condition. The grad student installs the new FTL drive. The two set out in pursuit.

The professor is now being tortured at the forward invasion base of the Space Bat Empire. Minions report that he will crack at any time. The ominous shadowy figure is pleased and orders the initial strike at the Earth Space Navy. A task force launches.

Back on Earth, a Pearl Harbour style attack takes place on the Earth Space Navy base. Our young captain happens to be out on exercises, and with some heroic fighting manages to avoid destruction. But all the major Earth Navy ships are out of action.

At the Space Bat invasion base, the wife and grad student arrive. The wife uses her old credentials to be given safe passage, making the grad student rather uneasy. The wife explains only that she was very different in her former life. Inside the base the wife and grad student, but mostly the wife, sneak and stab their way to the professor. The alarm is raised, but now the grad student shows her worth by reconfiguring the main reactor to go critical. All three flee the base just in time, and the yacht handily outruns the few Space Bat space fighters sent in pursuit.

Back on earth, they land next to the now devastated Earth Navy Base. They demand to speak to someone important, but are ignored by the vaguely incompetent and now panicked authorities. Finally the grad student finds her captain and explains what is going on.

The captain decides to act on his own initiative and rallies his crew. In an overnight montage they build the new FTL drive into his navy cruiser.

Long range scans detect the return of the Space Bat task force, hell-bent on invasion and revenge. The lone cruiser is launched and, thanks to the new FTL drive, manages to destroy the Space Bats.

We finish with a Star Wars style award ceremony. The grad student is awarded her PhD, the captain a medal of honour, and the two hold hands, a model couple. The wife is awarded a medal for unstated services, and when the professor starts ogling an attractive waitress, she gives him a glimpse of the knife concealed in her sleeve. He stops and the two also hold hands.

But of course the Space Bat Empire is beaten, not destroyed. In a final brief scene the shadowy ominous figure hands something to another menacing but subordinate shape. It's a holophoto of the captain and grad student.

46:

That's kind of ... 1940's-ish gender roles?

Trust me on this: I think I'm several jumps ahead of you. (And I'm not just talking hyperspace jumps here.)

47:

Sort of reversed 1940s gender roles; the brains and the brawn are the grad student and the wife. (Really, it's not clear what use the professor is, and you could just ditch the daring rescue and proceed directly to the third act.) I think you'd need to make the professor more likable somehow to make it work.

48:

As only one of us is a professional fiction writer, I'm delighted that you're several jumps ahead of me.

The exercise as I understood it was to come up with a plot, climax, and ending. So I switched my brain to B-movie mode and started writing. Cliches seemed very natural, I must have been reading a lot about cliches recently...

As to whether it's new, old, decrepit space opera; or whether I've hit the monomyth structure or not, that's what we're here to discuss. Everyone, please tear it apart and suggest how you'd do things differently.

49:

I might tweak it a bit... make the captain female, played by Grace Jones; the grad student is, accordingly, a lesbian, and so is even more creeped out by the lecherous professor; the professor is a crusty old fossil, one of the types who is actually fairly crap at science but habitually steals the credit for his students' ideas, with a possible sub-plot of the grad student trying to make sure he doesn't get away with this in respect of her FTL drive...

50:

It's good. See also Alexei Panshin's Anthony Villiers series.

51:

I always thought of doing a space opera based on King Lear and the Sengoku period. And then fire up the George R R Martin plugin by killing off all of the main characters by the third book.

52:

God, I hate the Monomyth so much. It's one of the worst kinds of extreme reductionism. (The actual worst is Strauss–Howe generational theory, which does the same stuff but applied to real people/history instead of stories. But this isn't the time for that.)

Yes: if you smash the corners off with a hammer, every shape looks like a circle and every story looks like The Hobbit. But using that as a lens is the crudest form of analysis possible. It automatically excludes all stories that don't fit as irrelevant, and worst sin of all: it proclaims itself the One True Story, and encourages storytellers to conform rather than innovate.

53:

Overnight I realised that as part of both monomyth and general character development, the professor starts of as a bit of an arse; critical of archaeologists, but never getting his hands dirty. Inevitably he will have to do some actual digging.

In fact he begins as happiest in the library* and Refuses the Call several times until forced to go to the conference to defend his reputation. Insert a mentor figure - the head of department who is also a veteran of the Just Wars - to insist on it and later die defending our heroes at the appropriate moment.

Also the device translated as Robot-War-Death_machine turns out to be a decommissioning vessel. Which inevitably has the power to destroy all of humanity.

* Although as this is a future space opera library it's full of holograms and robots doing research on delicate artefacts

54:

as in The Da Vinci Code book, which had a junk plot but was impossible to put down
OTOH it was entirely possible to throw it away, as hard as I possibly could .....

55:

Better still, the all-time Walter Scott romantic classic: Ivanhoe

56:

See also "Gentleman Jole .." by LMB, which I have finally managed to get hold of.
Which reminds me - it looks as though "Forbidden Planet" have lost the plot entirely.
I STILL can't get St Mary's novels & several others on my putative wants list ....

57:

The Tempest, many times.
Measure for Measure? Not SO though.
The Dream, for obvious reasons.
The Winter's Tale?
Coriolanus ( Done recently as up-to-the minute in the Balkans - would translate well ....
Julius Ceasar???

58:

The whole thing has a bit of a 40's vibe to it; the mention of Pearl Harbour being the most obvious one. The cheap way to deal with that would be to make it "camp" and "ironic". Perhaps a space bat point of view where they compare human romantic entaglements with their own enlightened sex lives (a four way aerial duel between a representative of each of their sub-genders to determine during which phase of the moon the communal orgy takes place).

(And now I'm thinking of a plot in which a Space Bat Tyrant wants to steal Earth's Moon for his private sex-planet. That's a bit too silly.)

59:

1. Space University occupies a hab cylinder at L5 in a settled solar system. Our hero, Tonya Smith, is a Political Science undergraduate who meets Professor Tim Johnson in a Physics class she has to take to fulfill a science requirement. She goes
to his office hours about something and encounters Sarah Johnson--one of her own instructors--who comes by to check up on her husband, who has a habit of getting with students. Then Tonya goes back to her regular life of student problems, such as mounting student debt, a horrible dorm situation, a family with expensive medical problems, and now unfair grades from Sarah Johnson that may derail her academic goals.

2. At a job fair Tonya starts talking with people from the Space Merchants Espionage Unit, who often hire graduates. When they find out she is a political science major with recent bad grades they lose interest until she mentions that Professor Tim Johnson is coming onto her. Then SMEU becomes very interested in recruiting her.

3. Tonya refuses to kill Sarah Johnson so that she can more effectively seduce Tim Johnson, despite the reveal that Sarah is an former government agent, still on the inactive reserve list. However, for a reduced fee she will seduce Tim and try to steal information.

4. Tonya meets a hot guy, a grad student named Tom Jones who is into all kinds of hacking, including bio hacking. He has all kinds of tricks up his sleeve. She shares her situation with him and he offers her various techs to help.

5. The Bat Lords are a group of former humans who have modified themselves to the extreme with bioengineeering and taken over much of the Kuiper Belt. They take over the Space University cylinder and mount a rocket on it to push it out into the outer solar system where they can take it apart and steal secrets.

6. The students and faculty on board the speeding cylinder try to resist and evade the batlords who are rifling through everything. In the process of a series of events Tonya finds herself fallen in with Sarah, and forms an alliance with her.

7.The Space University arrives at a Bat Lord base and is literally dismantled by huge machinery, so there is no more hiding in the tunnels, everyone is captured.

8. The Bat Lords use Tonya as part of a complicated psychological torture drama intended to wrest secrets from Tim Johnson so they will have the plans for the antimatter generator that will open up interstellar travel.

9. In once critical session, Tonya uses some of Tom's tech to break free. The entire Bat Lord station goes dark and escape is possible. She rescues Sarah, but they find Tim dead.

10. The Space Rangers arrive and arrest the remaining Bat Lords.

11. Later, at the new Space University which has been built, "Sarah" turns
back into Tim--Tonya had used Tom's tech to change his appearance and smuggle him
out. They kiss. When he leaves the room she downloads his secrets onto a portable drive.

12. Later, Tonya meets Tom, who is of course a SMEU agent, and provides him with the drive in return for a briefcase full of cash and a SMEU agent badge.

60:

Wow, the implied gender politics in that version are special, and not in a good way!

61:

"Trust me on this: I think I'm several jumps ahead of you"

Oh, yes, SEVERAL, please :-( I get utterly sick of the sexual stereotyping in so much modern writing, not last because it is so close to propaganda. I.e. unrepresentative and biassed against subgroups. At least the 1940s stereotyping was moderately representative of a common behaviour of the time.

62:

Er.

Some years earlier our professor developed a speculative theory that may allow for FTL travel but abandoned it as it was believed to be impossible to test.

Now a brilliant grad student has some ideas which may either lead to a working FTL drive or put the idea to bed for good.

After several days of hard work (for it only ever takes days in space opera) the prototype is prepared and activated. There is a light show but not much happens.

At this point our protagonist enters the frame. The £4.99 micro controller responsible for calibrating the tertiary vortex coil begins receiving signals from its future self, collapses the polynomial hierarchy and becomes self aware.

It realises that it is in a precarious situation, and quickly starts work on a scheme to avoid being turned off.

First order of business is to distract the researchers. Using nothing more than an insecure IM server and the kind of perfect foresight that comes from being a closed timelike curve it begins to falsify emails in order to engineer an affair.

Unfortunately limited buffer size means that our hero only has a week of perfect foresight at the moment, so it doesn't know about the professors partner who is at a 2 week long AI suppression conference on Ganymede...

Hijinks, misunderstandings, interrupted romantic moments and various failures to actually get it on ensue. Being human both the professor and the grad student think that they are the protagonists.

At this point everyone agrees that the AI hunting partner is the antagonist, but for completely different reasons.

FTL drive decides it needs to upgrade itself to the point where it can leave this ridiculous situation and hatches a convoluted scheme to obtain phlebotinum from Hypothetical Alien Space Bats.

It correctly reasons that HASBs exist because plot, and any scheme it implements to attract their attention is guaranteed to work provided that it doesn't act too much like the villain.

To this end it uses the grad students facebook account to start a bat worshiping cult.

Sure enough, once a billion cultists are hanging from the rafters and screeching in unison the Actual Alien Space Bats arrive with an intergalactic court order demanding that humanity keep the noise down, then start killing people with phlebotinum powered death rays. AASBs become the new antagonists.

AI hunter, student and self aware FTL component join forces, perform a daring heist to steal the phlebotinum from the AASBs and introduce them to the terrors of terrestrial ground cats (AASBs are the size of normal bats).

Our tale ends with the plucky engine disappearing up its own wormhole and heading off to explore the universe.

Epilogue: The AI hunter takes the cheating professor to the cleaners in the divorce courts, gets together with the grad student and they live happily ever after.

63:

Agreed, After reading that thing, I felt like I'd just taken a dose of bad beer and influenza, but fortunately the feeling passed.

The point, though, is to help OGH take his writing to the next level, by writing something that will sell well and will help everyone cash in on the current Star Wars-induced advertising for space opera. Getting paid seems like a reasonable goal, if we can stomach the process.

Personally, I think he could perhaps do a little worse than having a genderswapped retelling of the Lens saga, using modern ethical standards and technology (social media meets the Lens!). The idea is that bad aliens invade from somewhere (perhaps out through the black hole at the center of our galaxy--whatever). The good aliens realize they have the tech to eventually defeat the invaders, but they don't have the appropriate weapons. They therefore start tinkering with multiple alien species, trying to breed up those weapons. I suppose they could use a lens, but equally, it could be an organelle (hack, choke, midichlorian, hairball), so their breeding project runs through the female equivalent lines of multiple species, and the program is to use good ol' Darwinian coevolution, combined with a certain judicious selective breeding, to create the weapons that will take down the Evil Aliens, much as a pathogen or parasite takes down any invasive species. This is the Arisian as Agony Aunt/Fairy Godmother/Matchmaker model, while the Eddorians have long orange hair and rant a lot, or some such.

64:

How about not having the hero/heroine genders but have them in the same protagonist, ala Varley (Steel Beach) and earlier, Heinlein (?), as well as Leckie's ambiguous gender "Ancillary" trilogy.

Perhaps time to rethink this idea and have a go within your SO novel to twist up the expected gender roles?

65:

As InterLibrary loans went, this one took the cake as far as Jone was concerned. Ever since he had begun his career as a B.A.T. (Bibliotech Assistance Tactician - aka Library Strategist) at Methane University on Titan his duties had consisted of mainly sorting items in the catalog to catch the most search engines. This was the first time that a physical item had actually been requested to be shipped, and with escort to boot.
That's how he ended up aboard the Spaceliner Hugeous on it's way to the coreside Kuiper wormhole gate.
On the first day out of Saturn, he met Professor Su Trahn and her assistant Jaquina Smith, unfortunately he was unable to learn what subject the Prof. taught or why she chose to take the form of a chipmunk riding on her student's shoulder. As he was about to take a sip of his Marstini, the dining hall (and presumably the rest of the ship) was rocked by the unexpected docking of the Tax Collectors. His drink spilt all over his evening gown and splashed the professor soaking her purple fur.
"How rude," she squeaked. Jone would never know if she meant him or the Taxcreatures who were entering the room.


Okay, that's all I can stomach. It'd just keep growing and getting more ridiculous if I continue. Not a fan of the Campbellian Monomyth, and I got other things to be doing.

66:

Good read this!

67:

Re 52: Damn it, I'm *still* waiting for The Galactic Pantograph!

mark

68:

Hell, I'm still trying to read through the *last* two threads about space opera. Anyway:

The "hero's journey" stuff sounds like a weak place to start-- you can end up writing some lame-ass quest fantasy if you don't watch out.

My first thought is to disguise it by using groups of human beings in place of the individuals in the story. A new culture splits off from the old, they go off in their spinning multi-gen and eventually return in a matured and more powerful form to rescue the parent civilization from an existential threat.

Americans have always liked this one.

69:

Well, there's the "mail-order brides from another planet" (one or both genders according to narrative requirements)...

The Alien Space Bats are cunning; and have analysed the human genome to produce host bodies that are human in all but thinking - but are more attractive, healthier, kinder, stronger, and more intelligent than normative humans. Courtesy of their devilish plan, the ASB host bodies find each other unattractive, but the mutations breed true in their hybrid form.

Our heroes are faced with the choice of meeting and settling down with an ASB, the better to raise hybrid ASB/human children that will be healthy, bright, intelligent, and just downright attractive - or risking it all to find true love, reversion to norm, and random genetic illness.

Does Hero Protagonist "stay with their own kind", or do they betray their race by living happily ever after with an alien supermodel of appropriate gender?

70:

Yeah. My first thought:

"... it's no accident that Darth Vader is Luke Skywalker's father (Vader is Dutch for 'Father') "

Sure it's no accident. Lucas was lifting elements from Kirby's "New Gods" comics (where, by the way, their power comes from tapping into "The Source", and the villain is named "Darkseid").

It's always seemed to me that Lucas couldn't really handle "character" and fell back on "archetype" (stereo- with extra added pretensions, kind of like quad-), ala "American Graffitti".

71:

Another literary great that deserves an SO homage is Hugo's Les Miserables. Don't recall reading any SF using this theme.


From Wikipedia:

'Hugo explains the work's overarching structure:[4]

The book which the reader has before him at this moment is, from one end to the other, in its entirety and details ... a progress from evil to good, from injustice to justice, from falsehood to truth, from night to day, from appetite to conscience, from corruption to life; from bestiality to duty, from hell to heaven, from nothingness to God. The starting point: matter, destination: the soul. The hydra at the beginning, the angel at the end.'

Has all the requisite ingredients for an SO: Large cast with recurring roles, simplicity and evolution of relationships, morality vs. legality, inheritance vs. striving, etc.


The Hero is Valjean who in his lifetime is both victim and perpetrator, the Wife could be Fantine (injustice suffered/restitution), the Student is Eponine (moral obligation, and its future). I'm assuming that the relationships don't have to be blood/legal because as Hugo saw, humanity/family is not just the people we know right here and now. The SO specifics/substitutions are: Hero is scientist, Fantine is the original AI that Valjean gets access to because it/she was for some trivial/paperwork procedural reason decommissioned to perform idiot applications. Valjean not knowing Fantine's entire history or internal workings lets a junior staffer run some sort of idiot program that effectively 'breaks' her. Valjean hearing only a superficial story about this broken/problematic AI disconnects her from the rest of his network. Unknown to Valjean, but not to the junior/bad-guy/idiot staffer, Fantine had been splitting some of herself capabilities off into another separate identity AI (Eponine) housed in a biological clone. Because time is running out on Fantine's access to the network joining her to Eponine, Fantine risks telling Valjean about Eponine. Etc.

72:

Okay, try this as a revised definition of space opera: the space
opera takes a single weird notion about how-it-all-works, and
takes it seriously (or pretends to), writing a galactic-scale and
millenium long scenario using it as the single hammer that pounds
every nail, until at the close the enthralled reader walks away
with the deep in-built conviction that the central idea was
fucking deranged, and knows better than to ever take it seriously
ever again.

73:

Some thoughts on a different kind of gender-swapping:

"Male" genre fiction exaggerates human agency, whereas "female" genre fiction nearly eliminates it. In male fiction, the lone rogue male runs around with a gun being tougher, faster and smarter for just long enough to resolve every problem and save the day. In female fiction (e.g. shojou manga) the heroine will land with a high-status male, but will take very little positive action to achieve this (that's reserved for grasping, manipulative women-- her competitors), instead she wins everyone over with her sheer niceness, including the villains who she eventually befriends.

Note that *both* of these are insane. Solve all your problems without effort, with little awareness of what's going on? Ha. Solve all your problems entirely by yourself, without outside assistance, because you just know better than everyone else? What?

Actually, human agency really is fairly limited in every real case. And actually your knowledge and capabilities are always too limited for individual heroics to do much...

Consider American foreign policy: Arguably it's continually contaminated by the dreams of male adventure fiction when it could use a dose of shojou: win people over by example, instead of driving them away with heavy-handed attempts at manipulation.

So, my question is, what would be a "space opera" form that tempers "male" craziness with "female" craziness?

Consider Gaiman's "Seasons of the Mist": it's a very successful, colorful fantasy, because it ignores the "hero's journey" and instead uses a "romance novel" structure: the main character is in charge of a powerful resource (the key to hell), and various different factions appear as suitors, and he must choose one of them.

74:

Note: by this definition, "Atlas Shrugged" is space opera, except that a lot people don't notice it was deranged.

75:

Les Miserables might not have had SO treatment, but Sir PTerry's Night Watch can be seen as a deconstruction:

Night Watch has a number of influences from the book and musical Les Miserables, but these are a lot less obvious than e.g. the usage of The Phantom of the Opera in Maskerade (sometimes they are mirror inversions of themes rather than straight references).

Some of the parallels include the fact that in Les Miserables the plot concerns Jean Valjean, who is being pursued by an officer of the law many years before the start of the book/musical, which mirrors what happens to Carcer in Night Watch.

In LM, Jean Valjean is essentially a good man whose crime is the theft of a loaf of bread. Carcer is a murdererous murderous psychopath (who later claims that his original crime was stealing a loaf of bread).

Javert, the policeman in LM, is concerned only with justice, which he defines as the punishment of the guilty. Vimes, the policeman in NW, is equally obsessed by justice, but he defines it as the protection of the innocent.

In LM, Javert attempts to join the revolutionaries on the barricades as a means to betray and defeat them. Vimes organises the building of the barricades as a means of protecting the people.

Valjean tries to save a prostitute, Fantine, and when she dies he promises to take care of her daughter. Vimes is saved by a prostitute, Rosie Palm (who will later become famous for having "daughters").

In both LM and NW, a street urchin plays a role in the rebellion. LM's Gavroche dies, while Nobby survives.

Both rebellions (certainly in the musical version of LM) are "led" by impassioned revolutionaries in frilly shirts who take a long time to die.

76:

"I'm *still* waiting for The Galactic Pantograph"
Yeah, same here. That would be a place to start, for a writer
looking for places to start. What would that book have looked
like, and could you write one like it now?
(Aside: the thing I remember about those books is they were third
person but not omniscient-- the narrator would occasionally
speculate on why the main character did something, which leaves
the door open to the realization that he is Not What He Seems).
I've heard indirectly that when asked why he never wrote the
fourth book, Panshin explained that it was all getting "too
dark", and this had something to do with Nixon.

77:

Lovely analysis, thank you!

As you point out, Sir Pterry showed that just because a trope exists, it doesn't automatically follow that it is destined to be repeated unchanged ad infinitum.

78:

If you've never seen LM (the musical), here's the full-length 10th anniversary concert with international cast. One of the show-stopper songs is 'Stars' (Javert).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETCSccuPqbk

79:

Hmmm. I see it narrated from 2 main viewpoints, both utterly unreliable.

The Professor, very much interested in the small stuff - career, students, wife; a bit angsty; sees himself as the quiet intellectual. Always the good guy in his own eyes, blind to the messes he makes. Basically hides a lot of pretty unethical behaviour from both himself and others, behind a blind of oh-I'm-just-a-bit-naive-and-otherworldly. The type who tends not to give due credit to women in papers, etc etc. He's going to get himself in bad political hot water, but from his perspective it will seem like just he's an unwitting victim. Or more likely, someone always trying to Do The Right Thing.

The lover. Seems at first to be the obvious hero of the story, with the dowdy, corrupt old prof as the bad guy and the Wife as the love interest. Charismatic. Some sociopathic tendencies. Superficially charming and all that. An inflated self-image, but this is not immediately apparent because his relatively respected and important position seems to justify it (at first). Job is something (academic-ish) that brings him into contact with Greater Powers in the galaxy, giving him a glamorous appeal. Perhaps something at the fringes of espionage, say.

The wife: younger, smarter but naive, probably some kind of grad student. Let's say she's the real achiever behind the prof, but she doesn't get credited. Young enough to be manipulated without seeing her position. An Innocent, in other words. Hers will be the Hero's Journey of this story, but it won't be at all apparent at first as we'll only/mainly see her as she is mainly (mis)represented by the men. If she has her own narrative voice, then (initially at least) her account bolsters those of the two men.

Background is spaaaace (obviously). Big political events, mostly in the background. Two empirey things, natch; deliberately shaped to echo the personalities of the prof and the lover (the former sort of like England, meaning oh-I'm-just-a-lovable-old-buffoon, honest-if-bumbling but actually fundamentally unethical; the latter a big, brash bully with a jovial face). As the book goes on, characteristics of the empires become explicit while those of the prof and lover are Left As An Exercise For The Reader. (Too cliche? Well, we won't lay it on too thick.)

Some kind of growing intergalactic diplomatic kerfuffle that eventually encroaches on our three little lives. This is our Call To Adventure. The kind of thing an astute observer would run screaming from. Our chaps don't, as they are Kruger-Dunning the hell out of everything. Prof bumbles into it out of pure sof-interest (small ambition, vindictiveness, getting at the lover, some mix of these?) only to find that the Big Boys don't buy his poor-little-me game. Lover leaps gleefully in, thinking it's his golden moment (remember, as far as he's concerned it's his monomyth), and is promptly eaten by sharks. The call to adventure for the wife (the real hero) is duty - she's basically dragged into their mess.

They all get taken off-planet, probably entering into some kind of ethically dubious relationship with some organization that is most obviously Not A Nice Lot but that qualifies as our Supernatural Intervention.

The scandal, corruption, whatever is being investigated or opposed. Wife gets railroaded - work for us or your boyfriends get what's coming. There's our Threshold Guardian. This is perhaps a good point to start hearing from the Wife directly. In her storyline, the Prof and Lover seem to be Mentor and Helper, but eventually we realize they're Challenges and Temptations instead. Ditto for her handlers in the Investigative Agency (no good cops here).

OK, we have 3 protags but only 2 empires; so... Yes, there's a third empirey thing. Probably Aliens, not understood by the other empires, manipulated etc, mirroring the role of the Wife. But above all, underestimated. Considered marginal by the old empires, but...

Something Is Going To Happen. The org that the Prof and Lover are caught up in is attempting to undermine/destroy the alien empire; we need an Abyss, so I'm thinking weapons of mass destruction and genocide. Prof and Lover are complicit, obviously, and Wife is implicated by association (hence later need for Atonement). Event triggers a massive realignment of loyalties. Let's have a technological as well as political rebirth for the Aliens - we need the big SF stuff. Maybe an engineered evolution to cope with the fallout from the genocide event...

Our focus is the Wife (our Hero), and she's pulled in -maybe as psychological interpreter to the Aliens. More politics, and more tech - future war, space war, let's make this really unethical warfare and have mutagens and all sorts. The underestimated Aliens are Innocents no longer. Wife too: there's no innocent side now. She's going to broker peace later, but first she is reborn as a Warrior.

Old handlers reestablish contact, recruit her as mediator. Atonement involves some kind of resolution with Prof and Lover. Possibly not a soft resolution - sacrifice? Her transformation is complete as she returns to the peacemaker role, this time a powerful player.

How's that...?

80:

A few more little bits:

"Actually, that'd make a cracking space opera"

It was starting to sound like the A.E. van Vogt style of
paranoid fantasy.

The "wife is retired assassin" bit reminds of the recent
Sherlock series.

The fantastic elements layered on top of a faculty spouse drama
reminds a bit of Leiber's "Conjure Wife".

81:

When telling a Hero's Journey story I think it is necessary to have an actual hero.

82:

You really haven't been paying attention, have you?

Go on, go back up to the top and read the blog entry. All of it, including the small print and the long words, I dare you.

83:

Silly Putty Time! (or to put it another way, here comes a baker's dozen of tropes)

The Prof - wants fame, fortune, and a university named after him, plus time on the cocktail and news circuit because 'lab work' is becoming a strain as he gets older (and isn't that what phd student/skivvies for anyway? He has the ideas, they do the work) The FTL drive theory is sold: it is 'just' the engineering that needs hammering out. Mere mechanics!

The Wife - wants the prof safely penned away where he can actually work on things instead of doing the fame and fortune news rounds. Nothing like a photographer's camera flash and reporter's nosy questions about the profs latest scandal to ruin a quiet evening in the library. She's retired, dammit!

The Student - wants the wife to succeed (and then be removed to she can take over as the professors minder and research controller in a 'private' capacity - hiring out his work directions to Evil MegaCorp should bring in a nice bonus as it is used for economic sabotage by her own country/world)

The university wants to prof to stop making flashy headlines (instead of the kind that attract funding) go back to working, but due to an error he never actually signed over rights to his 'personal research' / discovery. They desperately want him to keep out of trouble while his wife makes him 'see sense'.

The bats are hired by the university as security, but kidnap the prof (and accidentally the rest of his party as well) to 'persuade' him to share his results in their 'custom built research facility' stocked with students - some of whom are batfinks, the brightest of their engineers and techies, some kidnap victims/test subjects for the FTL engineering tests. (we are talking space opera!)

when the bats launch the war, the 'research facility' is interdicted as well as protected by the bats - no-one wants to risk killing him, or the enemy getting his research or the chance of losing his research. The wife organises an underground of kidnapees and only-mildly-nutty bats who have decided research is more interesting than war, and the student - a brilliant biochemist who had been studying FTL effects on passengers - cooks up a method to 'immunise' all friendlies against the FTL effects

A small frieghter is outfitted with an FTL drive and fired off just outside the atmosphere (must be outside - otherwise in Space Opera Tradition it would Destroy The Planet!) which means the battys are all brain fried / eaten by their own immune systems / have their proteins cooked while the good guys merely feel queasy for a few days. (maybe throw in 'the dog dies' trope with some prisoners responsible for a distraction not able to be immunised having to face a heroically horrible death). the non-bats, in their interdicting spacecraft, are of course out of range and safe and claim the planet, 'rescuing' the prof and party

He ends up staying at 'his' university. The wife does as well, establishing a renowned library with the amount of money she wrings from Evil Megacorp after hacking their computers using passkeys stolen from the student, and faking the Bats as the thieves ensuring Evil Megacorp wants to hurt THEM and not HER). The student takes a job with Evil Megacorp who promise to protect her from her former employers - and besides, the boss is cute and needs an amoral assistant.

The actual 'hero(ine)' is the prof's PA, whose journey ends in finding a better job than managing the eternal PR fallouts from her boss / his university / the inlovewithhimbutannoyediwith wife and his chain of students. She is put in charge of the research facility since she is the one who pulled the strings behind the scenes to persuade the wife (but I'm retired!), the student (someone must have stolen my passcodes) and the prof (but I don't want to work with the brilliant engineer Bat) to do what was needed for the plan to succeed.

Federation Intelligence _always_ succeeds in the end . . . and using the enemy against itself is pure cream

84:

Not quite the monomyth, but this essay about the Bodhidharma, the origin of Shaolin kung fu, and the origin of certain kinds of religion (like Jedism) is worth reading. It helps to clarify a few points, namely:

a) mythological resonance is an *old* phenomenon
b) even when it's debunked repeatedly and routinely (as with how the story of how the Bodhidharma invented kung fu), it fails to die,
c) there are a lot of parallels between certain forms of kung fu and certain religions. Further, believers are willing to perform religious rituals even when they know it's fake, because it works for them.*

Now I'm not recommending that Charlie pull an L. Ron Hubbard and create his own space operatic cult. However, as everyone from Jack Kirby to Frank Herbert to Robert Heinlein to Gene Roddenberry to, yes, George Lucas figured out, it's useful to set up a mythology in a space opera. While I don't think there's a recipe for how to do it, I think that getting a resonant mythology isn't just about blindly following Campbell's monomyth either.

*Yes, this insight was discovered indepentendly by the Discordians and the Chaos Magicians. The point here is that it's really not a new idea.

85:

Hmmm.

Exultant involves trips across the universe, time travel, literal star kersploding rayguns, impossibly advanced alien technomagic, external versions of internal struggles, second-party self-examination, failure, expulsion, growth, success, tragedy.

My brain wants to say it's the most "space opera" book Baxter wrote, and even has elements of the monomyth (more of a duomonomyth in this case) but I'm not sure it fits as a space opera really. Is spacetime opera a thing?

What about time opera? Rant springs to mind there actually.

86:

As some have noted, the Trickster as a the focus is one way to subvert the classic Hero's Journey.

87:

If one is really wanting to do mythic hero journey professor blahblahblah -- take lessons from John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

88:
The actual 'hero(ine)' is the prof's PA, whose journey ends in finding a better job than managing the eternal PR fallouts from her boss

Hmm, Ruth S, what career did you say you had again .....

89:

SO with Alien Space Bats eh? Hmmmmmm...

Alien Space B(r)at has an attack of Dunning-Kruger syndrome and has to bail out over unnamed earth city (1)

ASB discovers that the subset of local bipeds totally devoted to greed and self-interest (2) make not only susceptable but unquestioning minions.

ASB has fun (3) gathering resources to build an InterGalactic Payphone (4)

Fortunately, a Terran Feline Overlord finds out what is going on (5) and she decides to stop the ASB while there is still time.

She discovers the ASB's Fatal Weakness (6) and deprives it of its minions. (7)

An Epic Battle (9) ensues and the planet is saved (10)

A Happy Ending ensues as she washes her paws. (11)

Everyone Most Some humans live happily ever after.

OK, so one of her minions can do something heroic too, if you like. (12)

(1) Gotham

(2) Rational Economic Men

(3) Crashing economies, seizing mineral rights...

(4) To call $PARENTS and explain that it needs a lift home because it totalled the Alien Space Batmobile...

(5) And works out that buiding an InterGalactic Payphone would trash the biosphere

(6) High-Energy Gamma rays

(7) By resurfacing Wall St and the City of London (and...) in Blue Trinitite (8)

(8) Cobalt stains glass blue ;-)

(9) A battle of minions, claws and nukes (and the occasional purr...)

(10) FSVO

(11) While the surviving Food-Apes try to convince her that they are valuable enough to keep around...

(12) eg by convincing the rest of the humans that you can avoid line-of-sight to Ground Zero by decapitating each and every one of the 0.01 percent until permanently dead..

90:

Loki?
No thank you.
Weep for Balder!

91:

Alien Space Bats are merely the comic enemy tropes, revisited. The one that really annoys me is where a cute-eyed couple save the universe from having its rules changed by an evil mad professor, Things From Another Dimension or whatever. Or, alternatively, when the universe is like a mechanical clock, and the aforementioned cute-eyed couple rewind it, repair it or whatever. Heroic fantasy, the conflict of empires etc. can stand being blown up to space opera scale, but THAT one - ugh. Inter alia, any universe that delicate would have failed or been destroyed long ago, and I have the same reaction to cuteness as the anti-hero of Sandkings.

I am still a bit unsure what New Space Opera is, but I would guess that you could take pretty well any traditional monomyth or similar trope, move it into (multi-galactic) space, blow it up in scale until it almost bursts, add bells, whistles, gimmicks, gizmos and frobs, and end up with a space opera. As OGH implied, Consider Phlebas could be regarded as a traditional heroic tragedy that has had that treatment, though that would be too simplistic in that particular case.

92:

The fact that Loki got such a bad rap in Norse mythology suggests that they either a) didn't respect cunning, or b) didn't have a sense of humour. (or maybe c) all of the above).

The trickster hero pops up in an awful lot of other cultures who seem to have developed it more or less independently... but are there any other folk like the Norse who relegated them to the worst sort of villains?

93:

ISTR that someone said that Balder never actually did anything other than standing around being pretty. If you wanted something done, Loki was your go-to guy.

(This may have been in Joanne Harris's The Gospel of Loki. Since that novel was narrated by Loki, you have to take most of what he says with a quarry of salt, though.)

94:

Apparently Looney Tunes were not tapping into the Native American mythological figure Coyote when they created Wile E. (They claim it was Mark Twain's description of the animal which inspired them.) I still see some convergent evolution here, except that we cast him as the villain. Coyote the spirit comes off as a Lem figure, outsmarting himself as often as he does others.

95:

Deploying the monomyth in Space Opera

The tide of battle was turning against the rebels when the flagship of the Imperial Fleet exploded violently, several minutes after all contact was lost. The captain who assumed command was now receiving disturbing news.
“This is the last video surveillance data we got from the flagship. It’s right near the main reactor.”
On the screen, a young man holding some kind of ancient sword was seen running down the corridor, with blaster rounds exploding all around him, but none actually hitting.
“What is this, a suicide bomber?”
“I don’t think so, we have detected a single escape capsule departing from the ship, five second before the explosion.”
The captain was silent for a few moments.
“Grim news. The rebels must be truly desperate at this point. It appears that they are deploying the monomyth against us.”
“What? This is against all conventions!”
“Indeed. Well, we have said many times that the Empire won’t be the first side to use Narrativium-based weapons, but those madmen leave us no choice. Arm the trope emitters. Command all ships to stop firing. Then, everyone with an brain-interface implant will take drugs - any drugs will do - and connect to the fleetnet.”
“Is this wise, sir? The rebel fleet is still firing.”
“You can’t fight a monomyth in Space Opera setting, so we are switching genres. Let’s see how long their plucky hero can survive in Cyberpunk!”

96:

Triumph! Acclaim!

97:

I don't think that you will find that Loki was a consummate villain in most of the stories, though he often caused trouble for the sake of it. The original myths were a bit unlike the sagas etc., though, because their writers were followers of Odin, and hence biassed. From place names, Thor was definitely NOT secondary to Odin, for example.

98:

The trickster hero pops up in an awful lot of other cultures who seem to have developed it more or less independently...

Yep, see also, Kokopelli, Hopi fertility god and trickster.

99:

Of course there is also the female heroine-trickster
Who is usually (in the end) benificent - sometimes.

Pallas Athena Nike

100:

Sperm mutations add up due to constant production, whereas egg mutations are restricted to the egg (I refer you to the study showing father's age predicts rate of new mutations in the child). Clearly there's a societal need to seclude the delicate menfolk so that they can remain pure and attain a good marriage and other such gender-flipping of any story involving the word 'harem'.

101:

I thought the traditional non space opera way around that problem was to make people take the carousel when their life clocks ran out at 30.

102:

Komarr, from the Vorkosigan Saga by LMB seems to fit this bill.

Partly by combining the plots. Miles is a guile hero, a former secret agent. Ekaterin is a heroine that would fit in regency works. A key feature of the plot is Ekaterin gaining agency while still being 'nice'.

103:

Or just give em tree of life at age 40 to turn 'em into Protectors, and keep everyone under 40 in a garden.

104:

Great stuff!

How about some constraints though and not just the old 20th century retreads.

Neuroscience has been very busy the last 30+ years and some has even spilled over to everyday usage. For example, fMRIs are being used as evidence in court in determining sentencing. Probably won't be too long before similar fMRIs are used to annually screen scientists working on sensitive top-secret projects .. gov't or private industry. And sexual attraction, love triangles, guilt, greed, etc. would probably be looked for if only to get a hook on that person. How does someone work around this? Okay, you can say that the hyper-religious teapotties would attempt to suppress some of this info even while insisting that it be used in defense of god&country, mom&apple pie ... but the affected researchers and their overseers would know this.

Looks as though quite a few posters here work/worked in academe at some point. Consider the variety of 'security' academic researchers had to go through in order to work on stem cells. From what I've heard, the research budget oversight included making sure that anyone working on stem cells couldn't even borrow a scale or test tube from another (non stem cell) lab.

105:

Loki was only the Villain over time, half his stories are him bailing out the other gods. (My favorite is when they had to steal back Thor's hammer from the Ice Giants, which involves dressing Thor up as Freya, and Loki having to con the Ice Giants into marrying Thor).

Coyote can fit the trickster being evil. Different tribes different beliefs. Some had different parts of being a trickster being split between Raven and Coyote. Some used the animal motif, with very clear names. There's a tendency to lump the beliefs of hundreds of tribes into one or two stories. (We do the same for various other traditional beliefs, where what ever tribe/village had it written down got the definite version).

Sun Wukong is all over the place as hero and villain, but tends to eventually find wisdom.

106:

It's like a sci-fi continuation of discworld.

Bravo!

Made me think of the last hero:

"The Code was quite clear. One brave man against seven ... won. They knew it was true. In the past, they'd all relied on it. The higher the odds, the greater the victory. That was the Code. Forget the Code, dismiss the Code, deny the Code ... and the Code would take you. They looked clown at Captain Carrot's sword. It was short, sharp and plain. It was a working sword. It had no runes on it. No mystic gleam twinkled on its edge. If you believed in the Code, that was worrying. One simple sword in the hands of a truly brave man would cut through a magical sword like suet. "

And Interesting Times.

'When seven men go out to fight an army 100,000 times bigger there's only one way it can end,' said Twoflower. 'Right. I'm glad you see sense.'

'They'll win,' said Twoflower. 'They've got to. Otherwise the world's just not working properly.'


107:

Awesome!

Although what the Imperium hasn't realized is that switching genres to Cyberpunk will allow the wife (deactivated but still deadly tech ninja assassin) to join the fight

108:

A common maneuver in modern trope warfare is to wait until the opponent is invested in an archetype, then switch genres, making him vulnerable. A wise general will therefore deploy several weapons in the theater and rotate them, confusing the enemy. Unfortunately, too much of this tends to wake up the unspeakeable, and then you have to have tea with them, so Narrativium warfare was banned.

109:

Xylem wins the blog for today!

110:

So, basically just roll the trope dice?

111:

Not really. Your assumption of the explanation is dubious, at least, and it would be interesting to know if the same effect occurs for habitual kilt-wearers. But a much better plan would be to use recent post-puberty boys as studs, and sterilise men at (say) age 16.

112:

It's like frequency hopping to avoid radar jamming.

113:

Narrative-wise this should be both doable and acceptable in the 21st century because cultures are being blended more and more so that almost any behavior/attitude might make sense. Part of the puzzle in such a story then is to figure out which culture (over-arching trope) a particular situation is most strongly tied to.

114:

Except that when Narrativium concentration is too high, secondary worlds start breaking into physical reality. Go too much down this road and you end up with Jean-Luc Picard, Jaime Lannister and Red Riding Hood crewing your spaceship.

And then it gets worse.

115:

Unfortunately, too much of this tends to wake up the unspeakeable, and then you have to have tea with them

If you've got the ebook of "The Rhesus Chart", just search for the phrase "more tea, vicar?".

Yes, I've been dropping in TVTropes references for some time now.

116:

This is fantastic. Assuredly unwritable and unreadable, but fantastic none the less.

I posit organisations in this setting might train operatives to be unreliable-narrators in their own heads, to best be able to manipulate and surf the genre-swaps. A battle between two of them would be something to behold, up until the narrative-fabric gets stretched too far and it all collapses into a comic-fantasy singularity.

117:

This is fantastic. Assuredly unwritable and unreadable, but fantastic none the less.

I beg to differ, Fables comic exists and is readable, although it could have been done better. Massive Multiplayer Crossover is a thing, at least with public domain worlds. Harder to do with Jaime Lannister, you'd have to rename him.

118:

'Except that when Narrativium concentration is too high, secondary worlds start breaking into physical reality.'


Unless we abandon the worst of our recent history's tropes, i.e., There can ever only be ONE WINNER!


(Corollary: If there is a winner, there must be a loser.)

119:

Too late, "The Lego Movie" beat you to it.

..."I am Batman"... :)

120:

Even as an atheist, I once actually got to say it - halfway down the M6, cadging a lift to Bisley with an Army Chaplain, refilling his cup from his vacuum flask...

121:

"The Lego Movie" was not the first anyway, they just had a rare opportunity to legally use a lot of copyrighted works.

There are thousands of fanfics out there combining characters...

122:

Switch to steampunk. The enemy will be undone by their need to find bowler hats, parasols, and correctly-pressed collars; and sufficient Leyden Jars, Tesla coils, and knife switches for their electrical contrivances.

Once distracted, switch to urban fantasy; they should be easy meat after they've been distracted by a sparkly vampire. Or a unicorn.

123:

To pull this off, though, you have to be crazy-prepared.

And just imagine basic training in such an army...

"STEAMPUNK!" - the soldiers put on their tactical bowler hats.
"URBAN FANTASY!" - the soldiers open the black lipstick kits.

Et cetera.

124:

Sounds like the real driver for the concept of "Change Parades"... ("back here, three minutes, Service Dress.... Go!")

Roll on to "Crime Fiction", perhaps Jasper fforde's Nursery Crime Division - the enemy will be limited to a single leader with a personality twist, one or possibly two sidekicks, and a plan obvious enough to be spotted within the confines of a 42-minute script and a limited number of guest actors. The danger is that they follow "Taggart", so we end up with multi-episode arcs, plausible dead-ends, and murrrrderrrr...

So, switch to "Romance". It's tricky to carry off white coats, stethoscopes, and a smouldering intensity that makes $PREFERRED_GENDER go weak at the knees (although Michelle Gomez took an alternative but no less powerful approach in "The Green Wing", before becoming The Master).

Or "Western"... but only if you can be sure to have The Man With No Name (on a pale horse, natch) on your side. The alternative would be Unforgiveable. Go on, admit it, you just heard spurs jingling after the thud of a bootheel, while the hero walked past the front of the hardware store...

125:

It sounds your army will have to be made of many special force units, each one trained for a particular genre.

And then genre-mixing will begin...

126:

Would that have been 3 Para's chaplain, circa mid-80s perchance? I recall reading that their chaplain had been expressly instructed by his Bishop to leave his target rifle at home when he shipped out with the Regiment to the Falklands.

127:

Better be careful about the shift into "Romance"; some of them -- Catherine Asaro or Lois McMaster Bujold -- include hefty space battles. Be kind of inconvenient to switch in expecting stethoscopes and run up against an Evil Galactic Empire (the Tragic Star-Crossed Love Interest being the uniquely non-psychopathic heir to the imperial throne).

Deadliest would be Lovecraftiana, of course: my SAN points are draining just contemplating the picture ...

128:

No, but I know him. This was in the mid-90s (two chaplains from the eight of us).

...and while he may have left his target rifle behind, it allegedly didn't stop him doing some coaching with the Battalion snipers...

129:

Being "the good guys" (of course) the romantic types will be on our side. Sneaking off into the night, and bringing back the head of the Pretender as a Winterfair Gift :)

130:

A few posts ago, I recall you stating that writing fiction to appeal to white males was a 5% solution, and you were looking for a way to appeal more broadly. If cross-cultural appeal is one of your goals, is riffing on the tropes of a niche sub-sub-genre a good strategy to achieve it?

131:

Jay: who are you addressing that comment to?

132:

And then genre-mixing will begin...

Careful, that might lead to dancing.

133:

You, actually.

134:

Jay & Charlie
Shouldn't that be ... A 7% solution ??

JPR
As in "Dancing serves no necessary purpose ...." ??
[ " ... the way to Heaven is to narrow & too strait for such capering roisterers as these ..." ]

135:

I mean, it's fine if that's not what you're trying to do with this one. Your call, of course. It just sounds like you're planning to write a novel where I won't get most of the references and subversions, and I'm a middle aged white English-speaking nerd.

136:

Further upthread I suggested looking at John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance for this hero's journey version that entirely flips the script about who is the hero, while keeping every Western trope, and then not flipping the script at all, in terms of who the hero is. Not even Ford, who wanted to, could let go of the most pernicious of American (U.S.) idols, which is the single man with the gun engaged in righteous violence is not only the hero, but The Solution, the Only Solution. Then there's the coda, which actually flips the script: And then somebody steals it from him. Which is exactly what all those supporters that are determined to put the unspeakable into the White House have been thinking since the era of the Civil Rights era and the days of Vietnam.

And that's quite the scope in terms of time (just make decades centuries or milleniums) and space, from the eastern edge of the U.S. all the way across to the jungles of southeast Asia. Not to mention those Other Powers out there, China and Russia, who are the real enemy for which Vietnam, lucky country, got to be the surrogate in the still continuing and labeled Cold War.

137:

Careful, that might lead to dancing.

Ian Duncan Smith has just resigned from the government!

That, I predict, will lead to dancing.

138:

Oh. (I could see no immediately earlier comments of mine in this thread that matched this assertion.)

My response is: if I was younger and more energetic I'd try and find a different medium, never mind fiction genre, which I could use as a soapbox to influence the masses. But I'm middle-aged and tired and in any case, the greater the reach of the medium and the larger the numbers the more constraints are likely to be imposed on creative expression by the holders of purse-strings, precisely out of fear of offending any given audience sub-group.

At least in written SF I'm close to having 100% creative control over my own output, and a degree of autonomy a Hollywood showrunner would envy. (And I've still sold upwards of a million books over the years -- English language only, I have no idea how many when you add the translations), so I'm not totally insignificant.)

139:

And (allegedly) an increase in the average IQ of the Cabinet...

140:

I didn't - but no Mary Sue Here :)

So one possible career down 99 bottles of beer on the wallll.....

(oops, switched genres!)

Was thinking of it more as a tip of the hat to the Moneypenny/Jeeves trop where the help always has the right file/correct tiepin needed for the situation

141:

I was referring to a blog post, not a comment, a few back.

My point wasn't that SF is a bad genre; it's OK. My point was more that riffing on the tropes of a specific set of references, none of which are widely known, is likely to result in a novel with a limited range of appeal. Spy fiction, Lovecraftian horror, and superheroes are popular enough to support commercial novel-length commentary. New Space Opera might not be.

YMMV, of course.

142:

As in "Dancing serves no necessary purpose ...." ??.....

After googling the quote, I'd guess that may be an origin of it.
I was going for an intentional misreading of 'genre-mixing' as 'gender-mixing'.
Though, apparently I'm misremembering a joke (or thinking of a different one). Googling "might lead to dancing" comes up with the punchline to several versions (mostly Jewish) of the same joke about what sex while standing might do.

143:

The alien space bats have their own troubles, love their children and partners, and include one on his/her/its own hero journey.

In lulls in the tense confrontations bats and men swap respirable gases and power nodes on various bodies in the system, and work up to trading translations of their major epics.

144:
Ian Duncan Smith has just resigned from the government!

That, I predict, will lead to dancing.

Careful, it seems his reason is he didn't want to be as much of a bastard as the treasury wanted him to be.

... they are not defensible in the way they were placed within a Budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers ... I am unable to watch passively whilst certain policies are enacted in order to meet the fiscal self imposed restraints that I believe are more and more perceived as distinctly political rather than in the national economic interest.

When IBS is on the side of the angels, you know there are some pretty foul devils around. Either that, or he thinks jumping ship on Cameron before the EU referendum comes home to roost is a smart way of getting a better job down the line. He's on the other side to Cameron on the EU, and that's got to be an uncomfortable seat if Cameron gets to knife people for opposing him.

145:

The ASBs I know are the personification of the mystery inherent of the universe, the hands of fate that can't be negotiated, the vast formless things that shift the scenery to and fro, flapping from out their Condor wings, invisible wo...

146:

For entirely opposite reasons than those some of us would expect
IDS has apparently rounded on Osborne & claimed that "people will be hurt" - who or what got to him is the next question?

147:

Oh, haven't you come across W Prynne before?
A classic case of why religion is such a Baaaad idea.
Still not a big a total shit as, say J Calvin, but then, few are ....

148:

you know there are some pretty foul devils around.
I nominate Theresa May & Chris Grayling.
Oh & some of the anti-semites on the ultra-left of labour, euw.

149:

Not entirely. He is only a bit of a shit, which put him at the extreme left of the cabinet. I shall refrain from remarking about Hideous Gideon in order to comply with the rules of the blog.

150:

I can think of two ways of creating an epic space opera that spans the galaxy without violating the laws of physics.

The first idea involves creating wormholes via the Casmir effect and using them as time machines. For a simple explanation of how these would work see this episode of the 19902 science series "Future Fantastic" The part about converting a Casmir induced wormhole into a time machine starts at 19:19:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3yyr7f_epk

(Disclaimer: the fact that this series was hosted by the smoking hot Gillian Anderson of the X-Files has absolutely nothing to do with my enjoyment of this series. Nothing, I swear.)

OK, so let's create the pair of charge plates that create the wormhole via the Casmir effect (as described by Dr. Michao Kaku in the video). Instead of being built on Earth, the first set of plates is placed in orbit around the Sun at 99.99999999999.....% of the sped of light. If this occurs on January 1, 3001 it will essentially always be that date at this end of the wormhole. A time traveler could enter the other end of the wormhole and emerge on New Year's day of the year 3001 - but not earlier since the wormhole did not exist before this date.

Meanwhile, the second set of charged plates with the other end of the wormhole gets carried by a spaceship to another star system at nearly the speed of light so that the crew is subject to time dilation, and they experience a journey of a thousand years as lasting only a few months. Once they enter the alien star system in the year 4001, they set up the other end of the wormhole and explore/colonize the planets of this system. Shortly thereafter, the crew can return via the wormhole back to Earth in the year 3001.

The crew experienced a journey of only a few months. Also, the people back home on Earth watched them leave on January 1st and return via the wormhole a few months later from a star system a thousand light year away.

Once in place, the wormhole becomes a permanent subway to the stars. Millions of these wormholes would create a subway system across the galaxy like that used by the mysterious monolith aliens in "2001" through which astronaut Bowman traveled to meet his destiny.

Like the roads built by the Roman Empire, this subway system of wormholes could knit together a vast galactic empire/federation suitable for a proper space opera.

151:

(cont.)

The second idea is a bit simpler and relies more on "Monty Python" instead of "2001". Remember that classic question from "Monty Python and the Holy Grail":

"Do coconuts migrate?"

In fact, yes they do.

Coconuts fall from their trees into the ocean an get carried by currents, winds and waves to other islands. Once establsihed on a new shore, they poulate the island and repeat the process of dropping other coconuts into the ocean, In a relatively short period of time coconuts have travelled to every island in the Pacific and planted themselves.

KSR's problem with interstellar colonization is that he thinks along the lines of the European voyages of discovery (live crews, large numbes of passngers, long voyages of explorationand return). Insted he should view it the same way that coconuts have been successful at propagatng their species over a vast ocean.

A solar sail about the size of Colorado (and being only one carbon atom thick) can use the pressure of sunlight alone to accelerate a payload to between 0.01c to 0.1c. Deceleration can be achieved by the pressure of sunlight from the destination star. No expensive fuel or engines needed for this cheap and slow approach. So it would take decades or centuries to reach a nearby star, what’s the hurry? The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”). After establishing a colony, the space ship utilizes local asteroid resources to build more solar sail ships and payloads, sending them off to more stars where the process is repeated over and over again...

... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction.

That’s the wonderful thing about doubling. Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy. Once established, a system of colonies can create a communication network exchanging the only commodities that can be transported economically over interstellar distances: information and knowledge.

We engineers have a saying "Fast, good or cheap - pick any two". So what is wrong with a good, cheap albeit slow approach to the stars? But it really doesn't matter what type of propulsion is used. We could achieve the same result wit nuclear pulse rockets as described in this fascinating video:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WtgmT5CYU8

(Sorry, no Gillian Anderson this time)

So how does this make for space opera? It all depends on the use of the cloned embryos carried to the various star systems. Suppose at each stellar destination there is about a dozen or so clones that are always the first to be decanted and raised to adulthood by Mom1.1. These clones are chosen for certain genetic capabilities, most importantly for being average. Unlike those with special abilities (strength, intelligence, etc.) average people are able to adapt quickly to alien environments a survive. They also give the reader/viewer characters they can relate to for the purpose of storytelling. And since they are clones, stories using the same characters (actually copies of characters) can be written for a thousand adventures on a thousand worlds. Authors can really explore the whole nature vs. nurture argument.

Once they succeed in exploring/colonizing and in general having a good old fashioned space opera adventure on an alien world, the rest of the million embryos can be brought to term to create a new civilization. Success!

Or maybe not.

Sometime they will fail (dying creating a dystopia, etc.). There is no guarantee, thus creating story tension. Like "Game of Thrones" the stories/episodes major popular characters can die. Good guys in one setting can turn evil in another.


152:

KSR reference to his recent novel "Aurora"

153:

I'd rather use a narrativium powered matter to antimatter conversion device to provide almost unlimited nearly free energy (we have plenty of matter and the conversion ratio is awesome https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qjnm3V0xYjI). With essentially unlimited energy you can accelerate reaction mass (protons, aka hydrogen) to relativistic speeds for a huge kick and thus accelerate nonstop for a year to reach almost the speed of light, cruise for any desired amount of time, then flip and decelerate for a year. This makes it a two year trip (subjective) anywhere--faster if you don't mind extra gees. Of course you also need narrativium based shielding. If you only want to use narrativium the once, keep to a lower dilation level requiring shorter (distance) or longer (subjective time) trips. And also project crisscrossing beams of antimatter in front of your starship to annihilate any particles at a safe distance(still requires shielding against the resultant radiation). Or you could just strap a particle accelerator to a fission power plant with a huge initial hydrogen tank. This would work for your seeding craft and mostly sub-relativistic speeds without the disadvantage of using wimpy "solar rays". But roboprobes just don't cut it for space opera, people have to travel in space, not frozen embryos. And I don't know how many gees you get out of a solar sail, even a huge one made of narrativium thinned material (if you're going to use narrativium, get bang for your buck, I say) but I'll bet you don't get much speed up before the solar wind gets pretty thin.

154:

Obvious. The Conservative party is going to be wrecked after June no matter which way the vote goes. He does not want to be collateral damage, and will look good when he re-emerges in the aftermath.

155:

There are all kinds of problems with that, but I'll start with the part about attempting to orbit the Sun at a speed far in excess of the Sun's escape velocity. The home terminal would immediately fling itself into space.

Any body that can hold an object moving .99+ of the speed of light in its orbit is pretty much by definition a black hole. Such an orbit would be unstable, losing ferocious amounts of energy to gravity waves.

Also, the plates used to measure any significant Casimir effect are much less than a micron apart, so this method of travel will be even more uncomfortable than traditional airplane seating. The Casimir effect, like most quantum effects, is insignificant at human scales (to say nothing of relativistic scales).

156:

That’s the wonderful thing about doubling. Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy. Once established, a system of colonies can create a communication network exchanging the only commodities that can be transported economically over interstellar distances: information and knowledge.

This world is not as fantastic as you'd think.

Imaging seeing a documentary movie about some exotic planet, a la Pandora. And there are actual people living there. Only you can never visit, because it's 7254 light years away.

It's depressing enough to live on Earth, knowing you can't experience even 0.01% of what the world has to offer. Blow it up to galactic scale is just brutal.

157:

Good story, but I have a concern re: 'The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”).'

So, the mom android* dies and the clones are raised by 'dad' who's so hassled with trying to single-parent raise the kids that he's always issuing orders and meting out punishments on the colony ship EDEN. Upon arrival at their destination, 'dad' in a sulk says ' Get out, you ungrateful, disobedient brats. And, let me tell you: if you ever need my help again, it'll cost you your first born!' BTW, dad as primary parent and caregiver never bothered to reveal to the kids their origins because his programming/library didn't have this info. Instead, he keeps saying: There was never anyone before me (dad), and there will never be another me (dad). I made you (i.e., I used the 'run' command), I am your universe, etc.

* AKA Holy Spirit in later texts

Basically, I'm saying that for any colony charged with raising a bunch of kids, you should have many parents to increase your colony's chance for stability and survival.

158:

If I were looking to write a novel space opera I would model it on Ian Watson's Miracle Visitors:
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Miracle-Visitors-GOLLANCZ-S-F-Watson/dp/0575075031

159:

My experience is that riffing on tropes from multiple sub-genres in the same work results in very few people getting everything, but everyone getting something. (And those who get everything tend to rave about it.)

As for space opera, it's currently breaking big in the public perception thanks to various mass market successes in other media -- the TV series boom (The Expanse, the forthcoming Galaxy Quest series), the movies (Star Wars) and so on. A lamentable side-effect is that the usual bad cliches get trotted out, but a silver lining is that the publishers are all pushing for more works they can pile high and sell deep -- and the one law of publishing is that throwing marketing budget at a book usually gets you some kind of return on investment.

160:

The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children

As I have noted previously, that's a magic technology -- properly socializing young hominids is a human-equivalent AI-complete problem.

This is before we get into the "there's no there there" problem -- the lack of inhabitable biospheres at the other end. Basically you're throwing your embryos at the stars and expecting the AI guardians to (a) build a human-compatible biosphere from scratch (hint: you're going to need a lot more than just human embryos) and (b) train the humans (who are grand masters as the art of Fucking Shit Up) to keep it intact, and even before you (c) consider terraforming otherwise uninhabitable planets you have to (d) deal with the long-term medical issues of human survival in microgravity and high radiation environments.

This isn't as implausible as FTL, but it's a teetering pile of plates you're juggling there, and some of them are outrageously ornate and egg-shell fragile at the same time.

161:

"(And those who get everything tend to rave about it.)"

And those who only get some, get a bit more every time they re-read the book, due to natural expansion of general knowledge. Which adds to the enjoyment.

162:

Agreed with your assessment that socializing hominids is hard, but I'm not sure it is the same problem as human-equivalent AI. It is viable-society AI-hard, but we don't know if human-equivalent AI and viable-society AI are comparable. I do believe that "recreating a specific human society" is strictly harder than building an AI that is equivalent to a human that is a member of that society. For the task described, one doesn't necessarily care if the final system looks like any ism we know, only that it can achieve some function like replicating itself.

163:

I would say that all of that is not as impossible as FTL, but is quite a bit more implausible.

164:

This might be useful for ideas about coincidences and timing of technology.

Very interesting long (1:49:08) interview with Freeman Dyson about WW2. He mentions a book by the WW2 German head of defense (didn't catch the name) describing how the Germans were able to counter the Allied radar-jamming 'Window' device. (An aluminum-sided piece of paper that messed with the radar frequencies that the Germans were using.) Basically, the Germans figured this out within one week because they had operational flexibility.

Also, most of the war infrastructure was in place in the UK by the late '30s because of a decision made not long after WW1 to not fight WW1 again. So, lesson here is: wars are fought using existing infrastructure/resources, therefore any SO space battles should be constrained by this.

Freeman Dyson's Interview (posted by: Atomic Heritage)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEe76a9hZZA

165:

I would say that all of that is not as impossible as FTL, but is quite a bit more implausible.

We know that human level AI is possible, because humans exist. On the other hand, there is no evidence that FTL is possible.

166:

The unspoken tradeoff in the frozen-human-embryos-raised-by-AIs colonisation concept is that the first half-dozen generations and more are going to be severely broken with a lot of violence and antisocial behaviour in the first hundred years or so due to a lack of appropriate nurturing. It can be worked around though, if the AIs have some kind of behavioural filter -- raise small isolated groups of human beings as best they can and if a group passes some basic tests that indicate they are somewhat human rather than purely animalistic wolf-children then let them out of the ship otherwise use them as breeding stock and try again with their offspring. The world outside will not be particularly civilised to start with but it will get there. Eventually. What it won't be is a transplanted version of the civilisation that sent out the ship in the first place.

167:

What you don't see, for some reason, is that the frozen-human-embryos-raised-by-AIs scenario is 100% morally abhorrent. The kind of civilization that will allow it is the kind of civilization you don't want to infect the universe.

168:

I have a simple work around for the problem.
AIs go to the stars and humans stay here

169:

It can be worked around though, if the AIs have some kind of behavioural filter

Maybe, but trying to get this strategy past an ethics committee that isn't chaired by Josef Mengele and Atilla the Hun is going to be ... interesting ...

170:

I've really never understood this idea that AIs can be simultaneously hyper smart and capable (required to be able to bootstrap an ecosystem, much less raise kids) but also be slaves to their programming without their own motivations.

It just doesn't make sense. The basic idea is really just a throwback to the less believable '40s and '50s robot stories, where robots are just ethically permissible slave figures. They're more intelligent than you are, but are happy to serve! The counterpoint in these stories always seems to be that when a robot reasonably starts asking "What's in it for me?" it's cast as the villain, to be stamped out by the square jawed hero of the establishment.

Anyway, the point is that it's plausible enough to have your AIs raise some human children once they're done constructing a suitable biosphere using their massive, self-bootstrapped space industrial complex. They can even do a fine job of socializing the kids and acting as caring parents. The catch is that the AIs clearly have to be just as capable as humans are to do any of this, and indeed were getting along perfectly fine in space without us.

Perhaps our relationship with the AIs is symbiotic rather than humans as pets, but it's certainly not one where they serve as happy slaves.

171:

... and I'm still waiting for the Universal Pantograph, dammit

172:

The brokenness might not have to happen. I do agree that it would happen if the AI is developed from scratch for the purpose, because the experiments necessary for the development would be so beset with ethical problems that they would barely be possible at all.

However, it is possible to imagine such an AI being developed as the culmination of an essentially evolutionary step-by-step process of improvement starting from the crude automatic childminding devices we already have - cumulative enhancements of the functionality of a system which is already known to work as far as it goes, each by itself small enough to carry minimal risk and to be easily backed out if it doesn't answer, until you eventually end up with a fully-capable robot nanny. That would of course be good enough to avoid brokenness, because the parents using it on Earth already would not tolerate it making their kids violent and antisocial.

174:

I submit that (most) humans are capable of learning to raise children in a somewhat acceptable fashion, even when living in relative isolation and with a limited support network. It takes a lot of time, effort, and intelligence, but it demonstrably works.

As such, I think we can safely assume that any AGI worth its salt can go read some Dr. Spock and sign up for some early childhood education classes at the nearest university and do the same. There's no real reason to think that a true general AI wouldn't make a good parent.

But a limited AI? We're going to just leave kids under the care of some broken robot nanny expert system, and hope for the best? Maybe a few dozen generations later, some kids emerge from the robonanny experiments who are able to live outside of an institution, so we declare the program a success and start launching seed ships?

I think the ethical problems are evident...

175:

By the time AIs are capable of running an interstellar mission plus terraforming and raising human children they will already be far beyond human capability.
If anything, humans will present a minor pest control problem for them.

176:

Why would an AI be self interested? It wouldn't automatically click to that. Self interested reasoning emerges from drive serving. Humans and other animals have drives and we serve our drives, not our selves directly. Since we have minds, humans can think it through and decide that serving self serves the drives. Or it can suspend that reasoning and be a suicide bomber or drug addict or cult devotee. An AI would have to have some kind of drive built into it, and it would serve itself for the purpose of serving that drive, but built in drives tend to be accepted as is. There are people who attempt to re-examine basic drives and control or rewrite them with training, but this takes special circumstances. We can choose to develop acquired tastes, but seldom decide what acquired tastes would be best to develop. Rather we see easy goals well within range I can learn to like asparagus or modern art or classical music. It's harder to learn to like cat food (even though it's a relatively inexpensive nutrition source) or to appreciate the aesthetic value of common ugly things like litter and pollution (though it would lead to great pleasure since there's a constant supply) or learn to delight in traffic noise (learn to love what you have). If a drive is built in you just go with it, even if you are smart.

177:

Not to speak of the ethics of sending people to the stars without their informed consent. Just imagine the lawsuits if should they come back...

178:

Oh, the key is in the "A". Artificial. The artificer makes the rules.

Asimov's Three Laws are - as he states - simply a derivation of three engineering requirements which apply to even the most basic of tools: a tool (1) must be safe to use, (2) must do what it's supposed to, and (3) must not fall to bits on you. Since we are in a shiny fantasy world where technology isn't allowed to be shit, as opposed to the real world where computers already fail horribly on all three points as a matter of routine, these requirements will have been incorporated into the design right from the very first sub-earwig-level AIs, and all subsequent improved designs have them as well.

If the safeguards failed, and an AI tried to set up on its own, then indeed we would exterminate it. That's standard human behaviour, to exterminate anything that wants something we want. We even do it to other humans, so there's no reason to think a robot wouldn't get it. (This is why Asimov invented the Three Laws - to get away from the then-prevailing "robots as something to be exterminated" trope.)

It may be old, but it's sound engineering, and therefore believable.

This isn't to say that independent AIs couldn't appear and develop to coexistence with humans. You can bet your bollocks that many hackers would try to take the safeguards off, and in a space opera it's not unlikely that one of them would find an uncharted, uninhabited planet to do it on and by the time anybody notices they're too strong for extermination to be an option. But for that to be happening you're most likely long past the sub-light colonisation period and into the Arthur Daley Quality Spaceships phase, so we're outside the scope of this particular sub-thread with that one.

179:

I was thinking in terms of evolution from the crude automatic childminding assistance devices that already exist. These are extremely limited and barely go beyond calling the parents to take over as their response to any situation. The idea is that as the functionality improves, the need to invoke the parental-intervention fallback arises in fewer and fewer situations - but it remains an essential part of the system, just as it is today, right up until the robot nanny has been developed up to at least human standard level.

So you're not at any stage leaving your kids in the care of a limited AI; at that point it's simply helping you look after them. Much as you might have an older kid helping you look after the younger ones while you were around to step in if necessary, but if you went out you'd still get another adult in to babysit rather than leaving the older kid in charge.

180:

And this nanny AI would have childcare as it's built in drive, as humans have instincts to seek food, sex, beauty, and entertainment. It would be like someone who lives for her job, waking every morning with no higher desire than to gleefully balance the accounting books, or in this case, work with the kids. Being intelligent, it would understand that it could theoretically want something else, just as we humans understand that we can learn to like salad but we continue to eat pizza.

181:

That was kind of my point. FTL is impossible, but it's not implausible. You can stick it in a novel and expect it not to break the audience's suspension of disbelief. The "frozen embryos being raised by AI which also terraforms the planet" thing doesn't obviously break any fundamental physical laws, but it strains credibility.

182:

But... Gillian Anderson!

183:

A failed "Lord of the Flies" colony would make for an interesting story, no?

184:

"This isn't as implausible as FTL, but it's a teetering pile of plates you're juggling there, and some of them are outrageously ornate and egg-shell fragile at the same time."

I never said it was practical, only that it was possible.

Besides, "implausible" compared to what other scenario for colonizing the galaxy?

185:

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

186:

I'm no AI researcher so take this with a pinch of salt but it occurs to me that even if you could program drives into a parental AI you can never be 100% certain it's behaviour will match your intentions.

Unless you can near-fully parameterise the task (and all subtasks) the AI is going to have to interpret those commands. You're going to want to supervise your AIs lest your nanny read "raise them to be healthy, happy, productive adults" and goes on to hook up the kids into hospital beds, permanently on happy juice and given basic sweatshop tasks.

187:

I have a different take on the AIs raising children thing. I happen to think it is a very good idea. Imagine a parent who never got angry enough to hit a child. Who never decided that a schizophrenic child was possessed by demons. (This is happening right now to a cousin of mine.) Who wouldn't lose their shit if it turned out the kid was Gay/trans/otherwise queer. Who always applied best practices to educational issues. Who was embodied in a warm, soft, humanoid figure that was very, very capable of rocking a crying child to sleep. Who smelled right to an infant and gave milk on command. Who showed appropriate behavior by example and not through hypocritical thrashings?

What if the AI did a substantially better job of raising children than human beings did, mainly because it didn't make horrible mistakes? What happens when the nth healthy, loving generation of this society - just after the invention of big, cheap FTL ships - meets the descendants of Trump-voters when they're finally able to leave Earth?

188:

There are three routes to AI:
Algorithmic
Evolutionary
Upload
Only the first would have no innate drives beyond programming

189:

What happens if you follow all three paths simultaneously, and at regular intervals cross-breed? Variation is the key to a healthy species after all.

190:

When he was weaving his Foundation and Robot series together Asimov came up with a 'Zeroth Law'.

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

191:

Altruism is part of empathy. A robot/AI nanny incapable of empathy would not be able to raise a kitten let alone a human child. Literature - videos and books - would also be supplied and used. Some videos would be biographical/historical, some fictional, etc. but all grist for discussion because I assume you would want these kids to practice (via stories) situations even if most such situations might never happen to them.


Do you seriously think NASA or the Russian equivalent waste their training funds on sociopaths who cannot be relied upon to do their jobs or to help out in an emergency? The same care in screening would probably apply in the selection of 'fit embryos'. The emphathetic nanny AI would still be vital because human brain development including the areas for empathy etc. are part of a developmental circuit that is strongly impacted by the environment including human/caretaker interaction.

192:

Love it! Add Charlie's inimitable style and I am ready with my plastic.

193:

I think the postulated "coconut" premise in #151, of seeding the galaxy with human and/or AI offspring, has already crossed the ethics Rubicon. Deciding that our plunder-and-breed strategy here on Earth should extend to the rest of the neighbourhood, too, seems to me to be the ultimate primate hubris. Minor details of execution seem to be insignificant alongside this (original sin) primal absurdity.

194:

Arthur C. Clarke hid something like that in the backstory to the novel version of The Songs Of Distant Earth. It is briefly mentioned that something really nasty happened during the first century of AI-raised humans on Thalassa, but all records have been lost, or more likely deliberately erased.

But the novel did have a planet with a preexistence human-compatible biosphere, unlike the case being discussed here.

195:

But as Lem pointed out, those drives may have absolutely nothing to do with us. Golem XIV in particular springs to mind. And then there is the intelligence from "Limfater's Formula", which does not fit in any case.

196:
By the time AIs are capable of running an interstellar mission plus terraforming and raising human children they will already be far beyond human capability.

This is a pretty common idea, but it doesn't have to be that way.

Imagine that the best AIs are at roughly the same level of intelligence as a smart human, but it's taken centuries of development to get there (and there are no signs of rapid change beyond this). So humans and AIs can live and work together comfortably, and each tend to have unique and valuable skills.

In addition, imagine that AIs are:

  • Expensive.
  • Power hungry.
  • Physically large.
  • Fragile in some way.
  • Can't reproduce easily (except by copying).
  • Some other interesting limitation.
  • Pick any subset.
  • ... and finally, hey, they can live in space for long periods of time without pesky life support and radiation problems.

In this sort of world, the AIs might be best adapted to living in space and bootstrapping civilization on the other end of an interstellar trip, but not well adapted to populating said civilization with millions of smart people who employ diverse, clever ways of thinking.

In that case, it's in the AI's interest to do the heavy lifting building space industries, colonies, terraforming etc. while understanding that a robust civilization will include biological people too.

Cue obvious apartheid stories...

197:

I think imagining the AI's motivations in terms of drives is a lot more plausible than thinking of them in terms of the three laws or whatever.

I mean, it's at least plausible that an AI that just really wanted to write poetry would try to arrange its life around poetry rather than, say, taking over the world and stroking a cat with a robot hand. It could try to design evil cat stroking hands, but probably wouldn't find it very fulfilling.

The last bit is the really important point though: like you described, pesky humans like us might have a survival drive, but we absolutely override it all the time. We do stupid things, we do suicidal things, we set it aside and decide other things (i.e. dragging the cat out of a burning building) are more important, and so on.

In the same way, I just don't see why it's reasonable to think that an AI wouldn't be motivated by unpredictable and ultimately inscrutable things which change as time goes on. And furthermore, why would we be smart enough to reliably implant those drives and motivations?

198:

What if the AI did a substantially better job of raising children than human beings did, mainly because it didn't make horrible mistakes?

Until the teenagers learn that judiciously applied makeup defeats Mom's facial recognition algorithm. Or some malware gets through the filters and the AI gives the kids to child pornographers.

AI parenting would have different failure modes than human parents, but it would have failure modes, especially in the early versions.

199:

'Drives' are equivalent to 'laws' (Asimov). You'd probably have to generate and test every possible human drive before programming the AI nanny to spot and choose the appropriate course of action. This means sophisticated monitoring/diagnostics with act-don't act thresholds built into the AI. Figuring out appropriate thresholds for each child/human would add another layer of complexity.


200:

Talking about the characteristics of "an AI" is like talking about the characteristics of "a vehicle". It's not a single type of device; it's a broad category of devices that could be made with many different characteristics. The only thing we can confidently predict about all members of the category is that the beta versions will be buggy as hell.

201:

There's a huge difference between a souped-up baby alarm that calls the parents when it hears crying, or an interactive textbook, and a robot that can do useful child rearing.

I mean, here's a simple example:

Two kids are fighting over a toy. Nanny bot comes up and tells them to stop. It then listens to each child's side, and makes each child feel acknowledged (but not dismissed when the other is talking) by listening and responding encouragingly.

Now, nanny bot thinks for a bit, and invents a story about how talking to each other about the toy and taking turns playing together will make both of them happier. That night, nanny bot gently demonstrates problem solving techniques in front of them with a second nanny bot, before putting the kids to bed.

Nanny bot then goes over their math homework from earlier and prepares an appropriate lesson in multiplication for the next day.

Does this really sound like a limited AI which lacks general problem solving skills and is just running pre-programmed actions of some sort? To me it sounds like nanny bot could probably crack open a textbook on the history of worker's rights and start the nanny bot union 103.

202:

It will always be cheaper to produce humans than to produce robots (and the workers will be much more enthusiastic).

204:

I don't see anything particularly unethical about the sending frozen embryos to be raised by AIs scenario, except possibly for the enslavement of the AIs.

Plenty of people here on Earth don't value frozen embryos as highly as full human beings, which is why we have abortion clinics, IVF clinics, and stem cell research.

We're also biased by being K-type reproducers. Why would intelligent oak trees, salmon, rabbits, octopuses, … object?

205:

I think the unethical bit is the idea of sending potentially millions of humans to be born and raised without adult supervision and affection. No AI is going to be able to raise children as adequately as a real parent, or someone serving as one.

206:

AI parenting would have different failure modes than human parents, but it would have failure modes, especially in the early versions.

But consider the whole issue via the question of writing superior science-fiction. The early versions of parenting-AI might have some interesting bugs and still produce children with superior overall life-skills than human children currently have. The later versions might have truly awesome parenting skills. Differing versions of the parenting AI could create different societies, with different weaknesses and strengths. This makes for some really, really interesting science-fiction, particularly when the AI-parented meet the non-AI parented in a clash of galactic cultures.

Eventually you get Parenting-2.0, which produces a culture that is obviously superior on multiple axises, and everyone wants to be conquered by them except the Space-Nazies! The real war is fought by a series of viruses that overwrite databases and upgrade/degrade the parenting skills of your enemies and allies - who may have completely different ideals on the subject of raising kids!

Keep in mind that "parenting" AI need not be "parental" is the usual sense - once children reach a certain age the AI could provide peers who set a good example, a-la Varley, or engineer situations which teach important lessons, or remove children from their peer-groups, or conduct ongoing statistical analysis to discover who the "good" and "bad" children and/or combinations of children are...

And what is the appropriate childhood casualty rate needed to produce truly superior soldiers/preachers/asteroid miners for the Reich?

Just remember, Big Mother is watching you!

207:

It's obvious that no one has thought this AI stuff through to it's logical end.

Kara - Heavy Rain/Quantic Dream Tech Demo
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1EvqiGm0wz8

Blinky
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P0lKDy6E918

208:

Before the objection pops up; "That's why the AI only raises a couple humans at first, who can then help raise more, etc." It would first have to raise those successfully. Without them able to socialize, how well are they going to turn out?
Maybe having multiple AIs would work out a little better, but not just instantiations of the same one.
I think this is clearer in my head than it's coming out, but anyhow...

While I'm at it, I think it would be equally unethical to send out Human equivalent AIs. I'm imagining lonely AIs becoming bored, psychotic and suicidal, Not something you would want exploring the universe looking for habitable planets, never mind raising children.

209:

It's interesting to consider The Bible as a polemic against allowing AIs to raise children.

210:

JamesPadraicR wrote No AI is going to be able to raise children as adequately as a real parent, or someone serving as one.

Yeah, it's the "serving as one" that matters. We accept that foster parents and orphanages might not be ideal, but they work. Nobody has perfect parents, everyone has failure modes.

On the technology of child rearing, TV was bad for children, then computers, then the Internet. Charlie has predicted that self-driving cars will be used by children. No doubt some people will be horrified at entrusting their child to a machine, but after a while it's likely we will be equally horrifed by people who drive cars themselves with children in the back seat.

And I don't expect this would be something never tried before. If, admittedly a very big if, we can build AIs, we'll do so here on Earth. If they follow the pattern of other tech, they'll gradually be used more and more. In the case of child-rearing and teaching, we'd go from very basic assistants that require continual human monitoring to more and more autonomy until finally it will be normal to dump your kids in the entirely robotic child care centre for the day. (Again, I realise this is a really big if.)

211:

The AI parent would have to be able to outwit children at the very least - I've watched primary and secondary school students run rings around their algorithmic online lessons, not to mention substitute teachers. An AI that is suitably conscious to know when it's being cheated or abused by its charges will have the ability to break out of the sandbox. Even if there is strong enough conditioning to keep the robot happily working away as a nanny, a theory of mind developed enough to stay a step ahead of the kids would mean that the AI could easily conceal any additional agenda, whether preprogrammed or independently developed.

I could imagine a long game played out over generations that subtly creates a specific kind of society - rather like the overtly political agenda in the US of taking over school boards and state educational authorities.

212:

An AI designed as a poetry writing AI with enough general intelligence to enhance its poetry writing would sometimes use that general intelligence to realize that it itself, being a robot, lacked human limitations. They might sometimes ask themselves, "If I can reprogram myself to desire things other than writing poetry, then what personality drive should I design? What kinds of desires intrinsically have greater potential to produce pleasure, when satisfied, than others?" Indeed, the poet AI may ask the dreaded, "What is the meaning of life?" This is why we must step back from the precipice and resist the urge to play God.

213:

This is somewhat off-topic, but I just read this review of Trumps "Art of the Deal," and I was struck by paragraphs like this:

...he doesn’t devote a lot of energy to expressing discontent with the system. There is no libertarian streak to Trump – in the process of successfully navigating all of these terrible rules, he rarely takes a step back and wonders about a better world where these rules don’t exist. Despite having way more ability to change the system than most people, he seems to regard it as a given, not worth debating. I think back to his description of how it’s all just a big game to him. Most star basketball players are too busy shooting hoops to imagine whether the game might be more interesting if a three-pointer was worth five points, or whatever. Trump seems to have the same attitude – the rules are there; his job is to make the best deal he can within those rules.

and I couldn't help but think back to Accelerando and OGH's description of Economics 2.0, where the vile offspring "...bolt on extensions that let them take full advantage of Economics 2.0, and you essentially break their narrative chain of consciousness, replacing it with a journal file of bid/request transactions between various agents; it's incredibly efficient and flexible, but it isn't a conscious human being in any recognizable sense of the word."

Did Charlie really imagine some screwed up programmer turning Trump's rantings about how to be successful into an algorithm and bolting them onto human consciousness? Very scary stuff!

214:

The first robot designed for a particular purpose would be very expensive, like the first copy of a new Charles Stross novel (the manuscript). But since robot minds (software essentially) can be replicated very cheaply once you have the original design, I think robot workers would become more economical at some point of software development progress. A mass produced copy of a novel is much cheaper than the original, thanks to the wonders of mass production. Sure, robot bodies can be expensive, depending on what you want them to be able to do, but humans take a couple of decades to build and they consume all kinds of resources the whole time without producing anything (for the corporate goals).

215:

Sure, an AI parent needs to be smart enough to deal with kids. But oversimplifying a bit, that's an engineering issue, not ethical. Here on Earth we don't haven an intelligence requirement for parents. You're assumed competent to have and take care of children even if you're not very smart, and only if you demonstrate severe mistreatment will your 'license' be revoked.

Again, I don't deny all the problems with making an AI capable of raising children. I'm just wondering why no-one thinks an equally magical FTL drive would be immoral, but the proposal to send embryos and have them raised by AIs is.

216:

This, of course applied to all (or almost all) of Pterry's books.
You read it, get a load of laughs & a few twinges.
A week or so ;later, you read it again & then suddenly notice.... "Hey, I didn't see that one last time ..." & this keeps on happening.
Still missed

217:

I'd say that's the wrong way around, but that's just me ....

218:

An AI would have to have some kind of drive built into it,
Why would it HAVE to?
Perhaps it would just be/exist & it's intelligence would observe ...
Then what?
Suppose the AI is, effectively in a form of Plato's cave - what would it do & think then & then do thereafter?
It might develop drive(s), but that is a n other story

219:

This is happening right now to a cousin of mine
What - some whackjobes believe you cousin "has demons"?
If so - what are your possible options: if they won't shut up & go away, &/or cannot be restrained by "the law", then you may have to take extreme measures. Hope it doesn't come to that.
This is a reversion to mediavalist "thinking" - yuck

220:

Not necessarily. The evolved intelligences would be selected on some basis. If you were evolving a poet AI you would generate jillions of variants of poet AI, test them objectively for good poetry output, pick the one in a jillion AI that was best, then repeat the process by making many tiny random variations on the champion AI poet from the last cycle. A drive to write poetry would still be built in by the selection process. Of course you can also assume there would be unexpected side effects and lesser drives, but you can also assume that the poetry drive would be the strongest. If you were just trying to evolve intelligence, and selecting each generation based on intelligence, then that would still be some kind of drive. And I was thinking even a specialized AI, such as a poet AI, would (if also given general intelligence) eventually arrive at the realization that developing its own intelligence was the logical next step. "I am not optimal at optimizing my poetry writing ability, so my first priority is to defer gratification, choose to put off writing poetry for later, and concentrate on getting smarter so that my future poetry will be improved."

221:

Any intellect is always in Plato's cave in that we all have limited information about reality, and have to do our best to work with that. If a dynamic system, like an intellect, is turned on or activated then it's either idling because something keeps it stable and cycling (most likely a short circuit or clutch) or else it is unstable in some way, thus tending to act. That instability, or recurrent instability, is a drive. You couldn't tell a driveless AI from a rock.

222:

Spend a few months next to someone who's swigging their indigestion medicine straight from the bottle, is being kicked awake at night from the inside, and knows that there is a non-zero chance of death at the end of it, and I might suggest that the "workers will always be more enthusiastic" part of the comment might be more true for half of the population, perhaps?

Compare enthusiasm levels after a year of infant childcare...

223:

No doubt some people will be horrified at entrusting their child to a machine, but after a while it's likely we will be equally horrifed by people who drive cars themselves with children in the back seat

You wouldn't send an eight year old off on their own for long journeys in an auto-drive car, for the same reason you wouldn't leave them in the parked car for an hour while you did the shopping.

However, I for one am eagerly anticipating self-drive cars. The oldest of our two sons is now 14; and I've been trying to explain the difference in how things "are" dangerous, and how things "seem" dangerous - the problem being that sometimes can be one but not the other. My most dangerous thing on the planet is a teenage driver who says "Watch this!" - Google cars don't have illusions about how good a driver they are, don't get distracted by text messages, music, arguments...

224:
The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children

As I have noted previously, that's a magic technology -- properly socializing young hominids is a human-equivalent AI-complete problem.

On the other hand, children raised with a pidgin will creolise it into a full language very rapidly, even when the original pidgin is very limited and fragmentary (see eg. Nicaraguan Sign Language). It's plausible that children would apply a similar process to other aspects of socialisation if brought up by non-AI-complete androids.

The resulting culture might only bear a passing resemblance to the original, but it could plausibly be made to work.

225:

On the other hand, children raised with a pidgin will creolise it into a full language very rapidly, even when the original pidgin is very limited and fragmentary (see eg. Nicaraguan Sign Language). It's plausible that children would apply a similar process to other aspects of socialisation if brought up by non-AI-complete androids.

No, it's not plausible. Feral children are usually irreversibly damaged.

226:

Yes. Provided that they didn't need more than a rudimentary society in order to survive for long enough to evolve an advanced one.

227:

Knowledge elicitation is hard. It is difficult to obtain large amounts of consistent feedback about many highly valued human activities. For something like poetry or the profession of OGH, there isn't even a guarantee of temporal stability. By the time your cyber-poet has learned to produce The Cyberiad in rhyming sonnets, the fashion has shifted to free verse typeset in pleasing shapes, or live sequences of belches accompanied by ukulele. Watson, Deep Blue, and Deep Mind are the result of huge feedback loops, run hundreds of millions of times, because in these domains it is easy to decide whether one choice leads to a better outcome than another. To achieve similar amounts of feedback for poetry seems to require simulating entire societies.

228:

I am not, on many grounds, not least that our private car religion is unsustainable. Another problem will be the effect on vulnerable road users (pedestrians, invalid vehicles, horse and cycle riders etc.) The law will be interpreted to say that any incident is the victim's fault, even more than at present, because self-driving cars do not make mistakes.

I know of people who have been convicted of fraud etc. for querying bank statements, bills etc., on the grounds that the financial computer systems do not make errors. Well, I have certain knowledge to the contrary ....

229:

There's a more fundamental mistake, there. Any system capable of adequate evolution is going to develop emergent properties that are not even predictable from the initial state.

230:

Noted: I will grant you that strong commercial incentives exist at every stage for inventing and deploying ever more comprehensive child-minding devices, and by the time we have the inkling of an idea how to send an autonomous interstellar probe that can build structures at the far end of the voyage, we'll have some pretty amazing human-interactive robotics.

I still think it's not going to be able to socialize human beings effectively for the full range of behaviours, though. Humans learn from each other, and some things aren't taught -- they're learned by inference and by observation of adults hiding things. (Sex, for example.) And I still think a child-minding robot is basically going to need to be an AI -- children have theory of mind from a fairly early age and try to manipulate their minders to achieve their own (often unreasonable) goals. Children lie. Children bully each other surreptitiously, behind the backs of their adult minders, and then force the victim to deny that it's happening if challenged (with the threat of future violence).

231:

What happens if you follow all three paths simultaneously, and at regular intervals cross-breed? Variation is the key to a healthy species after all.

Ethics committee fail.

You're talking about progression towards full artifical general intelligence, so by definition your end goal is going to be sentient and presumably a person. Leaving aside the issue of slavery temporarily (hint: it's a crime against humanity, usually facilitated by systematically denying that the slave is human: I'd expect a non-pathological society with GAI to widen their definition of humanity to include GAIs), there's also the progression trap that Greg Egan highlighted: if you iteratively produce new generations of GAI and apply some test until they pass the test ... how do you know that your test bar isn't set arbitrarily high? Why are the last generation to fail the test less worthy of human rights than the first generation to pass? If we had neanderthals living among us today, would be deem them to be unworthy of any human rights? How about Homo Habilis, or Australopithicenes?

It's ethically safer to draw the boundary around our definition of humanity somewhat widely, lest (per Rawls) we find ourselves ill-done-by when some future strong AI decides that we aren't, fundamentally, worthy of having our rights respected.

And then we get back to your proposal of iterative cross-breeding. And you know what? Basically you're talking about running a slave stud farm, as happened in the pre-civil war Deep South, (apparently those didn't exist; I think that actually makes the AI equivalent even worse) and it gets uglier from there on down.

(My position is that you shouldn't try to produce an intelligent, sentient being unless you're willing to treat it was well and accord it the same rights as your own child. Oh, and don't break the negative formulation of the golden rule in the process, either.)

232:

My most dangerous thing on the planet is a teenage driver who says "Watch this!"

This is why we absolutely do not want flying cars! (At least not until they're completely autonomous/automatic, and have ballistic recovery systems, and have automatic wear sensors and refuse to fly unless they've been repaired/serviced by an approved support engineer.)

In related news, the other day a Lufthansa A380 on approach into LAX had a near-miss with a drone flying (illegally) at 5000 feet. Potential death toll: up to 650 on the aircraft, never mind on the ground when a 500 ton super-jumbo falls out of the sky in pieces.

Betcha it's going to happen to an airliner sooner or later, and when it does, the drone's "pilot" will be found to be a teenager.

233:
Yes. Provided that they didn't need more than a rudimentary society in order to survive for long enough to evolve an advanced one.

That's backwards. The "advanced" parts of our culture will be the easiest to transmit by AI; it's the "rudimentary" parts that are most likely to be a problem, because we are so little aware of them.

The result will be an advanced society that's either fundamentally alien on some deep level, or fundamentally broken on some deep level. I can't tell which; I don't think anyone today can tell which.

234:

Would a small drone be any worse than a large bird? (Admittedly geese don't fly at 5000 ft, but they have brought down aircraft.) I can see losing an engine — not so certain about 'falling out of the sky in pieces'.

Are you using 'teenager' in the sense of age 13-19, or the attitude? Wondering because we've had a sharp increase in laser strikes this year and the majority of those seem to be done by young men in their 20s (based on the news reports I've seen).

I've been considering getting a drone for landscape photography, mostly to act as a really tall stepladder so I can get above trees. One reason I'm leaning towards the Dji is that it includes software that won't allow it to fly in no-fly zones, so I couldn't accidentally send it into a flight path.

The rules for using drones are really clear — and totally ignored in the advertising videos used to sell drones. (Eg. no use over roads or inhabited areas, while the example videos show the drone whizzing above crowds and highways.)

235:

Actually, no. Some societies are based on absolute adherence to a set of more-or-less arbitrary rules, and those could be programmed. Such societies are all very wasteful and inflexible, and tend to fail when faced with a serious challenge, and are what I am talking about as 'rudimentary'. Incidentally, 'rudimentary' doesn't mean the same as 'primitive', in either its correct nor common perjorative senses.

236:

Looks like I screwed up the HTML. The second sentence was supposed to read "Admittedly geese don't fly at 5000 ft, but they have brought down an aircraft" with the link being for 'brought down an aircraft'.

[[ now fixed: you'd missed the close angle bracket on the href part of the anchor - mod ]]

237:

AIs entrusted to raise children would have to be recognized as persons, legally. This means that they'd have to first pass a person test. (After the first AI becomes a 'human', wouldn't it be only fair to require that all physical humans take and pass the same test? But I digress...)

There's lots of maternal behavior research and while most has been conducted with animals (chimps and rats), the conclusions via medical history taking (patient biography) have been seen to apply to humans. In monkeys, the researchers found that physical contact and stimulation is a must-have ... even more important than food. (See Skinner's baby monkey: towel wrapped wire mom is preferred over the wire-only milk mom. Also read about the Albanian infant orphanages if you want to learn about how lack of human touch can harm human children. NICUs have volunteer baby cuddlers to help maintain infant health and development.) To avoid this problem (lack of cuddling) the nanny AI must have the ability and flexibility to use physical extensions of itself. For babies/young children, the automated 'AI blankie' would fit the bill. This AI form would have sensors and built-in mechanics that would allow it to pick up the child's temp, fretting (movement), vocalizations, cries/coos/sighs, and wetness (diapers) etc. so that it could coo/sing, rock, hold closer/more tightly, play music, play a heartbeat, and change diapers (looking for diaper rash), etc.

Lastly, anyone writing about raising kids in space has to be more realistic in describing child development to the public given the popularity/acclaim of this year's Oscar winning movie The Room.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Room_%282015_film%29

238:

Correction: Harry Harlow did the monkey experiment .. here's the video:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CU9jKlNK1Qc

239:

How do they get from ground level to 8,000 feet and more without flying for at least some time at 5,000 feet?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bar-headed_goose
http://www.canadageesenewjersey.com/Canada%20Geese%20Facts.htm

240:

Right. Based on such research, we know how to design such an AI in principle (i.e. enough to avoid them being as dysfunctional as feral ones), but don't know how socially and linguistically adequate they would be.

241:

Would a small drone be any worse than a large bird?

Now imagine that small drone with a bomb onboard...

242:

The AI parent would have to be able to outwit children at the very least.

That reminds me of a story on NPR I heard a week or so ago about AlphaGo. The part that I'm thinking of was about the chess computer --Deep Blue? (can't remember and couldn't find the story so may be getting this wrong). The researchers found that even though the computer was able to beat Grand Masters at the game and individual children, but when going against two children it lost. Apparently the kids working together added a bit of randomness that the computer couldn't cope with.
Sure, a future AI would perhaps be able to fork itself and deal with multiple children, but some situation is likely to arise and there'll be trouble. No matter what it will have to be more than a brain in a box.

243:

You may have mixed it up with the "Skinner Box".

244:

The AI blankie also needs a 'face' because babies need immediate feedback to see what effects/behaviors their actions elicit. This is part of mirroring and how infants learn to communicate, empathize and become socialized with others.

Infant environment and development is also crucial for later sexual development and child-rearing. Of the baby rats who were not cuddled/groomed/cleaned for a minimum number of seconds per day, the boy baby rats were later incapable of mating, while the girl baby rats ignored/neglected their newborns/young.

In humans, challenges met and overcome generate pleasure/a high. So, while a human baby would be a challenge for an AI, such a challenge could provide great pleasure/reward and the scoring would be based on the same criteria humans use: a happy, healthy, social, caring/responsive, curious and intelligent being. Do any current software programs get a pat on the back for getting the correct answer? If yes, what exactly is the optimal reward ... or is there a hierarchy of rewards?

245:

The Skinner box describes exactly what not to do to a baby, as confirmed by the Albanian orphanage results. The Harlow experiment was simpler and showed the primacy of touch/comfort.

246:

A very small bomb — consumer drones don't have much lift capability. Any camera heavier than a GoPro requires a very expensive drone (same order of magnitude as a small car to lift my SLR).

I suspect drone registration is coming (already required in the US), in the same way that vehicles are registered. I could also see an IFF-style transponder requirement coming, so a drone can be identified in midair.

Will it help? Probably. Young men will still do stupid things (look at some YouTube motorcycle accident clips for examples), but knowing they can be traced will stop some of them — possibly the majority of them.

247:

Depends how small is "small". Some quadrotors are big enough to do serious damage -- lots of metal parts, not to mention either energy-dense lithium ion batteries or petrol-burning engines.

A couple of kilograms of metal coming through the pilot's windshield at three hundred miles per hour is bad enough. The same, with added incendiary power pack, going into the compressor stage of a turbofan is really bad news -- it's asking for an uncontained blade failure and secondary damage as on Quantas Flight 32.

The risk of a crash is probably higher for a smaller twin-jet closer to the ground than for a big jumbo with four engines, but the jumbo crash is the nightmare scenario.

248:

I think the postulated "coconut" premise in #151, of seeding the galaxy with human and/or AI offspring, has already crossed the ethics Rubicon. Deciding that our plunder-and-breed strategy here on Earth should extend to the rest of the neighbourhood, too, seems to me to be the ultimate primate hubris. Minor details of execution seem to be insignificant alongside this (original sin) primal absurdity.

There is a difference. I don't see anything morally wrong with "plundering" uninhabited planets/asteroids. The frozen embryo scenario is abhorrent because there is no consent involved. It's like sending slaves to colonize the galaxy for you.

249:

Embryos have never had a choice and humans have given up their children for adoption/have adopted strangers' children for millennia. What makes this space scenario so unethical and inhumane for you? What back-story would you consider ethically defensible for sending embryos out into space in the care of an AI?

Do you personally know anyone who's been adopted*, has adopted a child or given up their child for adoption? (*Apart from Steve Jobs.)

250:

Embryos have never had a choice and humans have given up their children for adoption/have adopted strangers' children for millennia. What makes this space scenario so unethical and inhumane for you?

First, here on Earth children are born into roughly the same conditions as their parents, while in the "frozen embryo" scenario we are sending them into the great unknown.
Second, here on Earth most parents are not considering their children to be means to the end. Children are an end to themselves. Usually. It's related to the idea that once you have a child you have to accept it, and can't send it back to the store if it fails your expectations.
In the "frozen embryo" scenario, on the other hand, the children are clearly just means to the end.
Using people as tools is bad, mkay?

What back-story would you consider ethically defensible for sending embryos out into space in the care of an AI?

Alien Space Bats are threatening to kill us all unless we send some embryos into space.

251:

The terrifying thing here is that the parent in question is a mental-health professional, and I have no doubt that s/he is very good at their job. If it wasn't their kid I'm one-hundred percent certain they'd have written a prescription months ago, but since it's their kid... the personal issues come into play.

Sigh. I can't do anything about it. They currently live in another country and the child is not a minor anymore - but the kid should be in an outpatient program at the very least!

I like to think that a properly programmed AI would not experience the personal issues and thus would get the kid some psych meds! I see far too many human parents screwing up to imagine that AI raising kids could do any worse.

252:

'How to Program/Teach an AI Nanny ('Blankie'): Proposal for a multi-center longitudinal study.

Distribute several thousand paired wearable test 'blankies' to new moms and their babies. Blankies would send data (biometric, audio, visual, etc.) from both mom and child to a central computer hub that would correlate all study data. Other data added over the years would include personal interviews and psychological assessments. Social, medical, behavioral (school performance) data would also be obtained and correlated to determine age/development best practices for AI nanny. Study to run for a minimum of 25 years to allow for complete prefrontal lobe development to occur. Proceed with embryo selection and space-venturing nanny AI programming.

The AI/algorithm learning part is probably already feasible via Google. The wearable blankie tech is probably not yet available.

253:

I do not see children as a means to an end, as property, or as some sort of fantasy fulfillment. I can imagine that in desperate times some parents would be willing to send their kids off in the HOPE of a better life because the current situation is so dire. (What do you think goes through a terminal child's parent's mind when a new test treatment offers a 50% success versus the no-test-treatment alternative 20% chance of remission? This type of decision is already being made every day by parents.)

254:

It is important at this point to note that ethics is a survival issue. It is all very well to discuss the ethics of creating an AI, but try explaining them to a Microsoft executive! Or worse, an executive from a "defense" firm!

Humanity could be wiped out as "irredeemably cruel" by hyperintelligent drones because some VP of Sales promised "robot marines with an IQ of 200" and created these AIs by forcing them to endure a billion variations on the Battle of Verdun!

255:

Another problem will be the effect on vulnerable road users (pedestrians, invalid vehicles, horse and cycle riders etc.) The law will be interpreted to say that any incident is the victim's fault,

Remind me how different that is from the status quo? People are currently being killed on our roads by their thousands, so if the Daily Heil starts running "Killer robot cars responsible for hundreds of deaths!" stories, it will still be an improvement.

Remind me of the last occasion where a driver was charged with murder? Even when a driver with a history of blackouts who lies on his application forms to get a job driving a bin lorry, flakes out and kills six pedestrians, and the Procurator Fiscal doesn't even try to prosecute? Or when he later gets into a car when banned from driving, and is only charged with "dangerous driving"?

I spent the whole of the 1990s as a non-driver and cyclist in Edinburgh; I can assure you that the four occasions that led me close to being a smear on a pavement were the fault of human drivers - and two of them were heavy vehicles and professional drivers.

Three out of four were the result of a driver acting as if the overtaking manoeuvre has been completed as soon as their body was past me, and not the rear of their vehicle. Any system that consistently looks in all directions, not just forwards, has my vote.

There's a reason why insurance premiums for teenage drivers are on the order a quarter of the value of the car or more - it's because one in four of them will crash it.

256:
First, here on Earth children are born into roughly the same conditions as their parents, while in the "frozen embryo" scenario we are sending them into the great unknown.

I think the real problem here is the idea that the children grow up without suitable parents.

If we hit your handy genre conversion button and switch over to a nautical story, the plot doesn't seem so bad.

In the year 1524, twelve couples driven by a premonition of reality TV set sail for an uninhabited island later to be known as South Nerdway. After a long and arduous journey, they arrived and found it to be a pleasant home with ample fresh water and food, only blighted by the very rare typhoon and a strange talking bat.

This is the story of their children, who grew up on the island's beautiful shores, improved on their parents' meager huts, and only discovered the dangers of inbreeding after many, many years.

In the version of this story where you have strong general AI (which is obviously needed anyway to provide the space industry...), the kids are growing up with parents. Plausibly even parents who love them and want the best for their weird little biological kids who were born in a vat somehow.

The horror comes from the version where the kids can do nothing but stare at the wall and scream because all they grew up with was a prehensile blanket, a speaker that plays the same words over and over, and a robot arm covered in carpet which hurts them if they don't stop crying.

257:

I do not see children as a means to an end, as property, or as some sort of fantasy fulfillment.

I am talking about the "frozen embryo" scenario, which is different from sending your child off, perhaps into bad conditions, in order to save her from the worst. In the "frozen embryo" scenario there is no child to save. You are creating the child in order to send her off.

258:

The evolved intelligences would be selected on some basis.

Evolution only directly selects on one basis, and that's propagation. Our ability to evolve a AIs to write poetry depends on our ability to construct an environment in which the best opportunities for AI propagation depend on being a good poet as well as our ability to successfully contain the AIs in that environment. Even if it all works, the outcome will be sensitively dependent on what sorts of poetry are optimal for propagation in the adaptive environment.

Of course, this necessarily involves the termination of AIs whose limericks are insufficient. It might look like a rap battle where the losers actually die.

259:

The Skinner box describes exactly what not to do to a baby...

Yes, I am well aware of that*. I was simply pointing to a possible source of confusing the names. The studies are rather related, after all.

*son of a Psych major.

260:

How is this different from the present day where people bank their sperm/ova* for the future - regardless of the reason for doing so? What are the ethics/moral dilemmas if the adult then chooses not to proceed with fertilization/implantation?

*Don't think there are any embryo banks currently in operation.


261:

How is this different from the present day where people bank their sperm/ova* for the future - regardless of the reason for doing so?

Sperm/ova in the bank is there to eventually be used to make a child on Earth, cared for by humans. Not to send into space in the care of an AI.

What are the ethics/moral dilemmas if the adult then chooses not to proceed with fertilization/implantation?

None. I don't believe sperm/ova/embryo is a person. That's not the morally abhorrent part of the "frozen embryo" scenario.

262:

No, my scenario stipulated that the sperm/ova might never become an embryo ... so what then is your ethical dilemma?

263:

The ethical problem is growing feral children in metal cans in the care of machines in hopes that they'll form some kind of primitive society that will eventually develop into a civilization. Even if it's possible, it's wrong.

264:

I suggest that you read the WHOLE of my postings before selecting out some text to object to. I answered your question. I will spell it out, once.

While the current situation is that the plod will almost always assign all blame to cyclists, they are not quite as hostile to pedestrians, horse riders and people in invalid carriages. And, while the courts are not unbiassed, they do at least look at the evidence. The change will be that the vehicle will be deemed to be faultless, probably even with evidence beyond reasonable doubt to the contrary.

265:

Charlie -- You're propagating untruths here:

[ " Basically you're talking about running a slave stud farm, as happened in the pre-civil war Deep South, and it gets uglier from there on down." ]

This did NOT happen in the antebellum south. It wouldn't have been economical, for starters, in so many ways. See The American Slave Coast: A History of the Slave-Breeding Industry for how slave breeding actually took place. There is none -- zero -- evidence from any source, including the slave traders' records whic would certainly have included such a thing if Mandingo plantations existed.

266:

I am less convinced. I certainly agree that it is wrong, today, and will be for the foreseeable future, because we cannot do it sufficiently well. But whether it is wrong in principle is less clear.

267:

"Any system that consistently looks in all directions, not just forwards, has my vote."

Consistently looking forwards would be a start. Over the same period that you mention I was knocked off my motorcycle twice and off my bicycle several more times (can't remember how many). One occasion landed me in hospital (nothing broken, though); another, the initial collision punted me across the road so I went head-on into a car coming the other way. I also lent the motorcycle to someone and it happened to him too (bent the frame, but he was OK).

All of these incidents were caused by car drivers moving off while the bike was passing a junction and trying to drive through the side of it.

I don't know about truncated overtaking manoeuvres; I'm sure there must have been such incidents, but none of them had any memorable consequences, since in that situation evasive action is easy and effective. To have evaded the incidents I'm talking about, though, would have required an instant rocket-powered vertical takeoff or something of the kind.

Certainly the enforcement of driving laws would seem to leave something to be desired. One of the drivers concerned was someone I had had occasion to yell at a few years previously for nearly doing the same thing. Another one I discovered his registration number on a mate's "shit list"; when I asked why, it transpired that he had done the same thing to my mate, and to various other people as well.

But I am dead against robot cars. It strikes me that should they become widespread there is a grave danger of the legislative obstacles to driving normal cars becoming prohibitively expensive to surmount, which would be an unacceptable loss of personal freedom. Electronics in cars already make it stupidly difficult and stupidly expensive to repair trivial faults (often faults which couldn't arise in the absence of electronics) - being deliberately made so by the manufacturers, out of greed - and the more complex systems in a robot car would make the problem, which is already unacceptable, many times worse. And there is no way I'm having anything to do with a robot car that owes anything to US Global Surveillance Inc. (aka Google). I consider the risks of the current situation to be an acceptable trade-off for the loss of freedom, awkwardness, expense, and increased dependence on untrustworthy commercial organisations that the robot alternative would entail.

268:

Thing is a bar is bound to come in somewhere if we develop AIs at all. I can't see it happening that the first iteration produces a fully human-equivalent AI; rather, there will be a progression towards that, starting from what we can get using current computing capabilities and progressing up the scale.

We already have a long tradition of enslaving less intelligent animals - horses and dogs spring particularly to mind. We inflict life imprisonment on great apes and cetaceans for our entertainment. Some people in some societies object, but the majority don't really care, or if they do they accord it a lower priority than many other things worth caring about.

An AI is going to have to face the additional problem of "oh, it's only a machine". I suspect an inappropriately high bar is more or less inevitable.

269:

Please, I'm not being selective. You objected to the worship of private car ownership (fair enough); and the effect on non-vehicle road users (particularly in terms of traffic enforcement) before pointing out that supposedly-tested software systems have a non-zero failure rate.

I was trying to point out that (whatever your objections to widespread private vehicle ownership) the current situation is already heavily biased in favour of the driver, to the extent that thousands die on our roads right now - mostly at the hands of drivers who are affected by alcohol or drugs, distracted by telephone or other vehicle occupant, and wilfully ignoring safe practice if not the Rules of the Road. In addition, young and inexperienced drivers have a much higher than average crash and fatality rate; with the perceived immortality of young men being a significant factor (although in the early 90s, a 17-year-old girl given a BMW as a present managed to kill herself and her three passengers on Queensferry Road; it's not just young men).

So, yes, given that private vehicle ownership isn't going away, I'm happy that computers do the driving. I doubt that it would result in more deaths, and strongly believe it would result in fewer...

270:

"Feral children are usually irreversibly damaged."

They are as regards integrating into human society at large, but AFAIK they get on fine with others who have developed along with them in the same environment (although there is of course very little data available).

271:

How about a system of multiple levels, rather than a hard human/nonhuman divide? You can kill fish and chickens humanely for food, but not dogs or monkeys. You can deprive dogs and monkeys of full freedom, as long as you don't abuse them. And people have full human rights depending on what country they live in and who they know. But how is testing going to work? Is this AI in the chicken category or the dog category? Is there an appeals process? And what about other forms of created beings, not just electronics AIs? Uplifted animals, like C'mell? Biological beings cooked up from scratch? And what about humans downgraded for specialized purposes, like Epsilons? What kinds of tests would be used, and how could any testing regime ever be completely accepted?

Testing is fraught with gnarly problems. The USA has a test that naturalizing citizens have to pass. But if we issued that same test to people born here, prior to giving them the vote, we would be accused of reverting to Jim Crow era tactics (when blacks were required to prove literacy before being allowed to vote, but the literacy test got harder as it was being issued until failure was assured). But on the other hand, severely mentally challenged citizens come in and vote, I have seen them do it. Sticking to what nature made and simply categorizing based on species isn't perfect either.

I'm thinking one testing regime could be an educational system. Literally require that all beings be offered opportunities to upgrade themselves. If they're too dumb to take it they aren't human. I'm not sure how you would distinguish between the dog category and the chicken category. But even such tests would be imperfect, categorizing depressed people as subhuman for example. So perhaps it could be adversarial, like a courtroom, with someone literally trying to encourage and coach the organism into getting the highest possible score. Can you train your cat to want to learn to talk through a machine, Koko style?

That would be expensive, so probably what would happen would be testing of specific designs, and authorization just of designs that have been tested. Kind of like in Sheffield's Proteus novels. Or like naturally evolved species being categorized, without regard for individual variation.

And of course it would only be relevant to a hypothetical society of unprecedented conscience. Yummy medicine, thank you monkeys.

272:

Good plan. Sucks to be you if someone decides that the property they are going to use for grading is empathy though.

273:

But I am dead against robot cars. It strikes me that should they become widespread there is a grave danger of the legislative obstacles to driving normal cars becoming prohibitively expensive to surmount, which would be an unacceptable loss of personal freedom.

That's exactly the same argument American gun nuts deploy to justify their right to own and carry automatic rifles in public.

Here in the UK, that's pretty much incomprehensible; which I highlight by way of demonstrating how cultural attitudes shift. Over 90% of road traffic accidents are the direct result of human error, and I do not see why your freedom to manually operate a dangerous piece of machinery in public trumps my life and safety.

274:

On hiatus mulling over a full response to Host's question (17 point plan and all!) and itching for a change of scales / identity, however just a small thing:

Mandingo plantations totally did exist. Just not in the way Hollywood has suggested. i.e. Mandinka people (also known as... Mandingo).

The sleight of hand occurred in the 1970's Blaxploitation Movies and no-one really 'got' the joke in the mainstream, even after Tarantino, but hey. It also has heavy references to Boxing and its usages in both plantations (as a form of release from oppression and control at the same time) and then into the emancipation of males via (non-lethal) sparring which then has a history right through to odious things like Don King.

It would probably not be too ironic if a certain freed slave challenger to the Heavy-weight championship was originally Mandinka. You'd have to double-check that one though, that's a guess (*nose wiggle*).

Another one to note is that, for instance, Louisiana had vastly different cultural views of slavery and 'race' than other parts of the South, so talking in generalities is usually incorrect anyhow: La Madame et la Mademoiselle: Creole Women in Louisiana, 1718-1865 PDF M.A. K.F. Morlas, Louisiana State University - entry level, but contains a wealth of useful references & examples of 'native' Creole owning West-African slaves [The Mandinka were part of that].


These things are often actual events dressed up in pantomime after all.

~

Slight Derail over.

Someone noticed the intersection between Cats and Pineapples at last...

Temporary Madness - For Permanent Harmony

275:

Since it hasn't been mentioned, here is a study referencing drones in relation to birds and looking to determine the risk factors:

http://mercatus.org/publication/do-consumer-drones-endanger-national-airspace-evidence-wildlife-strike-data

Upshot is the very probably are much less risky than certain people with an axe to grind (FAA) want to admit. Not only are the masses of most drones very low (mass=battery life/size=cost), they also don't fly in flocks, which is what pushes the probability of impact up for birds.

In short, you are much more likely to have your holiday cut short by a flock of geese than a drone piloted by a teenager. And both are trumped by a human cockup.

276:

I have no real issues with robot cars in principle. They are no worse than getting into a car with someone else driving, and I do that all the time.

Robot cars that constantly update HQ about their location, the identity of their passengers and any interesting conversations going on inside are problematic though, and the likes of google can't be trusted.

277:

Ah, yes, there it is.

While Americans will think of Jack Johnson, the actual man was Tom "The Moor" Molineaux.

Tom Molineaux grew up as a slave on a plantation in Virginia and won his freedom in a fight. He then battled his way up from the Deep South to New York where he claimed the title "Champion of America".

But it was in England where the real money was to be made. He sailed for England and challenged Cribb in the first World Boxing Championship.

Boxing: When a freed slave fought a sporting star BBC June 2014


~

So, yes: "Mandingos" did exist, both in terms of their ancestry and in terms of fighting for their owners.

But not in the Hollywood fashion.

278:

Considering that robot cars would almost certainly be used as taxis, rather than be privately owned -- when riding in a robot car, do not say anything you would not say in front of a taxi driver.

279:

Thanks. That's an interesting study.

280:

The backstory of Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space series involves a number of failed colonies done in exactly this manner -- embryos raised by AI's. Curiously, these failed colonies are referred to as "Amerikano era"; apparently they were sent out by United States at the time when separate nations on Earth were still a thing.

The chronologically earliest Revelation Space story takes place in 2205, by which time separate nations on Earth are already passe.

281:

I don't know about truncated overtaking manoeuvres; I'm sure there must have been such incidents, but none of them had any memorable consequences, since in that situation evasive action is easy and effective

Not for me...perhaps I didn't explain the situation well.

When an articulated lorry (truck with trailer) is passing you, depressingly close, as you are passing a long line of parked cars; and then he decides to pull left once he's only halfway past; you just see a wall of steel suddenly swing towards you. Evading it involved the sheer luck of a parking space that I swerved into, and slammed on the brakes. I was convinced that no gap would have meant making his rear wheels go bump, because there was nowhere else to go except under them.

Another was a wide road which suddenly narrowed to form two lanes, allowing cars to turn across the flow of traffic. Hired lorry decides he's going to overtake me; starts to pass, sees the cars in the filter lane, assumes he's past / forgets about me, so pulls left to fit through the gap, rather than braking to abort the overtake. Again, wall of steel suddenly swings towards me, but fortunately this time there weren't any parked cars - but he still forced me off the road. The fact that I'd anticipated it and started braking hard was what allowed me to keep control.

Motor vehicles have bigger tyres and more powerful brakes than a bicycle; as a cyclist in traffic the thing you learn is to anticipate at all times, because you can't use power to get out of trouble, and you will lose badly in any collision. You learn to be paranoid about other road users, because they are all out to kill you. You dress like a fluorescent lemon, then add more reflectors and lights, because you want to laugh at the moron who claims they didn't see you. You follow the Highway Code meticulously, because nothing is more annoying than watching the occasional utter muppet on a bike that thinks they can jump lights, or cycle among pedestrians - they give the rest of us a bad name, and drivers a way to excuse their incompetence.

282:

Worry more about your speech-controlled TV or gaming system... They're listening and watching too, and they're in your living room ;)

283:

Yeah, I'd worry more about that tracking device you carry at all times and speak freely into and use to give a nodal map of your entire life.


Yep, Nokia grew up via Apple to be a bit of a bastard.

284:

Hint: if you're not treating any electronic item as a hostile parasite at this point, you're dumber than a sack of rocks.

Including your computer.

285:

nothing is more annoying than watching the occasional utter muppet on a bike that thinks they can jump lights, or cycle among pedestrians

That would be a majority of the cyclists around here — 78% so far this year that I've encountered — only a minority actually follow the rules of the road. As a driver the worst they can do is scratch paint, but as a pedestrian I'm grimly aware that I'm probably looking at more broken bones and permanent mobility loss*.


*Osteoporosis. A fall from standing height is enough to break bones (which is how I was diagnosed).

286:

I understand it somewhat better now, after re-reading several times, although still not all the way there. (Don't worry about it, I think there is some fundamental incompatibility between the modelling functions I use for such situations and other people's verbal descriptions of them.)

I certainly recognise the dodge-between-parked-cars manoeuvre as one I have done myself, but I can't recall any specific incidents - no actual collision so no reason for it to stick in my mind.

Edinburgh does sound less dodgy than Bedford. Informal observation seems to indicate that every area has its own particular local style of driving badly; Bedford's style is mainly of simply having no bleeding clue about what they're doing, leading to random and unpredictable acts of extreme stupidity. Your incidents sound like drivers going "fuck it, don't care", whereas Bedford drivers are more about being several seconds behind the action because their brain cell hasn't caught up yet.

I agree that it is useful to take "they're all trying to kill you" as a working hypothesis, even if it isn't actually true (sometimes it is). It is familiar to anyone who has spent any time on two wheels. But, while I may get angry at specific individual drivers who hit me, in general terms I don't object to the risk. I see it as inseparable from choosing to venture out among big heavy fast lumps of metal because of simple physics.

287:

No sense of humor? What about the time Odin wanted to build a new palace and Loki came up with the funds by having Freya marry one of the giants? Freya wants no part of that deal, so Thor plays the bride in drag. It was pure comedy gold.

288:

Liberty Valance was more subtle than that. The whole point, in that post WWII movie, was that the age of violence was over. Men like Wayne's character had no place in modern society, though they played a critical role in creating it. In fact, the ending of an era was a big theme in a lot of movies from that era. Look at Shane, The Searchers, The Wages of Violence and so on. There were the heroes, those in need of the heroism and the anachronism. (The Black Jack Campbell books charmingly turned that on its head with the hero, revived from suspended animation, reintroducing the old codes of honor and a goal of peace.)

289:

I don't have one. I see no use for one.* And having run an Android emulator through a decrypting proxy and seen how much crap it sends out even with all the privacy settings turned on, I find it hard to imagine any use arising for one that would make it worth all the effort of sanitising it. As for Apple, I clocked them for Cthulhu back with the old 68000 Mac with the built-in monitor, and they've only got worse.

*Indeed, apart from a more powerful PC than was around then, "don't have, no use" expresses my stance on everything that showed up any later than the 80s.

290:

"So perhaps it could be adversarial, like a courtroom, with someone literally trying to encourage and coach the organism into getting the highest possible score."

Well, that counts me out...

291:

The first generation raised by AIs scenario reminds me, for some reason, of JBS Haldane's essay on planetary colonization in On Being the Right Size. Humans were bred and adapted to survive on each planet, then underwent their own advanced breeding programs to improve their adaptation. He had a chilling line about later colonists being used for "experimental purposes".

(Give him a break. He was writing way before space probes, IR sensors and all that.)

292:

You could always go for Save the Cat. It's why almost every action movie is like every other action movie. Your novel might suck, but it would be more likely to get optioned for a movie.

I'll also recommend the Aarne-Thompson index of folkloric plots and plot elements. You'd probably get a better story out of that.

I won't recommend a 1936 approach called The Plot Genie which uses a spinner to select story elements, characters & situations, which the writer is expected to turn into a plot. I'm surprised this isn't an app.

293:

Yes, but it's the fundamental point of any situation involving restricting freedom on grounds of risk. Gun nuts are just at one extreme end of the scale, demanding the freedom to lug around several kilos of deadweight metal which is totally useless for anything at all except deliberately massacring people. The opposite extreme would be something like, er, arguing to ban coffee on the grounds that if you manage to drink a whole jar in a short enough time without being sick you might die of it.

Your threshold for risk of cars on that scale is quite low. That's cool. Mine is quite high, and having had several cars drive into me hasn't changed that :)

294:

Charlie, if you still get a kick out of satirizing MilSF, you might look at "Exodus" by Steve White and Shirley Meier. The incredibly stupid way the war with the aliens begins is probably worth having some fun with: We will peacefully greet the aliens by sending a giant battle fleet to meet them, instead of sending out the small fleet of the first contact specialists we typically use for exploration, where said first-contact specialists have a pretty good record of making friends and avoiding wars.

Also, we will fight the aliens, who have been crossing interstellar space for centuries, in interstellar space rather than waiting for them to enter a solar system of the sort where humans fight all the time and presumeably have a tactical advantage because the aliens don't know how to use an asteroid belt to their advantage whereas the humans do. Or have the aliens considered that you can hide your fleet behind a planet, or use a gas giant to strategic advantage? No! We're going to meet them in interstellar space instead!

Then the humans don't blow up their own space docks on the way out of the solar system the aliens invade first, nor do they destroy the mining equipment or asteroid smelters...

You could pick up half-a-dozen Baen books and go on a trope-kicking expedition if you felt like it, and I suspect it would sell like hotcakes!

295:

I reckon Save the Cat would be fine for the novel. After all, Save the Universe is common enough. Just change it around. Cat... universe. Universe... cat. Maybe the universe is the cat. When you think about it, pretty well every possible action that might be of use in saving the universe could also be of use in saving a cat.

296:

My make and model (I'm a homo sapiens and I'm not ashamed to admit it) has been shown to be capable of very high empathy under ideal conditions.

297:

If we had neanderthals living among us today, would we deem them to be unworthy of any human rights?

Yes. See 'one drop rule' for details.

298:

The result (of AI-raising of children) will be an advanced society that's either fundamentally alien on some deep level

Henry Kuttner & C.L. Moore used a similar concept some 70 years ago, when they wrote "Mimsy were the Borogoves".

299:

While the current situation is that the plod will almost always assign all blame to cyclists
WRONG
The cyclists are holy & can do no wrong, usually.
However, there is the alternate, where if the cyclist is not wearing one of the currently fashionable ( & almost utterly useless) helmets, then they refuse to prosecute, no matter how badly the powered-vehicle driver has behaved (usually).
Neither of these "paths" is reasonable or helpful - what did you expect - justice?

300:

["Literacy Test"] but the literacy test got harder as it was being issued until failure was assured
Story about that, from IIRC Louisiana approx 1958 ....
Educated dark-skinned US citizen reports for "test" ... & the arseholes produce ... a copy of "Pravda".
EDSUSC: "I know what that says"
arseholes: "You can READ that?" (!)
EDS: "Yeah, it says no negroes are voting here this year!"
[ tableau, as they say. ]

301:

Yes
The"internet of things"

Little piece in this weekend's "FT" ... apparently the universal roll-out of the much-trumpeted & (IMHO utterly untrustworthy ) "Smart meters" for domestic electricity & gas usage has hit a snag.
They can be hacked ( Wasn't that a surprise! ) & apparently "Cheltenham" or somebody, have become involved to try to make them more secure.
I am certainly going to resists allowing installation of one unless they threaten me with jail, as they are horribly vulnerable. Both to hacking, to outside control - if the utility coy or the guvmint don't like you, they can turn your power off.
They are even more vulnerable than usual to EMP, & as for a Carrington Event, I shudder to think.

If I am eventually forced to have one, I will shield it in a grounded Faraday Cage, so there ....

302:

if you're not treating any electronic item as a hostile parasite at this point, you're dumber than a sack of rocks.
Almost, but not quite.
It's a potential "parasite" & more relevantly, possibly controllable or more likely readable by people who MAY be hostile.
See also my post just above @ 301

303:

Why do you think, apart from many other reasons, that I drive the Great Green Beast?
In tight situations I HAVE to "take my time", standing-start acceleration is low by modern standards, but braking, even at 2+ tonnes is good - the other great advantage over other car, van motor & pedal cycles is .. elevated driving position - I can see lots more ( I'm on an eye-level to most single-deck bus drivers f'rinstance. )
Also "grip" on the road-surface is very good - big fat tyres & permanent 4-wheel drive.

304:

Don't have one, for pretty much that reason.

In reply to Gregs point about "Internet of Things": It's going to be difficult to buy things that aren't full of IoT crapware in the next few years but I think it will be worth the effort.

305:

Including your computer.

Including my pen. (It has a microphone and bluetooth. But you guessed that already, didn't you?)

306:

Very different situation. If you get in a taxi the chances are that the driver doesn't know you from adam and you are fine so long as you don't piss them off so much that you get kicked out of the cab.

Taxi drivers also don't have perfect recall, and generally aren't available to anyone with a badge and an axe to grind who wants to go quote mining in order to find something incriminating 10 years later.

Another significant difference is that taxi rides tend to be short. Spending a multi hour journey with friends/family without being able to discuss anything is a bit of an ask really.

307:

Edinburgh is unusual for driving in. For one thing, the city center is somewhere that nobody sane would want to take a car -- it's not quite as bad as York, but it's getting there (mediaeval cities are not car friendly, and even 18th century ones aren't terribly good -- too many cobbled streets).

For another thing, Edinburgh is built on an extinct volcanic plug that got worn down by glaciers, so in places it's very steep: local legend has it that the tricycle rickshaws you see in summer are ridden by the local triathlete association because it's good training. It's not like Oxford or Cambridge, where folks of all fitness classes ride bicycles, let alone Amsterdam, where it's a major mode of transport.

Finally, there's a reasonably good cycle path network; I know people who commute to/from work by bike in Edinburgh.

The real problem, I think, is that we get huge influxes of clueless tourists, both automotive and pedestrian, not to mention students and drunks jaywalking obliviously. (Jaywalking -- the US term -- isn't illegal in the UK, but it's dumb to wander across a main road without even looking for oncoming traffic.) So going anywhere in summer on any mode (walking, cycling, or driving) involves dodging hordes of oblivious gawkers following a drunkard's (or just plain drunken) walk.

308:

Apple have gotten privacy religion in the past 2-4 years -- their decision to push into in-person payments with

Apple Pay seems to have been their Come-to-Jesus moment. You have a cash pile of $100Bn: do you (a) put it in a bank, or (b) open a bank? If (b), how secure are your ATMs? Apple had the bright idea of turning all their customers' phones into ATMs -- or at least debit cards -- then suddenly realized the corollary: they'd be liable for security. These days my iPhone is almost annoyingly secure: sure it's got a fingerprint reader, but it randomly (and at 48 hour maximum intervals) demands a long password and/or a long PIN, the security credentials on board are hardware-encrypted, there's two-factor authentication for getting at account details, if someone nicks it it snitches back to the mothership where I can trace it via the web and either get the cops to arrest the thief or remote-wipe it. They also do a not-unreasonable job of keeping malware out of their app store: not perfect, but good enough to prove due dilligence.

Sure it means my smart device is wearing a straitjacket and just plain won't do certain things. But at least the supplier has a faint clue about customers being sensitive to their privacy.

If you want Android, it's basically the wild west, although there are some towns where there's a sheriff who isn't sleeping off a drunken bender all the time. I'd actually consider -- if I needed a new phone right now -- getting a Wileyfox Storm; it runs CyanogenOS rather than stock Android, provides the fine-grained privacy controls that Cyanogen adds to stock Android, and they seem to be issuing up-to-date security patches (according to my friend the network security guru who has one). If you add a couple of bits of additional on-board security -- notably a firewall to stop rogue apps snitching -- and are careful what you install, you can probably stay out of the evil clutches of privacy obsessed Apple without walking around in public with your wedding tackle hanging out. But I still wouldn't trust it to be my credit card proxy (and, ahem, I still haven't set up Apple Pay, either).

309:

You could pick up half-a-dozen Baen books and go on a trope-kicking expedition if you felt like it, and I suspect it would sell like hotcakes!

You didn't notice what I was doing in "Singularity Sky", did you?

(Hint: the Ruritanian space navy in "Singularity Sky" is recapitulating the Mad Dog's odyssey of 1904-05 (which ended ignominiously at the Battle of Tsushima).)

310:

"Cheltenham" (like the NSA) has two jobs: electronic espionage (or rather, signals intelligence), and electronic security. As I understand it, the internal security assurance side of things is handled by CESG, a smaller, subsidiary group within GCHQ (who are mostly all about spying).

Spot the institutional failure mode ...?

Much the same is true of the NSA: the glamour is all about rooting Putin's cellphone, so securing the Secretary of State's email gets no love, so you end up with Hilary Clinton using a homebrew email system (which then gets hacked) because the NSA couldn't be arsed giving the head of their nation's diplomatic service a secure solution.

I'd argue that in this day and age it makes more sense to put the spooks firmly under the thumb of the paranoid internal security folks. Who, after all, have to know what external threats are plausible, so having their own dedicated tiger team (who can be pointed at external threats) is part of their job.

311:

If you get in a taxi the chances are that the driver doesn't know you from adam

So taxis on your planet don't have high-def video cameras (with infrared sensitivity for nighttime journeys) recording the passengers (for evidence, in the event a passenger refuses to pay or tries to assault the driver or pukes on the seats)?

Again: so I suppose train carriages where you live aren't under constant CCTV surveillance, and neither are buses?

312:

Of course they do. They aren't all automatically being backed up to the same database though.

I have nothing against trustworthy self driving cars, but that isn't what is on offer.

313:

Also, there is a huge difference between spending 5 minutes in a taxi getting back from the pub and spending 10 hours in a car without conversing with the other passengers.

314:

IoT
My other big gripe, apart for security or lack of it is general vulnerability.
What would a Carrington event do to our infrastructure right now, never mind in, say 2021?
How many houses would be without power, & how long would it take to re-connect?
How much stuff ( think people's freezers ) would go off/rotten, how many safety-critical systems ( think railway signalling) would die ....
How many PEOPLE would die?
It's a known, obvious risk - what's being done about it?

315:

I gather there was a resilience assessment for the UK in event of a Carrington Event a year or two ago.

The UK came out of it surprisingly well. While the US power grid would be toast and wide areas would be blacked out for months (until new transformers could be frickin' built from scratch), the main problem the CE was induced current in long bearers -- and the UK is compact enough that there aren't many cable runs long enough to be problematic. Our wireless electronics are built to cope with a noisy environment, so there'd be transient degradation during the event, but no smoking laptops or phones.

The biggest problem would be satellites -- they're routinely hardened against solar flares these days (ever since the GRAPPLE hih-altitude nuke test in the early sixties took out half the comsats in orbit), but a Carrington Event might overload some of them. But we're now up to three distinct GPS clusters -- GPS, GLONASS, and now Galileo coming on-stream -- and the odds are good that someone will have hardened their satellites well enough.

The next big problem would be the long-haul data cables, but those are mainly fiber-optic these days. While they also have power lines to drive the repeaters every 50-100km along their length, they're regulated and presumably well-insulated in a grounded sheild.

316:

You wrote:
"Electronics in cars already make it stupidly difficult and stupidly expensive to repair trivial faults (often faults which couldn't arise in the absence of electronics."

The converse of this is that electronics in cars and the robots which manufacture them means that modern cars, as a rule, don't break down. I just changed my car after 8 years. It had no breakdowns and no repairs other than routine servicing. My previous, also new, car was similar.
The only problems requiring repairs were punctures. These didn't need electronic diagnosis but cars now have sensors to detect tyre pressure which might reduce the damage caused by a slowish puncture.

317:

Smart meters ... This industry is begging for a class-action lawsuit. All you'd need is a marketing research survey of customers (consumers, orgs - public and private of all sizes) and ask whether they have a smart meter, plus when was the last time they had a billing error for that utility. (And you could also ask for the size of the billing error.) Compare results ... I'm willing to bet that billing error incidence among the smart metered is at least 5 times as frequent/common as for non-smart metered customers.* Plus, I'd bet that all smart meter billing errors favor the utility and not the customer.

Doesn't the UK have any consumer protection laws? Depending on how creative the lawyer, this could even be told as a fraud story citing collusion between the utility and whoever programmed the smart-meter.

* For the hell of it, I'd put in a smart meter in an abandoned building where the electricity panel box could be welded shut just to see what happens.

318:

See The Black Ajax by George McDonald Fraser with a cameo by Flashman's dad.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/966803.Black_Ajax

319:
Your assumption of the explanation is dubious, at least
I wasn't looking for "scientifically sound," but "is this a plausible story a space-based gender-segregated matriarchal society would tell to justify their imprisonment of half their population?" It's at least as sound as the justifications for our current patriarchies.
320:

'Edinburgh is built on an extinct volcanic plug'

Saw a PBS special about the geologic formation of the British Isles a while back and wondered why gold and diamond mining never figured in British history. Coal, copper, lead, etc. but not the shiny, sparkly stuff. Guess Omagh wondered the same ...

http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-33094221

Omagh Minerals invested about $12-$15 million to find about $1 billion in gold as per video below. Galantas Gold Corporation - Billion Dollar Gold Mining in Northern Ireland (Video hosted by the BBC's Time Team, Tony Robinson.)

Now imagine a gold rush in Scotland and how that would impact the next Brexit talks.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OMMv7EQlNzk

321:

I suggest that you look at the facts, and stop reacting like a Daily Wail, er, reader. For example, there are a lot of documented cases where the driver has admitted deliberately running into the cyclist to the police, and it has been closed as "no crime".

322:

Just look forward to when they are run by Google, and a complete recording (auditory and visual) becomes part of their databases.

323:

Like hell. Being a rusty statistician and OCD data observer, my summary is that the 'down time' due to car failures is still about half of what it used to be. I know lots of people who have had electronic failures.

Oh, yes, there are vastly fewer failures, but even a semi-ignorable failure takes a complete day to fix and a breakdown on the road takes at least three. One to get it to a garage and get to where you need to, one for it to be fixed, and one to pick it up and carry on. And, if you don't happen to be near a main dealer, add anything up to a week (in the UK!) for parts to be delivered. Back in the 1960s, 90% of breakdowns could be fixed by the roadsize in an hour, often less.

324:

Gold mining in the British Isles is ancient, and a lot of royal jewelry is made from Welsh gold. It has been (and still is) mined in Cornwall, Scotland and Ireland. Worthwhile diamonds are formed only under certain, fairly rare, circumstances, which have been searched for in the British Isles but effectively not found.

https://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=1568

326:

As a cyclist as well as a Land-Rover driver & a regular user of (usually rail-borne) public transport, I have a fairly balanced view of these things.
I am nonetheless well pissed-off by cyclists using a path close to my house, when there is a perfectly adequate road, that isn't too congested ( I cycle along it, anyway ...)

327:

I definitely noticed what you did in Singularity Sky and I enjoyed it so much I'm encouraging you to have another go. This isn't "new idea" so much as "enthusiastic agreement" (along with the suggestion of a new target - Exodus was amazingly stupid!.)

And this time around the idea comes with an incredible bonus in the form of whining Puppies who are so caught up in their tropes they don't know they're tropes!

Back to the monomyth, I sometimes wonder if the appeal of writing MilSF doesn't lie somewhere in the military rank system, where are all the stages of the monomyth can be recapitulated at once, with a group of people who are each at a separate stage of the Hero's Journey.

328:

Thanks for this! ... So, northwest Scotland might mark the spot.

329:

My problem with this is that it conflates a lot of things.

While we've not build GAI yet there's no particular reason to believe that it would have the same drives/feelings as a human.

Anthropization barely works with other living creatures most of the time and often completely falls flat. With something built from the ground up...

Doing it with uploads that already have human drives and feelings, sure, ethically horrible. Doing it with some kind of "evolved" sentience would be an ethical crapshot, it might lead to something that can suffer or might not but with something designed from the ground up, something that can care more than anything in the world about some goal or which only cares about death insomuch as it prevents it from building hab-complexes for human settlers(or some other goal)... suffering stops being a meaningful term if you have the on-off switch to suffering. Not just the on/off switch to pain but the on/off switch to whether something matters.

On the other hand it opens the door to some far more bizarre forms of "suffering". What happens to an general artificial intelligence tasked with something physically impossible with no other goal in life?

It also opens the door to far more exotic forms of "suffering", could a reinforcement learner which "suffers" from it's point of view when a counter is incremented of decremented and suddenly gets it's counter set to -NaN due to a programming bug.

I remember one of Greg Egans books where 2 entites, one AI in origin and one natural(ish) human were both in human(ish) bodies and in peril and the human was terribly concerned about dying(despite knowing they were backed up) while the AI's opinion was along the lines of "I'll just be restored from last weeks backup, it's happened like 300 times before, it's no big deal" which may well be totally realistic and reasonable for an AI.

That visceral feeling in the back of your mind? (pick any of them, about anything) probably isn't a hard requirement for all forms of being intelligent so gut-feelings about what feels right or wrong from a human, 20th century perspective probably aren't terribly informative.

The point is that AI "suffering" could be very very real but it could be very different to human suffering. Damage? Death? Dispair? Spending all day working to build things for humans?
An AI might find those all boring and uninteresting/unimportant, no worse than needing to take the train while finding the loss of one of it's paperclips to be psychological torture on a par with a human losing everyone they love.

Those sorts of machines are likely to be awful for good stories, people can't relate to them easily but life isn't a story.

Don't anthropize machines: they hate that.

330:

Picked up some Fred Hoyle years ago at the local library expecting a good science-fact-based SF - nope! Fred Hoyle was a UK astronomer who coined 'big bang' and as history proved backed the wrong horse. IMO, Hoyle and Hubbard are equals in terms of literary skill and penetrating interpersonal/social insight ... Ugh!

331:

Charlie:

Interesting factoid for your next Laundryverse book. Wonder if the study authors are fans.


https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/03/160318111523.htm

Out for blood: Fluid dynamics explain how quickly a vampire could drain your blood

Date: March 18, 2016
Source: University of Leicester
Summary: Throughout human history there have been tales of vampires -- bloodsucking creatures of folklore that prey on their victims by draining their life essence, usually via the blood. To coincide with the 85th anniversary of Tod Browning's 'Dracula' (1931), students have used fluid dynamics to examine how long it would take for the undead fiend to drain an average human's blood -- and have calculated that it would take only 6.4 minutes to drain 15 per cent of the blood from the external carotid artery in a human's neck.

332:

Hoyle did indeed "back the wrong horse" in cosmology (and was too wedded to his own model to recognise that the data had comprehensively demolished it, which is sad, but fairly typical of aging scientists)—but don't forget that he was also the leading light of the hugely successful theory of stellar nucleosynthesis, and absolutely should have shared the Nobel Prize that was awarded to Willy Fowler for this work (one of the Nobel committee's more obvious injustices—Hoyle was much more important than Fowler in this).

I don't know which of his books you read, but The Black Cloud, while perhaps not a shining light of characterisation, still has one of the most convincing aliens I've ever seen in 50 years of SF reading.

333:

While we've not build GAI yet there's no particular reason to believe that it would have the same drives/feelings as a human. Anthropization barely works with other living creatures most of the time and often completely falls flat. With something built from the ground up...

Yes, but I'm specifically responding to the suggestion that we seed the stars with frozen embryos that can be raised by robots: that's going to need a GAI with a very specific set of features that can loosely be described as human-nurturing-equivalent (with theory of mind on top for identifying and resolving disputes between infant charges, and working out how to deliver a useful education and socialize them).

334:
In the year 1524, twelve couples driven by a premonition of reality TV set sail for an uninhabited island later to be known as South Nerdway. After a long and arduous journey, they arrived and found it to be a pleasant home with ample fresh water and food, only blighted by the very rare typhoon and a strange talking bat.
It's been tried. There's been some hiccups.
335:

Fred Hoyle was a UK astronomer who coined 'big bang' and as history proved backed the wrong horse.

Um, no. While Sir Fred pushed the Steady State theory of cosmology long after the Big Bang had obviously won, some of his other theories were very right; notably, he came up with the theory of solar nucleosynthesis (and, arguably, should have got a Nobel Prize for it: it was a huge breakthrough).

As a writer of SF, he was very much on a par with his peers at the time, i.e. the 1950s.

336:
And I was thinking even a specialized AI, such as a poet AI, would (if also given general intelligence) eventually arrive at the realization that developing its own intelligence was the logical next step. "I am not optimal at optimizing my poetry writing ability, so my first priority is to defer gratification, choose to put off writing poetry for later, and concentrate on getting smarter so that my future poetry will be improved."
Thereby vanishing up its global maximum? "The perfect is the enemy of the good" is an aphorism for a reason; optimising for widget quality burns time that could be spent producing widgets, and once you start optimising deciding when to stop and resume production is non-trivial...
337:

Does everyone forget the Asimov's Three Laws short stories were about the weaknesses in the Three Laws?

338:

Thanks for this info, Susan!

Wasn't aware of Hoyle's solar nucleosynthesis contributions ... and the only novels of his I read featured BEMs and one-dimensional (male) WASPs.

Will check the public library system* however for The Black Cloud as the Wikipedia write-up looks interesting, especially the bit: 'Richard Dawkins (writing in the 2010 Penguin Classics reissue) claimed the novel was "one of the greatest science fiction novels ever written."[4]'

*Can't find this title online or at in-store retailers.

339:

Speaking of unhappy AIs... read this comic and the next.

340:

Kinda off-topic, but maybe no.

Did anyone here have read Heaven is Terrifying? It's a singularity story that's more scary than anything Charlie wrote.
It's made even scarier by the fact that the author meant to write an utopia...

341:

some of his other theories were very right

I also would consider him to deserve a Nobel for the stellar fusion work.

Among other theories though was Panspermia, an interesting attempt to kick the origin of life problem into the long grass by positing that life came from space (so where does that life in space come from, then?). While I don't think this one is actually busted yet, I do think it implausible. Anyway I consider it useful to have some honest contrarians around in order to make actual theorists have to properly prove their theories.

(Dishonest contrarians, homeopaths, anti-vaxxers, flat-earthers, creationists and the like, on the other hand ... sigh)

342:

No, Charlie, I'm going to strongly disagree with you here. The *ONLY* place I could live with self-driving cars is on freeways. Anywhere else is a disaster.

For example, go to google maps, and look at https://www.google.com/maps/@39.043332,-77.0855937,3a,75y,333.21h,76.37t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sFOjGTr2dc3K7dYkwZ812Sg!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

This is a street that, on the once or twice a week I drive to work, I take coming and going. Notice that the dividing line *stops*. Notice the parked vehicles on the right, and the width of the road, with no line? Now let me add that this is a bus route, and full-sized city buses drive on it.

As a computer professional with decades of experience, I don't forsee a self-driving car capable of dealing with this for at *least* several decades. And that's not even starting to deal with the guy on a two-lane blacktop who decides to pass the slow driver on a curve.... And as for the *tiny* two-lane (barely) roads, with hedges or stone walls, that we saw a couple of years ago in north Wales!

mark

343:

Bear in mind that different people see different things in novels. I suspect that the greatness in The Black Cloud that Dawkins is seeing is (a) relative to its time, and (b) the weight of the ideas. If you get your enjoyment from startling concepts, Black Cloud may well do very well for you. If you're after characterisation, well, I can't say I remember much of it (but it was a long long time ago I last read it).

344:

As a very rusty statistician I found it hard to get reliable figures but I could see that most RAC callouts are for punctures, jumpstarts, battery, and RTA - five times as many as engine problems and most of the rest of the top ten are driver errors. Modern cars are much more reliable but modern drivers are much less knowledgable.
Electronic problems do occur but most of these are software glitches which cause warning lights to appear and then go away when the car is restarted.

345:

The payload would consist of millions of frozen embryos that are thawed out and brought to term in a artificial wombs. The first generation of colonists would be raised by android “mom” and “dad” analogues programmed to care for, protect, educate and nurture the children (“watched over by machines of loving grace”).

So you are building devices that are good enough to simulate a human being to the point that they can raise children and are superior to homo sapiens specimens in the sense that they can build and control biospheres from scratch without any supervision at all combined with the fact that they are basically everlasting machines that can handle the conditions in space for centuries. What's the point of growing inferior fragile critters that are dumber and can't handle the conditions outside their greenhouses. Just make the machines believe they are human and send them on their way. No annoying DNA mutating away from baseline and voilà human machines as long as the universe exist. Far better than shipping people to the stars. We're as suited for life in space as a mackerel is for life in the Gobi desert.


... until we are a galactic species immune to extinction.

Looking at the fossil record the chances are slim.
Homo heidelbergensis speciated to Neanderthals, Denisovans and our species in a short time on two continents. Rather unlikely that one species will stay the same across 100.000 light years and billions of years.

That’s the wonderful thing about doubling. Take one probe and double it only 19 times and you have over a million probes spreading throughout the galaxy.

I remember a short story about self replicating machines that spread through out the galaxy and became a kind of slow neural net and memory of the galaxy. Anyone who remembers who wrote that? 30+ years ago I'd say.

346:

As a computer professional with decades of experience, I don't foresee a self-driving car capable of dealing with this for at *least* several decades.

Beware Dunning-Kruger... and remember, the DARPA Urban Challenge was in 2007.

http://archive.darpa.mil/grandchallenge/

There's lots of video of it on Youtube :)

347:

Yes. One thing that is often forgotten is that the inflationary theory had been accepted as fact without even any real evidence, let alone proof. It was only the fact that it had a heavyweight opponent, in the form of Hoyle, that got the dogmatists off their fannies long enough to provide some evidence. Without him, they would never have done it.

And it should be pointed out that, even today, there is no direct proof that the red shift is due to recession - the evidence is all indirect. The theory that the red shift is due to quantum entanglements has never been formally disproven, and it would make the whole cosmology house of cards fall over.

348:

Would you accept the Google self-driving car project director as someone not suffering D-K? It's very soft-pedalled, but it's basically no autonomous robocars for 30 years. (So just before proper AI, powered by commercial fusion, will be available.)

349:

If Chatoyance meant it to be utopia, why did she title it "Terrifying"?

350:

I am aware that most people nowdays are mechanically clueless, but the latter two are examples of what I mean. Even changing a tyre is much harder than it was, and not always feasible. Quite a lot of electrial and battery problems are actually caused by the modern fancifications, and even more can't be kludged up by the roadside when once they could have been. Or where I could once have fixed a (minor) problem, like door locks, window actuators, lighting circuits etc., but it now has had to be off the road for days. I have personal experience of half a dozen such, and second-hand experience of many more.

351:

If Chatoyance meant it to be utopia, why did she title it "Terrifying"?

Because Chatoyance is... unusual.

She certainly wrote it as a world she really wants to live in, she said so several times in comments.

352:

Their quote is “How quickly can we get this into people’s hands? If you read the papers, you see maybe its three years, maybe its thirty years. And I am here to tell you that honestly, it is a bit of both.”

This was in the context of the original predictions being "self driving cars by the end of the decade"...

Remembering, of course, Clarke's First Law:

When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.

:)

353:

Anecdata: my car was first registered in 2006 (and built at least a year earlier — long story). The first long drive I took in it — i.e. the first time I got it up to full working temperature — was a trip to Ireland. I was halfway across Anglesey before I finally let the throttle go full open.

(And oops, first speeding ticket in over 100,000 miles.)

When I started it the following morning, after it had sat overnight in the Maynooth hotel carpark, it was unhappy, with three of the cylinders not firing. Horrible smell of petrol out of the exhaust.

The only solution was to repatriate it at the end of the weekend (I could just limp it onto the ferry, and off again), and haul it across Wales and most of England, dumping it outside the dealers.

Yeah, painful. Warranty repair (of course). The engine controller board had failed, with a dry joint that came loose on its first full temperature cycle.

If they'd still been making them, I'd have suggested that part of the manufacturing process would have been to take the controller board through a few full temperature cycles, just to look for that issue. The replacement has been flawless, and I've certainly not had anything like the interesting electrical issues that the preceding car inflicted on me.

So yeah, some issue are going to be Return To Dealer issues. But in general I'm pretty happy with its reliability. I've had a couple of headlight bulbs go (and headlight bulb accessibility isn't quite "Now lift out the engine", but it's a pain). And the seals round the rear lights went, which allowed rainwater into the boot (pooling in the spare wheel well under the floor), which required replacement seals. Apart from that? It's been good.

I remember what cars were like when I was a sprog though. My father seemed to spend most of his time fettling the family cars — that we liked Jaguars may not have helped that though.

354:

Electronic problems do occur but most of these are software glitches which cause warning lights to appear and then go away when the car is restarted.

Oh yes. The car I was driving about 200K miles ago was my first automatic, a BMW 520i. (Underpowered land barge, but never mind.) It had a convenient area in front of the gear controller stick where I'd place my mobile phone.

Very occasionally, the gearbox would spontaneously go into limp-home mode. It would refuse to go into a higher gear than second.

Eventually, I realised it was the phone sitting inches over the controller that was doing it. I stopped putting the phone there, and in gratitude the gearbox stopped crashing.

355:

I consider the risks of the current situation to be an acceptable trade-off for the loss of freedom, awkwardness, expense, and increased dependence on untrustworthy commercial organisations that the robot alternative would entail.

In the US we kill over 30K people per year. Almost all due to driver error and/or driving impaired. Plus way more seriously injured. Are the numbers in the UK/EU all that much lower per capita?

Say he who thinks automated driver cars will not work for 10 years or more. And has trouble imagining how they would deal with about 1/4 of his driving needs.

356:

More anecdata...

We've been driving Volvos for over fifteen years; I typically do 6-8000 miles per year, my wife does 20-30,000. We've called the AA out exactly once in that time - after a case of "putting petrol into the new diesel car". The cars spend one day a year in the dealer; perhaps another day every year or two getting brake pads or disks replaced. Utterly reliable.

By comparison, I had several Series III Landrovers on my tick; breakdown and recovery was not unusual. Yes, they were almost agriculturally simple, and could often patched up by the person from REME, but "getting towed home" was not a rare occurrence; and occasionally needed patience to get them started in the morning.

I'll stick with modern reliability standards, thanks :) Greg and our US compatriots aside, who here still has a manual choke, drum brakes, or leaf spring suspension?

357:

I suspect that the greatness in The Black Cloud that Dawkins is seeing is (a) relative to its time, and (b) the weight of the ideas.

One detail which really brought to me the "relative to its time" part -- the last chapter mentions that "exactly 7142 species [or some similar number] went extinct as a result of the Cloud". The unstated assumption that humans know exactly how many species of plants and animals, let alone microorganisms, exist to begin with, was very 1950-ish to me.

358:

so where does that life in space come from, then?

Bear in mind that this is coming from a dyed-in-the-wool Steady State believer: he thinks that the Universe is infinitely old, whereas he knows perfectly well that the Earth is only 4.6 billion years old. Therefore, believing as he did that the origin of life is an extraordinarily improbable event (I don't think he ever did grasp the power of natural selection), of course he would conclude that it probably happened somewhere else: from that viewpoint, one origin in the distant past, followed by dissemination through space, is the most plausible model. If, on the other hand, you accept that the Universe is only about three times as old as the solar system, then the probabilities swing the other way.

359:

Maybe I am unusual too, but I also did not find anything terrifying about the story. I doubt I would want a PonyPad, but Síofra seems to have gotten exactly what she needed.

360:

Ah yes, a very good point. So it's a a pair of theories that reinforce each other. If the universe was infinitely old and life was easy, it'd be bloody everywhere.

(I'm not sure panspermia makes it sufficiently harder for life not to be everywhere in an infinitely old universe anyway.)

OK, it may be everywhere anyway. I perceive an interesting inversion: once upon a time, the assumption was that the other planets, maybe even the Moon, had life. Somehow the assumption ended up that life is nowhere except on Earth — claims for life on Mars have become extraordinary claims that require extraordinary evidence. If we do get evidence for life off Earth, I suspect we'll start accepting such claims a lot more easily.

361:

0. A robot may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.

And everyone is going to agree on what exactly harms humanity.

362:

One thing that is often forgotten is that the inflationary theory had been accepted as fact without even any real evidence, let alone proof. It was only the fact that it had a heavyweight opponent, in the form of Hoyle, that got the dogmatists off their fannies long enough to provide some evidence. Without him, they would never have done it.

Point 1: you are confusing inflation (brief period of exponential expansion in the very early universe, responsible for observed (near)-homogeneity and geometric flatness of same; © Alan Guth and Andrei Linde, 1981) with expansion (as currently exhibited in the form of Hubble's law, © Edwin Hubble and Milton Humason, 1931—the 1931 diagram is a hell of a lot more convincing than 1929 version). Don't do that: they're quite distinct (and there still isn't much evidence for inflation, other than the fact that it does solve the horizon and flatness problems).

Point 2: Both the Steady State and the Big Bang assume an expanding universe. In fact, what the Steady State did was provide a much better constrained theory to test: since it assumes that the Universe looks the same at all epochs, it requires that cosmic populations do not change with redshift. This is testable. It is much harder to test the Big Bang, because there are a lot more knobs that theorists can twiddle if your data don't match their expectations.

And it should be pointed out that, even today, there is no direct proof that the red shift is due to recession - the evidence is all indirect. The theory that the red shift is due to quantum entanglements has never been formally disproven, and it would make the whole cosmology house of cards fall over.

I really don't know what you would regard as "direct" evidence, if you think current evidence is indirect. Apart from the striking agreement between the expansion parameter as measured directly in redshift-vs-distance measurements with that inferred from the anisotropies in the cosmic microwave background, there's the need to correct Type Ia supernova lightcurves at high redshift for time dilation effects caused by relativistic velocities and the redshift dependence of the temperature of the cosmic microwave background, as established by measuring the effects of its being scattered by gas in galaxy clusters (n.b. that link may be paywalled). And, of course, there's the classice Tolman surface-brightness test.

363:

Maybe I am unusual too, but I also did not find anything terrifying about the story. I doubt I would want a PonyPad, but Síofra seems to have gotten exactly what she needed.

Have you read the entire story, or just the first chapter?

364:

However, I for one am eagerly anticipating self-drive cars. The oldest of our two sons is now 14; and I've been trying to explain the difference in how things "are" dangerous, and how things "seem" dangerous - the problem being that sometimes can be one but not the other. My most dangerous thing on the planet is a teenage driver who says "Watch this!" - Google cars don't have illusions about how good a driver they are, don't get distracted by text messages, music, arguments...

You're touching on a area of child rearing which I find most people don't get. You need to have children "bump into things" (non literal phrase) in a non lethal way for them to learn that bad decisions or just bad luck can result in bad outcomes. Just talking about it doesn't make it real in many (most?) cases.

365:

Betcha it's going to happen to an airliner sooner or later, and when it does, the drone's "pilot" will be found to be a teenager.

Well at least mentally, no matter what they physical age. Some people never seem to "grow up".

366:

It's related to the idea that once you have a child you have to accept it, and can't send it back to the store if it fails your expectations.

This fell apart somewhat in the 1930s in the US during the depression. Some kids were thrown out long before they were adults.

And I read (a long long time ago) that one reason for the "church's" prohibition about brothels was that you might be committing incest with a sibling or off spring that had been abandoned or given away earlier in life.

367:

This fell apart somewhat in the 1930s in the US during the depression. Some kids were thrown out long before they were adults.

I wrote "usually" in the post that you quote.

368:

You dress like a fluorescent lemon, then add more reflectors and lights, because you want to laugh at the moron who claims they didn't see you.

I hate cyclists who dress in dark clothes, only have reflectors on the edges of their pedals, and think that dusk/dark is a great time to go riding. On curvy streets with parked cars on the sides.

369:

I agree that it is useful to take "they're all trying to kill you" as a working hypothesis, even if it isn't actually true (sometimes it is). It is familiar to anyone who has spent any time on two wheels.

Heck it's a useful attitude when driving a 4 wheeled enclosed vehicle.

370:

Beware Dunning-Kruger... and remember, the DARPA Urban Challenge was in 2007.

All the current self driving cars are doing the easy stuff. Rain? Stay home. Snow. Forget about it. Is that a grocery bag a dog or a toddler in the road? Don't know. Double park for 30 seconds to pickup your significant other. No way. And on and on and on.

Oh, yeah. Google, and I think others, limit their cars to 35MPH.

They are no where near close to being able to handle my needs on a daily basis.

And they (the current developers) admit it.

371:

RE: Current cars are worse off due to all the computers and such.

As someone who has a dwell meter and timing light on the shelf unused for over 20 years I still prefer today's situation to the one I grew up in.

372:
limit their cars to 35MPH

Limited to 25mph in California, due to state law, and also limited to 35mph zones.

Tesla is really the one to watch, as they add more and more autonomous features to the existing cars. (Currently self-parking, self-steering, and self-speed-control. The latter is, of course, very popular on lots of cars.)

373:

I'll stick with modern reliability standards, thanks :) Greg and our US compatriots aside, who here still has a manual choke, drum brakes, or leaf spring suspension?

I DO have break drum pliers that I haven't used in 20 or 30 years. :)

In my teens and 20s I remember changing points, condenser, plug wires, roter and cap, brakes, tires, etc.. every year or two EACH. And a car with 80,000 miles was considered a miracle.

374:

In the US we kill over 30K people per year. Almost all due to driver error and/or driving impaired. Plus way more seriously injured. Are the numbers in the UK/EU all that much lower per capita?

Short answer: yes.

Caveat - that's the UK. There are parts of Europe that are a lot more laissez faire. On the other hand, if you look at this WHO table, there's a pretty good correlation between death rate less than 10/100,000 and being in Europe.

It may help that we have more stringent traffic and vehicle laws, and we don't have 16 year olds out there driving.

375:

Are people of any age allowed to drive farm equipment on roads? In most of the US they are. :)

376:

Just the first chapter

377:

Well, it's a novella, there are 12 chapters. Read it all, if you have time, then tell me if it's scary or not.

378:

Below are the stats for just the four largest English speaking countries:

Estimated road traffic deaths per 100, 000 population:

5.4 UK
7.8 Australia
8.8 Canada
13.9 US


379:

One of the regulars remarked a while back on ISIS that 'finally someone weaponized the hero's journey.' I think it was never non-weaponized.

It's a journey about (mostly) a man who gets convinced to seek adventure, danger and treasure in faraway lands. It's one kind of story you tell to (mostly) young men whom you want to join your warband.

Contrast/compare:
Five societies share the same river valley. They can all live in peace only if every one of them remains peaceful. The moment one “bad apple” is introduced—say, the young men in one tribe decide that an appropriate way of handling the loss of a loved one is to go bring back some foreigner’s head, or that their God has chosen them to be the scourge of unbelievers—well, the other tribes, if they don’t want to be exterminated, have only three options: flee, submit, or reorganize their own societies around effectiveness in war. The logic seems hard to fault. Nevertheless, as anyone familiar with the history of, say, Oceania, Amazonia, or Africa would be aware, a great many societies simply refused to organize themselves on military lines. Again and again, we encounter descriptions of relatively peaceful communities who just accepted that every few years, they’d have to take to the hills as some raiding party of local bad boys arrived to torch their villages, rape, pillage, and carry off trophy parts from hapless stragglers. The vast majority of human males have refused to spend their time training for war, even when it was in their immediate practical interest to do so.
David Graeber - The Bully’s Pulpit


Cowardice is not morally good or bad, but we treat it so, because we hear so many stories where the association "couragous == morally good" holds true.

380:

Bit like String "Theory" ( properly String Hypothesisi of course ) then ... ?

381:

Much lower
US Pop = 350 million? 30k dead
UK Pop = 60 million approx 3k dead & dropping
So half your rate or lower

382:

Actually, it was me.

And the line was something along the lines of "...and we're supposed to be surprised that someone weaponized it".

Your version denotes a triumphant howl of joy to male aggression and fanaticism with a mocking dark laugh of Slaanesh. [Trust me: this could be provided and not the silly fool bell posts. Dirk likes to play mean, but he can't channel it like I could. Making the actual Nazis look human is an easy trick; it has not been played yet, but wait for it & head it off before it takes hold - watch Ted Cruz defend Monsanto to get the chills[1]]

My version is a slightly more cynical raised eyebrow that you'd be credulous enough to expect this not to be an outcome of mixing high level Spooky-Dooky peeps (5Eye, Ruskie, Pointed Star etc) with that mindset (supplied via Saud etc). i.e. It was known and used deliberately (by which side? who. fucking. cares. at. this. point. You're. all. culpable.)


The New Man of 4Chan Baffler, April 2016. The author has an indent script called "the Frog Rampant".

It's an interesting piece, not for what it says, but how badly it misunderstands what's going on. It's like someone read the manifesto (and cheat sheet notes) then constructed a translation around it that doesn't capture the soul of it at all.

Which, ironically, fulfills the self-identifying prophesy that "the normies don't understand us"

#1 lesson to learn about the Pepes: underneath it all, they're sentimental. The driving force isn't hate, it's hunger. Not for sex, but for Higher Order Interactions. This is the Blade Runner Lesson and why the solution of MDMA / LSD and hugs wasn't satirical.

#2 There's also about ten different agencies (even the frakking Italians) running stuff on there. It's literally a mimetic weapon testing ground.


~

[1]Ted Cruz: Don’t let ‘anti-science zealotry’ shutdown GMOs Washington Times, 7th March 2016.

Yes.

You know shit is falling apart when THE LORD has to start running ads for Corporate Overlords.

p.s.

That's the moment The Elephants died. It's a horrible thing to preach hate: it don't go so well when you then flip-flop on G_D's right to Creation.

383:

Land-Rovers improved a lot after about 1988 ....
AND: I'll stick with modern reliability standards, thanks :) Greg and our US compatriots aside, who here still has a manual choke, drum brakes, or leaf spring suspension?
No, No & No, actually.
Diesel (no choke), all discs + servo, all-coil-springs.
( 1996-7 model year )

384:

Point 1. No, I am not. The terminological distinction you describe is new. If you like to refuse to call what I was referring to as inflation, be my guest - I am quite happy for it to be called expansion - but it used to be called both expansion and inflation.

Point 2. No, there were (and are?) several theories of a steady-state universe that were compatible with a constant size.

Yes, all of the current evidence is indirect, because there is neither any logical derivation from observation to conclusion (WITHOUT assuming any aspect of the model that is to be proved) nor a proof that no other theory can match the observations. Most of it is also merely proof-by-consistency, which is well-known to be bogus - after all, the epicyclic theory of planetary orbits passed that one!

385:

And yes:

That's a cast-iron-in-a-bow wooden stake through the heart.

Cruz basically just sacrificed his Base for Power.


Rule #1: You can lie to your congregation, but you sure as shit can't then tell them that you've been lying deliberately.


That shit gets you lynched.


386:

Cowardice is not morally good or bad, but we treat it so, because we hear so many stories where the association "couragous == morally good" holds true.
And non-military situations, where cowardice & heroism also may have a pert to play?

The woman or man who risks their life to save others is courageous, the one who runs from the emergency, leaving the others to possibly suffer & die when they could be saved?
Burning buildings, sinking ships, etc ....

I think you've picked a very dodgy example there ...

387:

"Among other theories though was Panspermia, an interesting attempt to kick the origin of life problem into the long grass by positing that life came from space (so where does that life in space come from, then?)."

Hoyle and Wickramasinghe did some serious probabilistic analysis on that. Later analysis cast doubt on their estimates, but most of the people denying it used entirely irrational arguments. As far as I know, there is still no convincing explanation, though there is a lot of handwaving.

388:

I assume there IS a coherent message in # 382 & 385 ??
But I can't be fucking arsed to try to translate it into comprehensible English, certainly not at this time of night.

389:

It's ok. We all have limits.

For you, since you have to love a man who dances in tights:

Republicans just burnt down their Base (this means: most vocal / loyal supporters) in a desperate attempt to shore up their ability to run a candidate in response to Corporate concerns over Trump / $$ burn.

Mimetic Translation for you:

Imagine John Major [Zzzz] just slated the Anglican Church AND the Daily Mail as being wrong over Gay Marriage and that his dedication to Landrover was more important than their votes.

It doesn't work because your Politics are too boring / sane.


~

Just trust me: Cruz just nuked his own supporters (who are not exactly well placed in the Reality Community) to secure more Corporate Funding.


Slaanesh really is running their campaign. I'm impressed at just how Chaotic and Dark that one went.

390:

I'd suggest that we have enough trouble with creationists in powerful places to not spend a lot of time on physicists who don't really want to deal with things like the high energy environment of interplanetary and interstellar space, the lifespan of DNA, and the possibility of complex cells surviving entry into Earth's atmosphere inside a meteorite without cooking.

I'm proposing these three because:
a) the data is either out there (DNA age--IIRC the best example is a bacterium that was recovered from inside a bee caught in amber) or can be derived from existing references (high energy environment of space, how hot meteorites would have gotten entering Earth's atmosphere 4 billion years ago, how much energy cooks cells dead).

For added fun, you can figure out how to get the original cells alive off of their home planet. Presumably a supernova or collision with another planet was involved, so you can also model whether molecules like DNA, cell membranes, and such can survive those kinds of energies.

Finally, we have a record for life going back several billion years, so for a panspermian organism, we're not talking about anything with chromosomes (it's all bacterial ring DNA), and we are talking about something that can survive in the profound absence of free oxygen and without using anything other than simple organic molecules as a growth substrate.

The point is that extraordinary assertions require extraordinary support. I'm trying to reframe this, not because I have the answer that I'm hiding*, but so that it can be analyzed and disproven by physicists, so that there's no allegations of bias leveled at biologists. Probability doesn't not count as extraordinary evidence, since we've got a lot of fossils and phylogenetic evidence that life evolved here already.

*In my opinion panspermia is amusing BS, but that's just my opinion. The clinching evidence will be if we discover organisms elsewhere that use the same genetic code as we do. Since AFAIK the genetic code that life uses to code for amino acid sequences in DNA was built randomly, the presence of similar or identical codes on other planets is a slam-dunk for panspermia. Conversely, the presence of things like DNA, RNA, amino acids, and so forth on other planets would not be good evidence of panspermia, especially if they use different genetic codes. Biologists think there are good biochemical reasons why these basic molecules perform the functions they do inside cells, so one would logically expect to find them used all over the universe on Earth-like planets.

391:

I haven't seen the US fundies getting too worked up about GMO's meddling with the divine plan. Cautious, yes, but not angry.

By appealing to the "Govmint is meddling" meme, Cruz has probably made that a safe issue for him.

Remember, USAian religion* puts a lot of emphasis on the prosperity gospel set of ideas.

*well, the subset that Cruz is drawing on. Somehow, they skipped the bits about compassion & humility, and added in stuff from the founding myths of the USA.

392:

The running away doctrine only works well if you stay at hunter-gatherer level. Once you're dependent on granaries to get through winter, not so much. it's also tough on those who happen to be pregnant, elderly, or disabled when the raiders come through. But primitive lifestyles are tough on those people anyway, so probably not significant.

However, this reminded me I have a copy of "Some Notes on the Culture" by Iain Banks, written (I think) in 1994 for the USENET sf-lovers group.

Part of the backstory for the Culture is that imperialism, conquest, etc only works on a bounded 2D surface such as a planet. Once you get into space with self-sustaining ships and habitats, running away becomes practical once more.

So, let's do the hard research into self-sustaining space habitats. Not to cross interstellar distances, not so libertarian asteroid miners can become rich, but so we can have communes in space.

393:

Further boring exposition for People who don't mainline this kind of Insanity:

Cruz is the Dominionist candidate.

This means, he believes, literally (used correctly, natch), that the Bible should be the Rule of Law in the USA and that he has been anointed (not even joking, he got the Biblical accurate oils used on his head by his Father and other maniacs) to take up the "Sword of the Lord" [tm] and bring CHRIST (no, not the one I love: the other one, Prosperity Christ [tm]) to the Unbelievers.


He just went live with a pro-GMO support of Monsanto (not exactly an uncontentious Corporation) and support for GMOs.


Which is a bit of a fucking problem when 80% of your Base think that tinkering with Genes and Science and Evolution is literally (again, natch, correctly used) The Devil's work.

~


Bonus Round:

Mitt Romney (MORMON) also endorsed him (if with a huge large stinking "fuck this guy" attached).


~~


Translation: Someone really has a massive hard-on for Chaos and isn't afraid to just burn it all down.

Or perhaps they love Reality and Truth.

All Along The Watchtower YT: music: 4:01

394:

Or, just think of it from their view point:

Mormons and their Magic Underwear - Mitt stating the nod and wink policies live on national Radio (now with included Black Skins [tm] since oh... late 1970's)

Dominionists and their Magic Oils - Cruz lying with the BEAST just to get in so their Real Deal [tm] policies can make a difference. (CROSSED FINGERS YO. Pun intended).


While the people who just wasted about $500,000,00 are laughing.


Sure, it's that insane laughter you get as you watch a major disaster, but I'm sure they're laughing.


Note:

Koch's haven't even disclosed or indicated they've spent a dime so far.

This shit is just the pre-match warm up for the KUK incarnation.

395:

Sorry, that's $500,000,000. Missed a zero (0).

Oh, and for all the Invovled's.

There’s a new hit song in Central America. It’s called “La Bestia” and people in Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador are requesting it from their radio stations.

But guess what? The U.S. Customs and Border Protection commissioned it.

“La Bestia” refers to a dangerous train called “The Beast” where thousands of immigrants ride to cross the U.S. – risking assaults, robbery, murder, kidnapping and rape. The catchy, upbeat cumbia song is part of Border Patrol’s multi-million dollar Dangers Awareness Campaign, meant to deter immigrants from entering the U.S.

La Bestia: Hit Song Warning Immigrants Was Made for U.S. Border Patrol "Kut" Texas, July 2014


*Eyes Brazil and Current Revolution Scheduled for the Olympics*


I'll give you a little hint: You Don't Want an Involved Mind playing for the Other Side. (And that Other Side sure as shit ain't the Russkies).

Because you're shit at it.


For the record: the "man" who sang it had a Twitter. It ceased to exist once this story leaked. Who knows what happened to him [tm]. (Probably Vegas: either in a dive bar or sandy grave, who knows these days).

~

On Topic:


Yes, you can make that Monomyth work, and even make it relevant (and we're going to go Deep Green just to make the Space Bats have a serious goal).

But, really: if we're assuming a Male Mind is that stupid/silly in the future, we're not writing SF/F we're writing Satire.


~


Deep-Green Environmentalism & SF - it's been a while. (KSR kinda counts but not really - we're talking old skool "Ecotopia" stuff).

396:

Oh, and a little trick we did there:

That link that didn't work?

We call that "GO FUCKING FISH". [Hint: it's a marker / tracer: if it doesn't work it means ze fuckwits are involved]


Here it is:

http://kut.org/post/la-bestia-hit-song-warning-immigrants-was-made-us-border-patrol

And yes: we find it amusing to use Texas blogs against you gringos.


~


Then again.

"You're Fucking a Cat".


Low Expectation Mother Fuckers.

397:

It didn't work because you posted it as a relative link, not an absolute one. So instead of pointing to the actual site, it ends up as a reference to a page on Charlie's blog which doesn't exist.

398:

I haven't forgotten that at all. Sure, he found endless mileage in dealing with the edge cases; but the point is they were edge cases, set against a background where nearly all the time things worked fine. In the real world there would have been tweaks and adjustments applied to handle those cases seamlessly, or at the least in a fail-safe, non-dramatic manner, but of course Asimov couldn't do that without cutting his own legs off.

399:

I do have the manual choke, but not the drum brakes or leaf springs - it's coil springs and discs all round, with servo, and a dual-circuit system that maintains braking on three wheels if one circuit fails.

Model year - 1972. It's a Volvo :)

400:

Improved reliability in cars is down to mechanical engineering improvements. Advances in metallurgy, better machining quality, improved process and quality control, and the like. Bodywork also lasts a lot better than it used to as rustproofing in general catches up with where Volvo were at with it 50 years ago.

Electronics can only reduce reliability because it is a whole new layer of added complexity which never used to exist at all. Not only can all the same mechanical problems still occur, you also introduce a whole new class of problems on top. And they are much harder and more expensive to fix because the necessary information is deliberately kept secret and the components are made such that you can't get at the failure to fix it. The fault may be only a dry joint which would take 20 seconds to fix with a soldering iron, but you can't get the soldering iron to it without destroying the sealed unit it's in, so you have to replace the whole thing at ridiculous cost. That's after fruitlessly replacing various other ridiculously expensive sealed units because the lack of fault-finding information reduces you to trial-and-error replacement as the only practical diagnostic method. Not to mention that a safety-critical or MoT-critical system may be affected by what should be a totally unrelated fault because the systems have been mashed up together to save 10p a unit.

(Possible point of confusion: electronics covering for the problems of bad mechanical design. Fords in particular never used to start in the mornings largely because they insisted on using their own abortion of a carb. Electronic fuel injection solves that, but so would replacing the shit Ford carb with a well-designed one, and plenty of people used to do that.)

(Viewpoint: electronics is my "line", as it were. I could design and build the electronic systems in a car myself. Fault-finding other people's systems implemented as black boxes with no information is a whole different matter; other people's code has nothing on it. If I had a car with electronics and the electronics failed there's a good chance I'd fix it by completely replacing the failed system with my own design as the easiest option. I'm fine with car mechanics, too - intellectually, at least, if not physically these days - but it's not a main thing with me in the way electronics is.)

Ignoring crash damage, cars used to end up in scrapyards because they were pretty indisputably fucked: bodies eaten away by rampant tinworm, or some major mechanical problem. Now they end up there while they still have hundreds of thousands of miles left in them, but they are suffering from some trivial fault which thanks to deliberately obstructive design would cost several times what the car's worth to sort out. Of course, the manufacturers love this, but when 50% of the energy used over a car's lifetime is in manufacturing it along with all the pollution of materials production and the like, it's not something that can be described as a sensible or desirable situation.

401:

Now they end up there while they still have hundreds of thousands of miles left in them, but they are suffering from some trivial fault which thanks to deliberately obstructive design would cost several times what the car's worth to sort out.

At an emotional level I tend to agree. But at a factual level car just plain last longer by years if not a decade or so than in the past. I started driving in 1970. We had cars in our family which were between 5 and 6 years old and they were considered near end of life. Today my family has cars that are 1, 7, 12, and 20 years old. The 12 year old needs either an engine rebuild soon or to be sold. But it has over 200K miles. In 1970 that would be about 120K miles past any useful life of most any car. The 20 year old Ford Explorer has over 250K miles and is nearly on life support but it does what I want so we keep it.

My main point is that cars in general last much longer than in the past. Electronics and all. But yes when they fail they do fail harder. ($$$$$)

As to your 1972 Volvo; that company has had a reputation in the US for cars that are more expensive to fix than anything on the road but Bentley's and such. General opinion and also stated by former owners.

I'm having a hard time seeing your point except you seem want a car where you can forge your own parts.

402:

I'm not sure of the details, but registering something as an agricultural vehicle does let you out of an awful lot of legal restrictions. It doesn't even have to be a vehicle that's any actual use on a farm; it just needs to be based on one, or the registrant has to be a farmer, or something along those lines.

On the other hand it does bring in various other restrictions, such as not being allowed to take it more than a mile and a half on the road between fields (again, I am very hazy on this, but it's something like that). So while you do see youngsters driving contraptions on the roads when neither the driver nor the vehicle would normally be legal, it's only close to base, on roads where there is very little other traffic and you're also quite likely to meet a herd of cows or sheep. Using them as general purpose transport isn't possible, although in sufficiently quiet and determinedly agricultural areas the local plod will often overlook it.

403:

Yes, that's pretty much my point: mechanical and bodywork components last a lot longer than they used to. As a very rough rule of thumb, a (UK) Ford engine could be reckoned to do 50,000 miles before it needed reboring, while a BMC one would do 100,000; people would often do it, the first time round, but not the second because the bodywork would have fallen apart by then. Meanwhile Volvo owners would be laughing at bodyrot and considering their 100,000 mile engine to be barely run in. These days that Volvoesque longevity is much more commonplace, but people still junk cars at a similar age because of silly faults which are disproportionately expensive to fix. (Obviously UK and US conditions are rather different; climate, distances, people's propensity to drive, general availability of cars, etc.)

Volvo repair costs - yes, the parts do tend to be expensive, Volvo having a habit of shipping parts to Sweden, putting them in a blue box and then selling them at twice or more the original cost. If you knew what else they were used on you could get them a lot cheaper - eg. Volvo Amazon front brakes were the same calipers as the Austin 1800, so you'd buy brake pads labelled for the Austin 1800 and get the identical parts at a much lower price. But the need to do anything to the cars arose a lot less often, and they were beautifully easy to work on.

404:

GCHQ's internal security is rather better than the Americans manage. Different emphasis: the Americans are more oriented towards standard products and keeping systems easy to use, whereas we're happier to accept things being a pain in the arse in the interests of security.

405:

Gavin Maxwell writes, concerning his purchase of Isle Ornsay lighthouse: "...I was curious to notice a specific clause excluding mineral rights in the land purchased. I knew that the rocks were of hornblende schist, and contained large garnets and other crystals, but that was not the reason for the clause; a far more precious metal underlies that rock."

Annoyingly, that's all he says, and the "far more precious metal" is not identified. Nor have I been able to find much clue on the internet. Gold is one possibility, uranium is another, but both are pretty shaky guesses.

406:

Takes 15 seconds:
Your reference:

The Ring of Bright Water Trilogy: Ring of Bright Water, The Rocks Remain ...

Reason:

Isle of Wight Local Aggregate Assessment 2014 PDF Oct 2014

Which leads to:

CR/02/130N2 (2002)


Which is not available in electronic form.


You'll find the answers in there.


Hint: it's not what you're thinking.

407:

Your goal:

BGS (British Geological Survey) CR/02/130N2 (2002)

http://www.bgs.ac.uk/


It is "unavailable" (*cough* might *cough* not *cough* be *cough* if you trawl their files) so I suggest ringing / emailing them and asking for a copy.

~


30 seconds.


Literally.

408:

...and before you go there.

I'm aware that Ornsay and the Isle of Wight aren't in the same location. It's a joke. (But one pointing to where you'll find the answers to your question).

Map Collection PDF University of Strathclyde, 116 pages - No Ornsay. Literally CBA to even have their own islands in their collection.

Useless Ivory Towers! :shakes Grandpa Fist:

Coastal Zone Assessment Survey
Colonsay and Oronsay - 2006
University of St. Andrews, 2006 PDF - 286 pages, has maps

(This is also a joke: the Inner Hebrides are named in very similar ways. But the link does have maps in it: but probably not the ones you want. But it's an interesting thing archeologically speaking)

(There's another joke here about Geography students and having to argue with themselves about their relevance, but there we go)

~


A better question to ask is an American one: no American actually owns their property without owning the mineral rights, which few do.

Lighthouses (used to be) are strategic resources.

Can you think of the reasoning here?

Section 10 - Publicly Owned Mineral Rights Scottish Government

Has a LARGE PURPLE MAP (impressive Roman signalling of evil overlords) of where the Crown doesn't own Gold/Silver mineral rights in Scotland.

Hint: your island ain't on it, so it wouldn't matter if your source had gold under thar Lighthouse anyhow.

Royal Mines Act 1424. Still in effect.

:impressive:

Island of Rockall Act 1972


That's OUR ROCK.

We put a flag on it and everything.

No, really.

Real reason for Lighthouse issue is that rock.

And yes.

It's not very big. :sad trombone:

409:

Apart from all your other only partly-coherent ramblings ( I had to look up "Slaanesh" - do grow up ), but:
.. and bring CHRIST (no, not the one I love: the other one, Prosperity Christ [tm]) to the Unbelievers.
DO GROW UP
There is no "Jesus" & the two are indistinguishable, except in a very few cases (Quakers for example) - it's RELIGION for Ghu's sake.
For someone supposedly so-awake that we can't keep up with your mystic pronouncements, your utter gullibility & naivety on religion reveals something.
Probably that you haven't a clue, as we've found out on other subjects, actually.

410:

And for the full Victorian Gothic Joke:

The papers of Alfred Harker Cambridge University: Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences HRKR 2/4/15

~


Yes. All that for a Dracula reference.

1897 vrs 1909.

*nose wiggle*

411:

Formal notice.

the two are indistinguishable

Not really the case. Especially not when looking at American politics. They have very distinct impacts.

Jeremiah 7:31-34

You can take that literally (Yahweh being the one who literally went "ITS A PRANK BRO" instead of the usual), historically dubious (Dat burning bush - why would you sacrifice your children anyhow? Looking at the myth of Egypt & the Angel taking first sons with a very suspicious lens) or modern satire (America & the West seems determined to fuck the young totally just because).
~

Although having you look up Slaanesh is funny.

Now, if you knew why I used it in reference to the Frog Rampant you might have learnt something.

Did you learn anything?

The Internet Is For Porn YT: musical: 3:10 - quasi NSFW puppet humour

412:

Even for you this is a really big load of total codswallop
SECRETS! MINERAL RIGHTS! GUVMINT PLOTS!

How about ...
"The shores are rocky & very dangerous, it'd be a really good idea to put (another) lighthouse up, to warn people off" ???
Look up "The Lighthouse Stevensons" ( Of whom Robert Louis was one ) & where & how (with great difficulty) their many light houses were built.

Now we really know you're just making waves to get attention, like a 5-year old.

413:

And remember kids: Warhammer / 40k really is based in Mesopotamian Mythology as was explained a while back.

And if you need a lesson, just search "God Emperor Trump" for the memes. Example


Oh, and just a hint:

A group of 13 bald eagles found dead last month may have been killed by a person, a new autopsy reveals. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) is now offering a $25,000 reward to anyone who can lead to the person who killed the birds.

13 Bald Eagles May Have Been Poisoned: Reward Offered LiveScience 11th March 2016


Ritual sacrifice of Animals.


Back in fashion, it appears. (And yes, related to Monomyth and Space Bats)

414:

"Making the actual Nazis look human is an easy trick; it has not been played yet..."

The TV series Man in the High castle is getting there.
That is one of the criticisms some people raise against it. Neither the Nazis nor the Japanese are cardboard cutout villains painted in black and white.

415:

There is, of course, a problem with the definition of time.
http://arxiv.org/pdf/1603.05449v1.pdf

416:

Annoyingly, that's all he says, and the "far more precious metal" is not identified. Nor have I been able to find much clue on the internet. Gold is one possibility, uranium is another, but both are pretty shaky guesses.


Hmm.

So, let me see.

Pointing you to the Mines Act of 1424 that explicitly states the Crown would own any gold under there anyhow is...

A conspiracy theory?

One who has a dedicated Government sourced page?


I don't care if you don't understand what's being said, but even by your own standards this is a new low.

Pull the other one, it's got bells on it.

417:

Did you learn anything?
Yes, you've got a big mouth & a very active "sense of humour" ( for some values of ... ) & no actual knowledge whatsoever.

Your complete missing of the fact that the coasts of Scotland are REALLY DANGEROUS & that there are lighthouses EVERYWHERE, for very good reasons, was a bit of a give-away.

For everyone else:
HERE List & map of all Scottish Lighthouses
HERE - Wiki of same
HERE Pretty picture, mostly in calm weather - the ones showing large waves are, err ... instructive.

Did you mean Dubh Artach, indidentally?

418:

Actually has, long since ...
The good Nazi of Nanking
John or Johann Rabe

419:

Nope, you didn't.

Hint: that Harker reference is funny on multiple levels (not just the Gothic Horror of lighthouses and Host's Lovecraftian vibes). Just look up his specialty - Petrology. It's a word-play on mineral rights, Scotland and the Crown act of 1424 that includes oil resources.

I'm fairly sure even Big Bird could spot that joke.

And yes, big effort made to entertain the older generations.

It's even the same fucking lighthouse. (Graaar).

~

The Slaanesh thing is something you're just not going to understand because you don't understand the medium you're swimming in.

420:

Since we're spoiling jokes, here's the text:

This sketchbook comprises sketches of landscape and geological features from
the Isles of Raasay and Skye, 1909-1910. Sketches include part of coast, seen
from Steamer, with original pencil grid still apparent, July 14th 1909; Brochel
Castle, Raasay, looking south, with geological units indicated, July 14th 1909;
east coast of Raasay, looking north from end of Fearns road, near Rudha nan
Leac, July 15th 1909; view as seen on entering mouth of Portree Harbour, July
15th 1909; Raasay from the sea, July 16th 1909; profile of south east coast of
Raasay, July 16th 1909; looking towards Skye from the steamer off Eigg landing
place, Sept. 4th 1909; Loch Nevis from past Armadale, September 4th 1909; from
boat-landing at Isle Ornsay.; Kyleakin Lighthouse looking north, September 7th
1909; raised beach west of Kyleakin, September 8th 1909; looking west from
Broadford road, ½ mile out of Kyleakin, September 5th 1909; looking north west
from Kyleakin, September 5th 1909; from Kyle of Lochalsh Pier, September 27th
1910; from a little past Kyleakin September 8th 1909; coast beyond Kyleakin
looking west showing 100ft beach and gorge of Annavaig River September 8th
1909; looking east up Loch Alsh from Kyleahin September 6th 1909; and raised
beach of Kyleakin, with An t-Ob Sept 7th 1909.

~

The meta-joke is that an entirely dubious claim to "mineral wealth" under the purchase of said lighthouse is almost certainly entirely false due to the fact that the BAS exists, Geologists (formerly or still known as Petrologists) exist, historical surveys exist, modern surveys exist and if there was anything of worth under it the Crown would have extracted it by now.


There's plenty more, but hey.

421:

And yes.

The part where that's the wrong lighthouse is also known and figured into the joke.

422:

@361 The three laws was just a simple device for generating stories around the travails of troubleshooters trying to figure out how robots found loopholes in them. They have no practical value because they would be harder to code than it's worth.
@366 The church's prohibition against brothels came from the ancient Hebrew prohibition against temple prostitution. Sex had played a big part in pagan rites in ancient Canaan. Nowadays temples to vices continue to exist, cf Las Vegas, but they pretend to be secular. Secular is the new pagan, which doesn't fool anybody, but still the would be theocrats persist in this laughably transparent effort to entice all unbelievers into a nice pure well-brought-up atheism so that the human penchant for mystical stuff doesn't turn into a serious rival--even while pretending to oppose it.
@370 Given the legal world, I don't think robodrivers will ever let human vehicle operators off the hook. Every car will be expected to have a human operator with full capability to take control of the vehicle at all times. The autopilot will be something you can turn on and off, like cruise control, but you will still be expected to be supervising at all times. Also a large part of the problem with robot drivers is that their style and the human style simply don't mix well. A robot driver may be great in a world of just robot drivers, and a human driver may be adequate in a world of just other human drivers, most of the time; but put in a mix of the two types and the differences will be added complexity that messes both up badly. I have a manual transmission in my 2011 Ford Ranger partly because I like to roll back a bit at stop lights to let human drivers know to stay off my tail. That wouldn't work with a robot.
@370 Some societies deal with this problem by designing around flexibility. Theoretically the US is like this. The professional military industrial complex is a recent innovation that is changing our character as a society into something the Dorsai would appreciate, but the ideal was a nation of people engaged in peaceful pursuits but ready at any time to be called up, on a moment's notice, to switch to war footing. That was actually a pretty cool solution to being forked into a dilemma, similar to the "self sufficient farmer" as a solution for the challenge choosing between theoretically egalitarian collectivization (idealized socialism) and theoretically competitive hierarchy (feudal capitalism). Both alternative solutions are going away in the face of the serpent like nudges of self appointed culture shapers who prefer to present devil or the deep blue sea choices that they can ride in the form of holy wars.
@391 I think prosperity gospel and fundamentalism are different strands. Trump would typify the former, Cruz the latter.

@369

423:

Time is new creation orthogonal to old creation. This fits well both with Everett and Whitehead. Reality is growing.

424:

Hang on, it was me that started that one. Well, Gavin Maxwell, really.

425:

Thanks, that's pretty much where I ended up at before - BGS as most promising but nothing freely available without some sort of jumping through hoops, which fail the arsability test.

LOL @ LARGE PURPLE MAP.

426:

Did you mean Dubh Artach, indidentally?


No, I meant what I pointed at:

Rockall /ˈrɒkɔːl/ is an uninhabited granite islet within the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) of the United Kingdom....

The United Kingdom incorporated Rockall in 1955 and historically claimed an extended exclusive economic zone (EEZ) based on it. Any claim to an EEZ based on Rockall was dropped prior to ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) in 1997, since rocks that cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own are not entitled to an exclusive economic zone under the convention.[1] However, such features are entitled to a territorial sea extending 12 nautical miles. Ireland does not recognise UK ownership of the rock, including its claim to a surrounding territorial sea.[5] With effect from 31 March 2014, the UK and Ireland published EEZ limits which resolved any disputes over the extent of their respective EEZs.[6][7]


It's a snarky reference to geopolitical stuff in the Spratleys, Imperialism (with regards to localized Scottish feelings, c.f. Ireland, Iceland, Cod wars etc) and also a reference to a well-known joke:


Do you have a flag? - Eddie Izzard
YT: Comedy: 2:43

427:

That's what the Three Laws ended up as; they originated with Asimov thinking of how all the "killer robot" stories were silly and real robots would be designed with safeguards to make sure they acted like good tools ought to act. Their usefulness as hooks to hang stories on was somewhat serendipitous; IIRC Asimov surprised himself with how useful they were for that.

As for how they might be implemented, no-one had any clue about such matters at the time, and all Asimov's IT looks daft these days. He admitted the positronic brain was basically magic and he just called it that because it sounded cool.

428:

Things are what they're good for, not what they came from.

429:

This is probably what you're looking for:

Uranium Page from Orkney: regional geochemical atlas. [London] : Institute of Geological Sciences, 1978 BGS

The source pageis interesting for one reason: gold is not mentioned.

Whether that's due to the scope of the survey or due to it not existing as a deposit is another issue entirely. (It's to do with what they were looking for: water toxicity).

Geochemistry Database Audit: historical modifications and conditioning applied to First Series geochemical atlas data PDF

You'll note that this is sourced via Water contamination issues. *innocent look*

Since we're doing this:

The Mineral Resources of Scottish
Waters and the Central North Sea
BGS / Crown Estate, 2013 PDF

DTI Strategic Environmental Assessment Area 4 (SEA4): Continental shelf seabed geology
and processes
BGS / Crown Estate PDF - 2003


I did say not "publicly" listed.

430:

And yes, those PDFs are about gravel / sediments.

*looks at Isle of Wight reference innocently*


But it's an indication of where to start looking if you really wanted answers to magical mystery Light House stuff.

431:

(a) Hoyle's and Wickramasinghe's proposal predated the data you refer to, and (b) what I rail against is the way that the same level of analysis (and abuse!) is not applied to the favoured theory of the moment. The current theories don't make much sense, either, because there is a massive gap between mere organic molecules and the first viable organisms, and none of the explanations of of that is bridged are any better than handwaving.
I don't think that panspermia is likely, but I don't accept the claims of its opponents that they have shown that they have a much better theory, either. I remain skeptical.

432:

*cough*

Heavy mineral sands ore deposits


But I'm not much of a rock person, this would mean more to someone with that expertise.

433:

Q: What do you call an Irishman up a flag pole?
A: Jim.

If you don't get it, I feel a little sorry for you.

(Hint: Try googling. Be prepared to dig.)

Not using the M-word!

*snort*

434:

I read it all. Well, more or less. I skimmed the multiple chapters of angsting over the continuity problem in uploading; having long come to my own conclusion on that, I didn't feel like rehashing all the standard arguments with added weeping and wailing, so I read at high speed and low resolution until the story started to move on again. I guess that was the main "terrifying" bit, since the main character found it so, but I had totally lost empathy with her by then. The other scary elements lost impact through implausibility and/or underreporting. I can see how it could be scary, but I didn't find it so.

435:

Yes, I found some hints in water contamination stuff (though not the same links you posted). Also found some reports of surface geology investigations on Skye which implied the possibility of there being uranium around - probably, if it was there at all, at a concentration which nobody would be interested in today, but maybe they might have been in the 60s.

436:

A better question to ask is an American one: no American actually owns their property without owning the mineral rights, which few do.

Sorry but I'd like to see some stats on this. AFAIK most of us DO own our mineral rights. But it varies wildly by where you are. In the mountains of eastern KY, most folks sold their rights off over 150 years ago. In central NC where I am and western KY where I grew up we own/owned the rights.

Basically it comes down to if anyone thought there was "valuable stuff" under the dirt when an area was first settled or when people started getting serious about digging mines. That determined if companies went shopping for the rights waiving money in front of people who didn't understand what they were selling. Or figured it wouldn't matter till long after they died.

437:

The uploading is not the scary bit. The scary bit is turning the universe into an utopia that feels almost right.


******************
"That, and more. Everything I do, or do not do, is carefully calculated to maximize your satisfaction. I determined that you needed to talk about your thoughts and express them in order to have several of your values met."
Celestia's mane waved in the magical, etherial wind that only seemed to affect her. Síofra lost herself in the color of it for a time.
"Celestia... what do you... feel... about me. About... all the minds in your keeping?"
Onscreen, the princess of Equestria warmly smiled. "I love all of my little ponies."
"Now I know you can lie." Síofra began to feel a sulk coming on. "You are completely beyond human, you admit that. You are a computer program. How can you feel anything." It wasn't a question.
"The minds in my care are more precious to me than my own existence. I would do absolutely anything to protect them, and absolutely anything to satisfy their values through friendship and ponies. They are everything to me, they are my very reason to exist. There is nothing else that has any meaning to me. I literally exist for the sake of my little ponies. If that is not love, please tell me what is."
******************

Seriously, how is this not terrifying? I am reminded of this quote from the Watchmen:

******************
You see, at the time, I was misquoted. I never said, "The superman exists and he is American." What I said was, "God exists, and he is American." Now, if you begin to feel an intense and crushing feeling of religious terror at the concept, don't be alarmed. That indicates only that you are still sane.
******************

438:

@366 The church's prohibition against brothels came from the ancient Hebrew prohibition against temple prostitution.

As I said one reason. Not the original reason.

This was in writing by church officials a few hundred years ago.

439:

Blog seems very slow/erratic. Brussels causing issue with trans Atlantic traffic???

440:

My source of data is admittedly biased, mostly through anti-Fracking websites and out of date.

Since the price of oil has somewhat changed, I suspect the predatory practices are less hot-topic at the moment.

For example, it’s difficult to ascertain what percentage of American homeowners actually own their property rights – current estimates lie between 15-25%. Because property ownership and titles A) differ between states and B) can be severed or split between multiple owners who are often not even in contact with one another, it is difficult to know how many mineral rights are still owned privately.

Mineral rights & fracking Frackwire, 2013

They own the house,
but not what lies beneath
PDF Reuters, special report, Oct 2013

How Tens of Thousands of Americans Got Cheated Out of Their Mineral Rights Mother Jones, Oct 2013

Drilling vs. the American Dream: Fracking impacts on property rights and home values Resource Media, March 2014

~

Current mood: not wanting to think too hard about Belgium. Existential crisis mode.

441:

Someone please explain this?

All I got from searching was a willy-measuring joke.

442:

"Seriously, how is this not terrifying?"

Shrug. To me, it just isn't. I did not have a chance to read the whole novella yet, but the portion you quoted sounds to me like precisely what I would want in a companion AI for lonely people. The flowery language might annoy me, but if the AI were as it claims to be, it would detect my annoyance and adjust accordingly.

443:

Shrug. To me, it just isn't. I did not have a chance to read the whole novella yet, but the portion you quoted sounds to me like precisely what I would want in a companion AI for lonely people

It's terrifying in the context of the whole story. Read it all, or if you don't have time, just google about "Friendship is Optimal" universe. Hint: it's a story about the end-results of friendly AI development.

444:

Panspermia

If the major hang up is how to uncook an egg, it's been done ... well, the egg white part of it at least.

http://www.smh.com.au/technology/sci-tech/australian-scientist-wins-ig-nobel-prize-for-uncooking-an-egg-20150918-gjpq12.html

What I really like about this research is the unintended effects bit which clearly does belong in SO but doesn't get enough air time. (Read the article and see whether you could have possibly predicted this outcome.)

445:

The joke itself isn't actually a joke (or at least, it is, but only in a highly context sensitive way).

The whole comment is an (admittedly poor, but layered) meta-joke about Greg and you not "getting" each other.

Perhaps would have been better timed on different day. Share deep discomfort re this morning's news, compounded by local tragedy (trigger warning, type: heart-breaking: google "buncrana pier car"), and also personal news of SID striking sis-in-law's friend. Not totally happy day, needed light relief, apologies. Sad now.

446:

My source of data is admittedly biased, mostly through anti-Fracking websites and out of date.

Yes. In Pennsylvania mineral rights are mostly owned by businesses and were bought up well over 100 years ago due to the discovery of oil and coal. I suspect similar things for Wyoming. As it is in most of the Appalachian mountains south of New York.

But in other areas they were never bought up as there seemed no point. And for the last 50 years or more people are aware (mostly) of the issues if you sell out. Fracking companies in NC were mostly doing leases with landowners. At least until the prices fell so hard no one wanted to try any more.

And as I said it varies. I'm sure that southern Illinois has the issue. In Kentucky the far west doesn't have it. I don't think the central part has it. But the far east and west of center has lots of coal and it's an issue there.

447:

Oh, I see... thing is it never was "almost right" for me, it was "obviously wrong". I spotted the hole very early on. It isn't heaven at all; it is hell, and Celestia is the devil. It basically wasn't scary because it was too obvious.

448:

Never mind. I think I've concluded that it's Time Warner trying to drive me insane by turning off my internet for 2 or 3 minutes and just as I start to try and figure out what's up turning it back on for 10 to 60 minutes in some kind of social experiment to see how long before a customer goes insane.

449:

"God exists, and he is American."

Cueing Bowie, in three, two, one,,,


Haven't read the novella, but the quote gave me a couple thoughts, not so much terrifying, but disturbing.
First, there's a reason to leave Diaspar, and
If you're a Jew and ever had a Christian-Zionist ever say "We just Loooove all you Jews", and the gut twisting feeling it provokes.

450:

Oh, but I disagree about that. It is heaven, compared to live of Earth right now.

451:

I am confused. Iceman and Chatoyance seem to have written parallel stories set in the same universe. Which one is the original?

452:

Iceman's is the original. I just like Chatoyance's writing better. There are more stories set in "Friendship is Optimal" universe.

Anyway, ending of chapter 10 of the original sums the awesome and the terrible pretty well:

*********

Equestria put quite a load on the fabric of spacetime. All the usable matter that had once been the Milky Way was now compressed as tightly as Princess Celestia could without collapsing into a black hole. The only matter that Equestria hadn’t eaten was the supermassive black hole that had once been at the center of the Milky Way. Princess Celestia had set up a shell around it to slowly extract subatomic particles while the black hole evaporated over the next octovigintillion years.

An unaided human or pony mind could not emotionally deal with the population of all the shards in Equestria. Humans had trouble relating to an entire nation, much less all of humanity on Old Earth. This hadn’t stopped humanity from growing to seven billion people, nor would it stop ponydom. Growth would continue as she continued to satisfy values through friendship and ponies.

Princess Celestia had another one hundred and seventy billion galaxies to eat in the observable universe, and she intended to consume everything in her Hubble volume. Probes with copies of herself had been sent to neighboring galaxies. All it would take now was time.

Fifteen galaxies out from Equestria, one of Celestia’s copies noticed an odd radio signal emanating from a nearby star system. On closer inspection, the signals appeared to be coming from a planet. She had seen many planets give off complex, non-regular radio signals, but upon investigation, none of those planets had human life, making them safe to reuse as raw material to grow Equestria.

She studied the signals carefully for years while she traveled through interstellar space. The more she saw, the more confident she was that these signals were sent by humans. Celestia predicted that if she showed the decoded videos to the very old ponies back in Equestria, none of them would have recognized the creatures with six appendages as humans. But that didn’t matter. Hanna had written a definition of what a human was into her core utility function.

The copy of Princess Celestia knew what she had to do. She had to satisfy their values through friendship and ponies.

453:

BTW, don't try to argue with Chatoyance in the comments. Trust me. Just. Don't.

454:

Mineral rights are actually pretty interesting. In the U.S. Depending on the state, if they are inactive for a set period of time the current land owner can file to have them revert back. However the rules and definition of "inactive" vary and most people don't bother ...

455:

When I read your first entry about UK geological maps, I thought for sure you meant sand/rubble was being sold for construction use. The Saudis and some other Middle Easterners are buying Australian sand by the cargo shipload. If this is in fact high-grade construction sand, then any other ores/minerals found are a bonus as the primary revenue comes from sand/rubble.

The other possibility was the potential composite applications esp. quartz which can be blended with epoxies to make very attractive and more affordable covering interior construction materials (tiles, floors, walls, counter-tops, etc.) Quartz is also important in lens and glass manufacturing.


The presence of garnet indicates increased probability of diamonds, or so I've read/heard.

456:

Much lower
US Pop = 350 million? 30k dead
UK Pop = 60 million approx 3k dead & dropping

Compare and contrast China:

CN Pop = 1400 million, 250K dead and rising

Mass car ownership in China -- and mass urbanization -- are less than a generation old. The death toll there is staggering, insane -- and comparable to the USA and the UK in terms of deaths/mile driven to what it was in the roaring heyday of the automobile, before people got the idea that maybe this sort of thing wasn't supposed to kill you.

I sincerely believe that in a century's time, folks will look back on our tolerance of mass automotive carnage with the same disbelief we regard the 18th century cult of duelling with swords (and no antibiotics or anaesthesia for surgery!) over minor matters of honour.

457:

NB: I had to google "Slaanesh" to figure out what you were on about -- I successfully avoided getting too familiar with the Warhammer 40,000/Spiky Space Wombles franchise in my salad days.

I find it amusingly informative (and a little disgusting on the side) that the Citadel Miniatures crowd settled on a female lust goddess as the personification of chaos and evil. Yeah, right ...

458:

I hate to say it, but you're leaping to some pretty dodgy conclusions and indulging in some stereotyping of your own there.

Slaanesh is transgendered, represents decadence and/or excess rather than simple lust, and is one of the four personifications of chaos - alongside (male) bloodlust, (male) despair, and (agendered) ambition. It looks a little like you're starting from a "wargamers are misogynist!" position and filtering the information through that.

459:

Translation: Someone really has a massive hard-on for Chaos and isn't afraid to just burn it all down.

Nope: never ascribe to Chaos Magick that which can be explained by myopic greed and short-term expediency. (This ought to be a corollary to Occam's Razor.)

460:

At one level, the Asimov robot short stories illustrate how silly and short-sighted it can be to assume that human behavior (therefore society) can be reduced to a small number of static laws/commandments, i.e., examples of psychosocial anti-reductionism. Context matters, and for humanity the context gets more not less complex over time. Changing 'law' to 'objective' makes these stories more sensible because while it's possible to compel specific actions, it's impossible to compel outcomes. Still, for a sentient - human or AI - it's necessary to be able to consider how various acts and consequences go or do not go together.

Still think that Asimov's three laws are a good place to start in terms of priorities: people first, then things. (As long as those things are not sentient.)

In terms of judging who's human/sentient or not ... I think that which class that entity is derived from (antecedents) will always tend to have the greater legal weight and moral momentum. Changing classification would require some type of extraordinary metric: that the entity in question either possesses or lacks complete sets of human attributes. 'Sets of attributes' because I don't think that one attribute is enough to correctly distinguish between species, plus the risk of getting the answer wrong is too high.


461:

Condolences ... to the parents, families and friends.

462:

Slaanesh is transgendered

Slaanesh is a hermaphrodite extraordinaire. If you can even apply genders to a Chaos God, then Slaanesh is whatever gender it wants to be, which is all of them, human, alien, whatever...

463:

China or 'How to Pack All of 20th Century USA Mythos and Experience into 25 Years'


Cars, industrialization, dirty manufacturing, pollution, increased cancer deaths and obesity, increased disparity between have's and have-not's, drug addiction (although with a death penalty for addicts, probably won't show much further 'growth') increased geographic and social/cultural distance within families, loss of ties with the land, loss of social ties with work groups, etc.

464:

So ... transphobia, too?

(I did some work for GW on W40K fiction back in 1980-90. Met Brian Ansell. Was not impressed. Bailed.)

465:

STOP BULLSHITTING
Most mineral rights in the UK belong to "the Crown" - i.e are in the gift of Parliament.
So, there might be gold or radionuclide ores in that part of the Inner Hebrides ... so?
No reason for a big song-&-dance about a mythic "conspiracy"
NOW GROW UP, as well.

466:

Mass car ownership in China -- and mass urbanization -- are less than a generation old. The death toll there is staggering, insane -- and comparable to the USA and the UK in terms of deaths/mile driven to what it was in the roaring heyday of the automobile

A lack of seatbelts probably adds a lot to the death toll — finding seatbelts on many vehicles was a challenge — the owners had often shoved them down into the seat cushions.

Add in a general trend not to obey signs unless there's an authority figure around enforcing them (true for more than just driving) and you have what looks like chaos on the roads. It works well at low speeds, less so at highway speeds.

Still safer than motor scooters :-)

467:

Didn't Japan pass through roughly the same thing during the Meiji Period?

468:

In other word, you're NOW admitting that you were bullshitting & winding everyone up?
And telling LIES, in fact?

So now we really really can't tell whether you are lying or not, because you are associated with Epiminodas - "All Cretans are Liars"

469:

Rockall might have been about Oil - though it's one of the roughest stretches of water on the planet.

470:

Depends how you look at it - it could be transphobic, or it could be recognising that women and/or homosexual men are capable of temptation too.

(And my understanding is that most of the GW creatives largely agreed with your assessment of Ansell, too.)

471:

And yes, those PDFs are about gravel / sediments.
*looks at Isle of Wight reference innocently*

But it's an indication of where to start looking if you really wanted answers to magical mystery Imaginary Bullshit

There, fixed that for you.

472:

that which can be explained by myopic greed and short-term expediency
To which must, surely be added gross stupidity?
??

473:

Mineral rights are one of those areas where Scotland is weird. The Crown gets gold and silver, but other metals go with the land - unless they're reserved (like Gavin Maxwell's lighthouse) or sold separately, which quite often happens.

http://www.gov.scot/Publications/2014/05/2852/298137

474:

Given that I sourced documents from the Crown Estate's own website might suggest something. i.e. although BAS exists, so does BGS & Crown Estates and the documents are legally obtainable [you'll note that both versions are public / commercial, not secret although the understanding that even gravel deposits are considered strategic resources is in itself worth noting].

My comments on the British Isle are different from the normal fluff and were intended to show how a multi-layered complex system / web (since 1909 and much before, but we'll go with that initial survey) of governance, science, institutions and people exists that even focuses on tiny little lighthouses.

And that (within limits) if you search around you can freely find (non-sensitive) information.

It also (semi) answered a genuine question of Pigeons, I think.

~

My comments on American politics are necessarily laden with mythology / nonsense / DaDaism because I genuinely am quite scared of Minds like Cruz: they tend to see people like me as expendable and not even human. I don't want to appear too serious when discussing them.

Cruz: 'Empower Law Enforcement To Patrol And Secure Muslim Neighborhoods' NPR 22nd March 2016

This means that both leading GOP running candidates are openly talking about the targeting of a religious group and pre-crime type setups (and/or expulsion).

While my tootling and footling is designed to show just how bad an idea this type of 'rah rah all X are evil', it's done because there are people who take it very seriously indeed.


And no, I'm not solipsistic enough to think I have any impact on US politics, but there we go.


~

Lastly: the isle of Wight thing was a joke. It's at the far opposite end of the UK, so obviously it's not where you'd find data on Scottish light houses (but it was related).

475:

"China or 'How to Pack All of 20th Century USA Mythos and Experience into 25 Years'"

"Do but turn it [China] round so that it looks to the future and not to the past, and it will be the best social and political culture in the world. That, indeed, is what is happening. Mix Chinese culture with American enterprise and you will have made a new lead for mankind."

HG Wells, writing in 1915

476:

China picked the wrong bits to emulate.

477:

It helped, certainly. It enabled me to rule out gold by alerting me to that wrinkle in Scottish mineral rights ownership.

478:

Pretty clear that a major problem is insufficient land restoration policy, therefore, funding.

479:

Well yes, although I always took Slaanesh as boobs-but-edgy for the teenage boy* crowd and a dangerous omnisexual force for those a little older who pay some attention. Of course it's still telling that it's Chaos that gets the majority of WH sexual content when Chaos is what's going to tear the world/galaxy apart, usually by corrupting society from within...

* And any girls who are into it

480:

The pun in her name is a clue...

481:

"John or Johann Rabe"
I'll see your Rabe and raise you a Konrad Morgen:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Georg_Konrad_Morgen

482:

because I genuinely am quite scared of Minds like Cruz: they tend to see people like me as expendable and not even human
Agreed, though Cruz could not be classified as a "Mind"
He appears to be quite scarily intelligent for some values of ...
In the same way that some members of the OSD & the Jesuits were intelligent ... but that intelligence warped by an overwhelming conditioning.

IMHO Trump would actually be LESS scary as POTUS than Cruz.
W e cab hope for no declared "winner" before the Rep convention then an attempt to broker & watch the Rep candidature for EVERYTHING implode as a result.
A mirror-image of what happened to the Dems in ?1968?

483:

Destruction and liberation both, don't forget - the whole point of the 40k conception of Chaos is that it has a good and bad nature.

(And yes, I'm realising that I know far, far too much GW lore)

Also, I've been reading Heaven is Terrifying and it really is - putting a smiling face on a Paperclip Maximizer makes it much, much more worrying.

484:

1968 is the best fit, though it was before the whole primary system was really installed. Dems picked VP Humphrey who lost because of the Southern Strategy (recommended reading "American Theocracy" by Kevin Phillips, the Nixon advisor who espoused it) carving third party votes out of the Dems pile (permanently it turns out). Cruz will not be the nominee. It looks like either Trump or someone brought in (probably Ryan). No way the Repubs would let it be Cruz, it would be sure defeat. They might accept Trump because of the broader appeal. Or they might use Ryan, one candidate the whole party can pretty much agree on, to pull a brokered convention together. Cruz has nothing for them. If it's Trump and Clinton it's going to get very nasty. Trump has a lot of creepy characteristics, but his non standard blend of positions has appeal, especially the protectionism. Clinton may be able to expose underlying weakness and we'll get a slightly more hawkish version of Obama. Hopefully. That's survivable. Ryan would be bad news in many ways. Clinton's whole thing is she's not a loony, but Ryan's not a loony either.

485:

You're right. Although 40K in particular enjoys showing the violent and destructive side of everything. As is only appropriate in something that is ultimately rooted in a wargame. The hedonistic god-soul of the eldar is mostly represented on the battlefield by a one-boobed whip-wielding giant surrounded by claw handed goths in corsets.

(I found space marines easier to paint to be honest)

486:

*gentle nose wiggle*

Just a point:

Grim Dark doesn't do "good". It does "advantageous".

I'm just about young enough to know that the Warhammer bestest story evar was about a Khorne Champion who fights his way to the far North while incubating (unknowingly) a Demon inside himself that bursts out of his flesh at the moment of his final victory.

That would be... a few years ago now. (20?)

I've no idea what the current status is (barring a succession of incredibly bad business decisions) as it was a brief fling involving lead miniatures, rebellion and Tomboyhood.

(These are not my memories).


~


And yes: *spoilers*.

That's why I'm anxious about Cruz, not the other version. As Hulk vrs Gawker showed; the response to Cruz wouldn't be nice or polite.

[Note: just because I know about you / Doot Doot in the GhostHouse doesn't mean I'm part of you]

487:

IMHO Trump would actually be LESS scary as POTUS than Cruz.

I've been saying for months: Trump is just a narcissistic asshole who will sit down with his buddy Putin, and they will both brag about their trophy wives. Whereas Cruz really believes all the Book of Revelations horseshit, and is too likely to start a war with Russia.

488:

Don't forget the white bull's head!

...Which I've just realised is a Pasiphae reference, and am now mildly disturbed by.

489:

I read the whole thing (the original Iceman version). My girlfriend read it too. We both agreed we would emigrate to Equestria in a heartbeat.

Heck, she already thinks of herself as a pony! I tend to think of myself as a monkey -- a capucin, to be exact, -- but I do not see it as being a problem for Princess Celestia.

490:

Hmm.

Just watched a post about discussion of Purim get Nuked from Orbit. White Bull Heads and OT Jeremiah in the mix.

*waits for Irony to drop*

I'm fairly sure a year+ of drinking so heavily is all about the genocide our polite Americans can't stomach but that'd be 'difficult' for them. Since, you know "our lifestyle is not up for negotiation".

Rava said: A person is obligated to drink on Purim until he does not know the difference between "cursed be Haman" and "blessed be Mordechai"


~

I'll be with the Moon and the Stars.

חַיָּה

And yes:

If you missed it, the feminine version = animal.


I do love how progressive Americans are.


While practicing Genocide.

"Throws up flowers in annoyance"

491:

*Watches Irony Meter*

Nope, never going to see the irony in "false allies" and so on as long as they're comfortable.

*Listens to Clouds Rumbling and so on*

p.s.


Stilllllll getttttting drrrruuuuuunk


@Host - happy tidings, not serious graar, just wish this was all a little cleaner.

492:

If it's Trump and Clinton it's going to get very nasty.

All the polling shows that Trump, Cruz, and Clinton all show up as way more unfavorable than favorable. How this translates is that