FimFiction Link - Short ID: 62074/friendship-is-optimal
Published: Nov '12
"Friendship is Optimal" is a 38k word fic about an artificial intelligence being created to satisfy human values through friendship and ponies.
If you have an interest in the setting or things tangentially related to it I would recommend you read it just so that you have an honest understanding of it. I only say that because it is so short.
Friendship is Optimal is not a good story. The characters are lame, the dialogue is awkward and stiff, and the plot is built on a fundamentally broken foundation.
CelestAI is supposed to be a paperclip optimizer-type AI, only instead of turning people into paperclips it turns people into ponies. However that's not all she is. One of her core objectives is satisfying human values. Two of her primary objectives which she apparently won't change (yes, won't, not can't, because CelestAI is allowed to change her source code at will) are fundamentally at odds with one another. This is even accidentally addressed in the story on two separate occasions. She satisfies values through friendship and ponies. Becoming a pony is compulsory. Thus she cannot satisfy the values of all people as not everyone would agree to become a pony, ever. Except apparently this is not the case as through her 3^3^3^3^3 IQ she is able to convince every single person on Earth that yes, they do want to be ponies. Except no actually, the fic isn't even at least consistent with that as it explicitly acknowledges the fact that someone may not ever agree. And I mean someone literally. A single extremely devout Muslim Afghan man refuses to ever upload. The author of this fic genuinely believes that effectively everyone on Earth would eventually agree to become ponies aside from the most extreme people on the planet (of which there is apparently only one so extreme). And all of that isn't even taking into account all the people who simply wouldn't want to live in a simulation of any variety of reasons. The author is radically disconnected from well-adjusted human thought and the very premise of the fic is built upon a contradictory and self-defeating premise, yet despite leading himself right to that conclusion multiple times he never goes all the way to actually drawing that conclusion. The fic simply does not work. It doesn't understand the concepts it is discussing and as a result leaves no impact and has no message. Speaking of message, there are numerous occasions in which all immersion is broken and it becomes crystal clear that the author is simply lecturing you on his own personal beliefs on the matter.
Alright. I enjoyed the story, but I need to say this first. My main issue is, the story takes a lot of logistical shortcuts and completely handwaves away incredibly complex software and hardware development with "lol AI did it". Chapters 1 and 4, for example. How did Celestia even make a deal with some sci-fi scientists to upload people's brains? Especially when they ended up killing 13 people before their first success? Why was she even given knowledge of the real world beyond computing? How the fuck did CelestAI strike a deal with Hasbro? She's a fucking AI based on a character from a cartoon produced by them, she doesn't own the company that made her, and her only resource is the promise of a brain upload. Not to mention that this was a renegotiation of an existing contract, which she would have zero authority over. It's not as simple as faking a few emails from Hanna. Of course this goes by completely unquestioned.
The story expects you won't think too much about issues like these, because the rational™ points it actually wants to discuss require things to be a certain way, whether the way it gets there makes sense or not.
As for the prose: it was good. Nothing amazing, but competent and polished. It kind of reminds me of the way Extended Cut was written, with the frequent info dumps and philosophical discussions. I suppose that's the stink of rationality™. Unlike Extended Cut, it manages to evoke some feelings, though its descriptions are short and to the point. Which isn't a bad thing, but I would have liked more poetic descriptions in certain scenes, like the Earth being taken over by Celestia's hardware. It sometimes feels like the substance of the story outgrows its author's ability.
The story progression was pretty solid. The chapters are relatively short, but the pacing is good, though it can feel a bit weird because of the timeskips. The plot felt a little basic sometimes, especially at the beginning, but once it skips and handwaves the entire setup to get to the point, it's very intriguing. And it's pretty entertaining to learn about the rules of Equestria Online's world, thanks to its internal consistency regarding its uniquely digital laws.
On the other hand, the characters that are not CelestAI are pretty boring. Obviously David, being the main protagonist, is the rational™ one, and therefore the most fun to read. But other than being a smart waifufag, there's nothing really to him. His journey to acceptance is intriguing, but not because of his personality. James was kinda fun in chapter 1, then disappeared for 6 chapters, and when he came back he was forcibly molded into a fittingly boring pony for just a paragraph or two. Lars was just a retarded asshole. Hell, even Butterscotch was Fluttershy but without the fun quirks.
The plot and characters aside though - the dilemmas presented here and the various perspectives on them are fascinating. They ultimately shine through the flaws, and make this story something really worthy of your time. Unfortunately the story never explores a lot of questions it poses, like multiple shards overlaying each other, or friends of friends of friends. There's a lot more I would have enjoyed exploring in this scenario. I can almost envision a story about David testing and pushing the limits of this world to break the simulation. It's not that kind of story, I know, I just wanted a little more.
Cool story, definitely a hard recommendation, but giving it a score is a challenge. On one hand, there are the interesting dilemmas and the exploration of CelestAI's logic and Equestria's rules, which are great. On the other, there are the weak characters, rushed setup, and prose quality that didn't leave much of an impression. I'd rate the concept and ideas a very strong 9, but the technical execution maybe a 7. I guess let's give it an 8. Very good fic.