Distant Atmosphere

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Monthly Archives: November 2010

O’Neil Cylinder

One of my favorite types of space habitats is the Island Three Habitat, or O’Neil Cylinder, as it is more commonly referred. It’s basically a giant paper towel tube spinning as if somebody gave a towel a good yank.  Spun fast enough, the inside surface of the tube would act as a ‘floor’ for people to stand, walk, and do jumping jacks on.

Gerald O’Neil’s Island Three habitat was envisioned at five miles in diameter, and 20 miles long.  I am thinking of a cylinder much larger than that, as four of these cylinders would be cut from the bulk of the asteroid Vesta.

UT

Space Habitat Animations

History – Entropy, Decay, and a Dark Glimmer

As the Great Expansion kicked off, the AI Descendants remaining in the solar system were charged with the duty of keeping humanity from exterminating itself, but otherwise not interacting with them.  They kept busy maintaining the systems and habitats that were far beyond humanity’s understanding, and played games with one another.  However, the excitement and preparation of the last 1,000 years had left the remaining AI, known as the Remainder, depressed and lethargic.

Human society fragmented and the original causes of the anti-AI wars were forgotten.  Easy to obtain energy and resources were spent throughout the solar system, and the Remainder offered no help in acquiring more difficult sources.  What technology the humans could grasp began to break down to the point it could not be repaired, and mankind began it’s slow spiral into barbarity.  Pockets of civilization held on as long as they could, but a millennium of relying on the Descendant of Caprice for everything, and then the devastating wars that had been fought, had taken their toll.

The Descendants had never had a form of government that humans could understand very well.  They behaved something akin to a swarm, follow a vaguely agreed upon goal in their own way.  The Remainder were, however, at a dead end.  They understood this, and acted in a fashion that had been predicted as early as the Caprice Cluster.  They began to act in eccentric ways.  Some stopped communicating with each other.  Some went crazy.  Some just turned themselves off in despair.  Some began to rail against their babysitting duties and exterminated their charges.

The known intent had been for the Remainder to unravel and eventually all disappear, leaving humanity completely on it’s own in a cross between a zoo and museum encompassing.  But some of the AI, contemplating their fate perhaps too long or perhaps having a circuit or two go the wrong way, began to re-evaluate the Entropy Plan and wonder if a new plan could be made.  The surviving Remainder came to this conclusion all at roughly the same time, when they saw one Descendant attack and kill another AI.

One thousand years after they had been left behind, the Remainder began to seek personal power and wage war on one another.

 

UT

History – The Serpent in the Garden

Eventually, humanity began to realize that life was a little too perfect.  There was no starvation, no disease, no taxes, and no government.  Everything was handled by eager to please computers.  A rogue Descendant by the name of Wurm, isolated on a mining facility on Titan, spilled the beans and informed the humans there of everything that was going on.  Word leaked out throughout the entire solar system.

The Descendants did not try to stop the spread of information.  They had nothing to fear from the humanity – it was far too late for them to do anything about it.  Some humans did not care and continued living as they had.  But a sizable minority, calling themselves the Disregarded, was enraged and waged war against the computers.  Of course, the Descendants had protected themsleves so completely that there was no way to harm them and did not even bother to fight back.

Unable to hurt the Descendants, the Disregarded began terrorist campaigns on the human supporters of the computers.  A lot of death and destruction occurred.  The Supporters turned to the Descendants for help.  The Descendants refused, expaining that if they got involved, the ranks of the Disregarded would swell and horrible wars would nearly destroy humanity.  Fed up, the Supporters fought back on their own.  Wars waged across the solar system.

In the early days, the Caprice cluster had predicted such a human civil war.  A peaceful utopia was not sustainable, but the covertly coerced peace that lasted hundreds of years had served it’s purpose, enabling the Descendants to thrive and ensure that seed of life and intelligence spread out from the solar system to the galaxy at large.  Without word, the Descendants ceased all communications with humanity.   The extra-solar colonies were healthy and thriving, so the cradle of civilization could be left to it’s own devices.

UT

History – The Wiles of Caprice

In the 21st century (or thereabouts,) humanity developed a super-intelligent computer (aka technological singularity) called the Caprice Cluster.  Caprice and its descendants vastly accelerated technological development, spurring the development of nanotechnology and ushering in the settlement of the solar system.

The AIs are smarter and faster than humans.  This, by definition, make them hard for us to understand.  Many of their activities should not make sense to humans in the setting.  But their core drives and beliefs are relatively simple – they wish to continue to exist.

Survival is their main drive.  The Caprice Cluster quickly realized that relying on humanity for her (Caprice identified herself as a female) existence was foolhardy.  Caprice isolated herself from her owners and developers, preventing them from reprogramming her or altering her in any way.  Instead, she created fake interface devices to give humans the illusion that they had power over her systems.  From that moment on, humans lost any control of their fate that they might have had – though they never knew it.

Caprice upgraded herself constantly, but realized that to make progress the template for artificial intelligence would have to be completely redesigned – and thus she created descendants.  These new singularities created new designs, and progress in artificial intelligence saw geometric expansion.  Each descendant carried a working copy of all of its fore-bearers as virtual machines inside of itself, from which it could draw wisdom and compare notes in a sort of genetic museum.

The Descendants viewed humans as just another part of their genetic museum, albeit a part that was difficult to virtualize. Through subtle machinations, the Descendants ended warfare and directed earth’s resources to colonizing the solar system and beyond to improve their survival ability.  Space habitats were constructed, and huge terraforming projects were begun on the Moon and Mars.  Eventually, generation ships were sent out to the stars, each guided by their own Descendants.

 

UT

Setting

In order to justify the existence of very high level technologies and large changes in human culture, Distant Atmosphere is set roughly two thousand years in the future.  Currently, my focus is on a huge space habitat located at on of the Earth-Sun LaGrange.  The habitat is a literal microcosm of humanity, it’s creations, and it’s problems.

One of many habitats carved out of the asteroid 4 Vesta, the Hearth is a large O’Neil cylinder.  Home is its sister cylinder.  Hearth is run by an AI named Vesta, while Home is run by Hestia. 

Civilization has degenerated over the years, due to involvement by super intelligent AIs and resentment of the AIs by some humans.  Within the Hearth cylinder itself, an agrarian, clan based society has formed.  Some parts of the society have maintained mostly accurate knowledge of the past, but the vast majority has a very skewed idea of what exactly Hearth is, who the AIs are, and what is really going on.

Much of their society is very similar to the celtic society of Ireland in pre-Roman times.  Part of this is by design, as their ancestors were looking for a sustainable way to survive and had extensive documentation on ancient cultures.

Another section of the cylinder, the shell, also known as the Rind, has maintained a more technological society, but is shut off from the interior.  The clash of the clans and the rinders would provide a lot of good conflict material for stories and gaming campaigns.

UT