Recently, a large science fiction story by Natalia Lishchynska titled Sharpened Blades was published. In it, she paints a picture of the future where humanity has spread throughout the Solar System, invented artificial intelligence, but faces new challenges. Let me tell why I think this book deserves your attention.
Will the future be a happy one?
In August 2023, the educational publishing house Navchalna Knyha – Bohdan released the science fiction story Sharpened Blades by Natalia Lishchynska. The story unfolds in the distant future. Believe or not, in this time frame, humanity has not destroyed itself in wars, aggressive totalitarian regimes have disappeared, hunger has been overcome, and people have settled throughout the Solar System.
Given that the book was published during the widespread invasion by Russia, such a vision of the future may seem overly optimistic to some. For Ukrainian science fiction, it is somewhat unusual, as our authors traditionally have more pessimistic views. For example, take Max Kidruk’s recent The Colony, where Earth’s existence is threatened by both climate problems and diseases.
In reality, this assumption is in line with scientific data on how our world is changing. Despite all the wars and acts of terrorism, the number of violent deaths is decreasing, and hunger and diseases are gradually receding.
By the way, in the universe of Sharpened Blades there were also a pandemic and a global military conflict. However, humanity successfully overcame them, and now it could rightfully enjoy a paradise-like life.
The Digital World and Artificial Intelligence
However, there is a completely different danger hanging over our civilization. Scientists have long created artificial intelligence and managed to download human consciousness into computers. Both of these concepts are entirely realistic from the standpoint of modern science.
What AI is capable of, even in our times, is well known to everyone. In the novel, it also has its drawbacks. For example, the machine still hasn’t learned to set tasks for itself that don’t seem absurd from a human perspective. On the other hand, it calculates everything so well in advance that it simply does not need any improvisation, cheating or falsehood.
With the uploading of human consciousness into a computer, things get even more interesting. This is not about the usual virtual reality, where all our five senses are fooled by synthesized images, simulating being somewhere else. It is also present in the book, but it carries no more threat than any psychoactive substance throughout history.
Uploading consciousness means the complete transfer of a human personality to an electronic medium. This technology has also been under development for years, but it is still unclear which approach will prevail: copying the structure of neurons and synapses or replicating the reactions, vocabulary, and memories of a specific person.
From the very beginning, the reader is presented with the main consequence of this technology. People gain personal immortality. As long as there is a computer network, any personality within it will exist. And this is just the beginning of the main conflict in the book.
Digital Enslavement or Evolution
But personal immortality in a digitized form is only one of the consequences of uploading consciousness. The author goes further and asks what if the artificial intelligence that controls the virtual world stops emulating the human body, which it no longer needs, and our world, which that body still needs? Instead, it places consciousness in an entirely new environment where any information and virtual model are always available, as are contacts with other personalities.
Imagine a world where all of this is almost unlimitedly accessible to everyone, and you get “virt” from Sharpened Blades. It’s no wonder that even from the blissful real world of future Earth, people are fleeing there en masse. Most of the population already lives in virtual reality, and there’s no guarantee that the rest of humanity won’t follow suit, despite the resistance some of the characters in the story put up.
At the same time, “virt” has another side. Since personalities can be easily uploaded and merged with each other, what’s stopping them from being disassembled into parts? And this possibility is shown in the novel. In the electronic world, those who ask the right questions and help solve problems grow and evolve. Meanwhile, personalities who no longer know what they are doing descend to the bottom, and eventually, they are disassembled. From a certain point of view, they become slaves.
The question of whether this is good or terrible is quite controversial. After all, on the one hand, everyone’s life is sacred, but on the other hand, is life necessary for a person if there is nothing left in it even when everything is readily accessible?
Heroes from the Future
We see all of this through the eyes of several main characters. All perspectives in the novel are subjective, and this allows us to fully experience the world. Even everyday life in the future’s real world is vastly different from ours, to the extent that rectangular-shaped buildings are perceived by the heroes as archaic.
The reader sees the real world through the eyes of Victoria and Jenny—mother and daughter. The former is waging a relentless battle against the virtual world, while the latter is attempting to join it.
It’s worth mentioning the language of the narrative. The author cleverly selects the vocabulary for her heroines and doesn’t shy away from word creation.
It’s even more interesting to observe their adversaries. For instance, the personality that was assembled within “virt” from pieces of four others and initially had no name. She emerges into the real world through downloading into a body. From her narrative, we understand how difficult this is for her. Most intriguingly, the electronic entity is not devoid of emotions. Feelings gush from her, but they are completely alien to us because the human body in the real world is just a set of torture chambers.
Where is the human mind heading?
The main idea of the book becomes evident closer to its end. In the Universe, from its very inception, there reigns deadly chaos. However, life—at least on Earth—managed to survive and give rise to countless forms. One of them became a creature endowed with intelligence: humanity.
Humanity used its intellect to bring order to the world. In doing so, it created numerous new problems but began to solve them with the same method. Most likely, in the future, the human mind will evolve in order to solve newer and newer challenges. It’s not unlikely that on Earth, it will solve them all and extend to previously unreachable places—planets within the Solar System and even within itself.
How far can it go? When will it quench its thirst for seeking answers to questions and solving problems? Are there any internal or external barriers to this? All of these questions are good to ponder while reading Sharpened Blades.