May 30, 2006

Diaspora by Greg Egan

[Books_] Peter recommended this sci-fi novel by Greg Egan. It had a rough start - reading page after page about how it feels for a software being to gain consciousness after birth was not easy. But by the end, the book definitely made my top sci-fi list. Maybe it is better to call it "philosophical fiction" after Smullyan. Never before have I seen so many substrates for intelligence described in such detail - flesh and blood vs. pure software beings in virtual environments vs. software beings with robot bodies. Imagine a "carpet" living at the bottom of the ocean which can barely be called alive, hiding a turing machine within its weaves that simulate a whole universe with its own creatures. MIT undergrad familiarizes you with computers made of water pipes and buckets, or digital circuits implemented by soldiers sleeping under electric blankets but I had seen nothing to compare to Egan's imagination. Here is my favorite quote (p.195):

... novel combinations of symbols were firing all the time, and if they resonated strongly enough with the current activity, their alliance could be reinforced, and even rise to consciousness. Thought was a lot like biochemistry; there were millions of random collisions going on all the time, but it was the need to form a product with the right shape to adhere firmly to an existing template that advanced the process in a coherent way.

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