May 16 2011

Accelerando

Accelerando by Charles Stross is a fantastic book. In Accelerando Stross tackles a whole slew of interesting problems. From what is the “Singularity” to what is the reason for the Fermi paradox, Accelerando abounds with questions and the answers to those questions (within the universe of Accelerando at least.)
The book begins sometime in the fairly near future. We meet Manfred Macx, who is wearing a network, sporting VR shades and throwing off patents to an open source foundation. In other words, he’s an uber-geek. We’ll follow the tribulations of three generations (gen 1 = Man) of the Macx clan as the main protagonists of the story. As we meet Man he is contacted by an AI that wishes to escape Russia and that turns out to be based upon uploaded lobster neurons melded with a primitive networked AI system. Things accelerate from there.
Eventually we will meet Man’s daughter, Amber. Amber is on the run from her domineering mother Pamela (a free-lance IRS agent after Man’s back taxes and Man). Amber seeks her fortune in the moons of Jupiter as a slave to a virtual corporation until she reaches her age of maturity and can get out of Pamela’s reach. Eventually, she sends a party of virtual explorers (including a copy of herself) in quest of an alien router system about three light years away.
There is also Man’s cat Aienko. Aienko is an artificial cat that is continually upgraded throughout the story. This has interesting consequences.
Surrounding the story of the Macx’s is the story of the approaching singularity. The short version of the singularity is the point at which technological progress becomes so advanced that the outcome becomes impossible to predict.
As the compute power available in the solar system continues to expand (that is one metric that the book keeps track of as the story progresses) eventually a tipping point is reached and in order for more growth to occur, the planets of the solar system (inner to outer) nee to be dismantled to form a Matrioshka brain. A Matrioshka brain is essentially what you get when you use all of the available excess matter in a solar system form a vastly interconnected computational network. This device exists as a series of spheres about the sun inhabited by uploaded and AI minds. Eventually these minds are no longer comprehensible to human beings who try to remain identifiably human. A good quote expressing this is:
“The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.” (Eliezer Yudkowsky)
In the book, one answer to the Fermi Paradox is that much of the galaxy is filled with Matrioshka brains. Light-speed delays limit the growth of Matrioshka brain civilizations to their solar system. Basically, if you go very far from the central computing environment, you fall too far behind your peers. Think of it as twitter addiction gone mad. The Matrioshka brain civilizations then become essentially a trap for their evolved consciousnesses.
As I mentioned earlier, there is also an alien wormhole based router network that shows some hints towards other forms of advanced civilizations.
Accelerando is a wild ride full of interlinked concepts. It was a ride that I thoroughly enjoyed.



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Posted May 16, 2011 by user in category "Book review

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