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 visit even more distant locations in a timely manner if I wanted to. 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.