Thursday, May 13, 2004

Science fiction idea: we all get stupider because ...

"The Cookie Monster" by Vernor Vinge is an online short story that's up for a Hugo award. I had to read it, thought it kept me up late. Vinge is one of the smartest and deepest thinkers I know of.

There's an insider aside in the story. One of his characters recites a list of some of the most interesting "simulation" science fiction -- stories that explore the absurd and ridiculous idea that entities just like us would be living in a simulation (the Matrix popularized this theme.) Typically these simulations have odd properties that give them away -- such as a universe that's empty except for single sentient species.

That led me to think of a variant theme. In this theme the protagonists is reviewing data indicating not only a rising incidence of autism, but also increasingly stupid political leaders that are being consistently reelected -- irregardless of performance. She (of course) plots the data against population and notices a disturbing trend -- average world IQ is becoming inversely correlated to population. It's as though aggregate global sentience were limited by the processing capacity of a single incomprehensibly powerful computer, and population growth had run up against the limits of the machine. She begins to discover domains where contrained processing capability is causing the simulation to break down. Either population will crash or the simulation will end. Which will it be? As she begins to communicate her fears she disappears from the (short) story.

Science fiction is harmless fun, even though it's prone to silliness.

No comments: