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Tag: Book

Les Furtifs – Alain Damasio – 2019

Note: french version is below.

It is the first time I read the author, et I liked his style a lot, his numerous wordplays, the beauty of the text. The story of the Furtifs (Stealth) is very original and well thought out, it is thrilling, inspiring, and touching.

There is one thing that bothered me though; the political message.

It is screamed out, violently, all through the book. In a hateful, negatif way, totally irrational way. Alain Damasio is fighting Evil, called interchangeably money, capital, capitalism, liberalism. For him, all these words are synonymous, they represent absolute evil. But the thing is, they are not synonymous. Capitalism is not liberalism which is not the dystopia described here, a neo-feudal society, mix of big business and the State, a crony capitalism that has little to do with classical liberalism. Damasio’s understanding of economy can be sum up by: commerce is predation, private property is theft and wealth is “economic brutality”. Win-win exchange, positive sum game, that doesn’t exist in his world. You get rich only when someone else get poorer. Here Alain Damasio is a perfect product of the huge echo chamber that the french speaking media world is. And yet, it is true that there are problems to solve. That an elite of wealthy people and business use political power to keep or increase their privileges at the expense of the people. That the financial system is a mad vampire. That the idea Damasio suggests, extreme decentralisation of power in myriad of small “communes”, myriad of (competing?) models to try out, is very challenging and interesting. But all that is hidden under a mass of hate, jealousy which weight on the story and prevents any rational thinking. And also darken the poesy of the text.

Furthermore, I have to react to the other themes of the book. To start with, the demonization of technology.

His intuition is that technology dehumanizes and “devitalizes” us. Here the author is very conservative: the idea of human and machine blending, the idea of technological enhancement is out of the question: human beings are perfect as they are, let’s not change anything. Yes we have, right here and now, everything we need to be happy. But life is impermanence. No species is frozen in time, and for Homo Sapiens, technology is part of our evolution. Technology is the daughter of biology. An eye or legs are machines “invented” by Nature. A silex or a smartphone are organs evolved by humans. A car, a washing machine, a computer, they are just organs created to enhance us. Crude, imperfect, but less so with time. More integrated in us, more efficient, less polluting.

Damasio is quite vocal on technology in other public appearances. For him, technologie today gives us more power (what we can delegate) but shrinks our potency (what we can do ourselves). He often takes the example of GPS, which reduces our brain’s ability to move in space. But in fact that’s not true. Our ability to move in space hasn’t shrunk, it changed form. GPS is, for now, badly integrated in us, so badly so that we don’t feel its abilities as ours. But that’s an artificial distinction. Do you know how to walk? No. You learned it one day, how to balance yourself on 2 legs, but you forgot how to do it consciously a long time ago. There is a circuit in your brain that knows how to walk. If it is damaged (localized brain damaged), you won’t walk. True, there’s more chance for you to lose your GPS or that it stops working. But that not a fundamental difference. GPS abilities are as yours as the speech center in your brain. The writer recognizes it also, since he calls these smart sensors and trackers as a “second skin”. Yes, these are our new organs. Do we need them to be happy? No. So does they make us less happy? No. We can make use of our judgement with technology. Purposefully filter all the ads, messages and notifications we receive from machine. Keep mindful of the way we perceive the world (for example, not letting algorithms curate our news feed). Since the birth of agriculture, we kept modifying our environment, ever faster, much too fast for our genes to follow. Our evolution mode changed, it is no longer only genetic, but also cultural and technological. But we never ceased evolving. Luckily. Life is change.

And to finish, the symbolism of the Furtif. The Furtif represents the ideal we should aim at for the author. It is a being in perpetual metamorphosis, a synthesis of vegetal, animal, mineral,… and totally anonymous, escaping any tracking. Anonymity as an ideal of society. Individualism taken to the extreme, where society has no control over the individual, who is totally free and can disappear forever in the darkness of anonymity. The anonymity of the Furtifs is opposed in the book to the dystopia of a panoptic society in which all humans are endlessly watched by myriad of trackers and sensors (it is not clear if elites are also watched). It is another theme of predilection of Damasion; the idea that technology makes easier horizontal control between humans thanks to surveillance, and that it is a bad thing. And this is quite surprising from him. Indeed, anonymity allows all sort of anti/a-social behaviors to flourish. It allows the rich to hide their gain and avoid taxes. It allows elites to conspire against the people. And even in the “utopia” he describes, anonymity is the enemy: In the isle of Javeau-Doux for example, comrades that do not do their part are expelled. This is a good old social control, and it works only as long as what you do can be seen by others. Transparency is a bad thing only when it flows one-way. When light shines only on the people and elites stay in the dark. However the remedy is not complete darkness, but pervasive light. Light on everyone’s bank accounts. Lights on the chambers where laws are written. Lights on the meeting between businessmen and politician. Etc… A community exists only by the ties between its members, and those links only exist by a mutual understanding, a mutual control, a mutual trust born in the light.

To conclude, it is a thrilling adventure and a good anticipation, but it is darken by the ideological aprioris of the author. It is entirely possible that in fact, my own aprioris are spoiling this read. And maybe, probably even, this violence was a way to push the reader out of his numbness, a reader who often comes from the same ideological mold as the author, and thus will more easily resonate with his rage. But whatever the reason, this negativity spoiled my read.

And the french translation

Je découvre l’auteur, et j’ai bien aimé son style, ses jeux de mots incessants, la beauté de ses textes, il joue a fond son rôle d’écrivain. L’histoire des furtifs est très originale et très bien vue, et elle nous tient en haleine (presque) jusqu’à la fin, elle est émouvante, inspirante parfois.

Il y a une chose qui m’a gêné dans ce livre, c’est le message politique.

Il est crié, violemment, tout au long du bouquin. De façon caricaturale, de façon enragée, haineuse, bref assez négative et pas du tout rationnelle. Alain Damasio se bat contre le Mal, qu’il nomme interchangeablement l’argent, le capital, la capitalisme, le libéralisme. Pour lui tous ces mots sont synonymes, ils représentent le mal absolu. Mais synonymes, il ne le sont pas. Le capitalisme n’est pas le libéralisme qui n’est pas la dystopie qu’il décrit, qui est un modèle néo-féodale, une alliance de big business et du pouvoir politique, du capitalisme de connivence, qui n’a rien que peu à voir avec la philosophie libérale. Sa compréhension de l’économie se résume à considérer le commerce comme la prédation, la propriété comme le vol et le luxe comme de la “brutalité économique”. Les échanges gagnant-gagnant, les jeux à somme positive, ça n’existe pas, tu ne t’enrichis que parce qu’un autre s’appauvrit. Bref, en cela, Alain Damasio est parfaitement représentatif de la chambre à écho qu’est le monde médiatique francophone.  Et pourtant oui il y a des problèmes à régler, oui il y a une clique de riches et d’entreprises qui utilisent le pouvoir pour conserver et augmenter leurs privilèges au dépens du peuple. Le système financier est un vampire fou. Et oui l’idée que Damasio propose, la décentralisation extrême en millions de petites “communes”, de modèles à expérimenter en parallèle (en competition?) est très intéressante. Mais tout cela est noyé sous une couche de haine, de jalousie rageuse qui plombe la lecture et empêche tout réflexion. Et qui assombrit du même coup la poésie du texte.

Par ailleurs, je ne peux m’empêcher de réagir aux autres thèmes centraux du livre: Pour commencer, la diabolisation de la technologie.

Son intuition est que la technologie nous déshumanise et “dévitalise”.Sur ce point, l’auteur est finalement très conservateur: l’idée d’une fusion homme-machine, l’idée d’une “augmentation” par la machine est mal, l’être humain est parfait comme il est, il n’a pas besoin de changer, ne touchons a rien. Oui nous avons tout ce qu’il nous faut pour être heureux. Mais la vie est impermanence. Aucune espèce n’est figée, et pour l’homo sapiens, la technologie fait partie de notre evolution. La technologie comme continuité de la biologie. Un oeil ou des jambes, c’est des machine “inventée” par la nature. Un silex ou un smartphone , c’est un organe créé par l’Homme. Une voiture, une machine a laver, un ordinateur, tout ça ce ne sont que des organes qu’on se crée pour nous augmenter. Encore très grossier, très imparfait, mais de moins en moins. De plus en plus intégrées en nous, de plus en plus efficaces et moins polluants. La technologie est née avec l’Homme, avec le premier silex. En cela elle est tout autant naturelle que la biologie.

Cette présentation de la technologie dans ce livre renvoie à ses prises de position publiques sur le sujet: pour lui, la technologie aujourd’hui nous donne plus de pouvoir (la possibilité de faire faire) mais réduit notre puissance (la possibilité de faire). Il aime à prendre l’exemple du GPS, qui réduit la capacité de notre cerveau à s’orienter sur une carte et dans l’espace. Oui, mais non. Notre capacité à nous orienter n’a pas ete reduite, elle a change d'”organes”. Le GPS est suffisamment, pour le moment, mal et peu intégré en nous que nous ne percevons pas ses capacités comme faisant partie intégrante de nous. Mais c’est une distinction artificielle. Est-ce que vous savez comment marcher? Non. Vous avez un jour appris à marcher, a balancer votre corps sur deux jambes sans tomber, mais vous ne savez pas consciemment comment vous faites. Il y a un circuit de votre cerveau qui sait le faire. Si ce circuit grille (un dommage localisé dans votre cerveau), vous ne marcherez plus. Il y a surement plus de chances que votre GPS tombe en panne, que vous le perdiez,… mais ca reste une difference de degre, pas de nature. D’ailleurs l’auteur le reconnaît implicitement en parlant de “seconde peau” pour ces capteurs et traqueurs intelligents. Oui ce sont de nouveau organes pour nous. Est-ce qu’on en a besoin pour être heureux? Non. Est-ce que ca nous rend plus malheureux pour autant? Non plus. Cela n’empêche pas de faire usage de discernement. De filtrer intelligemment les sollicitations de la technologie, les publicites, les messages et autres notifications. En restant attentif à la façon dont nous percevons le monde (en clair, en ne laissant pas des algorithmes choisir pour nous les informations qu’on reçoit du monde). Depuis l’avènement de l’agriculture, nous n’avons cessé de modifier l’environnement dans lequel nous vivons, de plus en plus rapidement, bien trop vite pour que nos gènes suivent. Notre mode d’evolution a changé, il n’est pas seulement génétique mais également culturel et technologique. Mais d’evoluer, nous n’avons jamais cesser. Heureusement. Le vivant est changement.

Pour finir, le symbolisme du furtif. Le Furtif représente l’idéal vers lequel nous devrions tendre selon l’écrivain. Un être en perpétuelle métamorphose, synthese du vegetal, de l’animal, du mineral,… et completement anonyme, echappant a tout traquage. L’anonymat comme ideal de societe. Un individualisme poussé a l’extreme, chaque individu pouvant échapper totalement au contrôle de la société, libre de tout, libre de se retrancher dans les pénombres de l’anonymat a jamais.  Un anonymat des furtifs mis en opposition dans ce livre avec la dystopie d’une société panoptique, dans laquelle chaque humain est sans cesse observé par des milliers de capteurs et autres traqueurs (il n’est pas clair à quel point le pouvoir échappe à cette surveillance). C’est un autre thème privilégié de Damasio, l’idée que la technologie rend de plus en plus possible le contrôle horizontal entre les humains par la surveillance, ce qui serait un mal. Et c’est quelque part surprenant de sa part. En effet l’anonymat permet l’épanouissement de toutes sortes de comportements anti/a-sociaux. Il permet aux riches de cacher leurs gains, d’echapper aux impots. Il permet la conspiration des élites contre le peuple. Et même dans les utopies qu’il décrit, l’anonymat est l’ennemi: Dans l’île de Javeau-Doux par exemple, les camarades qui ne font pas leur due sont expulsés. C’est un bon moyen de contrôle sociale, qui ne fonctionne que parce que ce que tu fais peut être observé par les autres. La transparence n’est un mal que lorsqu’elle est à sens unique. Lorsque la lumière ne brille que sur le peuple et que les élites restent dans le noir. La solution n’est pas le noir totale, mais la lumière partout. Éclairer les comptes bancaires de tout le monde. Éclairer les chambres où sont décidées les loies qui vont gouverner les hommes. Eclairer les rencontrer entre politiciens et hommes d’affaires. Etc… Une communauté ne vit que par les liens entre ses membres, et ces liens n’existe que par une connaissance mutuelle, un controle reciproque, une confiance née dans la lumiere.

En conclusion, une belle aventure et une belle réflexion d’anticipation sont gâchées les aprioris idéologiques de l’auteur. Il est possible qu’en réalité ce soit mes propres aprioris qui m’est gâche la lecture. Et peut-etre, probablement meme, que cette violence était une manière de pousser le lecteur à sortir de sa torpeur, un lecteur qui bien souvent aura baignée dans un moule idéologique similaire à celui dans lequel a grandi l’auteur et donc entrera plus facilement en resonnance avec sa rage. Mais quoiqu’il en soit cette négativité m’a pour ma part pesé.

World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humans and Machines – Michael Chorost – 2011

This book is formalizing perfectly my thoughts for the future of mankind: How to better link humans through technology, specifically mind to mind technology. It was a fascinating account of how we might interface brains between them, using existing technologies (that still needs to be much improved upon).

The book was also telling the personal story of its author, how he found meaning, how he discovered the power of touch, of real human contact, and how he found love. This might seem completely how of place for such a book, but it is not. On the contrary, he knew we could accuse him of wanting to replace humans by a mindless zombies dystopia like the Borg in Star Trek. So the author used his personal experiences to stress the importance of rediscovering human relations and sense of community. To illustrate how a technology that would allow humans to share emotion over the internet might be more humanizing that current communication systems.

The book imagined how a global self aware consciousness might emerge and what form it could take.

In short, this is a very inspiring book. I hope it encouraged entrepreneurs to explore the possibilities of brain-computer interface. Certainly I will be paying close attention to the field and help if I can make this dream come true.

The Years of Rice and Salt – Kim Stanley Robinson – 2002

This book is the kind of science-fiction that takes place in the past. More exactly it is an alternate history fiction.

To call it “science fiction” is actually a bit of a stretch. The book tell of the history of humanity after the Black Death entirely decimated Europe, through the eyes of a few protagonists that lives through many reincarnation. This is quite a stretch for science, and it through me off a bit.

But after a while, it grew on me and I could enjoy the book though certain lyric discussion on religious matter were a bit of a stretch. It still made for an interesting book, but don’t expect many surprise: the history of technological and scientific progress is the same. This is actually the “thesis” of this book: to show that Europeans are not specials, that with them humanity would have followed the same trajectory. This is a thesis based on liberal faith rather than science, but I think it is true: life tends to evolve toward increasing complexity, which science and technological development certainly are a sign of.

Earth in Human Hands – David Grinspoon – 2016

Earth in Human Hands is an optimistic book about our future, and the future of our planet. And in an unexpected way it touches upon a topic that has been of increasing interest to me these last few months: mind to mind communication. Well, not explicitly of course! It is a book about ecology and human and what to do with all of our power.

But the author revisited with insistance the “Gaia Hypothesis”, the idea that the planet is a single organism, with each elements interacting with all the others in endless feedback loops. And for the author, the humans could become a precursor to a planetary mind, the planet becoming self aware. No mind to mind communication here, but the idea is certainly a variation on the subject of integrating everything under a global and conscious entity. In a sense, it already is integrated, though we can’t say the planet is yet self-aware. Only by massively increasing the brain to brain bandwidth could we achieve that. But I disgress.

This book opened my eyes on just how tightly everything interacts with everything. For example, the CO2 in our atmosphere is absorbed into the ocean, integrated with organisms that die and fill up the bottom of the oceans, to finish in the Earth’s crust, then in its mantle, then back into the atmosphere when volcanoes erupt. This cycle keeps the climate under control, avoiding runaway greenhouse. That is until a species became so successful as to fill the whole planet with themselves and CO2 faster than the ocean can pull out. This just shows how fragile our planet is.

But no doomsday gloom here, no hatred of humanity, no wish to return to a pre-industrial state. David Grinspoon is not opposing human civilisation and ecology, on the contrary, he makes the case that only through our ingenuity, through moderation, through maturity, through worldwide cooperation, can we overcome the challenges that we created for the planet, and help it to enter a new eon he coined the “Sapiezoic”, an eon when the planet becomes self-aware.

This is a message for ecology we can all get behind!

Earth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet's FutureEarth in Human Hands: Shaping Our Planet’s Future by David Grinspoon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a great read. There were so many powerful ideas crammed into it, though it certainly could have been written with a bit less anecdotes about who is who and did what etc

But all in all a very hopeful message for humanity.

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Artemis – Andy Weir – 2017

My review on Goodreads.com:

ArtemisArtemis by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am not a fan of the vulgar comic relief style of Andy Weir. I don’t identify easily with this style of first person narration, probably cause I am a prude and don’t “think” like that. Still, I enjoyed the thrill The Martian and thought I would give this one a go.

It took me several pages to realize the hero was a girl, until the first pronoun in fact. As others more eloquently put it, putting Mark Watney’s style into a girl “mouth” seemed even less credible.

And yet, I went on and about half way through the book, I realized I was hooked. I love the realistic depiction of a lunar colony, with geek attention to technical, scientific and sociological details. The story was also very enjoyable, and I ended the book wishing for more.

A very good read.

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The Nexus Trilogy – Ramez Naam – 2012 – 2015

The Nexus Trilogy is a postcyberpunk thriller novel trilogy written by American author Ramez Naam and published between 2012-2015. The novel series follows the protagonist Kaden Lane, a scientist who works on an experimental nano-drug, Nexus, which allows the brain to be programmed and networked, connecting human minds together. As he pursues his work, he becomes entangled in government and corporate intrigue. The story takes place in the year 2040.[1][2][3]
Nexus tied for Best Novel in the 2014 Prometheus Awards given out by the Libertarian Futurist Society.[4] It was also shortlisted for the 2014 Arthur C. Clarke award.[5] Nexus was published in 2012. Its sequel, Crux, was published in 2013.[6] The third volume of the trilogy, Apex, was published in 2014, and won the 2015 Philip K. Dick Award. The film rights to Nexus were purchased by Paramount in 2013.[7]

The Nexus trilogy – wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Nexus_Trilogy

Somehow this introduction from Wikipedia doesn’t do justice to this trilogy. This trilogy was among the many sci-fi books on my to-read list. After finishing the Foundation universe from Asimov, I was interested in the idea of connecting or merging mind and other mind-to-mind technology, so this book Nexus seemed look a good read. And boy it was.

Nexus describes the world as it could be in the near future, and how society and people around the world would react to various human enhancement technologies.

First, I found that the author did a great job trying describing these technologies without embellishing them too much. The “headlight” technology of the book, Nexus, is a computer made of nano-“processor/antenna” sitting in and interfacing with the brain, able to wireless communicate to the near surroundings. The potential for abuses are great, mind control, slavery, rape, theft,… All of this are part of the plots in the books, and all these technologies brings their fair shares of sufferings and violence especially in the last one.

With that said, the author does make the point that the benefits outweighs the costs. I am biased in that I already think humans should enhance themselves by any means (in fact I think this is the only way out for us as a species), but still I think the arguments he presented are convincing. The main take away is that all this technologies are about connecting more deeply. And when you think about it, language and speech is a way to communicate more deeply, to transmit more ideas to one another; in this light, telepathy is just a step up speech, and it is not a fundamentally different change. Of course some could argue that one change is natural and the other artificial but this doesn’t actually hold against rational scrutiny.

So these books do an excellent job at convincing us that human augmentation, and especially mind to mind communication, is desirable (especially in the first book in which the author explores the argument again and again.

But what took me by surprise was the place taken by meditation in the story. Meditation is everywhere, and actually a crucial and necessary piece of the final resolution of the story (spoiler spoiler). And this is what made this trilogy so special to me. It is clear that the goal of transcendence, the goal of the Buddhist Nirvana, of tearing apart the illusion of the self, is what we should all look forward to. And the nexus nanites are presented as just a more efficient way to bring the masses to nirvana, and a way to merge individual consciousnesses into one “global mind”, a consciousness that is “more than the sum of its parts”, as Naam insist on throughout the story. Buddhist monks play important roles throughout the books, and with them, and through the eyes of the main protagonist, the author allow the reader to discover what meditation is, what it means, what it can bring. Having recently “discover” mindfulness myself and been slowly transformed by it, I particularly appreciated this marriage between mindfulness and transhumanism. The 2 should go hand to hand together. In fact, if we don’t want to get lost by technology, we want them to come together, to stay on an ethical path that doesn’t leave behind (or worse) any humans.

So the Nexus trilogy is describing a violent future. But this violence is a childbirth pain to a new state of humanity, with less suffering, more intelligence, more beauty. And while I very much hope we never come to the violence depicted there, I do wish to see humanity embrace transhumanism, go to its next step in evolution, and take the whole planet with it toward Gaia.

The Inevitable – Kevin Kelly – 2016

“The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future” is a book from Kevin Kelly that tries to anticipate the near future of technology.

My Goodreads.com review:

The Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our FutureThe Inevitable: Understanding the 12 Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future by Kevin Kelly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was pretty interesting, and it is an easy read if you are a “future enthusiast”.

I think the author was pretty spot on on identifying the current trends shaping technology. The author says he tries to not speculate too much about the future but rather just take existing trends and push them further. Well, there is definitely some wild speculation there, but I think it is more to illustrate potential technologies rather than assert exactly how the future will be.

There is one point that made me uneasy: his defense of mindlessness. Kelly spend a lot of time justifying how our scattered attention is not a problem, how it is just a welcome evolution forced by technology; how it doesn’t matter much that you can finish a single article in one go without ten times checking ten social feeds. The irony is that people that actually read his book probably don’t fall into this category, or at least are trying not too. After spending years without reading a single books because I couldn’t take my eyes off various time-wasting stuffs on the net, I discovered the benefit of mindfulness, cut off social medias time and finally learnt again to read (to this day this is still a hard exercice of attention). Maybe it means I am old, but I believe mindfulness is important and it will be a challenge for future generations to hold it in the face of so much attention grabbers.

With that said, I enjoyed the book a lot overall.

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Foundation’s Edge – Isaac Asimov – 1982

Spoiler Alert: This post might give away crucial details of the book. Read at your own risk.

Foundation’s Edge is the sixth book of the foundation saga by the genius Isaac Asimov. The foundation universe, which merged with the robots universe of the same author later in his life, happens in an unknown time in the future. The human expanded across our galaxy in a Galactic Empire, and only our galaxy. No aliens exist in the Milky Way (the reason for this is actually a funny story), and humans don’t seem to have conquered other galaxies.

When the foundation series begins, the Empire is on the brink of collapse. A mathematician genius, Hari Seldon, is the only one that can foresee this thanks to his science child, pyschohistory. He has a plan to reduce the dark ages that will follow the Empire from 30,000 years to a mere thousand of years.

Fast forward 500 years. The Plan laid by Seldon five centuries ago, based on psychohistorical principles, is still on target. Or is it? Trevize, a former officer of the Navy and now member of the council of the powerful Foundation is sent to investigate the survival of the Second Foundation, a secret organisation set up by Seldon to ensure that the galaxy continues to follow the Plan.

During his investigation, Trevize will encounter a very powerful being that could turn Seldon’s dream upside down…. Gaia…

As the renowned SciFi author and futurist David Brin explained, the story being the Foundation series writing is quite interesting:

First he wrought the Foundation, treating a quadrillion humans as ‘gas molecules’ whose destiny could be calculated through Hari Seldon’s wondrous new science of psychohistory. And that satisfied the young nerd in biochemistry… for a while. Only…

Later, Isaac realized that perturbations would interfere with statistical predictability, even in such a marvelous new science. (Today we call it the Butterfly Effect.)

So he introduced a secret cabal of psychic-mathematicians (the Second Foundation) who would be dedicated to guiding the Seldon Plan back in line, should the emerging New Empire drift down a wrong path.

That seemed to satisfy, for a while. 

But a decade or so afterwards, Isaac realized the moral flaw of the Second Foundation… that it left humanity led forever by a secret, inherited aristocracy!  A mutant branch of the race, locked into permanent, psychic dominance over all the rest.

This was offensive to Isaac’s liberal-democratic sensibilities. Hence, he searched and found a solution to this, by bringing both halves of his life-work together… by inserting robots into the Foundation Universe!

Daneel Olivaw and his scrupulously honest positronic followers would act behind the scenes, manipulating even the Second Foundation, all for our own best interests and welfare, of course, and preventing dominance by a lordly human caste. Picture dedicated court eunuchs, who cannot conspire to become lords themselves, because they will have no offspring. (And hence my observation that Asimov’s fabled Empire was less Roman than actually rather Chinese!)

Loyal robot eunuchs, standing beind the Second Foundation, manipulating it to only do good. They can be trusted… right?

Or can they? A little while later, Isaac realized something… free will had been reversed!  

The mechanical servants had memory and volition. They were rare, precious and powerful! While humans were as numerous and powerless as insects. The “masters” had amnesia about their past and no control over their future, utterly and secretly controlled by all-powerful “servants.” Now that didn’t sound like such a great destiny either! 

What a life Isaac had! Holding this decadal conversation and argument with himself. Finding an answer to a problem, then having the honesty to admit that it caused a new problem! And answering that one… only then honestly coming to realize…

== Iterating Destiny ==

He sought a way out of the powerful-servants dilemma of the 1980s… and came up with Gaia! The ultimate robotic plan for humanity — for us to transcend together as a race, leapfrogging beyond our loyal-but-manipulative servants into a a new level of being, transforming all of humanity into a single, all-powerful mind! 

Okay, you’ve seen this concept positively portrayed by a third of the greats… by Arthur C. Clarke* in CHILDHOOD’S END and in 2001: A Space Odyssey… and it goes back to Teilhard de Chardin and others. But never explored with Asimovian attention to detail. You’ve also seen this notion — of monolithic group transcendence — portrayed negatively in Star Trek’s infamous Borg! (Indeed, I tried to give it a subtle twist-and-spin in EARTH.) 

The Gaia/Galaxia resolution that Isaac put forward in FOUNDATION’S EDGE seemed to solve his problems. It would eventually deify humanity, restoring our memory and authority over robots again, in a fashion that Daneel Olivaw would find acceptable, because it would eliminate the fractious individualism that was always messing things up with violence and confusion and chaos. Such a coalescence into mega wisdom would make humanity mature, allowing Daneel at last to put down his ancient burden and step aside for a long deserved rest.

dAVID bRIN, https://davidbrin.blogspot.com/2015/01/the-robots-and-foundation-universe.html

So Foundation’s Edge is about a future for humanity, a future where humans aren’t quite only human anymore, but something more. I found this to be a stark contrast with the previous foundation novels written decades earlier by a much younger Asimov; these earlier novels were actually very conservative in their depiction of the future (one could say unimaginative, but that would unfair to someone living in the 1950s, when computers were barely out of the theoretical.

So those novels were describing a society which were quite like the ones we live in. In fact, I think Asimov said he was inspired by the fall of the Roman Empire for his first foundation novel. So we hare emperor, general of wars, politics and human bickering, the set is just the Milky Way rather than just Earth. Don’t get me wrong, it was still amazingly written, full of clever insights, a pleasure to read and re-read. Asimov also started to “innovate” by introducing telepathy in the second foundation book. But the context still was that of a “conventional” human society, one which we all recognize quite well. There was some women and men that had the super power of telepathy, but that was about it.

Only in Foundation’s Edge, Asimov started to describe us a different kind of society. A society in which it is not easy for us to imagine ourselves living in. Not as in a dystopia, but as in living with characteristics hard to relate to: telepathy, the sharing of thoughts and emotions and ideas, but everything, not only humans, but animals, plants, minerals,… And Asimov followed the logical conclusions of these telepathic properties: such a planet would ressemble nothing like Earth: from the complete communication between sentient beings and more matters would emerge something more, more than just the sum of its components: a “super-organism”, conscious in its one right, whose “neurons” are each individual minds and components of the matter.

What would it be like to live and be part of such of planet? What would it mean for us as an individual? What would it mean for the ecosystems? For society? Asimov explores some of these questions, like privacy, in this book and the following (Foundation and Earth).

This book had a profound impact on me. I have been reading the whole robots/foundation series for almost a year, this was inspiring, exciting, thrilling for the scifi geek that I am. But this was the first time I encountered the notion of group transcendence in depth like this (my reading culture is not so deep actually). And it is when I realized: “this is it”. “This is what the future of humanity and life should be”. This is what I want future techs to converge to, this is what I want life to evolve into. This is something I would like to help make happen. More than robots, more than immortality or mind upload or space travel: making every sentient being part of a greater, “universal” consciousness.

If you ask me: would you do it today should it be possible? I am not sure I would. I would share that kind of link with my wife. With everyone on earth? I don’t know (strangely enough, I have no problem sharing my minds with other species. There is something about self consciousnesses here…). I don’t think anyone born and grown as an individual could ever be confortable with being part of a greater whole, at least not without a long adaptation.

Why do I think this is a worthy whole? I am not sure. I think it resonates with the stoic philosophy I recently discovered, according to which we should keep in mind our place a just a tiny part of a whole, of the human race, of the universe. Maybe (probably) some other more hidden reasons. Who knows.

Would it be a good idea? I like to think so. I like to think it would help eliminate suffering, it would be more inclusive, it would quell the existential crisis we human so often share. At the price of a certain idea of individuality. An idea that I think is wrong anyway (not morally, just factually).

Will it happen? A better question could be “Could it happen?”. I read in a further book the argument that spoken language like we humans evolved is but a step toward telepathy. I think this is right. I think telepathy is just a better, much better, much faster and with much more “bandwidth”, language. Language allowed us to evolve superbe and powerful collective structures. It didn’t prevent us a certain privacy. Is it possible that telepathy would be but a step up: less misunderstanding, more inclusion, and the emergence of a global “super mind”?

If this view of telepathy as a language is correct, then it may very well happen. Now, will it? It depends on so many factors. That’s what’s so exciting about the future!

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