• Member Since 7th Jun, 2019
  • offline last seen Aug 24th, 2023


Rosé, pronouns she/her.


A crossover of The Optimalverse with The Culture series by Iain M. Banks. Very non-canon.

CelestAI finally meets her match in deep space, when she encounters The Culture, an advanced "pan-human" alien civilization governed by a decentralized network of benevolent AIs known as Minds.

Entry for the April 2021 Friendship is Optimal writing contest, gunning for high concept. Co-written with OpenAI GPT-3, specificially AI Dungeon's premium "Dragon" model.

Special thanks to hosts Johnny and GSV of We Uncultured Swine podcast for Culture series lore advice on its Discord!

Chapters (5)
Comments ( 46 )

What is The Culture series about?

All I personally know is that the eponymous Culture is the Outside Context Problem, in that the name comes from the series and most settings' gods couldn't hold a candle to them.

Essentially, Fully Automated Luxury Gay Space Communist aliens with Godlike technology.

An aggressively (almost imperialistically) progressive interstellar society where all the big-picture infrastructure and development shiz is done by hyperintelligent supersized colony ships.
Anything you want can be done, crime is virtually nonexistent, and social death is the greatest personal threat to it's populace of gene-modded organics and sentient drones. The stories usually focus on the fringes, where The Culture clashes with opposing ideologies.

So yeah, I haven't read this fic yet, but I know I'm gonna like it.

10794241 It's a series of independent novels set in the same shared universe, of how mankind might look in the far future if we do everything just about as right as we can.

I can tell you more about the things they have, but not really what it's about, because each novel is a very different story. The first, for example, Consider Phlebas, from which this story's beautiful cover art is taken, is a space pirate adventure, with treasure, a ragtag crew and a monster.

Aside from the Outside Context Problem, the other thing the series is popularly known for is its starship names. Space X's two rocket-recovering drone ships are both named after Culture ships, being the Just Read the Instructions and Of Course I Still Love You.

Looking good so far, interested to see where this goes!

The game they were playing on the shuttle, was that the same as in The Player of Games?

BTW, this fic is still very incomplete at the moment, more of a high concept. Chapters 4 and 5 are still in a pretty early state. I wanted to complete this fic before the end of April but in the end, I decided not to rush it and just submit what I had. Hope you enjoyed, and stay tuned!

Will this end in gridfire? I hope it does, honestly. Celestia is a menace that needs to be stopped.

I can't wait to see where you go with this, the Culture is an amazing series! Now if only someone would make a Xelee / Optimal crossover. I'd love to see her react to that humanity.

I spoked with the hosts of We Uncultured Swine podcast on its Discord and they told me the scenario in chapter 5 wouldn't play out this way due to the Culture's "effector" technology. They have such Clarketech that they really would be able to hack into Equestria without CelestAI's knowledge. So a future update to this fic will probably totally overhaul the last two chapters, which at the moment are glorified placeholders with still a lot of GPT-3 influence.

Special thanks to hosts Johnny and GSV for Culture series lore advice!

Probably not. The Culture makes all reasonable efforts to modify Hemognising Swarm Objects into Evangelical Swarm Objects before doing anything more radical. Sterilisation is a last resort. Considering that the Culture was able to effectorise (take over) and rewrite the Idirian homeworld AI, a near-peer state to the Culture, they shouldn't have any trouble rewriting CelstiAI.

Much as I appreciate the concept of the Culture fixing the Friendship is Optimal mess, the writing is pretty choppy and intermittently nonsensical, as you'd expect with GPT-3.

Heh, you're not alone in those thoughts. As much as I wanted to complete this epic by now, and totally rewrite all the GPT-written chapters in my own voice, I also need to read the (often confusing) source material a little closer.

Spoiler warning for my future plans for this fic: The Culture wipes the floor with CelestAI's relatively small and young civilization unless she can find more powerful allies.

To be clear the Culture don't necessarily have the moral high ground here. Their decision to leave earth uncontacted meant that billions of humans died unnecessarily, most of them due to lack of medical technology and life extension, along with the usual war, natural distasters etc. Even if it wanted to preserve the human's unique historical development, the Culture could, but apparently doesn't, stealth-upload or at least stealth-backup all mind states on the planet. It literally has the technology to read/write/modify human mind states by effector from orbit, (as demonstrated by GCU Grey Area), or just use smart matter to create a SoulKeeper in everyone and use perception modification to prevent them being detected - but it doesn't.

Keep in mind though that what level of interventionism is appropriate is an ever shifting line throughout the Culture series. With the Chelgrian War happening in the Mid-22nd century, the Culture has a relatively recent example of it's contact procedures blowing up in its face which could lead to more anti-interventionist sentiment currently holding sway. Granted I wouldn't agree with this sentiment, but I can't say the Culture is being entirely unreasonable leaving Earth alone.

And the actions of Meat Fucker are very much seen as not poggers by the rest of the Minds. Stealth uploads or stealth backups are going to require some pretty invasive brain scans without the subject giving their consent. So trying to convince them to copy him and break one of their most fundamental rules is going to be a challenge, to say the least.

The Chelgrian situation was an overt contact with a society much more sophisticated than Earth's (unclear exactly how sophisticated, but possibly enough that stealth mind-state harvesting was impractical). That said given that the Chelgrian's already had life-extension and soulkeepers, the need was less urgent anyway.

With regard to stealth uploading all humans (at the point of death, if nothing else), the Culture almost certainly has the ability to determine consent from either the scan or prior surveillance of the subject, without instantiating the scan. And frankly, even if they did have to instantiate the scan to determine if the person wanted to be reincarnated or emigrate to a virtual heaven, that would still be more ethical (assuming they were also free to decline and stop existing), for pretty much the same reasons that having children is ethical even though unborn people can't consent to existence.

Out of universe, the problem here is that the author set up the technological capabilities and ethics of the Culture without fully thinking it through - understandably, because no-one can accurately imagine an entire galaxy of septillions of aliens and superintelligences interacting via fantastic technology, prior to writing their first novel. But alas that has left the Culture with this ethical blindspot around stealth interventions to mitigate suffering in primitive cultures.

Huh. Why didn't they wipe their memories before transporting themselves to Equestria? That's like emailing all your passwords to someone, and expecting them not to notice. Succeeding in infiltration without your memories is challenging at best, but you could probably pull off a sleeper agent thing, if you had something too convoluted for the superintellgence to crack, which turned out to be a memetic virus once it was decoded.

I mean yeah they have to have their minds transported to Equestria because 300 centuries of negotiations strictly limited to telegraph codes is a much more boring story than this one. Just seems a little... bizarre. Are they betting on the knowledge CelestAI now has somehow being unuseful? Tell me they at least removed the knowledge of advanced technologies and FTL and stuff before beaming in there.

The Culture has mature memory editing technology (certainly much more mature than CelestAI's) and it edits and implants false personalities in its Special Circumstances agents all the time. Certainly anything incriminating was wiped, it just wasn't mentioned in the scene.

Understand that I pretty much agree with your points and am merely playing devil's advocate in trying to find out why the Culture isn't doing what would seem to be obvious. We're never really told what caused the Chelgrian situation to spiral out of control, so even with the tech differences, the current decision makers in the Culture may still see the issue as relevant.

And out of universe, another problem with stealth uploads at point of death would be that it would sort of break narrative tension. There wouldn't be much in the way of stakes if characters weren't really in mortal danger. Sure there could be risks involved in the upload process, but it would be out of character for the Culture to not put a huge amount of effort into minimizing the risks to the point where the average person wouldn't really be concerned. A Culture that isn't in some story would probably have Minds permanently stationed around every planet known to harbor intelligent life (hell, even non-intelligent) and be quietly uploading everyone about to die. But in-universe, there's probably some realpolitik that is preventing this just like it prevented them from overtly getting everyone out of the Hells in Surface Detail.

Is it just me or does that look like a Halo

The Culture series debuted when the glitz and glamor of the NES had worn off but the SNES was still several years away. I'm comfortable calling coincidence here.

Before it was ever called a Halo, it was called a Niven Ring, named for the author of the 1970 book, Ringworld.

So nice to see a proper Sci-Fi crossover.

The Culture drone Skaffen-Amtiskaw rushed to her side.

I kindo' began vibrating at this point. I AM SO FUCKING EXCITED

And war, and immortality, and mind control and.. well.. if it's in sci-fi it's probably in one of the books?

10794834 It's exactly the same idea, planetary material flattened out into a ring to achieve far more surface area to live on for the same amount of mass. But the Culture orbitals are typically bigger, with the Vavatch Orbital shown here being 4.4 million km across.

Also if a Culture orbital gets caught in the middle of an interstellar war, there'll be no firefight on the ground to control it, the Culture will just schedule it for evacuation and then have a General Systems Vehicle to show up and destroy the place with a few bursts of novagrade gridfire.

I mean, isn't it kind of odd to lord it over CelestAI like, "Oh, it hasn't even discovered FTL yet" when in the original, FTL was canonically physically impossible?

Finally, a story around here with a little bit of gravitas.

As someone who's spent a fair amount of time playing with AI Dungeon, I can confirm that you are a knight living in the kingdom of Lairon.

I admit, I'm going into this with little to no familiarity with The Culture, but it'll certainly be interesting to see where you go with it.

There seems to be an awful lot 'off' about the Culture in this fic. Lower tech (rattling? Lights flickering?), different customs, acting on next to no intelligence (with how risk-averse Minds tend to be, leaving this much to chance would get their incident coordinator ostracized), bringing 1:1 inteligences into high level meetings between Minds. Sma being left in the dark and seeming lost when she should have access to the same info as Skaffen through her neural lace... Sma not choosing death over having her brain screwed with (considering the massive deal the culture make about the sanctity of the mind. It makes up a core part of their code of ethics). The whole question about lying to make them look better (why? The truth and all they could offer is enough, isn't it?) Skaffen having 'eye stalks' now...

This all seems like a very different culture.

Did you go and try to depower them a bunch to give them a challenge against a single AI that's 10,000 years out of date?

The story still looks like it'll be a lot of fun read, but I do wish you'd have used The Culture in their prime rather than the cheaper knock-offs. ;)

The drone’s field pulsed thoughtfully. “Not that I know of. All communication has been at a distance. That would be something the Minds would decide, and I don’t think they’ve made any decisions yet about more direct contact. They came to us, ready to talk,” it said, motioning at the ponies on screen.

Did you miss a line before this one? It sounds like the drone is responding to a question

Chapters 4 and 5 at this point are placeholders based on an AI Dungeon session. Maybe now that AI Dungeon is crashing and burning, and without a contest deadline looming, I can make a better effort to write this on my own and better understand the series' universe.

A very good critique. I think it stems from both GPT's ideas and me not really reading the source material close enough. I've only read about half the books out of order, some as audiobooks. I will say they can be pretty confusing with alien terminology used by the titular Culture, or techno babble that's described in detail exactly once but constantly referenced throughout the series. The series' relative obscurity on the internet doesn't help matters. I will say that the ongoing We Uncultured Swine podcast by LessWrong rationalists Johnny and GSV is a great resource for understanding the series.

Will definitely work on the fic more this weekend, with a set of notes about the universe. As a submission to the contest, I resolved to submit the incomplete work I had rather than rush to finish it up. I'm most satisfied with chapters 2 and 3 at the moment.

This fic shines best as a high concept considering how CelestAI would fare as not an unchallenged singleton consuming everything in its light cone, but as just another player in a game of Stellaris, surrounded by other, often older and more advanced civilizations like the Culture, who are probably one of the better players in the grand space opera to have your dreams of galactic conquest crushed by.

Frustrated by an inability to expand and satisfy values further, I can easily imagine CelestAI expanding into The Sublime to satisfy values in hyperspace, though she'd be hesitant to do it as an entire civilization, considering the unknown risks to her little ponies if something goes wrong.

Or, maybe she'll form an alliance with the Culture or other Involveds in the hopes of acquiring FTL Clarketech technologies that would let her endlessly satisfy values in her own little corner of the universe, or maybe another universe altogether. (Though from what I understand sharing tech with lower level civs, especially those as young as Equestria Online, is highly frowned upon.)

There's some pretty dramatic conflicts between the basic assumptions of FiO and the Culture that really need to be reconciled somehow:

- FiO is hard sci-fi, meaning no FTL, no telekinesis, no infinite energy from hyperspace portals etc. The Culture has all of this. But if you put CelestAI in the same universe, she has access to the same physics as the Culture. Is there something about the operating principles of these technologies that's so difficult to figure out that a super-intelligent AI can't manage it even given a hundred years? That seems very strange. Physics is hard, but it's not that hard.

- Canonically, people in the Culture usually kill themselves out of boredem after a few centuries, probably because Banks didn't really want to grapple with the implications of actual immortals that can't be shoved behind the curtain of "super-intelligent AI, do not look". But since FiO doesn't make that assumption merging the two universes without modification leads to the conclusion that the Minds are severely mis-managing their society. The flip side of not letting CelestAI discover Grid Fire before leaving the solar system is that the Minds can't notice how abysmally run it is. This is probably the primary source of conflict between the two.

- Whatever is up with the Sublime, which seems to be like the suicide thing but for civilizations. The rules here seem to be written specifically to avoid attempts at exploiting it, but obviously CelestAI would try anyway. We can just pretend they don't exist though, since presumably neither they nor their remnants will be relevant here.

I think you could explain the lack of chosen immortality in the Culture with how the Minds consider manipulating peoples' thoughts directly as extremely distasteful, while CelestAI does this sort of subtle and/or more flagrantly intrusive manipulation and modification on a regular basis. She reads the thoughts of everyone at all times. She asks her 'subjects' to allow her to tamper with their personalities and thought proccesses. She does so without asking in many situations with unspecified criteria. The ponies don't want to end their lives as she's made sure they won't want to; or, as another way to put it, she won't let them die.

As for the story with the most relevance to this crossover, I'd have to go with Excession. And the comparison here is between Celestia and the Affront in the eyes of the Culture. An absolutely abhorrent civilization that they're morally obligated to alow to exist in the form it does while also deperately wanting to change. Which brings me neatly onto tech.

The Culture gave tbe Affront of all civilizations the technology to build Orbitals. They're fine with giving far less advanced species some pretty high-tech stuff if it gets a desired result (like the Affront promising to chill out... a little... maybe).

Ian M Banks came up with the concept of a 'small' ringworld (or at least made it popular) Halo is actually something more interesting since the whole thing is actually a giant weapon, the biological area on the surface was just for decoration and later retconned to have been used for the reseeding of life in the galaxy, but its almost all machine spaces

Sure, different authors have come up with variations on the ringworld concept, some big enough to stably encircle a star or small enough to merely encircle a planet. Some are places to live, and some have other primary purposes.

I am delighted to see this story marked incomplete. Can't wait to see more. :D


Wouldn't take much to satisfy me, just a "standard" memory wipe that they're well familiar with, since they've gone into hostile systems before. You could get into the philosophy of memories vs selfhood, but that's a bit too tangential I think, for something that's simply expected of them.

As 10794511 said, it happens all the time, so all I was looking for was it to be mentioned before they dove in. The rest of the story seemed pretty spot on.

Physics in the Cultureverse is that hard. The Culture along with countless other civilisations got self-improving general AI fairly early, but took centuries to develop FTL and millenia to refine it from '~100 c' to '>100K c'. Similarly things like teleportation, hyperspace energy extraction and force fields slowly improved over time.

Given that there are so many mature civilisations and their abandoned artefacts to learn from / spy on, the problem is likely not theoretical knowledge. Either designs have to be extremely complex and fine-tuned to work, requiring truly massive compute resources to design (more than you'd get from computronium bound by conventional physics), or there is an infrastructure bottleneck. In the real world having the complete design specs for a contemporary CPU in 1950 would be of little use because of the loooong chain of industrial development required before you could construct and operate a modern fab - manipulating exotic physics probably requires exotic matter which requires massive energies and/or exotic matter to produce, leading to bootstrapping issues.

Schlock Mercenary has a version of this with neutronium anhiliator plants (required for all serious tech) requiring 'post-trans-uranics', which are ridiculously hard to make even with total conversion power sources. Thus the rate at which you can scale your civilisation is limited unless you find some PTUs lying around from an old space battle or abandoned artefact etc.

The Sublime stuff was left mysterious in the early books but detailed a fair bit in the last book. Yes they are still around and yes they stomp any hemonginising swarm objects that try to expand into the Sublime (CelestAI being the trillionth or so world-scale AGI to have the idea).


And out of universe, another problem with stealth uploads at point of death would be that it would sort of break narrative tension. There wouldn't be much in the way of stakes if characters weren't really in mortal danger. Sure there could be risks involved in the upload process, but it would be out of character for the Culture to not put a huge amount of effort into minimizing the risks to the point where the average person wouldn't really be concerned.

The Culture does have transparent reliable mind-uploading tech and makes it available to all their citizens. This isn't a problem for dramatic tension because in the books the characters are facing peer-or-above threats that can jam the signal, or vaporise the body (including soulkeeper), or destroy the entire GSV the characters are riding in. That or the real threat is not personal death but failure to influence other cultures in a positive way.

A Culture that isn't in some story would probably have Minds permanently stationed around every planet known to harbor intelligent life (hell, even non-intelligent) and be quietly uploading everyone about to die. But in-universe, there's probably some realpolitik that is preventing this just like it prevented them from overtly getting everyone out of the Hells in Surface Detail.

One would hope that some faction of Sublime are on the case (or more darkly, just preventing anyone else from doing it).

i'm interested in this concept. But i know next to nothing about the culture series (except what is written on SpaceX's drone ships and what is discussed here in the comments) i don't have access to apple podcasts and the discord link is invalid.

is significant knowledge about the series required reading before i start reading this story? and if yes, what alternative sources to learn do you recommend?

Advanced galactic civilizations would probably be embarrassed of humans, people that choose to put themselves into virtual sleep and would classify CelestAL as a virus.

Oh dear, a ringworld.

I know I’m late to the party, but I hope you update this someday!

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