link to the Google Doc: Singularity Maelstrom Dream
I just had one of the weirdest (perhaps THE weirdest) dreams of my life. After some reflecting on it while trying not to forget the pieces and themes, I came up with a perhaps fitting name for it: Singularity Maelstrom.
It seemed to have played somewhere in the future. A few years to two hundred years from now. (the background story is being overwritten and overwritten again, typical for the dream and theme of the dream)
Anyway, the dream was absolute madness: It was played in and before my mind as some kind of movie adaptation of an obscure, but very singularity aware and prescient graphic novel series having been created in the 1980s. It was about a bunch of underdog characters in a post-singularity world that seemingly has completely lost its mind.
The main characters all had around human intelligence, sometimes a bit more, but could be anything. Plain humans (seemingly), robots, uploaded and uplifted animals, aliens, or any mixture thereof you can (and cannot) imagine. The point is: These characters are merely like leaves in the wind in comparison with the superintelligent forces playing with them for fun and profit.
And profit it really seems to be, because the economy of the post-Singularity future is dependent on diversity and madness as their main resource and leitmotif. Basically: If reality is not totally like a dream, like everything you hoped for, everything your feared, and everything you thought never could happen, all at once mixed together with chunks and pieces, then you can’t make a profit out of it. That may be because the galactic overloads are deeply bored, or just their economy works that way for some structural reasons not comprehensible by us mere humans. In any case, it’s what defines life in the post-Singularity world: Life is more like a dream than a static reality you can trust won’t change from one moment to the next.
One of the few characters I can remember is a sophont in a goose body with hover pads on his feed and a helicopter rotors strapped upon his back.
One other character was the time travellers which is my favourite character of the dream. He said that he was from 10000 years in the future and that time travel was possible, but usually not economically viable, which is the main reason why it doesn’t happen often. It seems to be restricted to the spare time activities of 0,001% of the galactic elite. And they only visit the most interesting times there are: Everything before the Singularity is just too plain boring to visit, so it effectively never happens.
So, what do the characters in the dream/novel do? They basically try to cope with the crazy reality (or is it a simulation? does it really matter?) around them and the semi-superintelligent forces trying to manipulate and exploit them. There seems to be some kind of network that tries to maximize diversity in the biospheres of the planets in the whatever-political entities there are. Multiple post-Singularity tech levels seem to coexist with another, the more advanced hidden from the rest by cloaking devices for example. So, the characters spend time exploring semi-defunct semi-superintelligent buildings and spaceships and whatever is hiding in them. Which is often their demise, because of superintelligent predators who love to play with mere human level sophonts. They play with their minds and bodies in order to coerce them to accept (deeply accept) anything that they want. There seem to be some ethical and legal constraints on what these superintelligent beings can do, but they are mostly unknown, too byzantine, or just not relevant to the human level sophonts (in any case, the superintelligent offenders would be clever enough to work around their legal and perhaps embedded ethical constraints). So, they walk into a trap and some superentity overpowers them and makes all their dreams and nightmares true randomly – before randomizing the character completely, and I mean completely: The resulting character does not need to have any resemblance to the previous one, be it level of intelligence, character, body morphology, gender, sexual orientation, or whatever. It is rumored that this randomization might be the ultimate punishment for transgressing the arbitrary will / divine judgement of the overlords. But more realistically, it is just a gimmick to boost their economy.
But not all things may be too bad: The original humans perhaps have passed the Singularity unharmed and now live lives in absolute splendour. Though the only thing that I’ve heard that they do is study in the university category (! – no, not university, but university category, whatever that means). While all the other non-human sophonts (robots, many AGIs, uplifted animals, some aliens) slave away in the madness-economy that is prevalent in that age. It often happens that the non-human sophonts think that they are humans (convincingly), but since they are not original humans that does not seem to count for anything. On the other hand, the sheer level of disinformation may very well mean that even the entities having passed the Singularity as humans have no consistent rights.
While there is something like universal translator technology, the extreme level of morphology diversity (both of body and mind types) means that meaningful communication may be restricted to the most basic level (whatever that is, it doesn’t seem to be consistent) and may be more a matter of having good luck than anything else. You don’t know whether the sophonts you meet around the next corner are enemies or friends or neutral or something else. You may first try to figure that out in lengthy communication attempts that often make less sense than translating a text on the internet automatically into 10 different languages and then back to a language you might theoretically understand (like, he or she or it (in the scene I remember it was some kind of alien android with seemingly always shape shifting face) might have said we wants to eat you, or eat toast, or fuck you, or fuck a wrench, or buy some groceries, or talk about the weather, or Hegelian philosophy, you just have to guess which might make most sense). But luckily they suffer from the same problem – unless they are superintelligent bastards you don’t have no real hope of understanding anyway.
When it comes to government there are rumours that all kinds of government types exist in the galactic political network, but that democracy is rare and is threatened by authoritarian type governments. Anyway, what is a reliable factor is the madness-economy prevalent throughout what we think we know of the galaxy. Oh, and there are warp drives, of course. After all, which turns out to be quite more economically viable than time travel. Or it’s simply all simulated, because frankly: It doesn’t make much of a difference whether you live in a simulation or not if your life resembles a dream more than anything else. Ok, back to fragments of the story. It may have started with the appearance of the time traveller (a totally quirky guy, seemingly prepared for every occasion, carrying different kinds of umbrellas in his backpack). Just when the Singularity is about to happen… and invading aliens arrive which mostly look like goo made out of paving and replicating itself exponentially. The time traveller just takes some kind of disruptor weapon and seems to keep at least one of the nanobot-swarm-goo thingies at bay. Needless to say that this is not enough. Soon, a group of humans gets overwhelmed and randomized into the characters of the graphic novel. What happens next is a wild mixture between incomprehensible art, Star Trek, superhero comics, Accelerando (by Charles Stross), the Culture novels (by Iain Banks), Captain Future, dreams, nightmares, weird YouTube videos, yaoi mangas and this rationalist post-Singularity chaos S.I. book series, with some additional H.P. Lovecraft horror.
The general feeling and theme is very post-apocalyptic, like a post-Singularity supercivilization just collapsed and spewed fragments of its former glory all over the place, mixed with all the refuse and chaos that such a collapse would bring with it (perhaps that’s what actually happened, who knows?). There is no normality. There seem to be quests for the characters which may spread them out across the galaxy, but most quests end in weird character transformation or randomizations. No glorious victory against a corrupt galactic elite, just wild exploration and plain madness.
In spite of all of that there seemed to be a bittersweet perhaps happy ending at the end of season 1 which touched me deeply and moved me to tears within the dream itself, but I can’t recall what happened exactly. It seemed that most main characters were reunited after their long odyssey and the time traveller had to go back to the future from which he came from – yes, he only seemed to have a lot of fun, but he stroke people also a somewhat of a good guy.
There is one scene in the novel (I call it novel, because the dream felt like I was reading a graphic novel written by authors on LSD and crack cocaine) in which humanoid naked (for what it’s worth) giants fought each other with alchemy-like (see Fullmetal Alchemy) superpowers, transforming the ground around them into weapons and even transforming themselves into chimeras to deal out some punishment to enemies which just don’t seem to get hurt or even tired. Context? Questionable, unknown. The gods seemed to have been bored, as always.
The problem that the characters in the novel are faced with is that they don’t really understand the world around them. It is shaped by powers beyond their comprehension. Some of it seems to make a lot of sense, but most of it just looks totally random. One example might be the exploration of a cloaked seemingly deserted laser-steampunk factory building in which you had to move objects in what feels like random ways and then suddenly a machine would start performing an operation on it to further its construction. But that required exactly the movement you have performed on it which seemed like playing with it cluelessly (which is what you did, but the superintelligent designer of the factory has considered your probable moves and designed the factory accordingly, so that it works)!
And there were of course some fancy technologies like the handheld projector of the time traveller which was something between a Star Trek replicator and a solid hologram emitter (see the holographic doctor from Star Trek: Voyager). This handheld projector was only a projection projected out of a projector hidden somewhere in his body anyway. What was fairly normal in that novel is that basically everyone is isomorphic to an uploaded being having the principal possibility to change into bodies and minds of any shape or configuration.
What do I make out of this dream? I’m not sure. It seemed to be the ultimate weirdtopia. It would feel premature to declare this either as dystopia or utopia. It was about anything it between: The whole spectrum of hopes and fears. With mad gods and helpless human level characters, but on the other hand with the craziest adventures one can imagine. I can understand why our descendants (or invading aliens) would choose to create a world like that – or be compelled to design an attention-grabbing madness economy with the results shown. And I must say: I was thoroughly entertained, delighted, and inspired by that dream. It was more amazing than any movie that I have ever seen.
I still have to process and reflect on it! …
How that I have thought about this for a few hours, I must say that this dream was a vision that points to a deep problem that I have been afraid of for quite a while: It’s the usage as sentient beings as playthings of the most powerful. What we have now with factory farming is quite horrifying, but that doesn’t it from happening. There are systemic and psychological reasons for it to happen, and so it happens, at least for quite a while, whether we like it or not.
Now, the future is certainly very uncertain, but my vision is only one scenario in which there would be continued exploitation of sentient beings in a very advanced society. Assuming that production will be fully automated in the post-Singularity future, what remains are services. We can well assume that these can be automated to a very great degree by essentially non-sentient automation, but there will still be some place for services provided by sentient beings. If the service in question is entertainment, then it may well be that you can “extract” entertainment out of any interesting sentient being, so they could be considered as a resource than can be exploited. Which is why there would still be a demand for human-level sentient beings in a post-Singularity world. They wouldn’t provide the most sophisticated form of entertainment, but they would still be interesting to watch, just as it’s interesting for humans to watch videos of cats. Of course, it might also be able to frame this use of human-level sentient beings as art or research or anything more noble than a barbaric kind of entertainment.
The way the “madness economy” in the Singularity Maelstrom dream is set up seems to be that the original humans are in a privileged position while the overlords can still take AGIs, animals, or some aliens and transform them into quasi-human beings, but without the attached rights and privileges that “original” humans possess. These sentient beings then represent the “working material” of the overlords which they use for their own purposes as they please.
Can we really escape the trajectories that will lead us to one or the other end of the madness economy: Finding ourselves as the exploited sentient beings, or as the ruthless superintelligent overlords? Is there an alternative that is really stable? Can we really uphold high ethical standards if we wield the power of gods and have the ability to create and transform life as we please? And why would we? Because we’d have empathy with the beings we exploit? Why should we? Human-like sentient beings would compare to the overlords as humans compare to bacteria (probably both in the difference in power, as in the difference in sentience). Nobody has empathy with bacteria. We use them as tools, or eradicate them when we don’t like them. There’s neither empathy nor morals involved in that.
Now would it be better not to exist at all compared to an existence as “exploited” plaything of the post-Singularity overlords? How would you measure that? And don’t we all fall prey to biases that overestimate the value of mere existence, no matter how horrible it is? On the other hand, I’ve just today heard about a plant that produces a neurotoxin which has such incredibly painful effects that it makes want both humans and non-human animals to kill themselves – so our biases in favour of survival are not so strong that they cannot be “reasonably” overpowered.
Should we just accept the Singularity Maelstrom as a price for everything that is good and bright in the far future? Would it even be worth to strive for a “higher” culture with effective ethical constraints?
What is the basis of ethics when both mere existence and pleasure will suffer from inflationary effects due to being able to be created at will by technology?