kw: book reviews, science fiction, futuristics
A couple of chapters into the book, I nearly set it aside. A sex scene was way too explicit. But I skipped ahead a little, and continued. Another scene followed, much less explicit, then smoother sailing for the rest of the book. I know why the author did it. It is quite predictable that by the mid 2010s, the continuing epidemic of AIDS and other drug-resistant STDs will make "ordinary" sex unpopular...you know, the kind that involves bodily contact, skin to skin. There must be a way to get that point across that doesn't leave me with such sleazy memes.
Accelerando by Charles Stross has more ideas per kilo-word than any other book I've seen. Basic premise: Moore's law continues, and accelerates once manufactured computing power exceeds the natural-born kind. Then a Singularity occurs, an acceleration that tilts up to infinite, or tries to. Hence the title.
The author likes Avogadro's Number (6.02x1023), the number of nucleons in a gram of matter. An avabit is that number of bits, or nearly 1023 bytes. He also uses this as the number of MIPS of processing power present in six or eight billion human brains. He doesn't use the word (I wonder why not), but this could be called an avaMIP.
[Let's see: The highest-density "concept" memory chips using 45-nm technology have memory cells measuring 588 nm (0.346 square microns per cell). The minimum cell size for gamma-radiation stability is about 100 Si atoms, maybe 5x5x4 atoms, or a cell size of 1.36nm x 1.36nm (1.84 square nm), and 1.08nm thick. An avabit of such memory cells would weigh 2.8 kg. Further: a 2005 Pentium 4 at 3.3 Ghz runs about 1000 MIPS. There're 100 million of these in use right now, so their composite computing power is 1011 MIPS. About a trillionth of an avaMIP. If aggregate power doubles yearly, we are about forty years away from the first artificial avaMIP.]
Whether computation is carried out in silicon or some other material, if it isn't biological, the author calls it Computronium. Once computronium becomes independent (we're close), it grows without limit, eventually turning all the planets into a haze of heat-engine-powered processors that become a fuzzy Dyson sphere about the Sun. The lives and survival of "meat people", with this process as a backdrop, over a century or few, are the structure of Accelerando.
Stross's universe is one only an MBA could love. I have no mind for business, so I found all the talk of predatory business plans involving hundreds of interlocked, virtual corporations quite hard slogging. Seems to me, business is warfare with primarily economic and legal weapons. Seldom any need for actual blood to be shed (it isn't ruled out...).
The people and computronium grade into one another over time. People move more and more of themselves, first memories, then intelligence, outside their brains (the process began with books, and continues with PDAs). Then they load into computronium for various amounts of time, load back to flesh...death becomes optional. A robot cat that takes over its own upgrade process becomes a demigod. Eventually there is little room in the Galaxy for entities with less than an avaMIP of processing power...each.
Bleak? Certainly. Likely? No. Fun to consider alternatives, though.