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Virtual Taro

Taro Kimura tarokimura at nifty.com
Fri Jun 1 00:46:53 EST 2001

title:Virtual Taros ver.1.0e
by Taro Kimura

 Lex took the disk holding the brain scan down to
his computer lab. He loaded it onto an AI workstation
and copied everything into three different RAM parti-
tions---producing three identical copies of Taro's
brain, each isolated in its own memory bank.

 Hobson 1
 Hobson 2
 Hobson 3

 "What now?" said Taro, sitting backward on a
stacking chair and leaning his chin on his arms folded
over the chair's back.
 "First, we label them." Lex, sitting on the
barstool he preferred to a chair, spoke into the micro-
phone on the console in front of him. "Login," he
 "Login name?" said the computer's voice, female,
 "Hello, Lex. Command?"
 "Rename Hobson 1 to Spirit."
 "Please spell destination name."
 Lex sighed, The word "Spirit" was doubtless in
the computer's vocabulary, but Lex's accent occa-
sionally gave it trouble. "S-P-I-R-I-T."
 "Done. Command?"
 "Rename Hobson 2 to Ambrotos."
 "Done. Command?"
 Taro piped up. "Why 'Ambrotos'?"
 "It's the Greek word for immortal," said Lex.
"You see it in words such as 'ambrosia'-the food-
stuff that confers immortality."
 "That darned private school education," said Taro.
 Lex grinned. "Exactly." He turned back to the
mike. "Rename Hobson 3 to Control."
 "Done. Command?"
 "Load Spirit."
 "Loaded. Command?"
 "Okay," said Lex, turning to face Taro. "Spirit
is supposed to simulate life after death. To do that, we
begin by paring out all exclusively biological func-
tions. That will not actually involve removing parts of
the conscious brain, of course, but rather just discon-
necting various networks. To find out which connec-
tions we can sever, we'll use the Dalhousie Stimulus
Library. That's a Canadianized version of a collection
of standard images and sound recordings originally
created by the University of Melbourne; it's common-
ly used in psychological testing. As Spirit is exposed to
each image or sound, we record which neurons fire in
 Taro nodded.
 "The stimuli are all cataloged by the type of emo-
tions they're supposed to elicit---fear, revulsion, sexual
arousal, hunger, et cetera. We look to see which neu-
ral nets are activated exclusively by biological con-
cerns, and then zero those out. Of course, we have to
go through the images several times in random
sequences. That's because of action potentials: nets
might not get activated if a substantially similar com-
binations of neurons was recently triggered by some-
thing else. Once we've finished doing that, we should
have a version of your mind that approximates the
way you would be if you were freed of all concerns
about meeting physical needs---what you would be
like if you were dead, in other words. After that, we'll
do the same thing with Ambrotos, the immortal ver-
sion, but for it we'll excise the fear of growing old and
concerns about aging and death."
 "What about the experimental control?"
 "I'll feed it the same sorts of images and sound
clips, just so that it will have been exposed to the
same things as the other two versions, but I won't
zero out any of its nets."
 "Very good."
 "Okay," said Lex. He turned to face the console.
"Run Dalhousie Version 4."
 "Executing," said the computer.
 "Estimate time to completion."
 "Eleven hours, nineteen minutes."
 "Advise when complete." Lex tuned to Taro.
"I'm sure you won't want to watch the whole thing,
but you can see what is being fed to Spirit on that
 Taro looked at the screen. A monarch butterfly
emerging from a cocoon. Banff, Alberta. A pretty
woman blowing a kiss at the camera. Some 1980s
movie star that Taro sort of recognized. Two men
boxing. A house on fire…

 Sitting in the office in his home, Taro called into the
computers at Mirror Image. When prompted to log on,
he typed his account name, fobson. When he'd gotten
his first computer account, back at U of T, he'd been
assigned his first initial and last name as his login---
phobson. But a classmate had pointed out that he could
save a keystroke by changing the "ph" to an "f," and
Taro had adopted that as his standard login ever since.
 He descended through layers of menus and finally
came to the AI experimental system. Lex had setup
a simple menu for bringing any one of virtual Taros into
the foreground:

[F1] Spirit (Life After Death)
[F2] Ambrotos (Immortality)
[F3] Control (unmodified)

 Taro tried to choose, and, in so doing, realized he
was facing the very question he and Lex had set out
to answer. Which one would lend the most sympa-
thetic ear? The after-death version? Would a being
with no physical body really understand marital diffi-
culties? How much of marriage was emotional/intel-
lectual? How much of emotion was hormonal?
 What about the immortal version? Maybe.
Immortality meant permanence. Perhaps an immortal
would have a particular affinity for questions of fideli-
ty. After all, marriage was supposed to be forever.
 Taro thought about Spenser. And Susan Silverman.
And Hawk. He was enjoying the books about them.
But when was the last time Robert B. Parker had
found a new situation to put them in, a new facet of
their personalities to explore?
 A century with Josy.
 A millennium with Josy.
 Taro shook his head. No, the immortal version
wouldn't understand. Immortality surely didn't confer
a sense of permanence. Not at all. It would give one
perspective. The long view.
 Taro leaned forward and pressed F3, selecting the
Control simulacrum. Just him, only him, unmodified
 "Who's there?" said the speech synthesizer.
 Taro leaned back in the chair. "It's me, Taro
 "Oh," said a virtual Taro. "You mean it's me."
 Taro raised an eyebrow. "Something like that."
 The synthesized voice chuckled. "Don't worry. I'm
getting used to being Taro Hobson simulacrum,
Baseline edition. But do you know who you are?
Maybe you're just a simulacrum, too." The speaker
whistled the opening strains from the Twilight Zone
theme---doing a better job of whistling than the flesh-
and-blood Taro had ever managed.
 Taro laughed. "I supposed I wouldn't like it if our
situations were reversed," he said.
 "Well, it's not so bad," said a virtual Taro. "I'm getting a
lot of reading done. I've got about eighteen books
going at once; when I get bored with one, I switch to
another. Of course, the workstation's processor is a
lot faster than a chemical brain, so I'm going through
material quite quickly---I'm finally making my way
through Thomas Pynchon."

 Enough time had elapsed, Lex felt, for virtual Taros
to have adapted to their new circumstances. It
was time to start posing the big questions. Lex
and Taro were both tied up with other things for the
next couple of days, but finally they got together at
Mirror Image, and ensconced themselves in the com-
puter lab. Lex brought Ambrotos into the fore-
ground. He was about to begin asking it questions,
but thought better of it. "It's your mind," Lex said.
"You should ask the questions."
 Taro nodded and cleared his throat. "Hello,
Ambrotos," he said.
 "Hello, Taro," said that mechanical voice.
 "What is immortality really like?"
Ambrotos took a long time before replying, as if
contemplating all of eternity first. "It's…relaxing, I
suppose is the best word for it." Another pause.
Nothing was rushed. "I hadn't realized how much
pressure aging put on us. Oh, I know women some-
times say their biological clock is ticking. But there's a
bigger clock affecting all of us---at least people like
you and me, driven people, people with a need to
accomplish things. We know we've only got a limited
amount of time, and there's so much we want to get
done. We curse every wasted minute." Another pause.
"Well, I don't feel that anymore. I don't feel the pres-
sure to do things quickly. I still want to accomplish
things, but there'll always be tomorrow. There'll
always be more time."
 Taro considered. "I'm not sure I'd consider being
less driven an improvement. I like getting things
 Ambrotos's reply was infinitely calm. "And I like
relaxing. I like knowing that if I want to spend three
weeks or three years learning about something that
strikes my fancy that I can, without it somehow
reducing my productive time. If I feel like reading a
novel today instead of working on some project,
what's wrong with that?"
 Taro leaned back in his chair, thinking. Lex
took the opportunity for a turn at the mike. "But isn't
immortality boring?"
 A virtual Taro laughed. "Forgive me, my friend, but
that's one of the silliest ideas I've ever heard. Boring,
when you've got the totality of creation to compre-
hend? I've never read a play by Aristophanes. I've
never studied any Asian language. I don't understand
anything about ballet, or lacrosse, or meteorology. I
can't read music. I can't play the drums." Laughter
again. "I want to write a novel and a sonnet and a
song. Yes, they'll all stink, but eventually I'll learn to
do them well. I want to learn to paint and to appre-
ciate opera and to really understand quantum
physics. I want to read all the great books, and all
the trashy ones, too. I want to learn about Buddhism
and Judaism and Seventh Day Adventists. I want to
visit Australia and Japan and the Galapagos. I want
to go into space. I want to go the bottom of the
ocean. I want to learn it all, do it all, live it all.
Immortality boring? Impossible. Even the lifetime of
the universe may not be enough to do all the things I
want to do."

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