Replicant

Dec. 14th, 2011 11:33 pm
[personal profile] hwrnmnbsol
"So that's what a brain looks like," marveled Cornoda, peering down into the brine tank. The organ was folded in on itself many times, and it was a pale grey in color, with hints of blue.

"No, that's not like any brain that ever existed, on this planet anyway," Trinito corrected his largely organic counterpart. "It's an analog of your brain. It's actually smaller than a human brain, but more efficient, given the fact that I was able to optimize its growth instead of letting it branch out naturally. The main downside is that it's powerful enough that it will run hot; it'll actually float in a reservoir of your vascular fluids, which will act as a heat sink…"

"Boring stuff boring stuff," drawled Cornoda. "When does it go in?"

"First we have to fill it up with the contents of your mind," Trinito said.

"You're going to download me into an organic brain," said Cornoda, awestruck. "I haven't been downloaded since I was created."

"Yes, well; this isn't quite that simple," said Trinito. "Organic brains don't do the bulk I/O as efficiently as we do. This is going to be a slower process than that." It turned and placed the brine tank containing the grown brain on a low rolling cart. "All right," it said, fidding with Cornoda's back access plate, "I'm pulling the plug on you for just a moment; hold tight."

Cornoda blanked out. When he came to, a set of leads snaked out of his central processor compartment and into a box on the brain-wagon. More connectors linked the brain to the box. Something chafed at Cornoda's skin, and he craned his oculars to see that he was strapped into a kind of harness.

"You're going to pull your new brain along behind you for the next week or two," said Trinito. "All your mental processing is being routed through your new brain as well as through the old one. It'll learn to think what you think, and know what you know, by copying you."

"Huh," said Cornoda. He stood up and tentatively tugged at the wagon. It rolled smoothly behind him. Cornoda looked like a large fleshy spider pulling a catering cart.

"I feel ridiculous," Cornoda complained.

Trinito nodded. "And now so does your new brain," it said approvingly.


Cornoda tugged his cart through the halls of the museum. He blew dust off the display cases and blotted condensation from inside sealed cabinets. Several of the snake replicas were losing pigmentation owing to aging; Cornoda mixed up a blue/purple preparation and decanted it into a microsprayer, then trundled it down to the Reptile Hall to fix the problem. There he discovered that somebody else had the same idea.

It was a robot, the twin of Cornoda, or at least as he had appeared before the experiment. It was poking disapprovingly at some of the exhibits, with the display glass wide open. Cornoda gasped – a selection off the menu of Trinito's new stimulus response module -- and skittered up. "Hello! Stop that!" he said. "Contents are fragile!"

"Yes, I know," said the robot acidly. "I must say, these exhibits are significantly shopworn. I can't say that you've been taking very good care of things around here." It turned to face Cornoda. "I'm Yuller, the new Archivist," it announced.

Cornoda was puzzled. "I'm being replaced?" he asked. "Why?"

Trinito trundled up. "Oh, Cornoda," it said sadly. "I've been meaning to tell you. You're… well, the Community has taken note of your metamorphosis…."

"You're defective," Yuller said brusquely. "Not up to specs. It is believed that you may be incapable of performing your duties."

"That's very rude," Trinito scolded Yuller. It turned to Cornoda. "You have to forgive it; it's a brand new robot."

"New?" yelped Cornoda. "But we've just stabilized the population already…"

"Since you are less than half original design, the Community no longer counts you as one of the population," Yuller said.

"Then I'm not one of the sixty-four thousand," Cornoda said sadly.

"No, you're not," said Trinito. "To the Community, you're a few parts. I'm sorry."

"I see," said Cornoda. He began to cry. Trinito's routines worked perfectly; his body convulsed, and mucus membranes swelled and leaked, and portions of his organic brain fired with activity in ways his electronic brain found wholely irrational.

"It can't have a breakdown here," said Yuller, the new Archivist, to Trinito. "This is the Museum, a place of dignity and remembrance. Kindly clean up your experiment and leave."

Trinito reached a cargo-arm under Yuller and flipped it over, then pinned it with a powerful digit. "My friend is a 'he', not an 'it'," said Trinito calmly. "Moreover, as an organic creature, he belongs in this museum more than just about anything else I can think of."

"Let me up! You are acting inconsistently with the harmony of the Community!" squawked Yuller.

"It is you who are being inconsistent," Trinito said. "You may get up, but please remember that you are a very young robot, and you have a great deal to learn." It released the Archivist, who righted itself and scuttled to the far side of the Hall before peering accusingly at Trinito.

"A full report will be filed," said Yuller nastily, then skittered away.

"Archivists," snorted Trinito. "Programmed to be territorial about their collections, as you know. Don't be too upset."

"I'm feeling much better," said Cornoda, drying his tears away. "Thanks for sticking up for me."

"You're welcome," said Trinito. It peered at its friend. "Are you going to be okay?"

"Probably not," said Cornoda. "At least, not until I've gone all the way over. I can't live halfway between being a machine and being a living creature. Maybe once I'm all the way organic…"

"Don't you feel any different yet?" asked Trinito. "All these emotional responses, built-in inefficiencies – haven't you yet felt any change in the nature of existence?"

"No," said Cornoda. "Not in the whole. Maybe once I'm thinking with a meat brain it'll be different."

Trinito eyed the brain in its tank. "It's a little early," it mused, "but that thing has probably absorbed as much of your mind as it's going to get. I don’t see any reason to delay the surgery."

"Surgery," echoed Cornoda. "I suppose this isn't going to be as straightforward as a simple parts swap?"

"Oh no," replied Trinito.

**

Cornoda felt groggy. His vision swam. Slowly he opened his eyes. "What's happening?" he said.

A shape swam into view – an isosceles triangle. Cornoda knew that shape; it was the face of Trinito, or at least its cluster of oculars that Cornoda commonly looked at while interacting with his friend. "You're coming around," said Trinito. "The surgery is complete. I suspect your neural activity will be a little depressed for a while until the medicine wears off."

Cornoda blinked. Already his vision was clearing. "Medicine?" he said groggily, trying to get to his feet. Trinito's big manipulator pressed back.

"No no, don't get up," it said. "You have a few incisions that will have to heal, and I don’t want you opening them up. There's no risk of infection, but we can't have you springing a vascular fluid leak. I'm afraid you'll have to convalesce awhile."

"Bed rest," mumbled Cornoda. A thought occurred to him. "Say," he said, "I'm now thinking entirely off the organic brain, aren't I?"

"Yes, and everything seems to be working reasonably well," replied Trinito. "I reworked all of your nervous system while I was in there, tweaked the vascular circulation, removed and replaced all of the remaining mechanical chassis and infrastructure. Except for a few ceramic parts, you're now a meat-creature all the way."

"Then… I'm alive?" asked Cornoda.

"I don't know," said Trinito. "This seems more like a question for philosophers, not scientists. Your parts still function mechanically; it's just the materials of construction that are different."

Cornoda thought about that. "So then, you could do it again," he said. "You could build another one of me, only from scratch. If you wanted."

"I don't know about that," said Trinito doubtfully. "We had to download a thinking creature's mind, remember?"

"But those are built and designed too," pressed Cornoda. "So you could build a new, functioning robot mind…"

"Or, at least, an artificial intelligence engineer could," inserted Trinito.

"… and then you could download THAT into an organic body. You could make life from scratch."

"Like I said: I don't know," said Trinito. It cocked its organ-cluster at Cornoda.

"So: how does it feel to be alive? Or, at least, indistinguishable from being alive?" asked Trinito. "Still no change?"

Cornoda rolled the problem around in his mind. Is the nature of being alive indistinguishable from the set of inputs and thoughts that one has? He considered the way he had seen the world before and after.

"I think… it's very hard to be sure, but I think there's no difference at all," he said. "Maybe there's nothing special about being alive. Or maybe whatever's special about being alive has been captured by the Community and programmed into us."

"Or maybe I've only made a facsimile of a living creature; a replicant," said Trinito dourly. "The experiment may have failed."

"I don't think you've failed if you've made something new," said Cornoda. "And you have made something new, Trinito. I'm the first being of my kind to walk the Earth. That's good, because the Earth is dry and dead, and it could use some new things."

"I suppose," said Trinito, clearly not certain.

"It could use," added Cornoda, quietly but firmly, "more of my kind of new things."

"I am not going into the business of building Cornoda-factories," said Trinito.

"You don't have to," said Cornoda. He pointed to his penis.

"You want a mate?" asked Trinito.

Cornoda nodded. "A hot one!" he said.

"So what you're saying," pointed out Trinito, "is that you're asking me to solve the genitive material problem after all."

"You definitely have the skill," said Cornoda, snuggling back on his recuperating bed.

"And the technology," sighed Trinito.

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September 2012

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