Wednesday, November 09, 2005

MU Book Club: Quick Update

by Tom Bozzo

After it suffered a long period of blog-related neglect on the nightstand, I finally finished Thomas Frank's One Market Under God. I won't comment at any length on Frank, other than to suggest that progressive-minded economists and other policy types keep in mind the line — not a bright one at all — beyond which advancing the usefulness of markets where they're appropriate gives way to coming up with sophisticated excuses for rich people to get richer without benefiting society as a whole. (Longer rant averted.)


On that note, I am ready to start piling into the "book club" reading. My habit is to alternate fiction and non-fiction, so I started last night with the opening few pages of Charlie Stross's Accelerando; The Republican War on Science is in the on-deck circle.

Accelerando is a novel describing a possible technological singularity. It opens in a recognizably near-future Amsterdam, introducing Manfred Macx, who makes his living as a "venture altruist," identifying memes, patenting their commercializable aspects, and then assigning the rights to the "Free Intellect Foundation."

From the first few pages, the Accelerando world looks most dystopian in the intellectual property regime. A Russian character who happens to be an artificial intelligence complains about "hav[ing] been badly burned by viral end-user license agreements. Have no desire to experiment with patent shell companies held by Chechen infoterrorists" (p. 5). There are oblique references to a U.S. fiscal implosion, though since Microsoft has been broken up into the "Baby Bills" it can be assumed that George W. Bush was not declared Emperor. Russia has seen a counter-counterrevolution and enjoys "Brezhnevite dirigisme and Putinesque puritanism" (p. 6).

Most of the technological advancement on display is computing-related. Supercomputers are wearably small. AIs can teach themselves English by "Spawn[ing] billion-node neural network, and download[ing] Teletubbies and Sesame Street at maximum speed" (p. 5). There's early research in progress into basic technologies on display in SF set in the 'post-human' era, e.g. "researchers are uploading lobsters into cyberspace... one neuron at a time" (p. 9). Things are bad for legal employment as "the Baby Bills... have automated their legal processes" (p. 9) to stay a step ahead of windfall profits tax demands.

Looks like fun!
I'm not gonna leave you hangin' alone on this one Tom. After reading your post, I immediately trotted over to the university library and returned to my office with Accelerando in hand. I think I was the first person to check it out!
Glad to have you on board, Brayden! IIRC, Drek was interested too, but time constrained.
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