Borg... sounds swedish (Review, Rants, Spoilers and Speculation)

Anders Sandberg (
Fri, 30 May 1997 19:22:44 +0200 (MET DST)

I watched Star Trek: First Contact yesterday, and enjoyed it (despite
the holes in the logic and technobabble - after all, it is Star
Trek). The mood of the film was if not transhumanist at least
humanist; one idea that was repeatedly stressed was the drive to
better oneself - even the Borg claimed they were doing it. While the
real story was about the fight against the Borg, the other plot
(making sure the first warp ship was launched at the right time to
bring about first contact) was fairly well presented and used every
trick in the book to evoke enthusiasm in a sf lover like me.

Anyway, as you might guess I cheered for the Borg during the film :-)
And being a logical kind of person I was somewhat irritated by how
they were treated since they are actually something rather unique: a
truly alien kind of alien in a popular sf universe.

Their problem is that they are almost too good enemies: if the Borg
didn't make obvious mistakes and move slowly so they can easily be
hit (together with saying "Resistance is futile" this forms the
dreaded Dalek Syndrome) they would be practically invincible, which
of course wouldn't go down well with the audience.

This also explains the Borg Queen: imagine that the Collective just
spoke through the nearest borg instead of through a seductive lady
with slight alien queen tendencies; it would simply be too impersonal
and nasty for most viewers to handle, even if it is more logical.

Post hoc rationalizations are quite popular among trekkies, so here
are some of transhumanist relevance:

The idea of a Borg Queen was never explored fully. She explained her
function as "I bring order into chaos". If we see the Collective as a
MIMD supermind, this can actually make sense: ordinary borgs acts as
normal processors, but the Queen acts as a higher order processor
managing information flow and resolving conflicts. She doesn't rule,
rather arbitrate; groups of borgs might develop plans and evaluate
them, she makes a decision when there is a tie between different
subsets. The movie appeared slightly inconsistent about her
uniqueness; on one hand the main characters appeared to believe her
to be unique, but she also laughed at the idea of her having been
destroyed together with the Borg ship where Picard first encountered
as "You humans think so three-dimensionally!". One possible
explanation is that every Borg ship simply has one queen, they are
instances (clones?) of an original queen and can be replaced if
needed. True object re-use.

The Borg Collective represents an extreme evolutionary strategy, that
of turning all non-self into self. Note that they doesn't seem to
change themselves much by assimilating others, which either suggests
that they just overwrite originality with their standard template, or
that the Collective is so large that adding another civilization
doesn't change it much. If the Borg was a bit nicer about it and used
guile, it could probably assimilate more effectively (but that would
make them too subtle villains to be interesting in the series).

Assimilation of others is an evolutionarily stable strategy: a small
subgroup of mutant borgs that doesn't assimilate others will be
assimilated themselves. So this might be one possible future track in
the Convergence Hypothesis described by Nicholas Boström: once a
substantial part of a civilization becomes borg-like, it will
assimilate the rest and a Collective will result.

The Borg are essentially a parasitic form of intelligence, using
other intelligent life to provide raw materials, individuals and
ideas. Their actual physical manifestation doesn't really matter, it
is their basic memes and abilities that define them. Hans Moravec
suggested in Mind Children that we should look out for "civilization
parasites" among messages sent across interstellar space; there might
be memes out there that use intelligent life to spread in more or
less nasty ways. Turning them into Borgs is just one possibility
(this is what the Blight did in AFUTD). In fact, they might be
weapons: Linda Nagata suggests one such ultra-subtle weapon in
_Deception Well_.

An interesting question is if symbiotic forms of intelligence can
exist. If there are enough "hosts", symbiotic intelligences might
integrate themselves into the system and become indispensable. Just
think of the tribbles of Star Trek, or the possibility of us humans
becoming symbionts with our AI systems in order to survive the

This message was brought to you by the Anders Collective.
Resistance is futile, you will be transcended.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y