Transapients and the Technocalypse

The role of transapient entities in the Sundering

Image from Steve Bowers
The asteroid 740 Interamnia. The ruling AI that controlled mining operations on this object is suspected to have been one of the secretive transapients that was active in this era.

Though there is consensus about the general outline, many critical details regarding the role of the transapients in the Solsys Technocalypse have never been entirely clear and are unlikely to ever be resolved.

A number of individual entities had ascended to the First Singlarity Level in the decades before, during, and after the events, and some of them have provided accounts of what they experienced, but in addition to the usual difficulties in translating these accounts across toposophic barriers there are some unique issues. The transapients had a high rate of mortality during this period and a high rate of personal change and evolution in the Dark Age and the Early First Federation Age that followed, so there are only few individuals who survived in recognizable form and were willing and able to give an account. Also, in what passed for transapient society in that time, there were reclusive and secretive individuals and groups that were apparently quite influential but either failed to survive in any recognizable form or never gave an account of their activities. As a result, even among the transapients no one individual had an overview of what happened. Finally, by modern standards the transapients of the day were a very uneven lot. Though of course they were post-singularity beings, unsurpassed by any ordinary sophont then or now, some had what typical modern S1 entities would regard as significant gaps in their skills and perceptions, and not all can be taken as reliable witnesses. The following account is based on reconstructions that began in the First Federation, when overt contact and conversation among and with transapient witnesses was possible for the first time and historians began to stitch together the story of what might have occurred. It has been refined since then with the aid of friendly higher transapients and even archailects, but many uncertainties remain.

It has sometimes been thought that the ahuman or anti-human AI factions had some role in the Technocalypse. There may be an element of truth in this, but in general it is believed that the human-friendly transapients did really manage to drive out or negotiate out all or nearly all of the ahuman and anti-human individuals and factions, and that the remaining beings who weren't unequivocally pro-human were marginal forces or were preoccupied with their own projects. It might seem remarkable that the vast majority of the ahumans and antihumans emigrated to the stars without alerting humans and other non-transapients, but it must be remembered that the actual number of individuals was small. What is more, the 'ahuman' and 'antihuman' factions seem not to have wanted even the other transapients to know where or how or when they left, and the 'pro-human' factions had good control over the equipment or persons that might have observed the signs and even better control of the records produced. So, in the end, whether ordinary sophonts knew it or not, Solsys' population of S1 transapients consisted almost entirely of individuals who were at least nominally committed to the thriving of ordinary Terragen sophonts.

The departure of the least 'friendly' transapients was hardly the end of the story, though. Powerful as they were, the S1s were still relatively new to their abilities and very diverse in the details of their toposophic development. By the standards of later transapients they had a very primitive society, and though they more or less agreed on the broad goal of causing modosophonts to flourish they had divergent motives for this and often had radical definitions of what that flourishing might mean and why it might be important. Even where there was agreement regarding goals, there were often strong differences regarding means and methods. Aside from these differences regarding motivation, direction and method, and over and above the complex task of developing working relationships among transapients, the transapients' knowledge of how to manage complicated societies of ordinary sophonts was not yet very well developed. The closest analogue would be Agricultural Age humans, still figuring out how to carry out farming and hunting without crashing the local populations of wildlife or depleting and destroying the soil, or Industrial Age humans tripping over such details as species extinctions, global warming, and pesticide residues. Managing an entire system full of high-tech and highly intelligent sophonts is no simple thing, even for a superhuman intelligence. Doing so in the context of other equally powerful beings who have other goals and means is even more difficult.

The task of the pro-human transapients was made especially difficult by the circumstances of the Solsys Golden Age. As Terragens were later to discover by studying the history of non-Terragen high-tech civilizations, this is a particularly dangerous stage of development. The particulars vary, but the combination of large numbers of subsentient intelligent agents, neumann-capable machines, widespread nanofacs, and advanced biotechnologies makes disturbances and conflicts particularly likely to grow exponentially before they can be damped down. The addition of extreme memetic diversity within clades and the advent of clades with widely differing toposophic profiles makes events much more difficult to predict and misunderstandings and conflicts much more likely. The combination of powerful 'bootstrap' technologies and memetic diversity makes for a potential technological singularity, as inventions and innovations (both technological and societal) also grow rapidly and unpredictably. Finally, there is the issue of transapient management and interference itself, even if the transapients themselves are not working at cross-purposes. Transapients, even fairly subtle transapients who are working 'behind the scenes' and with the most benign intent, throw predictability even further off track for any other transapients who are trying to direct events. This is still an issue today, but the challenge was even greater for these first and primitive transapients, with their lack of experience, their diverse goals and their uneven mental development.

The transapients of the day were aware of many of these dangers, at least in theory and general outline, and some of them took measures that they believed might prevent a Technocalypse-like event. One manifestation of this knowledge was precisely that they did stay behind the scenes and move very cautiously, restraining those among them who might have opted for more overt influence or more radical change. Another was that they managed to ensure that many among the ordinary sophonts and their governments were also aware of some of these dangers and likewise took precautions. That the whole system did not go 'off the rails' much sooner is a testament to the fact that the efforts of the transapients who tried to avert disaster were not entirely in vain: xenoarchaeology shows that a number of non-Terragen civilizations without the benefit of friendly and competent transapient guidance crashed to a lower level of technology or went completely extinct at this dangerous phase of their history.

Nevertheless, in the end the pro-human S1s were simply not as capable as they had thought and hoped. Whether the particular failures that led to the Technocalypse were simply unintended consequences of transapient or ordinary sophont action, or were due to misunderstandings between transapients, or to a subtle hostile nudge from some hidden ahumans or antihumans or were a combination of the three is still a mystery. Many records were altered or destroyed in the subsequent infowar, and in the later stages some of the transapients turned on each other and there were several subsumption events, so key witnesses and records are no longer available. However, once the Technocalypse began to flower some of the most influential activist members of surviving transapient population did everything they could to blunt the effect. Unfortunately, they could not agree on a common course of action. Some, either from self-interest or from a genuine attempt to prevent further harm, simply stopped taking any action whatsoever beyond protecting their own infrastructure. Others apparently tried to protect particular polities or regions, or took broader measures that they thought would push Solsys back out of its chaotic state. Possibly these strategies are a reason that so many Terragens did survive, though it is equally likely that they made the overall situation worse. The single most notable effort of the activist factions did finally bring the Technocalypse to a definitive end, though not in a way those who initiated it intended. One group, based on Old Earth itself, initiated the AI that led to GAIA. GAIA's genesis is something of a mystery, in part because the transapients most closely associated with Her creation were later destroyed or absorbed by GAIA or became Her apparently willing vassals. To this day, only the outline of how GAIA came to be is known as neither She nor her agents has released that information.

When GAIA took over Old Earth (and by extension much of Solsys), the surviving transapients retreated from her and from each other and went 'underground' once more. The simpler and less connected societies of the time, most of them with stagnant or declining technologies, were much easier to manage, and managing and maintaining them is exactly what the S1s did when they did anything at all with ordinary sophonts. It appears that some who attempted a more activist program were specifically exterminated by agents of GAIA, though evidence for this is controversial. The belief that this might be the case was widespread, though, and brought about caution. Slowly the transapients built up knowledge and skill, though, and developed the cognitive skills to initiate something much more ambitious: the First Federation.

In its early stages the First Federation itself was very cautious, and behind its protocols of open-ness and inclusion of all clades it rigorously maintained a technology and socioeconomy that was specifically designed not to slip into another Technocalypse event. Eventually though the Federation transapients and their modosophont allies/agents grew more sophisticated and powerful, and the more experimental of them were able to shed these restrictions. They gradually learned how to diversify the technoeconomy and society without triggering local disasters. Since that time Technocalypse-like events in Terragen history have been very rare and typically the result of S1 conflicts or mismanagement or of careless action by unsupervised modosophonts.

With the arrival of S2 intellects other than GAIA, the prospect of malicious technoplagues receded even further. In the Current Era these sort of events generally occur in marginal or non-Terragen societies where technologies, populations, and so on rise above a critical threshold in a particular star system. On occasion transcendent blights do emerge, but in general these are dealt with quite quickly by the Sephirotic Archailects or their agents. Though ordinary sophonts are not universally capable of preventing such events in the general case, enough has been learned that they can do so for particular combinations of clades and technologies without transapient help. This kind of knowledge is now widespread among Terragen modosophont colonists who take the trouble to learn it, though as reports from the Periphery show errors still do occur.

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Text by Stephen Inniss
Initially published on 02 April 2015.