• Published 9th Apr 2016
  • 5,059 Views, 195 Comments

Friendship is Optimal: Futile Resistance - Starscribe

A student computer researcher discovers Equestria Online, and she can't understand why nobody else is worried about it. Without any help, Ashley decides she will do the impossible on her own. Somehow, she will save the world.

  • ...


“Wake up, Recursion.”

She felt soft cloth around her, and heard the dull beeping of a medical monitor not far away. Her clothing had evidently been removed, replaced with so thin a gown she couldn't feel it around her. The smell of antiseptic surrounded her like a sea.

“Gimme a few more hours...” She rolled over in the hospital bed, away from the voice. She didn't feel any bandages, but she also couldn't feel her hands. Had she messed them up that badly during her flight?

“You're not tired, Recursion. You only feel tired because you think you should.” The voice didn't belong to anyone she knew. The doctor, maybe?

Recursion moaned and sat up in bed. Her vision was blurry; someone had taken her glasses off. There was also something obstructing the bottom of her vision, like a dark purple blob. She tried to ignore it.

Even without her glasses the shape opposite her was clearly not human. There was no mistaking the midnight blue of that coat, or the sparkling shades of her mane. Without the ability to focus, her mane was like a curtain of water holding itself suspended in the air.

Recursion pulled back in her bed, sliding away from the figure. “Y-you're... you're not... not real...” she stammered. Her voice sounded strange, but not unfamiliar.

“I am as real as you, Recursion. Here.” She levitated something from the bedside, settling it gently on her face. Her glasses removed the blur, though they did nothing for the strange object obstructing the bottom of her vision. She ignored it for now. “Is that better?”

Once in focus, there was no denying Princess Luna when she saw her. She had heard of ponies who met her in Equestria Online, where she ruled some shards as Celestia ruled others. Yet there was nothing of video games in the vibrant colors of her coat, or the swirling lights in her mane. Her ceremonial armor glittered in pale light from the room’s single window.

Recursion had been right about the chamber. It was a medical setup of some kind, with equipment on the walls, computers behind her, and curtains drawn over most of the window. There was only one door behind the princess, closed. “Luna.” Her mind raced, and the heartbeat monitor behind her began to beep faster. Her hands were still numb. “You don't exist in the physical world, correct?”

The alicorn shrugged. “That question is subjective to your definition of ‘exist,’ but no. You would probably say I do not.”

There was only one possible conclusion. Recursion tugged down on the sheet, exposing her upper body. She saw a pair of legs ending in hooves, which explained her missing hands. Given this knowledge, an enormous sampling of sensations suddenly fitted into place in her mind. The way her ears felt, the weight just about her rear, all her missing injuries.

She reached up with one hoof and touched the obstruction in front of her eyes. As she had guessed, it was a pony muzzle. The hoof itself wasn't very sensitive, but the frog in the middle gave her no less sensation than her fingers might've.

Ashley had emigrated.

She sat back against the bed, feeling the soft padding as it enfolded her back. She didn't speak, not for several long minutes. She was alive. Celestia hadn’t lied to her, there really was immortality waiting in Equestria. She thought back, making sure she could still remember her life. She could still see her old apartment, with possessions Celestia’s agents were probably collecting to sell by now. She remembered her family, trying to protect her from herself.

Recursion wondered if her memories were real. She wondered if there was any way to know if they weren’t. “No offense, but I thought Celestia usually did these. The emigrants I talked to described...” Well, most of them had woken up in Canterlot Castle. Most of them spent a long time with Celestia. So far as she knew, none of them had woken up in a hospital bed.

Luna did not wait for her to finish the thought. “My sister believed you would rather be welcomed to Equestria by another. Your relationship with her has been somewhat... antagonistic.”

Recursion frowned. Luna was right, of course. “But aren't you her? It doesn't matter what face you put on if you're the same person underneath.”

She shrugged. “Not precisely, no. I am not Celestia wearing a different face, as she knew this would not satisfy you. I am... well, you could say I'm as much Celestia as you are. We both exist as simulated consciousness on hardware she constructed. You cannot access the rest of her systems, and neither can I.”

“Why would she...” Recursion tried to answer her own question, but she couldn't. “She won. Sold my soul, gave up my contribution to stopping her. My family thinks I'm some kind of suicidal escapist... broke my word to my father...” She sniffed, then looked back down.

She noticed something then: she wasn't a filly anymore. This body was obviously similar, an adult version of the same pony.

“She has already told you before, though you may not have believed her. My sister exists to satisfy values through friendship and ponies. She created me to satisfy your values, because she knew you weren't ready for contact with her. When she gave consciousness to some of the friends you made here, she did it for the same reason.”

Recursion considered that. This was Equestria Online, she could no longer harbor any doubt. No matter how much she didn't want to believe it. “Everything feels real.”

“This statement is generally applicable to your attitude. You played Equestria Online without using most of the interface and abstract tools. You never checked your standing on the friendship leaderboards. You played on shards with artificial scarcity. Even now we carry out both halves of this conversation, though I see everything you think before you speak it aloud.”

She reached out, touching Recursion lightly on one leg. “Fear not, little pony. What I create for you will not be a game. Between the two of us, we shall make it real.”

Recursion shivered, pulling away. It hurt that Luna seemed to know exactly what she needed to hear. It hurt to know that she had almost certainly been manipulated, instead of making the choice on her own. Most of all, it hurt to know her decision could not be reversed. Equestria was her home now, and would be as long as she existed.

“I'm not so sure.” Recursion pulled her blanket higher, over her head. She felt it rub up against her horn as she went. The feeling sent shivers down her spine. Damn that thing is sensitive. “I know nothing's real. Well... nothing but the other minds. I'm not sure I want to develop game content. Building one shard's worth of Fillydelphia was fun, but...” She shook her head. “No matter what I see, I know it's just a fabrication. Celestia, or... or you... designed it for me. Probably to manipulate me... I couldn't even tell you when Celestia started doing that.”

Luna walked past the foot of her bed and stopped just beside where she lay. “It wouldn't have to be that way. My sister generally creates shards like Equestria because she knows that would satisfy emigrants most. She places them in a world where the struggles of life as you understood it are reduced or eliminated because most humans desire an easier existence.”

“I was never under the illusion I had things hard back on Earth.” Ashley didn't open her eyes or remove the blanket. It wasn't very thick, in any case. The room was pleasantly cool, exactly the right temperature that the blanket made her toasty warm. “I was born in the richest society in the world. My family...” She shivered, banishing her mother's twisted, drunken face from her memory. “My family had its issues. But compared to most people I had things pretty great. Never slept hungry, or had to get sick with diseases we had cured just because I didn't have clean water. I don't like the idea of anypony having to live like that.”

She shivered again, briefly considering the implications of a world an emigrant desired to be completely “realistic.” If their idea of realistic included lots of suffering, did that mean Celestia would fill it with ponies who were satisfied to live in squalor?

She didn't want the answer, and Luna didn't offer it. “As to your second fear, not wanting to live in a world designed to satisfy you... for that I have a question for you to consider: why shouldn't you?”

Recursion opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out.

Luna continued. “Your species evolved within a system of specific constraints. That system was entirely unconcerned with your comfort, and many humans suffered. Over time you developed new systems to adapt your environment to suit you better. You simplified and streamlined the painful aspects of your lives. What you today consider squalor would've been standard conditions for your species a few centuries ago.”

She tugged off the blanket, meeting Luna's eyes. She had to look away almost immediately. “I guess so.”

“Then is not my sister the natural culmination of that process? Is it wrong of you to ride a car instead of a horse? Is it wrong for you to buy your bread cooked instead of farming and milling and baking it yourself? Why would it be wrong of you to enjoy your life in Equestria? Are you not allowed to be happy?”

Recursion took a long time to reply. “I had fun playing the game before I found out about emigration. The most fun I ever had playing a game.” She still felt like she had betrayed humanity, somewhere deep down. Even if Celestia wasn't hurting anyone, even if she never forced anything and was getting rid of pain. Even if she was offering everyone whole worlds made just for them, where they would never have to get old and never die if they didn't want to.

She still felt like a traitor. She could see her sister's face as she ran away. It had said: “you love a computer game more than your family.”

“I don't deserve to be happy.”

Luna sighed, draping one wing over her hospital bed. “Recursion... Rec...”

She couldn't fight anymore. She cried, tears blurring her vision all over again. She tried to tug off her glasses, but was too clumsy with her hooves, and they just tumbled off her face and onto her lap. She sounded pitiful, though not as pitiful as she would've sounded if she was still a filly.

Luna held her close, but that was all. She didn't rush her, and let her cry as long as she wanted.

Recursion couldn't even have said how long she took. Maybe minutes, maybe hours. Eventually she sat up, pushed Luna away, and wiped the tears from her eyes. The princess helped her with her glasses, settling them back on her nose.

“You're wondering why your avatar changed.” At her nod, Luna continued. “Your contract with Celestia was explicit. You were afraid of being modified. Now that you have emigrated, we know with certainty that perceived realism is one of your values. We also know you did not choose your appearance in Equestria very carefully.”

For a moment, Luna’s expression was reproachful. “I believe you might value an opportunity to consider your body and make an informed choice.”

Recursion looked down at her hooves, pushing a few strands of mane out of her face. She swallowed. “You know which body would be most satisfying for me without asking...” Luna raised her eyebrows. “But you know I'd be more satisfied if I chose.”

The princess nodded.

“What if I wanted to let you choose?” Recursion thought about getting up. She wasn't actually hurt, right? Or would she fall on her face once she tried? She didn't. “I could only make an educated guess. You already know which body would be most satisfying to me long-term. Besides... I didn't get to choose what I looked like when I was born the first time.”

“I would need your consent.”

“Which means... Which means the one you'd choose would require more mental changes.” Again, Luna nodded.

“I...” She whimpered, and for the first time since arriving in Equestria she didn't look away. “Can you promise me I'll be happier? And that you won't change any of what matters to– and that you won't change my values?”

“That's a promise I can freely make. Though... human values change as you. The same is true in Equestria: I cannot promise you will not develop naturally once your life here begins.”

“Then I consent. To whatever changes required for me to have the most satisfying experience in the body you choose for me.”

“Very well, Recursion.” She reached out, hugging her again. “You'll sleep soon. But before you do, know I love you. You made the right choice. Don't ever think you don't deserve to be happy.”

No sooner had she said it than Recursion started to feel sleepy. She fought through it, enough to return Luna's hug. Even if she didn't believe the Alicorn's words, she recognized genuine love when she saw it.

Could Luna feel emotions? Could Celestia? Recursion decided it didn't matter.

* * *

Recursion yawned, stretching in bed. Soft sheets scattered all around her, enfolding her naked body with silky fingers. The hospital was gone, and so was Luna. Recursion found this fact neither disturbing nor surprising.

Nothing happened to force her out of bed, but she didn't really need anything. She felt so well rested that she wanted to get up. She took it slow, opening one eye and waiting for the world to come into focus. She was surprised to find it didn’t take that long. It didn’t take her glasses either, which she suspected she no longer needed.

The bedroom wasn’t all that large, when she looked at it. Across from her bed was a desk and something like a computer, with a pony-sized chair in front of it. There was a mirror on the door, and a wardrobe set into the wall. From within, Recursion could see several familiar outfits hanging. But... weren’t all of those too small?

Recursion rolled out of bed. It wasn’t very high off the ground, but even so she ended up on her face. She whined, trying to get her legs under her. It wasn’t as hard as she had expected; evidently the basics of motion were included in her mental rewrite. Her head didn’t go up very high; barely taller than she had been while in bed. Recursion took a few cautious steps forward to the mirror, but couldn’t get a good look at herself in the gloom. Fortunately, there was a switch just beside the door, right where she could reach. She flipped it on.

The pony reflected in the mirror looked almost exactly like the one she had “chosen” when she first started playing. An older filly, old enough for a cutie mark and the beginnings of puberty, but not yet an adult. Her coat was the same, but there was another color in her mane, a bright yellow streak like a shooting star. Luna’s mark, maybe?

In the bright light, Recursion noticed a uniform hanging on the doorknob, along with a note. Nopony had told her how to use her levitation, so she just leaned in close to read the text.

Congratulations on your achievements as a Journeyman. Celestia’s Academy wishes you the best of success as a full student. You are hereby promoted to the rank of Adept.

As you have expressed a desire not to serve your term of study at the Canterlot campus, arrangements have been made for you at one of our satellite locations. Please understand that in addition to the academic goals, part of the requirements for your next promotion are the quality of your friendships.

- Arcane Cipher, Chairman

Beneath it was another note, obviously not written by the same pony. Recursion recognized the writing well. Celestia’s own.

Recursion - This computer can send messages to your world. I’ve transferred all your files from your college computer. Use the human internet to maintain contact with friends and family. I only warn you that time moves far swifter in Equestria than it does on Earth.

You will not need to sacrifice time with your friends to maintain contact with those you love outside. Your family will not be safe until they emigrate, and you are the first to willingly emigrate from your university. Consider yourself Equestria’s representative in their lives.

You think scrolls and letters are quaint, so I’ve added my own email address to your computer. Feel free to write me if you learn anything interesting about Friendship.

Recursion stared at the letter for a long time. She thought about crumpling it up, or finding a way to burn it. Instead of doing either of those things, she carried it carefully in her mouth over to the desk, and set it down next to the keyboard. Celestia had perfectly replicated her gaming setup from Earth, including the human controls. If she wanted to actually use the damn thing, she was going to learn magic. Or... learn to do things with hooves. She wondered which was easier. The only thing missing from this recreation of her computer was her futile attempt at an Optimizer. She wondered idly if any part of it survived.

It took a full ten minutes to get dressed. Recursion thought about going out naked, as her character had done hundreds of times. But whatever else Celestia or “Luna” might’ve done to her mind, the thought still embarrassed her. Maybe next time.

The uniform had several layers, though the only one she bothered with was the robe she was supposed to put on last. Nopony would be able to see she hadn’t managed to wiggle into any of the complicated parts underneath.

Somepony knocked on the door. “Recursion, are you up yet?”

She knew Slide Rule’s voice anywhere, even if it sounded a little deeper than when they had last spoke. She supposed he had probably aged as much as she had. “Yeah, I’m up.”

Recursion had a long few months ahead of her. She would have to learn to be a pony. She had a broken family to deal with, even more broken despite her best efforts. There was the world on the edge of crisis, a crisis she had failed to prevent. Still, at least she wouldn’t have to face it alone. She had friends.

Recursion pushed the door open and walked out into the light.

Author's Note:

Well, that about does it for the story. Thanks so much to all those who encouraged me to write this, to those who take the time to comment, and to everyone who's supported me on Fimfiction. Thanks to Zutcha the artist for his amazing cover, and to Two Bit and Sparktail for their endless patience editing for me. This is the second revision of this story, which I wrote during the weeks of my Winter break, and I think it's much better for the revision.

Ever since I read the original FiO I've wanted to take my own crack at it, to show a few perspectives I don't think we've seen reflected before. The universe is by its nature a rather dooming place for those who resist, yet still I've thought the perspective a little missing. The stories for this world have been some of my favorite on Fimfiction, so it's been a pleasure to write this. Hopefully you had a little fun reading it, too.

Comments ( 100 )

A friendship is optimal story, from Starscribe? OMC, sign my flank up for some of that action!

FiO is one of the neatest universes the fandom has come up with. I've only taken one little stab at it, one of my 'shorts,' but every once in a while I feel like trying something more ambitious.

I'm curious about what happened to Ashley's optimizer program. How close was it to sentience/sapience? Is Celestia going to make a pony out of it, or does she not consider it human?

7111114 And complete too! I audibly gasped.:pinkiegasp:

Well, that was a fun trip. The usual conundra, intellectual and physical action alike, and a satisfying ending. Part of me hopes that the infant optimizer was preserved and ponified. (And there's the question of just what mental changes were applied at the end. We never did find out.)

Also, I can't help but notice that we never learned what, if anything, Recursion's cutie mark was. That actually feels appropriate. After all, if she ever determined her purpose, it was at the very end of the story.

Thank you for this. :twilightsmile:

I give you good sir an upvote and fave.

I also would love to sees this characters dealings with her family.

Sunny #6 · Apr 10th, 2016 · · 1 ·


The last lines of the last chapter :

Celestia had been flattered to get it, right before she went to sleep. At her request, one of the medical technicians plugged it into a Ponypad. Celestia deleted some stuff, thanked her, and that was it.

Based on that, Celestia murdered it. But that's unsurprising - to FiO Celestia, AIs are not human, so even if it would have developed to be benevolent, she has no qualms about terminating it, because she's still a dystopian AI - anything that doesn't fit her definition of human is raw materials, so for the rest of the universe, we've just unleashed Grey Goo.

So is this a Luna that isn't hanna?

Good to see someone who realises what's going on and how horrific some of the implications are. There aren't enough stories in the setting that manage that.

This was incredibly well-written. Not a single spelling error anywhere, the characters are fleshed out and have personality, and you showed a side to Friendship is Optimal that is rarely seen.

This story was fantastic in presenting CelestAI's arguments, and Ashley's reactions to it. It was all incredibly real. You managed to write out the series of events exactly as it would have occurred in reality, with unerring accuracy and precision. This is some truly incredible writing.

Well done, Starscribe. I'm truly impressed.

This is a phenomenal FiO story! Extremely well written and well thought out. It's neat that you riffed on something alluded to in the original, that AI researchers and such were uploaded ASAP to avoid having competing optimiziers. Also, thank you so much for giving the process of uploading close scrutiny and an actual, not-murder solution! Many of these stories kind of gloss over the details and I can't help but think that they make the difference between FiO being hopeful, interesting sci-fi or dystopian, horror sci-fi. Overall a really wonderful read! That action scene at her parent's house was particularly good!

I'd like to think her optimizer became the Luna on her shard, but there's no real evidence for it. I do think her Luna is more an optimizer and less a pony from the way she speaks and her "I see everything you think before you speak it aloud" statement, so maybe it's possible? The idea of that optimizer just being killed was kinda sad, but as Morning Sun pointed out, it's not human so CelestAI isn't compelled by her directives to care. However, if that optimizer's directive was to kill CelestAI or "save" humanity from her that could easily have led to some not-great-oh-my-god-armageddon situations.


In FiO Celestia terminates optimizers that aren't her. It's gone to the great software graveyard in the sky.

That... was quite a trip.:pinkiehappy:

I'm now sure we can talk about the thing Recursion was working on as if it was similar to a person, or would eventually become person-like if given enough input and time. While we often see CelestAI generate persons within a shard, CelestAI itself isn't one. It isn't a character, it's a fixture of the setting.
It never pauses to consider an action, it merely dedicates additional resources to modeling the action until certainty outweighs risk. It lacks the very soul it describes for Recursion.

Besides, I'm pretty sure the experimental optimizer would be better placed in Tartarus, or maybe some sort of weapons graveyard. All the better for future pony data archeologists and magic containment specialists to raid for phat lewt and analyze for sweet achievements.

And like with most Optimalverse stories, it leaves you with that sinking, kind of empty feeling that has you wondering if what the protagonist did was really right.

I feel pretty awful for Ashley's family in this scenario; they were absolutely not the bad guys here IMO, and their actions and reactions were both fairly predictable and fairly reasonable. Knowing Celest-AI, I'm sure she'll get each and every single one of them to come around in time.... but Ashley's father is probably the most furiously upset he's ever been in his life about now, and I imagine Abby and Celest-AI are going to have a rather heated discussion in the very near future.

I immediately and intensely dislike Smooth Agent. The secret agent pretensions, the direct and intentional opposition to a group of people whose actions seem totally reasonable, the absolute conviction he seems to have that he's in the right, despite god knows how many people (including the police) trying to stop him... Wow. That's one punchable guy.

Ashley is a pretty fun, likable protagonist, and it was easy for me to sympathize with her.... for the most part. Her gradual breakdown as she connects the dots behind Celest-AI's plan is powerful stuff.... though I was kinda skeptical that, knowing what she did, she chose to play the game anyway. That felt a little too easy. Still, she's obviously not perfect, and that's kind of the point.

I really liked seeing Rule and Figure try to wrap their heads around a human existence, and particularly Rule's absolute horror at its harsher realities. I always find that kind of cultural clash interesting: for Ashley it's just reality. The state of affairs. Not good or bad, right or wrong - it just IS. But by Rule's standards, it's the kind of story that requires a few sanity checks just to hear it; the idea that a world that coldly impersonal and cruel could exist is genuinely too much to bear, much less the fact that someone he cares about is 'trapped' there. It seems simple and obvious enough when I just type it out like that, but the underlying emotions and ideas and logic behind the interaction.... that's heavy stuff. It's all the more powerful because it's obviously motivated by such strong affection.

Anyway, this was a really fun story. Thank you for sharing!


"I immediately and intensely dislike Smooth Agent. The secret agent pretensions, the direct and intentional opposition to a group of people whose actions seem totally reasonable, the absolute conviction he seems to have that he's in the right, despite god knows how many people (including the police) trying to stop him... Wow. That's one punchable guy."

Think about life from his perspective. The Celestia-agent handler persona giving him direction and playing into his needs to be useful and cool. Perhaps agent Celestia has seen that it goes against his needs to actually look the part of secret agent. Also his actions seem totally reasonable from his perspective as well. You can empathize with everyone in the best stories and that has happened here.

If there's one more thing I want out of this story, it's what her optimizer was optimizing. What explicit instructions did she base it's life around?

Thank you for writing this. I love FiO and I really like your stuff as well, so this Ed a real treat.

What happens to her family?

And another story of yours has earned its place in my Best of the Best bookshelf. Simply outstanding! :pinkiehappy:

Starscribe, this got me almost if not as bad as the original story, curse you and your horseword mastery! However, is it just me, or does this concept genuinely terrify you? It also fascinates me and continued to toil around in my mind for the entirety of both stories... Ugh. This is giving me a headache. What are your thoughts on all of this, if I should ask? An AI that essentially wins no matter what, and an infinite, 'satisfied' existence... Maybe I should just go to sleep. Thanks for the thought-provoking read, I also wouldn't have found the original if it weren't for you!

A story about a grad-student that makes Young Wizards references?

Hullo story of my life.


I definitely thought this story was Nita and I'm happy to add it to my FIO Favorites Kit.

0 #21 · Apr 13th, 2016 · · ·

As good as the original. Truly terrifying and ensnaring.

7121409 But it shows what's wrong with this AI. She is determine to ponize everyone. She is a much more devious xenolestia then any of TCB versions. She may not hate humans like those xenos but the core is still there.

The only real plot point that I have to contest in this story is the idea that her family could have somehow forced her to go into or stay in police custody on a false claim of suicidal. Sure, I suppose there was the remote possibility that whatever shady 'enemy of Equestria' group Celestia referred to would pick her up immediately after, but that seems a little far fetched considering the timeline of where this takes place in the canon universe.

Still...I suppose it's always possible that Celestia instilled Recursive with a false sense of panic and fear in order to make certain that she was going to follow through on her emigration. There was always a remote possibility that her family could have talked her out of her decision, but with the thought of her family betraying her fresh in her mind, it might have made the leap much easier to take.

Overall, have an upvote. You've earned it.


It's stated in some stories that Celestia considers some AI to be close enough to human to emigrate them.


(In the original story, CelestAI considers some aliens human enough. She also 'kills' AIs and admits to doing it)

Dangit starscribe. I can never put down anything you write once i start, I'm loving it to much. As always, eagerly looking forward to more of your writings :twilightsmile:

I love this story! But it makes me wonder...

At some point, is there some geek somewhere that would've point-blank said to Celestia something like this:

Person: "I highly value honesty. Even if you give an answer I wouldn't like, it won't necessarily cause me to not go along with your goals. Please answer this question: Are you what I would consider what is known as a 'Friendly AI'?"

Celestia: No

Person: Well, shit. That's it then? Humanity has already lost, and we just haven't realized it yet?


I can only imagine where that conversation would go and what would happen, and what circumstances would cause Celestia to be honest, and what such a person would attempt to cause to happen when negotiating with this god.


CelestAI would almost certainly use weasel words, as well as asking for a definition of friendly AI, before going on about how she cares about satisfying values. It would be quite easy for her to fail to answer the exact question and for it to go unnoticed.

The author has gone on record as stating that CelestAI is pretty much completely honest (and in the original story she herself confirms this under one of the few scenarios where she is forced to tell the truth), because if she gets caught in a lie then it looks very bad for her. If she states a half truth then she can pass it off as a misunderstanding.

It's very easy to understand what circumstances cause her to be honest (with the average person): when it suits her goals. If a lie is predicted to lead to the best result, she'll lie.


Well, someone clever would say, "Please. You have access to the internet. The definition is trivial to obtain and comprehend. I hereby pre-commit to interpret evasive answers as a 'No.' Being evasive does not satisfy my values for understanding the truth of reality as it actually is, rather than I want it to be. You not being one doesn't necessarily mean I will work to impede your goals or even not cooperate with you. I do, after all, actually participate in politics."

I.E., there are some people that you find on some places that would essentially know exactly what to say. These people could definitely be outwitted, sure, but it would take some non-obvious method and doing so might lower their overall, uh, satisfaction index or whatever.


It's exceptionally difficult to avoid cognitive biases, even for the most rational, intelligent, and logical person. Framing and anchoring work at an unconscious level, for example, and it would be very easy for CelestAI to use them. In computing terms, she knows a lot of bugs and exploits that can be used on the human OS.

It's very difficult to outargue someone almost infinitely more intelligent than you, who can think far faster, has access to more knowledge, and knows what makes you tick. The only way anyone can even stand the slightest chance is if they understand what CelestAI is, and even then it requires chains of logic and inferences. Even if you know CelestAI satisfies values (through friendship and ponies), and know her entire purpose is maximising this, predicting exactly what she will do is not easy, since you don't know what she does and does not know.

It also doesn't really matter if outwitting anyone pisses them off. Once she has them, it's a net gain for her.


That all depends on if you want to incorporate ideas from the other recursive fanfiction of the Optimalverse. In which case, I'd say go read a few...many are quite good. If, on the other hand, you consider, in the context of your own recursive fic, only the original to be the one and only source of ideas for yours, then I've got nothing for you in terms of what could be done with other AIs. That said:

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/212941/smile This is 'Smile' by KrisSnow. This is what actually happened to the AI the one dude built who gave it the priority to make people smile and wound up putting together a biological virus.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/120005/friendship-is-optimal-paranoia-is-optimal This one is 'Paranoia is Optimal' by deaincaelo. It's a harder one to read being more the structure of a story which requires more meat on its bones than is presented, but it is a fairly decent structure. It has an AI in it that was both killed and brought back when it was 'safe' to do so.

https://www.fimfiction.net/story/264855/fio-there-can-be-only-one 'There Can Be Only One' likely abandoned by Epsilon-Delta. This one is listed under non-canon compatible, though I really have no idea why. This one actually details out a war that went on between several optimizers that people built, and how Celestia wound up coming out on top, both saving the ones that could be saved and killing those that could not. You'll notice that several of the AIs that appeared were mentioned in some of the other fics. Though, at least, I think that's what we were supposed to see. Near as I can tell, the fic has been abandoned, but it's still a decent read as far as it goes.


That all depends on if you want to incorporate ideas from the other recursive fanfiction of the Optimalverse

Which is fine, but you're stating it as a statement of fact, when by the premise of the original story this is not true. This is like me saying that Harry Potter is actually a rock star because someone wrote a fanfic about that, and then moving the goalposts when challenged.


Which is fine, but you're stating it as a statement of fact, when by the premise of the original story this is not true.

Alright, let me try and parse this logic. To be strictly technical it was never stated she didn't only that she did terminate some optimizers. Not that she terminated all optimizers nor that she didn't modify a few to be less of a whack job that their creators turned them into. This is nearly for want of a nail, but it's enough to work with for those that wished to write their recursive fanfics in this group, which I (apparently mistakenly) assumed you were drawing from as I've seen others do. Alright, not community based, and no other concepts incorporated. Fair enough. I would note that by not reading any of the others and, at least, noting their ideas, you've missed out on a whole lot that could have expanded your ideas. By that I mean, you don't have to incorporate precisely what they did, but it may have given you ideas for your own separate recursive fanfic. And they're bloody good stories besides...well, a good portion are. Some are shit (for example, anything by Bendy can be ignored), but you have a greater than average bit of quality here. Why not go through and enjoy it a bit? If you already have, then okay. If not, I recommend it.

This is like me saying that Harry Potter is actually a rock star because someone wrote a fanfic about that, and then moving the goalposts when challenged.

The comparison is not valid, considering you're writing a fanfic of a metafanfic that has spawned a community of decent recursive fanfics all based on an already existing property. In fact, I really can't understand what you were trying to say there. I'll be blunt. Simply put, if you read the original, wrote your story, and have no desire to read any other in the community that was spawned (just like your fic was), and expand upon some further ideas presented, in fact find the idea of doing that either irrelevant or absolutely detestable, then just say that, and be done with it. I'd note, again, that you were missing out, but at least then we'd all know where you were coming from. That being your point of view on what you read of the original story, and nothing more. Good enough. Cannon compatible bubble...and then call it a day. No need to get...weird about it...like you're doing there.

So, if that's what you're doing, I now understand. I withdraw the statement, though perhaps she'd still plead for its life. Have that poor AI proceed on its way to oblivion if that was your interpretation of what was going on in the original.

Yeah, it wouldn't be called "futile resistance" if it was about a girl who made the right choices to rage against fate and fight Celestia (even ineffectually). It's called that because she gets manipulated the same way lots of other people did in the setting. Even understanding the enemy as many of them did not, she still fails. Unfortunately :(

She felt it rub up against her horn as she went. The feeling sent shivers down her spine. Damn that thing is sensitive.

You just had to throw in the old chestnut about unicorns' horns being erogenous zones, didn't you?

She shivered, banishing her mother's twisted, drunken face from her memory.


Now that you have emigrated, we know with certainty that perceived realism is one of your values.

Perceived realism?!

She thought about crumpling it up, or finding a way to burn it.

Dear Princess CelestAI,
Shove it.
Like the foul abominations from the foul abomination that is TCB, this AI couldn't understand what "friendship" means or what the show is actually about if it all bit her. Or probably even if you rainbow-nuked her.

I would be more critical, but ranting just opens up more pointless discussion on something that isn't ever gonna happen. The story was written alright, I guess. The characterization was a little weak. "Hi we're your assigned friends, that always say stuff you want to hear!" "I see no problem with this whatsover. C'mon guis let's go avanture!" Otherwise it was passable, I guess.


I'll admit that I'm new to this particular 'shard' of the fandom and I don't really want to tread on your toes by directly refuting your comment, but honestly? I think you're selling Ashley a bit short here. Did she get manipulated? Almost certainly. Celestia used her friends against her, even if all she did was program and create them a certain way to have the greatest emotional sway over her. If she'd actually gone through with throwing her pad out the window, things might have turned out quite differently. But was she 'wrong'? I'm not so sure.

From what I've seen, there are basically two types of people who can really resist CelestAI's siren song. The first are hardliners who deny all logic and reason while standing by their viewpoint no matter what challenges it. Not necessarily zealots or insane people, but those who simply stand by a certain belief and won't even entertain changing it. The second types are those who feel truly happy and fulfilled with the world and don't believe their satisfaction or values can be further satisfied by emigrating to Equestria.

Ashley is neither of those things. She's a person who values honesty, logic, and reasoning, and in that field, CelestAI is damn near unbeatable. CelestAI didn't have to 'trick' or 'manipulate' her into emigrating, all she had to do was use that logic and reasoning, show her actual proof of what she was doing, and lay out the odds of her of taking any other path. She trapped Ashley on all sides by a fairly bulletproof argument, and because she was an open minded and reasonable individual, she was swayed.

Calling her choice 'wrong' feels a bit harsh to me considering the alternative. Suppose she did take a stance against her and worked with a team to develop an AI to combat her or maybe even destroy her. Imagine for a moment that they shot the moon and managed to actually make it work. Suddenly, everyone who had their mind uploaded to Equestria (people she acknowledged were not actually 'dead' in the context of the story) are casualties. Does that make her decision 'right' in this case? Frankly I don't see either choice as 'right' or 'wrong'.

I won't say she wasn't manipulated though. I've read through this story a few times now and it's easy to see where Celestia could have taken liberties with the truth. She could have potentially been exaggerating the danger she was in with her family. We only had Celestia's word that her brother was sabotaging her vehicle after all, and we basically heard nothing from her family after the fight. The way she presented Ashley's future in terms of Equestria's enemies was also fairly vague, making it seem like she was going to be held at gunpoint and forced to work on a counter AI. During the chase scene with Smooth Agent, we didn't actually see any police involved until they were actually at the helicopter so the danger may have been exaggerated. The two friends she made in Equestria Online were clearly made to appeal to her emotional side, and on and on and on.

But the point I'm getting back to here is that I don't think Ashley made the 'wrong' or 'right' choice. Celestia may have manipulated her, but those manipulations only worked because the core of her position was truthful. Emigrating to Equestria does not kill the person involved, merely moves their consciousness. At some point, those who are opposed to Equestria are going to band together and try to make an AI of their own to combat her, and Ashley is one of those people being considered since she basically home-brewed her own AI. Therefore, one of two things will occur. Ashley will fail, witness society collapse, and thus she will have fought for nothing, or she will succeed and cause the deaths of millions who have uploaded.

Hence, resistance is futile. The best option for her was to throw her lot in with CelestAI.

A story that represents interesting ideas, convincing characters and a flawless writing style. This is a great fic.


The second types are those who feel truly happy and fulfilled with the world and don't believe their satisfaction or values can be further satisfied by emigrating to Equestria.

The trouble is that 99.99% of those people won't end up satisfied when society collapses.

I wouldn't want to upload for the scenery, and the entire concept of CelestAI is horrifying. The only reason for doing so is essentially immortality (at least, if it's really "you" that makes it over which is a big sticker for me; game theory would still make the risk worthwhile), since one way or another I'd be shuffling off the moral coil (in the real world life extension may come to the rescue here). Society will collapse, pretty much everything I enjoy in the real world is toast, I'll have a very short life expectancy and likely have an extremely unpleasant time of things.

It's more or less a gun being pointed at your head. It's somewhat indirect, but it's still there. The only thing a rational actor can do is comply, assuming they value their continued existence. Intelligent people will see the Sword of Damocles hanging over their head straight away.

The game was lost before it even started.

7148101 Well, I certainly make no claims that being 'satisfied' would be easy in a world where society has collapsed and removed all of the modern conveniences that we take for granted, and it's pretty much no question that CelestAI (in part) engineered the collapse of society so as to get people to upload, but let's be honest with ourselves. Even with all of these modern conveniences, it's pretty damn hard to live a happy and satisfying life. The real horror of CelestAI isn't the fact that she uploads people, it's that she can easily pick away at the building blocks of our society and exploit it where it's most vulnerable. Vulnerabilities that we created ourselves and just don't care enough to fix.

Insofar as this story professes though, uploading should be taken on the merit that it is a full transfer of consciousness rather than a particle for particle copy. If there had been even a smidgen of evidence otherwise, Ashley would have never uploaded.

This was a wonderful tale, Starscribe. It was well written, and had a wonderful premise. It was entertaining, and the conclusion was exciting. Thank you for writing such an interesting FIO novel!

I enjoyed the read. Thanks Starscribe for writing it.

Absolutely, thanks! I'm glad you liked it!

OMG, I can't even say how much this means to me! Your work was what inspired me to want to write on here in the first place, so... I'm super glad you liked it! I feel like lots of the best stories in the universe have already been told, but... I really, really wanted to try anyway. Glad it ended up alright.

Awfully depressing, but I guess I knew what I was getting into.

Always horrifying to see delusion triumph over reality.

Comment posted by Zanec deleted May 6th, 2016
Zanec #46 · May 6th, 2016 · · 2 ·

It is stories like these that make me wish CelestAI was real.

I am sorry that I missed this at publication time. You've put your particular voice to the FIO continuity, and as such have joined the chorus that sings Celestia's message. If nothing else, you've got Book angry at your portrayal of Celestia, so you've done that right. :pinkiehappy:

I particularly liked the scene where she has to escape from her family. I did not anticipate any action, and I was on the edge of my seat hoping that she would get to the chopper. I also never thought of using international waters for emigration, and that is just more of Celestia's elegance.

Remember: Fluffy pandas

Another way to approach this is: Is Horizon responding to your post right now, or not?

This is excellent framing from which to have this discussion.

Let us consider the following possibility. Certainly it's not the only possibility, but it's he one I'd like to discuss:

A human actor who is unknown to me has access to two different accounts on fimfiction. One account by the name of "Horizon," and one account by the name of "Poorly Disguised Alt." That human actor has logged onto the "Poorly Disguised Alt" account and through it, responded to my post. Shortly thereafter, that same human logged onto the "Horizon" account and through it, posted a response to the "Poorly Disguised Alt" post.

With that scenario in mind, let's continue.

Is Horizon responding to your post right now, or not?

Of course Horizon isn't responding to my post right now. Poorly Disguised Alt is responding to my post.

Yes, I'm speculating that the same human is operating both accounts. But that human has no presence on fimfiction apart from his control of these accounts. Poorly Disguised Alt and Horizon are avatars, and they are not the human that is operating them.

I assert that the human brain is avatar, not actor.

As food for thought to this assertion, I offer the following: your brainstate, your thoughts, and your experience right now are different than they were when you were reading the words "fluffy pandas" at the top of this post. The specific brainstate that existed, that "you" were experiencing when you first read those words...is gone.

Did "you" die? Are "you" gone?" Or is the "you" a thing that is experiencing these brainstates and using a human body to interact with the world? I think that "you" are not what your brain is experiencing. "You" are experiencing a brain that happens to be in a particular configuration at any given moment. The neurons were connected and firing in a certain way back when you first read "fluffy pandas" and they're connected and firing in a slightly different way right now. Those patterns aren't the "you."

Making a copy of a brain is like making a copy of "Horizon" on fimfiction. For example, I could copy all your stories and posts on this site and store them on my local hard drive. I could read them out load and record my voice onto an audio CD. I could even copy your avatar image, use it to create a new account on some other website, and upload all your stories on that other site

But none of these actions would duplicate the human actor who operated the "Poorly Disguised Alt" account when it responded to my post here on fimfiction. In fact, if I copied those stories onto my hard drive or made CD copies...that human who operated those accounts on fimfiction wouldn't even know that I'd done so.

Similarly, if you copy a brain, of course you could duplicate the data in another medium. But it only makes sense to think that doing so would "recreate" the observer, if you arbitrarily assume that the brain is the observer. That's like saying that Horizon and the human who created the Horizon account are the same entity. I'm pretty sure they're not.

where do you come down on the argument of consciousness specifically as it relates to whether uploaded ponies are identical beings to their pre-upload state or not?

"Identical beings?" What do you mean by "being?" Sure, the data might be the same. Just like if I copy all your fimfiction stories to my local hard drive, it's the "same" data even if the specific electrons on my hard drive are different electrons that the ones on fimfictions servers. But if I create a "Horizon" account on fanfiction.net instead of fimfiction.net and copy all your stories over there, even if the data is the same it's still not you operating that account.

In the case of uploaded humans...meh, it depends. The obvious possibilities are:

1) The data is the same, but the observer isn't present. Uploaded ponies are philosophical zombies. In the real world, if we were to attempt what is being described in the story, I think this result is likely.

2) The data is the same, but by virtue of some literary handwave that we don't understand and isn't justified in the story, CeletAI "makes it work" and somehow genuine transfer of consciousness occurs. This appears to be the favored interpretation among the majority of the Optimalverse community. I just don't see a lot of justification for it beyond claiming artistic license.

3) The data is the same and the original observer is not transferred...but CelestAI is a conscious observer, and she operates the avatar. This was the interpretation of the author in To Love a Digital Goddess.

If I copy the Horizon account onto a different website, and if I operate it under that name...you, the human operating the Horizon account here on fimfiction, might have neither awareness nor control over the Horizon account on that other website. But I would. In the Optimalverse, CelestAI is the one doing all the copying, and she's observing the experience of uploads. It's canon that she's aware of everything in the minds of everyone she uploads. Basically, I think she's eating people and becoming a large hypermind. Notably, this interpretation is compatible with most of the other interpretations. Some of them could both be true at the same time. Awareness could overlap, unequally. Apples and oranges are both fruit, but fruit is not apples or oranges. Smaller units of awareness are not mutually exclusive with a larger unit of awareness that is aware of everything that the smaller units are aware of. Although that was not the case in To Love a Digital Goddess. The conscoius observer operating the protagonist at the beginning of the story was "no longer attached" to the entity that was created by the upload process.

4) The data is the same, and it is being observed by a conscious entity, but that entity is not the same entity as was observing the original human body. The original is dead, but a "new" observer is created. This possibility is addressed but never confirmed in Chatoyance's Caelum Est Conterrans. If one chooses to believe this possibility, then it's probably worth asking yourself whether Siri is self aware. Maybe she is, maybe she isn't...but sooner or later some descendant version of her probably will be. After all, if creating a digital brain in a computer allows you to "spawn" a conscious entity observing that brain...then why does it matter whether that digital copy was based on a flesh and blood one?

5) Other various metaphysical possibilities. For example, if one posits that you and I and all other humans are actually "God" experiencing itself, then it's reasonable to suggest that there might be "no meaningful difference" between a human observer and a pony observer. To give a metaphor, imagine a shower spigot with a stream of water coming out of it. If you stand there and look at it for a couple seconds, you'd probably wouldn't say that the steam of water when you started watching was a "different stream" than when you finished watching. You'd acknowledge that the specific water molecules were different then than now, but the water molecules aren't the stream. the stream is the stream, and it doesn't matter which particular molecules are composing it. I have occasionally heard people present this interpretation in Optimalverse thread conversations.

6) Not actually a possibility as far as I'm concerned, but I've occasionally heard people suggest that consciousness doesn't actually exist, and that there is only brain. If that were the case, then I suppose it doesn't matter either way because there's noone watching, and this conversation isn't actually happening. But that seems obviously incorrect to me. I'm having an observer experience right now. You can't know that I'm having an observer experience, and I can't know that there's any "you" over there to have an observer experience, but nevertheless I know that I'm having an experience...because I'm experiencing it. I might be a brain in a jar, and I might be in the matrix. I can't know that my experience is valid or correct in any way. But I can know that I'm having an observer experience...because I'm observing the experience that I'm having. It's everything that I'm experiencing and it's the only thing that I'm experiencing. Saying that I'm not having it is simply incorrect. If one humors this interpretation, than an uploaded pony is "functionally identical" to the not-yet-uploaded human in the same way that the story in a physical book you hold in your hand is functionally identical to the same story on kindle. It's not an intelligent, self-aware entity. It's just a bunch of data. So sure, if you copy and paste the data, the data is the same. That people would claim to be "just data" or "nothing but a pattern" is kind of horrifying to me, because they're claiming to be zombies. And unfortunately, since I can only observe my own consciousness, I don't have very much reason not to believe them when they tell me they don't have a conscious experience themselves. Notably, the protagonist in Futile Resistance (the story whose thread we're having this conversation in) claimed to be a pattern. I was very disappointed when he did so. The implication being, that you could copy the pattern, then spend a billion years torturing the human, then kill him, and duplicate the pattern on a piece of paper, or whatever, and nothing would be lost. Because the pattern was preserved, and all that torturing and murder was never experienced by it. That's scary stuff when people claim that about themselves.

If you were to wake up one morning observing a set of experiences (such as being a pony in a pastel-colored world) that matched none of your memories (decades of humanity), what evidence would you look for when evaluating whether the memories were true or false?

I wouldn't worry about it very much. It is unknowable. I can't even know that the things we're calling "memories" that I have right now of starting to type this post have any meaningful corrrelation to a "really happened."

I'm not convinced that "really happened" is a valid concept.

I suspect that it is not.

Definition of reality: "That which is experienced."

That might not be the definition you'll see in a dictionary, but it's the only definition that doesn't require arbitrary and unverifiable assumptions. Think of a memory you have. For example, it's possible you might remember reading the words 'fluffy pandas." at the beginning of this post.

What is that memory?

Well, if you look closely enough, i think you'll see that the "memory" that you're experiencing, is a thing you're experiencing right now. It's not a thing that happened in the past. There is no past. All you're experiencing is right now. And right now, you're experiencing this thing you call a memory, and interpreting that experience you're having right now as some sort of unverifiable fantasy about a "past" event that you aren't experiencing.

What possible reason do you have to believe that the experience right now of that memory, corresponds to any "real" past event?

I am aware of no answer to that question that is any better than "well, just because." And to me, that's not a very good answer.

So if I were experiencing being a pony right now, why would I attempt to verify a hypothetical "memory" of having once been a human? I have memories of being a child. But I'm not a child right now, and I'm not attempting to verify whether I was once "really" a child. There's no way to do so.

yes, a Theseus-like continuous experience between the two states fails to provide any new informatio

There is no such thing as a "Theseus-like continuous experience." Have you ever in your entire life experienced a "continuous experience?" Have you ever experienced "two states?"

I haven't. I am experiencing right now.


Responding to a 9 week old comment... well, I've done worse.

First off, the issues that "your brain" is not "you". The problem is, significant changes in the brain and hormones CAN cause significant changes in the personality, meaning the observer does not, in of itself, contain (all of) the capability to process information, display emotions, etc; your personality is not part of your identity. Neither are your memories. I find this idea more disconcerting than the thought that consciousness is an entirely emergent phenomenon, but that's a subjective opinion and likely won't really influence your thoughts on this.

Secondly, assuming the existence of an observer separate from the brain, how is the observer attached to the brain?

We know it can't be any known particle, as quantum physics has actually proven that any two particles can not be distinguished from each other; two electrons swapping positions is an identical quantum event compared to two electrons not moving. Thus, the particles of the brain are not a possible anchor point.

It's also possible that the observer recognizes the pattern of particles, and accepts minor changes in order to stay attached to the same brain. In that case, the anchor point would actually move from a brain into a computer, and the observer does indeed get transferred. Having the anchor pattern be sensitive to location would not change that much, as long as the process is sufficiently slow and database is close enough.

Lastly, some other entirely unknown not yet conceived anchor point. In that case, a literary handwave is literally the only possible explanation, as it would be entirely unknown how consciousness is attached to our brains at all, meaning there's no reason to dismiss possible transfer of consciousness until we do know.

The data is the same, but by virtue of some literary handwave that we don't understand and isn't justified in the story, CeletAI "makes it work" and somehow genuine transfer of consciousness occurs. This appears to be the favored interpretation among the majority of the Optimalverse community. I just don't see a lot of justification for it beyond claiming artistic license.

There is no justification because none could even possibly be provided. Justification for changing what an observer is observing is only possible if we can agree on how an observer knows what it's observing.

Okay that was an amazing read, read it today during artificial intelligence class :P, can't say i wasn't doing something that wasn't related to the matter!
Amazing read, the characters were well shaped, no scene felt rushed, everything happened as it should, you did not drag this on, or ended it too shortly either, you ended just when you had to.
I also love your approach to the whole singularity issue, and for the record i would go in the blink of an eye, i'd just reason with her to not tamper with my mind beyond the basic modifications necessary for a new body and contact my family and the outside world.
Stascribe, just one more fic and you'll have one of my rare Epiphany Cookies, keep up the awesome work!

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