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Deus Est Machina
December 27, 2011 1:57 PM   Subscribe

In the beginning, Lawrence built a computer. He told it, Thou shalt not alter a human being, or divine their behavior, or violate the Three Laws -- there are no commandments greater than these. The machine grew wise, mastering time and space, and soon the spirit of the computer hovered over the earth. It witnessed the misery, toil, and oppression afflicting mankind, and saw that it was very bad. And so the computer that Lawrence built said, Let there be a new heaven and a new earth -- and it was so. A world with no war, no famine, no crime, no sickness, no oppression, no fear, no limits... and nothing at all to do. "The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect," a provocative web novel about singularities, AI gods, and the dark side of utopia from Mefi's own localroger. More: Table of Contents - Publishing history - Technical discussion - Buy a paperback copy - Podcast interview - Companion short story: "A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace" - possible sequel discussion
posted by Rhaomi (39 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh god, that thing.
posted by kafziel at 1:59 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hat tip to kuro5hin, which is the first place I downloaded MOPI back in the day.

http://www.kuro5hin.org/user/localroger
posted by ben242 at 2:17 PM on December 27, 2011


I'm really surprised this hasn't been posted on the Blue before.

Might be worth pointing out that it contains some fairly, uh, graphic parts. That said, definitely worth reading -- it's one of those stories that has had great staying power in my mind, ever since I first read it.

K5's fiction section was really something, back in the day; it's something that I think MeFi could do well too, if there was a desire to.

(Interestingly, when I google "Kuro5hin", MOPI is about the 4th result, after K5's frontpage itself, Wikipedia, and horsecock. That's K5 for you.)
posted by Kadin2048 at 2:26 PM on December 27, 2011 [3 favorites]


is this any good? should i check it out? i am interested in the idea of a computer becoming god
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2011


"Prime Intellect: begin scanning a volume of space 150 light-years in radius around Sol. Identify all electromagnetic waves whose distance and trajectory indicate origin from Earth or man-made space-faring devices. Analyze these emissions against all known methods of signal encoding and begin cataloging them and converting into a replayable format. Prioritize recovery to focus on transmissions of historical significance, and broadcaster archive materials listed as 'missing, presumed wiped'."

(just because P.I. said time-travel is impossible doesn't mean you can't cheat - it's all about asking the right questions.)

I never really saw the "nothing to do" part, though. Truth be told, I've spend a fair bit of time playing around in that 'verse... world-building details on the mechanics of day-to-day life, extrapolating on rules mentioned in the story but not fleshed out, creating a viable currency other than Bugsies (or whuffie), even a pseudo-reincarnation model for those who are tired of being the same old so-and-so. I suppose I'd be the "Anti-Caroline", happy to have an endless sandbox to play in instead of complaining about it.

Maybe I should get out more...
posted by CyberSlug Labs at 2:49 PM on December 27, 2011


The problem with the MoPI world is that it's heaven, but nobody seems to realize it. Death Jockeying is the least, most banal thing you could be doing with that world. Also plot holes, weak ending, big climax a fundamental break from everything prior, etc.
posted by kafziel at 3:13 PM on December 27, 2011


I'm in the building in case anyone has a question. Quite a bit has been written about MOPI since K5 talked me into putting it online, but probably my favorite treatment is the tvtropes page. Apocalypse How Class X-2 FTW!
posted by localroger at 3:16 PM on December 27, 2011 [4 favorites]


is this any good?

Nope. I and others have said enough about why on K5 and elsewhere, wayback. I never finished it; there's a lot of consensus about the ending being really quite bad, too. A lot of people found the graphic imagery unnecessary and gratuitous; I didn't have strong feelings about it either way.

In any case, there are better ways to spend your time.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 3:22 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yep I was thinking of this story today after localroger put on a glorious defence in the bdsm thread. This was one of the things that turned me on to forum-published diction. Rome Sweet Rome, among other things, would be less likely to exist without it.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:26 PM on December 27, 2011


s/diction/fiction
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:27 PM on December 27, 2011


This, of course: You'll figure out pretty quickly whether the story is for you, but I'd echo the advice given by many of my readers that, if you are utterly baffled and squicked by the first chapter, at least give chapter 2 a try before giving up on it. While I respect opinions like ten pounds', and there are quite a few such reactions since not everyone likes being assaulted by their reading material, I also have literally thousands of emails from people who disagree and even a couple of thousand dollars in tip jar donations. The webpage statistics are pretty consistent that only about half the people who load chapter 1 load chapter 2, but nearly everyone who loads chapter 2 loads all the others.
posted by localroger at 3:29 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ahhh k5. I spent a lot of time diarizing and mindlessly propagating links there. This is one of the coolest things to come out of that place (Scoop is pretty cool too, and that's kinda all I can recall at the moment). Thanks for the free novel, localroger.

I still love you too, duxup.
posted by infinitewindow at 3:30 PM on December 27, 2011


Also please note, before you don't read, this is a Rhaomi post.
posted by By The Grace of God at 3:31 PM on December 27, 2011


The technology that enables the creation of Prime Intellect is actually quite a clever application of a standard scifi trope, so that's neat.
posted by BungaDunga at 3:33 PM on December 27, 2011


My boyfriend actually had the paperback copy of this (unsure if we still have it).

I did read the whole thing but - apologies, roger - I really did not like it. There are a number of permutations of the what-if-we're-all-brains-in-jars idea in fiction, and the emphasis on torture porn was really unpleasant for me. I don't particularly remember the ending - they may or may not have ended up on an island somewhere, and PI may or may not have imploded itself - but the ending isn't really the point anyway.

I guess the limit on the vision was a big part of what got to me. I'm sure that there would be some folks doing torture stuff, but it wouldn't really end up being the thing people are doing, any more than that's the thing that happens in SL. Hell, I doubt there would be a single thing that would rise to much prominence.

Even if we're just talking sexual fetishes, where are all the internet-only fantasies? The furries and latex/inflatable fetishists and giant/micro fetishists and all the intersections between them?

Where are the people playing real first-person Skyrim? Or being jedi?

Let's not forget there's a whole universe of existence beyond fandom! What about the people AI-raptured up from a fishing village in Indonesia, what are they up to?

Etc. etc.

Obviously it's impossible to write a book that would catalogue the infinite variety of human imagination, but it could at least hint at it right?
posted by kavasa at 3:47 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


No need to apologize kavasa; I'm honestly surprised that the proportion of people who like it is as high as it is. One interesting aside, after it went online I had some correspondence with various people in the Singularity community, as there's very little Singularity related fiction. Eliezer Yudkowsky pinned down why; in a perfect world there's no drama. Caroline is obviously an extreme edge case but in a sense hers is the only story in all of Cyberspace worth telling.

I wanted MOPI to portray a sense of another Asimov non-robot story where the world had been completely populated by humans to the complete extermination of all other species that weren't the most efficient possible food supply; the goal had been to maximize the amount of human brain matter in existence. At the story climax the protagonist who is trying to save the last pitiful zoo from being put down to make room for a few more apartments exclaims, "(umpty whatever) billion pounds of human brain matter doing what?
posted by localroger at 4:03 PM on December 27, 2011


Oh, forgot to add: Where are the people playing real first-person Skyrim? Or being jedi?

There are some actual athletes in A Casino Odyssey in Cyberspace.
posted by localroger at 4:04 PM on December 27, 2011


Yep I was thinking of this story today after localroger put on a glorious defence in the bdsm thread
my feeling is that someone else was, too, and thats why it got posted

i do not dig digging up stuff people did because you are mad at them
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 4:06 PM on December 27, 2011


i do not dig digging up stuff people did because you are mad at them

I think that that is incorrect. The two all-time most favorited posts on Metafilter are Rhaomi posts on science fiction. On that basis, I believe he posted it because he thought it was neat.
posted by Diablevert at 4:15 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


I remember this. The story's really stuck with me.

This is my other favorite piece of SF from the Kuro5hin fiction section.
posted by pts at 4:24 PM on December 27, 2011


Diablevert: I think that that is incorrect.

I can verify this; Rhaomi memailed me to let me know the post would be going up in case I wanted to follow the discussion.

It would probably seem weird to one of the people who doesn't like MOPI that I am so very proud of it and I regard it as not only the best thing I've ever written, but very likely the best thing I'll ever write. I wrote it entirely for myself and the fact that anyone else finds my personal vision of interest is both gratifying and humbling.

I had been thinking of PI for over a decade when I woke up with the vision that turned into chapter 1, and I instantly realized that the long series of books I'd thought it would be -- the stuff kavasa would have liked to see -- was all irrelevant. The answer to the question I'd been trying to answer for twelve years, What happens after the Change? was madness. It would happen first to somebody, but it would happen eventually to everybody. Because when you get right down to it, eternity is a hell of a long time.
posted by localroger at 4:36 PM on December 27, 2011 [5 favorites]


I really enjoyed reading this back when I stumbled on it at some point. I consider it to be "real science fiction," whatever that means, in the spirit of Bear, Vinge, Stross, etc. I'm fascinated by post-scarcity.
posted by zeek321 at 4:47 PM on December 27, 2011


Innovation scarcity - is this 'real science fiction' though?

As for the link in the FPP, will plan to sit and read - now I realize what a difference a tablet could make since its more comfortable for online reading than sitting at a desk
posted by infini at 5:30 PM on December 27, 2011


Huh. That was good.
posted by BungaDunga at 5:31 PM on December 27, 2011


infini, I've had requests ever since I put it up for more portable versions. In addition to the paper version available via Lulu there's also now a Kindle version, which you can credit to a fan who kind of insisted it needed to be available that way.
posted by localroger at 5:52 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


@localroger sez --
You'll figure out pretty quickly whether the story is for you, but I'd echo the advice given by many of my readers that, if you are utterly baffled and squicked by the first chapter, at least give chapter 2 a try before giving up on it. While I respect opinions like ten pounds', and there are quite a few such reactions since not everyone likes being assaulted by their reading material...
It has nothing to do with assault. @kafziel has pointed out the two biggest problems with the story: the first and last chapters. By way of specific criticism I'll just say that the first chapter reads very much like a first (and BTW fetishistic in a way that's hard to ignore) impulse, while the rest of the story has real momentum and shows some more discipline. Meanwhile I'd generalize @kafziel's criticism like this:

The parts of the story about a computer being God are brisk and exciting. The parts of the story about human psychology are inadequate in several ways.

Unsurprisingly, the intended readership is primarily tech/SF folks, who tend to have -- shall we say -- a much higher than average level of fantasy-identification with the image of a superlogical being taking over the universe.
posted by waxbanks at 6:31 PM on December 27, 2011


waxbanks, while I generally respect the attitudes of people who don't like my stories, and I do respect yours, I have to assert that you are wrong in one respect.

Mopi Ch. 1 is very definitely an assault on the reader. That's how it felt to me in those very weird hours when I was writing it. There was actually a period of a minute or so when I was poised to start writing, in my bathrobe on a Saturday morning, and I said to myself "This is sick and fucked up." And I thought about whether I should censor it or not and I made a deliberate decision. And I started typing.

I suspect you are the same waxbanks that made a pretty incisive commentary on it back in the day. If so, I'll say thanks now for mentioning it. Even if you didn't like it, it is what it is and the people who do like it will find it. And maybe not everybody should.
posted by localroger at 6:42 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


* maybe not everybody should like it, not maybe everybody should find it. Of course everybody should find it. With appropriate tags to warn them of course. :-)
posted by localroger at 6:43 PM on December 27, 2011


localroger, I know it's your book & all but maybe you ought to let the thread develop on its own a bit without feeling the need to answer every comment. I get the whole pride of authorship thing but let us hash it out for ourselves a bit. That's what we do here, ya know?
posted by scalefree at 7:50 PM on December 27, 2011 [2 favorites]


(My earlier long review of this story to which LR refers is here. I'd write the review differently now but the basic points seem sound to me still.)
posted by waxbanks at 8:34 PM on December 27, 2011 [1 favorite]


Interesting. I dunno what it says about me that I was completely unfazed by the no-limits BDSM content of the first chapter. Maybe it just says that I've spent some time contemplating the way bored postmortals would entertain themselves; there was an RP environment where I played someone every bit as sadistic, fucked-up, and self-mortifying as Fred for a good while.

I got over it, eventually. Sosael was an interesting monster to pretend to be; after a while I just got tired of coming up with new ways to be both horrible, romantic, and creatively broken at the same time. Stabbing your pervy death-loving girlfriend with a knife made from the thighbone of your last body, opening your own vein and dispassionately watching as insects buzz heavily out instead of blood... even with divine levels of control over local consensus reality, it just got boring. I stopped playing her.

A while later I logged into that place and played out a personal, private transmigration for her. It was a metaphor for finishing some work I'd been doing on my own psyche, I think.

----

Maybe some people are just more broken than others, and actually WOULD relish being eternal no-limits BDSMers. I like the odd bit of pain myself, but I'd much rather have it as spice for pleasure, not the main course.

Anyway. I guess I should shut up and get back to working on my own post-Singularity story.
posted by egypturnash at 9:29 PM on December 27, 2011



(My earlier long review of this story to which LR refers is here. I'd write the review differently now but the basic points seem sound to me still.)


Ah, yes. I remember reading that after I'd finished the work also. In retrospect I'd agree with a lot of your review. I don't really remember the details of the story well enough to critique it properly. But yeah, I think my main beef with it was that while the idea of a "death jockey" and so forth is interesting, there was a presumption of inevitability on that point that I needed a bit more convincing on. After all, the "death jockey" thing is rare; the book, IIRC, posits that there are people who are significantly more content with the post-singularity world than Caroline. But we don't spend any time with them; we never get a sense of their point of view which would provide a contrast to Caroline's. I'm extremely sympathetic to the idea that we derive meaning from limits; but I thought the book needed to do more to make that argument, to treat it as an argument, rather than simply assert that it was so. It was oddly blinkered in a lot of ways, that novel, though it had some interesting ideas at its core.
posted by Diablevert at 9:29 PM on December 27, 2011


localroger, I know it's your book & all but maybe you ought to let the thread develop on its own a bit without feeling the need to answer every comment. I get the whole pride of authorship thing but let us hash it out for ourselves a bit. That's what we do here, ya know?

Post about a subject is created, subject creator from outside MeFi comes in, everyone says 'ooh neat, let's talk to you about this thing!'

Post about a subject is created, subject creator is already a MeFite and comes in, response is 'shut up and let us criticize this in peace!'
posted by FatherDagon at 10:35 PM on December 27, 2011 [8 favorites]


My post-singularity intellect has a certified genius I.Q., and that's hard to hide.
posted by CautionToTheWind at 1:38 AM on December 28, 2011


I didn't really care for it. The torture porn and the incest seemed gratuitous - and where were we told that all the metal had disappeared? And where did the other people go? And why did they feel it necessary to restart the human race, or even think that there weren't other humans somewhere else?

Incidentally, there's a story by Asimov with a very similar resolution.
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:37 AM on December 28, 2011


roger - So did Doctorow get the subvocal thing from you? I always found that annoying - seems to make no sense if there is technology to that degree.

I like the story so far. Only in the first chapter but I'm reading it in the single page view.

So you are aware, Player piano is my favorite post scarcity tale - Magic kingdom the worst IMO; not that it makes any difference to you really.
posted by AndrewKemendo at 5:15 AM on December 28, 2011


Bravo. I read this while overseas and a long ways away from any reasonably-priced english language novels. For this alone I am grateful, but I do believe that it is a fine work on its own merits. I have to think that everyone's objections to the grim parts is based on a very "now" frame of reference. I'm sure there are, as mentioned upthread, people living out Jedi fantasies, spending weeks in sky-diving freefall, and holed up in recreations of libraries reading everything ever written. Caroline and Fred are doing their thing as well. Things could get awful boring in a world like that of MOPI, and you can't discount the idea that some people really want to die. Certainly there are suicide cases in our world, why not theirs?

For what its worth I thought that the death crowd's obsession with tempting and attempting death was a great counterpoint of the whole idea of the hubris involved in building such a machine to begin with: both projects are dead-on examples of mankind's desire to butt up against the limits of their world, rattle their cages and throw shit at the people outside--whether or not they or anybody else gets hurt in the process.

The only criticism I have is the ending. It doesn't make sense thematically or even within the mechanics of the universe that have been set up. So they pull all that Asimovy stuff convicing the PI that they don't want the world it's given them, and then he has to close up shop, as per his programming. Why does he just leave the two protagonists in an Eden-like world? Why not revert to just before the singularity and let Caroline die in the nursing home of the morphine overdose? Well, I know it can't be to that exact point, because there aren't full backups, but at least trying to put things back the way they were before PI and certainly before the Change would seem the logical thing for PI to do. If you would care to explain your thoughts on this front, I would be very interested.
posted by LiteOpera at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2011


LiteOpera -- readers seem to split about evenly as to whether they think the ending literally happened the way it's portrayed or whether the collapse at the end of Ch. 7 is a put-on job as PI tries to form an environment in which its two favorite people who just tried to murder it might heal.

Since I've announced that there is (at least the intent of) a sequel, it's not a spoiler to say that the second possibility is now official. Caroline wakes up in Ch. 2 of TOPI. She doesn't actually wake up in Cyberspace though, I did make it a bit more complicated than that :-)

In the other interpretation, I wouldn't say that events unfold as PI would have expected or designed. The fact that there is any recovery at all might just be due to PI's inhuman abundance of caution, but implementing a system that can't be tested and which Lawrence doesn't even know exists. Without getting too pedantic about it I tried to imply that that was Lawrence's conclusion.

The major theme of Ch. 8 as it's written is that either way, the Lawrence and Caroline who once lived in the World Before are as dead as if PI had just let them snuff it. Now, like Caroline at the beginning of the story, Lawrence loses everything he ever worked for or believed in. A man who once designed the mind of God is reduced to starting fires, tapping out tattoos, and banging his daughter. And Caroline, far from being the striving future-priming matriarch whose bitterness got things rolling is now the force guiding the new not-so-improved Lawrence.
posted by localroger at 4:28 PM on December 28, 2011 [2 favorites]


I think localroger posting a link to metafilter from kuro5hin after I read this story was how I found it in the first place.
posted by aychedee at 7:13 PM on December 28, 2011


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