The Argonauts

Posted by: Dr. Karome Bensadaa Mbariko, Argonaut Researcher and Firewall Crow <Info Msg Rep>

The drama recurs across all samples of human—and now transhuman—society: the exertion of individual will against the prevailing authority. The toddler who pushes all rules boundaries, incessantly, until the parents are driven to distraction. The lone genius (or mad person, depending on one’s perspective) who disregards the mores and standards of their age to produce shockingly original, yet fundamentally disturbing, works of art. The institutions that finally emerge from the shadows of authoritarian repression—whether based in religious, statist, or other dogmas—to bring the light of scientific progress and disruption to a benighted society.
In each case, the interplay between the inherent desire of the individual to defy authority, on the one hand, and the interest of the dominant power to maintain order and conformity, on the other, creates a dialectic that, over the long run, produces better (or, at least as the evolutionary biologists have it, “adaptive”) results for (trans)humanity.
At least, that used to be true.
For most of history as we know it, the deck has been stacked in favor of Authority. If you fought the Man, you were likely to be ground into dust. If you fought and somehow won, it was likely because your ideas were better or their time finally had arrived. But what happens when the pace of progress, as well as the suite of tools and technologies available to the individual or small collective outstrips the traditional techniques that power groups use to keep the masses in line?
In the good old/bad old days (before the Fall), a lone nutjob could blow up a building or shoot up a shopping center. A dedicated cell of insurgents could disrupt the infrastructure, cause panic, and generate fear—at least over a limited horizon. But technology had not, back then, advanced to the point at which a single rogue element could threaten the very existence of the human species.
Icarus might, in his pride and exuberance, fly too close to the sun and melt his wings. He would leave behind a grieving father and an object lesson. Today’s Icarus might fly too close to the sun, plummet into it and spark a supernova, and thus wipe out the solar system.

Kindred Spirits, Uphill Battle

This precarious state of affairs is exactly why so many argonauts support Firewall and vice versa. Both groups embrace the belief that the survival of transhumanity—if such a thing is possible at all—must be a strictly DIY job. The tattered remnants of pre-Fall authority and the outmoded practices they embody cannot be entrusted with such a grave task.
Unfortunately for us, we face a difficult fact: specialization works, and well-run organizations that harness teams of hyperspecialists can accomplish far more than the most well-intentioned, hard-working, and community-minded generalists, amateurs, and part-time cowboys and crusaders.
True, you can point to counter-examples of savants who could step into one of many disparate roles, or juggle on the fly, and produce amazing results. And with today’s augmentations and muses, one dedicated person can indeed tackle a lot—generating what might have seemed superhuman outcomes to pre-Fall observers.
But look at larger numbers of inputs—whether simple machines, advanced computers, or sentient beings—and larger-scale trials, and the data are compelling. Specialization wins; the cost is that the winning teams become corrupt, entrenched, abusive, undemocratic, and unaccountable.
Hence the problem facing argonauts and Firewall alike: as the groups mature and begin to lay down institutional roots, how to remain true to their animating ideals? To succeed, we need effective resource acquisition and allocation, internal discipline, coordination of efforts, and a self-critical eye for correcting our deficiencies. What we lack is time to figure all this out, because the threats that lurk in the darkness or hide behind pleasant smiles are ruthless.
Argonauts—at least, those who are in the know— tend to support the (stated) mission of Firewall: to keep transhumanity alive and kicking, no matter the threats. And Firewall tends to back the argonaut (stated) project: to expand the frontiers of knowledge and make useful technologies freely available in service to the betterment of transhumanity. When framed in these ways, it’s hard to find a reasonable, educated, sane individual who would flatly deny the utility of these goals. “No, I don’t want transhumanity to survive. And no, we have enough knowledge already, thank you very much.” But we’re not engaged in a rhetorical contest or forum flame war in which winning debating points will carry the day. And there are enough shades of meaning and grounds for disagreement that even people of good will can reach an impasse or simply throw up their hands and leave the bargaining table.
Neither Firewall nor the argonauts is monolithic; the differences of philosophy, opinion, and style create nuances of approach and allegiance that are as idiosyncratic as the individuals who comprise these groups. For our purposes here, we will focus on two key fault lines dividing each: the tension between secrecy and dissemination of knowledge, and the pull between cautious circumspection and decisive, timely action.

Secrecy vs Disclosure

Despite the high degree of alignment of their overall interests, the argonauts and Firewall often disagree as to the best use of the sensitive information gleaned by their efforts. Argonauts are well known as vocal champions of the free spread of knowledge. They support open access to further their technoprogressive ideals and as a safety measure, to ensure that important data is not lost or hoarded by a select few who might be destroyed or otherwise compromised. Similarly, the more individuals are empowered with knowledge, the more they can collaborate on countering threats. By contrast, Firewall is by definition a conspiracy that lives or dies by its control of secrets. To the latter, especially the more cynical and pragmatic members, uploading the latest specs of a weapon in hypercorp development or incriminating vids of a powerful individual behaving badly is to throw away a tool that might be used to advance other ends, whether through direct application or as blackmail leverage.
This is not to suggest that the argonauts always disclose everything and Firewall always hides. It is more accurate to say that the argonauts strategically disclose, but tactically hide, and Firewall does the opposite. When argonaut researchers liberate hypercorp fabber specs and post them for all to see, it furthers their technoprogressive principles and shrewdly gains them new support. When they spread details on a new pathogen, they empower people everywhere with the means to counter its contagion. However, the argonauts have been known to embargo some data or discoveries from going public, at least until some security concerns have been worked out. Seeking a balance on responsible disclosure is not always easy, and is one of the few areas where argonauts and sentinels/proxies disagree.

Restraint vs Action

The assorted scientists, engineers, and thinkers who have thrown in their lot with the argonauts already possess at least a baseline level of political awareness and engagement; the clueless, apathetic, or risk-averse ones never left the nest of the inner system powers. Knowledge creation is a powerful force, and one vital to the survival of transhumanity. The entrenched authority groups can’t be trusted to be good shepherds of this gift.
After agreeing to these basic premises, the argonauts and Firewall are pretty simpatico and well down the road to cooperation. But applying these abstract tenets to a messy, chaotic, and rapidly evolving cosmos requires myriad judgment calls. The thorniest question involves the precautionary principle.
Simply put: if doubt exists as to the potential results of a course of action (such as a line of scientific inquiry and experimentation), does the burden of persuasion lie on those who raise the specter of harm—to demonstrate that bad stuff is more than likely to happen and is more than likely to be a material detriment to transhumanity? Or do the proponents of the untried actions need to prove that their road is safe before the community can sanction their efforts? In either case, what is the standard of proof: more likely than not (51 percent)? Or beyond a shadow of a doubt? And who decides?
Closely related is the question of when prudence dictates direct intervention, as opposed to remaining aloof from a situation.
Such legalistic and philosophical thickets can frustrate the most stalwart champions of progress. In many cases, those who might land in the argonaut/Firewall camp chafe at these constraints and depart for the fringe of the solar system, there to pursue research without interference. One can only contemplate, with dread, what might emerge from such inquiries.

Relationship Status: It's Complicated

Despite the disagreements and difficulties, the bonds tying together Firewall and the argonauts are deep and unlikely ever to sever. These links run all the way back to Firewall’s founding moments, in which many argonauts played a defining role. In fact, there was discussion early on in some circles about whether to combine the groups. Ultimately, however, it was clear that each organization had its own priorities, and the pursuit of one was likely to interfere with the functioning of the other. While many argonauts retain dual membership, all mention of the Eye and Firewall has been carefully purged from the argonauts’ archives.
It is an ongoing joke among many proxies that the argonauts serve as Firewall’s unofficial “Science Division.” There is, of course, a kernel of truth to this, as a significant number of crows work in argonaut labs and untold argonaut resources are diverted towards research and projects that further Firewall’s ends. Making the situation complicated is the fact that many argonauts remain completely unaware of Firewall’s existence, much less the shared ties. Sentinels and proxies that move within argonaut circles must take care whom they communicate with and how they operate. There have already been a number of opsec errors that have forced Firewall to recruit or otherwise “handle” argonauts that were accidentally exposed to the conspiracy’s existence.
Thankfully, the argonauts’ internal structure is conducive to the shared secrecy. Though not as anarchistic as Firewall or autonomist organizations, the argonauts are fairly decentralized, with internal hierarchies balanced by localized direct democracy. In practice, this means that argonaut projects and labs tend to operate fairly independently from each other. Though the argonauts foster an internal culture of transparency, peer review, and academic discourse, it is relatively easy for argonauts to conceal their off-the-books research and projects from each other. What this means is that the sentinels and proxies within the argonauts tend to be clustered together in the same labs and working groups, where they can support each others’ endeavors and watch out for each other.

Exploiting Each Other

The line between a stable and dysfunctional alliance can boil down to the distinction between working together and taking advantage of each other. There is no doubt that Firewall shamelessly uses and abuses argonaut scientific capabilities and resources, but it doesn’t end there. The argonauts also enjoy close ties to research, education, and advocacy groups across the solar system, from the hypercorps and ultimates to autonomist syndicates and even the Jovians. Firewall exploits these links as well, using their argonaut connections as fronts to field research queries, scrounge for data, and leverage RNA rep network favors. We’ve even used this vector to insert our own agents—whether actual argonauts or sentinels posing as such—inside other groups’ facilities and projects as consultants, collaborators, and envoys. Given the possibility for such infiltrations to backfire and expose the argonauts to scrutiny or backlash, these options are ill-regarded by our argonaut Firewall members.
The relations between the argonauts and Firewall are not always so one-sided, of course. The argonauts involved with Firewall also manipulate the conspiracy towards their own ends. Given the sometimes dangerous nature of scientific research, even when pursued responsibly, there have been a handful of “incidents” where things have gone awry. In many of these scenarios, Firewall has been called in to clean up the mess and contain the situation before it gets out of hand. While some of these affairs have specifically involved projects sponsored by or of interest to Firewall, and thus there was a joint investment in maintaining secrecy, others had nothing to do with Firewall, but keeping the danger under wraps helps to preserve the argonauts’ public image.
Of direct relation to several of these incidents is what some proxies refer to as the argonauts’ “exhuman” problem. It’s an unfortunate fact that more than a few argonauts have been carried away by their egos or intellects, or simply gotten too absorbed in their lines of inquiry. Even with the argonauts’ internal culture of scientific responsibility, there have been those who have crossed boundaries into dangerous or unethical territory. A few of these have been outed and absconded with their work to fringe areas; some are known to collaborate with exhuman groups. Firewall has been sicced on their trail, just as it has been brought in to sanction those who did not get away. Having access to the skills and capabilities of Firewall agents has allowed the argonauts to save face in these matters, at least publicly, but it also means that Firewall is continuously nosing around in argonaut internal affairs, hoping to sniff out any exhumans or singularity seekers that have not yet revealed their true nature.
There is one other often-overlooked manner in which the argonauts maintain quid-pro-quo with Firewall. Given their quest to liberate scientific data from walled gardens and proprietary restraints, there is an open policy in many Firewall servers, particularly those with argonaut links, to pass along any data they acquire as part of other Firewall operations. Some even go out of their way to liberate research and archives just for this purpose, as a payoff of sorts for the argonauts’ continued assistance in various scientific matters. The argonauts in turn release this knowledge publicly, and if pressed on the matter simply state that it was passed to them by “anonymous sources.” More than a few hypercorp project leads have seen their groundbreaking efforts exposed for all to enjoy before they could fully capitalize on it.

Sidebar: Unlikely Alliances

Anyone keeping tabs on argonaut internal matters is aware that the the influence of the preservationist/traditionalist faction has been forcing more technoprogressive elements to act with restraint, with the stated aim of strengthening the organization’s precautionary stance. The conservative elements within Firewall have certainly taken notice of this state of affairs and seem to be maneuvering to take full advantage of it. The conservatives would like nothing better than to wield the argonauts as a political hammer against ongoing pragmatist-established policies within Firewall. To this end, they have been recruiting more preservationist argonauts to the Firewall cause and working within the argonauts to strengthen the traditionalist position.

Sidebar: GRUE

Group Research into Unbounded Eschatologies—GRUE for short—is a persistent virtual world on the mesh, accessible only by invitation from an existing argonaut member. At first glance, it appears to be a hackneyed Olde Worlde fantasy vidgame, with cartoonish graphics and predictable tropes. But after brief exploration, the new user can see its true purpose: a forum for airing and vetting wild theories, half-assed guesses, rank speculations, and serious musings about what might happen in the real post-Fall universe … and more specifically, what might go horribly wrong. Assuming anonymous avatars, members take turns running a game session, which might last hours or days (depending on the frequency of interactions); users compete to concoct the most outlandish, entertaining, and bizarre scenarios for the downfall of the kingdom, then act as referee as the other users play characters attempting to deal with the mess. All of the elements of the kingdom have (more or less) obvious ties to the power groups of the current solar system, and usually something mocking or embarrassing layered on as well. One of the founders of GRUE claims to have been inspired by the Red Cell project of the early 21st-century United States, in which the government (in the wake of unprecedented terrorist strikes that caught authorities flat-footed) hired Hollywood screenwriters, spy-thriller novelists, hackers, and other interesting characters to dream up the most improbable ways that America could be attacked. However, another old-timer claims that GRUE evolved from a retro gaming circle of argonauts, who sought a light-hearted break from their life-or-death concerns. Over time, a seat at the virtual table became a mark of status, and the silly games became a sincere method of grappling with the often overwhelming problems of the post-Fall cosmos.

Sidebar: Tracking Giants

Transcript of Intercepted Jabber Communication, Parties Unknown

< If we’re serious about finding where these so-called [REDACTED] are that Firewall has squirreled away, wouldn’t it make sense to take a hard look at the argonauts? Everything we’ve uncovered so far implicates them as involved, and makes it likely that they’re the ones actually providing the hardware and resources.
> Yeah, but let’s face it, pinpointing what the argonauts are doing with their computer resources isn’t easy. They have a lot of ongoing research projects that legitimately require serious processing power, whether they’re running predictive algorithms, crunching massive data sets, or factoring cryptographic hashes. On top of this, they back and help run a huge range of public network services that facilitate immense amounts of traffic. They provide some of the backbone for the Solarchive and RNA repnet, run dozens of VPNs and anonymity-providing servers, and oversee a system-wide network of anonymizing onion routers. That’s a whole lot of infrastructure and traffic to hide behind, and it’s scattered all across the system.
V True, but there are factors to consider that weigh in our favor. Even at the scale of resources we are talking, an ASI is going to make a noticeable blip. I feel that if we dedicate enough time and our own resources to the task, we’ll pick up on some interesting patterns.
> Maybe. It’s an assumption to think that a group that takes responsibility as seriously as the argonauts would let an ASI, even a friendly one, operate so closely to major centers of transhuman habitation—which is where we’re going to find most of these nodes. < It’s also a major risk to the ASI itself—a stronger likelihood it will be exposed to certain unwelcome digital contagions …
> Yes, it makes more sense for them to squirrel it away somewhere out of sight, but that creates operational issues with light-speed delay and curtails their usefulness.
V Couldn’t they circumvent that by fielding downgraded forks into closer environs, where they can respond more easily? Sure, they lose some capability, but it’s probably a worthwhile trade-off.
> Perhaps. Let’s not forget that we’re talking about minds that can think circles around us. They may have means and contingencies that we would never dream of.

Research of Interest

It goes without saying that the argonauts pursue much research of interest to Firewall. Outside of studies that intersect Firewall’s own clandestine projects, there are a few initiatives that deserve special notice. The argonauts continue to sponsor and directly operate a number of open-source resources critical to several areas of technology with x-risk potential, including the OpenAI, OpenCog, FreeBio, and AllThing (open nano) projects, as well as the Kisilev Open Source Uplift Genetic Library on Ceres. They also maintain the Exoplanet Directory and Gate Address Library, continue the SETI program, and regularly update the Threat Reduction Filters that almost all habitats and networks use to keep out digital infections. On top of this, they have their hands in research across the scientific spectrum, from xenolinguistics and astrobiology to neogenetics and theoretical physics.

The Institute for the Study of Emergent Trends

The blandly named ISET is the closest thing the argonauts have to a proper clandestine service. Argonauts being argonauts, this project is much less about field agents and much more about signals, collective, and open source intelligence. As far as most argonauts know, including the Senate, ISET primarily serves an information-gathering function to better coordinate important projects, archive and collate data of interest to numerous ongoing research initiatives, and forecast developments of interest. While this is indeed true, ISET also closely monitors internal argonaut matters and is not above tweaking consensus from time to time, to better align with their mission of maintaining internal security and watching over argonaut missions in the field.
It should come as no surprise that ISET is heavily involved with Firewall. Almost everyone in ISET’s upper ranks or involved in clandestine ops is aware of Firewall’s existence, and many serve double duty as sentinels or proxies.
ISET is led by Thales Alhazen, an uplifted African Gray who is rumored to have been the pinnacle achievement of Somatek’s most ambitious attempts to redesign neo-avians. As ISET’s project lead, Alhazen is the unofficial spymaster for the argonauts. ISET’s main base of operations, Atalanta, is a tightly guarded secret and access is restricted to a select few. Atalanta is staffed entirely by argonauts who are also involved with Firewall as a matter of security.
One of ISET’s secret but prime directives is to oversee and protect argonaut interests. To this end, they serve a counterintelligence function against rival groups that seek to poach argonaut research and data. On top of vetting individual argonauts and providing remote overwatch on the security of various argonaut labs and habitats, ISET works hard to identify groups that might be targeting the argonauts in order to derail their plans. Alhazen seems convinced that several major argonaut research initiatives have been infiltrated by both Oversight and Titanian intelligence assets and takes the job of rooting out and isolating these security breaches very seriously. ISET also takes a more active role in providing operational security, handled via the secretive Medeans.

Apollo Project

Apollo is ISET’s premier endeavor. Its stated goal is to gather massive amounts of data, to which it applies heavyweight pattern-recognition algorithms, all for the purpose of predicting future outcomes. A team of mathematicians, programmers, and foresight experts—many of them AGIs—maintain the project, assisted by some powerful non-sapient expert systems. Or at least that’s what Firewall knows about the project—they keep the whole affair tightly wrapped up and tucked away out on Markov, their secret beehive in the Kuiper Belt. While a lot of their foresight mechanisms are geared towards anticipating the future development of transhumanity, both near- and long-term, they also focus their attention towards an array of specialized fields. They can predict the weather on Mars, sunspot activity for dozens of stars, variations in the Planetary Stock Exchange, g-rep network fluctuations, spaceflights within the Saturnian system, velocity of new nanoware developments, and much more, all with startling accuracy. Where useful, this data is applied to ongoing argonaut projects and sold or exchanged with outside entities. A subset of the Apollo Project’s predictions are oriented specifically towards x-threats and shared with Firewall scanners.
It is worth noting that the Apollo Project believes itself to be in a sort of “oracle arms race” with similar foresight/predictions initiatives, particularly Stellar Intelligence, and to a lesser extent, Oversight. It is likely that these other predictive initiatives are more localized to the inner system/Consortium and focused on probability mapping for individuals, groups, and factions considered threats, whereas the Apollo Project is more of a big-picture affair. Nevertheless, evidence indicates that both Stellar and Oversight have made efforts to breach the Apollo Project’s security and have also gone to great lengths to plant false/misleading data. The argonauts have faced similar issues with hacker groups such as Datacide and the Decepticons. Even more interesting, an unknown group known as the Sybils has in several cases out-predicted Apollo’s theories, making some of us wonder where this group get its resources.

Project Peacock

Another one of ISET’s major undertakings, Project Peacock (so named due to the many “eyes” on peacock feathers) is perhaps the most comprehensive signals-intelligence operation in the solar system. Focused primarily around the Long Array on Saturn’s moon Dione (in conjunction with the Titanians), this initiative pursues SETI (searching the sky for signals from extraterrestrial intelligences), emergency/distress response, and, of course, communications intercepts and spying.
What the argonauts don’t advertise is that the Long Array is just their most prominent operation; they have dozens of other intercept stations and hundreds of satellites laced throughout the system. According to what ISET tells the Senate, the data accumulated from this signals-intelligence work is applied to research projects as varied as measuring the influence of solar weather on system comms or establishing the signals footprint transhumanity is leaving for any ETIs that might be watching from afar. More importantly, ISET uses its vantage point to keep its fingers on the pulse of the solar system, feeding intercepted data directly to their forecasting expert systems on Markov and anticipating shifts in the political climate, potential threats, and more. Much of this data—but not all—is also passed directly to Firewall scanners.

The Medeans

The Medeans are the argonauts’ secret paramilitary force. Small in size but well-equipped and well-trained, Medean operatives almost always act in a clandestine capacity. The bulk of the argonaut membership is unaware of their existence, believing occasional rumors about them to be myths. In the few instances in which they have been brought into the spotlight, they have been explained away as mercenary assets. While tasked with bodyguarding major argonaut figureheads (forknapping by hypercorps is an ongoing issue), they are primarily deployed as field agents to oversee security on argonaut missions. They also infiltrate hostile organizations, root out exhuman and singularity seeker threats internal to the argonauts, and retrieve argonaut assets that go missing—particularly TITAN and alien relics. Medeans and Firewall sentinels are sometimes tasked to work together on joint projects.
The Medeans are led by Esther Ren, a former Australian spy turned military consultant. Though involved with Firewall early on, she opted instead to lead the Medeans and focus on argonaut affairs. While she could easily tip the delicate balance of power by becoming involved in the argonauts’ internal politics, she deftly steers the Medeans free of any political favoritism.