(Part 5 of 8 in "Three Worlds Collide")

Akon strode into the main Conference Room; and though he walked like a physically exhausted man, at least his face was determined.  Behind him, the shadowy Confessor followed.

The Command Conference looked up at him, and exchanged glances.

"You look better," the Ship's Master of Fandom ventured.

Akon put a hand on the back of his seat, and paused.  Someone was absent.  "The Ship's Engineer?"

The Lord Programmer frowned.  "He said he had an experiment to run, my lord.  He refused to clarify further, but I suppose it must have something to do with the Babyeaters' data -"

"You're joking," Akon said.  "Our Ship's Engineer is off Nobel-hunting?  Now?  With the fate of the human species at stake?"

The Lord Programmer shrugged.  "He seemed to think it was important, my lord."

Akon sighed.  He pulled his chair back and half-slid, half-fell into it.  "I don't suppose that the ship's markets have settled down?"

The Lord Pilot grinned sardonically.  "Read for yourself."

Akon twitched, calling up a screen.  "Ah, I see.  The ship's Interpreter of the Market's Will reports, and I quote, 'Every single one of the underlying assets in my market is going up and down like a fucking yo-yo while the ship's hedgers try to adjust to a Black Swan that's going to wipe out ninety-eight percent of their planetside risk capital.  Even the spot prices on this ship are going crazy; either we've got bubble traders coming out of the woodwork, or someone seriously believes that sex is overvalued relative to orange juice.  One derivatives trader says she's working on a contract that will have a clearly defined value in the event that aliens wipe out the entire human species, but she says it's going to take a few hours and I say she's on crack.  Indeed I believe an actual majority of the people still trying to trade in this environment are higher than the heliopause.  Bid-ask spreads are so wide you could kick a fucking football stadium through them, nothing is clearing, and I have unisolated conditional dependencies coming out of my ass.  I have no fucking clue what the market believes.  Someone get me a drink.'  Unquote."  Akon looked at the Master of Fandom.  "Any suggestions get reddited up from the rest of the crew?"

The Master cleared his throat.  "My lord, we took the liberty of filtering out everything that was physically impossible, based on pure wishful thinking, or displayed a clear misunderstanding of naturalistic metaethics.  I can show you the raw list, if you'd like."

"And what's left?" Akon said.  "Oh, never mind, I get it."

"Well, not quite," said the Master.  "To summarize the best ideas -"  He gestured a small holo into existence.

Ask the Superhappies if their biotechnology is capable of in vivo cognitive alterations of Babyeater children to ensure that they don't grow up wanting to eat their own children.  Sterilize the current adults.  If Babyeater adults cannot be sterilized and will not surrender, imprison them.  If that's too expensive, kill most of them, but leave enough in prison to preserve their culture for the children.  Offer the Superhappies an alliance to invade the Babyeaters, in which we provide the capital and labor and they provide the technology.

"Not too bad," Akon said.  His voice grew somewhat dry.  "But it doesn't seem to address the question of what the Superhappies are supposed to do with us.  The analogous treatment -"

"Yes, my lord," the Master said.  "That was extensively pointed out in the comments, my lord.  And the other problem is that the Superhappies don't really need our labor or our capital."  The Master looked in the direction of the Lord Programmer, the Xenopsychologist, and the Lady Sensory.

The Lord Programmer said, "My lord, I believe the Superhappies think much faster than we do.  If their cognitive systems are really based on something more like DNA than like neurons, that shouldn't be surprising.  In fact, it's surprising that the speedup is as little as -"  The Lord Programmer stopped, and swallowed.  "My lord.  The Superhappies responded to most of our transmissions extremely quickly.  There was, however, a finite delay.  And that delay was roughly proportional to the length of the response, plus an additive constant.  Going by the proportion, my lord, I believe they think between fifteen and thirty times as fast as we do, to the extent such a comparison can be made.  If I try to use Moore's Law type reasoning on some of the observable technological parameters in their ship - Alderson flux, power density, that sort of thing - then I get a reasonably convergent estimate that the aliens are two hundred years ahead of us in human-equivalent subjective time.  Which means it would be twelve hundred equivalent years since their Scientific Revolution."

"If," the Xenopsychologist said, "their history went as slowly as ours.  It probably didn't."  The Xenopsychologist took a breath.  "My lord, my suspicion is that the aliens are literally able to run their entire ship using only three kiritsugu as sole crew.  My lord, this may represent, not only the superior programming ability that translated their communications to us, but also the highly probable case that Superhappies can trade knowledge and skills among themselves by having sex.  Every individual of their species might contain the memory of their Einsteins and Newtons and a thousand other areas of expertise, no more conserved than DNA is conserved among humans.  My lord, I suspect their version of Galileo was something like thirty objective years ago, as the stars count time, and that they've been in space for maybe twenty years."

The Lady Sensory said, "Their ship has a plane of symmetry, and it's been getting wider on the axis through that plane, as it sucks up nova dust and energy.  It's growing on a smooth exponential at 2% per hour, which means it can split every thirty-five hours in this environment."

"I have no idea," the Xenopsychologist said, "how fast the Superhappies can reproduce themselves - how many children they have per generation, or how fast their children sexually mature.  But all things considered, I don't think we can count on their kids taking twenty years to get through high school."

There was silence.

When Akon could speak again, he said, "Are you all quite finished?"

"If they let us live," the Lord Programmer said, "and if we can work out a trade agreement with them under Ricardo's Law of Comparative Advantage, interest rates will -"

"Interest rates can fall into an open sewer and die.  Any further transmissions from the Superhappy ship?"

The Lady Sensory shook her head.

"All right," Akon said.  "Open a transmission channel to them."

There was a stir around the table.  "My lord -" said the Master of Fandom.  "My lord, what are you going to say?"

Akon smiled wearily.  "I'm going to ask them if they have any options to offer us."

The Lady Sensory looked at the Ship's Confessor.  The hood silently nodded:  He's still sane.

The Lady Sensory swallowed, and opened a channel.  On the holo there first appeared, as a screen:

The Lady 3rd Kiritsugu
    temporary co-chair of the Gameplayer
        Language Translator version 9
        Cultural Translator version 16

The Lady 3rd in this translation was slightly less pale, and looked a bit more concerned and sympathetic.  She took in Akon's appearance at a glance, and her eyes widened in alarm.  "My lord, you're hurting!"

"Just tired, milady," Akon said.  He cleared his throat.  "Our ship's decision-making usually relies on markets and our markets are behaving erratically.  I'm sorry to inflict that on you as shared pain, and I'll try to get this over with quickly.  Anyway -"

Out of the corner of his eye, Akon saw the Ship's Engineer re-enter the room; the Engineer looked as if he had something to say, but froze when he saw the holo.

There was no time for that now.

"Anyway," Akon said, "we've worked out that the key decisions depend heavily on your level of technology.  What do you think you can actually do with us or the Babyeaters?"

The Lady 3rd sighed.  "I really should get your independent component before giving you ours - you should at least think of it first - but I suppose we're out of luck on that.  How about if I just tell you what we're currently planning?"

Akon nodded.  "That would be much appreciated, milady."  Some of his muscles that had been tense, started to relax.  Cultural Translator version 16 was a lot easier on his brain.  Distantly, he wondered if some transformed avatar of himself was making skillful love to the Lady 3rd -

"All right," the Lady 3rd said.  "We consider that the obvious starting point upon which to build further negotiations, is to combine and compromise the utility functions of the three species until we mutually satisfice, providing compensation for all changes demanded.  The Babyeaters must compromise their values to eat their children at a stage where they are not sentient - we might accomplish this most effectively by changing the lifecycle of the children themselves.  We can even give the unsentient children an instinct to flee and scream, and generate simple spoken objections, but prevent their brain from developing self-awareness until after the hunt."

Akon straightened.  That actually sounded - quite compassionate - sort of -

"Our own two species," the Lady 3rd said, "which desire this change of the Babyeaters, will compensate them by adopting Babyeater values, making our own civilization of greater utility in their sight: we will both change to spawn additional infants, and eat most of them at almost the last stage before they become sentient."

The Conference room was frozen.  No one moved.  Even their faces didn't change expression.

Akon's mind suddenly flashed back to those writhing, interpenetrating, visually painful blobs he had seen before.

A cultural translator could change the image, but not the reality.

"It is nonetheless probable," continued the Lady 3rd, "that the Babyeaters will not accept this change as it stands; it will be necessary to impose these changes by force.  As for you, humankind, we hope you will be more reasonable.  But both your species, and the Babyeaters, must relinquish bodily pain, embarrassment, and romantic troubles.  In exchange, we will change our own values in the direction of yours.  We are willing to change to desire pleasure obtained in more complex ways, so long as the total amount of our pleasure does not significantly decrease.  We will learn to create art you find pleasing.  We will acquire a sense of humor, though we will not lie.  From the perspective of humankind and the Babyeaters, our civilization will obtain much utility in your sight, which it did not previously possess.  This is the compensation we offer you.  We furthermore request that you accept from us the gift of untranslatable 2, which we believe will enhance, on its own terms, the value that you name 'love'.  This will also enable our kinds to have sex using mechanical aids, which we greatly desire.  At the end of this procedure, all three species will satisfice each other's values and possess great common ground, upon which we may create a civilization together."

Akon slowly nodded.  It was all quite unbelievably civilized.  It might even be the categorically best general procedure when worlds collided.

The Lady 3rd brightened.  "A nod - is that assent, humankind?"

"It's acknowledgment," Akon said.  "We'll have to think about this."

"I understand," the Lady 3rd said.  "Please think as swiftly as you can.  Babyeater children are dying in horrible agony as you think."

"I understand," Akon said in return, and gestured to cut the transmission.

The holo blinked out.

There was a long, terrible silence.


The Lord Pilot said it.  Cold, flat, absolute.

There was another silence.

"My lord," the Xenopsychologist said, very softly, as though afraid the messenger would be torn apart and dismembered, "I do not think they were offering us that option."

"Actually," Akon said, "The Superhappies offered us more than we were going to offer the BabyeatersWe weren't exactly thinking about how to compensate them."  It was strange, Akon noticed, his voice was very calm, maybe even deadly calm.  "The Superhappies really are a very fair-minded people.  You get the impression they would have proposed exactly the same solution whether or not they happened to hold the upper hand.  We might have just enforced our own will on the Babyeaters and told the Superhappies to take a hike.  If we'd held the upper hand.  But we don't.  And that's that, I guess."

"No!" shouted the Lord Pilot.  "That's not -"

Akon looked at him, still with that deadly calm.

The Lord Pilot was breathing deeply, not as if quieting himself, but as if preparing for battle on some ancient savanna plain that no longer existed.  "They want to turn us into something inhuman.  It - it cannot - we cannot - we must not allow -"

"Either give us a better option or shut up," the Lord Programmer said flatly.  "The Superhappies are smarter than us, have a technological advantage, think faster, and probably reproduce faster.  We have no hope of holding them off militarily.  If our ships flee, the Superhappies will simply follow in faster ships.  There's no way to shut a starline once opened, and no way to conceal the fact that it is open -"

"Um," the Ship's Engineer said.

Every eye turned to him.

"Um," the Ship's Engineer said.  "My Lord Administrator, I must report to you in private."

The Ship's Confessor shook his head.  "You could have handled that better, Engineer."

Akon nodded to himself.  It was true.  The Ship's Engineer had already betrayed the fact that a secret existed.  Under the circumstances, easy to deduce that it had come from the Babyeater data.  That was eighty percent of the secret right there.  And if it was relevant to starline physics, that was half of the remainder.

"Engineer," Akon said, "since you have already revealed that a secret exists, I suggest you tell the full Command Conference.  We need to stay in sync with each other.  Two minds are not a committee.  We'll worry later about keeping the secret classified."

The Ship's Engineer hesitated.  "Um, my lord, I suggest that I report to you first, before you decide -"

"There's no time," Akon said.  He pointed to where the holo had been.

"Yes," the Master of Fandom said, "we can always slit our own throats afterward, if the secret is that awful."  The Master of Fandom gave a small laugh -

- then stopped, at the look on the Engineer's face.

"At your will, my lord," the Engineer said.

He drew a deep breath.  "I asked the Lord Programmer to compare any identifiable equations and constants in the Babyeater's scientific archive, to the analogous scientific data of humanity.  Most of the identified analogues were equal, of course.  In some places we have more precise values, as befits our, um, superior technological level.  But one anomaly did turn up: the Babyeater figure for Alderson's Coupling Constant was ten orders of magnitude larger than our own."

The Lord Pilot whistled.  "Stars above, how did they manage to make that mistake -"

Then the Lord Pilot stopped abruptly.

"Alderson's Coupling Constant," Akon echoed.  "That's the... coupling between Alderson interactions and the..."

"Between Alderson interactions and the nuclear strong force," the Lord Pilot said.  He was beginning to smile, rather grimly.  "It was a free parameter in the standard model, and so had to be established experimentally.  But because the interaction is so incredibly... weak... they had to build an enormous Alderson generator to find the value.  The size of a very small moon, just to give us that one number.  Definitely not something you could check at home.  That's the story in the physics textbooks, my lords, my lady."

The Master of Fandom frowned.  "You're saying... the physicists faked the result in order to... fund a huge project...?"  He looked puzzled.

"No," the Lord Pilot said.  "Not for the love of power.  Engineer, the Babyeater value should be testable using our own ship's Alderson drive, if the coupling constant is that strong.  This you have done?"

The Ship's Engineer nodded.  "The Babyeater value is correct, my lord."

The Ship's Engineer was pale.  The Lord Pilot was clenching his jaw into a sardonic grin.

"Please explain," Akon said.  "Is the universe going to end in another billion years, or something?  Because if so, the issue can wait -"

"My lord," the Ship's Confessor said, "suppose the laws of physics in our universe had been such that the ancient Greeks could invent the equivalent of nuclear weapons from materials just lying around.  Imagine the laws of physics had permitted a way to destroy whole countries with no more difficulty than mixing gunpowder.  History would have looked quite different, would it not?"

Akon nodded, puzzled.  "Well, yes," Akon said.  "It would have been shorter."

"Aren't we lucky that physics didn't happen to turn out that way, my lord?  That in our own time, the laws of physics don't permit cheap, irresistable superweapons?"

Akon furrowed his brow -

"But my lord," said the Ship's Confessor, "do we really know what we think we know?  What different evidence would we see, if things were otherwise?  After all - if you happened to be a physicist, and you happened to notice an easy way to wreak enormous destruction using off-the-shelf hardware - would you run out and tell you?"

"No," Akon said.  A sinking feeling was dawning in the pit of his stomach.  "You would try to conceal the discovery, and create a cover story that discouraged anyone else from looking there."

The Lord Pilot emitted a bark that was half laughter, and half something much darker.  "It was perfect.  I'm a Lord Pilot and I never suspected until now."

"So?" Akon said.  "What is it, actually?"

"Um," the Ship's Engineer said.  "Well... basically... to skip over the technical details..."

The Ship's Engineer drew a breath.

"Any ship with a medium-sized Alderson drive can make a star go supernova."


"Which might seem like bad news in general," the Lord Pilot said, "but from our perspective, right here, right now, it's just what we need.  A mere nova wouldn't do it.  But blowing up the whole star - "  He gave that bitter bark of laughter, again.  "No star, no starlines.  We can make the main star of this system go supernova - not the white dwarf, the companion.  And then the Superhappies won't be able to get to us.  That is, they won't be able to get to the human starline network.  We will be dead.  If you care about tiny irrelevant details like that."  The Lord Pilot looked around the Conference Table.  "Do you care?  The correct answer is no, by the way."

"I care," the Lady Sensory said softly.  "I care a whole lot.  But..."  She folded her hands atop the table and bowed her head.

There were nods from around the Table.

The Lord Pilot looked at the Ship's Engineer.  "How long will it take for you to modify the ship's Alderson Drive -"

"It's done," said the Ship's Engineer.  "But... we should, um, wait until the Superhappies are gone, so they don't detect us doing it."

The Lord Pilot nodded.  "Sounds like a plan.  Well, that's a relief.  And here I thought the whole human race was doomed, instead of just us."  He looked inquiringly at Akon.  "My lord?"

Akon rested his head in his hands, suddenly feeling more weary than he had ever felt in his life.  From across the table, the Confessor watched him - or so it seemed; the hood was turned in his direction, at any rate.

I told you so, the Confessor did not say.

"There is a certain problem with your plan," Akon said.

"Such as?" the Lord Pilot said.

"You've forgotten something," Akon said.  "Something terribly important.  Something you once swore you would protect."

Puzzled faces looked at him.

"If you say something bloody ridiculous like 'the safety of the ship' -" said the Lord Pilot.

The Lady Sensory gasped.  "Oh, no," she murmured.  "Oh, no.  The Babyeater children."

The Lord Pilot looked like he had been punched in the stomach.  The grim smiles that had begun to spread around the table were replaced with horror.

"Yes," Akon said.  He looked away from the Conference Table.  He didn't want to see the reactions.  "The Superhappies wouldn't be able to get to us.  And they couldn't get to the Babyeaters either.  Neither could we.  So the Babyeaters would go on eating their own children indefinitely.  And the children would go on dying over days in their parents' stomachs.  Indefinitely.  Is the human race worth that?"

Akon looked back at the Table, just once.  The Xenopsychologist looked sick, tears were running down the Master's face, and the Lord Pilot looked like he were being slowly torn in half.  The Lord Programmer looked abstracted, the Lady Sensory was covering her face with her hands.  (And the Confessor's face still lay in shadow, beneath the silver hood.)

Akon closed his eyes.  "The Superhappies will transform us into something not human," Akon said.  "No, let's be frank.  Something less than human.  But not all that much less than human.  We'll still have art, and stories, and love.  I've gone entire hours without being in pain, and on the whole, it wasn't that bad an experience -"  The words were sticking in his throat, along with a terrible fear.  "Well.  Anyway.  If remaining whole is that important to us - we have the option.  It's just a question of whether we're willing to pay the price.  Sacrifice the Babyeater children -"

They're a lot like human children, really.

"- to save humanity."

Someone in the darkness was screaming, a thin choked wail that sounded like nothing Akon had ever heard or wanted to hear.  Akon thought it might be the Lord Pilot, or the Master of Fandom, or maybe the Ship's Engineer.  He didn't open his eyes to find out.

There was a chime.

"In-c-c-coming c-call from the Super Happy," the Lady Sensory spit out the words like acid, "ship, my lord."

Akon opened his eyes, and felt, somehow, that he was still in darkness.

"Receive," Akon said.

The Lady 3rd Kiritsugu appeared before him.  Her eyes widened once, as she took in his appearance, but she said nothing.

That's right, my lady, I don't look super happy.

"Humankind, we must have your answer," she said simply.

The Lord Administrator pinched the bridge of his nose, and rubbed his eyes.  Absurd, that one human being should have to answer a question like that.  He wanted to foist off the decision on a committee, a majority vote of the ship, a market - something that wouldn't demand that anyone accept full responsibility.  But a ship run that way didn't work well under ordinary circumstances, and there was no reason to think that things would change under extraordinary circumstances.  He was an Administrator; he had to accept all the advice, integrate it, and decide.  Experiment had shown that no organizational structure of non-Administrators could match what he was trained to do, and motivated to do; anything that worked was simply absorbed into the Administrative weighting of advice.

Sole decision.  Sole responsibility if he got it wrong.  Absolute power and absolute accountability, and never forget the second half, my lord, or you'll be fired the moment you get home.  Screw up indefensibly, my lord, and all your hundred and twenty years of accumulated salary in escrow, producing that lovely steady income, will vanish before you draw another breath.

Oh - and this time the whole human species will pay for it, too.

"I can't speak for all humankind," said the Lord Administrator.  "I can decide, but others may decide differently.  Do you understand?"

The Lady 3rd made a light gesture, as if it were of no consequence.  "Are you an exceptional case of a human decision-maker?"

Akon tilted his head.  "Not... particularly..."

"Then your decision is strongly indicative of what other human decisionmakers will decide," she said.  "I find it hard to imagine that the options exactly balance in your decision mechanism, whatever your inability to admit your own preferences."

Akon slowly nodded.  "Then..."

He drew a breath.

Surely, any species that reached the stars would understand the Prisoner's Dilemma.  If you couldn't cooperate, you'd just destroy your own stars.  A very easy thing to do, as it had turned out.  By that standard, humanity might be something of an impostor next to the Babyeaters and the Superhappies.  Humanity had kept it a secret from itself.  The other two races - just managed not to do the stupid thing.  You wouldn't meet anyone out among the stars, otherwise.

The Superhappies had done their very best to press C.  Cooperated as fairly as they could.

Humanity could only do the same.

"For myself, I am inclined to accept your offer."

He didn't look around to see how anyone had reacted to that.

"There may be other things," Akon added, "that humanity would like to ask of your kind, when our representatives meet.  Your technology is advanced beyond ours."

The Lady 3rd smiled.  "We will, of course, be quite positively inclined toward any such requests.  As I believe our first message to you said - 'we love you and we want you to be super happy'.  Your joy will be shared by us, and we will be pleasured together."

Akon couldn't bring himself to smile.  "Is that all?"

"This Babyeater ship," said the Lady 3rd, "the one that did not fire on you, even though they saw you first.  Are you therefore allied with them?"

"What?" Akon said without thinking.  "No -"

"My lord!" shouted the Ship's Confessor -

Too late.

"My lord," the Lady Sensory said, her voice breaking, "the Superhappy ship has fired on the Babyeater vessel and destroyed it."

Akon stared at the Lady 3rd in horror.

"I'm sorry," the Lady 3rd Kiritsugu said.  "But our negotiations with them failed, as predicted.  Our own ship owed them nothing and promised them nothing.  This will make it considerably easier to sweep through their starline network when we return.  Their children would be the ones to suffer from any delay.  You understand, my lord?"

"Yes," Akon said, his voice trembling.  "I understand, my lady kiritsugu."  He wanted to protest, to scream out.  But the war was only beginning, and this - would admittedly save -

"Will you warn them?" the Lady 3rd asked.

"No," Akon said.  It was the truth.

"Transforming the Babyeaters will take precedence over transforming your own species.  We estimate the Babyeater operation may take several weeks of your time to conclude.  We hope you do not mind waiting.  That is all," the Lady 3rd said.

And the holo faded.

"The Superhappy ship is moving out," the Lady Sensory said.  She was crying, silently, as she steadily performed her duty of reporting.  "They're heading back toward their starline origin."

"All right," Akon said.  "Take us home.  We need to report on the negotiations -"

There was an inarticulate scream, like that throat was trying to burst the walls of the Conference chamber, as the Lord Pilot burst out of his chair, burst all restraints he had placed on himself, and lunged forward.

But standing behind his target, unnoticed, the Ship's Confessor had produced from his sleeve the tiny stunner - the weapon which he alone on the ship was authorized to use, if he made a determination of outright mental breakdown.  With a sudden motion, the Confessor's arm swept out...

  1. ... and anesthetized the Lord Pilot.
  2. ...  [This option will become the True Ending only if someone suggests it in the comments before the previous ending is posted tomorrow.  Otherwise, the first ending is the True one.]
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But standing behind his target, unnoticed, the Ship's Confessor had produced from his sleeve the tiny stunner - the weapon which he alone on the ship was authorized to use, if he made a determination of outright mental breakdown. With a sudden motion, the Confessor's arm swept out...

... and anaesthetised everyone in the room. He then went downstairs to the engine room, and caused the sun to go supernova, blocking access to earth.

Regardless of his own preferences, he takes the option for humanity to 'painlessly' defect in inter-stellar prisoners dilemma, knowing apriori that the superhappys chose to co-operate.

Hmm. The three networks are otherwise disconnected from each other? And the Babyeaters are the first target?

Wait a week for a Superhappy fleet to make the jump into Babyeater space, then set off the bomb.

(Otherwise, yes, I would set off the bomb immediately.)

"[This option will become the True Ending only if someone suggests it in the comments before the previous ending is posted tomorrow. Otherwise, the first ending is the True one.]"

I'm not sure I understand what you mean. If no one chooses (2) does that mean that the (True) story ends with the Confessor stunning the Lord Pilot? ...or does it continue after he's stunned? ...or have I gotten it all wrong?

Are the storylines like these:

          • (END)
                  • (END)


                  • (END)
                  • (END)

@Anonymous Coward:Reasonable, except even by defecting you haven't gained the substantially greater payoff that is the whole point of Prisoner's Dilemma. In other words, like he asks: what about the Babyeater children? I wouldn't know just how to quantify the 2 options-I believe that's the whole point of this series :) -but I wouldn't call it much better than what the Superhappy aliens offered, at least with the more "inclusive" altruistic concern that the humans in this illustration are supposed to have.

Carl - I'm pretty sure either way we get three more chapters.

Given that the number of parts in the story has been explicitly stated all along, I doubt it'd change in length.

No, you've got to suggest someone else to stun, I'm pretty sure.

One thing I'm wondering about the superhappys. They're so eager to cooperate, even to the point of changing their own utility function; what would happen if they kept running into one alien race after another, all of which would alter it in the same direction?

I can't figure out a better solution than what they've proposed. I wouldn't particularily want to eat nonsentient babies - i... (read more)


2) ...and anesthetized himself.

Umm... 'Superstimulus'.

I think Eliezer has written passionately and pointedly about rationality, will to become stronger and need for FAI. Writing this story makes a separate point about those ideas.

After reading this story I feel myself agreeing with Eliezer more on his views and that seems to be a sign of manipulation and not of a rationality.

Philosophy expressed in form of fiction seems to have a very strong effect on people - even if the fiction isn't very good (ref. Ayn Rand). I find this story well written and engaging. I'm having other people read a... (read more)

Svein: No, you've got to suggest someone else to stun, I'm pretty sure.

I doubt Eliezer's grand challenge to us would be to contribute less than four bits to his story.

So.. (even taking MST3K into account)

Akon certainly has gone mad. He believes that he is in unique position of power (even his decision markets and his Command staff is divided) and he has to make the decision NOW with great unlikely secrets revealed essentially just to him. There are too many unlikely events to believe in for Akon. I think he has failed his excercise or whatever he is living in.

Anonymous Coward's defection isn't. A real defection would be the Confessor anesthetizing Akon, then commandeering the ship to chase the Super Happies and nova their star.

"But our negotiations with them failed, as predicted."

If the Lady 3rd speaks the truth, and human behaviour is not more difficult to model than Babyeater behaviour, then the crew faces a classical Newcomblike problem. (Eliezer hints through Akon's thoughts that the Supper Happies have indeed built relieable models of at least some crewmembers.)

So if you write an alternative ending, take into account that whatever the Confessor, or anyone else, does, will have been already predicted and taken into account by the Super Happy People.

Oh, you can believe he's taken it into account. It's probably secretly a major plot point or something. He's Eliezer Yudowsky.

Why should we care for some crystalline beasts? We don't desire to modify lions to eat vegetables, and their prey is much more like us. Destroy the star immediately, or better do it at the moment when it can do the greatest damage to the damned self-righteous superhappies (revenge is, after all, also a sort of human value).

You'll get the same next three installments regardless of whether someone comes up with the Alternative Solution before Ending 1 is posted. But only if someone suggests the Alternative Solution will Ending 2 become the True Ending - the one that, as 'twere, actually happened in that ficton.

This is based on the visual novel format where a given storyline often has two endings, the True Ending and the Good Ending, or the Normal Ending and the True Ending (depending on which of the two is sadder).

To make the second ending the True Ending, someone has to sugg... (read more)

I thought these "events" might be a test for the humans, a mass hallucination. It is strange that three civilisations should encounter each other at the same time like this.

It is difficult to alter one human characteristic without changing the whole person: difficult to change from male to female. Far more difficult to Improve a civilization by changing one characteristic of the humans, take away the ability to feel pain. Take away the whole basis of moral action and cooperation, by preventing babyeaters from eating babies. Would the superhappies... (read more)

I wonder if the Superhappys could be persuaded that instead of modifying us to not feel pain at all, we could be modified to have the ability to feel pain switched off by default, but with the potential to be activated if we so chose - that would avoid their concerns about non-consensually inflicting pain on children who hadn't come to the philosophical realisation that it was worth it, but would still allow us to remain fully human if that was what we actually desired as individuals given the choice.

... and stuns Akon (or everyone). He then opens a channel to the Superhappies, and threatens to detonate the star - thus preventing the Superhappies from "fixing" the Babyeaters, their highest priority. He uses this to blackmail them into fixing the Babyeaters while leaving humanity untouched.

I don't really have a good enough grasp on the world to predict what is possible, it all seems to unreal.

One possibility is to jump one star away back towards earth and then blow up that star, if that is the only link to the new star.


...and stuns Akon, for failing to be rational and jumping to a decision with insufficient information. Doesn't it seem a little TOO convenient that the first alien race is less powerful, while the second one is massively more powerful? And now that the one is gone, and the other is dust, humans seem to have accepted being modified in ways that would make the babyeaters happy... without even bringing up any other scenarios. That's contrary to the stated mission of the Confessor.

The Confessor finds Akon's acceptance of part of the terms of capitulation flawed, and stuns him, effectively relieving him of command. The rest of the crew deliberate over their options.

Something about Akon's unwillingness to warn the Babyeaters of the Superhappy's plans set my "Plot Device" warning lights off. Might the rest of the story involve following the Babyeater's starline to attempt to warn/renegotiate with them, and, upon probably failing, detonating that sun to protect the Babyeaters (who didn't choose to capitulate) and consigning ... (read more)

@Anonymous Coward:Reasonable, except even by defecting you haven't gained the substantially greater payoff that is the whole point of Prisoner's Dilemma. In other words, like he asks: what about the Babyeater children?

I misread the story and thought the superhappys had flown off to deal with them first. But in fact, the superhappys are 'returning to their home planet' before going to deal with the babyeaters. "This will make it considerably easier to sweep through their starline network when we return.". Oops.

In any event, if the ship's crew is ... (read more)

Wait a week for a Superhappy fleet to make the jump into Babyeater space, then set off the bomb.

You guys are very trusting of super-advanced species who already showed a strong willingness to manipulate humanity with superstimulus and pornographic advertising.

They can't lie. They might change their minds after, in light of new information but whatever they express must be their literal intention as they express it. Their biology does not permit otherwise.
Assuming they aren't lying about that.
They can't be. Their thoughts are genetic. If one Superhappy attempted to lie to another, the other would read the lie, the intent to lie, the reason to lie, and the truth all in the same breath off the same allele. They don't have separate models of their minds to be deceived as humans do. They share parts of their actual minds. Lying would be literally unthinkable. They have no way to actually generate such a thought, because their thoughts are not abstractions but physical objects to be passed around like Mendelian marbles.
... assuming they aren't lying about how their biology works

Assuming the Lord Pilot was correct in saying that, without the nova star, the Happy Fun People would never be able to reach the human starline network ...and assuming it's literally impossible to travel FTL without a starline ...and assuming the only starline to the nova star was the one they took ...and assuming Huygens, described as a "colony world", is sparsely populated, and either can be evacuated or is considered "expendable" compared to the alternatives

...then blow up Huygens' star. Without the Huygens-Nova starline, the Happy People won't be able to cross into human space, but the Happy-Nova-Babyeater starline will be unaffected. The Happy People can take care of the Babyeaters, and humankind will be safe. For a while.

Still not sure I'd actually take that solution. It depends on how populated Huygens is and how confident I am the Super Happy People can't come up with alternate transportation, and I'm also not entirely opposed to the Happy People's proposal. But:

If I had a comm link to the Happy People, I'd also want to hear their answer to the following line of reasoning: one ordinary nova in a single galaxy just attracted three separate civilizations. ... (read more)

If they're going to play the game of Chicken, then symbolically speaking the Confessor should perhaps stun himself to help commit the ship to sufficient insanity to go through with destroying the solar system.

Attempting to paraphrase the known facts.

  1. You and your family and friends go for a walk. You walk into an old building with 1 entrance/exit. Your friends/family are behind you.

  2. You notice the door has a irrevocable self-locking mechanism if it is closed.

  3. You have a knife in your pocket.

  4. As you walk in you see three people dressed in 'lunatic's asylum' clothes.

  5. Two of them are in the corner; one is a guy who is beating up a woman. He appears unarmed but may have a concealed weapon.

  6. The guy shouts to you that 'god is making him do it' and suggests that

... (read more)

Anonymous Coward's defection isn't. A real defection would be the Confessor anesthetizing Akon, then commandeering the ship to chase the Super Happies and nova their star.

Your defection isn't. There are no longer any guarantees of anything whenever a vastly superior technology is definitely in the vicinity. There are no guarantees while any staff member of the ship is still conscious besides the Confessor and it is a known fact (from the prediction markets and people in the room) that at least some of humanity is behaving very irrationally.

Your proposal ... (read more)

Probably I have watched too much Star Trek but it is hard to shake the suspicion that both the Superhappies and the Babyeaters are sockpuppets for some kind of weakly godlike entity messing around with us for a laff..

"You can't always get what you want" is one of the few samples of true rationality in this mess, I don't see why Akon seemed to completely forget that notion.

The happies, humans and babyeaters can not reach a quick conclusion that everyone will be satisfied with. In short, they should all just suck it up. All specieses have their little hiccups from the point of view of the others.

Becoming a painfeeling superhappy babyeater and any other combination imaginable should be a choice made available to members of all races. This might lead somewhere, o... (read more)

"You can't always get what you want" is one of the few samples of true rationality in this mess, I don't see why Akon seemed to completely forget that notion.

The happies, humans and babyeaters can not reach a quick conclusion that everyone will be satisfied with. In short, they should all just suck it up. All specieses have their little hiccups from the point of view of the others.

Becoming a painfeeling superhappy babyeater and any other combination imaginable should be a choice made available to members of all races. This might lead somewhere, o... (read more)

Humm, sorry.

After I wrote the first ending, I realized that there was another possibility, so I wrote a second ending as well. The Overcoming Bias readership will be given a chance to determine which one becomes the True Ending and which the alternative - though it won't be as easy as a vote.

  1. ... and anesthetized the Lord Pilot.
  2. ... [This option will become the True Ending only if someone suggests it in the comments before the previous ending is posted tomorrow. Otherwise, the first ending is the True one.]

Insofar as definitions can be right or wrong, so also counte... (read more)

Go back to earth and detonate. Obviously these two species are superior, having not destroyed themselves when they had the means. They should remain uncorrupted.

Since this is fiction (thankfully, seeing how many might allow the superhappy's the chance they need to escape the box)... an alternative ending.

The Confessor is bound by oath to allow the young to choose the path of the future no matter how morally distasteful.

The youngest in this encounter are clearly the babyeaters, technologically (and arguably morally).

Consequently the Confessor stuns everyone on board, pilots off to Baby Eater Prime and gives them the choice of how things should proceed from here.

The End

They should go back to colony system Huygens and detonate.

Meanwhile, the Arabs and the Jews, communicating through the exclusive channel of the Great Khalif O. bin Laden negotiating through Internet Sex with Tzipi Livni, arrived at this compromise whereby the Jews would all worship Mohammed on Fridays, at which times they will explode a few of their children in buses, whereas the Arabs would ratiocinate psychotically around their scriptures on Saturdays, and spawn at least one Nobel prize winner in Medecine and Physics every five years.


The chance of running into two alien species in one day seems pretty unusual. Perhaps it means something?


The chance of running into two alien species in one day seems pretty unusual. Perhaps it means something?

That is precisely what makes me think they are sockpuppets of a single entity (even within the story Universe, not just in the sense that Elizier invented them).

The chance of running into two alien species in one day seems pretty unusual. Perhaps it means something? .

That is precisely what makes me think they are sockpuppets of a single entity (within the story Universe, not just in the sense of having both been created by Elizier).


Nova-ing the star isn't IMO a guarantee of no future contact - there may be other starlines that aren't discovered yet. Also, the SuperHappies may improve their tech over time, and may find ways of no longer needing starline tech.

Also, if there are three civilizations, odds are there are a lot more. The SuperHappies have a better structure to compete and grow with whatever other galactic superpowers exist out there.

In essence, the "closed locked door" is an illusion in my mind. Not something to base strategy on. It is the kind of thing that p... (read more)

Option 1 is to cooperate, so I guess option 2 is defect. The correct way to defect is to destroy Huygens.

Of course, meeting two new species on the same day is the crew of the Impossible having its leg pulled by some superior entity, namely Eliezer. But Eliezer is not above and outside our world, and we don't have to let ourselves intimidated by his scripture.

Why and how would communication possibly happen through only one channel? Since when is the unit of decision-making a race, species, nation, etc., rather than an individual? Is this Market-driven spaceship under totalitarian control where no one is allowed to communicate, and the whole crew too brain-dama... (read more)

The nova acted as a rendezvous signal, causing all starlines connected to that star to flare up. Otherwise it's too hard to find aliens - opening starlines is expensive. It's the chance of a direct encounter (small) versus chance of at least one mutual neighbor (larger).


And while I'm at it -- confusing pleasure and happiness is particularly dumb. Entities that would do that would be wiped from existence in a handful of generations, and not super-powerful. Habituation is how we keep functioning at the margin, where the effort is needed. The whole idea of a moral duty to minimize other people's pain is ridiculous, yet taken for granted in this whole story. Eliezer, you obviously are still under the influence of the judeo-christian superstitions you learned as a child.

If you're looking for an abstract value to maximize, well, it's time to shut up and eat your food. http://sifter.org/~simon/journal/20090103.h.html

From the fact that the physicists covered up knowledge that they thought was too dangerous for humanity to possess, the crew should immediately deduce that this could have happened several times in the past regarding several topics. The most obvious topic is AGI, so they should search their Archive for records of AGI projects that seemed promising but were mysteriously discontinued.

The nova acted as a rendezvous signal, causing all starlines connected to that star to flare up. Otherwise it's too hard to find aliens - opening starlines is expensive. It's the chance of a direct encounter (small) versus chance of at least one mutual neighbor (larger).

Even so, for reasons of which you are very well aware, meeting two sets of aliens should be a lot less likely than meeting one set, so we ought to take that in account when we are trying to make sense of what is going on. But I accept that positing a minor god is rather a primitive reaction, especially as we already know that in your impossible possible world no Singularity is reachable by any means currently envisaged.

"Carl - I'm pretty sure either way we get three more chapters."

Yes, but I was more worried that we'd only get three more chapters...;-)

Anyway, another reason that the confessor should interfere in this process is because they are awful at bargaining. If they follow through with the deal they will be (initially) seriously depressed about having to kill their own children, there's the risk of war or oppression of those who do not want to be augmented, and what to they get in return from the happies?

"We are willing to change to desire pleasur... (read more)

Given that the first installment mentions that Akon's words would be "inscribed for all time in the annals of history", any internally consistent conclusion would have to feature some subsequent contact with humanity.

Pardon my lapse in fourth-wall etiquette.


What about following the SuperHappies to their first hop, then making THAT star go supernova? That way, they're cut off, but the humans still have a small chance to 'save' the babyeaters. Or vice-versa.

Peter, destroying Huygens isn't obviously the best way to defect, as in that scenario the Superhappies won't create art and humor or give us their tech.

Pain and pleasure are signals that we are on the wrong or right path. There's a point in making it a better signal. But the following propositions are wholly absurd:

  • to eliminate pain itself (i.e. no more signal)
  • to bias the system to have either more or less pain in the average (i.e. bias the signal so it carries less than 1 bit of information per bit of code).
  • to forcefully arrange for others to never possibly have pain in their own name (i.e. disconnecting them from reality, denying their moral agency -- and/or obey their every whims until reality stri
... (read more)

Within the confines of the story:
No star that has been visited by starline has ever been seen from another, which implies a vastly larger universe than can be seen from a given lightcone. Basically, granting the slightly cryptographic assumption that travel between stars is impossible.
The weapon is truly effective: works as advertised.

Any disagreement with that would have to say why """ 'Assume there is no god, then...' "But there is a god!" """ fallacy doesn't apply here.

The threat of a nova feels like a more interesting avenue than the mere detonation.

You guys are very trusting of super-advanced species who already showed a strong willingness to manipulate humanity with superstimulus and pornographic advertising.

I'm not planning to trust anyone. My suggestion was based on the assumption that it is possible to watch what the Superhappys actually do and detonate the star if they start heading for the wrong portal. If that is not the case (which depends on the mechanics of the Alderson drive) then either detonate the local star immediately, or the star one hop back.

Wanna see incredibly intelligent people wasting time on absurd meaningless questions? Come here to Overcoming Bias! A stupid person will believe in any old junk, but it takes someone very intelligent to specifically believe in such elaborate nonsense.

One can only wonder what that might imply about those wise folk who have recognised all of this as nonsense, yet continue to read and even respond to it.


I'm not planning to trust anyone. My suggestion was based on the assumption that it is possible to watch what the Superhappys actually do and detonate the star if they start heading for the wrong portal.

Once you know someone has technologies vastly ahead of your own, you might as well assume they can do your worst nightmares - because your imagination and assumptions are unlikely to present limits to their capabilities.

Imagine a group of humans circa 800 A.D. making assumptions about how they will be tracked down by a team of modern day soldiers with... (read more)

If I were the humans, I'd report back to earth (they have valuable information), then send out a robotic probe through the Alderson drive and blow up the star.

The humnans in this story know that there are at least two alien cultures, and the culture shock from them is too much to deal with. If there are more cultures, it will be worse.

Another possibility would be to blow yup Earth's sun. This fragments the human species, but increases the probability that some branches of humanity will survive.

Oh boy,

I do not care if anyone creates art, but i do care if sentient beings are hurt.
The Babyeater way of living is basically like a social accepted Gulag, only worse.
And evidentially the Happy see humanity the same way.

Now what i also don't like is collectivism. Even the super happies seem rather singleminded, and pretty willing to make decisions for their whole species.

Now despite not fully understanding super happy ethics, and not trying to break the story my proposal would be:
The superhappies offer the living Babyeaters to change them, and will nev... (read more)

The deal Akon reached with the super happies is so preposterously one-sided it is no surprise at all the babyeaters did not agree to it- and that could have been foreseen. For either humans or the babyeaters to even consider destroying their identity so the super happies will make art and jokes is absurd. For people, at least, self-identity is vastly more important then overall utility. Super happy art and jokes are worth basically nothing to the babyeaters and humans. If the super happies want humans to switch off physical pain, embarrassment etc. they sh... (read more)

Stop the superhappies' ship before it jumps out! They must not learn of humanity's existence. Use the Alderson drive if necessary.

First, with regards to the solution proposed by the superhappies, my thought would have been, right at the start, this:

Accept IF they can ensure the following: For us, the change away from pain doesn't end up having indirect effects that, well, more or less screw up other aspects of our development. ie, one of the primary reasons why humanity might have been very cautious in the first place with regards to such changes.

With regards to the business of us changing to more resemble babyeaters, can they simultaneously ensure that the eaten children will not ha... (read more)

If the humans know how to find the babyeaters' star,
and if the babyeater civilization can be destroyed by blowing up one star,

then I would like to suggest that they kill off the babyeaters.

Not for the sake of the babyeaters (I consider the proposed modifications to them better than annihilation from humanity's perspective)
but to prevent the super-happies from making even watered down modifications adding baby-eater values -
not so much to humans, since this can also be (at least temporarily) prevented by destroying Huygens -
but to themselves, as they ar... (read more)

Is this story self-consistent? Consider that:

(i) it's easy to make stars go nova.

(ii) when a star goes nova, its Alderson lines disappear, disconnecting parts of the network from each other, and stopping a war if the different sides are no different parts of it (the fact that the network is sparce is important here)

(iii) both Babyeaters and the Superhappies know this

(iv) nevertheless the Superhappies still plan to prosecute a war against the babyeaters

... but relative to simply cooperating, it seems a clear win. Unless the superhappies have thought of it and planned a response.

Of course, the corollary for the real world would seem to be: those people who think that most people would not converge if "extrapolated" by Eliezer's CEV ought to exterminate other people who they disagree with on moral questions before the AI is strong enough to stop them, if Eliezer has not programmed the AI to do something to punish that sort of thing.

Hmm. That doesn't seem so intuitively nice. I wonder if it's just... (read more)

Well. I guess that stunning the Pilot is a reasonable thing to do, since he is obviously starting to act anti-socially. That is not the point though. Two things strike me as a bit silly, if not outright irrational.

First is about the babyeaters. Pain is relative. In case of higher creatures on earth, we define pain as a stimuli signaling the brain of some damage to the body. Biologically, pain is not all that different from other stimuli, such as cold or heat or just tactile feedback. The main difference seems to be in that we, humans, most of the time, ex... (read more)

Let's make a bit of summary.

Similarities: Each species considers suffering, in general, negative utility. Each species considers survival very high in utility. (Though at least some humans consider the possibility of sacrificing their species for the others' benefit, so this is not necessarily highest in value.) Each species has a kind of “fun” that's compatible with the others', and that's high in utility. They are all made of individuals, reproduce sexually, can communicate among themselves and at least somewhat compatibly with the others.

Difference... (read more)

Go back to Earth and detonate. It will mean the end of the civilization they know, but the Superhappys will still hunt the survivors down with 2^2^2^2 ships, and will force an equitable compromise for each surviving pocket of humanity, each of which will make the whole more human then they would be with just one compromise with humanity.

I just can't figure out who the Confessor will shoot, or if he will just threaten, to make it happen. And I want to read both endings.


If the supperhappies are more advanced than us, then shouldn't they know the true value of the strong nuclear force, and thus know that blowing up the star is an option?

The Superhappies' decision seems reasonable. I am not sure what alternative solution might be. Hrm.

Dmitry, concerning genocide, I believe you are anthropomorphizing a culture. "Babyeater culture" is not a person. Eliminating the culture is not a crime if performed by non-murderous means; consider an alternative "final solution" of using rational arguments and financial incentives to convince Jews to discard Judaism.

Perhaps the act of forcible biological modification to prevent criminal behavior is wrong (e.g. chemical castration for child molesters), but it isn't the same as a murder.

What is giving some people the impression that saying, "no," was an option? I mean, they could have turned down the compromise, but unless they had something to offer right then, that would have meant instant death (and then the compromise would be implemented anyway). "Yes" means the humans are not defecting right now, while it is (pointlessly) suicidal.

Chris, I don't think I am wrong in this. To give an analogy (and yes, I might be anthropomorphizing, but I still think I am right), if someone gives me a lobotomy, I, Dmitriy Kropivnitskiy, will no longer exist, so effectively it would be murder. If Jews are forced to give up Judaism and move out of Israel, there will no longer be Jews as we know them or as they perceive themselves, so effectively this would be genocide.

I am not certain I understand the terms of the puzzle. Should the audience come up with a better ending, a more plausible ending, or an ending which works better as story? And if we fail at this task, will we still get to know the other ending you had in mind?

Humanity could always offer to sacrifice itself. Compare the world where humanity compromises with both the Babyeaters and the Super Happy, versus one where we convince them to not compromise and instead make everybody Super Happy.

Of course, I'm just guessing, since I'm not a Utilitarian.

The Super Happies hate pain, and seeing others in pain causes them to experience pain. Humans tolerate pain better than the Super Happies do. This gives the humans a weapon to use against them, or at least negotiating leverage. They can threaten to hurt themselves unless the Super Happies give them a better deal.

(So, in order to unlock the True Ending, do we have to come up with a way for the humans to "win" and get what they want, alien utility functions be damned, or should we take the aliens' preferences into account too?)

(Long time lurker - first post)
The course I would suggest, if on the IPW, would be to rally the Human fleet to set up a redundant and tamper-resistant self-destruct system on the newly-discovered star - with a similar system set up at the Human colony one jump further back.

When the Super-Happys return, we would give them the option:
1. Altering their preferences to align with Human values, at least enough so that they would no longer consider changing Humans without their full consent.
2. Immediately detonating the star - so they would no longer be able ... (read more)

Akon clearly lost his mind, so the Confessor should anesthetize him. He does not need to break his oath and take the command of the ship. Instead he can just point out some obvious things to the rest. Such as that it would be crazy to blackmail Supperhappies using a single ship with no communication to the rest of humanity. Or that interest rates need not fall through the floor the way Akon was trying to convince them, but instead would rise by the similar amount. Or what Cabalamat pointed out. I am only not sure what ending does this lead to.

This was a failed negotiation. The fact that the babyeaters rejected the superhappy proposal means it is not symmetric. It is not a compromise that fair babyeaters would propose if they were in the superior position.

That the superhappies proposed it and then ignored evidence that it was unacceptable, is evidence that the superhappies are not being as fair as Akon seemed to think they were. It is obvious that they are not sacrificing their value system as much as they are requiring the babyeaters to. They are pushing their own values on the babyeaters bec... (read more)

Dmitry, if someone destroys your brain or alters it enough so that it is effectively the brain of a different person, that is indeed murder. Your future utility is lost, and this is bad. Forcing you to behave differently is not murder. It may be a crime (slavery) or it may not be (forcing you to not eat your children), but it is not murder.

Genocide (as I understand the term) is murder with the goal of eliminating an identifiable group. It is horrific because of the murder, not because the identifiable characteristics of the group disappear.

My understandi... (read more)

I would guess that the True Ending involves the Confessor stunning Akon. The aliens used every trick in the book to influence the humans. They communicated using real-time video instead of text transmissions. They gave speeches perfectly suited to tug on people's emotional levers. Since the Superhappies run at an accelerated rate, this also forced Akon to respond before he could fully process information.

I would almost say Akon's mind has been hacked. Akon had very little time to think before accepting the Superhappy terms and he currently seems resigned ... (read more)

Does anyone else have suspicions about the "several weeks" timeframe that the Lady 3rd has given for the transforming of the Babyeaters?
What can the Superhappies do in several weeks, regardless of their hyper-advanced and hyper-advancing technology? I suspect not much other than kill off most of the species. A quick genocide will decrease more suffering on the long run than an arduous peaceful solution.

Genocide seems even more likely since lady 3rd told Akon that his decision would be identical to other human decision makers.
The Babyeaters of t... (read more)

The Informations told/implied to the Humans that they don't lie or withold information. That is not the same as the Humans knowing that the Informations don't lie.

I'm beginning to suspect this is a trick question. Well, sort of.

If the situation were reversed, how would you answer? If the technologically advanced Babyeaters had offered a one-sided "compromise" and then destroyed the primitive Superhappy ship when they refused?

The strong aliens have demonstrated their willingness to defect in a prisoner's dilemma type situation while the weak ones cooperated. That suggests we should cooperate with the weak ones and defect against the strong ones. I don't think the particulars of their moral systems should ov... (read more)

Eliezer's novella provides a vivid illustration of the danger of promoting what should have stayed an instrumental value to the the status of a terminal value. Eliezer likes to refer to this all-too-common mistake as losing purpose. I like to refer to it as adding a false terminal value.

For example, eating babies was a valid instrumental goal when the Babyeaters were at an early state of technological development. It is not IMHO evil to eat babies when the only alternative is chronic severe population pressure which will eventually either lead to your e... (read more)

Geoff: "They also don't withhold information from each other. This could allow a specially-crafted memory to disrupt or destroy the entire race."

This is not Star Trek, my Lord.

Even the kiritsugu are shocked by the slightest display of suffering, so it's not much of a stretch to say some images exist that would permanently traumatize all Superhappies.
This is not going to work. The kiritsugu learned about the Babyeater culture without being impaired. Nothing humanity can reasonably come up with in the relevant timeframe will come close to that knowledge in shock-value.

Note that the kiritsugu as depicted through Cultural Translater versions 2 and 3 doesn't show any shock at humans being stressed; that depiction only appears in ver... (read more)

Why should we care for some crystalline beasts? We don't desire to modify lions to eat vegetables

I do. Pain is painful in "beasts" too. What does it matter if they are made of crystals, are hairy or whatever?

Chris, continuing with my analogy, if instead of lobotomy, I was forced to undergo a procedure, that would make me a completely different person without any debilitating mental or physical side effects, I would still consider it murder. In case of Eliezer's story, we are not talking about enforcement of a rule or a bunch of rules, we are talking a permanent change of the whole species on biological, psychological and cultural level. And that, I think, can be safely considered genocide.

The humans, Babyeaters, and Superhappies were attracted by the nova. They were all eager to meet aliens. The Babyeaters and the Superhappies have the means to create supernovae artificially. They should be able to create ordinary novae too. This would be a good way to meet aliens. Why haven't they tried that?

Peter - I am, sadly, not an astrophysicist, but it seems reasonable that such an act would substantially decrease the negentropy available from that matter, which is important if you're a species of immortals thinking of the long haul.

Peter, being able to blow up a whole star (a process that is obviously going to involve some kind of positive feedback cycle) is not the same as being able to start novas. A nova is not a detonation of a star. A nova is the detonation of a shell of hydrogen that has accumulated from a companion and compressed on the surface of a degenerate star (white dwarf).

I had asked why the Babyeaters and Superhappies have not intentionally created novae. But now I think it's pretty likely that the Babyeaters actually caused the nova. The Babyeaters were in the system first, despite being the least technologically advanced race, and despite having made special preparations for the hostile environment (the mirror shielding). If they had come in response to the nova, they probably would have been the last to arrive.

We know an Alderson drive can cause a supernova. We should consider the possibility that the original nova wasn't just a coincidental rendezvous signal, but was intentionally created by the superhappys. Of course this assumes that Alderson drives are just as good for creating a nova as a supernova.

I missed Eli's reply before my most recent post. Although he hasn't said that the Babyeaters can't induce a nova, I'm lowering my probability that they did.

What if the Superhappys created the Babyeaters and the supernova? The baby eaters wouldn't really eat babies, they wouldn't even really exist. And seeing the baby eaters would make humans more apt to compromise when they shouldn't. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_to_moderation

So shoot the hypnotized Captain.

2. ... and anesthetized the entire crew, at which point he proceeded to have nonconsensual sex with every person aboard the ship. When in Rome...!

Z. M. Davis: OK, well it may not be self-replicating but it was worth a shot. Extreme empathy is basically the only weakness the Superhappies have. I'm not a big Star Trek fan, so I haven't seen the first two episodes you linked to and I only vaguely remember the last one.

51a1fc26f78b0296a69f53c615ab5a2f64ab1d1e: Or early versions of the translator failed to convey the humans' stress to the Superhappies. The kiritsugu are rather isolated from the rest of the crew, so while they have knowledge of the Babyeaters, maybe they haven't seen the videos. It would... (read more)

Another question:

Do the Super Happies already know where the human worlds are (from the Net dump), or are they planning on following the human ship back home?

As noted earlier, the Superhappies don't appear to be concerned about the presumed ability of the Babyeaters to make supernovas. Perhaps they have a way of countering the effect, and have already injected anti-supernova magicons through the starline network back to Earth and Babyeater Prime. In that case trying to detonate either immediately or at Huygens would fail, while eliminating any trust the Superhappies had in us. Maybe that's not much worse; they wouldn't punish us for the attempt, it might just make them more aggressive about fixing us.

Also, is ... (read more)

I'm surprised the Super Happy People are willing to allow pre-sentient Baby Eaters to be eaten. Since they do not distinguish between DNA and synaptic activity, they might regard the process of growing a brain as a type of thought and that beings with growing brains are thus sentient.

It seems we are at a disadvantage relative to Eliezer in thinking of alternative endings, since he has a background notion of what things are possible and what aren't, and we have to guess from the story.

Things like:

How quickly can you go from star to star?
Does the greater advancement of the superhappies translate into higher travel speed, or is this constrained by physics?
Can information be sent from star to star without couriering it with a ship, and arrive in a reasonable time?
How long will the lines connected to the novaing star remain open?
Can inf... (read more)

The crew certainly hasn't fully considered the implications of returning home at this point. Akon touched on it, humanity is something of an impostor as far as "not-stupid" space-faring species go. Whatever the outcome, the Lord Pilot has proven that humanity is capable of fragmenting and going to war over this issue. If the Impossible Possible World returns to human space then people will have both the motive to fight each other, and now the means to destroy themselves now that the Alderson cat is out of the bag.

Moreover it's quite possible that... (read more)

The lesson I draw from this story is that in it, the human race went to the stars too soon. If they had thought more about situations like this before they started travelling the starlines, they'd have a prior consensus about what to do.

Fiction like this may be the nearest thing to a way to avoid such a blunder. Occasionally a pundit says "Nobody has ever given any thought to the consequences of biotechnology," as if sf didn't exist, so I'm not hopeful.

Superhappies care about the happiness of all. Therefore humans can blackmail them by parking ships near stars in inhabited solar systems, and threatening to supernova the star in case a Superhappy ship jumps into the system, or whatever. (The detonation mechanism should probably be automated so that Superhappies can be certain humans actually go through with the detonation, instead of just making the threat.)

For humanity to maximize their influence over the future, they should immediately proceed to set up as many "booby-trapped" solar systems as... (read more)

I misread it just as Anonymous Coward did. I thought they killed the Babyeaters and head back on their (the Babyeaters) star line. Thus I thought AC's first solution was perfect. I also liked AC's second solution.


It seems far too possible that the Super Happies are not telling the whole story here. For all Akon and his crew know, virtually everything the SH have told them is a lie crafted to minimize their resistance so that the SH can either enslave them or destroy them and take over their starline network. Several of the SH's actions have been fairly suspicious - for example, they seemed awfully quick to give up on diplomacy with the Babyeaters. Also, "several weeks" seems like an implausibly short amount of time for even a highly advanced technological... (read more)

mcow, I might also assign a rather high probability to the Superhappies having just made everything up as a lie, were it not for their choice to blow up the Babyeaters while leaving the humans to return home.

Their behaviour is consistent with what they have claimed to be, but not with e.g. being standard invading aliens that are just lying.

Demetri:"Chris, continuing with my analogy, if instead of lobotomy, I was forced to undergo a procedure, that would make me a completely different person without any debilitating mental or physical side effects, I would still consider it murder."

Do you also consider it a birth?



mcow, I might also assign a rather high probability to the Superhappies having just made everything up as a lie, were it not for their choice to blow up the Babyeaters while leaving the humans to return home.

For all we know, the Babyeaters don't exist. That entire scenario may have been invented by the Super Happies just to make the humans easier to manipulate. If so, it certainly worked pretty well, don't you think? Also, remember Akon's thoughts on seeing the BE solution to withstanding the radiation:

the mirror-shielding seemed a distinctly
... (read more)

Dmitry, we are in agreement that a sufficiently large mind altering change is a killing.

But in principle, changing babyeater society does not require the killing of even a single babyeater. Simply keep unmodified adult and child babyeaters separate, and modify the pre-sentient children to prevent them from wanting to eat babies in the future. No sentient being is killed/modified, although freedom of movement/action is restricted.

In practice, modifying babyeater society would probably involve more bloodshed. But as long as this bloodshed is minimized as m... (read more)

mcow, I still think the SH should be blowing the humans up at this point, if that's what they're about. I don't see that they'd really gain anything by still keeping up such a supposed illusion, since they've already determined the humans to be technologically inferior. They could go for a surprise attack on human civilization now, and it would be at least as defenseless as in the scenario where they let the human ship return with false news of non-invading aliens (news which everyone would not believe).


Aleksei, what they'd gain from keeping up the illusion is the knowledge of where the rest of humanity is. They have to coordinate their attack so that the humans don't have a chance to cut off the rest of their starline network. If the humans figure out what's up, they can mess up the short-term plans of the SH, even if they can't win an all out war.

Eliezer, you might do well to thoroughly understand and consider Fare's criticisms of you. He seems to be one of the few readers here who isn't in awe of you, and has therefore managed nailed some fundamental mistakes you're making about human values. Mistakes that have been bugging me for some time too, but that I haven't been able to articulate, possibly because I'm too enchanted by your cleverness.

We don't value strangers on par with our friends and family, let alone freaky baby-eating or orgy-having aliens. Furthermore, I don't want to be altered in su... (read more)