Wednesday 7 September 2011

A new propaganda tool: Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World

I visited the Assembly demo party this year, after two years of break. It seemed more relevant than in a while, because I had an agenda.

For a year or so, I have been actively thinking about the harmful aspects of people's relationships with technology. It is already quite apparent to me that we are increasingly under the control of our own tools, letting them make us stupid and dependent. Unless, of course, we promote a different world, a different way of thinking, that allows us to remain in control.

So far, I've written a couple of blog posts about this. I've been nourishing myself with the thoughts of prominent people such as Jaron Lanier and Douglas Rushkoff who share the concern. I've been trying to find ways of promoting the aspects of hacker culture I represent. Now I felt that the time was right for a new branch -- an artistic one based on a fictional

My demo "Human Resistance", that came 2nd in the oldskool demo competition, was my first excursion into this new branch. Of course, it has some echoes of my earlier productions such as "Robotic Liberation", but the setting is new. Instead of showing ruthless machines genociding the helpless mankind, we are dealing with a culture of ingenious hackers who manage to outthink a superhuman intellect that dominates the planet.

"Human Resistance" was a relatively quick hack. I was too hurried to fix the problems in the speech compressor or to explore the real potential of Tau Ceti -style pseudo-3D rendering. The text, however, came from my heart, and the overall atmosphere was quite close to what I intended. It introduces a new fictional world of mine, a world I've temporarily dubbed "Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World" (PAHW). I've been planning to use this world not only in demo productions but also in at least one video game. I haven't released anything interactive for like fifteen years, so perhaps it's about time for a game release.

Let me elaborate the setting of this world a little bit.

Fast-forward to a post-singularitarian era. Machines control all the resources of the planet. Most human beings, seduced by the endless pleasures of procedurally-generated virtual worlds, have voluntarily uploaded their minds into so-called "brain clusters" where they have lost their humanity and individuality, becoming mere components of a global superhuman intellect. Only those people with a lot of willpower and a strong philosophical stance against dehumanization remained in their human bodies.

Once the machines initiated an operation called "World Optimization", they started to regard natural formations (including all biological life) as harmful and unpredictable externalities. As a result, planet Earth has been transformed into something far more rigid, orderly and geometric. Forests, mountains, oceans or clouds no longer exist. Strange, lathe-like artifacts protrude from vast, featureless plains. Those who had studied ancient pop culture immediately noticed a resemblance to some of the 3D computer graphics of the 1980s. The real world has now started to look like the computed reality of Tron or the futuristic terrains of video games such as Driller, Tau Ceti and Quake Minus One.

Only a tiny fraction of biological human beings survived World Optimization. These people, who collectively call themselves "hackers", managed to find and exploit the blind spots of algorithmic logic, making it possible for them to establish secret, self-relying underground fortresses where human life can still struggle on. It has become a necessity for all human beings to dedicate as much of their mental capacities as possible to outthinking the brain clusters in order to eventually conquer them.

Many of the tropes in Post-Apocalyptic Hacker World are quite familiar. A human resistance movement fighting against a machine-controlled world, haven't we seen this quite many times already? Yes, we have, but I also think my approach is novel enough to form a basis for some cutting-edge social, technological and political commentary. By emphasizing things like the role of total cognitive freedom and radical understanding of things' inner workings in the futuristic hacker culture, it may be possible to get people realize their importance in the real world as well. It is also quite possible to include elements from real-life hacker cultures and mindsets in the world, effectively adding to their interestingness.

The "PAHW game" (still without a better title) is already in an advanced stage of pre-planning. It is going to become a hybrid CRPG/strategy game with random-generated worlds, very loose scripting and some very unique game-mechanical elements. This is just a side project so it may take a while before I have anything substantial to show, but I'll surely let you know once I have. Stay tuned!


Anonymous said...

I think your game project has some potential but it does not sound as promising as Ulillillia's Platform Masters

Aleksei Riikonen said...

So, you have a scenario where on one side of a conflict there are:

(1) superintelligent machines,
(2) greatly augmented and modified humans, and
(3) essentially unmodified humans.

On the other side there are:

(4) essentially unmodified humans (and not in any way an overwhelming amount, or in a dominant position when the conflict starts)

...and you mean to *seriously* suggest that in such a scenario the latter party has some chance of prevailing?

viznut said...

No, the players in this scenario are:

1) "Machines", i.e. vast arrays of mechanized intelligence. An immense amount of raw "thinking power" but a relatively narrow scale of cognition. Remember that all the non-hacker humans have been assimilated into this array and all the "special potential of human mind" was "lost in translation" during the mind uploading process.

2) "Hackers", i.e. human beings who only have a fraction of the raw intelligence but who have dedicated their whole culture to the cultivation, development and expansion of the "special potential" that machines lack.

Thus, the conflict doesn't obey the simple mathematical logic that the machines represent but, rather, chaotically defies it. It's not a "stats versus stats" game but something where an ingenious and well-trained mind can come up with hacks and exploits that penetrate even "totally proven systems". A major point in the whole setting is that mechanized intelligence is always enslaved by abstractions (and all abstractions have faults), whereas the human mind has the special advantage of being able to transcend all abstractions.

Aleksei Riikonen said...

Would you agree that the assumption that the "machine side" hasn't been smart enough to preserve any "human thinking resources" makes this scenario very unrealistic?

viznut said...

Not at all.

There's always loss of information when a real-world structure is digitized. When scanning a painting, for example, we lose the information of how the pigments behave in different types of light. Most of us don't even realize that the type of light may play a very important role, despite the fact that we can constantly observe different materials and lights with our own eyes.

When dealing with something like neural scanning and mind simulation, even specialists are blind. It is extremely difficult to check whether a digital approximation of a mind is accurate. It is even extremely difficult for a human being to come up with a decent theory of how human mind works. It took centuries before Western thinkers even realized that human thought doesn't always follow Aristotelian logic. I therefore find it quite reasonable to assume that a machine intellect (especially one that has a rather narrow and vague idea of consciousness in the first place) would probably have extreme difficulties in producing a decent digitization model of a humam mind, regardless of the amount of available raw processing/reasoning power.

Of course, there are many possible schools of thought, and most speculations are equally valid. We can't really tell what is "realistic" until we have some real mind digitization/simulation technology available. Besides, I consider realism a very secondary virtue in the construction of my world. I have chosen the rules primarily based on what is useful for my humanist hacker propaganda, not based on what I consider realistic or likely. Internal consistency is good to have, however.

Aleksei Riikonen said...

You seem to have assumed that when I said "human thinking resources", I meant "digitization models of a human mind".

I didn't.

Instead, what I meant to communicate is that it sounds very silly when you assume that the bad guys are so stupid that they don't keep *actual physical humans* (or perhaps only their brains) in their service, if there is even a slight reason to suspect that human tissue would be able to carry out cognitive tasks that there's no superior replacement technology available for.

viznut said...

Oh! Well, biological human brains weren't supposed to survive World Optimization in the first place. The machines probably calculated the probability of random survivors posing a threat as extremely low compared to all the risks that might be caused by integrated biological neural networks. After all, the machines are essentially paranoid, utilitarian control-freaks that do everything they can to eliminate components that decrease predictability or can't be modelled and simulated perfectly. Besides, before World Optimization, human brains were regarded by the machines as inferior technology by all relevant standards, so it wasn't considered likely that they can provide any useful cognitive advantages.

Once the machines realized their miscalculation, however, it may be possible that they started to think about capturing some hackers in order to integrate their brains in the system.

Printed Circuit Productions said...

I find this actully really a well thought out idea. There are curves slightly in the idea which others may/may not get however if I picked up this game i'd play ;)

My siding is with you! GREAT blog btw, I got intorduced through your message on the puredata mailing. Kudos!


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