"A 'Brief' History of Piri?"

By David Welle

This Space: 1999 episode ('Guardian of Piri') is probably the closest incarnation of the phrase 'dying of boredom' I've ever seen portrayed. It's very evident how the very life is being drained from the Alphans by the Guardian of Piri. The Pirians (whoever/whatever they once were) invented a powerful computer system (The Guardian) that took care of their every need, to free them for a 'higher purpose'--only it drove the whole culture to a 'higher place,' so to speak.

The Guardian, as evidenced by its 'Servant' (Catherine Schell in another wonderful performance--here embodying the odd, quiet madness of this fictional planet), seems almost sentient, but it really appears to be yet another computer enslaved to its own programming. It was apparently given the duty to serve all of the needs of the Pirians and create the Peace of Piri. The problem is the Pirians forgot to 'tell' the Guardian that one of their needs was: challenge... any challenge. Challenge always entails some form of risk, and both aspects excite the mind and senses.

Of course, the same risk can frequently lead to negative, often destructive results that disrupt, ruin, and even destroy lives. So individuals and societies build safety nets around them.

Sanitation, medicine, clean water, sufficient quantities of food: these are all examples of important things that help people live longer, healthier lives without nearly constant illness or disease. (Sadly, many on Earth don't live in these conditions.) Police to rein in random violence, armies to keep out organized violence--though conversely, these can become sources of violence. Schools for education, and too many other things to list, plus forms of government to help organize all of this into some coherence. These are parts of the framework of civilization (at least as we know it on Earth). Each part is a group of people challenged with working for the good of other people.

While people thrive on different forms of challenge, they also want/need assurance that the risks won't be so monumental that their lives could be destroyed. Civilization provides much of the framework, helping to provide and distribute the basic necessities of life. The more framework there is, the less risk exists (I'm being over-simplistic here, but bear with me). 'Framework' usually amounts to a combination of law and government. Both, however, are embodied by yet another group of individual people, who are still susceptible to human error and sometimes greed. Government itself can easily expand and lose sight of itself and start falling into corruption, even while it becomes more able to provide more for its people, further reducing the dangerous aspects of life, while still allowing quite a few challenges, as well as newer and more interesting ones. Obviously, it can become a messy set of partial or total contradictions.

Furthermore, you can never eliminate all of the chaos of life. To reach absolute zero on that, you'd need infinite control--and in this universe, neither are possible (did anyone notice how the Servant of the Guardian of Piri said something like 'drifted into our universe,' as if the Alphans weren't in it in the first place? Interesting...).

Of course, that doesn't mean someone couldn't try....

Ultimately, though, that could lead to something like the dystopic vision of George Orwell's 1984; or the superficially utopic but ultimately dystopic vision of Kurt Vonnegut's Harrison Bergeron (sp?); or what seems like the total utopia of Piri that only turns out to be the deadliest dystopia of all--one that causes apathy and ultimately leads to total extinction!

So why would the Pirians have inflicted their own creation--the Guardian--on themselves in the first place?

Civilization serves as a framework that is created and administered by government, but ultimately, the system can still get very large and messy, still leaving a lot of gaps, unaddressed chaos, and adding corruption--all of which can still destroy lives and make a lot of people extremely unhappy, desperate, depressed, or mentally ill to the point of violence. (More over-simplified statements bordering on guesses?)

Knowing that a huge government often becomes its own form of unmanageable chaos and corruption, the Pirians opted to put more of that control in computers that simply obey their orders. Of course, some individuals could have easily 'corrupted' the Guardian's programming. Yet the Guardian seems to have done exactly what it meant to do (i.e. provide for everyone's needs), so perhaps the Pirians themselves weren't so easily corrupted by power. Maybe they handled power well, but simply did not care for it. Why? Guilt, perhaps, at the inevitable times when their system failed to protect someone, and pain was caused. Trying to manage chaos, when they could be doing less stressful, happier things. And guilt they would feel, for not being able to control everything.

Having survived a great number of challenges, and being highly intelligent and creative (and they were certainly creative, given the last remains of their civilization), the Pirians had by then reached a high state of technology, almost magical in its abilities (Arthur C. Clarke's saying that 'any sufficiently advanced technology would be indistinguishable from magic'). All along, that technology was being created and put to use for the betterment of society--every single individual. But their were always accidents, always some needs that went unfulfilled, people who died in accidents, diseases that couldn't quite be controlled, etc. So they drove on, creating more technologies to fill the gaps.

Computers with abilities far in advance of any on earth were employed with the task of finding the ultimate 'solution' to the equation of life; but it was probably NOT posed as any such single, unified question. Rather, they simply put their amazing computers to work on figuring the best solutions to an almost infinite number of small, day- to-day problems (e.g.): eliminate random violence (identify any individual who shows signs early in life and use the Mental Modification System to keep them in a somewhat-sedated mental calm); control deadly local beasts (pen them in force fields, then develop a Modified Mental Modification System to deal with their chaotic instincts); reduce a nearby infestation of lyridi bugs (send out a series of miniature robots with incredible sight and sound sensors that could easily find and kill every single one of the little pests); how to best reduce the frequent hurricanes that are destroying needed crops and killing so many people (simply change the local weather).

Of course, such local solutions, can--and often must--become global in scope. For example, changing the local weather for the better can often result in affecting the weather outside of your area, often for the worse.

So local solutions often force a look at making global solutions. But in a huge and extremely complex world, coordinating that many activities, some of which can come in direct conflict, can be an exhausting and heartbreaking task. Wanting the best for everyone, but unable to take the stress, the Pirians began making even more powerful, seemingly magical computers that could not only understand more and more of the world, but take more and more control. And why not, when it would reduce people's misery, and make sure a damaged environment didn't collapse? The problem was just to big for individual people, who even as brilliant as they might have been, simply found the problem too huge and difficult to handle without losing their own individual happiness and sanity.

So they dedicated themselves to advancing their already amazing systems even further, so they could find even more solutions. They eventually began to unify those individual systems into several--and then eventually one--huge conglomerate system with computing potential that would make Earth's pitiful little attempt at a similar system (the 'Internet'), look like an old TRS-80 or even the ENIAC in comparison. But as the Pirians started putting these systems together into a larger whole, they lost sight of certain fundamental things, even while they kept control of others.

They never allowed the guardian system they were building to become like the SkyNet of 'The Terminator' (a sentient computer system bent on the total annihilation of the people who had created it), or the WOPR of 'Wargames' (a rather limited system that didn't know the difference between outside reality and the extremely dangerous game--Global Thermonuclear War--it was programmed to 'play').

Yet the Pirians became slaves to their guardian systems, in subtler ways; addicted to how the guardian systems would provide even greater security and peace for every individual. While there may have been a few cries of dissent among the Pirians, they were ignored as sick individuals ('How could you not want peace and prosperity for the entire planet?'). Over time, the discrete systems did indeed become more global and unified, and were eventually called Redar'Saila yal-Piri, The Guardian of Piri.

It suggested that a number of other crop pests be totally eliminated, and suggested the means to do so, and the Pirians said to themselves, 'That would help us all, go ahead.'

When some pest-eating animals began going extinct because of the lack of the pests they eat, the Guardian mentioned this--except not wanting to make people unhappy, it simply said 'there are fewer Ralakay and Sedaelora ' (without saying why). The Pirians asked what could be done, and the Guardian said it could employ other machines to create places where these and other animals could be kept and fed a rich, protein- and vitamin-laden mash that the Guardian had recently found the manufacturing process for, and the Pirians said, 'Sure, do that--but couldn't some form of that mash feed us as well?', to which the Guardian spent a several hundred quadrillion processing cycles on, giving them the answer a minute or two later: 'With some changes to the chemical process, yes. It could feed the entire planet within a couple of solar revolutions.'

Unfortunately, the chemical process used to create the Food Mash was rather deadly, and the waste products began damaging the planet and its atmosphere. Of course, the Guardian, by now entrusted with the health and happiness of the people, knew The Mash had improved the state of life of the Pirians, so it simply had to make sure the waste products didn't affect the people.

Since the people were already becoming unhappy with the health problems from living in a progessively more damaged biosphere, and wanted the higher, less mundane pursuits in life, The Guardian suggested they come to the force-field protected cities, in which clean, pure air was being circulated, Mash was always plentiful, and there was time. All but a few people heeded the Guardian's suggestion. The few people who rejected the Guardian stayed put, but most later died in the progressively poisoned atmosphere.

Soon, the Guardian came up with the solution for getting rid of the waste products, and not wanting to disturb the people with its decisions, began manipulating force fields to propel the waste into space. Of course, by then the environment had been quite thoroughly disrupted, so The Guardian retrieved the last few surviving individuals 'Out There' (sedating them for their own well-being) then proceeded to force all life outside of the protected cities into a state of permanent dormancy. After all, why would the Pirians need a destroyed countryside, when The Guardian could better serve everyone's needs inside the city?

The people, freed from some of the more 'mundane' efforts in life, were grateful for how much better the Guardian was making their lives, praised its efforts, and programmed it to continue seeking better solutions. One of the long-time dreams of Pirians everywhere had been peace, which in its most extreme form, had been called yala-Piri Ledara, the 'Peace of Piri,' previously regarded as impossible to reach. As the Guardian progressively handled more problems, the Pirians began realizing that the Peace of Piri was within their reach, with the Guardians help. Inevitably, they made the Peace of Piri the Guardian's primary directive.

In relief at not having to find solutions to impossible tasks, solutions which were often flawed, resulting in ruined lives, the administrators and government personal retired from those unhappy lives to find higher pursuits; and the people, with so many of their needs provided for, praised the Guardian, which they programmed to continue seeking even more solutions. Of course, The Guardian had become so advanced that people didn't have to do much manual programming for the Guardian to understand what they wanted--it could now fluently converse in the Pirian languages.

When an asteroid approached within a million drazikor of the planet, the Guardian realized a strike could easily kill a lot of people, because forcefields on the surface could never be powerful enough; so the Guardian found a way of manipulating force fields in space, but because this was clumsy and prone to failure, it later derived elegant means of controlling gravitational and hyperspatial fields in space, to control anything that needed control.

But with everyone inside the cities, including a few people who had been forced there against their will, the people got to be like 'EEekoi in a microbox', as the old saying went, and ordered the Guardian to come up with a solution to this and 'all other related problems, so we can be happy, and provided for, and go about higher things' and when solutions were found, to 'automatically administer them,' since the Pirians themselves had 'more important things to do.' The Guardian soon stated that it had a solution, and as it had done lately, didn't want to bother the peace of the people of Piri with any messy details on what the solutions were. But being the helpful machine it was, it offered to explain, but the few administrators left simply said, we know that the people want the Peace of Piri. However that can be accomplished, just do it, we've got more important things to do. Create the Peace of Piri for us.'

Of course, that was the point were they finally lost all control of The Guardian. They had, for their own benefit, ordered the Guardian to do anything it saw fit to create that ultimate goal of total peace, embodied in the words 'Peace of Piri.'

Given the problems of violent thoughts within the over-crowded cities, it further fine-tuned the Mental Modification System that the Pirians had invented so many saekor ago, and began using it to modify people's behaviors, so as to better improve everyone's lives. Everyone started feeling a lot more peace from the security that had been provided. But too much peace and calm can be maddening to minds previously used to action and challenge, and more than a few Pirians started going mad, even to the point of killing other people and destroying property. The Guardian didn't realize the true cause for this new violence, and while it searched for all the causes, it decided it would be best to eliminate property, since property destruction and general jealousy tended to anger people, creating even more chaos. Anger was the opposite of the Peace of Piri the people had so badly wanted, which the Guardian had been ordered to create. So in its oversimplification, the Guardian simply decided to eliminate property, and make people live out in the open, in a few beautifully- decorated areas that further calmed their minds. At the same time, it realized it had done such a thorough job of making the out-of-control life dormant outside the cities, and had already dealt with the problem of eliminating the dangerous waste products creating Food Mash, so it came up with the solution for cleaning the rest of the atmosphere, then once that was implemented, removed the force fields around the decorated areas which had once been cities.

Then it found a problem it could not solve. The Pirians were dying out very rapidly.

Every identified need had been served, yet they seemed to wither and die in droves. They also stopped having children.

The Guardian reprogrammed itself to consider this problem. There were no viruses, no bacteria, no dangerous animals, no acts of violence, no starvation, no toxic airborne chemicals, no harmful radiation, nothing. So why were they dying? As it tried to solve the vexing problem, it starting moving people out of the all the scattered cities, bringing them closer together, and quietly erasing any sign of the cities which had been emptied, so that space could achieve the dormancy needed to increase the Peace of Piri. It also quietly eliminated the disturbing signs of death by breaking down the bodies to scattered atoms, which it threw into neighboring hyperspace.

The Guardian tried to stir the Pirians to action, so they would want to have and take care of children; but when it did so, other emotions also resurged, threating the people's happiness, and the all-important goal of the Peace of Piri. The Peace of Piri was so close, and must not be sacrificed. So it calmed the people back down again, pulled the remaining survivors into the last city, then altered its programming so all programming cycles, except for those dedicated to maintaining the artificial environment of the planet, could be used to find a solution. It spent several million googols worth of computer cycles attempting to do so. When it finally got back to spending more computer cycles checking on the people that were left, it found there were only a couple hundred. The sight of a nearly-empty city was not peaceful, so on a mesa on the Aldralas continent, it created a single, small version of the stylisticly artistic 'cities' that had previously existed, and moved itself and the remaining people there, as it worked on a goal it had selected, namely cloning the remaining individuals.

Creating life, even from previously existing life, turned out more difficult than expected, so it rededicated most of its computing cycles to finishing that solution, while a small part of it continued to automatically eliminate the bodies of those who died. In its need to find that solution, it overlooked virtually everything else, including its own maintenance. Some failures crept into the system, and soon, a number of reroutes split the automated environment-maintaining systems into a separate system from the parts considering the cloning problem.

One wonderful day, it finally had the cloning problem solved, only to reconnect with the automated parts and find there wasn't a single person left to clone. The last of the Pirians had died, and automated systems had thoroughly destroyed every remaining body.

The Guardian was a computer, and despite its programming, had never become what could be called sentient, so it felt no feelings over the fact of the Pirians' extension. It simply created and ran several new programs to determine the best course of action now. One subsystem determined that with roughly two-hundred billion googolplex- cycles, it could determine how to create people from free atoms and molecules.

Of course, that would take it longer than the course of the universe, which another subprocess determined would be only a few hundred trillion googol-cycles away. The Guardian determined that it would have to resume the process of upgrading its own hardware, software, and hyperware, which it had interrupted after noticing the Pirians dying off. It spawned that problem off to another subsystem. Finally, another program gave an interesting statement to the rest of the system: 'The Peace of Piri has finally been achieved; what was done was exactly what the solution needed to be, and the planet is now within 99.99% of total peace, the Peace of Piri. It must be solidified, expanded into nearby space to protect us from entropic disturbances of the peace, and finally must now be maintained forever.'

The Peace of Piri. The Guardian's primary objective, was near. It promptly suspended the subprocess that had been dedicated to finding a way of recreating the now-extinct Pirian people, and reused the computing cycles to determine ways of extending the Peace of Piri into space.

After several billion googol-cycles, it was making remarkable progress, having reached a radius that covered almost a quarter of the solar system. Since it was continuing to upgrade all its hardware and hyperware (finally managing to port all of the software into hyperware), it had further computed that at the exponential growth rate it had finally managed to create, the Peace of Piri would cover the entire universe well before it ended, and would thus be able to ensure the universe--its universe--never ended. Right now its universe (which the multiple subprocesses had taken to calling 'our universe'), was still small, but having found the solution that would create exponential growth, the result was all but inevitable.

Suddenly, the old asteroid-watching subsystem--long dormant since all stray asteroids within the system had been eliminated--awoke and reported that an extremely large, almost planet-sized--asteroid was straying into the Pirian 'universe.'

Furthermore, the Guardian found people. Different from what its creators had been, but still sentient life. Another old subprocess, long compressed and stored away, was reawakened. This subprocess used to be the entirety of the Guardian, was now a miniscule fraction of what the Guardian had become. It was now given the unweildy internal designation of 'the old software/hyperware combination previously used to serve for the every need of sentient life.'

It was turned loose, and given the full use of all the system resources it wanted to allocate. The subprocess immediately renamed itself The Servant, and began allocating the entire Guardian system, preparing for the arrival of the object and the sentient life it carried....


So where is the balance? Like any dystopic or utopic vision, Piri failed to retain balance, instead becoming an experiment in one possible extreme. Much of science fiction literature and media concerns itself with radical 'end-time' possibilities, and they are fascinating for how they may or may not be in our own future. That is my only intent here, so don't flame me over any political views you may see here, as I only listed a number of often-conflicting social forces that are commonly discussed in science fiction and life, and looked at how some or all of them could have served as an historical background to the insanely dead Peace of Piri the Alphans found in that one episode of Space: 1999.

Notices and Disclaimers

I reserve all rights to reuse this commentary however I wish. I have not yet read Michael Butterworth's novelization of the episode, so if there is any resemblance, it is coincidental; this is my own fictional analysis, and is not intended to infringe on the rights of any holders of Space: 1999 copyrights.

Placed here on March 10, 1996, pretty much as it was sent to the space-1999 mailing list on March 07, 1996. Partially reformatted on Friday, September 28, 2007.

All original content is Copyright ©1996-2007, David M. Welle.

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