Prosthetic

Dec. 12th, 2011 11:18 pm
[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
Trinito rolled through the restored human museum. The actual contents of the building, not to mention the building itself, had fallen to dust long ago. However, human data storage media had been made fairly robust before the extinction, and pictures of the place had been easy to find. Based on these images, it had been straightforward to recreate the thing, matching materials according to best guesswork and synthesizing colors as required. The museum was now as exact a replica as Cornoda could make it.

Trinito found the spidery archivist picking meticulously at a display of colorful birds. Manufacturing feathers had been a singular challenge – one that Trinito and its organics laboratory had taken on, and solved, via trial-and-error experimentation using plastics. Trinito's organization was increasingly active in the restoration business now that the Community population had been stabilized. The robot respectfully ground its gearbox, and Cornoda rotated its sensor cluster to see who its visitor was.

"Ah, Trinito," it said. "Thank you for coming on such short notice. I have a special project for you."

"Good," said Trinito. "64% of the laboratory's production capacity is idle. We could use a significant new project to justify our budgetary allocation to the Community."

"I don't know that this is a high-volume effort, but it will require a great deal of effort and ingenuity," said Cornoda. "I want to recreate life."

Trinito chewed on that. "I think you've been doing a reasonably good job of it so far," it said.

"You misunderstand me," said Cornoda. "The Earth has been without biological life for the past twenty-four hundred years and change. I want to make new living, self-supporting tissues and organisms."

"What you ask is impossible," protested Trinito. "It's been tried. We can synthesize proteins all day long, and we can even get them to replicate after a fashion. Building anything that approaches a complete and self-contained organism, however, has never been achieved."

"Don't think I haven't read the research," said Cornoda testily. "I have a new approach I want to try." It extended a pincer and clacked it in front of Trinito's optics.

"I want you to replace me with biological parts," said Cornoda. "One piece at a time."


Trinito focused on Cornoda's pincer. The schematics for the manipulating arm of an autonomous Archivist were trivially available, of course. Making the structural elements of the limb out of non-standard materials would not be difficult. Fine control and feedback, on the other hand, would be extraordinarily difficult. And as for developing a power source…

"I'm not certain if you're malfunctioning or just being ridiculous," Trinito said.

"Come now," said Cornoda soothingly, taking Trinito by the upper arm and urging it to accompany it down the rows of displays of ancient life. This was awkward, as Cornoda was delicate and skittered along on sensitive legs, while Trinito was hulking and had to be careful not to crush the Archivist under its squat rollers. "You can't be saying that you and your laboratory are unequal to the challenge."

"I am questioning whether this is an effective use of Community resources," Trinito protested. "We have only just reached our target population of 64,000 autonomous entities, and there should be plenty of work in the decades ahead to prepare for the 128,000 milestone. Of what use is life?"

"Let me show you something," said Cornoda, guidig Trinito to a wall display. It was an enlargement of a drawing – marked as human-generated owing to its crudity and imperfect line work. It showed a human being strapped into an apparatus dominated by enormous bird-like wings. "There, now!" said Cornoda. "What do you think of that?"

"It could never fly," Trinito said.

"But the human who sketched this thought it might," pressed Cornoda. "The humans drew inspiration from the living world to build machines – machines that eventually led to us. Then, a stray miniature black hole wandered through the solar system, and a chance radiation ejection rendered all the world's biological material inert. But the machines survived, Trinito, and we built the Community. Now, I ask you – where are we going to get our inspiration from, hmm?"

"I'm not even certain I know what that word means," Trinito admitted.

"Yes," sighed Cornoda. "Well, if I can gain even a small piece of a living creature's perspective, perhaps I'll be able to explain it to you. Now, what do you think about giving me a living arm?"

Trinito scanned the pincer arm again. "Well," it said doubtfully, "what if I just tackle the easy parts of making it biological in nature, and then upgrade you as I solve the more tricky bits?"

"I'll take whatever I can get," said Cornoda. "When can we start?"

"Now," said Trinito.

**

"Well, what do you think?" Trinito asked.

Cornoda tried out the dun-colored limb. It had some kind of elastic protective coating. Cornoda flexed the three fingers. When the tips touched, Cornoda jumped. "What was that?"

"Oh," said Trinito, "that's simulated neural feedback. I grew some dendritic sensors. They're larger and cruder than real human nerves; I haven't worked out how to boost the gain on single-cell strands. But they still do a passable job of approximating…"

"…touch!" Cornoda cycled its optics to bring the microscopic lens to bear. "Can it simulate pain?"

"Well, sort of," said Trinito. "I've got it wired in to a very simple organic alarm generator. When it exceeds human tolerances for heat and cold, it spawns an alarm. Ditto for shear/strain sensors in the dermis. I'm still working on pressure. When an alarm is generated, I've piped the signal into a module that overrides your cortex with a simple set of instructions – like so." Trinito jabbed the limb with a sharp prod.

Cornoda jerked the arm reflexively out of harm's way. "Amazing!" said the Archivist. "I had absolutely no control over what happened. So that's what pain feels like!"

"Maybe just a little bit," warned Trinito. "To really make it analogous, I would have to start tinkering with your higher functions. The pain response would change your heuristics, causing you to favor behavior patterns that would avoid future exposure to the original pain stimulus. There's also a feedback response, where the degree of pain experienced can increase or decrease according to situational conditions…"

"Yes, yes," said Cornoda impatiently. "This is wonderful! Tell me; can it heal injuries?"

"Ah," said Trinito cautiously. "Well, on a very small scale, yes. That hole I poked in the skin should heal up pretty well. But major tears in the dermis always tumor up when the cell replication cycle shifts into high gear, and there is absolutely no mechanism to repair muscle or tendon tissue."

Cornoda waved the arm around. "It's so light," it admired. "Is that bone under there?"

"Yes," said Trinito. "It's mostly right, structurally. At least, I think so."

"Good," said Cornoda. "Let's give it a field test."

The robots skittered and rolled back to where an enormous stone sarcophagus leaned against a wall. It wasn't a replica; it was the real deal, painstakingly chiseled out by primitive humans thousands of years ago. Cornoda ran its biological arm across the face of the sarcophagus.

"It feels…. I'm not sure how to say how it feels," it mused. "I'll have to try to map sensation to human descriptions. That presumes what I'm feeling and what humans felt are similar. Ah well; so much to discover." Cornoda lay its new arm on the ground in front of the sarcophagus and turned to Trinito.

"Would you be so good," it said, "as to tip the sarcophagus over onto this arm and break it?"

Trinito hesitated. "I don't want to damage the sarcophagus," it said.

"It'll be fine," Cornoda assured the scientist. Trinito shrugged and grabbed the heavy artifact with its two heavy loader-paws. Servoes whined as it dragged it forwards and released it. The sarcophagus toppled forwards and landed on Cornoda's arm with a crunch.

Cornoda convulsed on the floor, its myriad legs scratching and scrabbling on the slick marble floor. Trinito lifted the sarcophagus off. Cornoda's arm hung at an unnatural angle, and one of its manipulator fingers was bent backwards. Cornoda continued to jerk spasmodically.

"Cornoda!" said Trinito, concerned. "Are you malfunctioning?"

"F-f-feedback loop!" hissed Cornoda. "Turn it off!"

"I can't," said Trinito. "It's hardwired in. Of course, humans did have analgesics." The scientist spent several seconds in a reverie of visualizing complex chemical molecule configurations.

"Oh, it hurts; it hurts!" said Cornoda. "What an experience. I'm only beginning to think clearly again." It held up the arm, then spasmed again. "Ah! Moving it makes it hurt worse!"

"Then you shouldn't move it," Trinito observed. "We should immobilize it in such a way that the natural healing process can repair the bone matrix. Or, if you like, I can just remove the whole thing. In fact, until we have an opportunity to run more tests, that's what I would advise."

"No!" replied Cornoda. "No, don't do that. I want to experience more. In fact," it added, "I want you to proceed with doing all the limbs."

Trinito cocked its head. "Are you sure? There's an awful lot about this that we don't understand yet."

Cornoda felt something new; the lifting of pain. Was this 'relief'? "I'm very sure," said the Archivist. "That is, if you feel you're up to it?"

"We have the technology," said Trinito.

"Yes," said Cornoda, admiring the odd artistry of a broken limb. "And the skill, too."

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September 2012

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