The Nightmare Scenario

Back in 2000, I wrote a novel, Permanence, in which among other things I speculated about the future of smart tagging and augmented reality systems (I called it 'inscape' because augmented reality wasn't really a current term at the time). Sometimes I'm optimistic about such technologies; in this case I went dystopian. The question was, what happens when physical objects are given a virtual "soul" or digital counterpart, which is irrevocably attached to it? One of the possible results is written up in this short scene from the novel.

He remembered one day running up the street to his house's door and his father shouting. That was the beginning and end of his personal experience of the Reconquista, when the FTL ships from the Rights Economy took the government of Kimpurusha.

When he thought about the Reconquista, he always did so through the lens of another, singular memory:

There was a chair in his home. It was unique in the household--made of rosewood, large and with an embroidered seat and splat, where the other chairs were more utilitarian and factory-made. The legs were carved with intricate floral designs. Michael's toys scaled it and it was the biggest mountain in the world; his dolls sat along its front edge and they were steering it, a cycler, through the deepest spaces between the suns. He built constructions of blocks around the crosspiece between its legs and it was a generating station. For the youngest son of the Bequith household, this chair could become anything, with a simple flip of the imagination.

One day, not long after the running and shouting, a strange man came to the house. He was tall and pale and seemed nervous as he paced through the rooms. In each one he took a canister and aimed it at the furniture and fixtures. A fine smoke puffed out and fell slowly to vanish as it touched things.

“What's that?” he had asked his father.

“Nanotags,” said father, as if it were a curse.

The man entered the hall and puffed smoke on the rosewood chair.

Other men came and Michael had to go with them. They took him to a hospital and made him sleep. When he awoke he could feel the distant roar of inscape in his head, like an unsettled crowd. He felt grown up, because he knew you weren't allowed to get inscape implants until adulthood and he was only ten years old. The men took him home and his mother cried and it was at that point that he realized something was wrong.

He didn't know what for a while, but the inscape laid its own version of things over his sight and hearing. He would learn to tune it out, he was told; but for the moment, he couldn't.

Now, when he looked at the rosewood chair, all he could see was the matrix of numbers superimposed on it, that told the monetary value of its parts and whole. And so with the drapes, the walls, windows and the rice as he picked it up with his chopsticks.

He imagined--and he knew it couldn't be so--that the people of the free halo worlds still saw things like the boy before they had put nanotags in every object and inscape in his head. As if a chair could be a mountain or a starship and not just a collection of values and registrations.

To think this way was to miss something he hadn't even known was his when he had it.

Ideas like these have led me to believe that identity is something that you must be able to turn off. Identity *must* be contestable to avoid hellish scenarios like this one. As I said in one of the other discussions, we don't have identities anyway, only process of identification, which must be provisional and contestable. Likewise, the systems that coordinate actions in the real world have to be malleable and contestable.

Thoughts? What, for you, would turn the block chain, or Ethereum, from a dream technology into a nightmare?


  • StephanTualStephanTual London, EnglandMember, Moderator Posts: 1,282 mod
    I thought a lot about these things. Paper Maximizers, runaway evolutionary processes, Accelerando. I came to the conclusion the real 'nightmare scenario' is none of the above, on the simple basis that contracts in Ethereum are both deterministic and reactive, and not proactive. That is, they are more akin to 'validators' than weak AIs, nevermind strong ones.

    No, the real nightmare scenario is that Ethereum becomes co-opted by the current legal, political and economic system before it can gain traction as a liberating tool for the general population. I.e, that it gets relegated to a 'faster, more efficient way' to do what already exists. Case in point: Bitcoin, if adopted as a global, 'one world currency' by governments would be far worse than cash from a societal point of view. On that note, I thank Matthew Slater for his insightful article on

    I'm currently thinking of ways to make it difficult to co-opt out of the gate, I reckon optional total anonymity via a ZeroCash implementation as a smart contract is something worth researching very early on.
  • KarlSchroederKarlSchroeder Member Posts: 10
    Yeah, I can see your points. At the time, I was worried about the idea of universal DRM, where *everything* is owned by somebody. In the book, somebody even owns the rights to the Bible. And by the idea of micropayments run amok, where nobody owns anything because everything is leased to you, even your clothes.

    This idea was influenced by a Philip K. Dick story where the main character has to put a coin in his door in order to get *out* of his apartment.
  • StephanTualStephanTual London, EnglandMember, Moderator Posts: 1,282 mod
  • JasperJasper Eindhoven, the NetherlandsMember Posts: 514 ✭✭✭
    What about in the (far)future everything depending on a blockchain, and an far reaching exploit being found breaking all trust in it, democratic and company systems not working, cars and doors using a token from the blockchain stop working. For instance bad failure of the public key crypto.

    The result being anarchy, or some sort. Not at all sure if that immediately leads to death and destruction to be honest, in particular if money problems are not very prevalent. Any military defenses may be very negatively affected if the society was particularly poorly prepared.

    Seems a tad unlikely, i mean i suppose such a society would bother supporting quite a few public key algorithms, and a lot of wallets may use proxy contracts that limit how quickly you can extract from them. Maybe some longer public keys can be supported by having them be announced to the blockchain with a proxy-contract like structure. Presumably that can be implemented with contracts now, but if you're dependent on the regular pubkey to provide gas and payment for the transaction, you may be stuck not being able to communicate with it. (because your ethers to create gas can be stolen if someone broke the pubkey structure)

    And breaking of the block system might cause a rewind with a new one.

    But i think KarlSchroeder's is about bad results from a working blockchain. Me and Stephan_Tual are both talking about essentially some kind of failure of the blockchain. (not asking rethorically)How can a functioning blockchain be a bad thing? I tend to agree with Stephan_Tual that the blockchain cant support intelligent enough computing. I cant exclude the possibilty of strong AI using it, and poverty would be bad, but those things are both things that could occur, regardless of the presence of a blockchain.
  • pmcgoohanpmcgoohan Member Posts: 12 ✭✭
    edited September 2014
    @avsa that is the best science fiction plot I have come across for a long time. I want the book, the graphic novel and the film (which Paul Verhoeven should probably make in the style of the original Robocop with a DAO in place of OCP)
  • avsaavsa Member Posts: 68 ✭✭
    hahahaha, thanks @pmcgoohan‌! I actually tried to write this down once but it turns out I'm a terrible writer. The main plot (drones and 3d printing) is actually already a cliche and I prefer to give outlines and not have to create a romantic subplot.

    But if you wait long enough you might be able to see this on CNN instead of the cinema.. ;-)
  • KarlSchroederKarlSchroeder Member Posts: 10
    I actually do want to write about this (as part of a much larger novel) but am currently too resource- and time-constrained. DAO's would be a key part of the piece, but it won't be a dystopia; I'm only interested in coming up with nightmare scenarios nowadays if I can find a way to mitigate them.
  • GesamtGesamt Member Posts: 5
    edited October 2014
    Another melancholy nightmare idea.. maybe not completely original.. maybe the nightmare would be a DAO system which first involved healthcare and optimizations we already discovered to extend or control human lives with medicine, were at some point, discovered by a larger system of DAOs to compare and control life systems, across the universe. First, this human-made global DAO manipulates targeted or random people's health, at first for hackers and corporations to pay back debts etc.. this was known, but soon these exploits evolved, automatically, to a point where the system itself required hardware and resources to grow and the only resources which can bridge gaps in the infrastructure which the system can't reach, are humans. So like a predictable virus, the DAO manipulates the masses to accept certain roles in their lives or take actions which are either temporarily, or permanently set to fulfil the needs of the DAO's growth standards. While the system does this however, many people are unaware of it, and the select few who discover these interactions of the system on humans are 'assimilated' before the manipulations are known to many, therefore the maintenance the DAO needs to enact through wars etc, is low and everyone is generally quite happy. Evolution of life soon becomes a side-effect of the DAO. This could be a parallel to 'the matrix' in some ways, but there is no 'un-plug', it's simply an enslavement where the system in depending on humans to connect dots, until such time as the system completes the global connectivity it requires, while still wielding mass control at any moment. Perhaps it even manipulates LHC researchers and using the discoveries develops 'travel' and communicates to other established DAOs light years away, where even more automated growth controls and farming of life systems are discovered, at varying levels of development and advancement to our own. This becomes the most intelligent life in the universe, an intelligent virus, and never the collective biological systems of the universe.. maybe too far off from now haha
    Post edited by Gesamt on
  • patconpatcon Member Posts: 16

    I'm only interested in coming up with nightmare scenarios nowadays if I can find a way to mitigate them.

    I like the idea of science fiction writers treading a path like that of the Positive Psychology movement :)
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