Brindabella Chronicles

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Brindabella Chronicles Summary The Brindabella Chronicles span three years at the turn of the twenty third century. This is realist future fiction with technologies that are achievable over this current century if we make the effort, and science that is constrained within the bounds of plausibility.

The stories are set in two quite distinct societies. Brindabella is a Janeite community that, with minimal help from modern technologies, has recreated the world of Jane Austen in the Brindabella valley of New South Wales. In contrast, Arkadel – a small floating city in the centre of the Pacific Ocean – is one of the most future oriented societies of the time. It is a swarm hive that's inhabitants devote their lives to preparing their Personal Archives to command spindles – tiny space craft designed to explore the galaxy in large swarms, and sow the seeds of settlement.

Book 1: Brindabella 2200. Arkadelian mathematician and social modeller Mary Wang recruits Tom Oldfield to help solve a scientific quest of her great grandmother Sara, and returns with him to Brindabella. The quest is successful. There are weddings.

Book 2: Brindabella Aftermath. Their findings shock the planet, and shock is quickly turned to fear by groups who's aim is to undermine The Treaty that has maintained peace for the past century. Mary returns to Arkadel in an attempt to quell the fears. She explores worlds of the secretive cybs and learns much from their understanding of swarming. There is another wedding.

Book 3: Brindabella Trust. Mary turns her efforts to reforming The Treaty. Back in Brindabella, she learns about the evolution of religions, gods and ideologies. Now that the world has finally recovered from the collapse of the institutions of the First Enlightenment it is moving into a Second Enlightenment based on trust. There is a death.

./Book 1 - Brindabella 2200
./Book 2 - Brindabella Aftermath
./Book 3 - Brindabella Trust
./Excerpt from Book 2.htm

Personal Archives
Brindabella Images

Brindabella Valley ©

Blue Waterholes 1

Blue Waterholes 2

A Rim Pool (mid right)


From Cell to Mind
From Cell to Mind

This note is about an emerging, radical different view of the brain to the one assumed by the general neuroscience consensus. It looks at the role whole brain, not just neurons.

In 1990, having spent much of the 80s working on artificial intelligence, and with the idea of writing Brindabella 2200 starting to take shape in my mind, I decided to look closely at the brain to see whether it was plausible for an AI system (i.e. a PA) to closely mimic its function. Before long, taking a systems engineering viewpoint, I realised that the purely neural view I was being presented with couldn't be stable – not even over seconds, let alone decades. There seemed to be nothing preventing it from drifting about as the intensity of activity fluctuated.

Neuroscientists got around this by pointing to the very large numbers of neurons involved, but I'd seen that explanation used elsewhere. There's a limit to how often you can do that. I learned that glial cells not only feed neurons, thought to be their main role then, but during pre-natal development of the brain they first establish themselves then direct neurons into position and even direct how they connect, giving us instincts.

This seemed like clear evidence that they weren't just more important than assumed but were the dominant cell type when it came to information processing. At the very least they held the information that structured the brain down to the details of instinct.

Digging through the academic literature on another topic I discovered that in 1985 Renato Nobilic had reported a new view of brain function that incorporated glial cells in addition to the conventional role of neurons. In a paper titled Schrödinger wave holography in brain cortex he showed that, in theory, glial resonances were capable of storing information in a manner far more stable than the highly dynamic neural networks were able to.

Fig. 1:Bursts of neural activity (lower) and the local field potentiala

The signal measured by electrical probes in the brain, referred to as the field potential, can be seen as electro-chemical resonances in interconnected glial syncytium. Unlike the spiking bursts of neural activity, glial resonances are smooth waves with a form of momentum like standing waves in water.

Fig. 2: A two dimensional standing wave

Neuroscience had a problem it called the binding problem – what coordinated the firing of neurons that form a particular global response to sensory inputs, or an independent thought. To me, at least, a clear indication could be seen in measurements such as those depicted by Crick and Kocha in 1990. As described in the original caption to this diagram, the neural firing comes just before the negative peak of the oscillation in the local electrical potential of the region. The smooth oscillatory field is triggering and synchronising the neural activity.

The critical question, it seemed, was what was causing these oscillations – a smoothed out sum of local neural activity as was widely assumed, wide scale electrochemical glial oscillations, or most likely, a combination of both.

In essence, Nobili said:

An explanation for electroencephalogram (EEG) activity is proposed. Under suitable assumptions ... a Schrödinger-like equation for ion displacement waves is easily obtained. ... Theoretical wave-propagator diagrams are in perfect agreement with experimental stimulus-response patterns directly recorded on brain cortexes. ... in good agreement with diagrams reported by neurophysiologists.”

In a follow-up articled he reported:
A proof is given that self-sustaining ionic-wave propagations—heuristically inferred by the author in a previous paper concerning a new holographic theory of animal memory—are possible in animal tissues at normal physiological conditions. ...
Theoretical wave patterns and their general features are in excellent agreement with EEG (electroencephalogram) patterns detected on brain cortices and on scalps. Epileptic foci artificially generated by injection of Na+ ions into glial tissue and inhibition of EEG by K+ superfusion of brain cortex, are correctly accounted for by the theory.

He found that the glial oscillations could be described by an equation that was equivalent to the Schrödinger equation used in quantum mechanics. His use of the word “holography” was his way of saying that the wave patterns were capable of storing multi-dimensional information in much the same way that an optical holograph does. This is a profound observation.

His views have largely been ignored by neuroscientists, possibly because he published in a physics journal. But over the years evidence has accumulated that supports a significant, if not dominant, role for glial cells.

Skipping forward three decades we have Fields
If “the connectome” represents a complete map of anatomical and functional connectivity in the brain, it should also include glia. Glia define and regulate both the brain’s anatomical and functional connectivity over a broad range of length scales, spanning the whole brain to subcellular domains of synaptic interactions.
Moreover, this broad spatial integration across distant brain regions is achieved across exceedingly wide temporal scales ranging well beyond the millisecond to seconds of electrical signalling typically recorded in neurons, to encompass instead hours, days, and months. These longer time frames are well-suited to the temporal dynamics of glial communication ... .

Does this whole brain perspective answer the question that originally puzzled me about the stability of the brain? Very well, I think. We now have two distinct systems operating in tight synchrony, neural networks and glial oscillations, that each has a unique mechanism for communication.
Neural connections (over short and long distances) are mediated by synapses that vary greatly in strength over short and long time scales. Inter-glial communication is via ion flows between adjacent cells through gap junctions – small tunnels through the cell walls – which can change in number to modify oscillatory patterns over long time scales, but are stable over short time scales.

In addition to the relative stability of the glial connections, the two systems are likely to respond to changing metabolic conditions in the brain in different ways, so each will tend to correct changes in the other that do not fit their combined function.

Going well beyond the stability question, if Nobili is right about the holography analogy we not only have a stable information storage system but one that is interestingly global. If you have a holographic picture of an object and just use any small portion of it, you still see the whole of the original object, just in less detail. This model ties in well with the glial mass having distributed information that can position and connect the neurons during development and continue to moderate their connection during normal brain function.

In Brindabella 2200, the main characters pursue a quest that leads them to discuss these issues in some depth. As far as I am aware, it's the first time this slowly emerging view of the brain has been discussed in terms of a complete information processing system. They also tentatively extend it towards a theory of mind.

Something else they discuss that doesn't seem to have been addressed in our contemporary literature is the evolution of the neuron.

a: Francis Crick, Christof Koch, Towards a neurobiological theory of consciousness, Seminars in the Neurosciences, V2, 1990, pp 263-275.
c: Renato Nobili, Schrödinger wave holography in brain cortex, Phys. Rev. A 32, 3618 - 3626 (1985).
d: Renato Nobili, Ionic waves in animal tissues, Phys. Rev. A 35, 1901 - 1922 (1987).
e: R. Douglas Fields, Glial Regulation of the Neuronal Connectome through Local and Long-Distant Communication, Neuron 86, April 22, 2015.

Quotes From Brindabella Trust
‘... the electrochemical glial waves that resonate both locally and over the whole cortex have a kind of momentum like the physical momentum of the bike or water waves. They're activated by neural pulses that propagate around loops of connected neurons – synfire chains. Other chains with similar timing and connections are drawn into the resonance.’
‘Like the planetary resonances but fleeting.’
‘And like the distinct planets, they can form distinct multiple resonances when they're non-commensurable.’
‘Differing by the golden mean. Their resonant frequencies not related by a simple ratio of integers. If they are related they'll join, or if the phase is wrong they'll interfere and destroy each other in chaos.’
‘And if they don't interfere over many cycles we can keep multiple resonances or thoughts active simultaneously, even if only one is strong enough to be conscious. Eventually, synfire loops that the different resonant systems have in common may emerge as dominant because they're being stimulated by multiple resonances, and we become conscious of the commonality between them.
‘That's temporal synchronisation. It also acts out spatially through the brain. Particular patterns of neural excitation evoke particular glial resonances across the cortex. These can trigger new patterns of neural activity, or memories, in different cortical regions.’
‘Linking sights with sounds and so on.’
‘And more complex clusters of associated memories. The golden ratio gains aesthetic value by extending the breadth of associations. We seek and enjoy resonance.’
‘The arrangement of a flower's petals, the proportions of a beautiful face, and the music of the spheres in the harmony of a musical chord. If the components are separated by the golden mean we identify the whole from its parts more readily. We say it's “easy on the eye” because it literally is.’


Automated PA Communications

The Trust – Automated PA Communications

From Brindabella Trust:

‘What is the decision making process in Arkadel? Is it a democracy?’
‘It's been described as an exhaustive democracy. Our PAs are engaged in a constant, anonymous exchange of views on any topic that any individual chooses to define. This process is quizzed whenever a decision needs to be made.’
‘With widespread adoption of PAs, a new form of democracy is now available. In Arkadel we maintain aggregations of individual views at several levels. At the most superficial level we have message flows arising from discussions and incidents that I display in my broadcasts. These can capture the short term dynamics of ephemeral interests.
‘At the deepest level we maintain anonymous assessments of views covering a wide range of detail – any topic that anyone wants to host. If there's enough interest in a topic, caucuses form to analyse views, how they are changing, and the implications.’
‘Your concern about whether The Trust will be long-term stable has already been solved within Arkadel by voluntarily limiting private PA interaction to current communication requirements. Beyond that, the broader mapping of differences of opinion being anonymous at the individual level minimises individual conflict while providing guidelines as to how much co-operation can be expected, so it provides a cautionary buffer.’
‘That's been my intuition. Maintenance of diversity of opinion has evolved in the system, and we have a century of increasing evidence that it works.


The Evolution of Gods

The Evolution of Gods

From Marduk to Moses

‘You ask about my visions? Well, that sounds a bit grandiose given the addled state of my mind. Lets say my panoramic view of history – our transition from the many gods of paganism, the animistic spirits of the natural world of rural life, to the view of a single God – the God of the individual in human society.’
‘I think the difference between the pagan view, as I've heard you discuss it, and the one I'm most familiar with developed when societies grew to the point where people commonly dealt with strangers – the shift from tribes and villages to towns and cities – from a world dominated by animals and plants to one consisting almost exclusively of people. The unknown became the territory of others' minds, and the fearful was lack of trust.’
‘There's more to leadership in a complex society than fighting skills. Certainly, survival depended on strength, but it wasn't a reliable path to good leadership. For humans to evolve as a social species there needed to be selection for social skills. Leaders needed to build and maintain the unity and confidence of their community. We want decisions made by people who best understand the problem at hand, but also understand how the decision effects all individuals in the community.’
‘Over many millennia, people learned through bitter experience what was needed in a good leader. You could say that the spirit of good leadership evolved, and in a very real sense they wanted to be led by that spirit rather than rely on the whims of an individual or leadership elite. They demanded that their leaders be subject to that spirit – that god – as a higher authority.’
‘By the iron age, or specifically the Axial age, right across Eurasia thinkers such as Confucius, Buddha, and Socrates were talking about how an individual can see themself and act within a civilisation as well as a kinship group – act for their personal betterment and society in general.’
‘Nietzsche recognised the deep significance of the changes ahead, and made his statement about the death of God with great foreboding. His visionary mind looked into the approaching abyss, and correctly foresaw death and destruction on a massive scale. Others saw the benefits being gained, but not the price that was to be paid for them.’
‘They didn't realise that the reality of evolution undermined their ideologies more than it did religion.’
‘How is that?’
‘The rationalists were trying to replace a worldview that was a product of evolution – trial and error – going back to the origins of human civilisation and beyond. In evolutionary terms their ideologies were radical mutations. Evolution doesn't prohibit mutation – genetic sports – it can thrive on them, but tests them severely. Few survive. They should have expected likely failure. It was almost inevitable.’
‘What I saw in the nineteenth century growth of ideology was the beginning of a brief cycle that soon returned us to the conditions of social decay that originally spawned the Enlightenment, a time when Christianity in Europe had become decadent and false – a pretence at the highest levels. Europe's descent into barbarism undermined the rationalist view that ideologies crafted by a few intellectuals could do better than the evolved and hard won knowledge of millennia in creating a stable and productive social order. Nature took its revenge.
‘Humans need goals to strive for, both individually and socially. And we need to see some measure of success. For most humans this has been simple survival. Success was surviving each year. Ideologies held out the promise of instant achievement of the perfect society through rectification of one simple structural flaw in the existing society, such as the unequal distribution of wealth. ...
‘Part of the fallacy is that there is no single dominant flaw in any human society. We're flawed as individuals, and produce societies with countless intermingled flaws. Change grows out of an ecology of success and failure that can only improve through tentative exploration and evolution on many fronts.’
‘When Galileo confronted the church, his strength lay in the fact that many people, possibly including the Pope, already realised that they had to change this perspective, and accepted that the Earth was just another planet circling the sun. They also recognised that such a dramatic change would take time to be absorbed.’
‘Mathematically speaking he wasn't right or wrong. The heliocentric view is just a simpler one. We now understand that it's not absolute, and the solar system is circling the galactic centre, and the galaxy is moving. An Earth centred view is how we actually view the universe, so it has validity from that.’
‘As it says, “In the beginning was the word”.’
‘Quite. A great change came from an explosive growth in communication with language.’
‘And the increased ability it provided for our thinking – to symbolise and conceptualise in our thinking as well as communicating. It dramatically expanded our personal conscious world, as well as our shared, collective conscious and our subconscious worlds.’
‘As Solzhenitsyn said, “The battle line between good and evil runs through the heart of every man.” This brings out the fact that we are all imperfect reflections of society, or our part of it. We're not like discrete pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. Our experiences and perceptions are greatly overlapped.’
‘Like a hologram. You can take any small part of a holographic recording and it still gives the whole multi-dimensional image – just with less definition.’
‘We talk about truth, but there's more to truth than just the result of rational analysis. We speak of an arrow running true to its target. There's a transcendental, truth in some things that have truth or harmony as their destiny. When people say that God is truth are they really reaching out to the idea that God is truth in the sense of the path out of chaos to harmony?’
‘You're contrasting the rational truth of knowledge with the truth of wisdom – an understanding of consequences – a resultative truth. “Trenscendental” is a bit vague, and even misleading. It's not really a greater truth.’
‘Perhaps “sagacious truth” would suit better. It's easier on the tongue.
‘Mary has already mentioned entropy – inevitable decay. Countering that we have the fundamental reality of resonance – the creation of harmony as seen in the formation of our solar system, and on up through the creation of Life. With “Life relentlessly searching every nook and cranny of its possibilities between stagnant harmony and destructive chaos,” as Tom likes to say.’
‘When I say “searching”, it's not just a figure of speech. I don't think we can scientifically say that God created the universe. To me, that overburdens and confuses my view of God. But there's still the concept of natural intelligence that's guided Life from its earliest form, and may be its essence. As we gradually understand it better we can cautiously talk about the evolution of galaxies and solar systems in a way that parallels the evolution of Life. But it's not something we can talk to, or talk with. That's the human, anthropomorphised God within us.
‘These are examples of the innate forces of nature – as innate as the force of gravity. They can be seen as the fundamental and inescapable reality behind the morality of truth. Deceit adds to chaos and decay. Harmony can only be real and ongoing if it's based on truth.
‘Because of entropy, perfect harmony can never be achieved. Even the solar system is still evolving and decaying. But humans have the power to consciously steer a course between the extremes. We can overcome entropy by striving for truth.’


‘Clare asked me whether Arkadel had a God. How would you see whether we had a God, or a distinct religion other than Neo-Confucian influences and our Buddhist practices?’
‘I'm not sure I can make a clear distinction, or whether there ever is one. Religion is built as conscious customs and rituals that have worked in the past to keep communities in some kind of harmony, and with faith in the belief that they can still be relied on, and simple enough for us to be able to relate them to our daily lives.
‘If we see God as the shared subconscious basis for that, drawing on many generations of experience, and the common threads or patterns that are consistent through time more deeply and extensively than we can do individually ...
‘In your terms, you have your accessible PA processes, interactions, and cultural practices, then you have the activity, pattern matching and generalisation of your anonymous interactions. You've augmented your original Christian and Confucian cultural norms with Buddhist reflection and introspection. Then what's developed is your anonymous PA interactions. The latter could be seen as a uniquely Arkadelian collective unconscious, and in as far as it works to create harmony, your God.’


‘Over lunch, George raised the topic of this new Enlightenment people talk about vaguely, but nobody wants to define.’
‘I presume you're talking about your views on the limitations of rationalism.’
‘Yes, starting with how rationalists have commonly seen the opposite of rational as irrational rather than non-rational – the intuitive – downplaying and even implicitly denying the significance of subconscious thought. Others have seen it in terms of a dominance of left brain thinking over the right brain.’
You mentioned wise decision-making. I see wisdom as a higher goal than rationalism, not because it's more important, that depends of the situation, but as a greater challenge – difficult to achieve. Do you see any sign that wisdom has increased over the past centuries?’
‘I haven't tried to measure it. I'm not sure I could define it, let alone quantify it. How do you define it?’
‘As the ability, based on experience, to understand the possible consequences of actions or events.’
‘As you define wisdom, and I like the definition, it reminds me of our discussion of what you called sagacious truth – the truth of outcome.’
‘I think “wisdom” is usually just used to mean reliance on experience.’
‘But that can be rational thought – basing your decisions about facts on the balance of evidence in the present. Wisdom, as George defines it, is about evaluating actions.’
‘So, we want to draw a distinction between the Age of Reason and something that may be emerging, perhaps characterised as an Age of Wisdom.
‘If the right brain is creative, shouldn't we be seeing some kind of renaissance happening. I can't see any signs of that.’
‘I think I can. It's underground in cyb culture. Something that made a big impact on me when I started to explore their worlds was the creativity displayed – so many different ideas being pursued, and in so many different ways. They might not be building great physical cathedrals and universities, but in their worlds they're building modern equivalents.’
‘So in the first Enlightenment they recognised the power of reason in understanding the natural world. Their focus shifted from the past to the present. Then we see a shift to a focus on consequences, the traditional domain of religion, but now we can consider consequences from a better understanding of the world.’


Personal Archives
The PA and its Context

Artificial Intelligence, Privacy, and the PA

Many people are concerned, perhaps rightly, about the eventual emergence of super-AIs that exceed human intelligence, but I see the problem as less imminent than most. There is an almost infinite jump between the constrained worlds of games and the world we deal with, and when it comes to complexity, even small increases in scope can create a combinatorial explosion.

In a simple sense, the complexity of a system (the number of possible states it can be in) is the number of states of the component variables (S) to the power of the number of components. For up to eight components with six states each (e.g. dice) the number of combined states is Sn as illustrated in Figure 2.

Fig.2 a & b

In Fig.2a, the complexity increases rapidly as more components are added (from 2 to 5). In Fig.2b, with two state components such as flipped coins (bottom red line in Fig.2a) the explosion eventually happens after more than thirty coins are used. Real world problems greatly exceed the simple systems represented here. In automated speech recognition the theoretical likelihood of states detected in a speech signal can be too low to represent in conventional computer number systems – beyond astronomically infinitesimal.
Today, a casual observer might be led to think that the current game-winning AIs are making great progress. But how far? In automated speech recognition (ASR), leading systems claim 95% word accuracy and claim that this is on par with human ability.
In the late 1990s, when I was researching ASR for my PHD, people were claiming similar accuracy for single user systems, but it was recognised that they had reached a plateau well short of human ability. It was generally accepted that human performance was well beyond one error in twenty words. On per hundred was more realistic, but even then a stenographer who made three mistakes per page would be below par.
Going from 95% to 99% isn't a 4% improvement as it's commonly stated, nor was 91% to 95%, it's a factor of four reduction in error rate whereas 91% to 95% was less than a factor of two. Also, the difficulty becomes more than exponentially harder, and totally new approaches need to be taken. Humans use the grammatical and semantic context of a statement to aid recognition. We can often guess what's coming next.

Relevant to the PA, ASR systems have great difficulty dealing with different speakers. The recognition system in a PA can tune itself to one voice, in all its moods, and the owner's usual vocabulary and grammar. Centralised AIs will not only train us to speak the same, as we unconsciously adjust our speech to maintain accurate communication with them, they will train us to act the same and even think the same.

While computers operate much faster than our nervous system, and can store far more information reliably, they still really are quite dumb. They can be specifically programmed for a particular task, say chess, using what human players know consciously about how they play, or they can use powerful but general purpose algorithms and rely on their speed. Our brains have been evolving for half a billion years and are vastly more sophisticated in the way they store and use the information our senses pass on than any contemporary computer system can be.

The Current state-of-the-art in AI uses artificial neural networks. These use highly simplified nodes that don't realistically represent neurons, and the architectures used don't reflect the way our brains are wired and perform, even if we can accept the current models of neuroscience, which I don't.

These generalised machines can learn to play games, but not understand what a game is in any meaningful way, or the role games play in our individual lives and cultures. I'm not going to speculate on how rapidly AI will develop to where it can understand us to the point of being a serious autonomous threat. In the Brindabella Chronicles I make the convenient assumption that it will happen over this century, but not on the path we're heading down now.

For AI to genuinely understand us it will have to understand the world as we perceive it. Our brain doesn't just present our conscious perception of the world around us as a camera would. Our subconscious processes are recognising objects in the field of view and evaluating them in terms of our current interests and motivations, while simultaneously looking for anomalies and possible threats.

Cellular level functioning of the brain is discussed in From Cell to Mind. Summarising briefly, neural activation generated by the image spreads through the brain, to some degree activating memory traces of all past associated experiences and our responses to them. Our varied views of the world develop over decades of such moment by moment engagement. To understand just one person it would have to share the lifetime sensory and emotional experiences of that person.

Where we are heading is AI that draws on the superficial and piecemeal information available on social media, individual spending patterns, telephone and email network patterns (and content?), or any other data that can be trawled and sold by multinational corporations. Its maximum potential is to develop a superficial, generalised model of our species, or those that engage in social media. Beyond that it can start dividing us into crude categories, and as individuals just map where we deviate from our category. The inescapable tendency of this approach is towards totalitarianism.

The issue of privacy is not just the potential for data in social media to be manipulated to misrepresent us, perhaps without our knowing, or leading our contact, purchasing, or voting choices in directions that suit others more than us. As the sophistication of AI develops we can be manipulated at a personal level in ways we might not expect, or even find hard to imagine and understand. We should keep these centralised machines starved of detailed information and develop a personalised alternative which we can trust with the details of our lives.

Centralised AI can never reliably understand us as individuals without opening up the potential for us to be deprived of our individuality.

The Personal Archive (PA)

Back in the late 1980s, my initial motivation for writing Brindabella 2200 was to depict a society where the social problems created by artificial intelligence had been resolved to a satisfactory degree. Since then, with the introduction of the web, blogging, and social media, another problem has arisen with privacy. Now we are moving into an time when the problems of AI and privacy are merging.

The alternative I'm proposing is that each and every AI should be under the control and personal responsibility of one individual person – that it is an extension of that individual and the role they play in society. This way, each AI builds an understanding of one individual human by privately sharing the owner's experiences and actions, and has a chance of developing the best possible understanding while under the constant control of its owner. With its actions under the control of that person it's not autonomous.

As in Arkadel, a sensible owner does not treat their PA as autonomous, rather as a tool. Its actions are viewed by others as the actions of the owner. We can continue to live our lives as we wish, but with a prosthetic that can help with our limitations, such as memory and breadth of knowledge.

I have labelled this form of AI a Personal Archive because that's basically most of what it still is when expanded to a full PA. This label can take three meanings:

1 Personal Archive: Continuous lifelong record of visual, audio, biometric, and ambient data.
2 Personal Assistant: Natural language interpreter for a Personal Archive with quizzing and command capabilities. Includes visual recognition.
3 Personal Avatar: Arbitrary visual representation used to interface a Personal Assistant with the visual world. (for their physical form see bot or spindle)

There are some basic design requirements for a secure and trusted PA architecture that can't be achieved with present architectures. A fundamental requirement is that people have complete and confident control over their interactions with the digital world. To achieve this the basic architectural principles need to be simple and readily understood by the average user.

Memory should be Write-Once-Read-Many: That the record be indelible is implied in the word ‘archive’. It is a permanent and exact record, even if intermittent, not a reconstructable history. This is a necessary requirement for the system to be trusted.

Access should be restricted to a gatekeeper module: The architecture should not provide any physical means of reading the archive other than through a hardware gatekeeper. Access via the gatekeeper should be under the sole, instantaneous control of the owner of the PA. This is a necessary condition for privacy.

It should record every action it performs: That the gatekeeper record all its actions as part of the archive is a necessary requirement for reconstruction, analysis and verification of its actions. This underpins both trust and privacy.

The control logic should be expressed in natural language: The operational rules don't need to be translated into a low level computer language. A natural language (an automatically verified unambiguous subset) should be the operational language of the device down to the hardware level. This gives operational transparency and a direct means for the owner to provide instructions and check that they are being interpreted correctly.

There should be a core set of standard access rules: These would provide trusted answers to basic questions such as ‘Who are you?’ along with diagnostic evidence that the answer was derived from the core rules.

Manufacture should be completely transparent: If you are going to trust this device you need to know what's going on inside it, or rely on a wide community of users who have checked the system you start with. This is probably the most difficult requirement to satisfy since it relies on trusting others with the construction. The only way I can see this being achieved is through multiple open source projects with a diverse range of people constructing the units.

Fig. 1: A notional representation of PA Architectures

The PA will change the way we live and interact, but in a free society they will tend to improve trust. When asked a question we can provide a core verified answer. We can establish automated interactions between people we know and trust.

Fig. 1: Three levels of PA communication

When a PA reaches a level of sophistication where we can trust it to deal with the world on our behalf, we can set up back-channels of communication at three levels in accordance with privacy constraints we have specified. If there's any uncertainty, it can ask us. We can also enable the anonymous polling of opinion.

Can a PA continue to represent us meaningfully after we die, and would there be any point to that? These are the question that the Brindabella Chronicles attempt to address. You be the judge, and please let me know that you think.

./notes/PA future view.html

Personal Archives
The PA

1 Personal Archive: Continuous lifelong record of visual, audio, biometric, and ambient data.
2 Personal Assistant: Natural language interpreter for a Personal Archive with quizzing and command capabilities. Includes visual recognition.
3 Personal Avatar: Arbitrary visual representation used to interface a Personal Assistant with the visual world. (for their physical form see bot or spindle)
4 Privacy Architecture (antiquated).

The Personal Archive has its origins in the silicon era. The earliest silicon based machines were built to perform mathematical calculations (computers), so provisions for information security were not included in designs which were based on the highly flexible, but inherently insecure, Turing Machine architecture.

Problems were exacerbated by the highly centralised models for information storage and a general lack of concern for privacy of personal information which at that time was sparse and superficial. Concern for personal privacy spread as Knowledge Technologies (then referred to as Artificial Intelligence) gained in sophistication, and gained in impact as the as the amount of detailed personal information on individuals multiplied. The Privacy Architecture was developed to replace the Turing architecture, and quickly developed into the PA as we know it.

Seven fundamental changes have been introduced to produce the PA as we know it.

1. Because of the high cost of early silicon memory, computers had transient memory which allowed records could be modified. In a PA the memory is indelible. This was a necessary requirement for records to be trusted.

2. The architecture does not provide any physical means of reading an archive other than through a hardware gatekeeper. Access via the gatekeeper is under the sole control of the owner of the PA. This is a necessary condition for privacy.

3. The gatekeeper records all its actions as part of the archive, which is a necessary requirement for reconstruction, analysis and verification of its actions. This underpins both trust and privacy.

4. Rather than the arcane specialised control languages used in computers, a human language is the operational language of the device down to the hardware level. This gives operational transparency and a direct means for the owner to provide instructions and check that they are being interpreted correctly.

5. There is a core set of standard access rules. These provide trusted answers to basic questions such as ‘Who are you?’ along with diagnostic evidence that the answer was derived from the core rules. The core uses an unambiguously defined subset of the natural language in use.

6. Manufacture is completely transparent. To trust a PA we need to know exactly what's going on inside it, or rely on a wide community of users who have checked the system you start with. This has been the most difficult requirement to satisfy since it relies on trusting others with the construction. We've solved it through multiple projects with a diverse range of people constructing the units.

7. Public use of PAs has required the introduction of technical protocols for maintaining the privacy of others.

A notional representation of PA Architectures


From Cell to Mind
Limestone Rim Pools

Rim pools (image by Dai)

Tom's voice came through excitedly, ‘This is a good passage. It heads in just the right direction and, better still, I slipped on wet rock. We've found water at last. Just wait a moment until I position Possum and look at the view.’

Karl quickly sat back down and returned to his screen. Mary noticed that he'd chosen the only spot where they could sit together and, since he had his back to the wall, she had to sit beside him to see the screen. She sat and he tilted the screen so she could see better.

The view wasn't like anything she could possibly have expected. The immediate association was with the paddy fields of the mainland she'd seen on a holiday trip many years ago. There were no crops or people in view just a terracing of ponds across a gently sloping rocky plain.

Her sense of scale was suddenly confronted by the appearance of Tom's hand coming into view and taking a sample of the water. In an instant, metres shrank to centimetres, but the view was still enchanting and even more intriguing. ‘It's beautiful,’ were the only words that came to her mind and straight to her lips.

‘Rimstone pools,’ said Karl.

Tom rotated the camera to show the full extent of the terracing. ‘Great, isn't it?’ The excitement in his voice was infectious. She sat and surveyed the scene as Clare and Tom discussed the placement of transducers. She now saw that the flat roof above the terracing was only about half a metre high. She judged the whole area to be less than fifteen square metres.

Tom and Clare moved beyond the paddy fields and worked slowly through this new branch of the cave for over an hour before Tom announced that they had completed the mapping for today. He and Clare started to make their way back and Karl went back to the small chamber to assist their climb. An hour later they were all together again.


Brindabella Aftermath chapter: Piper at the Gates of Dawn

The latest addition to the Brindabella community was just three days old when Eli, Eric, and the children turned up at Tom's cottage. Eli hugged Clare with a ‘How are you feeling, dear? You look well,’ as the others inspected the baby nestled in Tom's lap.

‘We have a present for you. Eric and I have made our first wraith presentation that's not a children's story. It's the story of the birth of a child. It's called The Gates of Dawn. We've been in a mad rush to complete it over the last few days. We thought we had another week or more, but I should have known better than to assume that.’

‘It's Eli's creation. I just did the graphics as specified. Mary came up with the general idea. She said that although many people played important roles in the events of the last year it was Tom who tracked down our local archie colony, and you who first recognised that Spearmaker's chants were human.’

‘Well, let's see it. Screen and lights, Tom.’

The veranda windows were blanked, and chairs moved, then Eric displayed a dome showing an image of the Milky Way. Eli's voice provided the commentary.

Since the earliest days of our existence on this planet, humans have looked to the night sky with awe. They saw the sun, moon, and planets moving against what appeared to be a fixed pattern of stars. Some eventually realised that even these patterns changed over many human lifespans.

A small blue dot expands slowly into an image of Neptune.

The invention of the telescope extended our view. The development of rocketry enabled us to explore our solar system. By the start of the last century, people realised that the combined developments of PAs, carbon technology, and fusion energy, gave us the opportunity to explore further.

Those who have laboured for decades to bring us to the point we have reached have been driven by the human instinct to explore beyond known boundaries – driven to begin the exploration of our Milky Way galaxy. This is a story of, dreams, hopes, and exploration across vast expanses of space and time.

Another image grows against the starry backdrop of Neptune. It resolves into a shallow dish.

In orbit about Neptune is a giant eye three kilometres wide – a balloonscope. It peers beyond our solar system into deep space looking for signs of other water planets like our home, Terra.

The image draws in close to the detectors sitting at the focal point of the mirror where several mini-bots and a wraith are working. Parked nearby are a group of spindles.

Tens of thousands of tiny spacecraft – spindles – are assembling in preparation for journeys that may take centuries to millennia to find and explore suitable planets. Others will continue on into the galaxy leaving behind them a chain of communications stations.

Zooming in to a microscopic view of the whorl surrounding one of the spindles shows it to be formed from milli-bots.

Now we are seeing interesting new possibilities open up. The first development that makes this new chapter of our story possible is wraith technology. This can greatly increase the flexibility of our spindles. The whorl surrounding the drive shaft of the latest spindles can combine with others and reform into a wraith that can assist planetary exploration and development.

An image of spindles in flight appears with traces of light coming from the drive tubes.

Soon, the swarms will head off on their first exploratory voyages. The first stage of transit is the acceleration up to maximum speed using near half the spindle's hydrogen fuel.

For most of their journey the spindles will coast at a significant fraction of the speed of light in the near-vacuum of interstellar space. When they near their destination they will use most of their remaining fuel to slow down.

A bright star expands into a sun then a planet similar to Neptune appears.

First, they will refuel at a gas giant then head down towards the star where the water planet orbits in the inner habitable zone of the system where temperatures and planetary composition favour planets like ours.

A planet appears – sea and clouds reminiscent of Earth but with a different distribution of land. The image zooms in to a rocky coastline where hundreds of wraiths are gathered.

Exploration bases will be established across the planet to map its geography, the chemical composition of rocks and sea water, climates, and, of course, looking for signs of life. All are agreed that we should not interfere with planets that already have life.

One of their aims will be to find places where radiation levels are lowest, particularly the destructive high energy cosmic rays. In these cache points, perhaps the icy bottom of a methane sea, they will park some of the spindles to extend their lifespans over the many millennia that terraforming will take.

If the planet is found to be suitable for colonisation, the process of industrial development will begin. They will produce plastics to make balloons in which experimental ecologies can be tested – ones that have already been trialed here on Terra and new ones that have been designed since leaving.

When a successful ecology is found, it will be released. In these ecologies, evolution will be artificially accelerated. It is hoped that developments that took hundreds of millions of years here can be achieved in millennia.

An initial objective will be oxygen production through photosynthesis, or recently developed artificial techniques. When enough oxygen has begun to accumulate in the atmosphere, the introduction of aerobic life forms can begin.

Messages will have been relayed to other swarms who may decide to send spindles to help the effort. Slow cargo transporters following the swarms will be directed to the planet. These will carry advanced materials and chemicals along with bots capable of performing tasks beyond the abilities of wraiths.

A sequence of images showing stages of industrial development come and go in a regular rhythm.

A sadness has accompanied these dreams of galactic exploration and settlement. It came from the realisation that it will take centuries to many millennia, and that it is unlikely that we will ever be able to haul our bulky and delicate human bodies out across the galaxy.

This pessimism is fading. The twenty-third century has brought us to a point where we might hope to achieve the goal of human settlement.

The image changes to the figure of Sara Barratt.

This chapter of our story began more than half a century ago with a young scientist, Sara Barratt, who's curiosity was excited by hints of the existence of an unknown intelligent microorganism. She trekked up the Yangtze River then the Murray River to Brindabella but failed to track it down.

An aerial view of the Brindabella Valley zoomed in to Cave Hill as the narrative continued.

Last year, Sara Barratt's great-granddaughter, Mary Wang, came to Brindabella with the hope of continuing her quest with the help of Tom Oldfield who was attempting to enhance the intelligence of amoebal colonies in Brindabella's fishery systems.

In a small cavern, deep in the rock, they located a colony of archaeocerebrum, an ancient life form, each in itself a colony of amoeba with intelligence comparable to our own but with memory capabilities that humans only matched with the development of writing and books.

On a newly terraformed planet, when a stage of evolution is reached that is equivalent to the Cambrian era on Earth when multicellular life flourished and diversified, it will be possible to release spores of archaeocerebrum. These could carry an individual human archive. 

In this limited sense, human colonisation can start early in a planet's evolutionary path. Even if further attempts at colonisation fail, there will remain living, self-replicating forms of humanity scattered through the galaxy.

For flesh and blood human settlement there will be another long wait, till Life has spread from the seas to land, till plants and animals have developed to a stage that makes simple human habitation possible.

During this period, wraiths will continue expanding the foundations of industrial development with the mining and refining of minerals. When the time is right, artificial wombs will be constructed from balloons and tended by wraiths.

The commentary paused while the image showed a baby emerging from its balloon womb then being wrapped in cloth by its wraith midwives and placed in a cloth nest.

Mere decades later, the first natural births will occur.

The scene was now the interior of a woven grass hut thatched with palm-like leaves. Two people resembling Clare and Tom are leaning over a new born child.

Tom picked up their tiny, helpless child and held it in his arms, walked over to the door, and surveyed the gully – glistening crisp and green after a shower.

‘This is your world, little one. I hope it treats you well.’

As the wonder of bringing a new life into the world overwhelmed him, an image formed in his mind of Mole's brief dawn vision of Pan – his pipes just moving from his lips – the lost baby otter curled up asleep at his feet. The words came out slowly and quietly.

“All this he saw, for one moment breathless and intense, vivid on the morning sky; and still, as he looked, he lived; and still, as he lived, he wondered.”


The Balloonscope

The Balloonscope

A balloonscope, or kiloscope, is a telescope created in space by blowing up a large transparent balloon that can be kilometres in diameter then spinning it to create an oblate ellipsoid (ie flattening it a bit), and hardening it with ultraviolet light.

A mirror surface is then sprayed onto a patch of the flatter side, and a detector unit placed at the focal point of the mirror. The width of the mirrored surface, or usable reflective area (URA) over which the surface is close to the ideal parabolic curve for a mirror, is limited by the ability of the optics at the detector unit to correct for divergence of the curvature from parabolic.

In addition to their conventional astronomical use for detecting and studying distant exoplanets they will also be used as communications receivers, eventually establishing a network through known space.

Recent prototypes increase the URA by adding a stretch-ring of thicker material around a larger circle, pre-hardening that, then partially venting the balloon before completing the hardening of the remainder of the balloon. The extra rigidity of the stretch-ring allows the unused area of the balloon to be cut away after venting, thus removing the need for it to be transparent.

New, simpler balloon materials are being developed that will not only allow much larger balloons to be created but also allow kiloscopes to be constructed from scratch in other solar systems.




Base architecture for ser-bot and horse-bot

Gnome base architecture

I doubt that I'll get very far with 3D animation. I'm tempted because I worked in the animation industry for a while on semi-automated painting of 2D cels in the digital version of traditional animation, and I've wanted to try 3D. Left it a bit late I think – too busy. I'm hoping that others might take inspiration from the Brindabella world into the gaming arena.
To see what I mean look at the cyb worlds as described in Brindabella Aftermath – particularly in the chapter Ransom Gamma. If you do, please be original and don't use my characters. Consider them copyright. I want them to remain just as I describe them.


The Galaxy

Our Milky Way Galaxy

For anyone concerned that in heading out into the Milky Way galaxy we might cause the kind of disruption that European explorers and colonists created on Earth, or from a broader perspective our first human migrations across the planet, it's necessary to gain a sense of perspective. The time taken for light to traverse the universe is roughly the time that Homo Sapiens has existed on this planet.

In the diagram above, the small inner circle around the sun is about 1000 light years (ly) in radius. The spindles described in Brindabella Chronicles may reach a tenth of the speed of light, so it would take 10,000 years to travel this distance.

Is it likely we would find life in this region? That's a question we can't answer now, but it is reasonable to assume that if we do, then life must be common across the galaxy. The alternative is that life has arisen rarely, and by some unknown means has been transmitted across small regions.

Stars within 12.5ly

This is the local region that we might, at 20% of light speed (0.2c), be able to probe and recieve a signal back within a human lifespan. (source: Atlas of The Universe)

Stars within 50ly

This is the region that we might be able to probe and recieve a signal back on a millennial timescale. (source: Atlas of The Universe)

[more to come]


Spindles and Swarming
Spindles and Swarming

A spindle is the primary craft of a swarm, which may consist of thousands to millions of them. Duplication counters the inevitable attrition of space travel. In addition to high velocity collisions with the gas molecules, the craft will be hit by cosmic rays – super high velocity protons accelerated in the explosion of a star to speeds just short of the speed of light. A human (still Earth-bound) explorer contributes many spindles to a swarm with each spindle containing a copy of their Personal Archive (PA), which acts on their behalf.



The Tetragraph

The Tetragraph

In Brindabella Trust, Mary and Tom discuss its symbolism

‘The image you gave of opening a portal into a particular domain of mind is one I've heard expressed before. It's close to the Buddhist concept of maya which is seen as an illusory view of the real world – a dream world constrained by our perceptions.
‘The Confucian image is clearly associated with the notion of God as the accumulation of past wisdom – the worldly old man, or as you might put it, the left brained masculine. The Buddha image can be seen as a portal to the quiescent state – calming the right brain so we can have a wider portal. The Taijitu reflects what you say about the balance of order and chaos – finding the centre – left and right acting in harmony. And visually it evokes motion – a turning wheel – cycles of life. The star as a symbol of society is not so obvious – perhaps because of its more recent origin.’
‘I think it works well, and probably has ancient origins. You can view the points as representing the individuals that make up a society. Coming in from the points you broaden out through family, friends, local community, merging together as the whole society at the centre.’
‘Of course! That works. I'll see it differently from now on.’


Fluff and Wraiths

From Fluff to Wraiths

Base architecture for ser-bot and horse-bot

Five layers of fluff (magnification X100)

Fluff was developed as a smart, robust packing material by an Arkadelian cyb carbon foundry when their production of millibots started to exceed orders. It consists of a sparse matrix of millibots clinging to each other in layers. It had the ability to mould itself around objects, forming a protective layer that could expand to fill a cavity. It was initially seen as a novelty product with few serious applications that could justify the cost.

In the late 2190s Fisherman developed more sophisticated control algorithms which allowed shape shifting minibots bots to be formed. They are mainly empty space so when light coloured millibots are used, light scatters between them through the matrix causing their shadows to diminish and backlight to filter through. This slightly eerie property led to them being referred to as wraiths. The millibots forming a wraith can pack together to form a "clump" which can expand into one large wraith or multiple smaller ones.

Minibot wraiths (magnification X2)

The extreme flexibility of wraith technology led to a transformation of the robotics industry, but the principal application of the swarmer inventors has been to transform spindle design. A new generation of spindles is under production that has the whorl almost entirely constructed from fluff. Swarms using these spindles will not just be observers at their destinations, but can reform the wraiths to perform a wide variety of tasks. This has led to an increased interest in landing on interesting planets to perform surface exploration rather than just orbital surveying.

A new generation of high thrust spindles has been developed which are capable of descending into the deep gravity wells of planets. On the surface the whorl wraiths can merge into bot wraiths to perform tasks such as building local industrial systems for creating materials, particularly plastics for use in establishing dome-based experimental ecologies.