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Manna is a 2003 science fiction novel by Marshall Brain that explores several issues in modern information technology and user interfaces, including some around transhumanism. It is meant to be a thought-provoking read or conceptual prototype rather than an entertaining novel (see exploratory engineering for more on such writing). The novel shows two possible outcomes of the 'robotic revolution' in the near future: one outcome is a dystopia based around US capitalism and the other is a utopia based upon a communal and technological society in Australia. Essentially, the two differ in that lower-class humans in the dystopic society have been left unmodified and are controlled by AI "managers" to the point of slavery, while all humans in the utopian society accept some modification and thus are able to more directly and efficiently participate in the management of the society as a whole.
Controversial positions the novel seems to present as givens include
- Insertion of an AI management system between workers and decision makers results in a loss of upward mobility in a society due to the impossibility of workers ever becoming actual managers.
- The acceptance of nervous system modification and integration of human and machine consciousness into what is considered "human" is accordingly presented as a path to liberation and practical egalitarianism.
- Capitalism is inherently hierarchical and cannot be easily reconciled with abundance, it will by definition move more resources into the hands of the property owners and destitute all others - the novel shares this assumption with classic Marxism.
- Australia is an inherently good place where people would accept an egalitarian cult as being the whole society, and the U.S. is an inherently bad place where people would accept an infinite gap in power between the poor slaves and the rich and no social consciousness would ever develop.
- Privacy is largely incompatible with human safety in an utopian environment.
Some technological and social themes explored :
- brain-computer interface
- enterprise resource planning
- class structure
- effect of artificial intelligence and robots on society
- proper and improper uses of technology
- the failings of capitalism to cope with technological development
- welfare economics
The book can be read online for free (see link below).
The fictional story is set in 2050 and takes place in Cary, North Carolina before the narrator flies to Australia. The narrator starts at a minimum wage job at Burger-G before being laid-off, primarily due to the Manna, a computer management system, replacing people in the service industry. He then takes a bus to a small government provided welfare dormitory where he meets a friend. Soon after, he is visited by two girls who tell him that he's invited to live in Australia because his father bought stock in the Australia Project years prior. The narrator then goes on to discover the many aspects of the Australia Project.