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Drabblecast 124 - Ghosts and Simulations

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:41 am
by Kevin Anderson
Drabblecast 124

Drabble- Navy Wife
by A.S. Lowe

Ghosts and Simulations
by Ruthanna Emrys

"You're looking for people to mind the ghosts?" I asked, as I signed for the co-pay...

Image

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 10:08 am
by thebrog
Very easily my favourite Drabblecast. Very beautifully written and the concept is just haunting pardon the pun.

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 12:08 pm
by Phenopath
I agree that this story was very well written. The concept is really interesting, but would have come to naught if badly told. However, it was told with a subtle hand and empathy for the characters.

There is lot to consider in the central concept. For example, it is unknowable whether the simulations are actually conscious. The best test that we have for AI is the Turing test which sidesteps consciousness and merely asks whether we can distinguish machine from man.

I hope that main character refused to run a simulation of deceased wife, it would be like having tamagotchi wife. Using this technology would stunt his ability to grieve (although he was happy to go on a hot date whilst his wife was on her deathbed).

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 3:18 pm
by strawman
Phenopath wrote: For example, it is unknowable whether the simulations are actually conscious.
Not to be rude, but is it only simulations whose consciousness is unknowable? Or to rephrase, is there any proof of consciousness outside of self-consciousness?
'Cogito, ergo es' doesn't follow.
Our greatest skill could be the matrix we construct to play with our imaginary friends. O wait; my bad. How can there be a plural?
Norm may just be a figment of his stalker's imagination (like a dog chasing its tail).
BTW, great story all around.

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 4:12 pm
by Phenopath
strawman wrote:
Phenopath wrote: For example, it is unknowable whether the simulations are actually conscious.
Not to be rude, but is it only simulations whose consciousness is unknowable? Or to rephrase, is there any proof of consciousness outside of self-consciousness?
Of course you are right. We assume that other human beings are conscious and have the same awareness of 'self' as ourselves. That working assumption makes life a little simpler and stops us behaving autistically.

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 4:55 pm
by strawman
I don't know about 'simpler'. What could be simpler than living life as if it were all my own dream? Only one mouth to feed, no taxes to pay, or rules to obey...
But you'd think your consciousness would be able to conjure up a cell that smelled like flowers instead of urine, and soft music instead of this endless moaning.

sad

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 7:34 pm
by DougallStrange
no thoughts, Just sad. I liked it though.

but...what about the interwebs?

Posted: Sat Aug 01, 2009 7:50 pm
by alhilton
That was a great story, perfectly paired with delightfully stupid news.

I realize that the point was a speculation on the nature of existence, but I couldn't help feeling that the interactive possibilities for the ghosts were unimaginative. They seemed to be living in an early version of the internet with nothing but chat rooms. Won't they be likely to jump into Second Life or its futuristic equivalent? Play WoW all day long? Listen to a lot of podcasts, troll message boards, do digital art? Forget giving live lectures; how about recording them and posting them on their websites? Can they not email? Why do families have to come to the facility at all? If the ghosts were actually cut off from the internet (because live people felt threatened), I would have liked to hear about that debate.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 2:43 am
by LajesticVantrashellofLob
I seem to recall posting somewhere on the forums about transhumanism, and now here's a great story on the topic. Weird...

Anyway, I thought the story was well written and presented - a great depiction of the future where we have the upload technology, just not the force-grown clones to make us truly immortal. I'm looking forward to it, actually - I could finally catch up on all my other podcasts, do some reading, learn all sorts of math and physics... and then just surf the internet aimlessly for days on end.

Another thought stuck me while I was listening, too - if someone is backed up, what's to stop their embodied form from activating that backup? I think it would be great to be able to literally talk to myself, even if the other me was just a virtual copy of my consciousness. Of course, when we get to force-grown clones, this means that there could literally be two or more of any given person, provided they had the resources to have a mental backup downloaded into a second copy of their body...

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 3:53 am
by thebrog
For some reason this reminded me of an old Outer Limits episode where aliens needed to posses the recently dead in order to live. Don't ask me why.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 6:11 pm
by tbaker2500
Very well written story. Rather than extend the cruelty of the story out to full length, the author managed to tell both the pre and post death stories simultaneously by having him work at the center, and understand what it means to be a simulation.

P.S. I just moved my company into an old funeral home. I'm told they found seven cremated people in a closet upstairs. I hope they don't get into my LAN.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 7:47 pm
by Deadguy
For me this was a beautifully haunting empathetic story with the type of foresight that Arthur C. Clarke possessed. I believe this type of personality preservation will happen, and perhaps already exists.

In the afterword of Pirsig's Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance the author details his son's murder and struggles with the pain of loss. Rationalizing exactly what is lost with his son's death is, in many ways, the point of the entire book. This is what he has to say about it:

"What had to be seen was that the Chris I missed so badly was not an object but a pattern, and that although the pattern included the flesh and blood of Chris, that was not all there was to it. The pattern was larger than Chris and myself, and related us in ways that neither of us understood completely and neither of us was in complete control of.

"Some time later it became clearer that these thoughts were something very close to statements found in many 'primitive' cultures. If you take that part of the pattern that is not the flesh and bones of Chris and call it the "spirit" of Chris or the "ghost" of Chris, then you can say without further translation that the spirit or ghost of Chris is looking for a new body to enter."

So if, as Pirsig suggests, that a person's spiritual entity is simply an encapsulation of relative patterns of behavior, behavioral algorithms will one day (perhaps sooner that we would like to believe) be able to simulate or even appropriate the "spirit" of living humans and immortality will then be a reality ... so long and the power doesn't go out.

However, as Emrys points out here, what makes us distinctly human and more than mere spirit is the part of the pattern that is flesh and blood. Our brains are immensely sensitive machines. A behavioral algorithm without the influences of dopamine, adrenaline, serotonin, and billions of external and bodily stimuli per second is still just a behavioral algorithm. We cannot disconnect from the outside world and just become pure thought. Those that do we deem as unfit for society and lock them up to get "help".

Perhaps the preserved will find new stimuli: fluctuations in current, the vibrations of the physically moving hardware, code errors, or crashing operating systems. Perhaps these new stimuli will replicate the chemicals in the brain or at least act as surrogates, but again, will that pass for "human"?

Would global social and moral standards really ever accept this type of personality preservation? I believe it will happen but it won't be without a struggle.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 9:27 pm
by Mr. Tweedy
The story was conceptually interesting and exceptionally well-produced (awesome music selection), but I can't escape the feeling that it just didn't go anywhere. We were introduced to several subplots, but none of them were developed. How will the wife's "ghosting" effect her? The relationship? Will the husband join her? Is the uploaded teenager really changing? If so, why? How will events end up effecting the religious views of the various parties? The setup was brilliant: It had me holding breath, figuratively white-knuckled, waiting for the end... And then the end went by without my really marking it, leaving my breath held, which is very uncomfortable. It's great to leave questions unanswered, but I felt like this story left ALL the questions unanswered, which didn't really satisfy me.

I think part of my problem is that this story was so very, very similar to John Crowley's story "Snow." It had almost exactly the same premise (people are backed up and stored on a computer, where relatives can go visit; existential questions arise), but Snow, while it also left most of its questions unanswered, had a distinctly creepy something is wrong with the world vibe that made it more satisfying. When I finished it, I felt like reality was a thin facade over something horrible. I didn't have much idea what was back there, but it was something to take home with me.

I guess I feel that the author's neutrality hurt the story. The author needed to take a stand: "This is a good idea" or "This is a bad idea." Without that, you don't really have story, just a description. That's what I feel like this was: A creative and interesting description. I enjoyed listening to it, but it hasn't got any meat. A delicious side dish in need of a main course.

As to the idea of something like this being plausible, there are two questions that strike me: "Can you pause a mind?" and "Is a mind port-able?" It seems inevitable that we will soon have computers with the raw processing power of brains (technology catches up with biology), but that will not mean that a mind can "run" on that computer. The brain is a custom processor and the software is made to run on it. Can minds be ported over to run on a different system or are they "written" is such a way the only brains can process them? In that case, would you have actually simulate a brain, run a virtual machine? And, assuming you actually could create a computer on which a mind could "run," how would you get the mind in there? And inherent quality of life is continual change (animation). Your mind is not a static thing: It is a sequence of events. Your mind is happening. If you make a copy, it seems that you must necessarily stop the mind and restart it at a later time. Can you do that? Might there be side effects?

Which are some of the questions I wish the story would have dealt with.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:44 pm
by strawman
One of the things I liked was the stuttering on the reboot, and reverting to spelling. That jibed well with the notion of sudden, unexpected consciousness. And it seems to me that the variety of things that posters have said they would have liked to see in the story is itself an indication that the story was inspirational. The fact that it didn't directly address questions of ultimate reality and meaning didn't keep anyone from responding to the ideas with those questions.

The thing is, with computer simulations, you can game alternate ultimate realities. It might be fun to have a story in which both roads in every fork are taken, so that the best choice can be made. And then having people explain why they didn't chose the best road.
But try to put it in a Drabble.

Posted: Sun Aug 02, 2009 10:48 pm
by alhilton
strawman wrote:One of the things I liked was the stuttering on the reboot, and reverting to spelling.
Yeah, I really liked that, too. Norm produced it well, because I understand what was going on, even though it was obviously meant to make sense in a text medium.

Posted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 3:50 pm
by LajesticVantrashellofLob
strawman wrote: The thing is, with computer simulations, you can game alternate ultimate realities. It might be fun to have a story in which both roads in every fork are taken, so that the best choice can be made. And then having people explain why they didn't chose the best road.
But try to put it in a Drabble.
That sounds like a challenge... *cracks knuckles*

Posted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:16 pm
by LajesticVantrashellofLob
And here is my attempt.

(Dead link, dadnabit!)

Dinner with corpse feed robots

Posted: Mon Aug 03, 2009 4:21 pm
by Gligstith(click)optok
From:
Hanna Lector, CEO
Robotic Technology Inc
555, A street
Washington DC, 20003

To:
Norman Sherman, Editor-in-chief
The Drabblecast

Dear Norman,

We recently heard your drabble cast news article regarding our pet project. We completely understand your concerns and would appreciate an opportunity to lay them to rest.

To that end, we would like to send Eater One to dine at your house this Saturday evening. Please feel free to invite any like minded friends and listeners who may also doubt our veracity. There is no need to prepare any special foods for him. He will happily consume whatever he finds lying around the house.

We sincerely believe that your hand feeding Eater One will bring all of your fears and doubts to an abrupt end.

Finest Regards,

Hanna Lector
CEO, Robotic Technology Inc
Chairman of the Board of The Human Food Project

P.S. Please refrain from wearing jewelry, rings, belt buckles, or any other metal objects during Eater’s visit as these may upset his sensitive ….ummm… communication system.
:shock:

Posted: Tue Aug 04, 2009 6:30 am
by Goldenrat
Cool story. Didn't feel like a Drabblecast story, but that was OK. It was a creepy ride and those of us that have gone through what the protaganist did have to wonder what it would be like to have loved ones still around in a sense. Not sure if that would be such a good thing.

Posted: Thu Aug 06, 2009 2:26 am
by roboticintent
I must say that this is one of the most interesting stories I've heard on this show. I found myself wanting more at the end. Although the concept was freaky and I would not wish to have my ghost/spirit kept locked up once i'm gone.... free me.
Great story and I hope to hear more on the topic one day :)