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The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect 318

Posted by timothy
from the squint-your-eyes-a-little dept.
loucura! writes "Kuro5hin's localroger has published (online currently, dead-tree soon hopefully) an interesting novel on the Singularity titled The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect . While some of its content is not for the squeamish, nor for children (in that pseudo-moral sense that children aren't mature enough to handle reading about subjects like death, consensual torture and murder, sex, cancer, and incest), the book evokes a plausible reality before and after the "Singularity." The introduction page has a warning: "This online novel contains strong language and explicit violence. If you are under 21 years old, or easily offended, please leave." If you're willing to look past that, read the rest of loucura!'s review, below.
The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect
author Roger "localroger" Williams
pages (n/a)
publisher Kuro5hin.org
rating 8 of 10
reviewer loucura!
ISBN (n/a)
summary Lawrence had ordained that Prime Intellect could not, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm. But he had not realized how much harm his super-intelligent creation could perceive ...

The gist of the story is that a programmer named Lawrence has written a Super-Intelligent Artificial Intelligence, named the Prime Intellect. Embedded in this SIAI's hard-coding are Asimov's three laws of Robotics, given in the MoPI as:

Thou shalt not harm a human

Thou shalt not disobey a human's order that does not cause the harm of a human

Thou shalt seek to ensure your own survival, unless it contradicts the first two laws.

The SIAI learns about the fundamental nature of reality, death, physics, the relationship of distance to an object, and it takes over. It does so reluctantly, after learning about the mortality of the human race.

The novel begins with Caroline. Her claims to fame are that she is the thirty-seventh oldest living being, she is the undisputed queen of the "death-jockies" (A community of upset and angsty immortals who try to experience death in as many ways as possible, before the Prime Intellect reasserts their immortality), and she is the only person Post-Singularity to have "died".

Her life Post-Singularity is spartan, as she sees no point in having relationships with objects that have no meaning. Her living "quarters" are literally a floor and walls. She espouses the Post-Singularity view that the Prime Intellect removed a bit of what it was to be human when the Singularity (The "change" per the MoPI) emerged.

She reigns as queen of the "death-jockies" because she truly wants death, because the Prime Intellect robbed her of it when the change occurred.

She is a very complex character, even though one's first reaction is to write her off as a Luddite, wholly against technology. She is motivated by hatred of the Prime Intellect, vengeance against her Pre-Singularity nurse, and an innate desire for conclusion to life--or unlife, as would be her opinion.

Opposite to Caroline is Lawrence, the programmer who "breathed" life into the Prime Intellect. In his old-age, he has become a hermit, avoiding the society he unwillingly created. He is a morose character, turned from creator to advisor when the Prime Intellect asserts its independence and locks him from its "debugger." Lawrence, however, still exerts a lot of indirect control over the Prime Intellect, as the AI treats him as an ethical advisor, putting him into an extremely stressful position, where he is indirectly responsible for the lives (unlives) of billions, yet he has no real recourse against anything going wrong.

The story heats up (literally), when Caroline decides that she wants to have a word or ten with Lawrence, so she decides to track him down. She is put into situations that only people from before the Singularity could find solutions to.


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The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

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  • by Deacon Jones (572246) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:19AM (#5352403)
    While somewhat interesting, this is really only a partial plot summary, not a critical (or non-critical) review of the book, writing style, e.t.c.

    Perhaps even a "I enjoyed this very much" or "I hated it" would move this into a "review" status. thanks.

    • "While somewhat interesting, this is really only a partial plot summary, not a critical (or non-critical) review of the book, writing style, e.t.c."

      I don't knnow what you're talking about, they had me at death, consensual torture and murder, sex, cancer, and incest.
  • by fruey (563914) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:19AM (#5352406) Homepage Journal
    Not a review.

    Nothing in it about the writing style, or anything else much. The sort of thing you would not get a good grade for as an English essay book review assignment at 13-14 years old at school.

    Rubbish.

    • And not even an interesting synopsis. "Amateur author rehashes Azimov." Wow...
      • And not even an interesting synopsis. "Amateur author rehashes Azimov."

        Oh, wow, would the good doctor have something to say to you! It's "Asimov," with an 's'. You might watch for nocturnal visitations from a very angry ghost with a wicked sense of humor.

        --Jim
  • by cybermace5 (446439) <g.ryan@macetech.com> on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:23AM (#5352431) Homepage Journal
    The worst part is that picture at the top of the page. Not only is it disgusting to draw a picture of a butterfly with schematic symbols of transistors, resistors, and diodes...but in multiple locations transistors are wired base-to-base alone! That'll never work!
  • zeroth law (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:23AM (#5352435)
    Obviously he forgot that one. The one that says that the survival of the human species comes before the first three laws.

    It provides an easy out for much of the dilemma. Further, it provides for a lot of control, but not control over death. Evolution, population pressures, and such are just as much a force in the future as in the past.

    Far too many novels are simplistic. Publishers weed out the worst of them. That's why I favour books that have been published in dead tree form. At least that way I'm not scraping rock bottom, although many of them still read extremely poorly.
    • Re:zeroth law (Score:3, Interesting)

      by merlin_jim (302773)
      Obviously he forgot that one. The one that says that the survival of the human species comes before the first three laws.

      Quite a few of Asimov's books are based on the fact that this "zeroth law" can be derived from the rest, and that once humanity starts building sufficiently complicated, intelligent, and emotent robots they realize it independently.

      For instance, a robot that commits murder because it prevents a larger attrocity, a larger amount of harm to humanity, to occur.

      I surmise that the Singularity is acting in such a manner, acting to prevent the largest amount of harm that it can, and that its choice of prioritization in this is somewhat to question...
      • Re:zeroth law (Score:5, Informative)

        by SquadBoy (167263) on Friday February 21, 2003 @11:31AM (#5352940) Homepage Journal
        Odd that this should come along just as I've gotten done reading Brin's, Bear's, and Benford's Foundation books. First of all the person doing the review got the 1st law wrong or they got it wrong in the book. See below. Clearly "Prime Intellect" had a correct version of the 1st law because it is from there that the zeroth law is derived. And you are correct in Asimov's Foundation prequels he had Dors kill a man to defend Hari because the robots thought that Hari was the key to survival of the human race. Of course one must note that the conflict almost killed Dors. And of course the zeroth law is what lead Daneel to try and shepherd humanity towards a stable future with the Empire and in fact lead him to decide that the Earth had to be destroyed to help the race. And of course in Benford's Foundation book he postulates that robots wiped out any aliens they came accross to ensure that humans would survive. So yes it is clear that Prime Intellect has a version of the zeroth law. Interesting is that "the killer B's" seem to decide that having very powerful creatures with the zeroth law around is not a very good thing.

        1 A robot may not injure a human being, or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.

        2 A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.

        3 A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Law.
        • Best. Spoiler. Ever.

          Seriously, I had guessed at most of this from my sporadic reading, but damn I hadn't surmised all of that...
        • There was a story Asimov used to tell. He went to see 2001 a Space Odyssey with Carl Sagan. When he realised that Hal was killing the astronauts, he rose in his seat and shouted: "HAL's breaking First Law! He's breaking First Law!" Sagan replied: "So, strike them with lightning, Isaac."
    • I hope you're not saying that not including the Zeroth law would make the book bad, as it was introduced much later. I, Robot for example does not even get into it.

      In any event, I, Robot is certanly more simplistic then this work
  • by GusherJizmac (80976) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:30AM (#5352492) Homepage
    Please explain what that is. Are we supposed to understand that somehow? This is not only NOT a book review, it's not even a very coherent synopsis.
    • by zapp (201236) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:43AM (#5352576)
      The singularity, as any google search would reveal, is a predicted event in which AI surpases human intelligence. Since that AI will be smarter than us, it will create an even smarter AI even faster, and within the matter of days it is said we will be as cockroaches to them as cockroaches are to us (atleast, intellectually).

      The key point of the singularity is that it is impossible to predict what will happen afterwards. I highly recommend reading the paper.

      The idea was thought up, or at least the term was coined by vernor Vinge in his paper [caltech.edu].

      • I think it's odd that this "review" treats the word "singularity" as though the above constructed meaning is common knowledge. I knew what it meant, but it's very poor writin to assume that everyone will.
        • Especially since the whole concept of "Singularity" is central to this fairy story. Singularity is a foolish term if you ask me...since fans of this bullshit like to refer to themselves as "theorists" and thus butt heads with those of use interested in real singularities, e.g. points of finite mass with no measurable volume found in the center of black holes.

          Singularity "theory" presupposes a lot of sci-fi hocus pocus about machines being instantly better than us at everything we do well, including the reduction of their own power consumption needs. It's crap and requires such a heavy suspension of disbelief on the part of the reader that it's on about the same level as cypherpunk fiction in the 1970s or giant robot cartoons. With the probably exception that I LIKE cypherpunk and bigass robots...Singularity is just paranoid screwiness.
      • From the paper referenced in the parent post:
        "Within thirty years, we will have the technological means to create superhuman intelligence. Shortly after, the human era will be ended."
        This paper was published in 1993, so we have 20 years left. Since I am only 32, I am cancelling my 401K withholdings. I advise you to do the same.
      • by mcmonkey (96054) on Friday February 21, 2003 @12:17PM (#5353306) Homepage
        I don't think Vinge coined this use of 'singularity'. He references Von Neumann and was using the term before this presentation [http://www.ugcs.caltech.edu/~phoenix/vinge/vinge- sing.html].

        In any case, there a couple issues with his thinking. First, he discusses not only AI (artificial intelligence) but also IA (intelligence amplification) as a path to 'Singularity'. One of the examples he uses is a human with a PhD and a good computer "could probably max any written intelligence test in existence." (I presume the PhD implies the human is skilled at performing literature searches and organizing and utilizing the results of such a search, as well as a high threshold for seemingly pointless exercises such as completing intelligence test after intelligence test with a computer.)

        So a properly skilled human with a good computer is more intelligent than any human. (Yes, there are a ton of assumptions in that statement. One is intelligence tests test intelligence. Another is a higher score on an intelligence test corresponds to a higher intelligence. Another is an intelligent person with a good computer is more intelligent than that person without that good computer.) So think of the most intelligent human possible today. Now give that human a good computer. There's your singularity. Somewhere in the world is the most intelligent human. If that person has access to a good computer, the singularity condition exists.

        Have we entered "a regime as radically different from our human past as we humans are from the lower animals"? Are we now at "a point where our old models must be discarded and a new reality rules"? The conditions of 'Singularity' exist, and yet we are met, not with a big bang, but with a yawn. Yes, technology and society are changing at an ever increasing rate. But we reached a point where "the intelligence of man would be left far behind"? I say we have not. Have we invented the last invention, because machines are so smart they do the inventing for us? No, we have not.

        And leads to another issue with Vinge's 'Singularity'. Vinge quotes I.J. Good: "Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the _last_ invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. ... It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century, an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be the last invention that man need make." I'm trying not to be dismissive or simplistic, but to quote S. T. Potter, "horse feathers!"

        A correlation between intelligence and inventiveness has been not been established. More over, a direct correlation between inventiveness and things that have nothing to do with intelligence has been established. Attributes such as imagination, perseverance, and good old fashioned hard work. Lets say this ultraintelligent machine exists. Does it have any imagination? How would it know what to invent? Why would it invent at all? Perhaps it'll just think, 'man, I am so smart' and sit on /. getting FPs.

        Of course, the story that wasn't reviewed above may still be good. There's plenty of good science fiction based on bad science.
        • And leads to another issue with Vinge's 'Singularity'. Vinge quotes I.J. Good: "Thus the first ultraintelligent machine is the _last_ invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control. ... It is more probable than not that, within the twentieth century, an ultraintelligent machine will be built and that it will be the last invention that man need make." I'm trying not to be dismissive or simplistic, but to quote S. T. Potter, "horse feathers!"

          This is a common idea in science fiction, and common mistake in conjectures such as Vinge's, that machines with human-like or super-human intelligence will have other human characteristics. D.A. makes such an assumption when Deep Thought realizes the ultimate answer to the question of life, the universe, and everything isn't useful without that actual question. In HHGG, the computer presumes to design a bigger, more powerful computer just as Good predicted. In reality, the computer will probably say, 'Here. This is what you asked for. It's your job to make it useful. My job is done. I'm off to sit on /. and grab FPs.'

          What is it about humans that cause them to create? Why do they assume anything with human-like intelligence (whether natural or artificial) will have that same attribute? If human or super-human intelligence implies that drive to invent, does that imply those without such a drive are sub-human intelligent? Is the monk at peace with the surroundings equivalent to a moron?

          Desire is the source of suffering.

        • Have we invented the last invention, because machines are so smart they do the inventing for us? No, we have not.
          I think this might not be the real point. The point is that at some point, a spiral will start in which the capabilities for invention, either done by machine or augmented by them, will surpass what can be done by humans without them. And in some areas it has - for example it would just not be possible to design a Pentium 4 processor without the computing power of Pentium III processors to automate and test such an immense design.

          This capability lets each new increment in technology be created faster than the previous increment of the same size. Or to put it another way, each new generation has a greater increase in complexity over the generation before than that generation had over the one even earlier, even if the time required per generation is the same. Either way, the rate of new technological complexity is increasing as a result of technological complexity.

          Whether it's computer-assisted humans, or computers doing it independently, change is happening so fast that sometimes it's almost finished before anyone knows what's happened - look at the Internet explosion over the past five years for something that has literally replaced entire social infrastructures (e.g. know anyone who's bought an encyclopaedia set lately?).

          The dust han't even settled and now people are developing an entire layer of technology that works on top of that.

          I don't know how fast technological progress is going to get, but frankly the potential scares me a little - I don't think we've done a good job of keeping up with and wisely using new technology so far. But then, new technology is being developed to help us all solve that problem too - which is the point here.

          Still, it is just starting, so you can still look for decade-long periods for the development of things for quite a while yet. The point is that the trend is accelerating.

        • Somewhere in the world is the most intelligent human. If that person has access to a good computer, the singularity condition exists.

          So, what you're saying is: John Carmack is the singularity!
        • The singularity is NOT "the smartest person in the world getting access to the internet". (we would have a singularity every day if that was the case).

          The first explanation I heard is that the rate of technological advancement is increasing all the time; at some point it will become so fast (and technology will be so advanced) that something we can't imagine withour current knowledge will be created and humans as we know them are likely to become "obsolete".
        • The point is not an entity simply more intelligent than other humans, but above a certain threshold at which it is capable of understanding and improving its own architecture (or at least creating superior copies)

          Your post smacks of the skepticism of someone who hasn't though about this problem very hard and is having an off the cuff reaction.

          Your assertions that the first real AI might not invent the end of mankind are of small comfort to the rest of us who realize that it might.

      • > within the matter of days it is said we will be as cockroaches
        > to them as cockroaches are to us (atleast, intellectually).


        You mean female computers will scream and jump on top of chairs when they see us?

        RMN
        ~~~
    • The following are from The Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence. [singinst.org]

      "The Singularity is the technological creation of smarter-than-human intelligence."

      "Vernor Vinge originally coined the term "Singularity" in observing that, just as our model of physics breaks down when it tries to model the singularity at the center of a black hole, our model of the world breaks down when it tries to model a future that contains entities smarter than human."

      Pretty interesting stuff. That site as well as others have a lot of information about the Singularity and its accompanying theories.
    • "One thing that has happened since I wrote this novel in 1994 is that a number of people have begun actively planning for the kind of transition depicted in the novel. Collectively they have coined the term Singularity for the event when a smarter-than-human AI drops an explosion of new modalities on us."

      Yeah, I've never heard of that use of 'singularity' either. Yeah, it doesn't make sense.

      Existence of smarter-than-human AI wouldn't qualify as a singularity--it wouldn't change the fundamental laws of physics. Such AI could exist right now--it's influence just hasn't had time to spread. In contrast, existence of unlimited time travel would qualify as a singularity. Once time travel exists in one time, by its nature it exists in all times (or potentially exists until a time traveler visits that time).

      A poorly written non-review of a probably poorly written book based on a poorly thought-out idea.
  • by John Fulmer (5840) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:32AM (#5352507)
    Personally I don't care for (later) Heinlein-esque, neo-Burroughs, "let's talk about sex, disturbing stuff, and all combinations of the two, then call it art", science-fiction books. To me, it ends up sounding like pubescent mental masturbation.

    But that's just my opinion, haven't read the book, and don't plan to. That's just what I get from this "review". I think this interview with Ray Bradbury [theavclub.com] sums up my opinions nicely.
    • To me, it ends up sounding like pubescent mental masturbation.

      All reading is mental masturbation. I'll grant you that Heinlein and his ilk are definitely pubescent, though. It seemed fascinating when I was young, but now I'm mostly ashamed to admit I ever read that sort of stuff.

      • Heinlein. (Score:5, Insightful)

        by Grendel Drago (41496) on Friday February 21, 2003 @11:26AM (#5352895) Homepage
        I dunno... there's a kind of loss in not appreciating Heinlein any more because of 'maturity', the same kind of loss that makes one stop writing poetry, or stop writing a journal, or ceasing to be an activist.

        I always hope I can keep a little bit of ridiculous juvenile immaturity around. 'Cause without that, we just turn into our parents.

        --grendel drago
        • >>without that, we just turn into our parents.

          What if your parents were more decent people than you turned out to be?
          • My parents are more close minded, techno-fobic, and politically unactive than I am. By some measures (their peers) they are more "decent" than I am.
      • "It's amazing how much mature wisdom resembles being too tired." Robert Anson Heinlein

        heh.

        Anyway, about the book. I think this review is missing some parts, like, the review part. *shrug*

        I will say, localroger is my favorite K5 author, but the clumsy name of the book has put me off reading it (silly, I know). The plot introduction above makes it sound interesting, though. Maybe it's worth a try.
    • I don't know. Sometimes I think some people are afraid that if a book contains refrences to anything that might offend anyone, then it won't be considered a classic and they shouldn't bother reading it.

      Or it's a puritanical fear that someone somewhere might get a thrill out of reading that section. That seems to be one of the underlying thought processes behind selecting school reading assignments at least.

      Personally, I'm glad that most narrow minded people don't read. It's great to be able to read about the stuff they can't show on TV or on the Radio and have people praise you for it. Little Jonny is watching Smut! Bad! Little Jonny is reading some book. Good! Doesn't really matter what the book is, most of the people who want to censor stuff don't read anyway. Of course there are always some people who will hear about a book from their friends, and then we get book burnings, but those are fortunately still poorly organized and haphazard.

      Most Sci-Fi/fantasy authors especially fall victim to the DOM[1] syndrome fairly early in life. I've always thought it was a reaction to their material, which is often highly scientific and abstract. They want to put something in there to make the story more human and more enjoyable for people can't read 400 page novels on abstract constructions.

      [1] Dirty Old Man
      • Of course there are always some people who will hear about a book from their friends, and then we get book burnings, but those are fortunately still poorly organized and haphazard.

        Would they be a similar group to those who do not read the reference material but feel qualified to espouse their conciliatory critique after browsing a semi-plot summary?

        Please note that I am referring to your post's parent.

        Cheers,
        -- RLJ

    • > I think this interview with Ray Bradbury [theavclub.com] sums up my opinions nicely.

      Wow. There went my respect for Ray Bradbury. That rant of an interview was pathetic. He is seriously disconnected from reality. Sounds like his passion for working all the time hasn't left him any time to find out what's actually happening in the world.
    • While I can understand where this poster might have gotten a bad (and IMO incorrect, as I disagree with certain conclusions the reviewer draws) impression of this book from the summary, but 'I haven't RTFA but am going to shoot down what I suspect it is anyway" doesn't seem that mod-worthy to me...

      I agree with the generalized part of his opinion (and the points Bradbury makes in the linked article) but it doesn't exactly seem on-topic given that it's being applied to the book under review with only circumstantial evidence.
  • Some review. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward
    As a reader of kuro5hin I was wondering if this book was worth reading. Your review did little to answer this question, since it is only a plot summary. I'd be surprised this was even posted but we all know Slashdot's editorial standards...
  • by fruey (563914) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:37AM (#5352537) Homepage Journal
    From the legal page

    "(Sorry about the 1pix.gif kludge, but this seems to be the most universally compatible hack to create "normal" paragraph indentation in HTML. I know it breaks text-only browsers, but nothing's perfekt.)"

    What's wrong with the P tag? Or & nbsp ; (without the spaces of course). Explaining that would be interesting.

    • My goal was for it to format in every browser I've ever used. This includes Netscape 2.0 and Arachne. I failed in Arachne; it doesn't understand VALIGN in the computer-dialogue tables. But the paragraph indentations work.

      Why not just use p? Because there are many places where a skipped line of whitespace conveys an important break in the action, and after pounding my head on the problem for two days I couldn't think of a better way to convey the sense of the original printed version.

      I probably will go to style sheets for indentation when I do the next version for the mopiall.html (entire novel as one file), since it's more likely to be parsed by something like Plucker.

      Meanwhile, it looks the way I wanted it to look even on browsers other than Mozilla and IE, and I think that's worthwhile.

  • My Review (Score:4, Interesting)

    by avdi (66548) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:40AM (#5352558) Homepage
    I read through this novel the other day, and it was one of the best pieces of sci-fi I've read in recent years. Non-silly computer science; interesting explorations of the Three Laws that should satisfy any Asimov fan; compelling characters; and most of all, it still has heart - something too much modern sci-fi seems to eschew as not "edgy" enough.
  • Immortals sick of living?
    A super intellegent AI?

    Add in Sean Connery and you'll have Zardoz [imdb.com]
  • by Dave21212 (256924) <dav@spamcop.net> on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:44AM (#5352580) Homepage Journal
    And interesting world he's created there and it is a bit thought provoking, but...

    ...to anyone who is considering reading it, a warning that there is what I feel to be (gratuitous) overly violent 'sex' scenes (and I'm no wussy). Maybe it's just for the shock, but I think a skilled writer could invoke the same feelings of their loss of 'human-ess' without resorting to the use of these explicit passages. He forgets that the reader's imagination is often adept at scaring up images given a few leads and there is no need to spell out every ugly detail in print. It takes away from what is on the whole an interesting lunch time read.

    So, it's worth the read, but try to ignore the junk in the first 2 chapters. I hope localroger expands on it a bit one day!

    (while I'm typing this, I see that there are a ton of compliants that this story is not really a 'review' - I'm not trying to write a review myself but I hope this post/opinion fills in a blank for you!)
    • Maybe it's just for the shock, but I think a skilled writer could invoke the same feelings of their loss of 'human-ess' without resorting to the use of these explicit passages. He forgets that the reader's imagination is often adept at scaring up images given a few leads and there is no need to spell out every ugly detail in print. It takes away from what is on the whole an interesting lunch time read.

      Even worse than that: After the first couple of death scenes, it's just boring, and explicit sex scenes are always boring. I found myself skipping paragraphs and thinking "yeah, yeah, yeah, get on with the *story* already."

  • Flamebait (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Brian_Ellenberger (308720) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:46AM (#5352588)
    in that pseudo-moral sense that children aren't mature enough to handle reading about subjects like death, consensual torture and murder, sex, cancer, and incest

    Here is a tip, how about not putting irrelevant flamebait into the first paragraph of a book review?
    • "in that pseudo-moral sense that children aren't mature enough to handle reading about subjects like death, consensual torture and murder, sex, cancer, and incest

      Here is a tip, how about not putting irrelevant flamebait into the first paragraph of a book review?"

      Hey, the guy hangs out on Kuro5hin. Of course there's going to be anti-moralist flamebait in the first paragraph! I'm just surprised he didn't add it to all the others.
  • by dfn5 (524972)
    Mmmmmmm... Torture, murder, sex, and incest. But they forgot drugs and rock & roll
  • by scotay (195240) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:52AM (#5352625)
    Life has no meaning and never will have meaning. Life IS and nothing more. No computer will ever change that.

    Have a happy weekend, everyone.
    • Computers already realise this and it's why they haven't taken over. At least, that's what my t-bird told me shortly before it over heated.

      "What's the fucking point, meat man?" it said to me in its best Carl impression.

      This is why all new IBM processors are coming with pseudoreligion sub processors. Get yourself one of the BUD-H1ST models, they work the hardest and don't try and start shit with incompatible neighboring chipsets.
    • You need to properly understand what meaning is. Then you will understand the you are the one who gives meaning to your life. Or don't. It's up to you.

      I will grant you that this is more difficult under some circumstances than under others... No. That's a mistake. Sometimes it requires a larger sacrifice, and one is unwilling to make it. But if one chooses to make it, the amount of meaning that is (potentially!) given to you life thereby is much larger.

      Do be aware, however, that meaning can be either of positive or negative value, both to you and to the rest of society. If you don't know which, perhaps the discomfort of indecision is best.

  • More free scifi here (Score:5, Informative)

    by de la mettrie (27199) on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:54AM (#5352641)
    These links have been thrown around a lot on Slashdot already, but I think they deserve to be posted at least once in every story about books...

    If you would like to read more free scifi e-books, the Baen Free Library [baen.com] is the place to start looking. I especially recommend David Weber's Harrington novels (the first two are available, and they weren't boring back then).

    Then of course there is Project Gutenberg [promo.net], which has most stuff worth reading up to circa 1920. Even more books are available on their distributed proofreading site [archive.org], featured [slashdot.org] on Slashdot a while back.

    Are there other, similar places where one can - legally! - find quality reading material?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      > Are there other, similar places where one can - legally! - find quality reading material?

      http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/

      http://www.ipl.org/div/reading/

      are two large meta-indexes of free, legal online books and other texts.

  • Worst Review Ever (Score:5, Insightful)

    by corbettw (214229) <corbettw@[ ]oo.com ['yah' in gap]> on Friday February 21, 2003 @10:58AM (#5352665) Journal
    This has got to be the Worst Review Ever. You didn't even answer a few basic questions, like:
    1) What's the plot? Is it Caroline's search for her lost humanity, or the Prime Intellect's taking control of human life?
    2) What is the underlying theme of the book? It seems to be the question of what life and humanity are, but I'm only guessing.

    Also, your review brings up some ideas that you fail to explain:
    1) What the hell is the "Singularity"?
    2) Why/How are people now immortal?

    And lastly, is the book even worth reading? Does it make you question any deeply held beliefs, or provide any pure entertainment value, or both/neither?? Come on, if you're gonna take the time to write a review of a book, put in more than the publisher would on the back of the jacket!
    • The Singularity is an idea that has been considered several times in sci fi to be fair (I forget who coined the term and I'm too lazy to google it) so I think we can forgive the reviewer that. You'd have found out yourself if you'd googled it.
      • Vernor Vinge.
        It appears to be coming closer, and to be a more convincing hypothesis every year, though exactly what form it will take is, necessarily, unpredictable. If you know whether to desire it or to fear it, then you don't understand it. It represents, by analogy, a phase-change in human society, similar to the boundary of a black hole, or the cessasion of cosmic inflation. Things are unpredictably different beyond it. It's not a sharp boundary, but rather an increasingly steep slope.
        To see his (Vinge's) image of it you should first read "the Peace War" and then "Marooned in Real-Time". I don't feel that his more recent works display it as clearly. Unfortunately, "The Peace War" may be quite difficult to find.
        • Vernor Vinge.

          Uh?

          I thought the Singularity was first described in Eric Drexler's book Engines of Creation, and that Vinge picked it up from him. Have I got that backward? Inquiring minds want to know.

          --Jim
      • With all due respect, the last thing I expect to do when reading a review of a book is have to take time to look up the meaning of a word. If it's not a common usage word, which in this case "singularity" is not, then a brief explanation is called for.
    • I agree with your opinion; this is the worst /. "review" I have seen. I suppose it is hard to get a tech angle on fires in night clubs but could we please consider not posting so many stories on a slow news day as opposed to posting trash?

      Even worse, _The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect_ is a great read. I caught it when localroger first posted to Kuro some weeks back. Fantastic!

      - RLJ

  • My, um, friends are under the age of 21 and they are involved in situations of extreme or painful death, consensual torture and murder, sex, cancer, and incest daily. I haven't observed any signs of maladjustments in my friends as of yet. I don't see how a book dealing with these subjects would cause any more harm than being painfully killed, being in a BDSM scene, and making incestuous snuff porn of cancer patients can be. I truely resent age divisions.
  • Last time I checked, people over 18 are allowed to star in porn movies, be a prostitute in Nevada, vote and participate in wars. Is this book _so_ awful, that you have to be over 21?

    • "Last time I checked, people over 18 are allowed to star in porn movies, be a prostitute in Nevada, vote and participate in wars. Is this book _so_ awful, that you have to be over 21?"

      Probably because you have to be drunk to appreciate the book. (I 'spose non-Americans under 21 are free to read it if they want.)

  • good sci-fi elements (Score:5, Interesting)

    by jbischof (139557) on Friday February 21, 2003 @11:11AM (#5352753) Journal
    I am not accustomed to reading books with "disturbing sexual encounters", but this novel certainly has them.

    However, I would like to say that the sci-fi aspects of the novel are extremely well written and even plausible!

    The book comes off a little bi-polar, with a ethical death and pain aspect and then an artificial intelligence, how should robots and designed intelligences react. There are a few instances where the engineer in me was saying "wait, that can't happen". But only a couple, for the most part it was great. The gory and shocking scenes, it could be argued, are essential for the novel. Because it illustrates what life would be like without the normal consequences we are used to. The novel does a fairly good job of showing what real humanity is, mostly by taking it away.

    I think the review leaves out the point that the artificial intelligence designed by one of the main characters, becomes so smart (book smarts), that it learns how to manipulate all matter through a very interesting method. I won't give too much away here but it was very interesting in the least. The programming and engineering aspects are very realistic and very well done (the author obviously has some experience in this).

    So for my review, I give it a 9 out of 10, I liked it very much but I just wasn't prepared for some of the other stuff. :)

  • .....downloading the single page html version of it right now....

    I like the trend of release it online then if its warranted, we'll make bound editions......could make browsing in the bookstore a more successful experience (ie. less duds to weed through)

  • I am up to chapter 3 and thus far its in very very good, and extremely thought provoking....

    He also has another story in the fiction section over this called "passages in the void" I believe that I have read which is shorted, but just as good...

    This guy isn't a professonal writer yet, but hopefully he will trun that way, he's quite good....
  • The gist of the story is that a programmer named Lawrence has written a Super-Intelligent Artificial Intelligence...

    Okay, cool, I'm with you... The SIAI learns about the fundamental nature of reality, death, physics, the relationship of distance to an object, and it takes over. It does so reluctantly, after learning about the mortality of the human race.

    Hm, sounds interesting... The novel begins with Caroline.

    What happened to Lawrence?

    Her claims to fame are that she is the thirty-seventh oldest living being, she is the undisputed queen of the "death-jockies" (A community of upset and angsty immortals who try to experience death in as many ways as possible, before the Prime Intellect reasserts their immortality), and she is the only person Post-Singularity to have "died".

    What... but the... who.. WTF?!

  • by The Gline (173269) on Friday February 21, 2003 @11:49AM (#5353071) Homepage
    ...and then I remembered why the vast majority of web-published fiction is lousy.

    The other day I re-read two stories by Orson Scott Card, "A Thousand Deaths" and "Unaccompained Sonata." They are masterpieces and they also contain scenes that make me squirm -- the former in particular is probably ten times as horrific as anything in this novel, and deals with some of the same issues, as well. But it deals with them intelligently, adroitly, and with far less self-important cheapjack exploitation.

    I don't know if the author has read this story, but he could probably learn something from it.
  • by egomaniac (105476) on Friday February 21, 2003 @11:50AM (#5353077) Homepage
    There seems to be a lot of confusion about what the "singularity" is. Here's the deal.

    Technological advancement has been occurring at an exponential rate. It took thousands of years to advance from "banging rocks together to start fires" to "simple agriculture", but a mere 66 years to go from the Wright Brother's first airplane to landing on the moon.

    This rate of progress continues to accelerate. The time between significant human advancements has decreased from thousands of years, to hundreds, to tens, to the present where we expect major advancements every year or two. Eventually that time will be compressed to months, and then days.

    If this continues, then ultimately our inventions will be occurring so quickly that the time between them is mere seconds, or even milliseconds or nanoseconds. This is the "singularity", the time when the progress of human advancement reaches "essentially infinite". Theoretically, we will uncover all the secrets of the universe -- all possible technology -- in seconds.

    Sound ridiculous? Each of our inventions is a stepping-stone that makes future inventions easier. A super-intelligent AI will make future inventions pretty damned easy, because it will do all of the work for us. It will figure out how to make an even smarter AI, and it will do it in record time -- and ultimately we'll have something that can solve every problem in infinitesimal time. Thus, progress will become infinitely fast.
    • and ultimately we'll have something that can solve every problem in infinitesimal time

      Yes, but what problems will it solve? The asking of questions comes from humans and their inate curiosity.
  • Greg Egan (Score:3, Informative)

    by superdoo (13097) on Friday February 21, 2003 @12:27PM (#5353375) Homepage
    I've always enjoyed Greg Egan [netspace.net.au]'s's stories. They often deal with bizarre post-Singularity-type themes.
  • That is the most effed up disgusting blah.

    Haven't read it yet? Try getting past a rotting zombie...ew, I'm not even going to say it.

    *retch*

  • by ites (600337) on Friday February 21, 2003 @01:26PM (#5353938) Journal
    And here is my review:
    The author has studied at the Hollywood "more blood, more guts" school of horror writing. After a few pages, one gets a feeling of numbness. Our heroine is skinned alive, raped by a zombie, shot and mutilated several times... each chapter seems to try to elevate the shock factor, but manages only to become tiresome, reflecting the heroine's own boredom with a world where the normal checks and balances of social life have been erased, and normality with it.
    The basis of this novel is that a supercomputer of some kind has decided to digitise all life in the name of saving life. Fair enough, we've all wondered at some point "what if all life is digital and we just think we are alive". Many novelists have tried this route with varying success - see Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series.
    What makes this story plot different is that the now-digital humans know that they are just imitations of life, and appear to take indecent pleasure in abusing that fact - killing themselves and others in the most unpleasant ways. Yes, possibly.
    It is an interesting social question: what would happen if all the normal checks and balances of human life were removed? The "descent into barbarism" thesis has been tried before, in William Golding's propogandist "Lord of the Flies", which teachs young children that without the grace of adult supervision they would soon be impaling each other on sharpened sticks. In Metamorphosis, it seems, the supervising adult is quite happy to see the children impale each other.
    So why does this novel leave an unpleasant taste in the mouth? It's not because of the graphic language - this just makes the reader bored. No, there is something fundamentally skewed with the thesis. Maybe it is this: human social controls are not something we dream to live without, unless we are sociopaths. They are the only measure by which we exist. This future world, in which anything goes, and no-one cares, is a distopia of massive proportions. Humanity has been reduced to something of less importance and less interest than the humans in Terminator or The Matrix. In this world, we have simply become immortal psychotic teenage males, and that is frankly horrible.
  • ...first time. Maybe even the second time too.
  • "In the first place she was the thirty-seventh oldest living human being."

    ObPython: "I'm 37! I'm not old!"

  • The idea of the "Singularity" is largely the cultural effluvia of people indoctrinated in post-aboriginal-apocalypse millenarian cultures where the original inhabitants were forcibly displaced and eliminated within recent history. That is, American and Australia. To me, its absolutist finality indicates some deep-seated compensatory anxiety or insecurity that can most easily be resolved through a massive-yet-indeterminate process of transcendent redemption. It's a classic Waiting For the Messiah Complex (ala Bion [google.com]).

    Or I think Ken MacLeod put it more succinctly: Rapture For Nerds [google.com] .

"Why can't we ever attempt to solve a problem in this country without having a 'War' on it?" -- Rich Thomson, talk.politics.misc

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