(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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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. That means intelligent life is likely to be pretty common across the universe, and our three somewhat-united species are likely to encounter far more of it in the years to come. If the Happy People keep adjusting their (and our) utility functions each time we meet a new intelligent species, then by the millionth species there's not going to be a whole lot remaining of the original Super Happy way of thinking - or the human way of thinking, for that matter. If they're so smart, what's their plan for when that happens?

If they answer "We're fully prepared to compromise our and your utility functions limitlessly many times for the sake of achieving harmonious moralities among all forms of life in the Universe, and we predict each time will involve a change approximately as drastic as making you eat babies," then it will be a bad day to be a colonist on Huygens.

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 and comment story without background of reading Eliezers writings before to have better idea if this story actually has made a point instead of creating stronger attachment to ideas presented earlier.

Few comments in no particular order (randomized):

Format of the story being released in small bite sized installments creates an artificial scarcity.

The story compactly addresses matters that readers have spend time studying here which is very rewarding.

Engaging people in the creation of the story creates attachment to it.

Characters use very familiar phrases that help formation of in-group feeling.

No matter which of the three alien species one happens to cheer for in the story that is still cheering for someone.

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.

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 - it seems so pointless, by all three pre-existing utility functions - but so is art, by the happyhappyhappys' function.

Eliezer, if your point is to emotionally drive the point that utility functions are basically arbitrary, you've succeeded.

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.)

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

They should go back to colony system Huygens and detonate.

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 takes unnecessary ultimate risk (the potential freezing, capture or destruction of the human ship upon arrival, leading to the destruction of humanity - since we don't know what the superhappys will REALLY do, after all) in exchange for unnecessary minimal gain (so we can attempt to reduce the suffering of a species whose technological extent we don't truly know and whose value system we know to be in at least one place substantially opposed to our own, and whom we can remain ignorant of, as a species, by anaesthetised self-destruction of the human ship).

It is more rational to take action as soon as possible to guarantee a minimum acceptable level of safety for humankind and its value system, given the unknown but clearly vastly superior technological capabilities of the superhappys if no action is immediately taken.

If you let an AI out of the box and it tells you its value system is opposed to humanity's and that it intends to convert all humanity to a form that it prefers, then it FOOLISHLY trusts you and steps back inside the box for a minute, then what you do NOT do is:

  • mess around
  • give it any chance to come back out of the box
  • allow anyone else the chance to let it out of the box (or the chance to disable you while you're trying to lock the box).


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 suggest the alternative thing for the Impossible to do in this situation - it's not enough to guess who the Confessor goes after.

Well, I'm glad the story wasn't ruined by the alternative being too obvious. If no one's thought of it yet in the comments, then it's at least plausible that the people on the ship didn't think of it earlier.

Anonymous - yes, I keep wondering myself about the ethics of writing illustrative fiction. So far I'm coming out on the net positive side, especially after Robin's post on Near versus Far thinking. But it does seem to put more of a strain on how much you trust the author - both their honesty and their intelligence.

PS: Anna and Steve, Shulman, Vassar, and Marcello, please don't post the solution if you get it - I want to leave the field at least a little open here...

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.

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

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 you should join in and attack your family who are still outside the door.

  7. The 3rd person in the room has a machine gun pointed at you. He tells you that he is going to give you and your family 1000000 pounds each if you just step inside, and he says he is also going to stop the other inmate from being violent.

  8. You can choose to close the door (which will lock). What will happen next inside the room will then be unknown to you.

  9. Or you can allow your family and friends into the room with the lunatics at least one of whom is armed with a machine gun.

  10. Inside the room, as long as that machine gun exists, you have no control over what actually happens next in the room.

  11. Outside the room, once the door is locked, you also have no control over what happens next in the room.

  12. But if you invite your family inside, you are risking that they may be killed by a machine or may be given 1 million pounds. But the matter is in the hands of the machine gun toting lunatic.

  13. Your family are otherwise presently happy and well adjusted and do not appear to NEED 1 million pounds, though some might benefit from it a great deal.

Personally in this situation I wouldn't need to think twice; I would immediately close the door. I have no control over the unfortunate situation the woman is facing either way, but at least I don't risk a huge negative outcome (the death of myself and my family at the hands of a machine gun armed lunatic).

It is foolish to risk what you have and need for what you do not have, do not entirely know, and do not need.

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.

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

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 (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.

"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.

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.

The narrative suggests that empathy is bad, in the long run; and only truly selfish races are capable of getting along with each other.

One truth that is universal, relevant, and not taken into account, is that demanding everyone converge on the same utility function is suboptimal, probably even when evaluated from that utility function. To restate in terms of culture: If you convinced everybody around the world to wear blue jeans, drink Coke, and listen to rock and roll, I guarantee that 60 years in the future, your grandkids would get less enjoyment out of their world, even if they still love jeans, Coke, and rock and roll. Diversity is needed to generate memes very much like it is needed to generate genes.

Does not follow. We value diversity, but not diversity of utility functions. This allows diversity because some terms in the utility function are subjective (i.e. they depend on the agent's brain). If I have "people should drink tasty beverages" as a terminal value, I have "MixedNuts should drink mango juice" and "Helen should drink tea", and if a cosmic ray alters Helen's brain, the latter will change. Helen.tasty is not an approximation of a mysterious Platonic essence of absolute tastiness, unlike Helen.prove_theorem.

(Maybe we also want some diversity in terminal values, but it'll probably be very small - we aren't going to sacrifice the galaxy to cheesecake makers.)

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 such a manner as to make me so empathetic that I give equal moral standing to strangers and kin. I believe THAT would make me less human. If you or an FAI alters me into such a state, you are not correctly extrapolating my volition, nor of who knows how many other people like me. Do you have an estimate of how many people like that there are? How did you come by such an estimate?

So anyway, if this happened in any real future, I have no doubt some star would soon get supernova'd-- current star, Huygens, Happy Homeworld, Eater Homeworld, or Sol, in that order of likelihood. For these idealized humans inhabiting the uncanny valley of empathy that creates the whole contrived dilemma in the first place, who knows? Maybe the fact that a nova was what brought them there, and now they're contemplating creating a supernova is some kind of clue. Maybe the definition of "non-sentient baby" can be stretched to the point where the story ends as a blowjob joke, but I doubt it. Also, the mechanics of exactly how other people's pain affects the Happies haven't really been examined. It sounds like they're merely extrapolating the pain they think others must be feeling... given that they've had no scruples against engineering other sources of discomfort out of existance, why not engineer that out of existance too?

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 much as possible, and is less than the harm caused by babyeating, I don't see it as genocide. Is it genocide to kill some Nazi's as part of an effort to stop them from killing innocents?

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.

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

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.

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.

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 understanding is that preventing babyeating will be done in such a way as to minimize harm done to adult babyeaters, and only if such harm is outweighed by the utility of saving babyeater children. It is vastly different than genocide; the goal is to prevent as much killing as possible, not eliminate the babyeating aliens.

Incidentally, my hypothetical "final solution" is actually a Pareto improvement: every Jew who converts does so because it increases his/her utility.

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 because they CAN, not because they are offering a balanced utility exchange. They are likely doing the same to us.

They view the babyeater situation as dire enough that they are willing to enact modifications without acceptance. They gave humankind a general proposal that they predicted humankind would accept. They COULD just make modifications, but part of their value system includes getting human acceptance.

I'm not sure, but I think the humans should threaten/ go to war with them, So they make no more modifications except those that they think they MUST make. That'll be my guess. Stun the captain, go to war.

I'm not sure what the babyeater's current stance says about how much they've considered the possibility that they will encounter superpowered babyeaters in the future.

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.

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.

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 should agree to 1. unconditional sharing of every technological advancement they make, 2. allow the individual adult humans the option of turning pain etc. back on, 3. do our baby eating for us. But thats just a suggestion- the main problem is that the chances of the super happies nailing the fairest possible deal on their first guess is astoundingly unlikely. Even with complete knowledge of human and babyeater culture their knowledge is phenomenologically inadequate for coming up with a deal that is actually fair to all. Not negotiating was irrational, as was failing to contact the babyeaters to get their thoughts on the deal before agreeing to it- three-party deals require three-party negotiations.

That the Confessor didn't step in sooner... is kind of ruining the story for me. I'm not sure if these issues were brushed aside to make your point or if you really don't understand how absurd this deal is.

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.

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 strikes back despite your shielding).
  • to feel responsible for other people's pain (i.e. deny the fact that they are their own moral agents).

As for promising a world of equal happiness for all, shameless self-quote: "Life is the worst of all social inequalities. To suppress inequalities, one must either resurrect all the dead people (and give life to all the potential living people), or exterminate all the actually living. Egalitarians, since they cannot further their goal by the former method, inevitably come to further it by the latter method."

A rational individual has no reason to care for the suffering of alien entities, or even other human entities, except inasmuch as it affects his own survival, enjoyment, control of resources.

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.

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

@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 immediately anaesthetised and the sun exploded, then earth remains ignorant of the suffering of the babyeaters, and earth is not coerced to have its value system changed by an external superior power. The only human that feels bad about all this is the one remaining conscious human on the ship before it is fried. The babyeaters experience no net change in their position and the superhappys have made a net loss (by discovering unhappiness in the universe and being made unable to fix it). Humanity has met a more powerful force with a very different value system that wishes to impose values on other cultures, but has achieved a draw. Humanity remains ignorant of suffering - again a draw when the only other options are to lose in some way (either by imposing values when we feel we have no right; or by knowingly allowing suffering).

Of course the confessor might wish to first transmit a message back to earth that neglects to mention any babyeaters, and warns of the highly dangerous 'superhappys', and perhaps describing them falsely as super-powerful babyeaters (ala alderson scientists) to prevent anyone from being tempted to find them, thereby preventing any individual from sacrificing the human race's control of it's own values...

I guess it depends on whether he believes 'right to choose your own species values' ranks above 'right to experience endless orgasms'. If he truly has no preference for either, he might as well consider everyone dangerously highly strung and emotional and an unsuitable sample size to make decisions for humanity. In that case, perhaps he should stun everyone in the control room and cause the ship to return to earth, if he is able to do so, to tell humanity what has happened in full detail. This at least allows the decision to be made by a larger fraction of humanity.

A final practical point. So far, the people on the ship only know what they have received in communications or what they can measure with their sensors. In fact, we can't trust either of these things; a sufficiently advanced species can fool sensors and any species can lie. We can observe the superhappys are clearly more technologically advanced from the evidence of the one ship present, and the growth rate suggests they can rapidly overpower humanity. Humanity has no idea what the superhappys will really do when they return. In fact, if they wish, they might simply turn all humans into superhappys and throw away all human values, without honouring the deal. They could torture all humans till the end of time if they wish or turn us into babyeaters. Equally, we know there is a race that is pleased to advertise they eat babies and wishes to encourage other races to do the same; and we know that they have one quite advanced ship that is slightly technologically inferior to us; what else they have, we don't really know. Perhaps the babyeaters have better crews and ships back home. Perhaps the babyeaters have advanced technology that masks the real capabilities of their ship. All we have is a single unreliable sample point of two advanced civilisations with very different value systems. What we have here is a giant knowledge gap.

The only thing we know for certain is that the superhappys are almost certainly technologically superior to humanity and can basically do whatever they want to us; unless the sun is blown up. And we know that the babyeaters have culturally unacceptable values to us; and we don't know if they might really have the ability to impose those values on us or not. Given this knowledge of these two dangerous forces, one of which is vastly superior, and one of which is advanced and might later turn out to be superior, if humanity can achieve a 'zero loss outcome' for itself by blowing up the sun, it is doing rather well in such an incredibly dangerous situation. Humanity should take advantage of the fact the superhappys already placed a 'co-operate' card on the table and allowed us decide what to do next.

...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.

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 really desire to make every one else just like them? Possibly, I think that is a morally poorer choice but making that choice is very common among humans.

But I cannot think of a better ending.

I know I'm way late to the party, but I still gave it a good long think, considering all aspects of the problem before trying to envision a solution. What seems the best solution to me is to return along their own starline, use the several weeks of delay given to evacuate as many people as possible from the connecting colony Huygens (which from the intro is the colony the ship came from through the starline), and then destroy that system, cutting humanity off from the Super Happy Fun aliens, at least for now.

I haven't read all comments here, so this might have already been said. First things first. SH aliens can go get a hike. Once you go into space you either abandon your morality almost altogether, or keep it, and If you keep it, you probably aren't going to be very happy if someone would try to change it. So if you still haven't abandoned it, you might just as well do everything in your power to stop anyone from changing it. Now we need to figure out a way to trick SH into accepting our morality and abandoning theirs. What do we know about them? We know that they:

  • are technologicaly 200+years stronger than us
  • can't lie
  • can't perceive lies that well
  • want to have pleasure all the time
  • apparently can't tolerate pain being anywhere in the universe
  • are very willing to compromise

Since they are technologicaly more advanced than we are, we can't fight them openly. Open confrontation will end up in us being dead(or converted). What we can do, however, is information warfare. What I propose is this:

  • Confessor threatens to stun/stuns pilot
  • humans contact SH ship. Hopefully it still haven't moved out of the system.
  • we ask SH for an aproximate number of them in the universe, to better help us judge wherever their proposed solution is the best one(obviously solution should be weighted in favor of the civilisation with more people)
  • they can't lie, so they tell us
  • HOPEFULLY we still haven't told them how many humans are there. If we didn't, we lie, and say that there are 10-100 more humans than SH. If we did(by telling baby-eaters), we say that that information was incorrect, and make up some reasons for sending BE wrong info.
  • And then we bluff, and say that if Impossible wouldn't return, or if SH wouldn't convert to our morality, humanity would kill every human in the most horrible and painfull way imaginable.
  • since SH aren't very good with lying (and we will make sure to let pilot(if he wasn't stunned), or someone else(like sensory) who would mostly believe this bluff speak) they should believe us, and, since they have zero leverage on us(threatening to blow up our ship wouldn't work, for example) and they do not seem to hesitate, they should convert
  • rinse and repeat for all SH civilisation

god damn this is annoying. why is "let the babyeating ailens alone to have their reprehensible cultural practices the way they want them and expect them to do the same to us" not an option? obviously their ideas of what constitutes moral behavior differ from our own but that's true of any culture.

I wish there were fourth ship of civilization that has huge negative utility for irreversible decisions/actions.

Sure it's a story, but one with an implicit idea of human terminal values and such.

I'm actually inclined to agree with Faré that they should count the desire to avoid a few relatively minor modifications over the eternal holocaust and suffering of baby-eater children.

I originally thought Eliezer was a utilitarian, but changed my mind due to his morality series.

(Though I still thought he was defending something that was fairly similar to utilitarianism. But he wasn't taking additivity as a given but attempting to derive it from human terminal values themselves - so if human terminal values don't say that we should apply equal additivity to baby-eater children, and I think they don't, then Eliezer's morality, I would have thought, would not apply additivity to them.)

This story however seems to show suspiciously utilitarian-like characteristics in his moral thinking. Or maybe he just has a different idea of human terminal values.

Of course, if both side were more rational, it'd be better to use the fact that you can blow up Huygens confessor-style, without the risk of being destroyed when Superhappies learn about this option, but giving leverage to negotiate terms that are even better than the story's True ending (for us, and also for Superhappies, which is why they should have a protocol in place that would prevent them from destroying the Impossible in this case).

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

It's not how it works, prisoner's dilemma is just an example of what you may choose based on timeless decision theory. There are numerous options, and "true cooperation" is just a stand-in for the optimal decision that takes into account the effect of your decision procedure on the outcome. In the described situation, lying to Superhappies through confused Akon and then blowing up Huygens is the best analogue to cooperation in true prisoner's dilemma. You only need to give something up if it's the best way to get what you want. Otherwise it's not about decision-making, but specific utility, for example valuing fairness.

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

But this is the inverse of how cooperate/defect was framed earlier in the story. When humans had the upper hand, defecting was to blow up the baby eater ship, and proceed to fix the babyeaters in some way. Cooperating was to stay peaceful and manage some mutual compromise. For some reason the humans are pretending that the superhappies haven't defected.

In case it wasn't clear, the premise of my ending is that the Ship's Confessor really was a violent thief and drug dealer from the 21th century, but his "rescue" was only partially successful. He became more rational, but only pretended to accept what became the dominant human morality of this future, patiently biding time his whole life for an opportunity like this.

The Ship's Confessor uses the distraction to anesthetizes everyone except the pilot. He needs the pilot to take command of the starship and to pilot it. The ship stays to observe which star the Superhappy ship came from, then takes off for the nearest Babyeater world. They let the Babyeaters know what happened, and tell them to supernova the star that Superhappies came from at all costs.

When everyone wakes up, the Ship's Confessor convinces the entire crew to erase their memory of the true Alderson's Coupling Constant, ostensibly for the good of humanity. He pretends to do so himself, but doesn't. After the ship returns to human space, he uses his accumulated salary to build a series of hidden doomsday devices around every human colony, and becomes the dictator of humanity through blackmail. Everyone is forced to adopt an utility function of his choosing as their own. With every resource of humanity devoted to the subject, scientists under his direction eventually discover a defense against the supernova weapon, and soon after that, the Babyeaters are conquered, enslaved, and farmed for their crystal brains. Those brains, when extracted and networked in large arrays, turn out to be the cheapest and most efficient computing substrate in the universe. These advantages provide humanity with such a strong competitive edge, that it never again faces an alien that is its match, at least militarily.

Before the universe ends in a big crunch, the Confessed (humanity's eventual name) goes on to colonize more than (10^9)^(10^9) star systems, and to meet and conquer almost as many alien species, but the Superhappy people are never seen again. Their fate becomes one of the most traded futures in the known universe, but those bets will have to remain forever unsettled.

One possibility, given my (probably wrong) interpretation of the ground rules of the fictional universe, is that the humans go to the baby-eaters and tell them that they're being invaded. Since we cooperated with them, the baby-eaters might continue to cooperate with us, by agreeing to:

1. reduce their baby-eating activities, and/or

2. send their own baby-eaters ship to blow up the star (since the fictional characters are probably barred by the author from reducing the dilemma by blowing up Huygens or sending a probe ship), so that the humans don't have to sacrifice themselves.

"It sounds like they're merely extrapolating the pain they think others must be feeling... given that they've had no scruples against engineering other sources of discomfort out of existance, why not engineer that out of existance too?"
They already said they will engineer out the sympathy and replace it with a non-painful desire to alleviate pain.

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.

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).


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 inferior solution. Unless that's what they want us to think...

I'm really beginning to think that the SH are predators who caused this nova to use it as bait. The BE are there because the SH have found that it sets up a nice prisoner's dilemma situation for a large variety of meta-ethics systems. The target comes in, and the BE ship immediately transmits a fabricated archive (or maybe a real archive; the BE may have existed at some point). The SH know that tit for tat is a highly effective (and therefore probably common) strategy, and therefore their prey will feel obligated to send data back to the BE. The SH then use this data to determine exactly how to manipulate the prey - for humans, they used "super happy", but had they been preying on, by way of example, Vulcans, they would have used "ultimate understanding" or something. Meanwhile, the prey wear themselves out trying to figure out what to do about the BE. After a day or so, the prey are ripe for the pickin'.

Maybe I'm wrong, but if there's even a 1% chance that I'm right, I don't think the crew of the Impossible can take the risk.

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.

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

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 force to pull off the kinds of changes the SH have planned for the BE. Conversely, it does not seem as implausible a time frame for destroying/enslaving the BE. Suspicious, I tell you. The facts fit either hypothesis about equally, except that I'm not entirely convinced that a species which truly eliminated pain would survive twenty years.

The fact that Akon and the gang don't appear to have even considered this possibility leads me to agree with the Confessor's apparent conclusion that the crew is no longer sane.

At this point, humanity has totally failed at interstellar diplomacy. The SH know about humanity now, and at the rate they are developing, they will probably be able to find us within a few centuries even if the Impossible destroys the local star. The only acceptable solution I see is to follow the SH ship and hope that they can find a nova-able star in/near the SH home system.

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.

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 they can. Then renegotiate with the Superhappies (and also spend more time thinking).

(I only had the patience to read the first page of comments, so I don't know if there was already talk of this option.)

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 the "negotiations" were performed under a false premise. it seems likely that the Superhappies are aware of the capability of the Alderson drive, but they very well may not be aware of humanity's ignorance. The records sent to the Babyeaters were censored, particularly of technical data, so the coupling constant error might not have been there. Moreover Lady 3rd does seem remarkably sure that human decision-makers will make consistent decisions. This could be a result of assuming humans have dealt with the Alderson drive filter like the Babyeaters and Superhappies who are then both much less diverse than humans.

All that boils down to the idea that the Superhappies may be assuming that the modification of humanity will be a cooperative venture when in fact it is likely to be a species destroying war.

I guess the real question is does humanity thus constitute a "species in circumstances that do not permit its repair"?

It is possible that, like they Babyeater's attempt to convince the crew to eat their own babies, the Superhappy's arguments are also rationalizations when their most fundamental purpose is really eliminating their own pain. Thus they might be willing to trade away eliminating all human pain if modifying their own empathic faculty turns out to be the less painful-to-them alternative.

As to what the Confessor is going to do? I'm not sure. He could stun whomever is in control of the communications (Lady Sensory?) and transmit the relevant information to the Superhappies. He may believe the upside result to be better terms and the downside result to be the Superhappies enacting their compromise by force. He could feel that downside to be only slightly worse than voluntary implementation and significantly better than sparking of a potentially human destroying war.

Of course they may want to employ the slitting their own throats option in either case given the Alderson secret and humanity's posited issues.

Mind you to me there seem to be so many risks that I'd have to assume some special insight due to his commonality with Lady 3rd in order to be confident of making such a gamble on his own. It seems the risk adverse action would be to go back to Huygens and detonate the star the moment the crew arrive. This would kill every colonist, but would save the Babyeater's babies and prevent humans from learning how to destroy themselves (for the moment at least).

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 information be left in the system in a way that it would likely be found by a human ship coming later?
Is it likely that there are multiple stars that connect the nova to one, two or all three alderson networks?

And also about behaviour:

Will the superhappies have the system they use to connect with the nova under guard?
How long will it be before the babyeaters send in another ship? the humans, if no information is received?
How soon will the superhappies send in their ships to begin modifying the babyeaters?

Here's another option with different ways to implement it depending on the situation (possibly already mentioned by others, if so, sorry):

Cut off the superhappy connection, leaving or sending info for other humans to discover, so they deal with the babyeaters at their leisure.
Go back to give info to humans at Huygens, then cut off the superhappy connection.
Go back to get reinforcements, then quickly destroy the babyeater civilization (suicidally if necessary) and the novaing star (immediately after the fleet goes from it to the babyeater star(s), if necessary).

In all cases, I assume the superhappies will be able to guess what happened in retrospect. If not, send them an explicit message if possible.

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.

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 the cosmology such that the general lack of visible supernovas is significant? It would seem that the normal development for "human-like" technological civilizations is that shortly after discovering the Alderson drive, a mad scientist or misguided experiment blows up the home star. Babyeaters and Superhappies apparently avoided this by having some form of a singleton, and humans got lucky because the scientists were able to suppress the information. Humans may be the most individualistic technological civilization in the universe.