September 24, 2002

Clearly, the best thing for

Clearly, the best thing for my blog is being under a heavy deadline, e.g. for my proposal. Ever since I finished it, the frequency of my posting has gone way down. :)

Last night, I finished another book: Diaspora by Greg Egan. Where the last one was science fiction addressing AI and cognitive psychology, this one addresses AI and particle physics. I enjoyed it immensely, although Egan has a tendency to get a little too bogged down in the science, which is way over my head. At least, the physics was. On the other hand, I enjoyed the detail in the AI section; and it's not like I was missing any plot when I didn't get the physics stuff---he does explain the import of each scientific bit, for those of us insufficiently sophisticated to understand on our own.

The milieu of the book is primarily inside polises, which are very large, fast computers that provide the operating system in which millions of machine intelligences live, in post-21st century Earth civilisation. The first two chapters describe the genesis of such an intelligence, and may make it into a required reading section of an intro AI class I might teach one day. They certainly stand well enough on their own.

The idea is, once we figured out how to host true machine intelligences, we built these massive computers and buried them deep below the Earth's surface, then a majority of Earth's population scanned itself in and migrated into these computers: this was the Introdus. Not all did; some elected to inhabit robot "gleisners", others to undergo genetic manipulation to become "exuberants", while still others ("statics") continued being human as we understand the term. Most of the characters in the book are home born---grown in the polises, never having been attached to a flesh-and-blood body---but we do meet representatives of the other classes as well. The interactions between and within these groups are rich and fascinating, very well-thought-out.

So where does the particle physics come in? Well, without giving away the plot, early in the book, humanity and its descendants come to realise that the Earth might not be as permanent and safe as they had once thought; was the galaxy? The universe? How far would they have to go to be "safe"? These questions are explored in a variety of fascinating ways, as Egan speculates increasingly wildly about the nature of the universe as he brings his characters through their quest. This quest should hook anyone interested in math or physics, or both; sophistication in these fields would probably help but is certainly not required. As I said earlier, the import of any sciency bit is generally explained pretty clearly.

Summary: excellent book. Know when you read it, by the way, that there is a glossary in the back---it would've been helpful if I'd realised that before I got to the end of the story. ;)

"There are environmentally aware Americans---they mostly wear beads and live in Seattle. The rest of the nation drives past them hardly noticing their presence." --Justin Webb, BBC Posted by blahedo at 11:06pm on 24 Sep 2002

Post a comment

Sorry! Spammers have temporarily overloaded the system. Reload this window in a little while to try again. [?]

Remember personal info?

Valid XHTML 1.0!