Daemon is a novel by Daniel Suarez that deals with technology, AI, the power of corporations, and the fate of civilization. Rather than comment extensively on the book, I will only include quotes from the book that were especially meaningful to me:
Ross [a computer consultant] was nodding as she [Dr. Phillips, a government agent] talked. God, this woman was razor sharp. He found his normal resistance to all thoughts not his own falling away.
She continued, "Now combine an application like that - a widely distributed entity that never dies - with tens of millions of dollars and the ability to purchase good and services. It's answerable to no one and has no fear of punishment."
"My God. It's a corporation."
Following a (more or less) Darwinian economic model, Leland [a corporation that manages other people's money and investments] identified and quantified promising resource development opportunities in the far corners of the world. They had since formed private equity partnerships with local leader for strip mining in Papua New Guinea, water privatization in Ecuador, marble quarrying in China, oil drilling in Nigeria, and pipeline construction in Myanmar, anywhere local public and/or private leaders existed with abundant resources, a surfeit of rivals, and a deficit in capital, Leland could be found, and while these projects were theoretically beneficial, the benefits were best perceived at a distance of several thousand miles.
Leland's equity offering used tedious statistical analysis to mask the fact that their business centered on enslaving foreign people and ravaging their lands. They didn't do this directly, of course, but they hired the people who hired the people who did.
Humanity had always trafficked in oppression. Before the corporate marketing department got ahold of it, it was called conquest . Now it was regional development. Vikings and Mongols were big on revenue targets, too - but Leland had dispensed with all the tedious invading, and had taken a page out of the Roman playbook by hiring the locals to enslave each other as franchisees
Sobol started to walk along the cliff's edge. The camera followed him, Steadicam-like, in medium close-up. "Technology, it is the physical manifestation of the human will. It began with simple tools. Then came the wheel, and on it goes goes to this very day. Civilizations rise and fall based on technological innovation. Bronze falls to iron. Iron falls to steel. Steel falls to gunpowder. Gunpowder fall to circuitry." Sobol looked toward the camera again. "For those among you who don't understand what's happening, let me explain. The Great Diffusion has begun - an era when the nation state dissolves. Technology will cause this. As countries compete for markets in the global economy, diffusion of high technology will accelerate. It will result in a diffusion of power. And diffusion of power will make countries an ineffective organizing principle. At first, marginal government will fail Larger states will not be equipped to intercede effectively. Those lawless regions will become breeding grounds for international crime and terrorism. Threats to centralized authority will multiply. Centralized power will be defenseless against these distributed threats. You have already experienced the leading edge of this wave.
"So who's starting all these Factions?"
"The disaffected, the dispossessed, the displaced, the disgruntled. Worldwide."
[Dr. Phillips, the government agent, to Loki] "You can't help me?" , [Loki (Gragg) the avid computer game player]: He laughed. "I'm not the one who needs help. The society you're defending is doomed."
"It's your society too, Loki."
"No. It's my parents' society, not mine. What does it offer my generation? A meaningless existence. Living long, boring lives, milked each day by salesmen. Livestock for a permanent ruling class. Well, I have no use for their laws, their maps, their failures. The Daemon already defeated them."
[Ross, the computer consultant, to Dr. Phillips, the government agent]: Help is coming Nat." He felt her trembling. "Are you okay?"
Her lips quivered slightly but she nodded. Her face contorted as she tried to contain tears. "How many do you think we lost?"
He took a deep breath. "Possibly everyone."
She put a hand to her mouth and started crying.
"It's not your fault, Natalie." He put a hand on her arm reassuringly.
"I was in charge!"
"No. You weren't. We just thought you were."
She stopped and turned her blindfolded eyes toward him.
"They were never going to let us stop the Daemon, Natalie."
"You're talking crazy! The government crated the Task Force. We were betrayed by private industry."
"Private Industry is your government. I thought you knew that."
"How can you say that to me?"
"Because it's true. Sobol knew it. The Daemon isn't attacking us, Nat. This is a struggle between two artificial organisms. The Daemon is just a new species of corporation."
[Sobol] "Civilization is about to fail. The modern world is a highly efficient, precision machine. But that's its flaw - one wrench in the works and it all grinds to a halt. So what does our generation get A culture of lies to hide weakness. Decreasing freedom. All to conceal one simple fact: the assumptions upon which our civilization is based are no longer valid. If you doubt me, ask yourself: why was I able to accomplish this?"
[Sobol] "You want to destroy the Daemon - but you offer nothing in its place. How can you expect to handle the future if you can't even handle the present? I'll tell you what the Daemon is: the Daemon is a remorseless system for building a distributed civilization. A civilization that perpetually regenerates. One with no central authority. Your only option is what form that civilization takes. And that depends on the action of people like you."
[Sobol] "There are those who resist necessary change. Even now they think only of protecting their investments. I am at war with them. A war that you'll never see on the evening news. And to my mind, the outcome of this war will decide whether civilization flourishes -or collapses into a thousand-year dark age. Perhaps even with the eclipse of the human race as the dominant species on this planet.