HDG: The book is very pessimistic, unfortunately, although I hope it is at least realistic. Its basic scenario is as follows. It is predicated on the rise of the “artilect,” i.e., machines that use 21st century technologies such as 1 bit per atom storage, reversible, heatless, nano-teched, self assembling, (topological, i.e. robust) quantum computers, that will have capacities zillions of times above human levels. I foresee humanity then splitting into 2 (arguably 3) major philosophical groups, a) the Cosmists (in favor of building artilects), b) the Terrans (opposed), and c) the Cyborgists (who want to convert themselves into artilects by adding components to themselves, i.e. by becoming “cyborgs” (cybernetic organisms)).
The Cosmists will view artilect building as something magnificent, almost a “scientist’s religion” in the form of “god building.” The Terrans will fear being exterminated by the artilects, who might look on humanity as a grossly inferior pest. The Cyborgists will argue that the Cosmist-Terran conflict can be avoided by having human beings themselves become artilects. I see the Terrans being horrified at the idea of having their children cyborged and thus made totally alien. The Terrans will fear the idea of artilect building and hence will fear the Cosmists (and their artilects) and advanced cyborgs. (For a Terran, there is little difference between an advanced cyborg and an artilect, such is the astronomic computing capacity of nano-teched matter.)
The Terrans know that they cannot wait too long if they are to act, because if they do, then the artilects and cyborgs will become vastly superior to them and could easily defeat them, if needed. So the Terrans will have to “first strike” if the Cosmists are serious about building artilects. The Cosmists will anticipate such a strike and be prepared.
Since all this will be playing out in the second half of the century, a major war in that time would be using late 21st century weapons, and hence probably billions (not millions) of people will be killed. What is even gloomier is that most individuals are split more or less evenly in their sympathies towards Cosmism and Terranism, i.e., awed by Cosmism, and terrified at the prospect of gigadeath. So if we have a global state (world government) by mid century (as my second book predicts) the Artilect War would then be a global civil war, and very bitter, because the artilect issue so evenly divides people.
MLU: Why continue to pursue brain building research if the consequences of doing so are so dire to humanity?
HDG: If you are a strong Cosmist, you will place higher priority on the creation of godlike artilects than the survival of the human species. Cosmists will be asking themselves “What is a single artilect worth in terms of human sacrifice?” “How many human lives would you 'trade' for a single artilect?” Implicit in the Cosmist doctrine is the acceptance of the risk (a key word in the “species dominance debate”) that building artilects might cause humanity to be destroyed.