Gaia is the word for "unity-of-life-processes". The experiment here is to unify the various threads of voice and sense of self together into an undivided unity. Spirituality, economics, politics, science and ordinary life interleaved.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Robot Cats, Business with Lobsters and Brains in Bottles: the Structural Elements of Charles Strosses' Accelerando

Accelerando is a family epic novel in the form of nine stories. The family, the Mancx family, are all major players in the technological singularity. The technological singularity is a hard science fictional proposition involving runaway increases in computing power, sentient artificial intelligence, and various social propositions located somewhere between magic and madness.

Much of the fuss about Accelerando is because it is the first novel to treat very precisely the social, legal and economic consquences of the technological singularity. The underlying ideology and philosophy of the novel is dense, providing both the structural elements of the nine stories and the intellectual and emotional meat of the stories beyond their superficial dramatic value as science fiction.

The simplest way to view the stories is as a battle between an idea and a reality. On one side, the antagonists, are the technological singularity itself and good old Mother Nature (the realities). On the other side, the protagonists, are the three grand philosophies of the West - conservatism, socialism - and liberalism, (the ideas) represented by characters and plotlines. Pamela, Sirhan, Sadeq and the United States are conservative; Manfred, Amber, Europe and their friends are mostly liberal; and Annette, Gianni, Pierre and the lobsters themselves are socialist. (And yes, traces of Scottish legalism can be discovered in the text and the author, despite avowals to the contrary.)

Here's a breakdown of what I consider, perhaps mistakenly, to be the key questions encompassed in the plot. If there are spoilers here then I must say you are easily spoilt - these stories are far greater than their themes - so please read on.

1. Lobsters. What rights, responsibilities, duties and privileges should uploaded minds have?

2. Troubador. What rights, responsibilities, duties and privileges should artificial intelligences have?

3. Tourist. How do you define humanity when much of the sense of self is located in hardware and software?

4. Halo. What is the ethical way to proceed when the rule of law violates individual sovereignity?

5. Router. How do uploaded human minds retain an intact sense of civil society and the social contract in the absence of biological constraints?

6. Nightfall. How do transhuman uploads fare within a mature technological singularity?

7. Curator. How do you retain a single sense of self when you have a multiplicity of identities?

8. Elector. What survives of liberal democrat political processes in the wake of a technological singularity?

9. Survivor. What survives of human nature in the wake of technological singularity?

The answers to these questions are fascinating, but for now I just want to pose the questions themselves. They are the backbone of what makes Charles Strosses' Accelerando a great book. Many of these questions we already deal with in everyday life, on and off line, so the answers have both a predictive and a practical value.

PS - the text of the book can be found here.

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