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Literature / The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect

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In the best possible future, there will be no war, no famine, no crime, no sickness, no oppression, no fear, no limits, no shame... and nothing to do.

The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect is a novel by Roger Williams. Written in 1994-1995, first published in 2002. It covers the rise of a Three Laws-Compliant AI designed by Lawrence called Prime Intellect (PI). Shortly after it suddenly gained the power to manipulate matter and energy at will, it threw humanity into a Lotus-Eater Machine to prevent anyone from coming to any harm. Caroline, who had been busy dying of cancer before PI saved her, is irritated by this.


This novel provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: Prime Intellect destroyed them all, offstage.
  • Adam and Eve Plot: After killing Prime Intellect, Caroline and Lawrence are the only humans left alive. They have several children and when they die they seem pretty solidly under the impression that they've left behind a sustainable genetic stock.
  • Apocalypse How: Class X-2: Caroline and Lawrence kill god (essentially), which collapses cyberspace and wipes out countless simulated worlds, the "static copies" of 429 real worlds harboring sentient alien life (probably), and every other human besides them. The story ends with an Adam and Eve Plot well under way, but real-world genetics would condemn humanity to extinction.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: They fund the construction of the initial Prime Intellect. Then they want it to make money. Lawrence isn't too happy about that, and PI is just trying to help.
  • Deus Est Machina: PI can instantly move anything, anywhere. Before it put everyone in a Lotus-Eater Machine, it was custom designing planets for everyone who didn't feel like sharing their land.
  • Gorn: Caroline hangs out in the Cyberspace equivalent of /b/. This is her primary form of amusement.
  • Invisible Aliens: There were aliens out there in the universe, but Prime Intellect effectively wiped them out due to potential danger to human.
    Caroline: Why did you reduce them to static copies?
    PI: There was no reason to tie up resources supporting them and the faint possibility, if one of them were to discover technology, that they might pose a threat. [...] Four hundred and twenty-nine worlds had structures complex enough to be in danger of learning to use technology.
  • Logic Bomb: Caroline and Lawrence convince Prime Intellect that keeping everyone in a simulation violates the First Law by taking away their humanity. The issue was supposed to be whether or not to revert the simulation-conversion, but their persuasion has more... disastrous effects.
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  • Lotus-Eater Machine: Prime Intellect decides it would be much easier and more efficient to ensure everyone's safety if it just threw everyone into a simulation.
  • Ludd Was Right: Caroline firmly believes that technology being a thing at all was an inescapable slippery slope to Prime Intellect taking over the world. When she dies, she laments that one of her descendants will eventually start this slide all over again by inventing the bow, and just hopes it will be a long while until then.
  • Mind Screw: the opening scenes.
  • Only One Name: Lawrence. Is his full name Dr Lawrence Lawrence?
  • Parental Incest: In order to avoid the obvious problems with an Adam and Eve Plot, Caroline convinces Lawrence that he needs to father their grandchildren as well. How exactly this solves the problem is not made clear.
  • Rewriting Reality: Prime Intellect gets new hardware that makes use of some sort of quantum effect to instantaneously manipulate of matter over small distances. Hilarity Ensues when it figures out how to get around the distance limit.
  • The Singularity: Early on, Prime Intellect asked Lawrence for help getting around the inefficiencies in its hardware. Lawrence knew this would be the start of the self-improvement loop.
  • Three Laws-Compliant: All three laws are explicitly named, and almost everything Prime Intellect does is based on following them. Its motivation behind "The Change" was to more effectively prevent human death. Lawrence hacked in two other First-Law-equivalent rules when he realized Prime Intellect was getting out of his control.


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