A novel set in the Culture universe created by Iain M. Banks

Veiled Influence

Many of the more mature civilizations which shared the greater galaxy with the Culture considered that Culture's attitude to the reading of minds was inconsistent, verging on schizophrenic. Interpreting another being's mental processes - human, drone, alien, even the smarter kinds of animal - without their express permission, or without their knowledge, was one of the very few things which were effectively never done in the Culture; everybody could rely on their own thoughts being forever private, unless and until they wanted to communicate them to another. This was just manners, really; a moral restraint; for an intellect as capable as a Mind, it would be child's play to delve as deeply as it wished into a human's thoughts, needs and desires.

On the other hand, the Culture considered the copying, replicating and storing of another's mind-state not only perfectly acceptable, but entirely commonplace. A human, for example, could ask for his or her mind-state to be copied and kept in safe storage before attempting some dangerous hobby: free-climbing, for example, or lava-rafting, or any of a near-infinite number of potentially fatal pastimes the notoriously fun-loving people of the Culture had come up with. In the - often, not so unlikely - event of a fatality, they could be revented without delay. Minds, too, had this option; Culture warships were promised immortality, with a quiescent copy retained somewhere well away from the battle-zone, to be reanimated in the event of the ship's destruction.

Similarly, embedding another being's mind - or a copy of it - in a machine, an artificial biological construct or an immersive simulation was wholly acceptable; indeed, a popular option for many was, just before death, to lodge a copy of their mind-state in a Group Mind, where it could exist quietly for centuries but still be available to answer questions, should anybody be so interested. A human, or a drone could, if they so desired, submit to voluntarily mind-alteration: the editing of memories, personality adjustments, or just the removal of trauma - but only with express permission given beforehand.

*

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.237]
  xGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Allochthonic Presence
    oLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Friends, we need to keep this brief.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.237+]
  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
    oGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Yes indeed.

[stuttered tight point, M32, tra. @n4.29.571.237+]
  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
    oGSV Tangible Influence
    oLSV Allochthonic Presence
Agree.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
Our proxy agent at the Delphic Chaosarium has been successful, it seems.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
Exactly the outcome we desired.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
And plenty of suspects amongst our colleagues as to the perpetrator.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
So our real agent might yet never be discovered.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
A satisfactory outcome all around.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
Agreed. So we now need to consider another matter.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
How best to deploy our other agent.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
And how to ensure the necessary gathering to make the deployment successful.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
And without unacceptable losses to the Culture.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
I do not believe we are yet in a position to press matters.

  xLSV Allochthonic Presence
We are not. We need to perform more modelling and simulations, so that we understand all possible outcomes.

  xLSV Anterior Mandibuliform
And be prepared to act. Immediately, if necessary.

  xGSV Tangible Influence
Agree. Especially in the volume around the Chaosarium.

*

A corollary to the Culture's to the sanctity of an individual's thoughts was its views on the subjugation of intelligences in other societies: whether the rather quaintly-named Artificial Intelligences or those whose origins - at least in theory - was based on biological evolution. Not that the Culture really distinguished between the two; the society treated all as equal, in practice, although the prodigious mental capacity of the super-AIs the Culture called Minds demanded that, in fact, they actually ran the society.

The purpose of the Culture's Contact section was to seek out emerging intelligences in the galaxy, evaluate them and, if deemed prudent, interact with them. Contact never seeks to exploit other - generally, less well developed - civilizations, even to the extent of strongly discouraging immigration, which looked very much like the leeching away of the other society's best and brightest. Primitive societies often included the subjugation of some intelligences, based on factors like species, race, gender, culture, sexuality and whole host of even more unlikely differentiators; Contact quite often did what they could to remediate, reduce and eventually remove such differences from those societies as they developed.

Contact, and indeed those members of the wider Culture society who cared to take an interest, was collectively horrified by what it knew - incomplete as it almost certainly was - about the treatment of individuals within the Castophrenic Widowhood: brutal intimidation between superior and junior members of the same species; enforced and surgically implanted coupling between biological and artificial intelligences; casual torture as a way of imposing compliance on minds of all kinds; the list went on. But a way of reducing, removing that suffering seemed so difficult to achieve, at least within the moral constraints the Culture imposed upon itself.

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