Saturday, January 30, 2016

George Orwell and the Reversing Currents of Alien Civilizations

George Orwell was the pseudonym of the British author who wrote Nineteen Eighty-Four. That book, published in 1948, was one of many published during the twentieth century that implicitly accepted technological determinism and used it by predicting some advances in technology and a society, usually dystopian, that exploited them and produced an interesting story line. Orwell's book had a tremendous impact, and the word, Orwellian, has come to denote a society like the one predicted in the novel.

There are many aspects of the world Orwell depicted, but one which is singled out in this post relates to the control of information by an elite clique which desires to control the world, and actually does, via a totalitarian regime. The book has been reviewed to death, and so there is no point of synopsizing it here, but in Nineteen Eighty-Four, information such as news and history were not freely available, but only through the government’s ministries. It was an extreme level of control.

In trying to understand how the necessary sequence of developments of technology, one predicated on another, would force an alien civilization into certain patterns of organization and would dictate many features of the civilization, a previous post pointed out that between the industrial grand transition and the genetic grand transition, there was a reversal of the current of the time. Between the two, the natural feedback loop heightens continually the unequal distribution of resources, and after the second, the approximate equality of all aliens plus the increased universal intelligence would erode and eliminate that inequality, to the consternation of the holders of the dominant positions.

It was wondered aloud there if there were any means that such individual aliens could use to abort the genetic grand transition, and maintain their own status. The conclusion was that they could not, as inheritance would be moot, and the demand for more intelligence could not be choked off.

This post asks if information control could do that trick. If the alien civilization had moved into a state with that one aspect of Orwell’s in place, where the dominant elite could control all the information flow in the society, would that freeze the society in that one position, between the two grand transitions? There are two aspects: could information be so controlled, and could the control of information be successfully used to stop technology dead in its tracks. If technology was allowed to move forward, the scheme would fail, for the two reasons posited in the other post.

In order for information to be controlled, it has to pass through some portals, small in number, where it can be observed and manipulated. Alternatively, the portals could be at the origination point, and if no information could be originated outside of the governmental control ministries, or whatever form they might take on an alien planet, the same level of control could be accomplished. The second phase of the industrial revolution, electronics, provides the portals and conduits connected to them; the third phase of the industrial revolution, artificial intelligence, provides the computational ability to perform the control. As for origination control, if there is a large cost connected with generating information, then those with large accumulated resources could be the ones having control over the origination.

If the alien civilization built their information distribution infrastructure so that all information flowed through some concentration points, control at those points might be feasible with enough computational power. The control could be near instantaneous, with messages triggering some alarm being halted and not transmitted, or with delay, so that any source that created such offending messages could be later shut down in one way or another. Likewise, if the alien civilization did not build any orifices into their system where information could be widely distributed without having been produced under government control, the second method could be effected. It all depends on the details of how they built their information distribution network.

If the network is a hub-and-spoke system, control is possible. If it is a web, it is not. There is no obvious reason why it would have to be one or the other.

As for origination restrictions, that could be done in some onerous way, befitting George Orwell’s ideas of how a society might evolve. Aliens were taught not to originate, under pain of breaking some laws and reaping the consequences. A samizdat approach might occur, depending on how the transmission network was set up. Again, it depends on the style of network used.

Origination restrictions could be imposed in a backwards way, in that the information consuming public could become accustomed to standard production methods, which required large up-front costs. Then the samizdat publishers would run into the wall of no public acceptance. Is it realistic that in any alien civilization there would be such a wall? Yes, if the nature of the aliens was less individualistic and more accustomed to acceptance. This likely would depend on the details of how the aliens initially evolved. If they evolved like carnivores, operating individually, this trait might linger for millennia after civilization starts. If they evolved like naked mole-rats, which are eusocial like ants and some bees, they would have a plethora of acceptance behavior. Thus, some alien civilizations might tend to a variety of Orwellian society more than others.

To summarize, the information control aspect of the dsytopia painted in Nineteen Eighty-Four might be found on an alien planet, in which the faction representing the high accumulators in the civilization froze technology progress to preserve their own relatively high position, even though the civilization would advance its living standards as a whole by pursuing more technology. This could be done if the information distribution network was configured in a certain way, which is a practical and possible way, and the freeze happened after the development of artificial intelligence, which is near the end of the industrial revolution mandatorily. Or, if the aliens evolved to accept what was provided to them, as only a few species have on Earth, they might be conditioned to live with the freeze and make no demands whatsoever for the obvious advantages that passing through the genetic grand transition would provide.

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