Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: A billion dots of light

This week, Futures is pleased to welcome back Matt Thompson with his story A billion dots of light. A London-based experimental musician, Matt brought us the intriguing story Ded-Mek last year. You can catch up on his other work at his website or by following him on Twitter. Here, Matt reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing A billion dots of light

Generation starships, one of the mainstays of SF, never seemed entirely plausible to me. Who would volunteer to live out their entire lives in a tin can (or even a hollowed-out hunk of space rock) just so that their descendants could form a colony? No one, most likely. But while the solution proposed in this story has a certain elegance to it (leaving aside the thorny question of who the original crew might have been), it does raise some delicate ethical questions.

Being a non-meat eater, I’ve occasionally found myself involved in conversations where considerations on the farming and slaughter of animals are countered with statements along the lines of “But they’re just dumb beasts”. It’s a debatable point, true, but seems like a hangover from a waning Judeo-Christian viewpoint concerning the existence of the soul. But can a human being whose higher thought processes were cauterized at birth be said to even have a soul (should such a thing exist)? And, if not, has anyone really been hurt? Do the means always justify the ends? Perhaps our accelerating technological landscape requires a new set of standards.

That’s the conclusion the viewpoint character in the story, an AI that has achieved some level of sentience over the course of its vast journey, comes to when faced with the conflict between the ‘accepted’ humanitarian perspective it was programmed with and the grotesque reality of the charnel-house it’s presiding over. In its decision to set the future colonists free from the moral burden of the past, this tension is resolved only at the cost of forcing those unborn pioneers to start over from scratch.

The human race right now doesn’t have that luxury. The ‘one set of ethics for the rich, one for the poor’ attitude has brought us to the brink of self-annihilation. The free market has, in the end, proved a failure. If the onward march of science is to be undertaken as a process of prising open Pandora’s box we’d better make sure we know what’s inside.


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