Saturday, September 12, 2020

Glisnia: Body of Theseus (Part II)

Consciousness is a tricky thing. For as long as computers have existed, people have been trying to draw comparisons between hard drives and human brains. The analogy certainly seems reasonable. Both of them store information, both allow that information to be accessed, and interfaced with. But there is a huge difference between how the two operate. Computers process information in binary code, through logic gates that really just boil down to on or off. Brains, on the other hand, are a chaotic mess of neurons and synapses. Memory is retrieved through associations and connections. Each one is unique. In the 21st century, many researchers believed they were capable of mapping a given human brain, and recreating the structure in a computer model. But it was nothing more than a copy, and a copy is not the original.
The science behind mind uploading was always a gray area, and the problem of mind transference felt insurmountable. If you were to attempt to upload yourself into a new substrate of some kind, there is a fifty percent chance that you wake up in the new substrate. There is thusly a fifty percent chance that you wake up to find yourself still in your old body, while some rando copy of you is waking up, thinking they’re the real version of you. It’s just a copy, though. That doesn’t mean this copy isn’t real, but it  hasn’t solved your problem of wanting to shed your old substrate, and become something different. It doesn’t matter how many times you try this, in each attempt, there is also a version of you that’s the copy, and a version of you that’s just failed in getting what they wanted. There will always be someone left behind. And the reason that is is because a human brain is not a computer. Files can’t be transferred to some other location, because thoughts and memories aren’t stored as files in the first place.
Experts came up with a somewhat viable workaround to this issue. If the mind wasn’t designed with files and folders, then it had to be converted. They called it Project Theseus. The Ship of Theseus is an old thought experiment, which questions whether a ship that’s had every part of it replaced over time is even the same ship as before. The rational answer seems to be...sort of. Mostly. We hope. Even though none of the parts were there in the beginning, some of the parts are older than others, and they were around to be connected to even older parts, and those older parts were there with parts that are older still. As long as they’re replaced gradually, each new part can claim to be a component of the whole, and that doesn’t change even when all its nearby parts are also replaced themselves.
Project Theseus took this interpretation of the experiment, and applied it to the human body. You replace a patient’s hands, and let them use them for a few weeks. Then you replace their arms. Then their feet, then their legs, then their internal organs. By not doing it all at once, each new part can integrate itself into the system, so that that system has a chance to consider it a constituent, rather than a foreign extension. After discovering that this seemed to work, the experts decided it was time for the next step. They now hoped to apply the Theseus technique to the central nervous system, though they recognized that it would be far more complicated. It was going to take a lot more research, heaps more patience, and an uncomfortable amount of trial and error.
The Theseus technique worked well for decades, but it wasn’t perfect. The time it took to complete the whole thing wasn’t much of a problem for most people. The average human being was going to live for a century without it, so even if they decided to become inorganic later on in life, there was usually plenty of time. There were some people, however, who couldn’t wait that long. Even after all this, there were still some medical conditions that science couldn’t fix, and brain uploading was the only solution. These people needed a completely new technique, which scientists started referring to neurosponging. An artificial brain is first synthesized, which perfectly resembles the patient’s brain. Electrical signals are then basically absorbed into the synth, just as they’re being lost from the original. It was like Theseus on a profoundly shorter timeline, but it alone did not solve the problem. Though artificial, this new brain was still organic, and still prone to degradation. Fortunately, it could be programmed to rewrite itself, until it exhibited an easier to organize filing system. Then that could be transferred to something more durable. This was the route that Hogarth Pudeyonavic and Hilde Unger chose to take.
In a matter of days, the process was complete, and they were both mechs. There were two primary types of mechs in the stellar neighborhood. Some were artificial intelligences, while others were transhumans who passed the singularity when they were upgraded so much that they became mechs. There were no terms to distinguish these two types, however, because internally speaking, a mech was a mech, and they treated each other as such. Hogarth and Hilde now belonged to Glisnian society, and would be allowed to contribute to the cause.
“Why are we keeping your former substrate?” The mech they met when they first returned was going to remain their associate. His full name was Mekiolenkidasola, though he sometimes just went by Lenkida.
The tech from Dardius was still human, and named Ethesh Beridze. “Yeah, your dead bodies are freaking me out.”
“They’re not dead,” Hogarth reminded him as Hilde was closing the drawer that contained her body. “They’re in stasis. In order to help the Glisnians crack superluminal travel, I need to study my old body. How did I do it? I explored the answers all I could while I was still alive, but now it’s time to perform a dissection, and really figure out how it worked.”
“You don’t understand why you were capable of traveling through time?” Lenkida questioned.
“It wasn’t so much something I was capable of as it was a medical condition that was thrust upon me. I’m not the best candidate for this research. If you want to study someone who can travel the stars, you’re gonna want The Trotter. He’s not here, however, and my body is all we have right now. Still, I once jumped here from another universe, so this should at least give us a start.”
“There are other universes?” Lenkida wasn’t shocked, but he was surprised. It was practically impossible to shock anyone in the 25th century.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Wait, why do we need your body at all, if we’re just going to build more Nexus replicas?”
“I’ll be studying the replicas too,” Hogarth explained, “but I don’t want to just make more of them, not after what I’ve learned. I’ll go over my reasons later.”
“What do you need?” Lenkida offered.
Hogarth slid her metallic fingers over her old fleshy arm. “I need you to find me an assistant. Someone who was once human, understands both human physiology, and the human condition. Obviously they need to be discreet. I’ll build you a resource extractor, but not a stargate network. That’s my requirement.”
“Understood,” Lenkida said. “Let me go find you some candidates.”
“I’ll come with,” Ethesh asked.
While they were off doing that, Hogarth and Hilde took some time to get used to their new bodies. They chose a humanoid design, with a synthetic skin overlaid. It probably wasn’t too terribly common, but it wasn’t unheard of either. Many of the formerly organic mechs preferred this, because it made them look as they always did. Most eventually shed this facade, however, and just went with the robot look, because skin didn’t serve a utilitarian purpose, and faces only helped in certain social settings. The two most recent mechs weren’t going to make any rash decisions in that regard.
“How does it feel?” Hilde asked.
“I could ask you the same thing,” Hogarth said. “We’re in the same boat.”
“Not really,” Hilde contended. “You were the one with a time affliction. I haven’t lost anything I’ll miss, but your ability got you out of a lot of sticky situations, even if you weren’t in control of it. How many times did you almost die, only to be spirited away at the very less microsecond?”
“I don’t need to worry about that anymore,” Hogarth assured her. “My consciousness is constantly being backed up to eleven locations.”
“Still,” Hilde went on, it was a part of you, and now it’s gone forever.”
Hogarth smirked, and opened the drawer where Hilde’s body was resting in stasis. “Is it? Who says I can’t just jump back in whenever I want? Who says you can’t do the same?”
“Mech law—”
“Mech law can suck it. I haven’t ever followed anyone else’s rules, and I’m certainly not going to start now. I’ll do what I promised, and get them the resources they need to complete their matrioshka body. I may not do it the way they want it, and they’re just gonna have to accept that.”
“What didn’t you want to say when Lenkida and Ethesh were here? Why aren’t we just using the Nexus replica?”
“I cannot allow anyone the ability to travel faster-than-light. We’ve seen what humans do when they get a taste of a new world. They do whatever it is they want with it.”
“They’re mechs, though.” Hilde argued.
“Same same, but different. Vonearthans all come from the same place. Why, we’ve already seen it. Glinsia was a planet, with a surface, and a core, and satellites. They destroyed it, which is fine; there wasn’t anything living on it, but eating up resources is what people do. I have to be the one to control what they take, and where they take it from. I’ve seen too much not to.”
“What happened to you? When we jumped here from Dardius, you were on the floor, and you weren’t okay. Did you see something?”
Hogarth simulated a sigh. It felt strange, since she wasn’t breathing, and didn’t even possess any mechanism to pump or transmit air. She just let out a sound that sort of sounded like breath. “That jump is what destroyed, and will destroy, the Nexa. My affliction happened one more time, and combined with the transport. When that happened, it rippled all throughout spacetime. Every Nexus that’s ever been mysteriously destroyed, and each one we hear of from now on, will have been caused by what I did.”
“So what?”
“So what, Hogarth, who cares? It’s like you said, vonearthans abuse the powers they receive. They don’t need the replicas, and the time travelers don’t need them either. No one needs them. They’re just more convenient.”
You don’t understand. I didn’t just destroy the replica network. I destroyed the entire thing. The explosion reached across to the originating universe, and is destroying all of those too.”
“Yeah, that sucks,” Hilde agreed, “but they’ll be okay. Or they won’t. Maybe people will die from that, or maybe people will survive because of it. Maybe a villainous force is on its way to invade an innocent planet, and you saved those people because the villains weren’t able to reach them. You keep using the word affliction, but you also keep trying to blame yourself for it. This isn’t something you’ve done, it’s something that happened to you, and in this case, it happens to have impacted other people. Again, it sucks, but you didn’t really do it. We have to find a way to move past this, because I know you, and you’ll brood for years. If the only solution is I hack into your episodic memory files, and erase the issue, I’ll do it.”
“I don’t want to forget anything,” Hilde. “My memory is everything.”
“Well, I guess therapy is your only other option. We’ll do that instead.”
“Did you just haggle me?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She shook her head, happy to be with someone who understood her. “I should get to work.”
“What are you planning? What will studying your organic body do for us? You use the word extraction.”
“I don’t know yet, but if I learn enough about how I was able to jump across dimensions, I might be able to come up with a new solution. I don’t like the word extraction, now that I’ve thought about it. I believe I would call it...time siphoning.”

No comments :

Post a Comment