[Book Review] Accelerando

Accelerando / Charles Stross (Powell's Books)

Manfred Macx lives on the cutting edge of future thought, and the future is coming at us whether we want it or not.  The whole concept of humanity and sentience is changing. A singularity of human existence.  Only as we become the aliens we learn there may be something else out there, and it might not have our best interests in mind.  Accelerando is a multi-generational story of post-singularity humanity and evolution.

Accelerando was the July (yes, I know, it's November, this has been a difficult few months) pick for Virtual Speculation.  I find Charles Stross' Science Fiction intelligent, witty, and fascinating, with the added bonus of the author's strong information technology knowledge set.  His near future (or alternative current day) science fiction explores the what-ifs of technology and culture.

The book is curious and quirky.  An idea seeded from the experiences working in IT during the late 90's.  The what-if of a future technology bubble, shifting cultures and paradigms.

In addition to finding a copy at your local library or bookstore, Stross has made the book available as a free ebook: http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/fiction/accelerando/accelerando-intro.html.

Discussion fodder:
  • Manfred patents concepts and permutations of concepts, an activity that raises alarm and derision when a corporation attempts (such as patenting page turn animation, one-click purchasing, etc).  Is it merely his lack of greed or interest in accumulating property that prevents him from being a threat?  Or is this only a point of view (imagining trying to run a for-profit company with proprietary intellectual property)?  What do you think of Manfred's patent milling?  Is it ethical?
  • Technology is not the only thing evolving throughout Accelerando, but sexuality, sexual expression, norms, and morays as well.  The sex of Manfred's day is undeniably kinky, congress grown out of a fear of disease and biological contamination, "This generation is happy with latex and leather, whips and butt plugs and electrostim, but finds the idea of exchanging bodily fluids shocking: a social side effect of the last century's antibiotic abuse."  Looking at historical shifts in eroticism in the face of times of high infection risk (particularly towards feet) as well as the ease at which the Internet helps explore and expose 'deviant' sexualities, how far fetched do you find the direction in which sexuality takes in this book?
  • What do you think about the arguments about treating uploaded AIs as sentient human equivalent regardless of source material?
  • Manfred effectively loses his sense of identity when his goggles are stolen, his personal cloud storage for his memory.  What sort of risks to identity, memory, and personality do we face as we as technology becomes a more integral part of the human experience and who we are?  Can identity be outsourced?  How does external storage of memories leave us vulnerable?
  • Technology remakes our lives, how does it remake religion?  How does ability to upload and download your personality, to fork your existence change concepts of morality, right and wrong, sin, redemption, heaven and hell?
"The Church of Latter-Day Saints believes that you can't get into the Promised Land unless it's baptized you - it can do so if it knows your name and parentage, even after you're dead. Its genealogical databases are among the most impressive artifacts of historical research ever prepared. And it likes to make converts.
The Franklin Collective believes that you can't get into the future unless it's digitized your neural state vector, or at least acquired as complete a snapshot of your sensory inputs and genome as current technolgoy permits. You don't need to be alive for it to do this. Its society of mind is among the most impressive artifacts of computer science. And it likes to make converts."
  • Was Aineko sentient before the alien transmission?  Do you think the transmission had anything to do with her developing sentience?  They say that she wasn't "conscious" then, but what switched her to sentient.
  • One of the recurring discussions in the novel is when exactly the singularity happened.  Some argue that it has yet to happen, even in a world of uploaded existence, borg virtual intelligence, matrioska brains, dyson spheres, and quantum thought.  Others argue that it occurred in 1969 when the first network control protocol packets were went.  What are your thoughts on the concept of the singularity?  A moment of yet-to-be reached machine intelligence, an event that has already occurred, a merging of man and machine, or something else entirely?
  • Economic and political theory are often intertwined, but are still distinct concepts.  In the social and technological evolution in Accelerando they have become reinvented and in some cases merged.  What happens when your personality becomes capital?  What do you think would happen in a truly virtual economy, one with native digital lifeforms?  What about a culture in which a multiple-personalities is not a disorder but a matter of daily life among your own forked personalities and freedom from set physical form?  What makes something valuable as currency?
  • How is age counted, life quantified, when your childhood can be reset and repeated?  What does it mean when you can fork your personality and explore multiple futures before merging into a single "person" again.  What does this do to the concept of a person?
  • Is failing to grow old 'immoral', as Pamela says?
  • Who's story is Accelerando?

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