Kuro5hin.org: technology and culture, from the trenches
create account | help/FAQ | contact | links | search | IRC | site news
[ Everything | Diaries | Technology | Science | Culture | Politics | Media | News | Internet | Op-Ed | Fiction | Meta | MLP ]
We need your support: buy an ad | premium membership

[P]
Book Review: Kiln People by David Brin (Culture)

By Ruidh in Culture
Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 03:57:56 PM EST
Tags: Books (all tags)
Books

David Brin, who gave us the chilling Universe of the Uplift series and The Postman, has updated the legend of the golem, a clay automaton, in high tech way. In this future, instead of computer-based artificial intelligence, Brin gives us clay-based artificial intelligence based on copying the consciousness of people into disposable, clay containers.


Kiln People

David Brin

ISBN: 0765303558

Individuals, interchangeably called archtypes or archies or rigs, use a device to make a copy of their Soul Standing Wave or consciousness to imprint on a standard clay blank. After a short bake in an special kiln, the golem, called a ditto or dit or rox, emerges carrying the appearance and the memories of the archie up to the point of imprinting and ready to carry out its assigned chores for the day -- unless its a frankie, or frankenstein, with its own idea of how to spend its one day of life.

Dittos may not legally appear in public wearing flesh tones, so an entire catalog of specialty dits are available for different tasks: greens for mundane chores, high quality greys for attending to personal business, ebonies for intellectual work and ivories for sensual pleasures as well as specialty dittos like blue police dittos with built-in armaments. Each ditto is manufactured with enough energy to carry it through a 24 hour period at the end of which it feels a compulsion to return to its maker. The rig then has the option of uploading the ditto's experiences into his consciousness thus giving the rox continuity or, as the dittos say, an afterlife.

Why take a risk with your one irreplaceable body when you can send out copies to have dangerous experiences and then upload them -- if the rox survives?

Albert Morris is a private detective who sends most of his dittos out to work on cases. Like most detective stories, Al describes his investigations in a first person narrative except here each of Albert's detective dittos, or ditectives, takes a turn at narration allowing Brin to weave an intricate tale of several ditectives each getting part of a larger picture.

Al has been hired to investigate the disappearance and possible murder of an important scientist at Universal Kilns, a huge international conglomerate providing ditto technology to a world hungry for clay workers and experiences that only a ditto can provide. Along the way, he moves between the worlds of rich industrialists and the seamy underworld frequented by dits.

Brin makes more than one reference to Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind. Penrose argues for the impossibility of creating Artificial Intelligence through emulating human thought processes in computers.  To date, while computers have made enormous strides in playing chess and emulating human conversation, no one has yet come close to emulating the kind of general problem solving capabilities of people though this goal has for decades been said to be 3 to 5 years away.  The difference is one of consciousness and self-awareness.

Brin addresses these issues.  What motivates a ditto to do the chores that the archie sets for him?  Does the availability of cheap human facsimilies cheapen human life.  What if killing a facsimile carries only a fine for a penalty?  

Brin strikes to the heart of what makes us human. The ultimate concern of what happens to consciousness after the end of the body which carries it.

Read an excerpt.

Imprint an ebony to appreciate the wordplay. Highly recommended.

Sponsors

Voxel dot net
o Managed Hosting
o VoxCAST Content Delivery
o Raw Infrastructure

Login

Poll
What kind of ditto do you want to imprint today?
o green -- I need the laundry done and the grass cut. 18%
o grey -- I hate dealing with lawyers. 11%
o ebony -- Gotta cram for that big exam. 9%
o camoflage -- Time to get those terrorists. 9%
o blue -- Just the fax, ma'am. 5%
o ivory -- Come here, Baby. You ain't done nothing until you've done clay. 45%

Votes: 53
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o David Brin
o Read an excerpt.
o Also by Ruidh


Display: Sort:
Book Review: Kiln People by David Brin (Culture) | 25 comments (16 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
Is it like other Brin? (2.66 / 3) (#7)
by haflinger on Sun Aug 04, 2002 at 07:00:15 PM EST

From the excerpt, it seems like it.

I know people who like Brin, but I'm not one of them. It always seems to me like a somewhat tired attempt to combine a Golden Age writing style with New Wave ideas. The problem is, it's clever writing, but it's not really very interesting. I've never managed more than a few pages; perhaps there's a golden treasure hiding there somewhere, but I haven't seen it.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey

One thing I like about Brin (4.00 / 2) (#19)
by Ruidh on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 02:05:30 PM EST

...is that he seems to have a good ear for language and especially slang.  Orson Scott Card does as well, but I'm turned off by the Mormon themes which come out strongly in his work.

Most SF writers have a hard time writing convincing dialog.  Their characters end up talking stilted or talking down to other characters (think Heinlein).  A writer who can make a convincing common man gets a plus in my book.

Brin realizes that words that people use everyday in conversation rarely have more than two syllables and only one when that will do.  We talk about watching TV or tube rather than watching television.  Dialog, as people use it in everyday speech, is all about getting the point across in as few, easy to pronounce syllables as possible.  Crafting plausible slang really makes the difference between stilted dialog and dialog that flows off the page.

I like that he's taken the Detective story genre in a new direction with his multiple 1st person narration.  That's the kind of literary twist I like to see.
 
"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
[ Parent ]

Hmmm. (4.00 / 1) (#22)
by haflinger on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 09:28:09 PM EST

In a sense, this is true of most writers in general.
Most SF writers have a hard time writing convincing dialog. Their characters end up talking stilted or talking down to other characters (think Heinlein). A writer who can make a convincing common man gets a plus in my book.
SF writers suffer from overly intellectual characterizations. There's a tendency to emulate Asimov's characters.

Now, I happen to like Asimov. But he was a believer, consciously or otherwise, in the "write what you know" dictum. He was an academic, and a biochemist. His characters tend to be intellectuals, even when he's writing adventure stories.

And unfortunately, most of the people influenced by Asimov, one way or another, were not as good as he was. Consequently, they tend to write characters who aren't intellectuals, who yet talk like Asimov.

Also, even when they're not Asimov fans, they still tend to write like, well, the people they know. And let's face it - most writers, SF writers included, don't know a lot of ordinary people.

Multiple 1st person? I agree, it's an interesting technique. But it's not new. The first time I came across it was Varley's Millennium, a quite good book. But it wasn't new when Varley did it either.

The best example I know is Brust & Bull's Freedom and Necessity, an absolutely fantastic and nearly impossible to categorize novel.

But we're getting away from my problem with Brin. I just don't see any interesting ideas there. And that's SF's strong point. That's why I plowed through Cryptonomicon, which is not the best-written book in the history of fiction: it has some really great ideas.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Penrose. [Almost OT] (none / 0) (#8)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Sun Aug 04, 2002 at 07:39:51 PM EST

Brin makes more than one reference to Roger Penrose's The Emperor's New Mind. Penrose argues for the impossibility of creating Artificial Intelligence through emulating human thought processes in computers. To date, while computers have made enormous strides in playing chess and emulating human conversation, no one has yet come close to emulating the kind of general problem solving capabilities of people though this goal has for decades been said to be 3 to 5 years away.

I have a problem with Penrose. Sadly I've been unable to read his actual argument, which puts me at a disadvantage, but from what I understand he believes that since interactions occur at a level where quantum effects can be witnessed that a simulation couldn't do the trick. I have two issues with this specifically.
  1. Who is to say that the quantum effects, assuming that they're actually relevant, cannot be simulated?
  2. A simulation is not 100% - is it necessary that a mere simulation would grow this dependance on quantum efffects, again, assuming they're relevant.
Beyond that, the examples of chatterbots and chess-playing programs are poor examples. They are not attempts at intelligence - those who suggested so beforehand did so without realizing that these "problems" could be solved in stupid ways. Just about any chatterbot is a glorified Eliza with an optional expert system built in. Chess playing programs merely assess possible outcomes - cracking the game.

There are people on the right track - that is to say, attempting to solve the problem of intelligence itself. They're sacrificing the more dramatic effects, like beating masters at chess, in favour of forcing their "programs" (I use this e term hesitantly - most of them operate in a space where the term "algorithm" is hard to apply) to learn on their own, solving their own problems - or suffering the consequences.

Anyway, if someone could summarize Penrose' full argument for me, I'd appreciate it - there's almost certainly something I've missed.

farq will not be coming back

Problems with Penrose (1.00 / 1) (#9)
by SPrintF on Sun Aug 04, 2002 at 09:07:26 PM EST

The Emperor's New Mind is not an attack on artifical intelligence in general, but on the "strong AI" hypothesis. "Strong AI" argues that intelligence is "platform independant"; that is, in principle, a mind, properly codified, could run equally well in hardware as in wetware.

One of Penrose's key arguments is that neurological events are influenced, to some degree, by quantum-level effects. Since quantum events are random, they cannot be simulated by a finite state machine, a fundamental conclusion from automata theory.

Of course, one can easily overcome this limitation by adding a non-finite state device (such as a scintillation counter) to provide truly random input. In this case, the resultant device is not a Turing machine, as thus is not subject to the finite state limitation.

The Emperor's New Mind is an interesting book, but is very limited by its narrow focus on implementing "strong AI" on Turing machines. It doesn't address other forms of intelligence, or other kinds of machines. I'm dubious of any work that relies too heavily on this one book as a critique of AI.

[ Parent ]

Randomness can be simulated (none / 0) (#14)
by zakalwe on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 08:53:35 AM EST

Suppose instead of using a random source in realtime, you just generate a large chunk of random data (Enough to last the lifetime of your 'Mind') and code the AI so that it processes this data deterministicly whenever 'random' interactions occur.  The complete system is now a completely deterministic turing machine, but presumably it is equivalent to one possible course the human mind could take.  

It wouldn't do exactly the same as the human mind (and neither would one using a real random source), since the random inputs would be different, even if the real-world stimulus was identical, but it still would accurately model a possible human-equivalent thought process, which would seem to be enough to prove intelligence.

[ Parent ]

Randomness isn't everything... (none / 0) (#16)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 11:12:36 AM EST

there's quantum tunnelling, or action at a distance, if you prefer (as do I.) Some call it acausality, which I find to be a term about as useful as "supernatural" - yet improperly applied. There's another batch of names for it.

AFAIK, though, action at a distance isn't impossible to simulate, though impossible to simulate in real-time, by its very nature - since it effects change alocally instantaneously. Particle/field theory cannot accomodate for it without breaking the sacred light barrier.

This is why it cannot be simulated - it's the only (known) method of tranmitting data that fast at such a distance.

I don't believe in random - or acausality, for the same reasons - however. Both imply that something masquerading as an effect has been uncaused, which is a concept I'm not willing to accept. I maintain that I could be wrong, but it's a less dangerous assumption that the "random" data we gather is generated by a responsible cause than it is to assume that it is not.

In this respect I have a theory that, sadly, I'm unqualified to prove. It states that a deterministic reflective system may be constructed to generate data that it will analyze in the future, but will necessarily be incapable of determining the cause or meaning in the data at that time. The point is that this data is to the system as random as random gets - since there's no way to associate it with its cause.

I have another "theory" which states that our universe does undergo this very process. I think this second one is actually unprovable, and not directly falsifiable. Ergo, not at theory proper, I suppose, but not without its merit, IMO.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]

The Hidden Variables Interpretation (none / 0) (#17)
by Ruidh on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 11:35:58 AM EST

There was one interpretation of the implications of Quantum Mechanics that held that everything was deterministic, but that it involved hidden variables which couldn't be observed directly.  Einstein, for one, supported this view.  (Famous quote: "God does not play dice with the Universe."  Famous retort: "Yes, he does, and sometimes he throws them where they can't be seen.")  

Unfortunately, this view has some problems with it.  Any HV interpretation must be non-local, i.e. it contains instantaneous action at a distance.  Von Neumann proved that hidden variable theories were inconsistent, but some doubt the correctness of the proof.  See http://www.phys.tue.nl/ktn/Wim/qm4.htm#hv

"Laissez-faire is a French term commonly interpreted by Conservatives to mean 'lazy fairy,' which is the belief that if governments are lazy enough, the Good Fairy will come down from heaven and do all their work for them."
[ Parent ]

Interesting (none / 0) (#18)
by Farq Q. Fenderson on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 12:46:21 PM EST

The values in my theory are never actually hidden, but they are discarded at a point. The crucial part is that they're first-class observables at point A, but at point C they've been completely lost. This is possible because point B generates aggregate data from them and discards them.

Think one-way encryption. This doesn't actually satisfy the theory 100%, but it's a stab. The next step is to ensure that all data has been created within the system, then to show that the system cannot simulate portions of itself suffciently to be capable of either a) predicting what those values will be in the future, or b) accurately determining the causes for those values after the fact.

"A" is harder to produce, but is much more random, since all of the values are within the system at the moment of prediction. Still, I think it can be done, provided locality is preseved at least in some cases. "B" is a cakewalk by comparison, though I don't have a proof-of-concept, I'm very tempted to try to create one for each of these cases - likely within the same system. (Honesly, I wouldn't be suprised if I discovered that one already exists.)

This would translate (in theory #2) to some event causing only effects that are completely ambiguous about said event, and probably other causes out of necessity.

I'm not saying that there is a specific way to go about doing this, but that some effects (i.e. "random" ones) can be classified by the necessary inability to conclusively determine thier cause by any means. This might be a trait that's impossible to demonstrate (in specific) within the system (the universe), I don't know. I do believe that theory #1 can be looked at from the outside though, and we could probably determine whether or not the universe as we know it has the appropriate traits to permit such a feature.

farq will not be coming back
[ Parent ]

I met Penrose once [ha! I can be even more OT!] (none / 0) (#15)
by boxed on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 09:26:42 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Perrose's Argument (none / 0) (#20)
by pmc on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 02:18:38 PM EST

if someone could summarize Penrose' full argument for me, I'd appreciate it

The argument runs (IIRC): 1) Not all physical processes are computable, 2) The human brain's working's is based, in part, on non-computable processes, therefore 3) the human brain is non-computable (i.e. cannot be simulated on a computer). This is the "weak" Penrose argument.

The strong one argues consciousness can only be based on non-computable processes, and therefore computers cannot be conscious.

Turned about, he argues there is something that minds do that cannot be done (or described) by any algorithm.

Unfortunately I didn't think his evidence supported his proposition - but read the book and find out for yourself.

[ Parent ]

Refutation of Penrose (none / 0) (#21)
by Znork on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 07:02:31 PM EST

Getting a bit interested in this I searched around and found this link.

As far as I can tell it pretty much demolishes Penroses ideas. The conclusion sums it up, paraphrased; a) there is reason to doubt that human consiousness must take advantage of nonalgorithmic processes, since unsound albeit reliable prcesses escape Gödel's net. b) there is no evidence that there are any nonalgorithmic processes anywhere in the universe, And c) There is no experimental evidence that microtubules support quantum phenomena, and it is unlikely that they do.

I tend to agree. Ascribing the phenomena of consciousness to quantum effects may seem tempting to those for whom neurochemistry seems too disappointingly mundane, but in the end the human mind is complex but not unfathomable. The amount of research done into consciousness and neurochemistry and the effects of drugs and various electrochemical dysfunctions in the brain points towards a consciousness all too explainable without resorting to quantum effects. And on that level I cant find any reason why a brute-force simulation of the human mind would not be possible.

[ Parent ]

a second opinion (none / 0) (#11)
by I am the atom on Mon Aug 05, 2002 at 05:12:40 AM EST

I found this book rather disappointing.  I haven't read any David Brin before, but it looked interesting so I gave it a go.

It has a fascinating premise, but in my opinion doesn't really go anywhere with it.  Many of the philosophical difficulties with copying people are mentioned, but they are rarely explored in any depth.  In a sense that's realistic becuase the technology is supposed to have been around for a while and people have gotten used to these things, but it does leave you wondering what the point of the book is.

Also, there are several pointless things that I found really annoying:  all the self-referential bad puns (eg. "ditective") and the constant capitalisation of the phrase "Soul Standing Wave" (which is never adequately explained).

None of the characters have any depth to them at all, and the story-telling seems to be too clever for it's own good.  There are sections written in some very strange tenses, but it feels as if the story was contrived to allow the narrative to do this rather than the other way around.

I think it would have made a good short novel, but as a full-length one it doesn't really work for me.  It isn't a deep thinking book, and it's also not a pleasant enough world for me to want to lose myself in.

That's just what I think.  Your opinion might well be different.


I agree, and I like Brin (none / 0) (#23)
by JML on Tue Aug 06, 2002 at 12:48:52 AM EST

I completely agree with I am the atom's review.  I like Brin, and have enjoyed most of his previous books, but I thought this one just had something lacking.  The world was better developed than most of the characters.  It was generally an enjoyable read, but the book never seemed to go anywhere.

If you like Brin, go ahead and read the book, it isn't without any redeeming values.  If you are just interested in checking out some Brin, try some of his other books first.

[ Parent ]

uplift series chilling? (none / 0) (#24)
by auraslip on Tue Aug 06, 2002 at 03:14:42 AM EST

I don't recalling it being particulary chilling. Very intresting yes, but not chilling.
124
It was worth my time (none / 0) (#25)
by anansi on Tue Aug 06, 2002 at 12:47:14 PM EST

The book had its problems, and I found myself scratching my head at behavior that made little sense to me. Why didn't every factory dit turn frankie? What's the incentive to spend one's entire lifetime in physical drudgery without the possibility of upload? Yet for all my grumbling, the premise was worth the price of admission. Just don't expect a satisfying ending. A book like this serves as a launchiong point for one's own speculation: Given the same technical capability, I can't imagine squandering it on a faux version of current human existance. If it were me, I'd make golems in the shape of birds and fish and panthers and insects, to more deeply grok the unbuilt non-human world. I'd live on the moon or mars and send unbreathing dits into the vacume to explore and map. Brin needed to set his story in a world recognizable to us, but the technology he describes would completely destabilize our reality. <u>Trigger</u> by Arther C Clarke, is another book that posits a profoundly world-altering technology, though it doesn't fast forward like <u>iln</u> but insteasd follows the stages of initail culture shock and adjustmants of worldview.

Don't call it Fascism. Use Musollini's term: "Corporatism"

Book Review: Kiln People by David Brin (Culture) | 25 comments (16 topical, 9 editorial, 0 hidden)
Display: Sort:

kuro5hin.org

[XML]
All trademarks and copyrights on this page are owned by their respective companies. The Rest © 2000 - Present Kuro5hin.org Inc.
See our legalese page for copyright policies. Please also read our Privacy Policy.
Kuro5hin.org is powered by Free Software, including Apache, Perl, and Linux, The Scoop Engine that runs this site is freely available, under the terms of the GPL.
Need some help? Email help@kuro5hin.org.
My heart's the long stairs.

Powered by Scoop create account | help/FAQ | mission | links | search | IRC | YOU choose the stories!