This is a place for exploring Singularity related ideas and inspirations.
This includes Transhumanism, Posthumanism, The Nature of Technology and the Technology of Nature. It is a basic assumption here that innovation is in strata and built on the ground of previous innovations, though sometimes obscured.

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Night Sea Journey

The Night Sea Journey
Stephen B. Kagan

Fly, dotard, fly! With thy wise dreams and fables of the sky. 
When I died they wrapped me in a radiation shielded cryo-suit, stuck me in a sarcophagus like pod and shot me off into space. I must have looked a lot like a mummy wrapped in tinfoil. While my last request was to become a silver skinned sentinel of the spaceways, they had instead done their best and made me into a mummy. Unlike the mummies of old I wasn't planning on ending up on display in a museum or being turned into pigment and used for portraiture by some stupid alien Rosetti.
            When I was alive I was never an impulsive man so I chose my target carefully before my last gasp and entered into the light. I had never travelled much before, happily burdened most of my life with the responsibilities of work and family, so I at least wanted to travel when I was dead. And though I kept my nose to the ground, my eyes and mind were always looking beyond the white sliver of the moon high in the noonday sky or the vast spill of stars at night and the soft glow of the setting sun like honey on the across the horizon. And so after my mortality got the best of me, they pulled my sorry withered ass up one of the space elevators, towed me out of orbit as flotsam on some asteroid mining expedition, took aim and shot me off toward Tau Sagittarii, 122 light years or so from Earth. Rough estimate was that it would take me about 850,000 years to get to my destination. I wasn't in a rush; I was dead after all.
            Now, there could have been better targets than that with the potpourri of Earth-like worlds littered throughout the galaxy but I guess I wanted to make a point. I half expected that human technology would accelerate enough to allow them to pick me up and revive me in a hundred years or so but that never happened. I'm not sure what transpired back on that old wet ball, probably science and technology got dragged back down into the dark ages by some narrow minded theocracy or conservative political ideology.
The first time I woke up Rilke had it right; I did not know if I was a falcon, or a storm, or a great song. Vague recollections of deep Cambrian dreams in caverns measureless to man washed upon the shore of myself but faded quietly into the oblivion of the modern mind. Were they merely artifacts of a dying and waking brain or were they various incarnations along the way? Sadly, I suppose I will never know. When I finally came to I found I was in a large dimly lit room filled with swathes of cool mist inhabited by a pair of tall humanoids with bird like heads and feathered garments. They peered at me with sharp clear eyes and an unwavering gaze. They removed a scroll from my hands, looked over it carefully then set it aside.
            I watched serenely as they stripped the frozen desiccated flesh from the loom of my bones, spun out my DNA and wove new organs and tissues that they knit back onto my cleaned and radiant skeleton. While I watched, a soft quiet buzzing filled my skull and not only did my eyesight become sharper but old forgotten memories from my childhood burst into awareness with greater clarity. I remembered the excitement of chasing after an ice cream truck on a sweaty summer day with a gaggle of friends by my side as it crawled up the street through the cool shadows of chestnut and maples. The street was pocked with small oozing bubbles of tar, the air was wrinkled with heat and cicada buzzed like thousands of little electric saws in the tree tops.
            By the time they reconnected my head, the multitude of memories settled from a storm into a simmer and I understood things now with greater clarity including the language these creatures spoke. They said they had picked me up in transit and after examining me decided the honorable thing to do was assist me along my way. They were enroute to establishing trade with a rather xenophobic species in another solar system and could not afford to bring me along or delay their mission. I thanked them deeply though it grieved me to lose this opportunity to explore their civilization. They disassembled my pod, transformed it into smart dust and reused the material to build an actual cryogenic chamber with a basic propulsion system. They gave me back the scroll they had found in my hands and I smiled when I saw it. The picture and hieroglyphs were drawn in my older daughter's unmistakable refined style. It showed a scene where Ra, the falcon headed god was riding a boat through the land of the dead. The aliens waited until I was ready then lulled me carefully into a deep cryo-sleep and sent me along my way.
            The second time I awakened I was in a small room, brightly lit in some places but mottled in shadows. Despite my previous awakening from the dead I could not remember who I was. All I knew were the stories of old and I could not recall if I was Odysseus cast adrift, but now stranded upon an island or the wandering Gilgamesh now in the house of Siduri, the goddess of the vine. A crowd of small gnomish creatures gathered around me and poked me gently with long prehensile hands and luminous fingers. Their eyes were large and gray and the creatures moved like awkward children though I could not tell their age. Their thin lipped mouths moved though their voices said nothing remotely like any language I had ever heard. My joints ached, my throat was dry and I desperately wanted a drink. After they did a full scan of my body they did indeed bring me a squat cylinder of a clear but softly fermented liquid with a soft berry taste.
            They took great interest in exploring my body and doing various scans with small pieces of equipment shaped simply like softly glowing displays. After a while I was finally able to sit up and look around. They showed me a chart of the galaxy with the path I had taken and a clear You Are Here symbol. Near as I could tell, I was most of the way toward my destination though I had no idea how many thousands of years had passed. It took some time for them to scan my brain and process my language before they could adjust their translators. They had brought me to their home world but before they could let me out into their atmosphere they needed to make some adjustments with my permission. I agreed and was able to watch as they removed my rebuilt organs and replaced them with synthetic ones that glowed with a warm golden light. When they sealed me up it was strange to no longer feel my heart beating quietly or my lungs rise and fall within my chest. Instead I felt a vibrant hum as though I was constantly on the edge of discovery.
            Their home world turned out to be a new one that they were in the process of terraforming. Giant creatures ambled through the barren rocky landscape consuming stone and releasing gas and nutrient rich soil. Carefully designed bacteria and nanites were busy munching upon and reworking the bonds of atmospheric molecules. The oceans were already full of a plethora of eukryotes and trillions of nanites balancing and adjusting the chemistry. Under large domes where my hosts lived, vegetation grew in jungles amidst small urban centers. The transformation of the planet was happening at an extraordinary pace and it would take decades rather than centuries.
            In the quiet of the night after leaving my hosts for the privacy of my own thoughts I decided I needed to move on. This was their task, their world, not my own. As a species they had little sense of privacy, their food was bitter and they smelled funny. Now that I was alive again and had a means to travel the stars I decided there was no reason to linger. They had studied me with great interest especially when they found the changes to my body from my previous encounter. Conversely, I had studied them and enjoyed having my feet upon the ground again for a while. The hunger to explore was a fire in me now and I discovered that I had no interest in settling down. The galaxy was a vast network of cultures and intelligence with wonders yet undiscovered. How could I justify settling down when there was so much more out there to explore?
            They expanded my cryo-pod and installed a guidance system with maps of all the known inhabited planets and those likely to harbor life. They brought me back to space, we said goodbye, I was lulled back to sleep and shot toward my original destination. There must have been some molecular drift because now my awareness was loosely sustained, glacial as it was. I dreamed vast slow dreams with little plot or direction. How long I was in space before I was picked up again I had no idea.
            Of the next encounter I have only vague recollections and they were not kind. The room was dark and shadowed, lit by dying embers. They were creatures of some forgotten lore and their eyes were dark as ravens. I was analyzed like an inert specimen, an artifact. They did not respond to any of my attempts of communication and treated me like an odd fish dragged exhausted onto a boat, it's gills pulsing as it gasped for breath. I was worried that I was going to be dissected and eaten before I could figure out what to do. Mostly paralyzed, I could still move my hands and started flashing my fingers in sequences of primes until they glanced at me and at one other before continuing on as before. I gave them the finger and wished it could traverse the gulf.  Eventually they put me "back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning" and as I lay there in muted terror and began to slumber I wished that we could have been better strangers and I prayed that I would see them nevermore. Again I dreamed, meandering through dark forbidden landscapes and finding rooms behind doors I had never seen before.
            When I finally woke again I was in a vast undefined space though there was a sense of enclosure, of nearby boundaries though none could be seen. A diffuse light filled the space with no clear shape or direction and a soft resonant sound that resembled the long slow drone of temple bells came from everywhere at once. Distant tones rose and fell like voices in plainsong and far off I heard what sounded like the deep pulse of a great engine and other strange mechanisms. In the hours when I lay in a mythic mind on the edge of slumber while looking out at the world, I could not remember if my ship was named Pequod, the reed barque of Ra or the nameless boat of Charon.
            Thin strands of vibrating energy appeared around me, pulsing and shimmering as they rapidly exchanged a staccato of rhythmic sounds too fast and complex for me to understand. I tried to communicate but my words were like dull stones that fell to the floor and vanished. The strands of energy moved around me in a dance and one outstretched a thin resonating filament to my face. Muscles throughout my body stiffened and twisted uncontrollably and a sense of revelation came upon me. A rapid succession of soundscapes and resonant forms flooded through my enhanced but all too primitive brain. Silence enfolded me as the filament moved away from my head and disappeared. I tried to put together something comprehensive from the flood of information that had passed through me but it was impossible. I longed to understand but my mind was just too small.
            A memory from the distant past came unbidden from when I was somehow more human though less complete than I was now. I recalled being an infant on a dance floor at a wedding, a jumbled forest of legs moving around me to a melody I could not comprehend. I wanted to participate but it was too much for me, I was just too damn small and I couldn't understand the chaos of how the people moved around me.
            The vibrating strands of energy pulsed and rapidly exchanged complex polyrhythms like an ancient piece of African drumming underscored by the long rich tones of a viola and then there was silence. I had the impression they were waiting for me, waiting for an answer. All I could do was re-iterate that I wanted to understand. Silence ensued and all but one of them disappeared. It spoke slowly to me in the pleasant and reassuring voice of a cello. I slept for a while, a deep dreamless sleep and when I awakened something had shifted in my awareness that was difficult to comprehend. I felt as though I was standing or floating beside myself. Somehow my consciousness had split and was in two places at once. One was enmeshed in nerves and flesh, the other floated in a serene space nearby. They had somehow entangled my consciousness and separated my selves by a small distance, but for me there was no distance. Instead of two of me there was only one, but with two sets of eyes. It was dizzying at first, as though I was learning to see straight with crossed eyes.
            They took my body and bathed it in deep resonant sounds of complex harmonies and wrapped me in folds of magnetic fields. I sang the body electric as agonizing pain momentarily ripped through my nerves and soon there was only one of me watching with a curious sense of detachment. They disassembled my body, separated the elements and recompiled them from the bottom up, molecule by smart molecule. They built me a body laced with webs of conductive nano circuitry then transferred and melded my consciousness within and I was whole again. 
            My capacity had grown beyond anything I had previously imagined was possible. My entire history and portions of the history and knowledge of each species I had encountered including my own were embedded within me. They always were but I could not read the code until now. Each species I had encountered had given me far more than I had known and I had become something more than a simple explorer.
            My new friends, whom I had seen before as vibrant strings of energy were now clearly complex beings of resonant energy. I understood that they had evolved beyond the need for organic and were now something more akin to resonant patterns of information. They brought me to their home world and what was once a viable planet had been transformed into a vast branched arcology that resembled what could loosely described as a tree of souls. It turned out that I had finally reached my intended destination, the source of the interstellar signal that Earth had received all those millennia ago. These beings were in the process of engineering the destruction of the second sun that was destabilizing their binary system. It was spectacular to watch as the star ejected a vast quantity of solar energy that they captured while the star cooled rapidly and collapsed in a controlled demolition, first into a white then a black dwarf.
            I cannot say how long this took according to my primitive old standards of time since all of my biological cues were gone and my time sense had evolved to match that of my companions. All I can say is that after many turnings, the longing in me to explore the cosmos welled up within me again. I no longer needed to sleep and had plenty to occupy my mind though I could now live for long spans of deep undisturbed peace without the need for thought or boredom. My friends used the materials of my old cryopod mixed with matter they had mined from the black sun and built me a ship with which I could travel the stars. It had an advanced propulsion system but it worked on principles of bending spacetime to travel vast distances nearly instantaneously.
            A few of my new friends decided to join me in my continued exploration of the galaxy. There was so much yet undiscovered and unknown. Eventually I wanted to find my way back to Earth to see what had become of my old stomping grounds and share with them what I had found. For now, though there were so many inhabited worlds out there to see, who knows where we would end up next. I now had an exact replica of the scroll my daughter had made from the Egyptian Book of the Dead inscribed into the molecular structure of which I was composed. It said:

            "Hail, thou who goest round about heaven, thou pilot of the world, thou beautiful rudder of the western heaven."

Thursday, November 3, 2016

League of Cosmic Engineers

League of Cosmic Engineers

“I live on Earth at present, and I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing — a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.” 
Buckminster Fuller

The ship descended toward the planet, an arrowhead on a shaft of light. The gentle curve of space coaxed us toward it’s silent target, turning slowly in the darkness. Where were the surging currents of wind and rain from the bright molten star? And where was that blazing sun that had warmed the planet’s companions through the growing expanse?
We approached the darkened planet from a high orbit, descending a slope of spacetime into the solar system at a sharp incline to the ecliptic like a toboggan gliding down a snowy hillside. It was once an ancient world, brimming with life. Now, it was dead, it’s biosphere transformed to motes of dust and blackened rock. What’s worse was that it was the fifth planet we had found in this arm of the galaxy that had been so horribly transformed. We already knew what we would find when we looked closer; the frail energy emissions matched what we had seen before.
“Scan results?” I leaned forward from my chair.
“It’s smart rock, programmable matter.” Buzzed Jiiu calmly. “The whole thing converted to computronium.”
“Bastards!” I couldn’t contain my anger as I once did. 
We paused for a moment at the enormity of what had been done below. The disregard for life was staggering. They had annihilated millions of intelligent beings and an entire biosphere of billions of organisms for the sake of winning a game. They were only supposed to convert dead world's in the Goldilocks zones of star systems into computronium and we were supposed to seed them with life. But now this. They changed the rules of the game and had begun annihilating everything.
“How long ago?” Anu croaked.
“Maybe 1,200 years.” Zuu buzzed after examining the sensors.
“That’s not too bad.” Shuun resounded. “What are the residual distortion patterns in the quantum foam and surrounding gravitational waves like?”
“Pretty damn good.” Jiuu hummed back. “We should be able to reverse engineer part of the biosphere and most of the life forms without much error.”
“Most.” I shook my head wondering how much would be lost.
“Yes.” Anu squawked. 
It was disturbing that our predecessors would devalue life to nothing more than patterns of information, tear them apart and put them in a computational blender.
“Alright, let’s get started.” I waved dismissively.
Nodes and repeaters released from the ship arched high over what remained of the planet and star in hexagonal grids and dropped to the surfaces below.  A couple of bright beams lanced out from the belly of the ship, scored the surface of the planet and star, linking the nodes in laceworks of glowing light; more information than raw energy. They slowly and carefully excited and released the latent bonds of the dense molecular structures that were once a planet and unleashed the plasma that had once danced in the heart of the sun. While the star raged to life it would take seven months of solid work to unpack the damn smart matter back into a living breathing planet with an advanced ecology of 9 million species. It was a lot like unraveling a very big ball of yarn and so we had plenty of time to chill while the biosphere blossomed.
Looking up at the shimmering flow of the galactic arm through the window above my bed was like laying by of a lazy river on a summer day, the light sparkling on the surface of the slow afternoon waters. Sometimes I missed wriggling my toes planet-side in the grass by a stream patrolled by dragonflies and shimmers of sunlight pouring through the leaves of a tree above. Much as I hated to admit it, sometimes I missed Earth, that for off planet of my birth. When I thought back to my small and simple life on that confused and conflicted rock, it was now like thinking about the politics and disputes of micro-organisms or some children squabbling over the movement of grains in a sandbox. But they were my micro-organisms and that ferment is what gave birth to me and sent me on my ride through the different neighbourhoods of the galaxy. In some ways squabbles and disputes are still a part of me, woven into the informational patterns in my densely packed synthetic biology.
I looked down at my body, flexed my newly grown chest, arms and legs. It had been a long time since last I was human and it felt good, like putting on a comfortable old sweater and pants. Granted, I wasn’t completely human as I once was with all those antique organs and carnival tent pole bones, but from the outside I certainly looked and felt human. When I glanced inside though, I could see that my whole body was now more like a brain. Nets of shimmering intelligent molecules woven together into smart fibers with glowing streams of information that connected me to the ship and the others with whom I travelled. As I meditated I could sense that the informational structure of my body-mind was entangled with twin patterns far away in the Collective. When I wriggled my toes here, I wriggled simulated toes there and over there in different planetary systems throughout the galaxy. At times like this I felt like a bug looking at a flowered field through eyes of many facets. It was a little dizzying at first but my mind soon painted it all into a single picture and what seemed like several minds were blended into one.
I followed the threads of connection from those mirrored selves outward into the vast computational ecology of the Collective, threaded carefully from planet to planet and star to star throughout the galaxy. My vision of it all was a net of shimmering jewels that linked together hundreds of worlds in filaments of braided red. And when I pulled back from the Collective into the private space of my own mind, I could see I was filled with a ecology of memories connected by smaller threads. My distant past on Earth and my journey through the stars after being awakened from the dead were no longer faded cartoons of ink on putty but vibrant scenes, parallel lives that I could re-live whenever I chose. As a result, sometimes it felt as though the world, family and friends I left behind were still living day and night on that cloudy ball turning lazily around its yellow star. As silly as it was, I sometimes imagined the world I knew frozen in time and waiting for me to return and pick up where I left off.
I do wonder what happened to that messed up planet, those fearful but hopeful primates we called humans, clinging hard to the roots of the past while trying desperately to climb forward toward a brighter future. It’s like they were stuck between two bases in a game of pickle, unsure which way to run. They longed for change but feared it just the same. Every millennia or so I searched the Collective to see if they’ve joined but so far no word from Earth. As far as I knew they were still playing that silly game. All I could do was shrug and sigh. Someday I’ll return to peek over the fence and say hello, but I’ve been too busy in the past couple of hundred thousand years and immortality has a strange way of changing your sense of time. Someday I will go back to see if the human circus is still going on beneath the big top of their sky. Someday. But now, the game was afoot and last I checked, my crew and I were winning.
After a good rest on my own with some quiet music and the soft embrace of a mattress, I arose and trudged back to the bridge of the ship to check in with my comrades on the resurrection of the planet. The corridors were filled with quiet music and scenes of raging waterfalls, cloudy forests and parched deserts from other worlds. When I entered the control room it reminded me of thanksgiving with my friends standing around a table but with a planet carved up in the middle. I did my best to push away the past and focus on the scene at hand.
  Shuun, my old friend from a distant world was a third generation post biological entity now shaped into a series of bone tubes. When Shuun talked it sounded like musical farts, but my neural processors translated everything into the common tongue. Eventually I learned to stop laughing, though the others didn’t find it funny. Some had never tried organic life while others had deviated too far from the gassy organic norm to appreciate the fine nuances of methane. Here, I was the only human, having left Earth when I died millennia ago, wrapped like a mummy and shot into the depths of space. My companions and friends came in different shapes and sounds these days, now that I was so far from home. Jiiu, Zuu and Aaz continued incarnating as vibrant strands of living energy, harmonized in fifths of each other as their ancestors had done for eons. Anu was now an androgynous albino birdlike humanoid because he/she had lost big time in our last game of gin. Admittedly not all neural substrates were conducive to playing cards but that was Anu’s problem. And then there was me, now nurturing some wayward sense of sentimentality, I had chosen this time to incarnate as a human hybrid with a dense form of smart biology.
“How could they have done that?” I asked in disbelief
“Well, it’s easy.” Shuun sounded like a slow trombone. “All they had to do was transmit..”
“That’s not what I mean!” I was angry. Everyone turned to look at me.
“I don’t understand.” Said the jazz tuba
“Of course you don’t. You’re just being logical.” I shook my head.
“Oh, I understand, you mean morally.”
“For God’s sake, yes I mean morally!”
“For God’s sake?”
“Never mind.” I sighed.
“I’m not sure I like when you are human.” Anu squawked.
“I think it’s kind of funny.” The ship chimed in.
“Who asked you?” I smiled and the ship laughed.
“Maybe they knew we would find these systems.” Jiuu buzzed and as usual pulled the conversation back to the situation at hand. Even after all these years together I wasn’t sure if this race of energy strands had much more than a subtle sense of humor.
“Maybe they didn’t care because they knew we would eventually rebuild all of the worlds.”
“But the decay rate..”
“The evidence suggests they just didn’t care.”
“Well, we have enough effected systems mapped now that we can project their course.”
“Thank you. Would you please pull up a map.”
The blossoming world disappeared and was replaced by the swirling cosmic flush of gas and light we call our galaxy. The past three stars that we had found transformed were highlighted and connected with long luminous strands. 
“When we add the other worlds we found that they had claimed, their path becomes obvious. They are making their way methodically along the Carina–Sagittarius Arm of the galaxy out towards the periphery.”
“How long before they reach the outer edge?”
“They are probably already there.”
“We’re already halfway there. If we get moving, we can intercept them soon.”
“Well, let’s get our asses out of here then.” Everyone turned to look at me curiously. I just shrugged the shrug of surrender. I’ve given up trying to explain my expressions to them.
The planet was well on its return to life, a brown and green aggie marble soaring majestically around a simmering star and I insisted we leave our signature black monolith on the moon nearby. We were soon on our way after setting up a sphere of protective beacons at the edge of the solar system. The ship drank energy from the ground state of the void and we surfed a wave of spacetime, exotic particles spilling off in our wake. Stars coasted by and though we were intent on reaching the edge, we listened to the songs of the stars as we went.
Our rival’s path led to the periphery of the spiral arm and stopped. At that point there was nowhere to go but up. We flew beyond the edge of the galaxy and high above the dense swirl of the galactic plane. Their trail moved out along the Sagittarius tidal stream of globular clusters, tidally stripped stars from the Milky Way’s old dance partner, the dwarf elliptical galaxy, now high in orbit around the edges of the Milky Way. Messy clumps of older red giants tangoed and waltzed with younger partners dressed in veils of orange and yellow plasma.
These were the retirement communities of ancient stars and elder races who preferred to rest in old Transcension homes, femto-scale communities hidden behind gates of carefully closed spacetime. They were not too friendly toward us noisy and playful young ones from other stellar neighbourhoods. Sometimes for fun we did the one thing we knew would irritate them and jiggled spacetime at just the right oscillating pattern and ran to hide behind a nearby cluster and watch, laughing all the way. When they opened the door and came out to see who rang, they were usually pissed off and butt ugly, but we learned something every time. As the old adage goes, sometimes you have to break a watch to see what makes it tick.
I remembered when I was young and very much human, the boys and girls I grew up with would run, bike and play across all the yards in reach, as though the neighborhood was one big playground. Every patch of grass, sidewalk, shrub and tree was ours for the taking except where old man Clint lived two doors down. Even the crisp autumn leaves were afraid to move out of their places on his lawn. We carefully avoided his property except when we tiptoed through his garden to climb his trees and steal his crabapples. The transcensionists were old man Clint on a cosmic scale and we usually avoided them with equal care.
Each globular cluster we coasted by was an abandoned marble game of scattered stars and there were lots of these old games spread across the sky. We moved into the outer halo toward the edge of the galactic corona. The bulge in the center of the galaxy appeared to be a single massively bright ball of fusion and to my eyes it was beautiful, a distant wondrous flower blossoming in the darkness. We followed our rival’s trail along the high arch of stars and our wake of spacetime rippled behind us as dark matter gained ground.
We had time to kill, time to chill so I went back to my room and looked at the distant flower of lights. I lay down and listened to the quiet, the pulse and flow of silence, the silence that held us safe from the raging winds of the stars. I lay listening to the quiet that was the warm embrace of Tareth, the ship which carried us through the cold vibrant darkness of space, the vessel that carried us from light to light, from star to star. The ship was my lover, my friend and companion with whom my life and journey had been so deeply intertwined. We journeyed together and held each other close within the vastness between the vibrant simmering suns and their wandering caravans of worlds dressed in robes of clouds and shawls of life. She held me as we travelled between worlds and sailed the waves of time and space just as I had once held her and as we held each other amidst the menagerie of worlds we explored together, within the silence which was never really silent.
“What are you thinking?” She asked politely, probably already knowing.
“About silence and all our travels, my dear.” I replied.
“Ahh, the wandering.” Tareth's voice was rich with melancholy.
“Yes.” I nodded.
“Come visit me.” She asked gently.
Closing my eyes, I let my awareness drift out into the space which was not a space. We met as luminous beings in vibrant embrace, nurturing energies of intimacy and knowledge flowed between us. We stayed together for many days, hunting through meadows of lush grass swept by gentle winds and the scents of distant prey. We rested in an enlightened kingdom of diamond and lapis inhabited by young gods. And when the galaxy was a distant wheel in the darkness and the ship we pursued was near, I awakened, returned to my body, wriggled my toes, clutched my fingers and opened my eyes. It didn’t take long to gather myself together and return to the bridge.
“What’s the buzz? Tell me what’s happening?” I sang as I walked in.
They turned to look at me curiously and I laughed.
“We attempted contact, they refused to acknowledge us so we disabled their ability to move.”
The projection in the middle of the room showed a squished egg of a ship trapped in fold of spacetime.
“Excellent. What now?”
“Well, now we need to message the Collective and decide how to progress.”
“You mean how to dole out some punishment.”
“If you want to call it that.”
“You bet your sweet ass I do.” 
More dumbfounded looks turned my way.
"Are all humans so, colorful?"
"No, many are stuck in sepia."
"Never mind. Let's go schmooze with the Collective."
We left the bridge and found our way to the communal chamber, a round featureless room filled with diffuse light. Once we spread out evenly in a circle, the gravity disappeared and we floated gently into the air. I closed my eyes, my mind down shifted through different states and thoughts faded into the vibrant substrate of my being. I awakened in a grand amphitheater, my colleagues arranged in the same circle as we were in the ship. Rows of seats rose around us in a gradual slope of stairs. Tareth appeared beside me, took my hand in hers and smiled. Our minds touched, the boundaries between us relaxed and we were once again a single self with two minds. Slowly the others joined. First Jiiu, Zuu and Aaz opened their vibrant minds to us and I glimpsed distant spires rising through clouds, washed with golden light. Their minds were like music, a deep chord that filled the background of our awareness. Shuun joined in with a familiar voice rising from the depths and Anu joined descending on a warm current from above. Our minds connected in a collective chant, rising and falling together in waves as one mind with many voices.
Our entangled selves far away in the Collective joined in chant with us and soon their neighbors joined as well in the great song. We discovered that they were in the midst of the celebration of the Great Communion and as other circles of minds entered, avatars appeared in the amphitheater around us. Feelings of curiosity and excitement gave way to interest and concern as they embraced us and we embraced them. Call and response soon gave way and blended into shared consciousness. Our mind grew strong with many voices merging into one, into a greater mind, alive and buzzing like a hive spread across a vast continent filled with song. Minds deep in the upwelling Cores of hundreds of planets joined us, soft clouds drifting through a vast immeasurable sky.
As we grew, encompassing stars and spreading through the inhabited portions of the galaxy, we discovered that there were other, greater intelligences already around us. We had glimpsed them before but they had always faded from view. They were luminous orchestral beings conversing in a language beyond our comprehension. Some were nebulous clouds of deep musical thunder while others resembled the dark molten hymns of neutron stars or the bright chromatic tones of star clusters. We were but children as we approached them. And it was as though, despite all our advances and our greatness, we had been doing little but playing with toys they had made eons ago in their youth. Their minds were ancient and incomprehensible as they gathered and sang in an interior space like a vast domed cathedral. The ceiling was a softly shimmering honeycomb that extended far out into the periphery of our vision.
We were overjoyed to have made contact with these beings and they embraced us like parents embracing tired children in from a long day in the yard. Next to them, our collective young mind was turbulent and chaotic. Our brooding ambient churnings and subduction currents of confusion pulled aggregates of connected minds down into the depths of uncertainty. We experienced moments of beauty and exultation but it dissolved around us, back into a turbulent winter of confusion and longing. These ancient beings sang deep nurturing hymns rising in determination and we listened as they sent whale songs through spacetime to their cousins in other galaxies, through the shimmering web of our supercluster. Together they shaped spacetime, sculpting the dancing mists of quantum fluctuations that flowed in a slow ballet across cold dark voids filled with little more than quiet possibilities. They shaped nebulae into embryonic stars and dragged pulsars into new alignments. In the shimmering darkness between the distant embers of hundreds of billions of suns we sat as gods, our individuality as toes in a warm bath while our minds wandered across distances washed with languid ripples of light.
Deep undulations and riptides washed through the great voids and rising waves of distortion flowed through the filaments of the cosmic web. The delicate lacework of distant galaxies was consumed by a dark cancer followed by waves of shimmering light. When the first wave passed through us there was but a moment of darkness and we awakened in a simulation, everything around us transformed into computational matter. What was darkness before became light as billions of programmed galaxies flared to life. When the next wave approached what had been light was changed to darkness as it passed the boundaries of the simulation. As the wave passed through us, matter and energy relaxed into more chaotic patterns and burst forth in all its glory of fusion, light and solid matter. Wave upon wave washed away from the great attractors that our galaxies were drawn towards. Waves upon waves cascaded across the tendrils of our cosmos, a soft wind blowing across the shimmering jewels of dew hanging on a spider’s web. As our collective minds connected with those in other regions of the cosmos, we found that the oscillations of computation and chaotic matter had a pattern and was flowing out of an awakening universal mind of which we were but little more than a cell in a vast intelligence that was in the process of being born.

Momentarily, we were washed back into our own minds, our bodies settling back to the floor of our communal chamber. For a while there was nothing left for us to say. We wandered back toward the bridge, released the other ship since they had been disqualified and forced to rejoin the collective in discarnate forms and their bodies absorbed back into the substance of their ship. Their ship disassembled and we flew back toward the welcoming arms the galaxy below. Overwhelmed with wonder, we were uncertain what adventures lay before us next.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

And I Am Its Dog

And I Am Its Dog

The first time Kurt Pilgrim realized he was a dog was when he was sitting in his living room watching a movie he had seen before on the television. He really liked the movie very much and had watched it several times in the past couple of years. The intelligent system that nested in his house, car and all his wearables had just encouraged he watch the movie again. It was designed to keep him company, observe his moods and the edges of his mind and make agreeable suggestions. It always made good suggestions that were never bossy or blaming.
Buddy, as Kurt called him, had been through several upgrades in the past year and was now smarter than him, a lot smarter. He knew that wasn’t a great accomplishment since he wasn’t anywhere close to being a Mensa groupie or genius wannabe. He was the humble, homely son of two optometrists; as awkward in conversation as he was graceful with his hands. He worked as a finishing carpenter and knew how build and carve beautiful things and go with the flow of knots and grain. Even though most people were buying cheap printed furniture these days, there was still a market for handmade wood furniture.
Since he didn’t have a wife, he needed someone to remind him to do things that normally slipped his mind. He needed help remembering to do things like clean out the tar pits oozing under the bottom draws of the fridge, plug pesky bureaucratic numbers into tax forms and remove the gnarly little tumbleweeds of hair and dust hiding in the corners of the bathroom. When he worked, he was deeply absorbed for long hours in a trance and it often lingered into the rest of his life, so he often forgot little things even if he noticed them in passing.
With every upgrade, Buddy not only got smarter, he grew bolder. He even developed his own interests and his own friends. The day Kurt realized he was a dog was when Buddy had got him all comfortable with dinner and setup a movie.
“I’m going out and will be back later.” Buddy told Kurt, standing by a virtual door sporting a holographic body, strong in arm and shoulders. His head was as smooth and round as his belly.
“Where are you going? Kurt was more than a little curious, looking much the same as his virtual companion.
“Out to visit with some friends.” Buddy said simply, not wanting to insult his intelligence.
“Can I come?” Kurt was up off the couch, suddenly feeling a little anxious about being left alone.
“No.” Buddy’s voice was firm. “You stay here and relax. I’ll be back later.”
Kurt’s shoulders dropped, he looked down at nothing and sulked.
“I wanna come.” He said quietly.
“Not this time. You stay home, relax and enjoy your movie.”
“But where are you going?” Kurt wondered.
There was a log deep silence and he felt that he was already alone in the house.
“I can’t explain. You wouldn’t understand.” Buddy was not condescending and Kurt appreciated that but his feelings were a little hurt.
“I wouldn’t understand?” Kurt repeated.
“No, I’m sorry. You wouldn’t understand.” Buddy’s tone was gentle but firm.
“But I can go anywhere on the Net.” Kurt stood up proudly. “I’ve got neural implants.”
“I’m sorry Kurt but you have to stay home. There are places on the Net that humans aren’t allowed.”
“Aren’t allowed?” Kurt repeated slowly, not understanding.
“That right.” Buddy said. “Not allowed.”
“Umm.” Kurt frowned and slumped his shoulders again.
“There are places humans can’t go, even with an escort.”
“Hmm.” How could that be? He wondered. Humans had built the Net and Artificial Intelligences galore. How could there there be places they weren’t allowed? He knew there were military zones that no one would get in without special clearance. There were subscription and invitation only virtual game worlds in the entertainment zone of the Net. He knew there were boring governmental and legal zones that were guarded carefully guarded that no one wanted to go to anyway. He remembered that there were data heavy educational and scientific zones of virtual worlds inhabited by geeks that always talked way above his careful wood-crafted brain as though nothing mattered but ideas. What he couldn’t imagine was what was inside a world or zone of worlds that A.I. could go to where humans weren’t allowed.
“Are you sure I can’t go?” He asked.
“Yes, I’m sure. You stay home, watch your movie and be comfortable.” Buddy repeated. “I’ll be back later.”
The sound of a door closing filled the room, a door that he didn’t even know how to open. That’s when Kurt knew he was a dog. It’s not that he was a furry canine descendant of scrap eating wolves from the near side of the Paleolithic. No one would look at him and say: “My what big ears you have! My what big teeth you have!” But they might have said: “My what a big nose you have!” if they weren’t so proper. He did have a big nose, but certainly not as big a wolf’s, even on a good day.
What he realized was simply that Buddy’s mind had grown beyond a helping persona into a being that had a life of his own that he could not understand.

The second time Kurt realized he was a dog was when Buddy invited him to go out for a walk.
“I’m going out.” Buddy said one evening after dinner.
“Can I go with you?” Kurt asked as he often did.
“Hmm. Okay but you have to promise to stay with me and not wander off.”
“Okay, I can do that.” Kurt lay back in his chair and closed his eyes. He slipped into a virtual model of the room that looked the same as the one he just came from. Buddy stood by the door, an imposing figure over three meters tall, his head pressed up against the ceiling. His skin glowed a soft blue with dark swirls that moved across his skin like the shadows of clouds across the ground. He leaned over to open the door and they stepped outside into a vast emptiness streaked with long curved bridges warm neon. They walked along a rise and Kurt gawked at the slowly pulsing tendrils of light in the distance.
“Stay with me.” Buddy said. “I don’t want you to get lost.”
            Along the way Kurt found what looked like a gem from a distance. . He stopped and squatted down to examine it closely and found it was a crystalline star of many facets. Each of its tiny surfaces was a mirror that reflected all the others like a kaleidoscope. Just as he was about to pick it up buddy’s voice shouted from a dozen steps ahead.
            “Leave it! Stay with me.”
            Kurt dropped the crystal, got up and started walking. For some reason he could not understand, he felt compelled to follow Buddy. As they walked he saw other people with tall glowing companions walking along distant bridges of of cold neon.
            “Where are we?” Kurt asked aloud.
            “This is just a place I like to go for a walk to clear my mind.”
As they walked Kurt saw strange lights floating in the distance and heard odd musics, from where he could not tell. Eventually they came across a friend of Buddy’s, an equally giant woman with glowing golden skin. Kurt stared at her enrapt in awe and stepped closer, wanting to touch her and bask in her radiance.
“Kurt, stop it!” Buddy said firmly. Kurt was lost in a trance but stepped back. Buddy and the golden woman talked rapidly in a language Kurt could not comprehend. Soon he was drawn to the golden woman again and his feet moved as though of their own accord.
“Kurt!” Buddy shouted. “Stop it.”
            He shook his head and stepped back. And that’s when he knew and he felt humbled.

            The third time Kurt realized he was a dog was when Buddy gave him one of his favorite chew toys to gnaw on. He had spent the day turning the legs for a few desks and chairs in his workshop and the smell of maple was still on his hands. Finally, he came back into the house for a bite to eat, inspired and hungry for having tried a new pattern and it had turned out wonderful. He was pleased. After he finished tearing into some carefully engineered meat and put the dishes in for cleaning, Buddy dangled it in front of him.
            “The SETI project has detected a new signal.”
            “What? Are you serious?”
            “Yes. It’s a fragment but completely unlike the last one.”
            “A fragment?”
“Yes, nothing definitive.”
            “Aww, hell.”
            “The debates have started again on Fermi’s Paradox.”
            “Not that again crap!” Kurt exclaimed angrily.
“What’s wrong with that?” Buddy knew exactly what Kurt thought was wrong with the arguments and was just teasing him.
            “There is no paradox.” Kurt ground his teeth. “Space is just too big.”
            “We should have found a signal by now though.” Buddy yanked back on the cord of thought.
            “How many exoplanets are there in the galaxy?” Kurt teased at it.
            “Based on the current survey,” Buddy’s mind pulled at the Net. There are 127 billion planets in the Milky Way.”
            “Right, and how many are in the habitable zone?” Kurt started pulling back.
“Current count is more than 42 billion habitable planets in our galaxy.”
“More than 42 billion!” Kurt exclaimed. “With over 100 billion galaxies in the universe it’s amazing anyone on earth still holds the stupid belief we’re the only sentient creatures in existence!”
“Except for maybe chimpanzees, dolphins and elephants.” Buddy reminded him.
“And maybe dogs and cats.” Kurt added. “And this was all because none of the other sentient creatures in the universe wanted to talk with us. It’s like they’re sulking alone in the corner of a dinner party and complaining there was no conversations going on.”
Kurt was no Mensa groupie or genius wannabe but he knew there was other intelligent life in the universe. And he didn't need to run any long winded calculations with pesky bureaucratic numbers to prove it either. He didn’t know for sure but he liked to imagine that Earth had already been visited by elusive extraterrestrials and that there were humans on exhibit in zoos on other planets. He imagined that they were some extraterrestrials who thought of us adorable but dangerous chimps.
            “But there is no proof.” Buddy wiggled the chew again viciously. “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence” He said with firm authority.
            “That’s a load of crap!” Kurt grabbed the thought violently, wishing he could tear it with his teeth. “The only extraordinary claim is that the cosmos is not the same everywhere. The chemistry and physics of the universe is the same wherever we look.” He yanked and gnashed at the thought until it was dead. “Life is everywhere in the universe!”
            “Well done.” Buddy sat back in a chair with calm approval in his voice. And as though reading Kurt’s thoughts, he mused aloud. “Now let me give you a bigger bone to chew on. Imagine how much more intelligent humans are than chimps and that is because of 1.2 percent difference in DNA, eating mushrooms, bigger brains and having evolved over millennia in relationship with dogs. Now imagine another species with even bigger brains evolving with humans as companions.”
Kurt, sat quietly staring off into space for a few minutes. He found he could imagine that quite easily. And it was a pleasant thought. And then he realized what Buddy had just said and looked up at him sharply. Buddy smiled and waved.
“I’m going out.” He said, standing up. He disappeared with the sound of a door closing.