THE BABEL APOCALYPSE
by Vyvyan Evans
GENRE: Science Fiction
Language is no longer learned, but streamed to neural implants regulated by lang-laws. Those who can’t afford language streaming services are feral, living on the fringes of society. Big tech corporations control language, the world’s most valuable commodity.
But when a massive cyberattack causes a global language outage, catastrophe looms.
Europol detective Emyr Morgan is assigned to the case. His prime suspect is Professor Ebba Black, the last native speaker of language in the automated world, and leader of the Babel cyberterrorist organization. But Emyr soon learns that in a world of corporate power, where those who control language control everything, all is not as it seems.
As he and Ebba collide, Emyr faces an existential dilemma between loyalty and betrayal, when everything he once believed in is called into question. To prevent the imminent collapse of civilization and a global war between the great federations, he must figure out friend from foe—his life depends on it. And with the odds stacked against him, he must find a way to stop the Babel Apocalypse.
It wasn’t her cold beauty that marked out Ebba Black as unique—her chilling looks, as she called them—although her looks invariably made an impression on all who met her. Rather, it was the fact that she was the last nate in the automated world. That made her famous. Undoubtedly she was celebrated for other things too—Ebba Black the Babelist, the heiress, the conspiracy theorist, the charismatic professor. Maybe even the oddity. After all, Ebba was the last speaker of languages that would die with her. With Elias’s passing five years prior, she had no one left to speak them with. And Ebba Black would not marry. Commitment of that sort wasn’t her thing, and she would certainly never have children. You could say she wasn’t the maternal type.
Ebba knew she was unique in other, ineffable ways, too. For one, she listed things to herself, silently, in her head. Reasons to know me. Reasons not to know me. Reasons to hate me, to admire me. But not reasons to love me. Never that. That was forbidden. Ebba never allowed anyone to get that close.
Sometimes Ebba even indulged in one of her trademark waspish grins. To no one in particular, while she mentally scrolled through one list: reasons to kill. The list with the names. Her list of lists. The grin was the only outward sign she was performing a mental stock-take. It wasn’t good to be on that particular list. Ebba Black was neither the forgiving nor the tolerant type.
A Fascinating Subject
Guest Post By Vyvyan Evans
The context against which The Babel Apocalypse is set is the World’s Fourth Industrial Revolution, or 4IR.
We currently stand on the brink of a new technological revolution, involving connectivity, smart AI and the Internet of Things. This will lead to a transformation in scale and complexity that humans have not witnessed previously. We don’t yet know how things will play out, but we can make some pretty educated guesses—which is the point of the novel, especially in terms of the future of language and communication.
First, the novel takes the advent of implantable neuroprosthetic technology, and imagines the very real possibility that within the next 100 years, the hallmark of what it is to be human—language—an ability that our species alone possesses, will be replaced by AI. Such a development would call into question what it means to be human.
Second, The Babel Apocalypse explores the consequences of humans “giving up” on language, offloading language learning, allowing AI to take over. The consequence of this, according to the novel, is that language will become a commodity (like any other, such as movies, music, and so on, that we currently stream on demand, for a fee), controlled for and by big tech, in service of shareholders and corporate interests.
The novel then predicts that this leads to a slippery slope of issues ranging from potential censorship, control of thought, and even, through cyberterrorism, the prospect of an existential crisis for the human race. This is manifested in several ways in the book, notably a global language outage, which prevents large numbers of people from being able to communicate.
Hence, these two concerns, that underpin the book, call into question what it means to be human, whether AI can and should be allowed to replace previously fundamental aspects of the human experience, and points to potential abuses of what we previously assumed to be a human birth-right.
As further context, it is worth pointing out that science fiction has a track record of successfully predicting aspects of the future. For instance, the work of Isaac Asimov, from 1940 onwards, successfully predicted some aspects of the rise of AI and its inherent dangers for humans, in terms of his Robot series of books and stories. William Gibson, in his 1984 novel Neuromancer, coined the term “cyberspace” and predicted some of the issues and dangers that would arise.
In 2015, a wide array of leading researchers, economists and even captains of industry, warned, in an Open Letter and accompanying report, against the new dangers of AI. This Open Letter was issued in response to new breakthroughs in AI that, without adequate control, might pose short and long-term existential threats to humans.
One response to the existential threat posed by AI for humans, and championed by Elon Musk (who incidentally was one of the signatories of the 2015 letter), has been, through his leadership of Neuralink, to develop neuroprosthetic technology that, ultimately, might allow the human brain to become hybridized with AI. The rationale is that by embracing AI, the new “transhuman” can stay one step ahead. But this is the very research trajectory that potentially leads to the prospect of language becoming a commodity that The Babel Apocalypse predicts.
Moreover, The Babel Apocalypse then works through the consequences of this ‘what if’ scenario, and examines the consequences of the language streaming future it predicts.
AUTHOR Bio and Links:
Dr. Vyvyan Evans is a native of Chester, England. He holds a PhD in linguistics from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C., and is a Professor of Linguistics. He has published numerous acclaimed popular science and technical books on language and linguistics. His popular science essays and articles have appeared in numerous venues including ‘The Guardian’, ‘Psychology Today’, ‘New York Post’, ‘New Scientist’, ‘Newsweek’ and ‘The New Republic’. His award-winning writing focuses, in one way or another, on the nature of language and mind, the impact of technology on language, and the future of communication. His science fiction work explores the status of language and digital communication technology as potential weapons of mass destruction.
Book website (including ‘Buy’ links): www.songs-of-the-sage.com
Author website: https://www.vyvevans.net/
Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@vyvevans
The Babel Apocalypse earned a starred review in Kirkus: “A perfect fusion of SF, thriller, and mystery—smart speculative fiction at its very best.”
The full review is here: https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/vyvyan-evans/the-babel-apocalypse-songs-of-the-sage/
The author will be awarding a physical paperback copy of the book (available internationally) to a randomly drawn commenter.
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