Excerpt from A Past Outside of Time The Ghost of the Wallfacers: The Swordholder
Without a doubt, Luo Ji’s creation of dark forest deterrence against Trisolaris was a great achievement, but the Wallfacer Project that led to it was judged a ridiculous, childish act. Humanity, like a child entering society for the first time, had lashed out at the sinister universe with terror and confusion. Once Luo Ji had transferred control of the deterrence system to the UN and the Solar System Fleet, everyone thought the Wallfacer Project, a legendary bit of history, was over.
People turned their attention to deterrence itself, and a new field of study was born: deterrence game theory.
The main elements of deterrence are these: the deterrer and the deteree (in dark forest deterrence, humanity and Trisolaris); the threat (broadcasting the location of Trisolaris so as to ensure the destruction of both worlds); the controller (the person or organization holding the broadcast switch); and the goal (forcing Trisolaris to abandon its invasion plan and to share technology with humanity).
When the deterrent is the complete destruction of both the deterrer and the deteree, the system is said to be in a state of ultimate deterrence.
Compared to other types of deterrence, ultimate deterrence is distinguished by the fact that, should deterrence fail, carrying out the threat would be of no benefit to the deterrer.
Thus, the key to the success of ultimate deterrence is the belief by the deteree that the threat will almost certainly be carried out if the deteree thwarts the deterrer’s goals. This probability, or degree of deterrence, is an important parameter in deterrence game theory. The degree of deterrence must exceed 80 percent for the deterrer to succeed.
But people soon discovered a discouraging fact: If the authority to carry out the threat in dark forest deterrence is held by humanity as a whole, then the degree of deterrence is close to zero.
Asking humanity to take an action that would destroy two worlds is difficult: The decision would violate deeply held moral principles and values. The particular conditions of dark forest deterrence made the task even harder. Should deterrence fail, humanity would survive for at least one more generation. In a sense, everyone alive would be unaffected. But in the event of deterrence failing, carrying out the threat and broadcasting would mean that destruction could come at any moment, a far worse result than not carrying out the threat. Thus, if deterrence failed, the reaction of humankind as a whole could be easily predicted.
But an individual’s reaction could not be predicted.
The success of dark forest deterrence was founded on the unpredictability of Luo Ji as an individual. If
deterrence failed, his actions would be guided by his own personality and psychology. Even if he acted rationally, his own interests might not match humanity’s interests perfectly. At the beginning of the Deterrence Era, both worlds carefully analyzed Luo Ji’s personality and built up detailed mathematical models. Human and Trisolaran deterrence game theorists reached remarkably similar conclusions: Depending on his mental state at the moment deterrence failed, Luo Ji’s degree of deterrence hovered between 91.9 percent and 98.4 percent. Trisolaris would not gamble with such odds.
Of course, such careful analysis wasn’t possible immediately after the creation of dark forest deterrence. But humanity quickly reached this conclusion intuitively, and the UN and the Solar System Fleet handed the authority to activate the deterrence system back to Luo Ji like a hot potato. The entire process from Luo Ji turning over the authority to getting it back took a total of eighteen hours. Yet that would have been long enough for droplets to destroy the ring of nuclear bombs surrounding the Sun and deprive humanity of the ability to broadcast their locations. The Trisolarans’ failure to do so was widely considered their greatest strategic blunder during the war, and humanity, covered in cold sweat, let out a held breath.
Since then, the power to activate the dark forest deterrence system had always been vested in Luo Ji. His hand first held the detonation switch for the circumsolar ring of nuclear bombs, and then the switch for the gravitational wave broadcast.
Dark forest deterrence hung over two worlds like the Sword of Damocles, and Luo Ji was the single hair from a horse’s tail that held up the sword. Thus, he came to be called the Swordholder.
The Wallfacer Project did not fade into history after all. Humanity could not escape the Wallfacers’ ghost.
Although the Wallfacer Project was an unprecedented anomaly in the history of humankind, both dark forest deterrence and the Swordholder had precursors. The mutual assured destruction practiced by NATO and the Warsaw Pact during the Cold War was an example of ultimate deterrence. In 1974, The Soviet Union initiated the Perimeter System (Russian Система «Периметр»), or “Dead Hand.” This was intended to guarantee that the Soviet Union possessed a viable second-strike capability in the event that an American- led first strike eliminated the Soviet government and high-level military command centers. The system relied on a monitoring system that gathered evidence of nuclear explosions within the Soviet Union; all the data was transmitted to a central computer that interpreted the data and decided whether to launch the Soviet Union’s nuclear arsenal.
The heart of the system was a secret control chamber hidden deep underground. If the system determined that a counterstrike must be launched, an operator on duty would initiate it.
In 2009, an officer who had been on duty in the room decades earlier told a reporter that at the time, he was a twenty-five-year-old junior lieutenant, freshly graduated from Frunze Military Academy. If the system determined that a strike was necessary, he was the last check before the complete destruction of the world. At that moment, all of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe would likely be a sea of flames, and all of his loved ones above ground almost certainly dead. If he pushed the button, North America would also turn into hell on Earth in half an hour, and the following nuclear winter would doom all of humanity. He would hold the fate of human civilization in his hand.
Later, he was asked this question many times: If that moment had really arrived, would you have pushed the button?
The first Swordholder in history answered: I don’t know.
Humanity hoped that dark forest deterrence would have a happy ending, like the mutually assured destruction of the twentieth century.
Time passed in this strange balance. Deterrence had been in effect for sixty years, and Luo Ji, who was now over a hundred, still held the switch to initiate the broadcast. His image among the populace had also gradually changed.
Hawks who wished to take the hard line against Trisolaris did not like him. Near the beginning of the Deterrence Era, they advocated imposing more severe conditions on the Trisolarans, with the goal of completely disarming Trisolaris. Some of their proposals were absurd. For instance, one idea was the “naked resettlement” program, which would have demanded that all Trisolarans dehydrate and allow themselves to be transported by cargo ships to the Oort Cloud, where they would be picked up by human spaceships and brought to the Solar System to be stored in dehydratories on Mars or the moon. Thereafter, if the Trisolarans satisfied certain conditions, they would be rehydrated in small batches.
The doves, similarly, did not like Luo Ji. Their primary concern was whether the star 187J3X1, whose location had been broadcast by Luo Ji, had possessed planets that harbored life and civilization. No astronomer from the two worlds could definitively answer this question: It was impossible to prove the affirmative or the negative. But it was certain that Luo Ji could be suspected of having committed mundicide. The doves believed that in order for humanity and Trisolaris to peacefully coexist, the foundation must be universal “human” rights—in other words, the recognition that all civilized beings in the universe had inviolable, fundamental rights. To make such an ideal into reality, Luo Ji must be tried.
Luo Ji ignored them all. He held the switch to the gravitational wave broadcast system and silently stood at the Swordholder post for half a century.
Humanity came to realize that all policies with respect to the Trisolarans had to take the Swordholder into account. Without his approval, no human policy had any effect on Trisolaris. Thus, the Swordholder became a powerful dictator, much like the Wallfacers had.
As time passed, Luo Ji slowly came to be seen as an irrational monster and a mundicidal despot.
People realized that the Deterrence Era was a strange time. On the one hand, human society had reached unprecedented heights of civilization: Human rights and democracy reigned supreme everywhere. On the other hand, the entire system existed within the shadow of a dictator. Experts believed that although science and technology usually contributed to the elimination of totalitarianism, when crises threatened the existence of civilization, science and technology could also give birth to new totalitarianism. In traditional totalitarian states, the dictator could only enact his control through other people, which led to low efficiency and uncertainty. Thus, there had never been a 100 percent effective totalitarian society in human history. But technology provided the possibility for such a super-totalitarianism, and both the Wallfacers and the Swordholder were concerning examples. The combination of supertechnology and a supercrisis could throw humankind back into the dark ages.
But most people also agreed that deterrence remained necessary. After the sophons unblocked the progress of human technology and the Trisolarans began transferring their knowledge to humans, human science had advanced by leaps and bounds. However, compared to Trisolaris, Earth was still behind by at least two or
three technology ages. Decommissioning the deterrence system was to be considered only when the two worlds were approximately equal in technology.
There was one more choice: turning over control of the deterrence system to artificial intelligence. This was a choice that had been evaluated seriously, and much effort was expended in researching its feasibility. Its biggest advantage was a very high degree of deterrence. But ultimately, it wasn’t adopted. Handing over the fate of two worlds to machines was a terrifying idea. Experiments showed that AIs tended not to make correct decisions when faced with the complex conditions of deterrence—unsurprising, since correct judgment required more than logical reasoning. Moreover, changing from a dictatorship-by-man to a dictatorship-by- machine wouldn’t have made people feel any better, and was politically worse. Finally, sophons could interfere with AI reasoning. Though no example of such interference had been discovered, the mere possibility made the choice inconceivable.
A compromise was to change the Swordholder. Even without the above considerations, Luo Ji was a centenarian. His thinking and psychological state were becoming more unreliable, and people were growing uneasy that the fate of both worlds rested in his hands.
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