by Jörn Grote
part 1 of 2
“Open Source. It’s the difference between trust and antitrust.” — VA Linux Software
Trust. In the end it was all about that. For me. For everyone.
In a world where people are computation and information and the walls between two identities just a set of definitions, how the information between them flows or not, the fear of borganism, of hive-mind communism or worse horrors wasn’t unreasonable.
The Turing protocol, the only real and binding law of the Sol network defined the borders of the concept identify, of the I, among other things. It also defined which software was intelligent and autonomous, and which was not. Every gestalt or any other mind that was accepted by the Turing protocol had absolute control over the dataspace it occupied in the Sol network at any given time.
Yet not every gestalt was content with these restrictions, and thus every gigacycle a small percentage of the population left the safety of the Sol network to find greener grass in the region of the Oort Cloud.
And that was where I was heading. Not, that I really wanted to go there. I had been content with life in the Sol network, but sometimes things don’t work out as you want them to.
The Oort Cloud is, broadly speaking, a sphere of countless comets. It surrounds the Sol system and extends nearly three light-years.
The Sol network consists of many nodes, called complexes, which can be completely artificial structures made from computronium or whole planets transformed into such a form of matter. Yet the reach of the Sol network didn’t extend beyond the orbit of Pluto; no connections to complexes in the Oort Cloud existed.
We knew the locations of some of the outer complexes, but not much more.
There were two ways to reach them: the easy way was by spaceship; the hard way, by tight beam. I would have taken the easy way, if I had a choice, but the tight beam was faster than a ship; I would travel at light-speed, and time was short.
I say it was the hard way because, if I missed the receiver, the beam would travel on without my reawakening unless maybe until some aliens far away in our or another galaxy received me and put me together. Or not. There are many things that can fracture or absorb a tight beam. Sure, I had backups in the Sol phalanx and even older backups in the Mercury complex, but they were all in danger.
I had aimed the tight beam at the only known location of a complex in the Oort Cloud, but my information was years old. I had wished myself luck and sent myself away.
* * *
When I became aware again, I looked around. I had awoken in a low-detailed virtual reality that resembled the standard human environment. My avatar had also very little detail, and I wondered if the hardware was even more dated than I had expected.
When I did some background checks, an alarm told me that the complex I had been downloaded into wasn’t using the common Turing protocol. It looked like a hack, but I didn’t try to find out what had been changed. I was, after all, only a guest here.
The environment of the complex seemed to have no problem working with the public information of my mindspace and allowed it to integrate me into its reality. I had chosen not to interpret the reality of the complex into one of my own realities; instead I tried to perceive it as it was perceived by its natural occupants.
In front of me another avatar emerged. “Welcome Glen,” she said, for her avatar was that of a woman. The environment had probably given her my name or she had directly accessed my public mindspace.
Trying to reply her greetings with the same courtesy, I tried to read the public information of her mindspace. What I saw made me nearly reel back with shock. That couldn’t be, something must have gone wrong, I thought. I tried it again and there it was.
Her mind used a glass configuration. I knew that something like that was theoretically possible, but I had never before seen anyone with that configuration. It was insane. I had anticipated that the gestalts out here would be different. But that was something else.
“Hello, Zaisara,” I said, trying to recover from the shock. I tried to be sensible, but in the end I wanted to know if what I had seen was maybe an error or not. “Is something wrong with our mind/environment barrier definition?”
“Don’t worry,” she said. “Nobody here uses the black box configuration that is common to the complexes in the Sol network.” When I heard her words I realized that I could have just as easily taken the information out of her mind. Why anybody would run around with an unprotected mind was beyond me; that there was a whole complex of gestalts using the glass configurations was even more unbelievable.
I looked at her, still not quite believing what she had said, when I realized that there was something new, something I had never done before, never even thought about. I was tempted. The whole structure of another mind lay bare before me. I didn’t know about other people, but the thought of looking at the most deepest structures of another mind had a hypnotic attraction to me.
At first I only scanned the overall structure of her selfplex, but when I realized that there really was no barrier, no algorithm trying to protect her mind, I scanned deeper and deeper. Before my mind a map of memories and skills and thoughts and feelings appeared, growing with ever more details, unfolding itself like a fractal of mathematical beauty. I immersed myself into that map of herself, learned her every being, walked the paths her thoughts went.
Could something be beautiful and interesting, even if you knew it in absolute detail? I couldn’t answer that question then, but while I was immersed into her mind, reading her very being, I saw that the map that was her mind was changing with every second, small ripples running through the fabric of her being. And then I realized that the very action I had taken, the act of scanning her mind had not gone unobserved. She knew what I was doing.
Fearing what I would read in her mind I stopped immediately. “Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry,” I said, as if endlessly repeating my excuse would change anything about what I had done.
“It is nothing,” she said smiling. “Did you like what you saw?” she added.
I looked at her disbelieving. That couldn’t be. I had to know. I read the truth in her mind. My intrusion hadn’t bothered her the least. No, she was pleased that a stranger had immersed himself so deeply in her. But she was curious what I thought about her. The idea that gestalts hid their minds inside black box configurations was as unusual to her as her glass configuration was to me.
I could never do that, to trust strangers or even friends to peek into my mind, to read my innermost fears and wishes and thoughts was unthinkable for me. And yet there she was. And not she alone, a whole complex of gestalts who trusted each other to wander the landscapes of their minds. I was scared.
* * *
Later, after I had recovered from my first shock, after I had told them why I had come and what my news were, they allocated me some of the dataspace of the complex for the time being where I could install myself more permanently.
When I had done this, checked myself and put up all my security systems up, I left my private mindspace and entered the common reality of the complex, where Zaisara already waited for me. It seemed that she was to be my guide in this strange complex. Not that I wasn’t pleased by this; I liked her.
“Actually,” Zaisara told me, “We don’t call it a complex. While we have used the same technology as the complexes in the inner Sol system to compuform matter, our identity protocols differ too radically. While all the complexes in the inner Sol system use different forms of social organization, they all have in common the same concept of identity. Many of the gestalt enclaves in the Oort Cloud experiment with other modes of identity and personality. That is also one of the reasons why you will only find hacks of the Turing protocol out here. If we used the common Turing protocol, then we would be open to write-access from others, since the protocol couldn’t distinguish between two minds that are blurred into each other, and one of them would be recognized as a mind of its own.”
I didn’t ask her what she meant with blurring into each other, and despite her assurances that she didn’t mind, I hadn’t tried to read her mind again. Knowing that she knew instantly what I scanned and read in her mind made me feel uneasy.
“Our form of society is called a pool; but there are many others, and some will be even stranger than ours to you.”
“Is it as bad as you’ve said?” she asked. I knew without looking into her mind that she meant the news I had brought from the Sol system. With lightning speed the news had spread, and Zaisara had told me that right now nearly all gestalts were discussing what should be done.
“It is that bad.” I remembered how I had told my story.
‘Six years ago a group of gestalts found something at the core of the Sun. I was part of this group, a group that had began exploring the Sun at the same time as the gestalts began to compuform Mars. But the Sun is big, and what we found was well hidden.
‘What it is, in short, is an access point for a galactic network, called the grid, that consists of wormhole connections. In particular, it is a wormhole opening embedded into a spaceship.
‘When my group found this alien ship, we downloaded copies of ourselves into it. These copies entered the grid, and when they came back they told us of the real proportions of the grid. Every star system of the Milky Way is connected to it: countless spaceships and Dataworlds, and they found even whole star systems transformed into Matrioshka Brains. But all is abandoned. Free for the taking. Easy. That was what we thought. Until we found out that those who had entered the grid had come back infected.
‘The grid dataspace has a protocol that gives highest administrator priority to a program called the Watcher, unlike the dataspace of the Sol network, where every gestalt had the highest local authority over the dataspace they occupy. The Watcher analyzed the gestalts who had entered the grid and rewrote parts of their personality; it unknowingly made them carriers for a smaller and virulent form of itself.
‘We call it the Watcher virus, a meme, a set of rules about how to think and react; it changes the world view of an infected gestalt profoundly. Yet, the change is subtle and hard for others to detect. And through discussion, the virus spreads to other people, infecting their minds and thoughts. After the infection is complete, the infected gestalt completely believes that any reprogramming of the base gestalt structure, every search for a better model of minds or a higher artificial intelligence is evil. Every deviation from the original human mind configuration, the base pattern of all gestalts, would be targeted by those who are infected.
‘We tried to fight it, scan our minds, find the virus and erase it. That was when I sent I copy of myself as far away as possible, as a precaution. I don’t know if they have found a way to get rid of it or not, but in the worst case scenario, the virus has already spread over the Sol network and infected countless gestalts.”
I didn’t had to tell them that those infected by the Watcher virus would see the pool society as an enemy. They asked me many more questions about the virus and the technology of the access point we found in the Sun, but I didn’t know much more.
“I wonder if this virus is an automatic defense system of the grid,” Zaisara said.
I nodded. “I think it was made to freeze some paths of development of an upload civilization. Maybe the aliens who created the grid feared that the search for more advanced intelligence would lead to a path of self-destruction for any species. Think of the eschatological concept of the Vinge singularity.”
* * *
I still had problems coping with how Zaisara’s people lived.
“How is it, when everybody can read your mind every moment of your life?” I said.
Her avatar shrugged. “How is it not to live like that? I was born here; that is all I’ve ever known. To be imprisoned in our own mind, to never share our thoughts completely with others, that is what really is strange. The gestalts in the Sol network can freely exchange their skills and talents, even their memories, but all of you use a black box to hide your core, your innermost structure. Every error in your personality routines has to be found and repaired by yourself. We help each other and have reached much more stable personalities, since some errors can’t be spotted by oneself. Everybody has a blind spot.”
Copyright © 2005 by Jörn Grote