Homunculus: Chapter 8: Arrow

“Welcome to Straight Arrow. I’m your host, Chet Arrow. Tonight’s target: Medimetics announced this week that they have successfully uploaded a human brain into a computer. You’ve heard the news, watched the video, but now you’ll learn from our quiver of experts what it means. Is it the biggest breakthrough of medical science of our lifetimes, or will it inexorably lead to America’s destruction?”

The camera zoomed back from Chet Arrow to reveal the arcing anchor desk he sat at the center of. He wore a tailored suit and his trademark stars-and-stripes tie.

“Let’s get started,” Chet continued. “First up: Dr. James Pendleton, professor of biology at Greenfield University. Dr. Pendleton, you must see this as an exciting time for your field. What’s your reaction to the news?”

The camera panned and zoomed to the far right end of the desk, where a bespectacled man with graying hair and a tweed jacket sat. “In a word, Chet,” he began, “underwhelmed.”

“How so?”

“Frankly, I’m looking for the science behind all of this, and so far I haven’t seen any. Maybe we’ll see something come out of this, but I’m not holding my breath.”

“But you’ve seen the press release with the video interview with–”

“That video proves nothing. All we see are racks of computers and an animation of a computer-generated figure answering questions. Do you play many video games, Chet?”

“Absolutely not. They rot the brain.”

“Well, my children do, and I’ve seen more realistic acting and animations in them than I do in that video. It simply isn’t that hard to put together with a little time and money. Far less money than Medimetics claims to have put into their project, I might add.”

“So are you saying it’s a hoax?”

“I’m not saying that yet, but the signs are there. If this really is a scientific breakthrough, you’d expect some of the researchers involved would be publishing papers on their methods. How does the Mark VII achieve the scan resolution required, how do their computational models of cellular interactions in neural tissue work, that sort of thing. As far as I can tell, not only have no papers been published, but none have even been submitted to any scientific journals. There’s not even so much as a preprint available on arXiv. If there is science here, then where’s the science?”

“Medimetics has answered that question in an earlier interview, I believe,” Chet said, shuffling through a stack of notes in front of him. “Here, their Dr. Newhausen says they haven’t published on it to protect their trade secrets.”

“Nonsense. Science by press release is not science, plain and simple. If they don’t reveal their methods, there’s no way for other researchers to try to replicate their experiments to validate their claims. And without peer review or third-party confirmation of their results, this is no better than rumor. At least when Hwang Woo-Suk lied about having cloned human embryonic stem cells, he went through the effort of fabricating data. Medimetics doesn’t seem to have even done that.”

“You heard it here, folks: accusations that Medimetics is perpetrating the biggest scientific fraud of the century,” Chet summarized.

“That’s not what I’m–” Dr. Pendleton protested.

“But if it is true,” Chet continued, the camera once again on him and Dr. Pendleton’s audio suddenly cutting out, “what does it mean for mankind? Next we have Justine Wright, senior fellow at the Worthington Institute for Ethics. Justine, if we can put a person into a computer, does that mean that computers will some day demand the same rights as us?”

The camera quickly panned to Chet’s left, where seated next to him was a tall, thin woman wearing a red blazer. “As you can imagine, Chet,” she began, “this as been a hot topic of conversation at the Institute these past few days. But the conclusion we’re coming to is that the idea of granted rights to whatever may be running inside their mainframe raises a host of very difficult and disturbing problems.”

“You have no idea,” said the man seated at the far left of the table.

“Hold on, Lou, we’ll get to you soon enough,” Chet said. “Justine, what are some of those issues.”

“Take the right to vote, for example,” Justine continued. “Should simulated people have it? Consider the fact that these ‘people’ are ultimately just a bunch of zeroes and ones that can be moved around or — and this is key — copied. If you give a simulated person the vote, do copies of him also have that right? And if so, what’s to stop anyone from creating a voting bloc of hundreds of thousands of copies of the same digital persona, all voting identically?”

“Has ACORN started buying up computers?” Lou quipped.

“But if not, where do you draw the line?”, Justine continued, ignoring the outburst. “Does the original copy, such as the one Medimetics claims to have running today, get those rights either? Or are they reserved for the original flesh-and-blood person they copied? Or maybe the entire collection gets treated legally as one person, in which case, if two of them try to vote, whose do you count? First come, first served? Is there seniority? Fact is, our legal system simply isn’t set up for a world where non-human entities can be created on a whim and treated as people. It threatens to bring our entire system down.”

“Nonsense,” said the twenty-something man sitting between Chet and Dr. Pendleton.

“Which brings us to Oliver Trenton, founder and president of the… singularity advocacy organization Over Zero,” Chet said, reading the last five words slowly off the prompter as though they were a foreign language. “Oliver, first off–”

“Our legal system already recognizes non-humans as persons under the law,” Oliver said, talking over Chet’s segue. “They’re called corporations. In fact, I’m a little surprised you don’t seem to have heard of them, seeing as how Worthington has been lobbying Congress for extended First Amendment rights for corporations. That’s right, I’ve done my homework.”

“Corporations don’t have the vote either,” countered Justine.

“Don’t make me cut your mic too before we even get to you,” warned Chet. “Perhaps you could start with what it is your group does?”

“Certainly,” Oliver said, his voice slightly calmer. “The Singularity is the coming point in time at which our rate of technical advancement will outpace our current capability to adapt to it or even understand it. It’s when technology will become an autocatalyzing force for its own advancement, leading to an explosion of new capabilities that we, by definition, aren’t even capable of imagining yet.”

“So Skynet takes over?” Chet asked.

“That’s one possibility, to be sure, but hardly inevitable. Any technology can be used for good or evil.”

Dr. Pendleton leaned into frame and shouted loud enough to be picked up by Oliver’s microphone, “Nukes.”

“Which kept the Soviets from invading in the Cold War and killing millions of Americans,” countered Justine.

“Your point?” Chet said, glaring in Dr. Pendleton’s direction.

“The point is,” Oliver said deliberately, “that we need to make sure that when the Singularity occurs, humankind is along for the ride. And Medimetics has put us squarely on that path by digitizing the human brain.”

“So it’s a human exterminating mankind instead of a pure machine,” replied Chet.

“No, not at all. Medimetics has done precisely the right thing for the wrong reasons. Why bother figuring out cures for human diseases when we can upload ourselves into machines? The rate at which we can advance far outpaces what we can do in meatspace, where we’re limited by ecological carrying capacity and the rate of evolution.”

Offscreen, Lou snorted.

“Right now, it takes a room full of servers to replicate one person in real time. That sounds like a losing deal, but remember Moore’s Law: computing capability doubles every eighteen months. In a year and a half, Medimetics will be able to either have two people in there, or be able to run one person at twice the speed. Three years from now, it’s four people or four times the speed, and it keeps doubling from there. Remember that today your phone by itself is far more powerful than the biggest supercomputers of the fifties. In my lifetime, we could see the day when humankind actually transitions from carbon-based to silicon-based life, with no limit in sight to where we can go from there.”

“An interesting idea, to be sure,” Chet said flatly. “Finally, we turn to friend of the show Lou Masterson, executive director of the Coalition for Freedom, Values, and Family. What do you say to all this, Lou?”

“It’s an abomination,” Lou intoned, scowling into the camera.

“Care to elaborate?”

“Medimetics is playing God, and the Bible shows us what happens to people who do that. I’ll be fire and brimstone for them, and hiding inside a computer won’t stop that.”

Chet nodded.

“But it’s far worse than that. I have evidence right here,” Lou continued, holding up a small bundle of papers in his hand as he spoke, “that Medimetics is in league with the Obama administration to euthanize our parents, our grandparents, and all right-thinking conservatives as part of his so-called heath care reform to eliminate opposition to his radical leftist anti-America agenda.”

“Bold claims,” Chet replied. “Can you back it up?”

“Absolutely. The CFVF has been doing its homework too, and we’ve found some facts that Medimetics has conveniently left out of its press releases.” Lou tapped the papers in front of him for effect. “For example, you already know that Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh, their guinea pig in all this, was already confined to a hospital bed before he got ‘scanned’ or whatever they call it. But did you know that after the procedure, he fell into a coma? Or that four months later — that’s two months ago, mind you — that Jacob F. Feldspar-Leigh, the real one, in the hospital, died? I have a copy of his medical records for the past year, including his death certificate, right here, and they’ll be posted on the CFVF website immediately following this program for all to see. Isn’t it interesting how no one in the liberal media bothered to find out the truth behind what happened? Or how Medimetics is pushing the idea that Mr. Feldspar-Leigh is inside the computer, and that apparently means we shouldn’t know or care about the real person? Could it be that this is Obama’s plan to secretly kill his opposition, through a loophole of Medimetics’s devising?”

“How did you get a copy of–” started Justine.

“You can’t possibly believe–” exclaimed Oliver simultaneously.

Dr. Pendleton shouted something inaudible.

“Well,” said Chet, cutting them all off, “that’s all the time we have tonight. Which of our guests do you think hit the bullseye tonight? Text message or Twitter your answer to the contact information at the bottom of your screen, and visit the Straight Arrow website for up-to-the-minute results. And tune in tomorrow night, when we’ll be discussing a case you won’t believe the Supreme Court has granted cert. Good night.”

Chapter word count: 1,854 (+187)
Total word count: 14,165 / 50,000 (28.33%)

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