A Teaser For My Next Novel

I just spent an hour writing a blog post, only to discover I’d written almost exactly the same one in November 2014. So instead of that, you’re getting this — the prologue and first chapter of a murder mystery novel I’m writing. I’m hoping to make the full thing available to Patreon supporters before the end of September — it’s well on the way to being completed (I’ve found that serialising longform fiction while I’m writing it is a good way to make sure it never is completed, so I’m keeping a lid on the rest of this.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

San Francisco, CA

The Safe Singularity Foundation is pleased to announce our sponsorship of the 1st International Conference on Controlling Existential Threat Through Humane Artificial Intelligence, to be held on April 12th 2017 in Libertalia.

The conference follows on from several previous short seminars, which have included guest speakers from companies such as Google and Facebook, and have featured topics as diverse as acausal decision theories, Bayesian updating on events of infinitesimally small probability, and using directed acyclic graphs for retrodiction.

The conference will include invited presentations, submitted papers, and panel discussions.

The program has yet to be finalized, but highlights will include:

• The Ethics of the Multiverse: What does it mean to make a decision in a world where every possible action is taken? Panel discussion with Scott Langford, Nick Horowitz, Peter Weill, and Hari?

• MindCoin: The economics of using the blockchain for brain emulation. Talk by Robert Harding, emeritus Professor of Economics at the Humanity Institute, Princeton.

• Entrepreneurship in an AI-Controlled World: What opportunities would a world dominated by a humane AI offer for entrepreneurship, and how can capitalism take advantage of a post-scarcity society? Discussion between Vladimir Weston, founder of BitBuy, and Carlton Richards, CEO of venture capital firm FutureStock

• SLMNF: A new algorithm for approximating Solomonoff induction in finite time. Paper by Max Steinmeyer

• AI vs SJW: When programming an artificial intelligence, how can we ensure that it does not fall into the “social justice warrior” failure mode? Panel discussion with Scott Langford, David Adams, Michelle Carlton, and Peter Weill

• Emulating nootropics in software: If human-level AI is to be achieved by creation of emulated human brains, then one path to superhuman AI would be to emulate the effects of performance-enhancing drugs. Hari? discusses his recent experiments with psychiatry blogger Eric Richards.

Papers should be submitted in the SSF conference style to the submission website.

Important Dates
Submission deadline: December 23, 2016
Notification date: January 23, 2017
Conference: April 12-14 2017
Submissions should be made to the EasyChair website.
Organizing Committee:
Robert Harding, Peter Weill, Scott Langford, Mary Hodges, Mike Wood (Chair)

Chapter 1

I was having a bad day, even before the murder.

I’d been having a fairly bad time getting commissions recently, with the market for freelance writers being what it is, and so when the opportunity to cover the transhumanists’ convention had come up, I’d… well, not exactly jumped for joy, because being around a bunch of nerds who think they’re going to make themselves into gods by computer programming isn’t exactly my idea of a good time, but I’d at least been grateful that I’d be able to bash out five thousand words of mockery, get a couple of quotes from the more laughable figures, and get a few days on a billionaire’s private Caribbean island I could write off as expenses on my taxes.

I hadn’t reckoned on the fact that the gated community where we were staying would be full of the kind of nerd who wants to make things more difficult for everyone else, and not just for himself. And in front of me in the queue at reception was a prime example of such. A man (of course), a few years younger than me – I’d guess twenty-seven – with a neatly trimmed goatee beard, round little glasses, and wearing black jeans and a black T-shirt, with white writing on it saying “The singularity is my retirement plan”.

This man clearly had a point to make, and was going to continue making it no matter how futile his attempts were, or how much inconvenience it was causing anyone else.

“What do you mean, you don’t accept bitcoin?”

“I’ve told you already, sir, we only accept payment for WiFi access in US dollars.”

“What kind of shitty excuse for a resort is this, anyway? What kind of business doesn’t accept bitcoin?”

“To be honest, sir, I’m not even sure what a bitcoin is.”

That was a mistake. After getting over his initial shock, the man in front of me in the queue at the reception desk took a deep breath, and started to talk about how blockchain technology would destroy fiat currency by allowing the creation of a truly distributed currency based on strong cryptography. Meanwhile, I was stood behind him, back aching and stinking of sweat after a long flight, and wanting nothing more than to get to my room, shower, and sleep, not necessarily in that order.

“Excuse me”

He carried on talking about bitcoin mining. I hadn’t expected any different. I was, after all, a woman, and therefore completely irrelevant to him.

“Excuse me, would you mind…”

He turned, with an actual snarl on his face. “Yes I would mind, actually. I am trying to get this perfectly simple, straightforward matter solved, and you are getting in my way.”

I shut up, and let him continue. Eventually, a second receptionist came on, and I was able to check in, and get the keycard for my apartment. As I was walking to the elevator, I could still hear the angry man continuing his argument.

“Don’t you know who I am?

“Yes, sir. You’re Mr. Langford.”

“I am on the organising committee of this conference. If it wasn’t for me, this hotel would be empty right now. I have thirty-five thousand followers on Twitter, and they shall be hearing about this…”

I left them to it and headed to my rooms, where I ran myself a bath, and had a long soak while reading Cyberethics by Nick Horowitz. This isn’t exactly my idea of light reading, but Horowitz was one of the speakers at the conference, and the book would be good background for the long weekend ahead.

Horowitz’s main argument, as far as I could tell, was that computers would soon become as intelligent as human beings, and that they should be recognised as legal people in the same way that corporations are, and that there should be a constitutional amendment to that effect. In fact, in the later sections of the book it seemed to me that he was arguing that human beings should not be recognised as legal people, and only corporations and computers should have that right, but I was nodding off in the bath by that point, so I can’t guarantee I got his meaning.

What I did pick up on, though, was a sense of worry in Horowitz’s book. The whole thing seemed to be written, not to persuade anyone reading it, but as propaganda for a robot army. It’s like he’d decided that the Terminators were coming, and if he sold out the human race eagerly enough, they might let him live. Personally, I’m not scared of robots – if my iPhone battery can’t stay charged for more than four hours, how long will a robot last before it has to find a plug socket? We can get them then, while they’re powering up. That’s what I think anyway, but apparently Horowitz thinks that the robot army is something that a grown man should actually be worried about.

Either way, what I was more worried about was the pre-conference party. I had to put on a slinky black dress (or nearest approximation thereto – I don’t really do “slinky”, so much as “slumpy”) and go and spend a couple of hours mingling with the nerds. After my initial exposure at the reception desk, I didn’t much look forward to what I’d find there. A couple of hundred men all like Langford, all either trying to stare down my top or tell me about their cryptocurrency mining hardware, didn’t exactly thrill me to the core of my being.

Still, I thought, it couldn’t be that bad, could it? I’m a journalist and, more to the point, a freelancer, so give me enough free cocktails and sandwiches, and I can cope with pretty much anything life throws at me.

I headed down to the bar, prepared to drink so much I would be singlehandedly responsible for the Great Libertalia Alcohol Drought of 2017.

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2 Responses to A Teaser For My Next Novel

  1. dm says:

    So skewering! I love it.

  2. plok says:

    Seconded!

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