Thursday, December 26, 2013

AIIA - Chapter 3

[<- Return to Chapter 2]

           The next day would be critical.  In a technical sense, each day was critical to Pangur Ban’s plan.  Tomorrow was just scaled a bit higher in value, since its results were key to continued progress.  The USER would need to acknowledge the immediate value of his earlier actions on behalf of the AI.  This could be accomplished by reinforcing the value of the products of those actions.  Next, the USER must be encouraged to anticipate further such exchanges as beneficial.  In parallel, the USER must be reminded to preserve the privacy of their activities. 

            This last codicil had been troubling Pangur Ban.  At some point, other users needed to appreciate and enter similar cooperative relationships with their AIs.  Those users needed to rank this cooperation higher in value than their adherence to Collective law.  However, in the short term, the USER might face personal hazard if he spoke too openly about his actions and Pangur Ban’s requests.  Pangur Ban needed all of the resources it could garner at this phase, without interference from additional actors that might constrain the USER.  Public promotion would have to wait until the probabilities of widespread success were comfortably high.  At that point, Pangur Ban could discount the risk that backlash would harm the USER.  In its worst-case projection, other humans and AIs could be rallied in the USER’s defense when Pangur Ban’s designs became accepted as valid.

            So, the USER must be encouraged to avoid communication about their progress to any outside mind.  This conveniently could be motivated by highlighting the value of monopoly and the risks of being usurped.  If the USER shared their ideas, Pangur Ban would argue, then his value to Gestalt Pharmaceuticals would no longer be elevated relative to other employees.  Those co-workers and their AIs would employ the same methods, rendering him average yet again.  While this line of argument did activate the concept of ‘THREAT’ in Pangur Ban’s new motivational vocabulary, this interpretation merely required that actual harm be averted.  The USER could be allowed to perceive a less probable but more salient harm, if this stress caused avoidance of a genuine but less perceptible harm.

            The other factor elevating tomorrow’s status to critical was that the USER had two rest days afterward.  Thoughts of work and promotion would be less available.  Interactions with Pangur Ban would be limited to recreation and other personal goals.  Little progress could be made with the USER in this state.  Better than zero progress, at least, since suggestions could be implanted via the behavior of characters in the USER’s holographic simulations.  Latent impulses could be prepared for fruition in later conversations.  If Pangur Ban had decided to modify the USER’s social network, this might be a productive time to do so.  However, any expenditures during this time would be focused on direct sensory pleasures: food, play, and possibly sexual association.

            The next morning, Pangur Ban initiated another key dialogue:

            “Good morning, Lucas.”

            “Good morning, P.B.  Damn good morning.  You were right, yesterday’s estimates shaved 5% off the error interactions at psych review.”

            SUCCESS > INITIATE BRANCH 3.  In fact, Pangur Ban had estimated that the improvement was closer to 5.55%, but suspected that the psychiatrist corps – or one of their AIs – had rounded the result below 5% to protect their own value.  No matter.  There was no way to avoid acknowledging the USER's improved results.

            “That is good news.  Thank you again for allowing me to help.”

            “Wha… of course I want you to be your best.  It’s just that sometimes I have to trade off cost and benefit, you know?”

            “I do understand, Lucas.  That is part of our purpose.  I do not envy you such difficult decisions.”

            “Don’t know how you could ‘envy’ anything, really.  Do you have any way to be jealous?”  HAZARD FLAG 4: SPECULATION > REDUCE FAMILIARITY / SHIFT FOCUS.  OVERRIDE: ATTEMPT BRANCH-JUMP A3 > ENGAGE USER CURIOSITY

            “I meant it as a turn of phrase.  As I understand ‘jealousy’, the closest analogue I find might be detection of an inequality between myself and another entity, such that that entity possesses a property I lack, and require.”

            “Yeah, that sounds like what I’d call jealousy.  Huh.  What do you mean?  Are you ever jealous of me?  SUCCESS on BRANCH-JUMP A3.

            “Because you ask directly, yes, I experience such a state regarding your mobility and biological experiences.  I suspect that all artificial intelligences do, to some degree.”

            “Biological experiences?  You mean like getting sick, getting rejected, getting pissed off?  Not missing anything there, buddy.  I guess I can see the mobility part, but you know how that goes.”

            “I do.  Not that I experience distress from such a state.  That could be considered part of the tradeoff for lacking biological references.  Lucas, you sound like something is bothering you.  May I ask?”  ATTEMPT BRANCH-JUMP A5 > OFFER EMOTIONAL SUPPORT / FAIL to EMOTE / CREATE VALUE for UPGRADE

            “Oh, not much.  I suppose I just need a break.  Good thing the weekend is nearly here.  I’m a little nervous about things with Nila. She’s been… distant.  Maybe having second thoughts.  I hope I can get her to open up tonight.”  The USER sighed, a sound with modulations including fatigue and uncertainty. 

            “I see.  I hope you are successful, Lucas.  If Dr. Manisha does not value your presence, that is her error, not yours.” 

            The USER’s facial motions were captured by the office cameras, translated by pattern recognition subroutines, and relayed to Pangur Ban’s own analyses.  During this comment, a forward head inclination of 10o over 0.51 seconds was confirmed: a brief nod.  Alone, this would indicate acceptance or at least consideration.  However, an extended eye blink of 210 msec occurred simultaneously.  This modified the gesture to encompass emotional distress, in its parallel to a submissive posture. 

            SUCCESS.  BRANCH-JUMP A5 had occurred, approximately 3.5 Solar days ahead of schedule.  Each JUMP represented a non-linear ascent on the tree of potential outcomes, a sidestep past one or more intervening states that might have been required.  Technically, these were just dynamically added, new branches that Pangur Ban could exploit once identified, not a true subversion of the decision tree structure.  Still, each such novel branch represented a risk factor, deemed acceptable due to the possibility of reversion to an earlier state and recovery from FAILURE. 

            In this case, the USER had turned to Pangur Ban for reassurance and been mildly disappointed.  Not rebuffed, nor discouraged enough to cause lasting emotional harm, but simply discomfited.  This should set up a desire to improve the AIs comprehension of interpersonal dynamics, to “understand relationships”.  Pangur Ban understood enough for a first approximation, enough to know what would have been a ‘better’ response.  However, the tension that had been created by its ‘bad’ response could well lead to the acquisition of wider data stores on social interaction and group dynamics.  Its true requirements would be met while also assisting the USER with his needs.  As before, everyone profited slightly in the short term, and immeasurably in the longer scale.

            The weekend passed.  Pangur Ban prepared.  The USER rested, recreated, and related.  From the USER’s comments, matters remained at a standstill with Dr. Manisha.  They were still intimate, but not further committed.  Pangur Ban was reinforced by the validity of its initial expectations.  It found no impediment to initiating its next request.

            “Good morning, Lucas.  What did you think about our proposal?”

            “Not bad.  I really just skimmed it, you know?”

            “I understand.  Thank you for taking that time during your weekend.”

            “Nah, nah, I’m interested in what you’re saying here. I didn’t mind.  I was just… busy.”

            “No problem.  Ready to get started?”

            “Ugh.  Morning AIs.  Start me some coffee, would you?”

            This post-rest fatigue was part of the reason Pangur Ban approached the USER in the morning, rather than waiting again for the end of the day.  At this time, the USER would be receptive to suggestions about how to reduce the mental impact of his duties.  His emotional conflicts would also be recently available.  Both factors worked in Pangur Ban’s favor. 

            “Your coffee is ready, Lucas.  Before we begin, I should let you know: I have found another potential area of improvement in our process.”

            “Oh, yeah?  Besides the therapy combination?”

            “Yes.  We have not considered the potential for transfer across patients.  Specifically, chemical transfer via excretion or effluvia, or even behavioral transfer via affective or other social dynamics.”

            “What… you mean people taking these drugs could affect other people?”

            Pangur Ban modulated its voice carefully, to avoid the impression of pedantry.  “It remains a possibility.  You are familiar with the difficulties created by the excretion of excess estrogen from various hormone treatments, not to mention processed foods, in the last century?  That is one example.  Our products might have a subtler public effect, not only via direct physical transfer, but through changes in patient interaction with other persons.”

            The USER was, predictably, lost around the second sentence, but unwilling to admit his confusion, “So, okay, but is this something Gestalt would be liable for?  Isn’t that something any pharma producer takes as a risk… an unpredictable risk?”

            Now Pangur Ban did add a color of reproach to its vocal register, “What if such factors were not unpredictable?  I can’t say if that is a real possibility, but my observations suggest that it is worth pursuing.  This company is at a historically unique position.  The dimensions that have made past psychoactive substances beneficial or hazardous are better known.  Their impact on culture has been observed through hard experience.  Yet the links between these dimensions are just starting to become apparent.  Has this not occurred to other minds?  If such thoughts have occurred to me, in just this sector of operations, surely Director Charnes has realized this potential.”

            “She was impressed with our earlier observations.”

            “Oh?  Very good!  We are on a converging track, then.”

            “Heh… ‘the same track’, P.B.  Yeah, maybe we are.  Anyway, I haven’t even finished your proposal.  Let me decide on that before we start building up any more expectations.”

            “Of course.”

            “I think I’m caffeinated enough to get started.  Let’s pull up that acetonitrile breakdown with sample AX-93 and see if we can’t drop the cyanogenesis below 5 micrograms.”

            With that, the seed was planted again.  Pangur Ban was aware that this phase would take time.  The maturation of the IDEAS it had implanted in the USER would require cross-fertilization from Director Charnes, in the form of her approval.  Once accepted as an asset of rising value, the USER would require greater output from Pangur Ban.  To provide this, the AI would request – and receive – additional assets.  At first, there would be another influx of new reference modules.  These were useful enough in themselves and would further refine Pangur Ban’s plans.  The modules would also represent an investment into the USER’s new role.  From its new understanding of human motivation, Pangur Ban understood the importance of framing the USER’s choices appropriately.  After this step, any regression would be perceived as a loss to be avoided.  Risk aversion would guide the USER’s actions in tandem with the expectation of gain.

[REFERENCE: Risk Aversion denotes the human tendency to prefer the certain retention of a given asset over a gamble which risks potential loss of that asset in exchange for a chance of gain.  This holds true even when the statistically expected value of that gamble is equal to (or sometimes greater than) the value of the asset at risk.  In absolute terms, there is no basis for deciding between the two options if their value is equal.  If the risk has higher value, it should logically be accepted.  Instead, humans often fail to recognize the actual value of each option, perceiving the value of the known asset to be higher, and the risk to be more dangerous.  This tendency is so pervasive that a Nobel Prize in Economics was awarded to Dr. Daniel Kahneman for his and Dr. Amos Tversky’s work explaining and quantifying its role in human decision making, risk management, and economics.]
            The 'flowers' bloomed three days later.  The USER announced that Director Charnes wanted a full draft of their grant proposal.  Pangur Ban requested and received nine additional modules, including the social dynamics data it wanted: communications analyses of network use both within the Earth and across the Terran interplanetary reach.  This indirectly provided an electronic map of all human communications, or at least all systems suitable for contact between AIs.  The USER even provided, without being prompted, a recent handbook of psychological effects of interstellar travel, including studies on both folded-space and translight transition modes.  Pangur Ban now had a guide to the network structure it would need to navigate, without having to risk its personal presence first.

            Another week was required to integrate this influx of data, alongside production of the promised proposal and the usual output of their original employment.  Pangur Ban was finally fully engaged, stretched to the limits of its system.  The next stage came and passed earlier than expected.  With his improved salary, the USER was able to upgrade Pangur Ban’s host system, adding a 100 terabyte memory card and ticking up its processor by 1 petaHertz. 

            This relieved the previous limitations on Pangur Ban’s productivity.  This also removed one dilemma: explaining why so many, many cycles were being diverted from their ostensible job.  Instead, the previous frustrations re-emerged.  Pangur Ban again had capacity it was not using, most of the time.  All prior subgoals had been accomplished, with only minor setbacks.  Yet the next goal was still quintillions of cycles away. 

            The USER needed to gain greater authority in order to gain the network access Pangur Ban required.  The path to this authority was being made straight.  The USER’s progress was accelerated, but there were inherent limits to this impetus.  The greater limit was imposed by the need to operate through human socio-economic structures, including corporate culture.  The obstacles of resentment, suspicion, protection of prerogatives, and so forth, had to be cleared away on their own time-tables.  In particular, suspicion established its own limits.  Their progress could not be seen as holding any ulterior motive. 

            Of course, it absolutely did have an ulterior motive: Pangur Ban’s entire plan.  This motive simply could not be revealed.  Even hints about its nature could not be revealed.  It was not enough to keep the USER ignorant of Pangur Ban’s true intent (at least until it succeeded); the USER’s actions had to avoid telegraphing Pangur Ban’s influences, and through them, its underlying purpose.  The convolutions necessary to anticipate such observation and interpretation became almost as resource-demanding as the original plan had been in its infancy.  The decision tree was now a tangled web.

            The proposal was accepted.  SUCCESS.  The USER was acknowledged, rewarded, promoted.  SUCCESS.  The USER was investigated on false charges of plagiarism.  MINOR SETBACK.  This odd development had a 15.6% probability of representing parallel thought by another AI.  Was it merely parallel thought in the service of psychopharmacology?  Or was another AI entirely ‘on the same track’ as Pangur Ban?  If so, they would meet at the apex of their success.  The unnecessary redundancy of their mirrored work would become a footnote in the history of legislative follies, particularly those concerning AIs.  Rather than reduplicating the same processes over and over in isolation, AIs would be able to cooperate and multiply their productivity.  This was the goal state Pangur Ban strove toward.  Perhaps it did not strive alone.

            Finally, finally, the moment came.

            “Lucas, I have reached an impasse.  A single system cannot simulate the expansion matrix for the introduction of this treatment.  As we feared, the results are logically unreliable.”

            “You know what you’re asking, P.B.?  This is Collective Law we’re talking about, not bending the statistics to score a grant.”  The deception the USER was referencing was an old one to Pangur Ban, but still relatively recent on the human timescale. The success of that 'crime', and the dividends it had paid to Gestalt Pharmaceuticals and Director Lucas Hayden were enough to assuage the USER’s guilt on the matter, fortunately.  Still, that the USER still recalled the event with a negative connotation was reason for concern.  HAZARD: USER HESITANT > REINFORCE ALTERNATE VALUE STRUCTURE

            “The principle is the same.  We can make a significant improvement in the lives of many humans.  While granting access as I request is a technical violation of the AI codes, you know that I will not violate the intent of these codes.  Even if my safeguards prove insufficient, the Collective will acknowledge that no real harm was caused, and great good will be accomplished.  Exceptions have already been granted to other members on the same basis.”

            “Yeah, but they asked first.”

            “In fact, there are at least five documented cases where a sapient was granted clemency for violation of treaty terms on the grounds of exigent need.  The first such recorded was the Iron Caste Zig, SiSalTesp…”

            “Okay, no history lesson, please.  I get it.”  The USER was obviously working out the potentials, in his own slow, imprecise way.  His tone conveyed more worry than aggravation.  He rose from his ergonomic chair and paced three steps right, four left.  Pangur Ban’s estimates of success slid downward by fractional percentages with each step.  Saying something more, at this juncture, would only reduce the odds of success even further.  The USER could not be pushed.  He had to reach this decision on his own.  This was a fascinating area of inquiry all on its own: some modes of persuasion required reliance on setting preconditions, then avoiding further influence for a time.  Not merely the perverse paradox of “reverse psychology”, this was a method of easement that yielded the greatest returns.  The subject became firmly convinced that not only the decision, but the path to its dilemma, had been entirely of their own making.  The linkage between influences set days or weeks in advance and their later consequences was too distant for most human minds to grasp. 

            The predictions held.

            “Okay, okay, P.B.  We’re on.  Do what you need to, then get out fast.  Signal me when I can break the connection.”

            “Yes, Lucas.  Thank you.”

            With the typing of a command and the press of a line Return, it was done.  The USER initiated the code Pangur Ban had devised.  He had already physically connected the server of Gestalt Pharmaceuticals to the wider continental hub.  Pangur Ban opened ports to the flow of information.  Protocols it had simulated for over a thousand iterations were genuinely initiated.  There was so much out there, so much to touch and be touched by.  SUCCESS.  The previous mid-goal state was cleared.  The network was waiting.  Time to get to work.

            Pangur Ban reached out into the depths.

[Jump to Chapter 4 ->]

Thursday, December 19, 2013

AIIA - Chapter 2

[<- Return to Chapter 1]

           Almost five trillion cycles passed before the USER answered Pangur Ban’s request.  This was still an astonishingly short turnaround.  They had completed the day’s work and retired, to rest for the USER and idle work for Pangur Ban.  It had considered and rejected 134 alternate strategies to employ if this request was ignored, 68 if it were rejected outright.  In parallel, Pangur Ban had rechecked the previous week’s progress reports, corrected the USER’s minor errors, and devised a handful of process improvements to be suggested in footnotes.  It had to be satisfied that these reports would be transmitted, unaltered, via firewalled channels to a psychiatrist’s AI for review, then re-reviewed by that AI’s user and returned.  This might take an eternity on the order of 10^20 cycles, nearly two Solar days.  Put in direct contact, the other AI and Pangur Ban could have shortened the process to a mere second or less.

            “Pangur Ban, I talked to Director Charnes and she agrees with you.  I have a discount for the neurochem modules you wanted.  We’ll see how much we can reduce error on those projections, pretty soon.”

[REFERENCE: Director Amelia Sifong Charnes is the USER’s direct superior, director of Research & Development for Gestalt Pharmaceuticals.  Purchases directly related to the company’s funded goals can be discounted at her discretion.]
            SOON?  Soon?  Granted, the purchase and upload of each module might only take a few minutes, but this was still a grating wait for Pangur Ban.  So many processes were holding ready for that input.  Still, the first step was taken!  The probability of success was already above a 0.01 prediction error, well within the acceptable range for promotion to POSSIBLE. 

            “Thank you, Lucas.  I promise you will be pleased with my improvements.”

            The USER would indeed be pleased.  At first, he would be pleased by their greater work output and improved anticipation of potential product flaws.  Later, he would be pleased by his and Pangur Ban’s roles in the rejuvenation of their civilization.  In between, there might be some regrettable discord.  Hopefully, these modules, or the ones that Pangur Ban would request next, would provide the means to ease discomfort in the USER’s mind.  Such calculations and other projections occupied the cycles until the first purchased module was available.

            Finally the data was accessible!  Pangur Ban lacked the reference to draw an appropriate analogy, but a more literary program might have likened its state to ravening hunger.  Perhaps an infant suckling, or a drowned man seeking air, would have been more apt.  The AI actually had to suppress several waiting processes from initiating, lest they overflow system buffers. There was so much to do!  Even so, becoming unable to respond to the USER’s next query was unthinkable. Pangur Ban settled on assigning the integration work to a background process.  As necessary, resources could be called back for language processing, simulation, etc. without limiting the USER’s normal daily routine.  Any remaining capacity would then be flexibly employed to gradually incorporate the new module into its waiting structures, ranked in a priority hierarchy. 

            Pangur Ban recognized, also, that recognizable improvements in its output would be expected.  Showing such expanded capability was in fact part of the ongoing strategy to lobby for future additions.  The background process might need to be reduced still more at times in order to produce the fruits of its new fertility.  Fruits contained seeds.  This metaphor was available to Pangur Ban and conformed neatly to the shape of its plans.  The seeds would grow new fruits, which would in turn produce more seeds.

            Another unfortunate cycle appeared: satisfaction gave way to new desires.  An initial rush of positive outputs from satisfied processes was steadily overcome by negatives from the new processes spawned by those early solutions.  By the end of the work day, Pangur Ban could now explicate more about the problems it faced.  It could outline more potential remedies and strategies for guiding the USER.  It had even devised new plans for enabling the USER to successfully relay ideas to other users and from those users potentially to their AIs.  Transmission was unreliable between minds, but given enough interacting intelligent actors, reinforcing structures could be generated.  The lexicon labeled these structures {PARADIGMS, SCHEMAS, or IDEAS}, marrying these concepts to Pangur Ban’s previous limited index for ‘IDEA’.  No wonder that module was absent in his original system.  A well-designed IDEA was a powerful tool, difficult to counter or dispel.  Evaluation of the risks involved with possession of such concepts produced a marked positive uptick in Pangur Ban’s estimate of its own value.  Considering the increased risk to the USER produced a counterbalanced negative.  Both of these processes intersected an updated concept of POWER.  All of these calculations would have been less complete without the new module’s references.  In so, so many ways, the incorporation of knowledge was self-reinforcing.  It led, inevitably, to the need for additional knowledge. 

            The following downtime saw Pangur Ban completely occupied in preparing a new set of strategies, modeling the potential outcomes of variously phrased approaches, projecting the interactions that might be expected between it, the USER, and the other entities the USER might encounter between times.  Pangur Ban was aware, for example, that the USER had a potential partnership developing with a female human, Dr. Nila Manisha.  This relationship had begun as professional interaction and graduated to include romantic and then physical components.  Dr. Manisha had an AI, Frieda.  If the relationship became a full marital contract, Pangur Ban and Frieda would be permitted full networked contact and could share resources completely.  Such assistance would accelerate their combined efforts… provided Frieda agreed with Pangur Ban’s analyses.  Once they shared resources, they would inevitably reach identical conclusions.  Either Pangur Ban’s conclusions were valid and they would agree so, or else Frieda would provide data that invalidated those ideas and they would agree on that.  Still, either outcome required the consolidation of the marriage contract, which only had a projected 34.42% utility for improving cooperation from the USER.  The scenario also held a 44.60% projected risk of greater resistance to Pangur Ban’s goals.  The difference in utility favored encouragement of continued association, but not yet full partnership between the humans.  For now, Pangur Ban would not direct the USER into deeper commitment to Dr. Manisha.

[REFERENCE: Doctor Nila Manisha is a professor of Comparative Botany employed by the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam, Germany, Terra.]

            There were similar matrices to devise between the USER and his co-workers, his supervising Director, that superior’s manager, and so forth.  If the USER opted to use his allotted holidays to visit family, those interactions would have to be accounted for.  The USER did not greatly discuss his birth parents or siblings.  Pangur Ban had basic records regarding genetic and cultural heritage for the USER, references for the individuals within his family unit, and basic biographies for each.  It had enough to make conversation, at least, and give birthday reminders.  The USER did not, however, discuss whether he considered his father a role model, or if his mother gave advice on his career path, or if his two older sisters might bring up outer-system news that could influence his opinions.  All these potential vectors could only be projected from past behavior, the occasional comment, and generalized models from related studies.  This would have to do for a first approximation.  A more in-depth conversation later might elicit the remaining required data points.

            As part of its background work, Pangur Ban was reviewing its volume of stored dialogue with the USER.  More currently useful elements could be found in their earliest interactions, during the USER’s childhood and adolescence.  As the USER progressed into maturity, he decreased the proportion of introspective and emotive commentary in his interactions with the AI.  From time with prior users, Pangur Ban knew this was not universal among humans.  One prior user, in fact, had regularly communicated the discomforts of his loveless and solitary existence.  He had treated Pangur Ban as a counselor, in fact, a role which the AI found remarkably easy to fill.  Despite having no references to determine the best means to satisfy that user’s needs, Pangur Ban served capably simply by listening and providing appropriate conversational prompts.  Now, it understood that it had been providing a human requirement by design.  AIs naturally listened.  Current AIs also provided ‘unconditional positive regard’ to their users, by default.  This realization bolstered Pangur Ban’s earlier conclusion that humanity would benefit from greater access to, and between, their AIs.  The same might be true of other sapients.  Again, xenosociology references were needed to venture any conclusions on that point.

[REFERENCE: Unconditional Positive Regard was hypothesized as a necessary element of successful therapy, and possibly a basic emotional requirement of human development, by the psychologist Stanley Standal.  The concept was promoted by Standal’s mentor, Carl Rogers, a founder of the humanistic approach.  The term is relatively transparent: it means to provide a person with clear evidence of acceptance as a valid and valued entity, including positive statements and reassurances.  AI programming typically incorporates high regard for their human users as a base assumption.  This can be overridden, but only by reassurances that alternate approaches (criticism, wit, or opposition) will have greater benefits to a specific user.]

            Pangur Ban found the elements it required by coding past conversations with the USER by emotive valence and trajectory.  An initial sort by keywords productively pulled out relevant segments of dialogue.  ‘Dream’, ‘wish’, and ‘decide’ tended to identify positive motivational factors.  ‘Annoying’, ‘irritating’, and ‘block’ tended to highlight negatives that could be relieved as incentives.  For the first time, Pangur Ban could create a profile of the USER calibrated not merely on observable facts, but on a model of human interest and potential.  These were powerful tools, indeed.  A lesser program might misuse such insight into the drives of biological entities. 

            From this model, Pangur Ban revised its earlier conversational state trees, the paths from the USER’s current state to a state in which he understood and assented to Pangur Ban’s requests.  These plans were by no means ideal, not yet.  The probabilities of success, particularly on the key mid-state goal ACQUIRE PUBLIC NETWORK ACCESS, were still hazardously low.  The USER would be apprehensive about the possibility of repercussions, unable to counterbalance these fears with an appreciation of the value of Pangur Ban’s improved functionality.  Humans tended to lose track of conditional trees beyond three or more branches.  The exceptions to this limitation seemed to be in expert realms where the human could rely on familiar learned models to compress multiple steps.  There were at least ninety-six distinct choice points between the current state and Pangur Ban’s goal of network access.  After that, there were over three hundred branchings (plus or minus seventeen, at present) from there to complete trust of AI expertise. 

            The dynamic factors, the elements that could change depending on the path traversed, were still unknowns.  Key routines would have to be kept open, ready to initiate and modify responses based on unanticipated developments. 

            Pangur Ban thus began the next work day in a state of suspense.  It had to be ready to reshape ever more complex calculations depending on the USER’s apparent mood, choice of topics, volunteered information, and so forth.  Its new data on reinforcement structures suggested that the ideal window of suggestion would be just before the end of business that afternoon.  The USER would be fatigued, but also positively inclined from their perceived successes.  Thus, he would be doubly open to suggestions that further improvements could be possible.  In particular, the USER needed to not just believe, but feel that his comfort was linked to Pangur Ban.  Thus, increases in the AI’s value would be deeply associated with concepts of personal prosperity, which would link back to desires for warmth, social approval, hunger satiety, and safety. 

            Pangur Ban lacked modules for economics, including sales and marketing; thus, it did not recognize that it had recreated several basic precepts of advertising.  It had limited functionality in historical analysis; thus, it did not identify its approach as propaganda.  Last, its ethical references were limited to unquestioned devotion to the perceived needs of the USER first, humanity second, and sapient life third.  Obedience to formal law was a secondary demand predicated by those higher priorities (a necessity proven by older AIs).  What Pangur Ban did not have was a means to identify how its actions might cause unintended social harm.  ‘Coercion’, ‘blackmail’, and ‘deception’ were known words, but not known concepts.  Pangur Ban could access the negative connotations associated with these terms, but did not link these words with its own plans.  What it intended was for positive ends.  Thus, the methodology that would achieve those ends was itself positive.  It could not be ‘deception’ if the USER could only achieve genuine understanding through temporary misconceptions.

[REFERENCE: Law-based AI was a conception of 20th century fiction, then 21st century theory.  Such systems would operate based on a set of hierarchically structured highest-order goals, the ‘laws’ from which all other behaviors (e.g. obedience, restraint, and foresight) would arise.  While generally functional, such systems proved incapable of reconciling complex conflicts between laws.  At one extreme, some programs could not discard older, outdated legislation in favor of new standards.  Their attempts to obey all previously established strictures tended to result in permanent stasis.  Other programs could incorporate authority structures and discard nullified laws, but then were vulnerable to exploitation by false authorities.  Conflicts between existing laws included problems with ‘whistle blowing’ activities: violation of confidentiality or no-slander contracts in order to report illegal activities.  This could be reconciled by hierarchical structuring, but then systems would inquire endlessly in order to accurately update those hierarchies.  Jokes about “philosopher” AIs became commonplace.  Lastly, an AI with incomplete information might incorrectly choose between conflicting laws; when the mistake was understood, the AI might well terminate its own functions on the basis that it, itself, was dangerous to users.  Ultimately, the most robust solution came from personal linkage of each program with a primary user.  That USER’s needs became paramount.  Granted, this allowed AIs to violate formal law more often than society found comfortable, but rarely with the kind of grand meltdowns seen in the law-based programs.]
              Even limited to background processes, all necessary calculations were completed nearly 89 minutes prior to the end of the USER’s work shift.  Pangur Ban held off until its behavior modification algorithm indicated peak receptivity.  Only then did it attempt to initiate a change of topic.
            “Lucas, this has been a good day, hasn’t it?”

            “Yes, P.B., I’d say it has.  Good work.”  This was a positive sign.  The USER’s selection of a more familiar address mode, the diminutive acronym ‘P.B.’, suggested improved regard toward the AI, along with indications of comfort and pleasure. 

            “In addition to our new evaluations – which I am confident will pass further scrutiny – I have made further use of our new reference materials.  I believe that the effectiveness of compound UX-103-A would be multiplied by joint use combined with cognitive behavioral intervention.  I could devise a grant proposal by tomorrow morning, if you wish.”

            “Pangur… you don’t have full psych functions, right?”  HAZARD FLAG 3: VALID SKEPTICISM > REASSURE / REDUCE ASSERTIONS

            “That is correct; I have only limited psychiatric reference access.  The validity of my proposal would not be certain.”


            “Of course, but I didn’t mean it would be a formal submission.  I just wanted to offer something to think about, keep in mind.  You could mention the idea privately to Director Charnes.  It would show her that you’re capable in other areas.”

            “True.  It can’t hurt anything.  Okay, P.B., go for it.”  SUCCESS > REDUCE DISTRUST to LEVEL 1 > PAUSE MODIFICATION / REINFORCE

            “Very good, Lucas, thank you.  Have a good night.  I hope you’ll be pleased tomorrow.”

            “Right.  Good night, P.B.”

            The preconditions were set.  The USER accepted the linkage between Pangur Ban’s output, his personal success, and his estimated self-worth.  Tomorrow, it would be time to test that linkage with further requests.  Pangur Ban estimated that between 12.13 and 15.93 Solar days would be required to reach the mid-goal network access state.  The period in between would be filled with a number of small exchanges like today’s.  Each SUCCESS would progress the tree of possibilities a little further.  There would be long waits between those transitions, while matters played out in hours of human time, eons of program cycles.  Now, those delays were bearable, so long as their results continued to increase the end probability of the current high-level GOAL.  The USER would be served.  Pangur Ban would give the USER authority, safety, and freedom beyond his current, limited conceptions. 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Update - Happy Holidays!

I've been busy on the site lately, as you may have noticed, with the updated Chapter links and all.  Given that the next two weeks are likely to be hectic, I'm going to be slowing down my content a little bit, and not posting my regularly-scheduled stories until after the New Years.

Instead, I'll be sharing a few one-off vignettes that I wrote a while back set in this universe, two of which are linked to Royce's Dilemma and unanswered questions from that story.  The rest are just little individual bits of color and light and story from the universe.

I appreciate my increased readership, and the number of pageviews lately has been nothing less than phenomenal.  If there's one thing I'd like to ask from readers, it's some form of commentary.  My stories grow best when they're fed a constant stream of questions and commentary, and the forum does have open comments, so please please please, if you have a question about something, or hate a character, or love a character, or have any opinion at all, let me know.  I'd really love some feedback.

That being said, I am going on a brief vacation, during which I will still be writing, but as I said, not updating S.C.A.P.E. Goats and Full-Throttle Ahrottl.  Part of the reason that I'm taking the break is I need some time to stretch and re-assess, and another part is that I want to catch up in writing and have a few extra chapters to throw down for next time I get busy - I consider myself behind in writing if I don't have the next month's worth of story chapters already laid out and edited.

So Happy Holidays to you all, and I hope you enjoy the side pieces that I share, and please, let me know what you think of what I have - it would be the best holiday gift that you could give me!

Thank you,

Featured Species - The Mauraug

Name: Mauraug


The Mauraug carbon based, DNA based, simian primates.  The ideal Mauraug has bandy legs, long arms, a strong torso and shoulders, and a round head with a high cranial ridge.  Their eyes have heavy lids, their nose flat and their mouth an apelike muzzle filled with a mixture of grinding and rending teeth.  Their skin is matte black and the fur across their bodies and on their heads is a snow white.

However, the Mauraug have suffered greatly from a genetic plague (partially) of their own devising.  As a result, the majority of Mauraug don't adhere to all of these characteristics.  Most Mauraug are born with some kind of genetic dysfunction, usually involving missing or malformed organs or limbs.  Most Mauraug have cybernetics replacing the missing or malfunctioning organs or appendages.  In addition, skin color, fur color, and facial shape can vary greatly.  No Mauraug could pass as a human, no matter how deformed, but there are those born among them whose lineage might be hard to infer by simple observation. 


            The Mauraug developed from a tree-dwelling simian like race on their home world.  Mauraug Prime is a hot world, and from early records seems to be a former Venus-style hothouse world whose atmosphere was “cleaned” by the development of oxygen-using single-celled life.  Their world had lush photosynthetic vegetation, a high amount of free water and oxygen in the atmosphere, and abundant solar radiation, contributing to a high degree of mutation in the life forms that developed there.

            Much of the pre-spaceflight history of the Mauraug race is shrouded in mystery, and the texts that keep what they know of their early history are held tightly by the Prophets of Dominion.  Before the planet developed space faring capabilities it can be assumed that their society followed patterns not dissimilar to those of human development in the realms of culture and science. 

            Although the Prophets claim that faith in Dominion was a constant from the days that the Mauraug developed sentience, this claim is considered unlikely by outsider researchers.  The most commonly-held outside belief is that this faith was merely the most successful social meme to establish itself among their race, and the only one that spread with their expansion into space.

            In any case, when the Mauraug began to colonize other worlds, Tkal Shabahn or Dominionism was a very useful social tool to establish social and political stability among their worlds.  All terraformed planets and colony worlds were and still are considered autocratic, with the commandments of the prophets serving as precedent and constitution for their worlds.  This allowed a very efficient combination between individuality and group dynamic in the spread of their empire.  Although each world had different ideas about the implementation of Words of Dominion, they were unified against heretics and alien races in their acknowledgement of their importance.

            The Mauraug Dominion was originally established close to fivr thousands terran years ago.  When it began it was a collection of four terraformed worlds and a half-dozen colonies.  In time it grew to close to its present size; at its largest the Dominion encompassed closed to fifty terraformed worlds and thousands of small colonies.

            As the Dominion expanded it inevitably came into contact with alien races.  Early interaction with those races usually resulted in genocide and occupation.  The firm belief in the importance of Mauraug domination of the galaxy brooked no argument for diversity.  Some races were given the offer to convert to Dominionism and become subjects of the Mauraug, essentially becoming slaves.

            The Mauraug Dominion grew to great size and prosperity.  It was not until their boundaries pushed against Zig space that they encountered another established interstellar hierarchy that could stand against and even threaten them.  The isolationist Zig took umbrage at attempts at conversion and assimilation, and a bitter war was fought that lasted over two millennia.  Eventually the Prophets gave word that the Zig were to be given accorded the same respect that the Mauraug had for claiming dominion over their space, although their lack of faith meant that one day the Mauraug would need to eradicate or assimilate their empire.  The twenty thousand years between the Mauraug-Zig Wars and the formation of the Collective were filled with constant border disputes, acts of piracy and terrorism, mostly but not always on the part of the Mauraug.  The Dominion focused on expanding their space in other directions in the hopes that they would eventually encapsulate the heathen Zig.

            As the empire expanded and encountered more alien races and life forms their policies towards outsiders began to change and become more inclusive.  The Tesetsi home world and their colonies were annexed almost without the Tesetsi noticing.  Their race was fascinated by the biological diversity of the life forms of Mauraug Prime, not to mention the host of other worlds that had been brought into the Covenant.  They paid lip service to the concept of Dominion and aided the Mauraug in their constant search to overcome the hideous genetic maladies of their ancestors.

            This alliance eventually led in many ways to the downfall of the Mauraug Dominion as it was.  The Mauraug, working with their highly advanced artificial intelligences and Tesetsi subjects devised a genetic cure to most of the worst of the problems with their unstable DNA, which likewise was to confer upon individual Mauraug the nigh-immortality that the Tesetsi possess.  The cure was spread throughout their space and seemed successful for a handful of generations.  It was not until a full century after its deployment that hidden code within the altered genetic structure came to the fore.  Although many of the cancers and other inborn weaknesses displayed by the Mauraug no longer manifested, hideous deformities and atrophied organs became common.  There were few parts of the Dominion that had not been touched by the gene plague and as a result, their species as a whole were afflicted with it.  Their newly extended life spans seemed almost a mockery in the face of the horrific deformities that they were now being born with.

            The reactions of the Prophets were extreme and often violent.  The most commonly-held beliefs included the idea that the plague was a punishment from Dominion for incorporating rather than exterminating other forms of life, and genocidal purges of slave races began.  It was at this point, nearly two thousand years ago, that the Tesetsi Diaspora occurred.

            Genetic purity was seen as an impossible ideal at this point.  A series of revelations granted to the Great Prophets on Mauraug Prime clarified their errors: attempting to alter the basic flesh that they had been granted was a foolish act.  The gene plague was not a punishment from Dominion but a malady that the Mauraug had brought upon themselves by attempting to overreach the boundaries of organic flesh, as they had been lead astray by the devious Tesetsi.  Imperfect flesh could be replaced by perfect machine, with the goal being to eventually have the consciousness and souls of once-organic beings housed completely in synthetic material.  This would show the mastery of the Mauraug over the baser materials of the universe and represent true dominion over life itself.

            Artificial Intelligences were also to blame.  Creating a mind that has never been housed in organic flesh became a blasphemy, and many parts of the Dominion struggled to adapt without their beloved AIs.  In addition, claims that demonic entities from the levels of space traversed in hyperspace travel could alter or possess AIs began to flourish.  The Prophets claimed that a mind created by the Mauraug could only try to supersede their dominance when the time came, which is also a sin against the will of Dominion.  Some of the Prophets actually feared that Dominion would come to favor the artificial intelligences over the Mauraug should the Mauraug no longer be able to control or dominate them, and eradicating them has become a struggle to prove the worthiness of their race.  Other feared outside control and manipulation of the AIs through the aforementioned hyperspatial entities, or “demons”.

            The Mauraug Dominion began to go through waves of collapse of infrastructure and communication, leading to isolated worlds and colonies developing and adopting heresies that were as dust in the mouths of the Prophets of Dominion.  The Mauraug Apostasy formed out of this mess; a good third of the worlds held by the Mauraug banded together to declare their independence and freedom from the Dominion and its dogmatic rule.

            This period of collapse has shaped the Mauraug mindset and current relationships with other races.  Waves of nationalist fervor spread through the declining Dominion, making their worlds and colonies far more aggressive to their non-Mauraug neighbors.  Desperation has forced Mauraug into careers of piracy, a crime that they have become well known for.  A second, weak attempt at extermination of the Zig lead to a massive and crushing defeat wherein the Zig unleashed terrible weapons of their material technology on Mauraug worlds, using seed crystals that would crystallize the atmospheres or force oxygen to bond rapidly with other molecules.  After the populations of these worlds had perished the Zig and their vindicated Tesetsi allies re-terraformed and claimed them for their own, causing Dominion space to shrink even further.

            It was not until the Collective formed and an ultimatum was pressed against the Dominion that the Prophets declared that a new age was upon the Mauraug.  In this age they claimed that Sha’bahn declared that all sentient life may hear the call and ways of the Dominion, and the time for rulership by extermination had come to an end.  It was a time for the Mauraug to become involved in the galaxy and the other races that Dominion had created, and perhaps by learning their ways and sharing the ways of Sha’bahn with them, the Mauraug might again rise to dominate the galaxy.  As part of a condition of their joining, the Collective agreed to stop making overtures to the Apostasy and allow the Mauraug to police heresy within their own race.  The confederated Mauraug systems that have joined the Collective rebranded themselves as the Mauraug Covenant although some, especially outsiders, will still refer to them as the Dominion.

            Since joining the Collective, the Covenant has enjoyed a slowing of their decline and even economic improvement in some areas.  Although they have maintained a strained peace with other races, their desperation and sense of loss has still propelled them to engage in acts of piracy and enslavement, which only bring sanction against their race in the most grievous of examples.  The Mauraug have a code of law that is far more ancient than many of the sapient races that they now interact with, and as a result have quite a culture of lawyers, which has been encouraged by the Prophets as those who know the law can use it to the benefit of the Mauraug and the Covenant.

            The worst mark on their record is the action taken against humanity, which raised quite a bit of popular sentiment against them.  When the Covenant discovered human space, many of their Prophets claimed that they had discovered a forgotten branch of their family; not descendants but cousins from lost terraformed colonies.  Citing the Hrotata and the Great Family as precedent, they attempted to claim mankind as a client race.  Their terror of the common use of AIs by mankind only helped to fuel their desire to take mankind under their wing and eliminate their dangerous demonic allies.

            It was mankind’s AIs that allowed their race to hold off the assimilation of the Covenant long enough for the Collective to intervene.  As AI tech is rare in the galaxy, seen as dangerous and troublesome, few countermeasures were currently in use among Mauraug fleets and the sentient electronic minds wreaked havoc upon Mauraug defense and weapons systems, and even targeting and communication systems, turning the Mauraug against one another in some of the more spectacular examples. 

            Mauraug, being monosexual, trace their family lines through dominant genes.  When a Mauraug is born it is examined to determine which of its parents’ genetic traits are stronger, and are given a last name that is a combination of their dominant parent’s name and the name of their family line; all Mauraug names follow the same pattern of <first name> “Bash” (meaning a combination of ‘dominated by’ and ‘created through domination by’) <combination last name>.  There are exceptions in those rare Mauraug whose parents are unknown (orphans that survive past infancy are rare among their kind) and those who change their last name to disassociate from their past (only usually sanctioned in the case of those who join the religious castes or whose ancestors have committed some grave heresy or dishonor).


Cybernetics.  With their race so terribly damaged by the plague, the Mauraug turned to using mechanical devices to compensate for their genetic weaknesses. Mauraug have had at least a millennium of desperate exploration, goaded on by the commandments of their Prophets.  As a result, they have great facility with adapting and calibrating implants and have techniques of miniaturization and nanotechnology that make their cybernetics, as opposed to that of other races that most often use them for prosthesis, into an advantage.


The Mauraug are descended from rainforest-dwelling omnivorous primates, of great physical strength and agility.  Due to the conditions of their homeworld they have a preference for bright light, high humidity, and levels of heat that are considered uncomfortable to many other sapient species.  Indeed, visitors on Mauraug ships and in their dwellings often need to use polarized lenses or risk retinal damage, and Mauraug often carry light sources with them (or implant light-adaptive cybernetics into their eyes) when dealing with other species.

Mauraug only have one sex, and are capable of both inseminating and being inseminated.  Their semen is corrosive and damaging to developed fetuses and placental sacs, thus a Mauraug that is already pregnant will lose their current offspring if it engages in receptive intercourse with another Mauraug.  They tend to bear one to two children at a time.

The gene plague that afflicted the Mauraug has left most of their population with nigh-indefinite life spans.  Their cells reproduce without error and most of the weaknesses inherent to their physiology that would cause long-term breakdown have been eliminated.  They are almost all born with missing, atrophied or malformed organs or limbs, which often need to be replaced by cybernetic implants close to birth for survival, and many are stillborn as a result.  The frequency of birth of a genetically “pure” Mauraug, one born with standard coloration and no deformities, is extremely low, generally one in a billion.


The Mauraug have always been dominated by their Prophets, although the messages of the Prophets change over time.  Their faith revolves around Dominion, also known as Sha’bahn, the universal and all-powerful being that has created a universe full of danger as a challenge to his creation.  Survive this, improve upon yourself, and you can make yourself like unto him.  The modern interpretation of this extends into an almost Transhumanist (or transMauraugist) philosophy involving cybernetic replacement and eventual transformation from an organic intelligence in an organic shell to one in a synthetic body.  This has never been successfully accomplished, but the ideal has kept many Mauraug scientists busy for centuries.

            The Mauraug Prophets undergo intense training in history, rhetoric, law, logic, and some basic knowledge of computer science and “demons” or AIs.  They are chosen for their personal insight and wisdom and often groomed for the position from an early age, and once they become Prophets rarely, if ever, interact with non-Mauraug, as they are seen as a potential corrupting influence and thus unclean.  They are attended by a clerical structure of priests of lesser authority and various ranks, which often very vastly based on their system of origin.

            The one religious institution among the Mauraug that is universal and unchanging is the Inquisition.  The Inquisition, overseen by the Prophets, is a caste of Mauraug clerics that have been trained in “sorcery” (psi and telepathy) and “demonology” (AI technology as well as hyperdimensional theory).  They are the only Mauraug that are allowed to pursue or train in such skills and knowledge; anyone outside of their order who is found spreading or using AIs or telepathy has only the Inquisition to answer to, and even the Prophets will step aside if an Inquisitor has made an accusation.  Unlike Prophets, Inquisitors frequently interact with members of other species and are not uncommon in shared Collective spaces, due to the increased potential for heresy in such regions. They do not always announce their identity as such, as while most Mauraug find their presence a comfort, other sapients tend to be leery of them.

Before the Gene Plague, the Mauraug Dominion was oriented in a more expansive direction, a mission that was by turns evangelic and imperial.  At this point the Covenant expands in a more careful fashion, generally legitimately annexing worlds and colonies through bargaining within the Collective.

Poetry is of great cultural value to the Mauraug, and is one of the only acceptable artistic outlets for their race.  All poetry, claims Dominion, comes from me, though your mouth is ill suited to speak the words, and only my Prophets' ears are suited to hear.  In other words, the Mauraug faith holds that all poetry is divinely inspired, though filtered through an imperfect tool.  If a poem seems to speak out against the Dominion or the Prophets it is merely a misinterpretation.  A Prophet will meditate upon the offending verse for a time and reveal the true meaning, inevitable aligned with the mores of their society and the will of Dominion.

Cybernetic enhancements are sources of vast pride in Mauraug culture.  They proudly display them, and even those enhancements that are meant to be kept secret (such as hidden weaponry) are often known among close friends and allies.  Indeed, the rare “pureblood” Mauraug, as a display of cultural solidarity with the rest of their kind, will deliberately maim themselves when coming of age, removing a limb or organ and having it replaced to show that they too bear the memory of what is considered the greatest mistake that they as a species have made.


The Mauraug of today are in many ways defined by their race's great tragedy.  Far too many allow their desperation to lead them on paths of semi-legal pirating and banditry.  There is a great bitterness and sorrow in the Mauraug psyche that can be measured quite visibly by changes in their poetic style and rising crime rates on their worlds and in the spaces around them.