ETI Musings (Spoilers)

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ChaserGrey ChaserGrey's picture
ETI Musings (Spoilers)

These are some ideas that have been ricocheting around my head for quite a while now. I'm posting them here mostly to get them out of my brainpan and in the hope someone here might find them amusing. If I'm going over ground that has already been beaten to death, I apologize in advance.

A quick note about tone. Perhaps it's because I've played too much Call/Trail of Cthulhu, but when I come to EP I find I don't really want another game of hopeless horror. I want there to be at least some chance for transhumanity to adapt and survive, provided we don't screw things up too badly. If extinction is inevitable, why play a game about fighting it?

That, to me, says there pretty much can't be an active, hostile ETI out there. To misquote Wells' War of the Worlds, there wouldn't be a fight between humans and the ETI, any more than there's a fight between humans and ants. (Dealing with an infestation in my kitchen actually got me thinking on this again.) They mine star clusters like they're mineral veins. We don't. If the Exsurgent virus is just the first layer of some cosmic antivirus system, imagine what active measures would look like. Set course for the scum barge, folks, because we might as well die drunk and high.

Solution? They have to be either not active, or not hostile.

Scenario 1: Not active. This was discussed in the main book as one of the possible origins for the Exsurgent virus- that it was a weapon in some unimaginable ancient war that hung around after the combatants were wiped out or ascended. To be honest, I never bought this at first. If a weapon was designed to devastate a transcendent civilization, how could we possibly survive it?

Then I got to thinking, and the following thought experiment. Imagine a sufficiently advanced computer virus that magically bricks any system it comes into contact with. If that got loose in our current civilization, it would be cataclysmic. Computers keep our power plants running, they fly our airplanes, run our medical devices, manage the delicate supply chains that deliver incredible abundance just in time for maximum efficiency, and handle virtually all of our communications. At best, we'd have massive die-off in the first world and worldwide technological regression. At worst, well. You get the picture.

Now imagine that same virus got loose in the early 1980s. Some of the military's most advanced weapons would start working. There would be financial disruptions as the computers that kept insurance and stock records failed. But computers aren't embedded in everything yet. Most technology would keep working. You might get a new Great Depression, but not megadeaths.

What if the Exsurgent virus gets worse the smarter you are? What if the TITANs are dead of some electronic meningitis that transhumanity can survive because we're not advanced enough to get the full effect of it yet? If that's true, there might be some hope there, because we know the virus is there. We have the chance to advance our technology while building in appropriate safeguards, so that perhaps one day we might even reach the level of the ETI with a more robust technology capable of living with the virus.

Or we could screw it all up and go extinct, but that's always true isn't it?

Scenario 2: Not hostile. The ETI has been around a long time. Long enough to do studies on the evolution and extinction of sapient species with a statistically significant n- and just ponder that one for a second, monkey boy. And what they discovered, well, is kind of depressing. The most likely path for sapient civilizations, it seems, is stagnation, followed by resource exhaustion of their immediate solar system and extinction. Very few species manage to discover the key enabling quantum-scale technologies (psi, creating stable wormhole gates, metastable self-improving AI) in time to avoid this fate. It can be done- obviously, because the original ETI species did it- but it's not very likely.

So they decided to help.

The Exsurgent virus is a kick in the ass. It's designed to take a species that has shown the potential to discover those key enabling technologies and force an existential crisis on their civilization. It's been shown that in a statistically significant number of cases, this leads to risk-acceptance behaviors and forced adaptation/innovation that improve the chances of successfully crossing the transcendence threshold before extinction. (See paper by Groxnar-11 and Jastreb-2 in next month's Journal of Interventional Xenoanthropology.) Or, you know, it kills them. But they were probably headed that way anyway.

Think of it this way. You have a ward full of cancer patients, each of whom has a 10% chance of survival. You also have a chemotherapy drug that will kill 25% of them and cure the rest. It's not a slam-drunk by any means, but I think there's a serious ethical case to be made that you not only may administer the drug, you should. You may kill some people who would have survived, but ultimately there will be a lot more living people at the end of it.

The Exsurgent Virus. It's for your own good, kids!

Sleep tight.

Urthdigger Urthdigger's picture
I typically portray the ETI

I typically portray the ETI as truly unknowable, rather than strictly hostile or benevolent. We were not exterminated because quite frankly, it doesn't care enough to do so. We caught a minor bit of attention and triggered a retaliation, but for the most part we're neither a threat, nor even a curiosity. We survive by dealing with the fallout of the recent retaliation and figuring out what precisely it was that we did to piss it off.

Automata Automata's picture
I think my personal take on

I think my personal take on the ETI is similar to your 'option 1', in that it was a weapon aimed at something so far above us only the TITANS were advanced enough to even take a glancing blow. If they'd been even more advanced then who knows, they may have instantly died or deactivated once they detected it. To me it leaves open the idea that the ETI could have won or lost or stalemated their 'war' or whatever it was billions of years ago, and sure they could be out there waiting, or they could have been dead since slightly after our sun formed and the TITANS just stumbled onto a cosmic landmine left behind from something greater.

I agree that I'd avoid interpretations in which they are active and aggressive, since that raises so many more questions about what happened and the state of things as they are - namely, how did anyone survive? I suppose if you did have them active and aggressive then playing up how unknowable they are would be the way to go, as Urthdigger suggests.

Or absurdist - our brains and/or the TITANS generated quantum fluctuations that interfered with their hyper TV reception, so they hit the side of the hyper TV to get it working again, and the Fall happened.

Tallcastle Tallcastle's picture
The farther back you look ...

Your 1st scenario is not without precedent (as far as its affects at least). check out the Wiki article on the Solar Storm of 1859. To summerize, it was a geomagnetic storm that caused chaos in earth for about a day. The effects ranged from; Aurora Borealis in the north so large and bright that gold miners in colorado had mistaken it for the sunrise, people in New York could read a newspaper by the light, and people could see the color as far south as cuba and Hawaii. More importantly, telegraph systems failed all over the world, in some cases giving operators electric shocks. Telegraph pylons would explode, blowing sparks. Some telegraph operators even reported that they where able to send and receive messages despite having disconnected their power supplies. Basically the 1859 event was a novel but ultimately harmless event.

Now fast forward to TODAY...

I encourage you to read a National Geographic article covering this very subject, and simply leave you with a small quote from the article.

Daniel Baker - University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics wrote:

"Imagine large cities without power for a week, a month, or a year,"
"The losses could be $1 to $2 trillion, and the effects could be felt for years."

its a sobering thought.

as far as my own ETI take...

ChaserGrey wrote:

The Exsurgent virus is a kick in the ass. It's designed to take a species that has shown the potential to discover those key enabling technologies and force an existential crisis on their civilization. It's been shown that in a statistically significant number of cases, this leads to risk-acceptance behaviors and forced adaptation/innovation that improve the chances of successfully crossing the transcendence threshold before extinction.

... ya, basically that! Fact is, this statement puts my take into words far better than anything else I've been able to come up with so ... kudos!

The fact is assuming, I was a being who had achieved some form of evolutionary apotheosis. And assuming I had benevolent intentions towards other intelligent life in the universe. And Assuming, I intended to do something about it (yes that is a lot of assumptions.) the exurgent virus may be the best way to go about it!

There may not be much you can do about solar storms, asteroid impacts, gamma ray bombardment, super volcanoes, mega-tsunamis, etc... and these things will and do happen every few thousand years. But the real risks we face? Rapid development of nanotechnology, ecological destruction from industrial abuse, ubiquitous use of anti-matter, tailored bio and chemical WMD's, and (of course) the development of Seed AIs. Any one of these dangers would make a believable "great filter" and since we face these dangers all at ONCE, the amalgam of them would be even more so.

Then you have the exurgent virus. Unarguably the scariest thing most people could ever even think of up to (and likely including) a direct encounter with a lovecraftian-esque supernatural being. In fact the scariest thing about it is also the one thing that alows transhumanity to survive an encounter with it. It is sooooooo good at killing people that it never has time to spread around and get us all (a fact directly mentioned several times in the EP books.) Human beings in the early 21st century (as in, right now) are painfully stupid when it comes to our own fragility as a species. It is not hard to imagine that the fear of a Fall may be the best way to keep a stupid kid from tumbling over the edge.

We tinker with metal, to give it life, and suffer those who scoff at our efforts. But who's to say that, if intelligence evolved in other forms, the ancestors of these beings would not scoff at the idea of intelligence residing within meat?