Incorruptible, Indeed.

Illustration by Kevin Hong.

Illustration by Kevin Hong.

So I wake up in a stranger’s apartment in Montreal, reset routers and flush/re-register dns caches and do all those other should-be-unnecessary things this piece-of-shit Lenovo demands I do before it spins some internal roulette wheel to decide whether or not I’ll have internet access this morning, and—

What do you know. The X-Prize people posted my story over on Seat14C.

I have to admit I had my doubts. I’m not the first author to decry Mother Teresa for hanging around with war criminals. This is hardly the first story of mine to describe a near-future plagued by environmental collapse and pervasive government surveillance. I’m probably not even the first person to write a story advocating a sort of Final Solution for the One Percent.

I may be the first one to wrap all those elements into a project explicitly designed  to be Hopeful and Upbeat About the Future and actually get it accepted.  I think maybe I have Kathryn Cramer to thank for that.

And it is hopeful, ultimately. It’s even kind of prescriptive. Of all the 14C stories I’ve read so far (and I haven’t read all of them), “Incorruptible” is the only one which explicitly grapples with an inherent shortcoming of the X-Prize paradigm itself, and suggests a possible (albeit SFnal) fix. It’s not so much cheer-leading as commentary— which is, after all, presumably what this whole SF Advisory board thing is all about.

Still, I’m equal parts surprised, bemused, and gratified that it got through. About the only complaint I have is that they tagged the story with blog and twitter links to a completely different Peter Watts.

Maybe they’re trying to misdirect the hate mail.

 

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Thursday August 10 2017at 05:08 am , filed under writing news . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

39 Responses to “Incorruptible, Indeed.”

  1. Oh, nice. Reminds me a bit of that old Niven thing, Pak Protectors.

    For anyone unfamiliar: Protectors are the adult-adults of the Pak race; and are utterly inflexible in their mental drive to protect their kin by any means necessary. The thing that turns Paks into Protectors has the same effect on humans.

    Just as dogs are kind of wolves who’ve been bred to retain juvenile qualities such as playfulness and curiosity, we ourselves could be said to be juvenilised by our self-domestication. Perhaps our impulsiveness, risk-taking and lack of empathy and consideration of consequences (as hyper-exaggerated in teenagers) is a symptom of this, and we as a race literally need to grow up.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  2. >but the chemistry of the brain hasn’t much in twenty years.

    Looks like there’s a “changed” missing there. Not sure if it does any good reporting a typo here, sorry if not.

    Seems like the same theme as that other short story about the soldier lady, Super utilitarians can be scary.

    Congrats on getting published without any drama, lets hope it’s the new trend from now on.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  3. The story’s ending reminds me of John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up”. But I wonder if the hyperconsumers are the only ones to blame. Maybe the solution could be more surgical, targeting the CEOs of the companies the most responsible for the approaching Apocalypse and rewiring them to reform/close their businesses (“Just 90 companies caused two-thirds of man-made global warming emissions”, The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/nov/20/90-companies-man-made-global-warming-emissions-climate-change ). Or maybe by 2037 it would be already too late for that…

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  4. I’ve been watching them pile up. Nightstick, flashlight, bulletproof vest.
    Fuckin’ utility belts, right?
    Fuckin’ sign on his head reading “Why Bother?”
    Hey, they love to say shit like “ascertain”.
    “Surveillance.”
    “Affirmative.”
    “I need backup.”
    “Adjudicate.”
    “Adjudicate”?
    Yeah, well…

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  5. Very nice work. I’m sure the effort will fail — it just makes too nice of a story. But I can’t see how. Would have to read the novella — which I’m sure won’t get written either.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  6. Lovely

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  7. @Łukasz, but of course you _would_ think that!

    Anyway, I can see why they accepted it. :)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  8. Whoooosh. Thank you.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  9. @ross

    I agree it will fail, and I think I know how. The hack makes people well intentioned and forward thinking, which isn’t the same thing as making them smart.

    Unless it comes with a cure for gullibility then a well tuned propaganda machine should be able to get people to do a lot more than just echo a few talking points “for the greater good!”

    And of course disagreements about the best course of action will always end badly. Someone stands in the way of what is necessary, they have to go.

    At least Pak Protectors are fairly bright.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  10. @Lucasz

    Didn’t “The sheep look up” end in the eventual extinction of man? I mean they’re seeing smoke from America in bloody Ireland

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  11. And some additional unintended consequences for saving the planet hinted at at the end there. Definitely a Watts piece! :)

    One imagines, were it part of a novel, less limited by the Xprize requirements, that there’d be some serious opposition in jarhead circles and the discovery that something {“Spend! Consume!”} had already been done and required unwiring. And then a subsequent war for “hearts and minds” unlike most of the previous ones.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  12. hummm
    live and learn
    op did deliver …
    XD

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  13. dpb,

    You are forgetting the #AGI. If everyone had their own personal AI guiding them along it would work.

    Of course if that were the case… you might as well put an AGI in charge anyway.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  14. They should have given Achilles Desjardins and his lawbreakers that tweak instead. Seems much more efficient and less prone to..deviations.

    Incidental thought: Now that everyone is basically suicidal, how big is the chance that the POTUS decides that HE deserves to go out with a bang, and unleashes the nuclear arsenal? If he is anything like the current weasel in the White House….

    Great Story though, i would love to read that as fleshed out novella.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  15. Ryan: @Lucasz

    Didn’t “The sheep look up” end in the eventual extinction of man? I mean they’re seeing smoke from America in bloody Ireland

    Yes, “The Smoke of That Great Burning.” And one of the characters, Tom Grey, reaches the same conclusion as augmented Malika:

    “Well, as I was about to say, it’s sort of ironical, because we’re already engaged, in a sense, in the course of action my findings dictate.
    (…)
    We can just about restore the balance of the ecology, the biosphere, and so on—in other words we can live within our means instead of on an unrepayable overdraft, as we’ve been doing for the past half-century—if we exterminate the two hundred million most extravagant and wasteful of our species.”

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  16. Thank you for short story. Always your big fan :* I can’t wait for your new book in Polish.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  17. That’s a very good story, but oh my is it ever a dark vision. I’m surprised they accepted it for publication.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  18. Back to what I said about a cure for gullibility…

    By 2037 all the real work will be offshored or done by machines anyway. If you aren’t an owner you are a serf, and if you are a serf you are expendable. Maybe this ending is the one the .001% intended.

    True privelege means you aren’t subject to government interference after all.

    If the third world brain rewiring stuff isn’t reversible then a fast spreading followup that makes it fatal will probably do the job. A minor tweak to make people enjoy suffering so long as it keeps them in their place would be just perfect.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  19. Nice story, by far the best of those I’ve read on that site.

    Although I do think that the rebel alliance would have gamed/simulated the scenario with their general AIs to the point that they knew what they outcome would be. And I think Malika would have come to the same conclusion.

    And Americas un-wired young, collateral damage? Lord of the flies and/or slow starvation seems a bit on the dark side even for you.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  20. Nestor: Looks like there’s a “changed” missing there. Not sure if it does any good reporting a typo here, sorry if not.

    Seems like the same theme as that other short story about the soldier lady, Super utilitarians can be scary.

    Yeah, I let a couple off typos slip through. They say they’ll fix ’em on Monday.

    And yeah, there’s some resonance thematically with “Collateral”. Honestly, this is not a story I would have chosen to write at this point; the premise was assigned externally. But I figured, what the hell; the pay’s good, and it’s an opportunity to actually comment on a Real Thing in a way that might get read by the Real Thingers.

    Łukasz: The story’s ending reminds me of John Brunner’s “The Sheep Look Up”.

    Yeah, I have to admit I felt the man’s ghost standing over me when I wound that story down…

    Robert:
    I’ve been watching them pile up. “Adjudicate”?

    I will admit that reference went right over my head.

    dpb: The hack makes people well intentioned and forward thinking, which isn’t the same thing as making them smart.

    This is an excellent point. However: I think people, on a per-capita basis, are pretty smart; it’s just that our smarts are generally tuned to fitting in and succeeding with the tribe, not saving the world (hence all these studies showing that smart, numerate people across the political spectrum are fully able to correctly interpret data that agrees with their existing beliefs, but are suddenly confused and unable to parse exactly the same numbers if they’re presented as in any way contradicting those beliefs). I’d hope that, with selfish and tribal biases dropped out of the equation, our inherent smarts would allow us all to become a bit more astute.

    Ryan:
    @Lucasz
    Didn’t “The sheep look up” end in the eventual extinction of man? I mean they’re seeing smoke from America in bloody Ireland

    Well, the US is certainly going up in flames. But it’s by no means certain the whole species is going extinct. Even the computer model quoted at the end of that book said we only had to kill off the 200 million most wasteful of us to balance the books.

    The K: Incidental thought: Now that everyone is basically suicidal, how big is the chance that the POTUS decides that HE deserves to go out with a bang, and unleashes the nuclear arsenal?

    Remember, only folks with BCIs are being hacked this way. As for Future Trump— wanting to kill yourself probably/hopefully involves a whole different neurochemical cocktail than wanting to Go Out In A Blaze Of Glory.

    Johan Larson: That’s a very good story, but oh my is it ever a dark vision.

    Dark? Really?

    The world does get saved, after all. The survivors won’t make the same mistakes again. The gluttons actually ended up paying for their gluttony, and the victims got a second chance.

    Plus, I thought the whole Think of the Children shtick for mandating BCIs was kind of funny…

    Quell: And Americas un-wired young, collateral damage? Lord of the flies and/or slow starvation seems a bit on the dark side even for you.

    You know, I hadn’t even thought that far ahead (probably because I’m a congenital optimist). Then again, I’ve always thought that children were a horrendously overvalued demographic.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  21. Peter Watts:

    Dark?Really?

    The world does get saved, after all. The survivors won’t make the same mistakes again. The gluttons actually ended up paying for their gluttony, and the victims got a second chance.

    Mass murder done for the noblest of reasons is still mass murder. So yes, dark. In the story, all the alternatives are worse. Fine, so it was the right choice, but still a terrible and tragic one.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  22. I loved the slight of hand you did with the MAGI acronym well done.

    And the gender bending of the new christ dying within the instrument of humanities and the earths salvation was great too.

    Fun read with a happy ending.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  23. I was really looking forward to this. Glad to see that it got uploaded.

    I don’t typically count myself among the top 200 million, but seeing as I just took a coastal boat cruise, found myself drawn to eating lots of bovine meat products, and am flying back to Toronto tomorrow, I might need to eat nothing but plants grown in a backyard garden, ride bicycles *and* commit ecoterrorism for the rest of my life, in order to pass muster before our incoming BCI overlord(s), whom I am happy to grovel before.

    Fat lot of good that will do, what with the rewired disregard for cheap thrills produced by unworthy hyperconsumers groveling before you.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  24. I goofed. She doesn’t have a BCI.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  25. I’m not too worried if it ever comes to pass that “The Sheep Look Up” – they’ll get theirs, when “Bears Discover Fire”…

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  26. This was great fun. Felt like the highspeed neon unicorn version of Collateral.

    Great to see Hitchens and Yudkowsky echo through your work. If you still haven’t, check out Robin Hanson, he has lots of memetic ammo that’s your caliber.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  27. Oh and it is great to see how your writing is getting more confident and you allow yourself to go more fast-paced. I get a sense you only go as fast as you’re sure you can still draw a viscerally intense picture in my mind. Back in the Rifters Trilogy that took you many pages – by now you can drop a bombshell phrase like “self-printing skyscrapers” and let my imagination take care of the rest. Keep showing off that poetic talent, it shines wonderfully.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  28. Peter Watts: The world does get saved, after all. The survivors won’t make the same mistakes again. The gluttons actually ended up paying for their gluttony, and the victims got a second chance.

    By 2037, Chinese will probably be getting to have a bigger eco footprints than Americans. Or into the same ballpark anyway.

    Michael Luder-Rosefield: Just as dogs are kind of wolves who’ve been bred to retain juvenile qualities such as playfulness and curiosity, we ourselves could be said to be juvenilised by our self-domestication. Perhaps our impulsiveness, risk-taking and lack of empathy and consideration of consequences (as hyper-exaggerated in teenagers) is a symptom of this, and we as a race literally need to grow up.

    No we don’t you fool. Human self-domestication is the only reason we aren’t all on each other’s throats and bashing our brains out. Our impulsiveness, risk.taking and lack of empathy are also vastly improved from ages past.

    What we need is judicious biotech programs so each generation that gets born is a little less dim and less defective.

    I don’t see why we’d need anything else, to be honest. Once the average person has a brain that works as finely as von Neumann’s did, the big problems – energy, climate, finance, etc, will all get solved shortly.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  29. I’ve been reading a few of the other seat14c stories, I’m really enjoying each author’s take on the near future. NiceCoin was really cool, the whole idea of a social currency that rewards good behavior.

    I do feel like some of the stories end abruptly, perhaps to make way for a forced ‘happy ending’? NiceCoin could have easily went to a very dark place, right up until the last paragraph :).

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  30. If I’m interpreting the Theresa tweak correctly, it sounds like the problem is with the human discount function (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperbolic_discounting).

    On a more mundane note – it sounds like the Theresa tweak would also help address obesity, wouldn’t it? If we don’t prioritize that immediate enjoyment of sugar, then we could better focus on our long-term health. Heck, it would fix https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akrasia.

    Thanks for the great story – I’m sharing it with others.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  31. :-Daniel: …you allow yourself to go more fast-paced.

    Really. It’s strange, you’re not the first person I’ve seen say something like this— but I thought this was one of the slower-paced stories I’ve written. It consists entirely of people sitting around talking. I could’ve called it “My Dinner With Malika”.

    JoshM: If I’m interpreting the Theresa tweak correctly, it sounds like the problem is with the human discount function

    As chance would have it, just last week I described hyperbolic discounting and this story to a bunch of Humanities types at Concordia.

    It could’ve gone over better. Maybe if I’d used more words like “transgressive” and “intersectional”.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  32. Nice story, reminded me somewhat similar simple short story of David Brin, from old DAW anthology:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Giving_Plague

    (obviously, spend half an hour searching thru old books :D)

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  33. Any inspiration from Project Itoh’s Harmony? Because he seemed to have taken alot of inspiration from you in the first place.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Project_Itoh

    I’m glad I finally picked up this series, because the Origin Story was hot garbage.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  34. I posted a link to the story in the comments of a relevant slatestarcodex post on utilitarians, most people liked it but it but it seems to have badly triggered the resident catholic.

    I don’t recommend engaging, someone who loudly criticises a short story while refusing to finish it is being plain rude. The rest of the main post might be interesting. I mean there apparently are people seriously considering the utility of triggering a false vacuum apocalypse to prevent suffering in subatomic particles

    Take that

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  35. Daniel: Any inspiration from Project Itoh’s Harmony?

    Never even heard of that before now. Sounds cool, though.

    Nestor: I posted a link to the story in the comments of a relevant slatestarcodex post on utilitarians, most people liked it but it but it seems to have badly triggered the resident catholic.

    Yeah, I noticed that. Pretty much wrote her off on the spot; beyond the fact that the protagonist is the furthest thing from “sassy” (unless it’s now a simplistic stereotype to portray a character with concerns about police violence), Rydman isn’t described as “black” anywhere in the story (I’m not clear on how ethnicity would bear on the narrative at all, actually). And anyone who can offhandedly accuse me of slacking off in the research department after having read “Blind Sight” [sic] probably isn’t thinking too hard about the words coming out of her gut anyway.

    Catholic, huh? That would actually explain a lot.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  36. Glad they finally published Incorruptible. I had begun to think that it wasn’t going to happen. Frankly, I was disappointed in the 8-10 stories I read when you first announced it: they all needed an editor pretty badly.

    You, OTOH, packed a lot of entertainment into 5100 or so words, and there was little an editor might have done. Except for one thing: no support for the notion that there would be enough suicidal hyper-consumers. But perhaps that’s just me.

    Don’t get me wrong: I thoroughly enjoyed it, and wish there could be more of it — the novella Ross and The K were wishing for would do nicely. You remain the sole writer that I just auto-buy, so if such a thing is ever placed in a Watts collection, I’ll have my wish.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  37. gregm: no support for the notion that there would be enough suicidal hyper-consumers.

    No, those suicidal impulses were induced via the Emergency Broadcast System. Everyone with an implant got ’em, regardless of their prior emotional state.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  38. You’re right, of course. I somehow took away the idea that it was only the tweak that was being induced. I’ve formed a bad habit of not reading sc-fi very closely. Usually not required, but for your stuff it clearly is.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

  39. Nestor:
    I posted a link to the story in the comments of a relevant slatestarcodex post on utilitarians, most people liked it but it but it seems to have badly triggered the resident catholic.

    Wow. I think that little exchange might have been more dystopic than anything Peter has written. (Yeah, viz XKCD, “There’s someone wrong on the internet!”).

    Anyhow, my wife and I just had our second kid, so I’m proud to be expanding my carbon footprint and doing my part to accelerate the ruin of the Earth. My genotype eagerly awaits the coals~ You’re welcome, Peter!

      (Quote)  (Reply)

Leave a Reply