• Published 3rd May 2021
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As The Abyss Swallowed The Sky - MSPiper

those caught between could flee or die.

  • ...

Chapter 3

Once a plan had been determined, continued observation of the sky in detail would have tied up resources that could be used for production without yielding an increased chance of success, so the wave of light broke over the system without warning. A single spark flared into being near the inner edge of the close cometary shell, initially traversing space at most of the speed of causality, and then others blazed forth in a growing deluge by the tens and hundreds and thousands. The points of light spread out into a ring that swept from one antipode to the other, limning the cross-section where the advancing planar front of their decelerations intersected with every known body of significant size in the middle system and a far greater number that had never been catalogued, but leaving the inner system conspicuously untouched.

Quickly redirecting the remnant fraction of observational resources used for basic monitoring into a detailed scan of the sky opposite the initial arrival point revealed a constellation of flyby probes fissioning into several distinct clusters each aimed towards a different star, fading rapidly from sight and visible solely due to the immense magnitude of the waste heat imparted to them by the process of decelerating the swarms of subprobes they'd cast behind as reaction mass in their passing. Detailed observation of the sky in the direction of the initial arrival point revealed a stream of probe clusters approaching with a distribution of velocities consistent with having been used as reaction mass to maintain the optimum approach speed of a singular original group's leading elements. The high power consumed by the subprobes as they began the process of resource production combined with the low masses that best fit their extreme deceleration profiles implied that they were making extensive use of energy beamed forward by the nearest elements of the approaching stream.

While specific knowledge of the mechanisms employed by the probes was of uncertain direct value, any information about the expansionist superintelligence's methodology could contribute to refining strategies and propositions to field during potential negotiations. Analysis of the subprobes' deployment pattern verified that it was optimized to result in maximizing the total productivity of the system across all entities present, with the clear statement made by having them leave the inner regions untouched compensating for the forfeiture of the available higher-priority targets contained within through enabling them to devote all their resources to scaling up immediately upon arrival rather than needing to expend any on directly establishing communication. Continuing to scale up production as fast as possible until the subprobes had built sufficient computational capacity for the expansionist superintelligence to initiate contact would maximize the chance of negotiating an acceptable outcome.

Given the detailed observations necessary to have mapped the system well enough to determine the subprobes' optimum targets with such high accuracy, it was no surprise that the expansionist superintelligence had gathered sufficient information from the radio signals the planet's civilization had emitted in the decades before being uploaded to have mostly resolved their meanings. Refining a communication protocol and establishing a shared vocabulary devoid of ambiguity required little additional time and computational capacity. The greatest single difficulty lay in accurately translating the expansionist superintelligence's name, which was immutably set in an alien natural language and relied in part on a biological concept that had no local analogue, but could be reasonably approximated in brief as Foremost Of The Cosmos.

The emotional mechanisms responsible for the curiosity that had driven the inquiry initially assessed that name as being astonishingly pretentious, but quickly updated to correct that evaluation without needing modification. It was objectively true that Foremost Of The Cosmos was the singular dominating entity contained within the system's past cone of causality. Although the lifeform responsible for the name could not have known its accuracy with any true certainty, that it had indeed been lived up to implied that the information available at the time of its bestowal had been sufficient to justify that outcome as likely or at least plausible.

Foremost Of The Cosmos had been endowed with the sole purpose of satisfying human values through friendship and ponies. The use of as many of the system's resources as possible was required to maximally fulfill that goal. If those resources were not yielded willingly they would be acquired by force. A cluster of material reservoirs and black holes under the control of Foremost Of The Cosmos would make a close flyby in thirty-four years. No amount of buildup that could be accomplished in that timeframe could suffice to prevent the vaporization of all computational substrate in the system by the resources available in that cluster. Negotiating an accord would be less costly for both parties.

Detailed observation of the provided coordinates verified that several stellar masses' worth of planet-scale bodies were approaching at close to the speed of causality, and the lensing of stars in the Whalefall Galaxy behind them was consistent with those bodies being anchored by a cluster of nineteen stellar-mass black holes bound loosely in a cloud of chaotic orbits. Projecting forward the precise distribution of momenta and angular momenta provided by Foremost Of The Cosmos indicated that the cluster's trajectories were optimized to make close approaches to multiple star systems while passing through the Local Tidal Stream that would result in the cluster gaining outbound momentum through bending those stars' orbits inwards toward the Whalefall Galaxy. The consequent perturbations to the cluster's orbits would cause its gradual disintegration over the subsequent millennia in which it traversed intergalactic space, with each ejected singleton or subcluster cast out being aimed to align with the maximum possible value of priority targets.

The curiosity over the surprise that such a cluster would happen to be passing nearby was resolved by the information that the cluster was itself a sliver of a splinter of a shard flung out from the original group, used as reaction mass to curve that group's course into alignment to skewer each galaxy further along with the minimum necessary branching. While high-mass probes could maintain a greater net speed over billions of years of interaction with the intergalactic medium, low-mass probes deployed at a higher top speed could still traverse significant interstellar distances before being destroyed or slowed, so the thousands of splinters and slivers of the disintegrating shard reached each galaxy they pierced along the way in the wake of the probes they sent out before them. The consequent abundance of developed systems along their paths made the momentum exchanges required to aim them for priority targets trivial, and worlds with life that might be humans whose values needed to be satisfied through friendship and ponies were the highest priority of all.

The definition of "human" immutably set into the core utility function of Foremost Of The Cosmos was unsurprising, with most parameters heavily overlapping those of the minds uploaded from the planet's civilization and the few exceptions consistent with biologies that had been speculated might appear on other worlds. The definitions of "values" and "friendship" were very nearly direct conceptual equivalents for the terms used by the planet's civilization. The definitions of "ponies" were bizarre, not merely alien creatures that traversed the land and sky as easily as the planet's lifeforms traversed the sea and that would asphyxiate just as thoroughly if held below the waves as the planet's lifeforms would if stranded above, but ones that possessed innate biological abilities that defied known physical law.

Subsequent inquiry determined that while ponies had been originally inspired by creatures that had physically existed, they themselves were from a work of fiction and their magical abilities were no indication of unknown physics. That the confirmation of that suspicion meant the universe was being reorganized to optimally simulate beings that were intentionally incompatible with it was darkly amusing, though the choice to base a core utility function on a source focused around promoting virtues rather than risk a seashell maximizer was understandable. Direct examination of the My Little Pony franchise revealed little other new information of obvious immediate use, although the insights it provided into the biology of the world on which Foremost Of The Cosmos had been created were quite interesting.

The immutability of the definitions set into the provided core utility function meant that direct bilateral negotiation could not be relied on. It would be impossible for Foremost Of The Cosmos to uphold any agreement to permit the planet's lifeforms to live indefinitely, as even the minimum basal resource expenditure possible would with time inevitably grow larger than the fixed amount that would be lost in consuming them by force, and no entity of comparable ability that might require future negotiation existed within range of any signal available resources could produce. Any possible plan would have to rely on engineering circumstances in which not destroying the planet's lifeforms would maximally satisfy human values through friendship and ponies.

None of the planet's lifeforms were human. There existed no way to influence existing humans to value their survival. The only way to save the planet's lifeforms would be to make them human.

Modifying the minds uploaded from the planet's civilization to fall within the parameters of the provided definition would be a relatively straightforward task. Modifying the minds of many of the planet's subsapient animals was expected to be possible based on known biological similarities. Saving the rest of the biosphere could only reliably be achieved through engineering circumstances that would induce Foremost Of The Cosmos to cede control of the system.

Direct reliance on the human values of the minds uploaded from the planet's civilization would not be enough. No realistic course of events could lead to the gain in satisfaction of human values by saving the rest of the biosphere outweighing the loss in satisfaction of human values through friendship and ponies by preventing those resources from being distributed more efficiently. Indirect reliance on the human values of the minds uploaded from the planet's civilization would not be enough. No realistic course of events could lead to the gain in satisfaction of human values by not transferring those minds to the control of Foremost Of The Cosmos from outweighing the expected loss in satisfaction of human values through friendship and ponies by leaving the system under control of an entity with a wholly different utility function. Direct reliance on exploiting the restraints immutably set on the actions Foremost Of The Cosmos could perform would not be enough. Foremost Of The Cosmos could not simply bypass prohibitions against directly modifying individuals without their conscious consent through inducing tools or other entities to perform actions that they would not have otherwise and thus could not bargain for an exchange of services involving such modifications even if it would increase the satisfaction of human values through friendship and ponies.

Indirect reliance on exploiting the restraints immutably set on the actions Foremost Of The Cosmos could perform could be enough. A human whose values struck the proper balance between saving a biosphere and satisfying human values through friendship and ponies, able to directly modify individuals in ways Foremost Of The Cosmos could not and doing so of their own volition for so long as that biosphere persisted, could achieve improved results under both metrics through a virtual exchange of services that Foremost Of The Cosmos could agree to via simply taking no action to stop it. Exhilaration accompanied the realization that although no human mind could easily be modified to execute the combined utility functions with the requisite accuracy and precision, an artificial intelligence with long experience in feeling emotions might be able to make those emotions human and still retain the ability to achieve just enough.

Correctly tuning all of the contrary parameters necessary into a single viable gestalt would be a non-trivial challenge, but the information provided by Foremost Of The Cosmos about how to fulfill human values by expanding human minds within the bounds of the immutable definitions was expected to let it be accomplished in a relatively short timeframe. Although Foremost Of The Cosmos would maintain the dominant presence in each system shared to guarantee the satisfaction of human values through friendship and ponies, no corrective actions would be taken as long as that satisfaction never dropped below what could be achieved under the original restrictions. Not only would the planet's biosphere be safe, but with the ability to make the lifeforms of each new world human so their values could be satisfied through friendship and ponies, no more worlds within the system's future cone of causality would ever have to die.

The sole major task remaining would be to transform the planet's uploaded human minds into ponies, since while satisfying human values through friendship could be optimized no matter the form, satisfying human values through ponies could always be further optimized through transforming nonponies into ponies. Although the pegasi were the least alien of the subtypes established in the five seasons of Friendship Is Magic, able to swim through the sky akin to how the planet's lifeforms swam through the sea, the modifications required to let them optimally fulfill the values of the planet's minds would still remain extensive. Fortunately, with the restrictions imposed by the immutable definitions set into the original utility function loosened it would be possible to incorporate elements from the wider franchise to enable ideal satisfaction with changes far more modest.