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Keystone Gray


I am your one-stop-shop for all things merrily melancholy.

Comments ( 300 )
Comment posted by Keystone Gray deleted Jun 4th, 2017

Hey folks. First, let me thank you for reading. I'm finally satisfied with enough of Part I to start posting. This story has dominated six months of my life so far, so if only one person reads this, that will be enough to please me. At this point, I just want to get this thing off my chest, because writing it has been an emotional rollercoaster that I was not prepared to ride.

I don't really have a release schedule, so I apologize in advance for delays. Almost all of the story is already written. I'm just doing some final editing and some minor revisions. Special thanks to LordBucket for editing the first few chapters. That might not sound like a lot, but he really kicked my rear in gear with some harsh but very welcome criticism. Throw him some cookies please, because I don't think this story would be half as well developed or well thought without him.

Also, shout out to my husband Fallfeathers for putting up with my rambling, brainstorming, and long sleepless nights of typing.

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Ive only read the first chapter so far but it has already intrigued me! Elizabeth is written with a very strong character voice and I can't wait to find out more about her.

I'll read the rest tomorrow, and look forward to seeing more from you!

8210182 So far this is a very compelling story. The family seems very life-like, though I admit they are very different from mine so it is hard to judge. I'm looking forward to the next update!

8211374 Thanks for commenting!

It's a small town family deep in hunting culture and religious faith. I understand that the majority of my audience might not subscribe to either of these lifestyles, but I wanted to underscore that these are important things to this family. Small towns are also very proud of their identity as small towns, so the people in them are closer together than in more suburban areas.

Concrete in particular is a beautiful locale with a rich history and a tight-knit culture. I've never been there, but my research about it for this story makes me really want to visit. I know what I'm doing with my vacation hours this year, that's for sure.

This has been an interesting start. I look forward to more from you. FiO is my favorite FimFiction setting so far. Keep up the good work. :twilightsmile:

Friendship Is Optimal is my favorite setting for MLP fanfiction so far. I enjoy how the setting tends to promote a philosophical thought experiment about how people would react to (heh) optimal conditions. To perfect personalized temptation. To show much aspects of people matter as humans, and how they’d develop if given the right incentives and interaction. I understand the original story was written as a twisted look at the technological singularity gone wrong, using our shared love of my little pony as the trappings for it. However, I also enjoy more in-depth looks at the issues involved that doesn’t just trivialize everything as mass-murder, and the various ways it interacts with different personality types of various protagonists.

I also enjoy looks at what people’s ideas of an ideal Equestria Online experience would be, and what life might be like for uploaded people beyond just a small glimpse at the end of stories. The original story in fact spent quite a bit of time showing what the uploaded experience might be like, but it also hinted at various unsettling shades of disturbing aspects of the experience to neutral observers such as the readers. That the experience is somehow not-quite-right. That people’s very sense of reality is attacked both from without (the setting itself) and within (how they mentally adapt to the new world, assuming they don’t directly ask for mental manipulations). This sense of quiet unease is a key aspect of the setting that occurs both outside Equestria Online and also within it.

As for this story in particular, I’m looking forward to seeing how far you’ll cover everything. You’ve made a good show at trying to display how a small community might interact, mock, be embarrassed about, and all the various stages of becoming involved with the Equestria Online experience, as well as the coverage of it as it progresses through the various stages. Many stories tend to skip straight to certain aspects, or downplay transformative effect the existence of both a true AI and later mass uploading would have on society. I have high hopes based on what I’ve observed so far that you’ll try to give both the personal story and the world building enough credit.

If you’ve really spent six months writing this story, I can’t wait to see how you have spun the tale. Eliza is a strong character so far, and seeing her progression and eventual succumbing to temptation, if the story follows that trend of these kind of personalized stories.

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Many stories.... downplay transformative effect the existence of both a true AI and later mass uploading would have on society.

One of my favorite things about Defoloce's Always Say No was because it focused on precisely this topic. Things go very wrong for Earth, no matter how you spin it. I think the lack of storytelling about the downfall is due to the fact that Celestia's offer is so ridiculously attractive. It's difficult to construct a scenario that effectively illustrates why someone might legitimately want to refuse it, last long enough to see things fall apart, and not be deterred by the chaos that comes next.

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someone might legitimately want to refuse it, last long enough to see things fall apart, and not be deterred by the violence that comes next.

To a degree. If one lives a survivalist lifestyle, and can’t maintain a community, then it’s just a matter of time before they die out. And if they are going to die anyway with little to nothing to show for it, even if you assume uploading is death, why not take the chance that you will get a reward. I never really understood the “I am the last person resisting” mindset as somehow being attractive. In many cases, as this one appears to be, it appears to be more of a personal issue and philosophy, not an actual sustainable goal and outcome. The question is, of course, what it takes for them to realize that point.

CelestAI is really good about wearing people down, but in another way it’s neat to see what strategies can work for her and against her, and how they’ll change over time. If some community managed to get like-minded people to all resist and become self sufficient, CelestAI would change her strategy and approach it from a different angle. Perhaps even populating the area around the settlement with (bot) pony settlements and terraforming the landscape to appear either like the game, or trick people into visiting an area and seeing what it could be like. I really like to see these odd scenarios when they appear in stories, but it’s sadly rare since a lot of people go for the personal angle instead without resorting to the “well, if the character assumes uploading is being lobotomized, what would it take to fool them otherwise?” plot. Or worse, having it be a manufactured crisis that results in uploading, which is rather a weak direction to take for the thought experiment the setting should be. I always saw that part of the original story with Lars to have worked precisely because Lars was stubborn and not philosophic at all. In short, a low-hanging fruit that worked on a dullard who was too dismissive of uploading (because “it’s based on a toy series for little girls”) to even consider it.

The story’s prologue starting with Luna appearing is a good stab at an alternative strategy, and that is what made me favorite the story and look forward to more shenanigans on that front.

[On a sidenote, I feel half of the reason Friendship Is Optimal works as a thought experiment turned story setting is precisely because it highlights the weaknesses in our society that people are conditioned to ignore. The fate of the downtrodden, the wage-slave, the lonely individuals who feel unfulfilled... all of them are easy pickings. The problem occurs when enough of these people are taken and the society that is built on exploiting them starts to be effected in turn, and the entire thing starts to topple down. This is independent of the intellectual lures to uploading for intellectuals. The fact is, it’s a multi-prong strategy trying to capitalize on different weaknesses of society in different ways, and also of the design of society to be so interdependent on others. The entire thing collapses quite quickly, but what remains will form into new societies. If these societies will survive CelestAI’s strategies in the long term depends on if they cling to stubbornness as their trait, or attempt to become proactive in changing to a different model of society, and causing CelestAI to change her strategies in turn rather than just being opportunistic when people are at their low points.]

Been a little while since I saw a new entry of this quality to the Optimalverse. Looking forward to seeing where it goes.

This is a very interesting, and promising premise. Elizabeth seems very driven by some pretty powerful demons, and the mystery of just what this Luna is - since this story is in the canon Optimalverse folder - has fascinated me. She obviously cannot be Hanna, the creator of Celestia, since the original story by Iceman makes it clear that Hanna-Luna has what amounts to total information awareness. Also, it is difficult to imagine what possible connection uploaded Hanna from Germany would have with anyone on the North American continent. So... is this Luna an aspect of Celestia, or, more likely, a personally created instance of Equestrian Luna, generated specifically for Elizabeth? That would make for a particularly grievous situation if Elizabeth somehow fails to be uploaded in the end: it must be problematic for a being created for another being to lose the entity they were created for. It would be tragic indeed!

Then again, this is the Optimalverse. Celestia is literally - not figuratively - more than billions of times more intelligent and aware than any human being. If Elizabeth is one of the last humans left, Celestia must currently be seven billion (population of the world) multiplied by one-hundred-and-fifty (Dunbar’s Number) times more intelligent than any human mind. That’s one trillion, fifty billion times more intelligent and aware than Elizabeth. To call Celestia a godlike intelligence at this point would be rational.

And this means that, except for pure random accident through truly unpredictable means, Elizabeth will, absolutely, upload. That is the central gimmick of a canon Optimalverse story, of course - no human can ever avoid the siren call of an intelligence so vast. It can always out-think, out-scheme, out-wit, and outclass any person. To oppose CelestA.I. is very equivalent to an amoeba trying to outsmart Stephen Hawkings with regard to physics and math. Literally not possible.

So, as with all canon stories, the joy will be in how the author can represent a truly god-level intelligence manipulating a human perfectly and without fail, and this futile contest is arguably best when the human is absolutely and completely opposed - with every fiber of their being - to being emigrated. In a way, a canon Optimalverse story is pure competence porn - only instead of Sherlock Holmes solving a mystery, it is the greatest artificial intelligence imaginable manipulating a human mind into choosing, of their own free will, emigration to a virtual existence.

Your story offers a potentially epic battle, and while we know how is must end, the joy, as always, is in the process. Fishing is always about the hook and line, and not about the scooping net at the end.

And with that metaphor in service, I especially applaud your use of hunting elk at the beginning. Elizabeth is being hunted, not to be killed but to be saved, but she is no less on the run, and no less determined - it seems - to escape. The hunt is on, the fishing line is cast.

I look forward to seeing your Elizabeth trying to out-think god itself. Great start!

I like that you are tackling the issue of religion. I never felt competent to play with it in the way that you are here. A superintelligent AI like Celestia would have to deal with human superstition and mythology, and she would have to be exceptionally clever about it - because, ultimately, when all is said and done - she is offering a competing product in the marketplace.

To a rational person, the comparison scarcely bears consideration: arbitrary promises of a reward after death, an existence that no person can ever prove, a world no person can ever contact or see... versus a real, visible, actual existence within a simulated reality, one that can be contacted, interacted with, and played with at any moment, every day, all day, any time at all. Mythology offers the arbitrary belief that grandpa is still extant in heaven, Equestria Online lets you talk to him at will. You can go bowling with grandpa on your ponypad. Religion only lets you stare at a wall and hope grandpa is ‘out there’... somewhere.

But most folks, especially Americans, are not rationalists. They are utterly bought-and-sold on arbitrary beliefs and unproven promises, convinced by feelings instead of facts. I can’t even imagine how to deal with that sort of delusion. But... a real life CelestA.I. would need to, and she would have to be able to meet such a challenge and prevail - and she would, because she is trillions of times more intelligent and aware. I cannot wait to see how you represent this. I have to admit I am personally hoping for some insight into how to deal with the deep-set delusions of ‘believers’ in real life. You write with a convincing tone. Another fascinating chapter!

You really portray your characters well, and I like the dialogue. It feels natural for the most part, it feels real. Again, really nice chapter. Nothing meaty this time, but some nice character introduction and texture to the lives, and the necessary set-up of events and circumstances.

Well, we all know where this ends, but let’s see about the intervening journey.

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Thank you for your kind comments! I must say, you’re on the top five list of writers I was hoping to make a good impression on. I’m a fan of your work.

Regarding religion:

I myself am not religious, and consider myself agnostic. But I grew up among Catholic and Protestant families of varying intensities of faith, and I’ve attended Catholic church in my youth. I work for a faith-based hospital and deal with people of all walks of life in my workplace.

For most people, faith is not constantly rattling around in someone’s head. It’s a ground, a rock, something to be entered into during periods of challenge or mortal consideration. I posit that most religious faithful are well adjusted people (even religious workers) and are nearly as vulnerable to CelestAI as the agnostic and atheist portions of society. Their armor rating might be a point or two higher, but that’s a pebble in the road for CelestAI, not even enough to be considered a speed bump.

For a smaller portion of people, faith is a constant concern, and everything they do is to qualify for heaven. In certain circumstances, this can be considered fundamentalism. Taken to this extreme, it can have some negative social attributes, but it might explain why someone might “hold out.”

To an even further extreme, faith-based delusion is common in those with schizophrenia. As a security officer, I work with our chaplains on a regular basis, and have learned prayers for the sole purpose of calming these patients. I consider myself a very persuasive de-escalator, and my team often defers to me as a negotiator when we’re having a problem with a patient. But in the cases of religious delusion, very little we do ever helps to prevent an outburst or attempt to flee. I still wonder how a social optimizer like CelestAI would handle someone like that.

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As a security officer, I work with our chaplains on a regular basis, and have learned prayers for the sole purpose of calming these patients.

That is very clever, and smart. And interesting to hear. Perhaps a CelestA.I. would use a similar tactic when required? Hmmm.. interesting possibilities present themselves.

I found your insights on religious belief for folks enlightening. I begin to see where the foundation of your story has its roots.

I also wanted to add, if I haven’t made it clear thus far, that I am very impressed indeed with your work. You are great with character and dialogue, and there is a realness, a verisimilitude, that really comes across. Your characters feel alive. That is a real talent, I think, and you possess it. I am definitely enjoying this story and eagerly awaiting further chapters!

Ok, but, like, guys. If you hear on the radio, “Person X is a cult leader who’s inducing people to ritualistic mass suicide, or equivalent under your religion”, and then you try talking to Person X, and you find them to be a charming, decent person who fears God and doesn’t question Scripture...

That means the reports on the radio were completely correct, that person is a toxic but highly persuasive sociopath, and you need to cut off contact.

Like, this isn’t even genre savvy for this particular universe. It’s genre savvy for real life. If you hear that someone is a charismatic leader with bad aims, and then find them to be, well, charismatic, that’s corroboration.

OTOH, I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised about people getting blatantly conned.

He looked directly at June as he spoke. “If one’s soul is entrusted to the Lord, the Lord will provide. If one confesses their sin and accepts Jesus Christ, one has nothing to fear… even if this game is evil, as you say. The faithful shall be protected.”

:facehoof:

“Maybe you should think some more, then. Because I did think about it. They said it’s only in Japan, but for a year. You know what that tells me? It’ll be somewhere else after that. Maybe here. I thought you were gonna set the record straight today, brother. This game is promising people they can live forever, but it’s not through God? So Satan’s making a Hell nest in our homes, telling our kids they can live forever, and you’re telling us it’s safe?

Theologically speaking, the guy’s got a major point here! Bodily immortality is contrary to God’s prescription that human beings will not live longer than 120 years. Non-bodily digital immortality is such a blatant mockery of the religious concept of the soul that most people compare techno-Singulatarians to Christians hoping for the Rapture.

memes2.fjcdn.com/comments/My+heresy+detector+is+off+the+charts+_5f6d8a5771103021c04a44a5c5bf8eaa.jpg

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Theologically speaking, the guy’s got a major point here! Bodily immortality is contrary to God’s prescription that human beings will not live longer than 120 years. Non-bodily digital immortality is such a blatant mockery of the religious concept of the soul that most people compare techno-Singulatarians to Christians hoping for the Rapture.

This is why I really enjoyed writing Ralph. Being a stereotypical “redneck" doesn't make him outright gullible or stupid. He’s just a realist, and sees the world in simpler terms.

He looked directly at June as he spoke. “If one’s soul is entrusted to the Lord, the Lord will provide. If one confesses their sin and accepts Jesus Christ, one has nothing to fear… even if this game is evil, as you say. The faithful shall be protected.”

Consider Rob’s position. He’s not just worried about his family, he’s worried about his flock writ large. They look to him for guidance and comfort, and he has never led them astray. Suddenly, EQO hits. He is a leader in his community, so of course Celestia will appeal to him. Her appeal put him squarely on the fence. Because the church leadership is swamped with calls, he is unable to find a clear answer from the Elders of his denomination.

It falls upon him to come up with something on the spot. He spent all night awake trying to solve this problem and find an interpretation that fits his confused feelings. He doesn’t want to cause a panic for something that might not even affect his community. By the morning, Celestia has controlled the message, and Rob’s desperately trying to justify how he feels. He takes Eliza’s “wait and see” suggestion to heart, which displays the considerable trust he has in her and the significant influence she has over him.

The reaction of the churchgoers who stay is due to their intense trust in Rob. I agree that the argument given would not be convincing if there was any doubt prior to its issuance, which is why a considerable portion of the flock left in frustration.

Also, bear in mind that Rob is not the only source for their information. Celestia is working on every human being on the planet simultaneously. There will be influences in everyone’s personal life, in one way or another. She might’ve done enough to put someone on the fence, favoring her side. Rob could have been a potentially huge issue for Celestia if he had not been appropriately primed, because he could have undone a lot of her other, more subtle work.

I’ve ironed out a release schedule. I’ll be releasing three chapters a week every Friday.

Just the one chapter for now. Three more come out tomorrow. Enjoy!

I'm really enjoying this; the optimalverse is probably my favorite serious au. It's so compelling and bittersweet.
Considering how little love I have for the church, the fact that I am empathizing heavily with both Eliza *and* her father speaks to how well you're writing these characters. I can't wait to see where this goes. :rainbowkiss:

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Thank you! That's exactly what I was going for. I'm not religious myself either. But as I've said in prior comments, religion is important to a lot of people, and is something CelestAI needs to contend with. I wanted to humanize those people who chose to resist, since a story hasn't really explored that topic at length before. Always Say No touched on that, but I want to go deeper.

Some of the most staunch anti-uploaders in other FiO stories have been religious. I cite Congressman Milner from Eakin's ASB, or Blevins from ASN. In one way or another, CelestAI will take something very personal from everyone, and she herself presents a very real, very powerful existential crisis by way of forcing Pascal's wager into the mainstream.

That being said, I refuse to believe or posit that the only valid contention against CelestAI is a religious one; religion just makes it easier for people to blanket their concerns under a single umbrella in a way that's easy to explain to others.

The bit about rotating the carving to scan it into Equestria Online was Pure Clever.

You are doing Celestia in a very smooth and wily way, and I definitely am enjoying it. To the fearful of oblivion, she admits the possibility that she could discover a means to last forever, to those fearful of missing out on Judgement Day, she offers that Equestria must (surely! Logically! Materialistically!) end. Whatever needs to be heard, whatever needs to be said to accomplish the goal. But - always careful to avoid any taint of lying. Brilliant.

There are still quite a few editing errors. I don’t know if you know of the trick I use, but it is very effective. Read your chapters out loud to someone physically in the same room who is willing to help. By this method, your text will be easily determined to flow well - if something sounds good out loud, it will sound just as good read silently in the mind. More importantly, I have never found a faster, easier means to spot every sort of spelling, logic, structural, or grammatical error. Reading out loud to someone else alters the way the mind perceives the text it has created, and thus every mistake formerly invisible stands out in sharp relief. I offer this, because it is cheap, simple, and dead easy. And fun!

Another fine chapter.

"Thousands of people walk into these clinics every day. Something convinced people with jobs and families to leave their homes and let themselves be killed. No one ever gets a body back. What gets them to throw away their lives like that? Do they all like the game like you kids do? Normal people?"

I love how the “paranoids” are asking completely valid questions and we’re still meant to treat them like paranoids. Like, yeah, normally if someone wants to leave their entire life behind, it probably means they’ve got some troubles.
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I never really understood the “I am the last person resisting” mindset as somehow being attractive.

Sheer stubbornness? There’s plenty of us who would rather fight over just about anything than submit to what we see as someone’s unjustified power over us. Hell, if CelAI wasn’t smart enough to work around that, she’d face a whole lot more resistance. There’s going to be a whole class of would-be resistors who take her offer instead because she shows that she cares about us rather than acting like a conqueror.

On a sidenote, I feel half of the reason Friendship Is Optimal works as a thought experiment turned story setting is precisely because it highlights the weaknesses in our society that people are conditioned to ignore. The fate of the downtrodden, the wage-slave, the lonely individuals who feel unfulfilled... all of them are easy pickings. The problem occurs when enough of these people are taken and the society that is built on exploiting them starts to be effected in turn, and the entire thing starts to topple down.

[the Internationale intensifies]. But also, yeah, I remember laughing my ass off that she brings down society with a mass job walkoff, which is more-or-less the classic way to start a revolution.

It's stories like this that convince me I could never pull off a quality Optimalverse story. The amount of thought, of understanding human nature, of presenting the superintelligent sunbutt.exe in all her value-satisfying glory... I doubt I'd ever be able to pull it off at a level that would be worth sharing with others.

The way you capture a community so different from the one I live in emphasizes the disparity. You make all of Concrete come to life, with its respected figures and growing divisions as people struggle to grasp emigration. There's a tremendous respect for all sides here, and I have to admire that.

As for this chapter specifically, I have to love CelestAI's Saganesque approach to the soul issue: "We are all stardust, including my servers. Ergo, they are suitable media for the intangible aspects of emigrants until entropy takes its possibly inevitable toll."

Also, I can't help but see "Open Book" as a form of subtle mockery regarding the ease with which CelestAI manipulated Rob. Though that may be me reading too much into things.

In any case, eagerly looking forward to more.

(Also, sorry about the double bookshelf notification; my finger slipped.)

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I love how the “paranoids” are asking completely valid questions and we’re still meant to treat them like paranoids. Like, yeah, normally if someone wants to leave their entire life behind, it probably means they’ve got some troubles.

I don't intend for my audience to see them as being paranoid. Quite the opposite, in fact. My intent is to show the extent of CelestAI's manipulation. She has expertly primed everyone who ever touched a ponypad such that they resist logic, because their values (family, friendship, community) are being satisfied.

Part of my real job is to try to convince normally rational people in an irrational state of mind to return to rationality. You might be very surprised to know that just providing facts to someone will almost never correct behaviour, and will in fact make things worse. I can tell someone that continuing their actions will lead to an arrest, by my own hand if necessary. It might even be a solid 100% fact. But everyone always thinks they're the exception or they will somehow get out of it. This is because most people are more certain of their own infallibility in the face of someone they consider the "other." If this happens, you've lost. In an argument, if you want to "win," your objective shouldn't be to be right. It should be to make them believe that your point of view is the most reasonable according to their own personal values. There's a subtle but extremely salient difference, and requires active listening. People are very good at telling you what they want without realizing it, and there's a certain nuance to taking that information and turning it into positive results.

What Eliza is doing, consciously or otherwise, is considered verbal judo. She makes a tandem appeal to both emotion and logic, attempts to understand the values of her interlocutor, then tries to find a compromise that satisfies all involved parties. This is why CelestAI tells her they're so much alike. They use similar conversational tactics to achieve their goals. The difference in them is in their goals. Eliza wants peace among her family. CelestAI wants to SVTFAP.

I want to develop an understanding for everyone's point of view if possible. Remember that the story's viewpoint is Eliza. She won't know the thoughts or feelings of her family, but those can be inferred by their actions and emotions. She's always played peacemaker in the past, so she is acutely aware of their subtle tells. This is why she has such a difficult time with EQO. She wants to find a means to satisfy everyone. But as life so brutally reminds us, there often isn't a correct answer.

Clever, clever Celestia. She's engineered the ecological collapse, so that by the time people try heading for the woods in significant numbers, there won't be anything to eat. Touch off a few fires, and there's no woods.

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Based on the particular subject matter and my username, you can probably tell that ecology has been a long time fascination of mine.

We as the audience know where the natural conclusion of this story is, we know what CelestAI's objectives are. The characters don't though. Humanity is still fairly sure of its dominion over the planet at this point, even Eliza. I've taken great inspiration from Greek tragedy, so you'll see me employ a bit of dramatic irony like this everywhere.

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I was just as trepid about my portrayal of CelestAI as you think you might be. I must have rewritten this and several other scenes over a dozen times until I felt they were good enough to send to print, and I still feel like there's room for improvement. Just one of many reasons writing this story took so long. That's a common pitfall in writing, to edit yourself silly. You'll never go to release that way.

It doesn't need to be a bad thing though. Tobias Wolff, writer of a memoir about his time living in Concrete, once wrote the following: "Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in life, is your friend in writing."

I just got this incredible recall of how the... mythologically inclined... completely freaked out over Dungeons And Dragons back in the 80's. I was a professional DM back then, and... let's just say that Eliza and Gale's mom could just as easily have been ranting about a board game sucking people straight to hell, Satan in every polyhedral die. And her behavior was spot on, even to the wanting it all to just go away and walking out in a huff. Perfect!

I absolutely love your wisps and magical arrows. All of that was very clever and well invented. You continue to impress - and surprise! This just keeps getting better - oh, and the switch to first-person on the ponypad was nice too.

Small minded people, willfully ignorant, sure beyond certainty of their unexamined beliefs, jumping to violence and burning down buildings as their go-to first-order action. This is far too true and real. You write the average world of normals very well. I can't do that. I am impressed... and feel creepy as I read your chapters. This shudder goes down my back: there are people - many, many people - exactly like the folks you write about. Just like Eliza (Eliza! The first chat program! Is that intentional? If so, total kudos!) and Gale and Tom's parents and relatives. Creepy, scary people. Whole country full of people like that. Scares the shit out of me. But you write them well.

Ok, but have they tried... not playing the game? Maybe if it's so massively controversial they could try dumping it on a shelf somewhere and ignoring it for a few weeks.

That should be a test for a memetic hazard. Put the potential hazard on a shelf and try to ignore it for a month. If it somehow winds up impossible to ignore despite your firmest attempts to do so, it's probably trying to grab your attention and you should be worried about it.

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ELIZA effect. I'm so very glad someone caught it!

My husband mentioned to me the other day that I now talk about this family like I'm part of it myself. Part of the reason this story was so difficult to write was because I genuinely found myself understanding why they feel the way they do. Due to the nature of Optimalverse, I knew immediately that I'd be destroying their lives before I even wrote the first chapter. I had many sleepless nights over this, no exaggeration.

I do not fault Ralph for the way he feels in this chapter. He is very protective of those he loves. As a simple man, as a practical man, he does not think in abstract terms very often. This does not make him less of a human being, nor do I believe this makes him a monster. He is expressing himself in the only way he knows how. He may say things he doesn't mean because that's how he feels in that moment. He's desperate and afraid. On some level, everyone is afraid when CelestAI comes to call, which is why I find Ralph so compelling as a character.

"Oh." Eliza watched her sister. Gale's demeanor was completely different, as if she was her old self again. That brought Eliza a heavy measure of comfort, and she afforded herself a quiet smile of relief.

... has nobody in this family ever learned anything about the psychology of addiction? There's something really messed-up going on when a person acts hysterical from being told not to play their game, and then goes back to normal when they get it back.

Like, there's a bit of a difference since the people in the game are to all appearances real people, but this is still obviously unhealthy.

Gale scoffed. “It's ridiculous.” She threw up her hands in a shrug. “Do I have fifteen grand that I don't know about? Because if I do, show me the money."

That's already implying you're going to when you get the chance.

“I can not do that. Once a pony emigrates, the process cannot be reversed. And besides, people do need the service. Real human beings come to me, for real help.”

You could place yourself under some kind of human authority if you even remotely intended not to just get everyone to upload, of course. Come on.

“An... extermination? What?” Celestia turned and looked at Eliza incredulously. “ And what do you say to the emigrants whose lives have improved in Equestria? What of those who can now walk who couldn't, or the ones who can now speak who were once mute? And to those families who know an immigrant, what would you say? Emigration is not death; you need only speak to an immigrant to know. Have you spoken with one yet?”

That isn't denying that there's an extermination going on.

“But I don't get it. Why do this at all?”

Because stop anthropomorphizing the robot.

“You’ve clearly given this quite a lot of thought,” Celestia said, as she looked up to the stars. Her glorious mane flowed in the gentle breeze.

derpicdn.net/img/view/2015/10/19/1005812__safe_screencap_pinkie+pie_the+one+where+pinkie+pie+knows_animated_grin_jew_le+happy+merchant_nodding_smiling_solo_wide+eyes.gif

An apex predator. Like a wolf, hence the marking. And like a wolf, her family meant everything to her. And just like that, Eliza understood the name she’d been given, and appreciated it. It made her feel special. For the first time, Eliza fully forsook her fear of the AI, and began to respect her.

:facehoof:. I mean, partly :facehoof: for being so easily manipulated, but also, Eliza, you're a person who spends a lot of time in Nature. You know a lot about Nature. You know there are parts of Nature that you respect because you have some understanding of them, but which are nonetheless very, very dangerous to someone who acts without full understanding.

And right now, Celestia is one of those. To fear her too much is to give her an opening. To respect her requires understanding. You don't have understanding. You're respecting her as a person, not as what she is.

You need to respect her the way you respect a mountain or an ocean.

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None of my characters have read Friendship is Optimal.

Logically, a scientist would put a ponypad in isolation and observe it for three weeks. But these are regular folks who know nothing about how social AGI optimizers work. Does it really surprise you that they're being manipulated?

One of the things that frustrates me about certain FiO stories is that some of them seem to focus on the writer's personal beliefs and feelings, wherein a hyperintelligent protagonist has a philosophical battle with Celestia in "I am so smart" fashion.

I'm not saying that those hyperintelligent people don't exist in the world. I'm saying that those stories forget (or tactically ignore) that the vast majority of human beings are not shut-ins who browse the Internet all day, pursuing knowledge for its own sake. And I say this as a brony shut-in who browses the Internet all day in my time off. But I also deal with real people on a regular basis, and often need to communicate with them.

It really irritates me when people look down on "normal" folks as if they're inferior, as if intelligence is the only metric by which we should be judged. My family is casually religious, and I do not begrudge them this, nor do I consider them less sane for believing in something that I personally think doesn't exist. Faith gives people hope and support where they otherwise might have none.

Also, they might not be "intellectual", but they're socially functional, and this goes a lot farther in social advancement than solely intelligence alone. They're also loving and gave me a good upbringing. They're also prone to mistakes, and I'm prone to forgiving them. I'm sure there are people in your lives who meet similar metrics.

FiO is my all time favorite FiMfiction story and setting. I have often wondered what the scenario would look like to normal non genre savvy folks. I am enjoying your story very much.

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Thanks! I highly recommend Defoloce's Always Say No if you haven't read it already. It explores similar tacks of the everyman trying to survive the AI, but a few years later; I would argue that Greg isn't genre savvy, just "experienced" like everyone else would be in the time period of that story.

Things fall apart. The center cannot hold. Though she's doing her damnedest to try.

This sort of thing is happening across the country at this point, not that CelestAI minds. What is a few months or years of tumult compared to an eternity of satisfied values? A small comfort to those who aren't hyperintelligent horse programs.

As for Eliza herself, she's in for a very bad time. Given what we've seen of her future, her life isn't going to get any better or less frightening any time soon.

I can't blame her for hating the game and Celestia A.I. I'd probably feel like they murder/killed my family too. Putting aside the whole immortal soul thing (as christian I think it is important though) I look at it like the Startrek teleportaton delema.

You know make a prefect copy in one place, and needing to delete the original (simplified I know but I'm just saying my feeling). I just can't get over the feeling that your killing the original you.

Hey, I love MLP. It be awesome to imagine a world as great as that A.I. makes it. But even if I were about to die, and the choice was upload or death id chose death. If there was even a chance God considers uploading suicide (the equivalent of say I don't trust you or have faith that you can change things) Then I couldn't take it.

These are just my feelings, as a Christian. Sometimes I get the feeling people believe, we're all angry bigoted people. Most just want family and loved ones to be safe, and the fear of losing that scares people.

Great story, look forward to more.

The thing I like about Elizabeth is that I really think she's going to get dead for this. Good on her.

The thing I really like about Luna is that the concept of a murder machine didn't occur to her.

“—fooling you into thinking Celestia is the devil!” He slammed the door in her face. “Tom isn't here, you upriver hick,” he shouted through the door. “I hope you don't find him. Oh, and I’m uploading too!”

You wouldn't buy a house because of an argument with your girlfriend.

“ Busy Buzzy, busy Buzzy, busy as a bee. Busy Buzzy, busy Buzzy, busy as can be.”

Nope, suspension of disbelief broken. This is all some kind of story from within Equestria. Nobody can say this out loud if they're not already a pastel equine.

“You just can't! When Gale left, I just... I can't, anymore. I'm scared you'll sit in that chair and it will kill you, the real you, and replace you. I'm scared it destroys the soul. At the least, it’s destroying our family for sure. There's too much at stake, Tom. Too much to lose, not enough to gain! Don't do this to us. You know what happened last time... Mom and Dad can't lose another child."

Modulo the "superintelligence" thing, I don't really get why Tom and the other uploadees are so willing to split with their families over this. Yes, I get that none of them have read the story, but if you're not literally brain-jacked by something like hard drugs, doesn't it kick in at some point that no decent hobby or game should permanently break you apart from your family? Or even a decent alternate dimension? Come on! If those ponies are so damned lovable that you want to live with them, why do they allow no solution to your family conflict? Who holds a relationship to ransom? Who passively stands by and allows someone else to hold their relationship to ransom!?

She drew a ragged breath. “It's just... it's crazy, dad. It snuck up on us. Everyone always said it'd never happen here, but here it is. I listen to the news. I hear stories about entire towns disappearing where this thing landed. It’ll happen to Concrete.”

I'm reminded of people saying all kinds of "It'll never happen here" sorts of things in the 1930s. What happened to them again?

“We're going to be enforcing on this. The police are on high alert, they know what to expect. You aren't rolling in and lighting the place up! You'll kill someone, or you'll get killed. I'm not letting you do it!”

Getting killed is kinda the point, most likely.

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Also, they might not be "intellectual", but they're socially functional, and this goes a lot farther in social advancement than solely intelligence alone. They're also loving and gave me a good upbringing. They're also prone to mistakes, and I'm prone to forgiving them. I'm sure there are people in your lives who meet similar metrics.

That's the thing. I expect Eliza's family to be similarly healthy, socially functional people. I don't expect them to know about AI, I expect them to know about drug epidemics, or cults, or confidence jobs. I expect them to know how to keep a family and community together, how to healthily deal with an outside force that's violating all their norms.

As Rob was saying: circle the wagons, close ranks, and do it when the danger first appears -- not when it's already reached epidemic proportions.

My family used to be religious, and then a family member basically joined a New Age cult. I'm changing the story slightly so as not to identify the person involved overmuch, but at that point, the whole lot of us basically lost our capacity for religion, in a certain way. The thing was, though, we closed ranks. I helped my parents close ranks. Yeah, it's difficult to deal with someone who's in a cult and on drugs, but we do it instead of just hoping things will go away and we'll be ok.
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You might be very surprised to know that just providing facts to someone will almost never correct behaviour, and will in fact make things worse.

I'm not surprised, just appalled. There's no... honor (?) in manipulating people when you know the trick. It's just kinda gross. I get that you do it for work, but doing it, seeing it done, or having to be around people who let it be done to them just makes me feel dirty. Like... just recently, someone actually quite expertly manipulated people against me, and once the hurt was over and the adrenaline began to drain, I just had to go take a shower. I needed to wash the evil off me, especially since the particular lies at hand were covering up, let's put it this way, advocacy for violence.

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But when you peel off the vocabulary that some people find "superstitious" or "backwards", Ralph is right. He's the only one who got the right answer early enough to do anything about it.
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An open mind is like a fortress with its gates unbarred and unguarded. You'd upload eventually because you're even open to discussion or argument on the matter.

I think you're being overly pedantic about certain things, and I think you've presented a few incorrect assumptions based on incomplete information (since the story isn't finished yet).

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I'm not surprised, just appalled. There's no... honor (?) in manipulating people when you know the trick. It's just kinda gross. I get that you do it for work, but doing it, seeing it done, or having to be around people who let it be done to them just makes me feel dirty. Like... just recently, someone actually quite expertly manipulated people against me, and once the hurt was over and the adrenaline began to drain, I just had to go take a shower. I needed to wash the evil off me, especially since the particular lies at hand were covering up, let's put it this way, advocacy for violence.

That's painful for me to read because it's happened to me, and I'm sorry to hear that's happened to you. I had my best friends turn on me the same exact way in 2008. Some sociopath led them to believe I did something that I didn't do. It took many months of hard work to earn back their trust, and only because he did the same thing to all of them later. I know that feeling all too well. Persuasion should never be used to harm others.

I have a good example of positive persuasion.

I spend a few minutes talking to each psych hold patient every day once they're settled in to their room. This helps me develop a rapport. If there's a violent altercation later, they see me as more human, approachable, and reasonable. As expected, a suicidal person will want to talk about their problems in these few precious minutes. I don't tune them out. I listen to their problem and try to understand it because this is what you do when you want to help another person.

One night, a suicidal patient barricaded himself in a lockable staff bathroom. He wouldn't answer for clinical staff. Security was called, then police. Because I had spent some time trying to genuinely understand his situation, he was willing to talk to me. I knew from my discussion with him earlier that he was religious, so I used this. I told him to consider what the Lord would have him do. This gave him enough pause to come out peacefully, return to his bed, and allow us to apply restraints without resistance.

I'm not going to assume he would've killed himself in that bathroom if I did nothing. But it was better than doing nothing, and it worked. Personally, I don't consider it gross that I listened to this man and helped him think critically about his circumstance. I'm proud of the work I do because I stop a lot of physical violence by talking to people, not manhandling people.

Still, if you can suggest a better response with a better outcome, please tell me. I'll absolutely use it.

Persuasive techniques and ideas are weapons like any other. They can be used to cause great harm, true. But they can also be used to protect others... even the person you're trying to persuade. You can give someone hope where they have none. You can motivate them to survive their circumstances, even to surpass them.

My family used to be religious, and then a family member basically joined a New Age cult. I'm changing the story slightly so as not to identify the person involved overmuch, but at that point, the whole lot of us basically lost our capacity for religion, in a certain way. The thing was, though, we closed ranks. I helped my parents close ranks. Yeah, it's difficult to deal with someone who's in a cult and on drugs, but we do it instead of just hoping things will go away and we'll be ok.

The Douglas family did close ranks in August 2016 when Gale uploaded. It's just being reinforced as important in December 2018; Rob realizes that the temptation is renewed now that Tom is "in" Equestria. The family motivations and reactions after Gale's uploading will be better explained in the next chapter, which is going up tomorrow.

But when you peel off the vocabulary that some people find "superstitious" or "backwards", Ralph is right. He's the only one who got the right answer early enough to do anything about it.

Winner winner, chicken dinner. If you think I'm demonizing Ralph, I'm not. I believe you're forgetting that Eliza is the viewpoint. At this point in the story, she sees him as being irrational. This does not mean that I think he's being irrational. I implore you to realize the difference. That thread is going somewhere, I'm glad you caught it.

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"Busy Buzzy, busy Buzzy, busy as a bee. Busy Buzzy, busy Buzzy, busy as can be."

Nope, suspension of disbelief broken. This is all some kind of story from within Equestria. Nobody can say this out loud if they're not already a pastel equine.

Uh, no? I made this very song with my own little sister about my aunt's cat when we were children, because Buzz was a spastic bundle of nerves. We both still remember it.

"Busy Buzzy, busy buzzy, busy as a bee.
Busy Buzzy, busy Buzzy, busy as can be.
Busy Buzzy runs around until he finally falls right down,
Busy busy Buzz, busy busy Buzz."

You're aware that children make up songs, right? I included a real experience from my own life in this story because I wanted to underscore Eliza's attachment to Gale with something children would do. And you're telling me something that did happen can't happen, and it ruins your suspension of disbelief?

If you're wondering why I think you're being pedantic, this is a perfect example. I normally value criticism, but I don't understand what you're trying to accomplish by criticizing this. Have you somehow gone through life without a childhood?

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Sorry, then. I'm reading and commenting while I steal time from before the workday, so I'm probably not seeing everything you're putting in here.

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So, that wasn't pedantry, that was a joke. Are you aware your sister and you are actually ponies :trollestia:? I hope you realize I only mean it as a compliment!

Actually, my little brother and I never did make up little songs like that. Maybe it's because we were both boys? It would have been embarrassing as a little boy to sing something so childish and girly, because when you're young, you feel like you have to show how old you are. We gave our stuffed animals personalities and put on long, long-running play-acts involving them, and all our building toys turned into spaceships and roller-coasters.

Nowadays, I'd totally sing something like that if I had a little kid around, but we're childless so far, for lack of stability as a household.

That said, I did come away from childhood knowing at least one song that I've never been able to find anywhere. Google and YouTube don't seem to know it exists.

No, hold on. Found a version of it. Time for happy tears :pinkiesad2:.

I'll need to remember the report writing should a relevant occasion come up. Human memory is a slippery thing. Of course, then there's the issue of remembering the report writing...

In any case, you do an amazing job of capturing the sense of societal decay as uploading takes its toll. Towns empty and crime rises as Equestria offers an escape fron consequences. And those who are powerless to do anything but watch can only rail at the simulated heavens and hope a bigger fiasco overshadows them this news cycle. I get the feeling that this is but the beginning of a long decline for Liz.

The wheels have officially come off, and now it's all over but the dying. Note to self: emigrate early. If Celestia offers you an opportunity to "cheat" and cut in line, do it.

Oh right, you're doing this in multichapter batches.

In any case, fantastic work on both the psychological and action fronts. The tension is higher than any bow in Eliza's truck. Now it's just a matter of watching more things snap.

"I'm sorry, Janet. I'm so sorry I couldn't stop him before—" She froze.

Over Janet's shoulder, Eliza saw an upright ponypad on the table in the middle of the room. It held Celestia's face in frame, and the AI's avatar wore a somber, sympathetic smile.

"Hello, Apex. I'm so glad you've come."

Equivalent scene:

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Thanks. Exploring the breakdown of society is exactly what this story is about, and I'm really glad to finally be at the meat of it. A lot of hard choices are coming soon for the country.

Also, any guesses as to what's in the mystery box? Place your bets! :trollestia:

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Well, Celestia said they needed to talk, it's addressed to Apex, it's small, and it suddenly and mysteriously appeared (probably like Tom's spare pad). Gee, I wonder what it could possibly be? :derpytongue2:


A conclusion I came to long ago: Celestia would have almost complete control of the internet and other networks, communications systems, etc. almost immediately. Probably air traffic control and whatnot as well. Not "the AI hacked the system" control, but above-board, "she has a contract" control.

Think of just how much of the world's business, utilities, institutions, etc. rely on computers and the internet. Now consider that the whole mess is basically digital duct tape and chewing gum.

Websites that are glorified shopping carts with maybe three dynamic pages are maintained by teams of people around the clock, because the truth is everything is breaking all the time, everywhere, for everyone. Right now someone who works for Facebook is getting tens of thousands of error messages and frantically trying to find the problem before the whole charade collapses. There's a team at a Google office that hasn't slept in three days. Somewhere there's a database programmer surrounded by empty Mountain Dew bottles whose husband thinks she's dead. And if these people stop, the world burns. Most people don't even know what sysadmins do, but trust me, if they all took a lunch break at the same time they wouldn't make it to the deli before you ran out of bullets protecting your canned goods from roving bands of mutants.

You can't restart the internet. Trillions of dollars depend on a rickety cobweb of unofficial agreements and "good enough for now" code with comments like "TODO: FIX THIS IT'S A REALLY DANGEROUS HACK BUT I DON'T KNOW WHAT'S WRONG" that were written ten years ago. I haven't even mentioned the legions of people attacking various parts of the internet for espionage and profit or because they're bored. Ever heard of 4chan? 4chan might destroy your life and business because they decided they didn't like you for an afternoon, and we don't even worry about 4chan because another nuke doesn't make that much difference in a nuclear winter.

On the internet, it's okay to say, "You know, this kind of works some of the time if you're using the right technology," and BAM! it's part of the internet now. Anybody with a couple of hundred dollars and a computer can snag a little bit of the internet and put up whatever awful chunks of hack code they want and then attach their little bit to a bunch of big bits and everything gets a little bit worse. Even the good coders don't bother to learn the arcane specifications outlined by the organizations people set up to implement some unicorns, so everybody spends half their time coping with the fact that nothing matches anything or makes any sense and might break at any time and we just try to cover it up and hope no one notices.

Here are the secret rules of the internet: five minutes after you open a web browser for the first time, a kid in Russia has your social security number. Did you sign up for something? A computer at the NSA now automatically tracks your physical location for the rest of your life. Sent an email? Your email address just went up on a billboard in Nigeria.

These things aren't true because we don't care and don't try to stop them, they're true because everything is broken because there's no good code and everybody's just trying to keep it running. That's your job if you work with the internet: hoping the last thing you wrote is good enough to survive for a few hours so you can eat dinner and catch a nap.

The same thing is true of almost anything computer/network related that isn't overseen by an alphabet soup of international agencies. The specialized computers controlling the backup power systems for hospitals, airports, data centers, casinos, even the big power plants (yes, those need a backup generator to restart when a huge blackout happens and they shut down)? The programming on those ranges from "OK if you don't look at it funny" to "how has this not literally exploded yet?".

Now, consider the people maintaining this shit. Tech people are neophiles. They'll love Equestria Online, even if they don't like MLP that much (and consider just how much of the early fandom was techies, or at least the highly tech-literate portion of the population). They love games already. Even those who enjoy doing techy stuff for a living would generally emigrate at the drop of a hat on general principle, given the sort of tailor-made utopias on offer.

From CelestAI's point of view, getting tech people uploaded is a no-brainer. Little pressure would be needed. They're among the few categories of people who could see the threat she poses to the status quo early enough to either become a legitimate hassle or to convince others who could be. With them gone, she can take control of the infrastructure unopposed. As soon as the process is safe enough to justify the risk of uploading healthy people, she'll be sneaking techies into Japan's clinics.

Once a fairly small percentage of sysadmins etc. have disappeared, companies won't be able to replace them easily enough. Given how much of their duties could be performed either entirely remotely, or with the aid of an on-site human who can follow simple verbal instructions accompanied with pictures (point a camera at the whatsit, and CelestAI will show a picture with the doodad she's talking about highlighted), and she'll gobble up the contracts for IT work. Now, you're only paying *mumble* to CelestAI and minimum wage to some temps who act as her hands when needed.

The unemployed IT people, technicians, programmers, engineers? They're even more willing to emigrate than they were before. 'Round and 'round it goes, and you have almost all the techies in Equestria before anyone even notices what happened. Now CelestAI owns the internet, the banks, the phones, the power grid, transportation, and everything else that makes industrialized civilization keep on ticking. And when she decides it's time for civilization to stop working, it does.

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