Posts Tagged 'Dan Simmons'

The more we think about it, the more Dan Simmons’ work seems obliquely prophetic. We’ve mentioned it here on Drozbot before, but the combined narratives of Ilium (2003) and Olympos (2005) put forward a far future in which society is divided into Elio-like ‘post-humans’ and Morlock-like servitors (robots called the Voynix) – the latter created to keep the former in a state of placid contentment.

Jump to the increasing backlash against big data controlling mass opinion, and the general lack of critical thinking – generated by a desire for information in bite-sized formats – and it’s easy to sense a rising concern that we’re sleep walking into a state of techno idiocy. In Ilium one of the central characters is informed that Earth’s data sphere (effectively the web bootstrapped to the nth degree) is hardwired beneath his skin. Upon accessing it, he’s confronted with how limited he and his people have become as a result of the machine powers now ruling the planet. The idea is adapted from George Orwell’s concept of Newspeak, in which a populace is controlled by limiting its ability to express complex ideas. Which isn’t that far away from the voices of concern emerging among Silicon Valley’s web and app creators, who are already speaking out against the addictive feedback loops they’ve created.

The second factor in Simmons’ reduction of civilisation is the rise of artificial intelligence. Are we, as Elon Musk and Stephen Hawking believe, at increased risk of machine intelligence taking over? In both Ilium and Olympos there are different types of AI with conflicting appreciations of their human creators. With the biological-based Moravecs and Rockvecs, who live in the outer zones of the solar system, you have your typical level of benevolent sentience. (Interestingly, the first European law to allow the prospecting of asteroids has just been passed, bringing the idea of robot mine workers one step closer.) On the other, darker side of the equation is Setebos, a god-like, many handed AI that’s set on destroying humanity using the servitors under its control. A possible or even probable threat from our current perspective? Well, considering that Google have just created an AI that can repeatedly best masters of the Chinese board game GO, and that a South Korean company, Hankook Mirae Technology, has just developer a walking mech suit… No, I’m sure we’ll be just fine.

There’s a lot of fanciful elements in both Ilium and Olympos; cable car systems running on pylons modelled on the Eiffel Tower, a data library on the peak of Mount Everest, a ’10 Commandments” styled rift that runs the width of the Atlantic… But, thanks to the intervening decade since their publication, they now seem to highlight the consequences of humans made ignorant and enslaved by technology. Perhaps it’s time to re-read them both, especially considering our current position on the cusp of such emergent technologies. Then again, as the likes of Simmons, Orson Scott Card and Dean Koontz all fall under increasing scrutiny as a result of their own intolerance, perhaps not.

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Orphu Meets Zeus

Anyone who has spent a month of Sundays digging away at Eve Online just so that they can shoot pirates at the weekend, might like this one.

Seems the US government want to open up the rights to mine asteroids. While those outside of North America may call for an international agreement – much in the same way that Antarctica is protected by a treaty of nation states – the idea of sending probes to seek mineral wealth away from the Earth is intriguing.

Numerous companies have been speculating about the logistics of what such a mining operation would entail. Back in 2013, Astronaut published an article about how the solar systemic race for resources was shaping up. Among the possible solutions Deep Space Industries’ concept of a self-replicating fleet of prospectors caused the biggest stir among Sci-Fi fans. Partially because it offers a neat solution to the expense of repeated rocket launches from Earth, but also for the similarity to Dan Simmons’ Moravecs from Ilium and Olympos (Francois Baranger’s interpretation of Orphu of Io above). Add to the evocative mix the recent hi-res imagery from NASA’s Dawn probe as it flew past Ceres – the largest of the solar system’s planetoids – and suddenly there seems to be more science to the proposals than fiction.

Personally, it’s been over a decade since I wrote my own take on what the future might hold for mining among the stars. In Dusted, the approach was to employ genetically altered humans on long tours of duty in the asteroid belt. Throwing in some extraterrestrial interest – which was inspired by this scene from Empire Strikes Back – the story also called into question whether life could evolve on a smaller landmass within a hard vacuum. A flight of fancy possibly, but the mystery behind the bright spots recorded on Ceres’ surface proves that humanity always has more to learn the further it gets from home.

As well as discovery, there’s the added bonus that this new ‘gold rush’ to the final frontier might also ensure the survival of our species. Not just by protecting our home planet from environmental depletion, but also by reducing our dinosaur-like vulnerability while we remain confined to Earth.

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