Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Conceptual Confusion

I do not often stop reading a book at the mid-point but I have got bogged down and lost the plot with John C. Wright's The Golden Age. I have been reading it, of course, because it develops the idea of human-AI interaction, taking this idea further than Poul Anderson did in some of his later works. Maybe Wright's point is that this kind of confusion is what would happen if flawed human beings suddenly became "virtually omnipotent"? I think that a high technology civilization that retains social conflicts will destroy itself  - and this is happening on Earth right now.

In The Golden Age, two guys, for this purpose let's call them A and B, spend a pre-agreed period of time swapping memories, sharing experiences and living each other's lives. At the end of the agreed time, B refuses to believe that he is not A and takes measures, using mental technology, to drive himself further into this illusion and away from reality. But, given these premises, how can A be sure that he is A? He has evidence and testimony that he is who he thinks he is but how does he know that his experience of this evidence and testimony is not illusory? He may have elaborately deceived himself as (he thinks) B has done or someone else may be deceiving him. With a technology that could make every member of a global population healthy, wealthy and wise, powerful individuals and composite mentalities play spiteful tricks on each other and both the reader and the characters get confused. The novel could climax with the realization that none of it has happened.

I am rereading two thriller writers, will shortly start The Sunrise Lands by SM Stirling hope to get Poul Anderson's Murder In Black Letter as an ebook.

Addendum: OK. Technology alone can't make us "wise." I was just using that expression, "healthy, wealthy and wise." But human beings are social as well as individual. A transformed society will generate a different kind of individual.

1 comment:

Sean M. Brooks said...

Kaor, Paul!

I do remember the plot difficulties and complexities of Wright's THE GOLDEN AGE. I still that is partly due to it being only the first of three volumes, and that the later volumes will clarify matters. But I agree it can be difficult reading.

Yes, Wright did advance certain ideas and themes further than did PA in some of his later books. And part of the difficulty we've both had probably came from Wright struggling to extrapolate what might happen personally, socially, legally, politically, etc., if certain kinds of ultra cutting edge technology became practical. Which is something I commend, not criticize. A bold failure can be more worthy than merely competent mediocrity.

You argue a transformed society should mean human beings also become transformed--for the better. I am not at all convinced that will necessarily be the case. And that may be one of the commonalities Anderson and Wright agree on.