Just So You Know.

My destination. Just maybe, my doom.

My destination. Just maybe, my doom.

Yeah, pretty quiet here lately. Those of you insecure and craven enough to be on Facebook (like, for example, me) might know it’s because I worked for a few weeks on this talk about the evolution of delusional optimism in Homo sapiens, to give at this weekend’s Asia-Pacific SF Con in Beijing. It was originally supposed to lead into a panel called “The World is Changing” (which had originally been called “A World in Upheaval”, only they changed it because— wait for it— they wanted it to sound “more optimistic”). Except last Tuesday I discovered that whole panel had been scrapped, and all along the organizers had been expecting me to talk about Extraterrestrial Intelligence instead.

So I’ve spent most of the past week desperately trying to build a new talk around a bit of fevered inspiration that struck me while I was on the toilet at 3a.m. It’s called “The End of Need: Cognitive Trends in Star-Faring Species”. It’s about evolving past natural selection. It’s, um, upbeat. Or hopeful. Or at least not completely nihilistic (I’m not especially familiar with the words that describe things at that end of the scale). It kind of hinges on survival instincts being tautological, and how there’s no real reason for them.

It’s more of an improv thought experiment than a rigorous argument— and I probably don’t buy it myself— but that’s okay. They say it’s good to get out of your comfort zone now and then, right?

Anyway, I’m dashing this off in the Departures Lounge, just before embarking on a 21-hour flight to the opposite side of the world. I’ll hopefully be in Beijing until the 21st, at which point I depart for Bergen and the World Cliffhanger premiere of Fish To Mars from the 22nd to the 24th.  Sometime during that interval I also have to finish a story for Spacing Magazine that’s due in two weeks (I finally found a plot to hang my weaponized yoghurt idea off of). Probably won’t be blogging much during any of that time.

After that, though, I’m just going to breathe. And lie around. And play video games for a solid month.

Because I will have earned it.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Wednesday May 16 2018at 03:05 pm , filed under On the Road, public interface . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

16 Responses to “Just So You Know.”

  1. Thanks for the update. LOVE your biting humor. Whilst reading your post, I thought of Vonnegut’s Galapagos. Have fun in Beijing. I’m sure there will be more unexpected twists and turns, which you manage so…gracefully! Looking forward to reading more of your adventure.

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  2. “evolving past natural selection” ?
    “survival instincts being tautological” ? (redundant?, recursive?)

    — How about “the whole gender thing”: control of/automation of reproduction? What would this mean for gender roles, self identity, thought patterns, society???
    — Minimizing thought shaped by neocortex/reptilian brain??? Fear dampers???
    — Moving from biological to synthetic (yea, yea, yea – this one’s overdone these days, just ask Kurzweil and that “university” of his, and HBO too…)
    — Biology not a good platform for “star-faring species” time vs. lifespan, etc., etc…just ask Clarke…

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  3. Good luck, here’s hoping the trip is interesting enough and boring enough in the right ways (i.e. no exotic new diseases or interactions with authoritarian nincompoops)

    Meanwhile while you’re absent maybe we could discuss this here?
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lXUQ-DdSDoE

    I posted it somewhere else and it got sidetracked into the usual goalpost shifting, so let’s table whether this thing is passing the Turing test or not or whether this is a staged demo: Given reliable performance like this, just how many jobs is this thing going to replace? The impact of self driving cars may be dwarfed in comparison…

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  4. It’s about evolving past natural selection. It’s, um, upbeat. Or hopeful.

    When Dr. Watts says that, I’m thinking…

    This is going to be seriously disturbing.

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  5. It kind of hinges on survival instincts being tautological, and how there’s no real reason for them.

    … yeah, but where are people going to get will to survive if not for survival instincts?

    This universe is a bad joke. Trying to kill survival instincts without a better replacement… you’d have to have a psychology totally immune to fear, anxiety, disgust and such no?

    Or do away with consciousness and free will, because conscious being with hopes, dreams and delusions suffer when those intersect with reality.

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  6. Peter Watts: After that, though, I’m just going to breathe. And lie around. And play video games for a solid month.

    Ooh! For the slacking marine biologist, I recommend Subnautica. Explore and survive an alien ocean, build your own underwater Beebe station near a thermal vent, avoid hostile local fauna with (mostly) non-lethal tools, and solve a mystery to escape the planet. Can be both relaxing and exotic, or deeply, deeply terrifying.

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  7. > evolving past natural selection

    Doesn’t sexual selection do that already?

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  8. DA: Ooh! For the slacking marine biologist, I recommend Subnautica.

    Subnautica is nice, but it doesn’t have working ecosystems. Not one game has that, not even Dwarf Fortress.

    Or am I wrong? Is there a game that is for biologist what Factorio is for geeky people?

    That game, dammit.

    Ultimate nerd trap.

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  9. Y;: Subnautica is nice, but it doesn’t have working ecosystems. Not one game has that, not even Dwarf Fortress.

    There’s a limit to the complexity of a simulation you can run on mass market consumer grade hardware, at least to still have it be playable and responsive. Persistent worlds are generally done with smoke and mirrors, rather than all the behind the scenes calculations you would need to really simulate an ecosystem. Dwarf Fortress has the most robust simulation that I’m aware of with things like its real time fluid physics, and players frequently complain about the performance burden it adds. You can still find neat illusions here or there, like in Rimworld, where if you over-hunt the smaller game, the larger predators get hungry and are more likely to attack your colonists.

    That’s not really the draw of Subnautica though. It’s more about the exploration of a giant exotic aquarium. It’s also, at times, the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. I experience fear on a mammalian level when I go too deep, and see something enormous swimming around in the darkness. I thought our resident marine biologist might get a kick out of building his own Starfish style deep sea station at the bottom of the ocean.

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  10. Sounds awesome!

    Just take care, i somehow doubt the chinese authorities are as “lenient” as the US-Guys. Altough they are probably more polite while they beat you up.

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  11. DA: There’s a limit to the complexity of a simulation you can run on mass market consumer grade hardware, at least to still have it be playable and responsive. Persistent worlds are generally done with smoke and mirrors, rather than all the behind the scenescalculations you would need to really simulate an ecosystem. Dwarf Fortress has the most robust simulation that I’m aware of with things like its real time fluid physics, and players frequently complain about the performance burden it adds. You can still find neat illusions here or there, like in Rimworld, where if you over-hunt the smaller game, the larger predators get hungry and are more likely to attack your colonists.

    That’s not really the draw of Subnautica though. It’s more about the exploration of a giant exotic aquarium. It’s also, at times, the most terrifying game I’ve ever played. I experience fear on a mammalian level when I go too deep, and see something enormous swimming around in the darkness. I thought our resident marine biologist might get a kick out of building his own Starfish style deep sea station at the bottom of the ocean.

    I’d kinda hazard a guess Dwarf Fortress has atrocious coding in it.

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  12. While you’re relaxing…

    Further idea for trilogy2.3. Going backwards. As far as possible or almost. Cavemen. Crazy ass, club-wielding cavemen. Yeah, I know…monolith and the jawbone of a donkey or whatever. But still…what comes after? More. Probably. Maybe they’re also deaf or something to complete the monkey cycle. A world without sound. What replaces music? Probably flashy powders. “Fireworks.”

    Throw in a cat and now you’ve got something. Kidding. Enjoy.

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  13. >Y;: I’d kinda hazard a guess Dwarf Fortress has atrocious coding in it.

    Compared to? DF, while prone to the problems that any Winchester Mansion style project of perpetual add-ons to a code base has, also has the virtue of being unique. It’s not as if you can compare it to some other game that encompasses the same scope as DF, yet does it better. All any other game can do is claim to ape *certain aspects* of DF. Of these, Rimworld is probably the most successful, yet still only delivers a portion of the DF experience.

    So yes, DF by the nature of its perpetual incremental development, is likely inefficient. Yet it’s more efficient than any other game at being * DF.* There is no other game that boasts the same feature list for comparison.

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  14. Looking forward to the new book! Safe travels!

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  15. @DA> I actually made the mistake of digging into the code of one of their other games*.

    The badness of bay12 code is fractal. It is not merely a Winchester Mansion style architectural mess, but all the small parts are terrible as well.

    The programmer did not appear to know that int, size_t and int32_t are not the same thing. The file saving and loading code were incompatible with one another and the underlying data structures on everything but 32 bit systems.

    I did finally get it to the point where it would build & run correctly on a 64 bit machine but promised myself I would never touch any of their source again.

    *Liberal Crime Squad.

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  16. @dpb

    If you say so. As a non-coder, my only point was that if a simulation with the depth of DF in the gaming space were easy to do with *better* code, someone would have done it. So it at least has the merit of doing what it does better than anything else comparable, if one favors depth over accessibility or elegance, which I personally do.

    Back on point though, the DF critique came about in response to Y’s complaint about Subnautica not having an “ecosystem”, which Ill interpret as “many persistent actors with complex inter-dependencies”–something by his own admission no other game really has.

    I’m not sure that’s true. There are games with systems that could pass for a simplistic “ecosystem” if you squinted at them. The Sid Meier’s Pirates style of game like Mount & Blade with their procedural cities spawning armies that constantly swarm and gobble up other armies or cities, causing changes in ownership or economic conditions could almost look like a petri dish ecosystem. Sims like Simcity also feature a choreography of actors with a lot of interdependency. Sandbox style MMOs are often pointed to as being an ecosystem of a sort.

    So I’ll assume his objection is that these sort of systems lack the complexity or scope of the sort of ecosystem he wants to see simulated in an interactive game. But if you’ve played any of the above style games, you know that even rudimentary ecosystems like those will quickly start a consumer CPU to chugging past a certain number of persistent actors, no matter how “well coded” they are. So I doubt whether that a Skyrim where all the animals are persistent and dynamically interacting even when the player is out of cell is currently feasible.

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