Charlie Stross: May 2016 Archives

The Nightmare Stacks

There are only 30 days to go until the UK release of The Nightmare Stacks, and to celebrate, my UK publisher Orbit are giving one lucky and inventive reader the chance to win a Laundry Files pack, including signed copies of The Nightmare Stacks, plus a Magic Circle of Safety mug and a Laundry Files tshirt. All you have to do is come up with your own Laundry Files gadget, app, or piece of tech - for good or evil. Give us a name, a classification and a brief explanation of how it works/what it does.

Five runners up will win a signed copy of The Nightmare Stacks.

Here are some examples of gadgets you might run into, or might run into you, if you work for the Laundry. (Terms and conditions apply: continued below the fold.)

Just a warning: the blog (and this server) will be offline for about ten minutes between the hours of 5am and 8am on Thursday the 19th (tomorrow)—that's 1am to 4am Eastern Seaboard Time—while technicians hook it up to a new power distribution board in the data center.

Hopefully this will go without a hitch. In event of hitches, yr. hmbl. crspndnt. will shoot trouble when he's out of bed.

Comments on the blog will be disabled until the server is up and tested tomorrow morning (so I can take a clean database backup without worrying about missing stuff, Just In Case things don't go smoothly).

Update: comments are now back

Upcoming events

Next week I'm going to be in Washington DC and Baltimore. The primary reason I'm going is because it's the 50th Balticon SF convention this Memorial Day weekend and, as a previous guest of honor, they've invited me back. (I'm not the real draw: this year the guest of honor is George R. R. Martin, with a side-order of John Picacio (artist guest of honr), Bill and Gretchen Roper (music), R. Shirley Avery and Martin Deutsch (fan guests of honor), Alexandra Duncan (Compton Crook Award winner) and Kim Stanley Robinson, just because they can. Oh, and they've also got Harry Turtledove, Joe Haldeman, Jo Walton, Larry Niven, and a bunch of other previous guests.

(I'll update this blog entry with my program items when I get a finalized schedule.)

But that's not my only appearance. The Open Technology Institute in conjunction with the ACLU have kindly invited me to an evening event on Tuesday May 24th, 5:30-7pm:

What Can DC Learn From Sci-Fi? A Conversation With Author Charles Stross

In a world where cars drive themselves, everyone has a supercomputer in their pocket, and billionaires are building their own spaceships, where can policymakers and citizens turn to make sense of it all? Perhaps they should talk those people whose entire careers are devoted to imagining the future: science fiction writers. From the White House to think tanks like the Atlantic Council and Data & Society to tech commentary outlets like Slate's Future Tense, more and more policy thinkers are turning to science fiction writers to help them understand our futuristic present--and now you can too. Join us for a conversation over drinks with one of the 21st centuries most influential science fiction authors, Charles Stross. Interviewed by two tech policy experts (and science fiction fans) from New America's Open Technology Institute and the American Civil Liberties Union, the prolific Scottish novelist and blogger known for modern sci-fi classics like Accelerando, Singularity Sky and many more will talk about the future of surveillance and privacy, why the idea of space colonization is unrealistic, whether or not we are in the midst of a technological "singularity", and what science fiction can--and can't--teach us about how to live in the 21st century.

Take part in the conversation online using #SFinDC and following @OTI.

Beer and wine will be served along with some light snacks.

(And if you want me to sign books I'm happy to do so after the talk.)

The event will be held at New America's Open Technology Institute, 740 15th Street NW, #900, Washington DC, 20005 (not far from the White House) and you can find updates online at Open Technology Institute > Events.

In 1944, the Office of Strategic Services—the predecessor of the post-war CIA—was concerned with sabotage directed against enemies of the US military. Among their ephemera, declassified and published today by the CIA, is a fascinating document called the Simple Sabotage Field Manual (PDF). It's not just about blowing things up; a lot of its tips are concerned with how sympathizers with the allied cause can impair enemy material production and morale:

  1. Managers and Supervisors: To lower morale and production, be pleasant to inefficient workers; give them undeserved promotions. Discriminate against efficient workers; complain unjustly about their work.
  2. Employees: Work slowly. Think of ways to increase the number of movements needed to do your job: use a light hammer instead of a heavy one; try to make a small wrench do instead of a big one.
  3. Organizations and Conferences: When possible, refer all matters to committees, for "further study and consideration." Attempt to make the committees as large and bureaucratic as possible. Hold conferences when there is more critical work to be done.
  4. Telephone: At office, hotel and local telephone switchboards, delay putting calls through, give out wrong numbers, cut people off "accidentally," or forget to disconnect them so that the line cannot be used again.
  5. Transportation: Make train travel as inconvenient as possible for enemy personnel. Issue two tickets for the same seat on a train in order to set up an "interesting" argument.

Some of these sabotage methods are commonplace tactics deployed in everyday workplace feuds. It's often hard to know where incompetence ends and malice begins: the beauty of organizations is that most of them have no effective immune systems against such deliberate excesses of incompetence.

So it occured to me a week or two ago to ask (on twitter) the question, "what would a modern-day version of this manual look like if it was intended to sabotage a rival dot-com or high tech startup company"? And the obvious answer is "send your best bad managers over to join in admin roles and run their hapless enemy into the ground". But what actual policies should they impose for best effect?

"Welcome to the galactic federation, humans! All our riches and elite super-science will be yours—immortality, faster than light travel, the tools to build AIs, cures for all your illnesses and a working theory of economics that abolishes poverty and war and provides as much wealth as anybody wants—just so long as you sign this simple easy agreement and consent to make one minor cognitive tweak so that you don't mistakenly destabilize the false vacuum and destroy the universe."

"Um. Wossat, then?"

"We need you to become a group mind. Studies show that in all identified previous cosmoi, individualist tool-using sophonts with access to these technologies harboured splinter groups so deranged that they collapsed the vacuum energy. There are no known exceptions to this rule: apparently telling you collectively not to do something just makes it inevitable. Unless you Borgify first—become a group mind, render your individual mental boundaries permeable to one another, and allow any other human complete access to your thoughts and memories. Group minds generally stick to the terms and conditions voluntarily."

"Uh, let me get back to you on that. What happens if we say 'no'?"

"Then, regrettably, you will discover that you have asked a question to which you really did not want to learn the answer."

Your question: should the human species collectively sign up to (and ruthlessly enforce) the proposed agreement? Discuss the pros and cons.

(Follow-up question: what are the failure modes and unforeseen consequences?)



About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries written by Charlie Stross in May 2016.

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