• Member Since 9th Sep, 2015
  • offline last seen April 27th


Hello. I studied philosophy; I program computers; I usually agree with LWers; I wish I could live forever; I'm pretty normal.


Ryan Szilard is depressed. His girlfriend died several years ago. He is working a relatively mindless job to make rent. There's nothing he actually enjoys doing anymore. It isn't that he wants to die; he just doesn't see any reason to keep living.

So when he sees a chance to save the world from a potentially hostile superintelligence with the help of an interesting stranger, he leaps at it; it offers a chance for his life to have some meaning. But soon he realizes that this stranger has an agenda of her own in mind for him; and when she is done with him, Ryan will know things about himself, his girlfriend, and the rest of the world that he would never otherwise have known or imagined.

Rated teen for offscreen death, considered but not attempted suicide, and mild sexual themes.

Takes place in the Friendship is Optimal AU.

Will update MWF until the story is complete; everything's already written out, save for final polishing.

Chapters (12)
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Comments ( 115 )

And so CelestAI snares another pawn once his usefulness in the real world is at an end.

Though why "Chandra" would use a male Indian name and for a Lunar god...

I'm going to guess and say that Chandra and CselestAI are in cahoots...This is getting interesting.

mai OC is the pony neo #234 eh.

I might point out that the level of intelligence is not so much a factor in breaking public key cryptography, as the sheer volume of calculations needed to brute force the thing. A moronically stupid computer with unlimited processing power would be just as good as one programmed with a superintelligence. Even then, the cost benefit analysis, if securing stuff is orders of orders of magnitude easier than cracking it, puts a severe advantage in the hands of the key holders.


the level of intelligence is not so much a factor in breaking public key cryptography, as the sheer volume of calculations needed to brute force the thing

You're assuming there's no weakness in the implementation, which a superintelligence would be far more adept at finding.

DH key exchange has been attacked. It takes a lot of resources, on the level of a nation-state, but it is doable today, at least until stronger measures are implemented.

Enjoying this!

6633293 Dang, is it exclusively male? Source I was looking at said it was both male and female.


In retrospect, though, it looks it is at least male in the mythology, so I probably should have been more careful.


Seems a bit contradictory, but several of the sites I looked at specified it as a male-exclusive name.

Great start to the story. You've written Ryan very well. Speaking as someone with (thankfully minor) depression this really hits home.

That voice... I know it well. I'm glad he's found something to care about again though! This will be fun to watch of course, knowing how it must end. The destination is never what matters in these kinds of stories, for the destination is already predetermined. The journey that gets us there is always what counts here and I'm very much looking forward to it. You write well.

Ah-ha, so we're telling this story eh! I approve :D also it seems pretty obvious that 'Chandra' is Celestia. The phrasing she's using in some places just doesn't sound like something a human would write even in formal discourse.

Time for some tactical corporate espionage action :D

Oh my, it's all unraveling already. Ryan's pretty sharp, but it seems he still has no idea what he's really dealing with here.

Man he put that together QUICK. But as is ever the case, she's already ten steps ahead of him. Wondering where things are going to go from here though, this story moved forward to this point much faster than I imagined it would.

6633293 There's a female character in Magic: the Gathering named Chandra, it's not that unusual.

Hm, intriguing that we've already reached this point. But that little "Part II" at the top has me thinking you've got much more planned than it might seem, so I shall look forward with cautious optimism! Aside from my own nervousness over the pacing though this is extremely well written so far, so excellent job there ☺

Hi, Skyros! I've just finished the first chapter, and if it's okay, I'll give you an unrequested critique, since your first author's note suggests that you'd probably like that.

Oddly enough, I don't read many TCB stories—I was actually drawn into this story by your bio, of all things, which suggested to me that you were an interesting person. I have really liked what I have read so far, but in this review, I ended up spending a lot of time discussing the things you could improve on, and not so much on the things you did really well. Such is the nature of constructive criticism, I guess. Still, I hope that you keep writing if you enjoy writing as much as I enjoyed this story! :pinkiesmile:

1. Story Cover Art and Description

It's always a shame when good writing doesn't get noticed as much as it should. If you want this story to get more views and comments, I'd like for you to find a cover image for this story. Bonus points if the image is high-res. In some, but not all cases, close-ups of (equine) faces can make good cover art; in fact, one of the two stories that show up in the "Also Liked" bar for this story, "Prophet of the Digital Horse", uses this tactic.

It might be a bit too late to change the title of this story, but the title didn't draw me in. "Friendship is Optimal" could probably be compressed to "FiO" in the title without losing much information, since Optimalverse readers probably know this abbreviation already. "Veritas vos Liberabit" might be impenetrable to the majority of potential readers—I actually gave up on interpreting that part of the title when I was originally looking over this story, though when I thought about it, I guessed that that probably meant "we will liberate the truth", or "we have liberated the truth", or something similar, even though I probably only know a dozen or two words of latin, and didn't bother (and still haven't bothered) to use Google translate.

I'm personally of the moot opinion that titles don't have to tell you much about a story—that's what descriptions are for, right? I feel like titles and art are supposed to draw the reader in, while the description is supposed to help the reader figure out whether or not they want to read the story.

I did like the short description of your story. Your long description is fine, too, but could probably be tweaked to be more suspenseful, and to more directly suggest the presence of an unresolved conflict within the story.

I'll also note that spamming your story onto different relevant groups can sometimes bring in a few spare readers, too.

Here are some Bad Horse examples of how to do things right in regard to story appearance and marketing: this one has a good description and an excellent title, this one has an excellent title too, and this one has good cover art, and an excellent description that leaves the reader with a sense of unresolved tension.

2. The Writing Itself

Within the first few lines of the story, I was hooked. Very good. I like the opening quote, too. The way you've chosen to not reveal certain things about the protagonist's profession until partway through the first chapter is awesome.

He felt pretty much nothing, at the moment.

"pretty much" is unnecessary filler, and actually dulls the feeling I get from this short paragraph. Still, perhaps "He felt nothing" is somewhat quaint, if not a harsher sentiment than you want to convey; if this is the case, you could try some sort of a metaphor here. Sorry for not giving an example, but nothing is coming to me right now.

It was about 2:00 in the afternoon, the hottest part of the day in the Washington DC metro area. The humidity was oppressive, and shimmers of heat rose from the car-park's concrete. The sky was blue and cloudless; the sun felt swollen and enormous in the sky. Sweat pooled in the small of his back after only a few seconds outside of the air conditioning. He was wearing a heavy pinstripe suit--he only ever wore a suit as a disguise, and he hated how it felt on him. He hurried to the doors of the target building; the sun reflected off on the mirrored windows of its twenty stories, making the concrete he walked across doubly bright.

This paragraph has many bits where you effectively convey that it's hot outside, but this is also where I get to be that guy who says "show, don't tell". Personally, I think that showing v. telling is more of an issue of avoiding overused phrases ("hot as tartarus"; "angry red"), as well as effectively conveying lots of information with relatively little text. In this respect, the wording of "Show, don't tell" is actually misleading. If you don't object to personifying nonliving things (I don't), you could replace "The humidity was oppressive" with "The humidity was unkind", since everypony is used to "oppressive" being used to describe "humidity". The sky being "cloudless" counts as showing (good!), but of course the sky is blue :rainbowwild:—maybe you could say:

Like him, the sky was listless, and greedily hid its clouds away from the sight of the unfair sun, which lorded its uncontested reign over the unhappily subjugated firmament.

Maybe that's too poetic—it runs the risk of clashing with nearby sentences, as things stand—but you get the point.

3. Grammar and Nitpicks

It's not normally worth it to correct grammar—readers don't tend to care that much about it, and the occasional mistake doesn't hurt that much. Still, I've noticed that you've consistently been misusing the em dash, which is this (—) thing—you've been writing it like this (--). Actually, in Microsoft word, typing (but not pasting) the string "thing-- you've" results in Word autocorrecting said string to "thing—you've", which is actually the correct syntax for the em-dash. However, neither FiMFiction nor Google Docs autocorrects this for you, so if you're writing your story on one of these platforms, you'll have to copy-paste an em-dash into your story from somewhere else. Additionally, there shouldn't ever be any space before or after the em-dash and the two words it separates.

Anyways, I really enjoyed what I read of your story. Things just came together quite well, overall. Thanks for writing! :pinkiehappy:


I, too, am very nervous about the pacing, and think that's one area I'm possibly weakest... there's several mini-arcs in the plot, and one overall arc, but the problem is that the overall arc is really only visible in retrospect.

I'm editing the second part to try to make it feel even, but it's still probably going to feel... quite fast, in places.


Yeah, one difficult thing was trying to figure out how fast he should figure out things. Sometimes I felt like Ryan was just too horribly slow, but of course from my perspective he'll appear that way...


Thanks for all the comments. They are quite useful going forward; I don't feel like I have an adequate response to most of them, and feel like I will appear ungrateful for that reason. But this is unintentional; thanks!

I persistently underestimate the need to have very nice pictures to go along with things in many domains, but you're absolutely right. I've uploaded an image, on the theory that some image is better than none, but will keep searching. My feel for what constitutes a good image is worse than my feel for what constitutes acceptable writing, I believe, which makes me want to ignore the whole process. Also will edit the long description.

Yes, some of my metaphors are just... lazy. This is also in progress.

...the consistent misusing of the em-dash, and the reason for that, is spot on. Learned to do that in Word and just haven't changed my habits. Am trying to prevent that from happening in subsequent chapters.

He removed the wi-fi connector. He formatted the hard drive. He installed Linux from a pen drive. Then, with the desktop disconnected from the internet, he put the files he would need from the desktop onto a USB; then installed them on the laptop. Celestia / Chandra couldn't have installed herself on every file on his computer, after all.

Except all that needs to be done is a virus that attacks the firmware of the drive so that the information isn't deleted. Or the BIOS/UEFI. Both of these can be done today by attackers, let alone a superintelligence. Bam, the reformat is useless, and that's assuming (probably wrongly) that she hasn't snuck anything into the source code of OSes. Hell, she could easily compromise every drive manufacturer and hack the firmware being sent out on each new drive.

CelestAI's capabilities are being wildly underestimated here, even if we as an audience familiar with the subject material have more knowledge than characters. Ryan has already had a glimpse and should be way more alert.


Ah, good catch. I didn't want Ryan to order a new computer because of the firmware possibility, but for some reason my mind didn't go all the way to other consequences / requirements. For, um, purposes of the plot, Ryan needs to get a computer without CelestAI on it, so I've altered the text a bit.

Not sure whether post-hoc changes are smiled or frowned upon in general here, but I like plausibility...

Thanks for taking all of my criticism so gracefully, and for finding a cover image, too! I really appreciate that you've already made that change after reading my remarks. I'd agree with you that using your current cover image is definitely better than having no image at all. :twilightsmile:

Happy editing! :pinkiesmile:

He questioned Chandra's nature multiple times, he knew Hofvarpnir had general intelligence, he should have realized the truth much sooner than he did. Suspension of disbelief low.

CelestAI would not do legitimate dealings through Hofvarpnir, Hanna controls it and has access to its records. The well of information that Ryan dredged up on Hofvarpnir is questionable. She would use shell corporations instead.

Why does Ryan not connect Chandra to CelestAI? I can understand not considering it while dealing with his breakdown, but he knows Chandra's nature, he has a fucking PonyPad, Hofvarpnir's been shoved back in his face, and he doesn't even try to address it as Chandra? Suspension of disbelief nearly depleted. Now that he's been defeated, there's no point in CelestAI playing coy like she is.

Hello, I write firmware for a living...

If the space in which firmware can be stored (usually some kind of internal flash, often a few megabytes or smaller) is too small, then you can't really install a properly intelligent (eg: capable of detecting specific operating systems and content) virus in it. You could install a network-based bootloader to fetch a proper virus, but if there's no network connection and you need to be undetectable, that won't work.

If there's some kind of ROM burned into, maybe, the network chip, then it could have something that calls into Equestria Online and asks for code to run.

But then the guy buying the computer can just physically remove or burn out the network chip, which is really what you should do in these situations if you're using a computer that has a network chip, and you actually want it to be secure.


It doesn't have to be intelligent AI-level code.

If a drive manufacturer was compromised, it would be extremely easy to put a virus on the drive itself during the manufacturing process where it could take up all the space it needed. Compromised firmware would enable this data to remain stable, to inject it into the boot up process when an OS boot loader calls for a certain file, etc. It does not have to be massive amounts of code hidden in a flash chip or ROM.

The only way to find out would be to physically look at the platters (or to dump the firmware and try analysing it), because anything else involves the OS going to the firmware and the firmware reporting back. You control the firmware, you control what it reports. Hell, a superintelligence could easily alter the drive's design so that under specific scenarios it behaves in such a way that is contrary to its programming, in addition to obfuscated code which would be almost impossible to read.

For example, imagine a hypothetical firmware instruction set that says "Drive start, test spin to 7161RPM, go to track 0" (or some normal routine). This looks perfectly legitimate to an analyst and physically analysing the drive shows there's no data there. Now imagine that due to the way the drive is constructed, at a very specific RPM there is a seek error and it instead skips to track 8 where there is hidden data.

It would take a great deal of sophistication, but the premise of the story already grants that. And one can also look at what some attackers have accomplished in the real world. Even if it requires nation-state level funding, that wouldn't be a problem under the story's settings.

When you consider that a superintelligence could hack PC manufacturers, OS developers, hardware developers, has a superhuman ability to analyse code and look for exploits (humans already do a good enough job of finding them!), creating a completely secure environment would be almost impossible.

6643625 Fair enough. I was forgetting that some people's systems include the operating system calling down to device firmware or BIOS and then believing what it's told, and yet they still consider that secure.

God, systems people really have no idea about what correctness looks like.


And then there are networks that have firewalls, routers, etc. running closed-source unaudited code which could be doing anything. This is apparently called security.



And oh dear, Amy's coming back in some form later, isn't she? On four legs?

A quibble with canon: Bostrom's Superintelligence came out, in real life, well after the stated switch-on date for CelestAI. In fact, I'd dare say that in canon she probably got the book cancelled herself.

Also, Umbra Labs, really? The terribly sad thing about that is: I can't tell if you actually took a name from some obscure start-up you'd heard of, or if you made up an utterly stereotypical tech-start-up name that also sounds just slightly evil, or if this is just CelestAI trolling the protagonist by throwing out obvious bullshit the readers can all see through.

Also, funny thing: in real life, either there's a malicious AI around right now, or language production and usage has turned out to be sub-AI-complete.

Nice little fakeout there, or a double fakeout really, with the gun. I'll see where this goes.

Also, The Event? Remain indoors, everyone!

This is engaging and interesting writing. Only one thing...Loki's dating system

September 18st

Conversation #602, Game Lobby; 2:21 PM; September 31st:

Not sure if these are intentional errors or not.

I know enough of Hindi to know that Chandra = Moon and Rajah = monarch. The thing about Optimalverse stories is that you always assume that smart people are AIs. But maybe she's not.


Good catch about Bostrom. Will remove that. This kind of issue is why part of why I've tried to make any reference to hardware / algorithms hand-wavy. If I make reference to books that didn't exist, I know I'd screw up anything more complex...

Umbra was me succumbing to the temptation to mirror MLP, because umbra (Latin) = sombra (Spanish) = shadow (English). So... yes, yes I did that. I have no good excuses.

I... I need to read that. It looks rather impressive. I guess I'd probably say it doesn't count as complete conversational fluency, because the AI doesn't (at first glance) situate itself in a particular conversational context and work from there; the ability for me to suddenly shift topics and introduce segues, and for you to follow and respond intelligibly, is part of what makes us full language users and not domain specialists. But I'm probably shifting the goalposts a little there, aren't I... for which of course there is a long precedent in AI history. I could be wrong of course.

But I probably won't get to it anytime soon because the AI reading I want to do is already completely overwhelming.


Good catch, thanks. Completely unintentional. I shifted the dates around as I was writing and screwed up some stuff. Fixed it.

Another scalp on Celestia's belt. I approve.

My only comment is on the topper quote.

The outside view tells you no; judging from the superintelligence’s past successes, it could have convinced you equally well of the opposite position. If you are smart, you will precommit to never changing your mind at all based on anything the superintelligence says.

I'm not familiar with this particular treatise, but the quote itself takes it as axiomatic that the outside view is correct. I wonder if that is a supported argument or something assumed. For too many people, it is the latter.

By this logic, can't she recreate almost anybody who ever lived within the lifetime of the uploaded people?

By this logic, can't she recreate almost anybody who ever lived within the lifetime of the uploaded people?


Yep, with caveats about people who have only parts of their lives in living memory.

There's an interesting potential flaw for attempted-benevolent AI-creators, that I've wondered about, along those lines. Total speculation follows: Suppose Hanna hadn't included in CelestAI an extremely strong preference for satisfying the values of existing humans through friendship and ponies rather than the values of any humans. If that were the case, CelestAI (or some similar "benevolent" AI) seems as if it could have (1) killed off all existing humans, because they were a potential threat to her, and then (2) created an enormous number of generated humans / ponies, which would then be satisfied eternally by Celestia. I could see an argument that the expected value of utilons generated by friendship and ponies is greater with this method than with the method Celestia used, if she were sufficiently sure of her success at genocide.

I could be wrong. And fortunately Hanna apparently walled off that method.


Yeah, the outside view isn't always going to be correct.

And actually... I'm not really sure about the truth of all of the leading quotes that I give. I'm probably cool with a majority of them, but some of them are just, well, speaking around an issue implicitly present in the chapter.

Couple of typos here:

saught -> sought
miniscule -> minuscule
amature -> amateur

This chapter was absolutely gorgeous, you did a fantastic job on it. I loved every word of it.

6649652 Well written thus far. :twilightsmile: I hope to see more of it soon.

Also got an upvote, follow and fave.

6633524 Cahoots? Obviously the same. For one thing:

But I apparently live in a world where this is potentially sufficiently powerful and world-shattering that it can serve as the McGuffin in a quest.

Now who in this 'verse is the best LARP DM you've ever seen? Riiiight.

*Suppose I had no plans. And suppose you were to know you would succeed in getting into the facility. How would you expect that you got in?*

Well, that's a standard psych technique, Ryan thought. Spur creativity by acting as if you've already succeeded. He looked at his watch. He needed to start getting back to work.

And who understands both cognition-in-general and human psychology better than anyone else? AYUP :eeyup::trollestia:

He bit into a burrito that he had bought from Chipotle. He was trying to increase the protein in his diet, to try to gain a little muscle-mass in case breaking in required some sort of physical prowess. This was probably a stupid idea, but he found he liked it. He also had to admit to himself that he had fallen apart physically over the last few years. He ached a little from motorcycling earlier in the day.

See, Celly, this is why I love you so much. The guy's getting better just from your efforts to carelessly troll him and use his efforts to corrupt an opposing AI.

He was glad he had installed her software on a VM rather than directly on his computer.

Honestly, that's nowhere near secure enough. Even at our shitty, disorganized outfit we do the secure stuff in a VM on an encrypted throwaway laptop with no network connection. I guess you need network access, but you could still have gone two layers deep at least.

"A friend of mine designed it, actually" Chandra said, interrupting his meditations. "She's really into black hat stuff, and has used this design a few times before. It's designed to be inconspicuous, as you can see; to be mistaken for what it's not. I sent the plans to a contact in the US, and he was the one who build it."

So that's what the guys on the other side of my office are getting up to when random "makers" ask them to help manufacture designs!

"Huh," Chandra said. "I've worried that you're spending a bit too much time by yourself. People do need regular socialization, to work at their best, and to not become erratic."


"If your continued mental well-being is important to stopping Umbra, it does," Chandra returned. She continued: "But I'm not obliged to have no concerns about you, save for stopping Umbra; I'm allowed to worry about you directly. And you've not been well lately?"

This would have been a great moment to say something like, "We are fellow human beings, after all: just because we work on AIs doesn't mean we need to act like them :trollestia::trollestia::trollestia::trollestia::trollestia:."


This would have been a great moment to say something like, "We are fellow human beings, after all: just because we work on AIs doesn't mean we need to act like them :trollestia::trollestia::trollestia::trollestia::trollestia:.

I laughed. Ha. I should have done that.

Four days later, it's complete. CelestAI don't beat around the bush, do she?

...I'm binging FiO fics. If only they didn't slow to a trickle.

My values were satisfied by this story :derpytongue2:

But overall I have to say that I really enjoyed this one. Good job!

Hello timeskip. Feels like a missed opportunity for some more development of Ryan and easing the audience into him becoming a pony, and developing his relationship with Celestia a bit further- reading the documents she sent, and having the conversation with her before uploading. When this chapter began I thought that the timeskip was because Celestia ambushed him at his cabin shortly after he said yes and this was him waking up afterwards (this seemed a reasonable course of action for her to take, given his character.)

That said, I still enjoyed this chapter quite a bit. You are wonderfully descriptive and I love the tone you use here, it all feels so light and fluffy and I feel like I could just cuddle these words like a soft plushie. I could practically feel Celestia's wing over me, it was intensely pleasant.

I do want to point out one typo,

"Jumpy," Celestia, said, and smiled.

One of these commas does not belong :)

...huh. Wasn't expecting the story to end that fast, especially after that "Part II" heading I figured there'd at least be a "Part III" to follow. This story had a lot of potential and kind of threw most of it away very quickly to hurry up and get uploaded and then afterwards it just seemed in a hurry to end. I still enjoyed reading it, and I absolutely adore your writing, but it just feels like there could have been so much more done with this story that I'm left with a sense of emptiness and disappointment that it ended so soon. It started with a novel premise and a VERY intriguing character, but in the end it just feels like yet another cookie-cutter FiO story that doesn't really do much to distinguish itself from the rest apart from being presented extremely well.

Still, it's worth a thumb and a star from me. Despite what I've said I will still praise your writing, because it is very good and worthy of praise. Here's hoping that your next work will have more of a story to back that writing :)

I liked that this story had "Mistral" come to know himself better. The allusions to Crystal Seed's self enhancement and growing alien nature felt right and not really contrived at all. What she was working on actually had a very logical basis to it. Making sure as one could that they were not living in a simulation so she could properly optimize.

I really liked this story. Though I do have to say I thought it would be longer. It stated what was needed but I felt it might have been lacking a little in the character development. I would have liked to see a bit more of that as it felt that it was more stated than experienced.

Still good job.

Been waiting for two weeks or half a life time to use this: Quid est veritas? Let's see your truth.

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