Ventus quote

Date: Mon Feb 11 2002 - 14:13:59 MST

I'm about halfway through reading Ventus, the first novel by Canadian
writer Karl Schroeder, out in paperback. It seems to be well written and
makes a good try at depicting a future in which ordinary human beings,
enhanced demigods, and super-human AIs all live together.

The story takes place on the planet Ventus, where a terraforming
experiment gone wrong has left the Winds, AIs which are practically forces
of nature, in charge of the planet and mostly ignoring the humans they
were created to serve. The entire planet is full of nanotech; every
rock, every tree, even every ripple in the ocean is alive with its own
consciousness, although they don't seem to do anything. They just sit
there going, "I'm a rock!" "I'm a tree!" but most humans can't perceive
the dialog.

Here's a passage where a visitor describes the way life is on most of
the rest of millions of inhabited planets and habitats:

   "There are a million organizing principles in human space.
   None resemble Ventus. Your world is unique, and the records of
   the designs of the Winds were lost in a war centuries ago. Most of
   humanity lives in something known as the Archipelago - an immense
   region whose boundaries are so vague that most of its citizenry
   doesn't even know of its existence."

   "Now you're talking madness," smiled the Queen.

   "Archipelago is the only answer to ruling a population of trillions,
   who own a million different cultures, mores and histories."
   He shrugged. "It is simple: an artificial intelligence - a mechal
   brain, if you will - exists and mediates things. It knows each and
   every citizen personally and orchestrates their meetings with others,
   communications and so on in order to avoid irreconcilable conflict.
   Beyond that, it stays out of sight, for it has no values, no desires
   of its own. It is as if every person had their own guardian spirit,
   and these spirits never warred, but acted in concert to improve
   people's lives."

   "A tyranny of condescension," said Galas.

This is reminiscent of Eliezer's "Friendly AI" scenario, where the AI
acts benevolently to keep things running smoothly. Which is better,
this "tyranny of condescension", or a world in which people are free,
even though they bring harm to others?


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