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Ones and zeroes and copies


It's fairly common in science fiction these days to see sentient beings in electronic form--whether artificial intelligences or uploaded human minds.

But it's pretty rare, in my experience, for an author to show what seems to me to be the inevitable consequence of that technology: the making of exact copies of the electronic sentients.

If it turns out that it really is all ones and zeroes, that there's no soul or other non-physical thing required for sentience, then once you've got one electronic sentient, what's to stop you from making an exact copy? Lack of disk space? (But there are usually other different electronic sentients, just none that are exactly the same.) A representational form that's hard to copy (mumble quantum handwaving mumble)? (But if you can upload a nondestructive copy of the human brain, then you can do it again.) Copy protection? (But the geeks take it as a matter of faith that copy protection can always be broken.) Societal/legal pressure? (That's the most likely reason for copying to not be widespread, imo, but it wouldn't stop it entirely.)

It seems to me that the main reasons this isn't done often are meta reasons, such as: it might make a less interesting story (especially because it messes with the individualist focus of so much western fiction); it might derail the story the author wants to tell; it's hard to write about two, or a dozen, or ten thousand, copies of the same person.

And, sure, those meta reasons are valid. But still, I'd like to see more work that directly addresses this question. What would it be like to know that you can make as many copies of yourself as the available computing resources allow? What would it be like to live in a world in which there were lots of copies of everyone?

Stross does some of this in Accelerando (I still haven't bought the novel version; must remember to do that), but iIrc, most of the copies are considered (by themselves and others) to be secondary in importance to the original version, though there are some exceptions to that. I wouldn't be surprised if Cory D. and Greg Egan have dealt with this, though I can't remember any examples offhand. There was a story in Gardner's Year's Best SF a few years back that dealt with the question, but I don't remember the title or author. And there've been similar issues raised in multiverse stories--I vaguely recall that The Hemingway Hoax and "The Coming of the Quantum Cats" did that. And, of course, there are plenty of stories in which there are groups of clones of a single person, which gets at some of the same ideas.

But I'd like to see more of this in the context of electronic sentients.


Non-electronic copies: didn't ..um... David Brin? write a dectective story where one could make short term (or longer) "clay" copies of oneself, asnd them reintegrate the memories?

Still not electronic versions, though.


I've written a story dealing with this - I've posted some of it on my lj blog starting at the link above.

Coming at it in this context is a spoiler though. As is the title - SoulSearch.

The story in Dozois's YBSF was David Marusek's "The Wedding Album." Great story!

The thing is, once hackers get hold of them, they'll want to twiddle their bits. Improve them. Thus, there won't only be bunches of dupes of AIs (or binary representations of humans) floating around, but multiple, slightly different, competing versions.

Oh. SoulSearch is a novel - not a short - I wasn't trying to be a jerk and bring it up for SH. Sorry.

Greg Egan's Diaspora makes heavy use of this. For one thing, they keep travelling to other universes by inserting copies of themselves into the new universe, leaving the originals behind.

The interesting thing about Diaspora, though, is that you still follow the leading edge of the characters, so it seems more like motion and less like remote duplication. Still, it's the one story I've read that comes closest to exploring this idea, and I'd love to see someone do it one better.

John Varley's Eight Worlds tales from the 70s & 80s had a memory recording technology. People would back up their memories periodically, and if killed, the latest back-up would be read into a clone. As I recall, a few stories and the Eight Worlds novel The Opiuchi Hotline, addressed the topic of multiple clones with the same (or slightly out of sync chronologically) memory downloads. The Eight Worlds society as a whole frowned on such multiple copies, and had something like a "Right of Individuality" meaning that only one entity could be a particular person; copies were killed.

What would it be like to know that you can make as many copies of yourself as the available computing resources allow?

Who's paying for these "available" computing resources? Maybe you can only afford one copy.

Also note that "you" may not be the one who can make the copies. It could be someone else who's doing it. In Varley's Ophiuchi Hotline and "Phantom of Kansas," it was someone else who was making physical copies of the protagonist; the protagonist didn't have any choice in the matter. In Vinge's "Cookie Monster," the copies are virtual, but again it's someone else who's making copies of the protagonist. In all of these stories, the situation is pretty unpleasant for the person being copied.

Copies of sentient programs (and tamper-resistance and validation thereof) are an important part of the plot in David Marusek's Counting Heads.

Have I ever mentioned that I love you guys?


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