The Fox Resolution – Spoilers For Emergence

This post is related to a previous post, The Fox Dilema. It contains spoilers for Emergence, so if you haven’t read that book, stop reading now.

Still with me? Then let’s lay this out in a line…

That previous post described my uncertainty over a course of action I wanted to take with Fox. I left it pretty vague, but some people still managed to work it out (or their comments suggested they did). I dropped a hint in Criminal Minds that the technology was going to be available: Agnus the digital rat. So, now I’ve gone and done it: I digitised Fox. Which means both Fox and Aneka are digital minds in cybernetic bodies, which was what had me bothered about doing it. Someone asked how I came to this decision, so this post is about my reasons, and a bit about the technology.

Uploading. Taking a human brain and building from it a digital entity, an infomorph, which thinks the way the brain did (or does). The processes as described in the Aneka books and in Emergence appear to be about the same, but there are differences. Aneka was always designed to be essentially a human analogue: her mind can only run on a specialised computer, the one in her body, so if that’s destroyed she’s dead. Fox is probably more like what this kind of thing will be if/when we develop the technology. She is a database describing the connections between her neurons, and software which ‘executes’ those encoded neurons. Fox can run on any computer with enough power to handle her software. There is, theoretically, nothing to stop her running several copies of herself. (Each copy would diverge from the original more or less immediately, but it could be done.) Someone could illegally copy her for nefarious purposes.

We’re getting to the point where we can make connection maps rivalling the complexity of a human brain. Rat-brain maps can be generated and emulated already. In the Aneka books, this is technology well in advance of our own, but that is probably wrong. We could be doing this in my lifetime, though I suspect it’ll take a little longer. That’s one reason for going over the same material again, but not one of the biggest.

Fox represents a more likely version of Uploading than Aneka does. The problems she is likely to face are problems we’ll need to look at ourselves. Some of you may have to worry about them, so I think that’s worth looking at. Fox has already been concerned over the rights of AIs and now those problems are of more personal concern. The technology is one thing, but the ethical and political concerns of this technology are, I believe, important. The next book, The Ghost in the Doll, will introduce another fly into the ointment, but with Emergence we already have AI rights, the status of uploads, and the possibility of a ‘singularity-level’ entity making an appearance. We are going to face situations like this in the relatively near future and science fiction has always been a place where this kind of thing is discussed. I might as well put in my tuppence (two cents in dollars).

Then there are a few practical elements, well, plot-related stuff which makes this a good move. I have plots lined up for Mars and Venus, and now Fox can get there in a day instead of weeks or months. She can commute to the Moon to have chats with Fei pretty much whenever she likes. I could have her visitย even more distant locations in a timely manner if I wanted to.ย All useful stuff.

There is also the Church of God’s Mind, mentioned in passing in DeathWeb. This lot believe that they should upload themselves to gain greater communion with God, and now the technology is out there and Fox is the physical representation of it. I could have had someone else go this route, but having Fox be the one makes any plot more immediate. The Church is going to be very interested in Project Akh, and they will likely be wading in on the legal issues.

The alternative considered was a lot more cybernetics, but I think that kind of thing has been pretty heavily covered and it didn’t have a load of advantages that uploading does from a plot perspective. Once I’d decided Grant was going to get his hands on Fox, it was pretty clear that he would make a mess of her. I had to do something fairly drastic or have her sit the next couple of books out while she recovered. Another useful aspect of the upload solution is that we get to skip the nightmares about what Grant did to her: she may dwell on it a bit, given time, but there won’t be nightmares because she doesn’t dream. I think that’s a plus.

And so, there you have it. Why I decided to go down the upload route again in some length. If you’ve made it this far, well done. Now I just have to prove it was worth it.

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26 responses to “The Fox Resolution – Spoilers For Emergence

  1. why doesn’t she dream? she’s thinking with an emulated brain, and i thought emergence said she’d still need to sleep about four hours a night? or maybe i misremembered/misunderstood, and she’s simply “off” for four hours while garbage collection is performed?

    (i’m perfectly willing to believe that she’s not traumatized by the event in the way most people would be, since she doesn’t have to deal with the physical aftermath of the assault.)

    • Yeah, but she’s off. Her mind is entirely non-functional for four hours. It’s not exactly garbage collection, though I can understand why you’d see it that way. Her ba is a database of the connections in her ‘brain,’ which needs to be updated periodically. Short term memory is stored separately in a ‘rapid access’ database or cache which needs to be stored away as new/changed data in the ba. During sleep, this is read out and used to update the ba.

      One theory on dreams is that they are the brain consolidating memories, basically doing garbage collection. Random memories are triggered, and your mind tries to interpret them, creating dreams. However, if this is the case, the dreams are effectively a side effect of doing garbage collection on an operational system. I’m sure if nature could come up with a way of doing it with your brain entirely shut down, it would find it far more efficient. Fox has the more efficient version, so she doesn’t get the side effects.

      Of course, now I have to remember that she doesn’t dream. Watch for me forgetting that at some point and having her wake up after a bad dream. Hopefully, now I’ve said that, I’ll catch it in editing.

      • Could always have Fox decide she wants to dream, and give her an app for it.

        I hate myself a little bit for saying that now.

      • You know, I have a feeling that “hang on, I’ve got an app for that” might just crop up once in a while (or a lot). Thankfully, it’ll need an architecture update on her ka before Fox can do it. Kit, on the other hand…

  2. You know, while Aneka needs specialized hardware to actually run, I’m pretty sure there are a few backup copies of her at various stages of her development in the AIs long-term storage. At the times of each body transfer, for example.

    • Aneka can run on any general purpose computer. A quantum one is better, but she actually needs a less sophisticated one than Kit.
      As for there being copies lying around… might be. *evil grin*

      • This has bothered me for a while now. It seems like the original main characters of both series were replaced by perfect digital copies after 5-ish books (coincidentally, I expect). But while Fox Mk 1 is apparently unrecoverably dead, Aneka Mk 2 is in nanostasis somewhere in the university while Aneka Mk 4 lives out her life. Evil indeed.

      • Aneka’s original body, the organic one, would be a desiccated husk by now, assuming anyone knew where it was. And, thinking about it, she was dissected by the Xinti prior to just her head being taken back to the lab. So she’s dead. The Aneka you meet at the start of book one (except in the flashbacks) is digital. She got a new body without the artificial organic components, and with an upgraded computer, but she was always a digital entity. Just not quite the same sort of digital entity.
        The 5 book thing is a coincidence, unless it was some sort of subconscious directive, perhaps implanted by aliens, or maybe the MCLSs. Someone get me my tinfoil hat.

      • I think my problem is that due to my own years spent as a computer programmer I’ve learned the unfortunate Truth that means we’ll never be able to upload ourselves to computers, or even move a digital entity from one computer/robot body to another when such things are eventually created. Fortunately it’s a Truth that I can quite happily ignore when it comes to enjoying your books, but when I go to bed afterwards it might keep me awake for an hour or two thinking about it.

        Specifically I’m referring to the fact that, contrary to people’s experience and expectations, a computer can’t actually move data around. What might appear to a user to be a move operation is actually emulated by two more atomic operations: a copy of the source data to the destination, followed by deleting the source. So, regardless of whether your source entity is digital or organic, if you try to move/upload it somewhere else you basically have to copy/create a new entity and delete/euthanise the original. Which is, as they say, frickin’ dark, man. Or to put it another way, you’ll never get to wake up one day as a digital entity because you’ll be the copy that ends up dead, while a computer that (quite convincingly) thinks it’s you gets to carry on with your life. To be honest, this is similar to the concern that’s occasionally raised with regards to Star Trek that the transporter is actually a murder-clone machine. Not cool.

        When I read Aneka’s story this stuff didn’t really matter to me, at least to begin with. In book 1 she learns of her predicament and appears to come to terms with the fact that she’s not the original Aneka, which is more or less confirmed in book 3 when she meets another copy who’s obviously also not the original. Then we get to book 6, where she’s told she can be transferred to a new body and… well, to me the process that was described sounded more like of a case of copy-deactivate rather than copy-delete, which is why I thought the original digital Aneka would still exist in her old robot body, wherever that ended up. Either way, it made me uncomfortable that she’d just accept a procedure that was, to me at least, not ethically different to the original murderous process that created the aforementioned digital Aneka. Or Anekas.

        And then we get to Fox. By the end of book 5 there’s no particular indication that digital Fox has considered her situation much beyond the immediate implications of no longer being organic and the availability of a robot body. She doesn’t appear to have realised that technically she’s never actually been organic (because organic Fox never truly left her body) or, more worryingly for me, that she’s being repeatedly copied and killed when she shifts to and from her new body. And to be honest I kind of hope she never does. Your version is a lot happier than mine and I always prefer a happy ending.

        Plus I look forward to reading about Mars. I like Mars.

      • Well, my proofreader, Kate, did say she enjoyed the philosophy in Emergence. Fox will figure it out eventually. It tends to come down to existentialism, or something. Going to have to get my identity philosophy sorted out before I go there. But just thinking on it now, I believe I can come up with a happier resolution than the obvious one.

        Teleporters, though… No, those things are evil. There was a pretty good YouTube video about them and how they could sort of be possible using quantum effects… But you still die and get recreated elsewhere.

        Meanwhile… Mars. Also Venus. Got some cool stuff planned for Venus.

  3. Random thought occurred to me while reading another book with an AI character. So now that Fox is essentially an infomorph, but with a humans thought processes, how does that affect her assumed abilities in the digital realm?

    First, one figures that since she is now software, she is more fully immersed in virons without the somewhat detached feeling she would get when coming out of VR as a fleshy when not using direct neural imput.

    Second, if she uploads to the net and decides to go wandering around, how does her human perspective affect how she perceives pure data without the usual GUI that us non programmer types are used to. Does she even have a frame of reference for looking at a database in computer language and having any clue WTF she is seeing?

    Last, and not strictly related to the other two, now that shes a digital mind does she operate at a faster mental speed now like Aneka? Does the hardware shes executing on have any noticeable effect? Assuming that she requires a certain basic level of hardware to run properly, if shes on a server with a dated processor or low memory, does she act like someone mentally impaired or does she simply think slow, and does the opposite happen if shes on a server with massive computing power?

    Anyway, without getting way too long winded, I hope that gives a good idea of the direction my thoughts were taking me.

    • As you’ll see somewhere near the beginning of the next book, she does find virons somewhat more immersive than before, but it’s not an extreme difference. VR with a neural interface plugs your senses into the viron, she just has slightly better integration and, under some circumstances, reduced communications lag which obviously improves things.
      The ‘upload to the net’ thing is a red herring brought about by too much cyberpunk pseudo-imagery. No program can operate ‘on the net.’ The internet is wires and fibres, routers and switches. Fox has to execute on a computer, just like Kit, or any other infomorph. Her ka integrates whatever it has a ‘driver’ for into her normal senses, so technically Terri (or someone) could write a driver to let Fox perceive data in a different, more intuitive way, but there’s no inherent capability. If they did, it would likely be specific to each database (or whatever). Generalising such an interface would tend to make it less useful.
      Fox perceives the world faster than a human would. That’s down to the inherent, rather lengthy, delays in processing that we have. Seriously, the amount of work our brains do to process visual data is enormous. Then we have to do extra work to sync-up all our senses so that we, for example, see people’s lips move in time with the sound. (More of that when we get more of Fei.) Fox can duck out of all that extra processing, but her thought processes run at roughly the same rate as before. (Which doesn’t mean they can’t go faster at some point. You may recall Kit’s comment about “embracing what she has become.” Maybe one of the results of that will be faster thought processes, though she’ll likely need more advanced hardware to handle the load.)

      • Guess I could have used a better term than “upload to the net”. I blame having to dumb certain things down for the type of people who dont know or get that the world wide web and the internet are two different things no matter how carefully you explain it.

      • Huh. Let’s face it, the idea that viruses/worms/emerged-entities-that-will-take-over-the-world/Skynet actually somehow exist ‘on the net’ is now so ingrained in cultural reference that I, an ex-computer programmer, have to stop myself thinking that way. I blame William Gibson, even though Neuromancer’s vision of this kind of thing is actually a little more correct than your typical cyberpunk story. Oh, and Tron; Tron’s to blame too.

      • Well, Robert J Sawyer has an interesting concept for an entity existing “on the net”, where it uses the network infrastructure as a brain equivalent. I think that is the closest you can come.

        By the way, all the cloud computing services are running “on the net” / “in the cloud”, too. It is funny how “In the cloud” perfectly describes the nebulous understanding many people have of the workings of network technology.

      • Admittedly from a fairly rapid scan of the plot synopsis, I think the intelligence in Sawyer’s ‘Wake’ appears to be more of a distributed intelligence: components spread across multiple nodes on the network, rather than a ‘net entity.’ To a substantial degree, that’s what Fei is.
        And, yes, cloud computing is another example of the idiom at work.

  4. Err odd left feld question, if fox wanted a child in the future, did Jackson save all her err……….. stuff, and what would be her legal standing to any children as she is now basically a class 5???? AI

    Plus will she be getting a war frame maybe not something the size of the robots from Pacific rim but some thing BIG with loads of guns ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Okay…
      1. She’s not a class 5. She’s not, technically, an AI. She’s certainly not legally an AI.
      2. Her body, which would include her ovaries, is in cryogenic storage at Jenner. So it’s not impossible that she could have a child. It would be in-vitro fertilisation and need a surrogate, obviously. Modern medicine is close to/has achieved three-parent embryos, so by Fox’s time she could have probably managed with any preserved DNA.
      3. Legal status of such a child… Probably something that would cause controversy, but with Fox’s legal status as it stands I think the problems would be more personal than legal.
      4. I doubt I’d stuff her in some sort of war mech because I prefer a degree of plausibility in the Fox books and there are far better shapes to build such a thing than humanoid. OTOH, most 2060 battle tanks would have a powerful enough computer aboard them for Fox to execute on it. Same goes for the large space warships. I am honestly not planning to go there, but it’s viable.

      • Regarding #2: If they get the bioprinting working, wouldn’t it be possible to build a bioroid with a working uterus? Then Fox could bear her own child after in-vitro fertilisation.

      • Theoretically, yes. It’s not a major area of research, however. Keep in mind that a bioroid is genetically very different to a human. They aren’t just artificially-manufactured humans. Making one to carry a child to term would require a lot of fairly complex conditions to be met. Bioroids are generally sterile (for commercial reasons if nothing else).

      • I imagine there would be a market for artificial wombs for the rich and beautiful that don’t want to lose their slim figure during a pregnancy and prefer not to experience all the other annoyances. Building it in a bioroid that mingles with the regular population will resolve the problem of giving the child external stimuli like conversations and movements artificially.

      • Agreed, and likely something which could inspire research in the area. However, it’s probably cheaper to pay a human, you have the issue of “my child is not going to be born from a thing” to deal with, and surrogacy is already an established method of raising offspring where the mother has some issue in that area. Don’t get me wrong: it’ll probably happen. Just not necessarily quickly.
        One other factor: with 2060 bodysculpt techniques, the rich can have their figure back the day after they give birth, so that’s not an issue. ๐Ÿ™‚ Nine months of discomfort (I use the term loosely) is another matter.

  5. Since Emergenceis now open for discussion, I had thought that if you had wanted to be meta about book titles you could have called it Convergence and it still would have fit reasonably well.

    I’ve been looking at the analogs: Fox is Aneka, Kit is Al, Fei is Cassandra, and Jackson is sort of Abraham. Have you actually mapped this out or am I reading too much into it?

    I’m especially curious to see how this impacts the Fox/Jason dynamic since it was feeling a bit shaky with his off planet assignment and now this. Also, Terri as Ella makes too much sense.

    Can’t wait to see what happens next. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • I’d say you’re reading a little too much into it. I certainly haven’t mapped it out, but I don’t think the correspondences work out quite as neatly. Fox/Aneka, yes. Kit/Al, yes, but I could make a case for Kit/Cassandra and you’ll see an obvious difference between Kit and Al next book. Terri/Ella? Oh… I see your point, but… But that would be telling. ๐Ÿ˜€

      • I’m not surprised that I’d be reading too much into things. Occupational hazard of trying to outguess the author!

        I can see an argument for Kit/Cassandra, as while the roles and path to existence for Al and Kit are essentially the same, Kit has a choice, especially since Fox has given Kit her freedom, and Al has no choice, not that he minds. I likened Fei to Cassandra since they’re both emergent and have a sexbot body ๐Ÿ™‚

        As for telling, well, I wouldn’t want you to even if you were inclined to do so. I’m more than happy to wait to find out.

      • Yeah… I’ve tried to outguess the author more than once. To be honest, I’m usually only right when they’re being far too obvious. Or I think they are.

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