Mindscan is cyberpunk, with a Sawyer twist, about the implications of uploading one's conscious personality into a computer.
|Publisher:||Tom Doherty Associates|
|Edition description:||First Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.52(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.81(d)|
About the Author
Robert J. Sawyer is the Hugo Award-winning author of Hominids, the Nebula Award-winning author of The Terminal Experiment, and the Aurora Award-winning author of FlashForward, basis for the ABC TV series. He is also the author of the WWW seriesWake, Watch and Wonderand many other books. He was born in Ottawa and lives in Toronto.
Read an Excerpt
By Robert J. Sawyer, David G. Hartwell
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2005 Robert J. Sawyer
All rights reserved.
Twenty-Seven Years Later: August 2045
There were perhaps a hundred people in the ballroom of Toronto's Fairmont Royal York Hotel, and at least half of them had only a short time left to live.
Of course, being rich, those who were near death had mostly availed themselves of the best cosmetic treatments: face-lifts, physiognomic rebuilds, even a few facial transplants. I found it unsettling to see twenty-year-old visages attached to stooped bodies, but at least the transplants looked better than the ghastly tautness of one face-lift too many.
Still, I reminded myself, these were indeed cosmetic treatments. The faux-youthful faces were attached to old, decaying bodies — bodies thoroughly worn out. Of the elderly who were present, most were standing, a few were in motorized wheelchairs, some had walkers, and one had his legs encased in powered armatures while another wore a full-body exoskeleton.
Being old isn't what it used to be, I thought, shaking my head. Not that I was old myself: I was just forty-four. Sadly, though, I'd used up my fifteen minutes of fame right at the beginning, without even being aware of it. I'd been the first baby born in Toronto on 1 January 2001 — the first child of the new millennium. A much bigger fuss had been made over the girl who had popped out just after midnight on 1 January 2000, a year that had no significance save for ending in three zeros. But that was okay: the last thing I wanted to be was a year older, because a year from now, I might very well be dead. The old joke ran through my mind again:
"I'm afraid I've got some bad news," said the doctor. "You don't have long to live."
The young man swallowed. "How much time have I got left?" The doctor shook his head sadly. "Ten."
"Ten what? Ten years? Ten months? Ten —?"
"Nine ... Eight ..."
I shook my head to dispel the thought and looked around some more. The Fairmont Royal York was a grand hotel, dating from the first glory days of rail travel, and it was enjoying a revival now that magnetic-levitation trains were flying along the old tracks. The hotel was across the street from Union Station, just north of Toronto's lakeshore — and a good twenty-five kilometers east of where my parents' house still stood. Chandeliers hung from the ballroom ceiling, and original oil paintings adorned the flock-papered walls. Tuxedoed servers were milling about offering glasses of wine. I went to the open bar and ordered a tomato juice heavily spiked with Worcestershire; I wanted a clear head this evening.
When I stepped away from the bar with my drink, I found myself standing next to an honest-to-goodness old lady: wrinkled face, white hair. Amid the surrounding denial and fakery, she was quite refreshing.
The woman smiled at me, although it was a lopsided smile — she'd clearly suffered a stroke at some point. "Here alone?" she asked. Her pleasant voice was attenuated into a Southern drawl, and it was also tinged by the quaver often found in the elderly.
"Me, too," she said. She was wearing a dark jacket over a lighter blouse, and matching dark slacks. "My son refused to bring me." Most of the other old folks had companions with them: middle-aged children, or lawyers, or paid caregivers. I glanced down, noted that she was wearing a wedding band. She apparently followed my gaze. "I'm a widow," she said.
"So," she said, "are you checking out the process for a loved one?"
I felt my face quirk. "You might say that."
She looked at me with an odd expression; I sensed that she'd seen through my comment, but, although curious, was too polite to press further. After a moment, she said, "My name's Karen." She held out her hand.
"Jake," I said, taking it. The skin on her hand was loose and liver-spotted, and her knuckles were swollen. I squeezed very gently.
"Where are you from, Jake?"
"Here. Toronto. You?"
I nodded. Many of tonight's potential customers were probably Americans. Immortex had found a much more congenial legal climate for its services in increasingly liberal Canada than in ever-more-conservative America. When I'd been a kid, college students used to come over to Ontario from Michigan and New York because the drinking age was lower here and the strippers could go further. Now, people from those two states crossed the border for legal pot, legal hookers, legal abortions, same-sex marriages, physician-assisted suicide, and other things the religious right frowned upon.
"It's funny," said Karen, glancing at the aged crowd. "When I was ten, I once said to my grandmother, 'Who the heck wants to be ninety?' And she looked me right in the eye and said, 'Anyone who is eighty-nine.'" Karen shook her head. "How right she was."
I smiled wanly.
"Ladies and gentlemen," called a male voice, just then. "Would you all please take seats?"
Doubtless no one here was hard of hearing; implants easily rectified that sign of aging, too. There were rows of folding chairs at the back of the ballroom, facing a podium. "Shall we?" said Karen. Something about her was charming — the Southern accent, maybe (Detroit certainly wasn't where she'd grown up) — and there were, of course, the connotations that went with being in a ballroom. I found myself offering my arm, and Karen took it. We walked over slowly — I let her set the pace — and found a pair of seats near the back at one side, an A. Y. Jackson landscape hanging under glass on the wall next to us.
"Thank you," said the same man who'd spoken before. He was standing at the dark wooden podium. There was no light directly on him; just a little illumination spilling up from a reading lamp attached to the lectern. A gangling Asian of perhaps thirty-five, his black hair was combed straight back above a forehead that would have done Professor Moriarty proud. A surprisingly large, old-fashioned microphone covered his mouth. "My name is John Sugiyama," he said, "and I'm a vice-president at Immortex. Thank you all for coming tonight. I hope you've enjoyed the hospitality so far."
He looked out at the crowd. Karen, I noticed, was one of those who murmured appreciatively, which seemed to be what Sugiyama wanted. "Good, good," he said. "In everything we do, we strive for absolute customer satisfaction. After all, as we like to say, 'Once an Immortex client, always an Immortex client.'"
He smiled broadly, and again waited for appreciative chuckles before going on. "Now, I'm sure you've all got questions, so let's get started. I know what we're selling costs a lot of money —"
Somebody near me muttered, "Damn right," but if Sugiyama heard, he gave no sign. He continued: "But we won't ask you for a cent until you're satisfied that what we're offering is right for you." He let his gaze wander over the crowd, smiling reassuringly and making lots of eye contact. He looked directly at Karen but skipped over me; presumably he felt I couldn't possibly be a potential customer, and so wasn't worth wasting his charm on.
"Most of you," Sugiyama said, "have had MRIs. Our patented and exclusive Mindscan process is nothing more daunting than that, although our resolution is much finer. It gives us a complete, perfect map of the structure of your brain: every neuron, every dendrite, every synaptic cleft, every interconnection. It also notes neurotransmitter levels at each synapse. There is no part of what makes you you that we fail to record."
That much was certainly true. Back in 1990, a philanthropist named Hugh Loebner promised to award a solid gold medal — not just gold-plated like those cheap Olympic ones — plus $100,000 in cash to the first team to build a machine that passed the Turing Test, that old chestnut that said a computer should be declared truly intelligent if its responses to questions were indistinguishable from those of a human being. Loebner had expected it would be only a few years before he'd have to cough up — but that's not how things turned out. It wasn't until three years ago that the prize had been awarded.
I'd watched the whole thing on TV: a panel of five inquisitors — a priest, a philosopher, a cognitive scientist, a woman who ran a small business, and a stand-up comic — were presented with two entities behind black curtains. The questioners were allowed to ask both entities anything at all: moral posers, general-knowledge trivia, even things about romance and child-rearing; in addition, the comic did his best to crack the entities up, and to quiz them about why certain jokes were or weren't funny. Not only that, but the two entities engaged in a dialogue between themselves, asking each other questions while the little jury looked on. At the end, the jurors voted, and they unanimously agreed they could not tell which curtain hid the real human being and which hid the machine.
After the commercial break, the curtains were raised. On the left was a fiftyish, balding, bearded black man named Sampson Wainwright. And on the right was a very simple, boxy robot. The group collected their hundred grand — paltry from a monetary point of view now, but still hugely symbolic — and their gold medal. Their winning entity, they revealed, had been an exact scan of Sampson Wainwright's mind, and it had indeed, as the whole world could plainly see, thought thoughts indistinguishable in every way from those produced by the original. Three weeks later, the same group made an IPO for their little company called Immortex; overnight, they were billionaires.
Sugiyama continued his sales pitch. "Of course," he said, "we can't put the digital copy back into the original biological brain — but we can transfer it into an artificial brain, which is precisely what our process does. Our artificial brains congeal out of quantum fog, forming a nanogel that precisely duplicates the structure of the biological original. The new version is you — your mind instantiated in an artificial brain made out of durable synthetics. It won't wear out. It won't suffer strokes or aneurysms. It won't develop dementia or senility. And ..." He paused, making sure he had everyone's attention. "It won't die. The new you will live potentially forever."
Even though everyone knew that's what was for sale here, there were still sounds of astonishment — "forever" had such weight when spoken aloud. For my part, I didn't care about immortality — I rather suspected I'd get bored by the time I reached, well, Karen's age. But I'd been walking on eggshells for twenty-seven years, afraid that the blood vessels in my brain would rupture. Dying wouldn't be that bad, but the notion of ending up a vegetable like my father was terrifying to me. Fortunately, Immortex's artificial brains were electrically powered; they didn't require chemical nutrients, and weren't serviced by blood vessels. I rather doubted this was the cure Dr. Thanh had had in mind, but it would do in a pinch.
"Of course," continued Sugiyama, "the artificial brain needs to be housed inside a body."
I glanced at Karen, wondering if she'd read up on that aspect before coming here. Apparently, the scientists who had first made these artificial brains hadn't bothered to have them pre-installed in robotic bodies — which, for the personality represented by the recreated mind, turned out to be a hideous experience: deaf, blind, unable to communicate, unable to move, existing in a sensory void beyond even darkness and silence, lacking even the proprioceptive sense of how one's limbs are currently deployed and the touch of air or clothes against skin. Those transcribed neural nets reconfigured rapidly, according to the journal articles I'd managed to find, in patterns indicative of terror and insanity.
"And so," said Sugiyama, "we'll provide you with an artificial body — one that's infinitely maintainable, infinitely repairable, and infinitely upgradeable." He held up a long-fingered hand. "I won't lie to you, now or ever: as yet, these replacements aren't perfect. But they are awfully good."
Sugiyama smiled at the crowd again, and a small spotlight fell on him, slowly increasing in brightness. Beyond him, just like at a rock concert, floated a giant holographic version of his gaunt face.
"You see," Sugiyama said, "I'm an upload myself, and this is an artificial body."
Karen nodded. "I knew it," she declared. I was impressed by her acumen: I'd certainly been fooled. Of course, all that was visible of Sugiyama were his head and hands; the rest of him was covered by the podium or a fashionable business suit.
"I was born in 1958," said Sugiyama. "I am eighty-seven years old. I transferred six months ago — one of the very first civilians ever to upload into an artificial body. At the break, I'll walk around and let you examine me closely. You'll find that I don't look exactly right — I freely admit that — and there are certain movements that I just can't do. But I'm not the least bit concerned, because, as I said, these bodies are infinitely upgradeable as technology advances. Indeed, I just got new wrists yesterday, and they are much more nimble than my previous set. I have no doubt that within a few decades, artificial bodies indistinguishable from biological ones will be available." He smiled again. "And, of course, I — and all of you who undergo our procedure — will be around a few decades from now."
He was a master salesperson. Talking about centuries or millennia of additional life would have been too abstract — how does one even conceive of such a thing? But a few decades was something the potential customers, most with seven or more of them already under their belts, could appreciate. And every one of these people had been resigned to being in the last decade — if not the last year — of their lives. Until, that is, Immortex had announced this incredible process. I looked at Karen again; she was mesmerized.
Sugiyama held up his hand once more. "Of course, there are many advantages to artificial bodies, even at the current state of technology. Just like our artificial brains, they are virtually indestructible. The braincase, for instance, is titanium, reinforced with carbon-nanotube fibers. If you decide you want to go skydiving, and your parachute fails to open, your new brain still won't get damaged on impact. If — God forbid! — someone shoots you with a gun, or stabs you with a knife — well, you'd almost certainly still be fine."
New holographic images appeared floating behind him, replacing his face. "But our artificial bodies aren't just durable. They're strong — as strong as you'd like them to be." I'd expected to see video of fantastic stunts: I'd heard Immortex had developed super-powered limbs for the military, and that that technology was now available to civilian end-users, as well. But instead the display simply showed presumably artificial hands effortlessly opening a mason jar. I couldn't imagine what it must be like to be unable to do something so simple ... but it was clear that many of the others in the room were blown away by this demonstration.
And Sugiyama had more to offer. "Naturally," he said, "you'll never need a walker, a cane, or an exoskeleton again. And stairs will no longer present a problem. You'll have perfect vision and hearing, and perfect reflexes; you'll be able to drive a car again, if you're not able to now."
Even I missed the reflexes and coordination I'd had back when I'd been younger. Sugiyama continued: "You can kiss good-bye the pain of arthritis, and just about every other ailment associated with old age. And if you haven't yet contracted Parkinson's or Alzheimer's, you never will." I heard murmurs around me — including one from Karen. "And forget about cancer or broken hips. Say sayonara to arthritic joints and macular degeneration. With our process, you'll have a virtually unlimited lifespan, with perfect eyesight and hearing, vitality and strength, self-sufficiency and dignity." He beamed out at his audience, and I could see people nodding to themselves, or talking in positive tones with their neighbors. It did sound good, even for someone like me, whose day-to-day troubles were nothing more irritating than acid-reflux disease and the odd migraine.
Excerpted from Mindscan by Robert J. Sawyer, David G. Hartwell. Copyright © 2005 Robert J. Sawyer. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book had a great premise, but I found the offered view of the future a bit depressing and the conclusion disappointing. Mr. Sawyer's research and detail are great, as always, but they weren't enough this time. Worst of all, the aithor's political views and opinion of US society clouded the story for me. In many ways, it came across as preachy. In my opinion, not his best work.
Sawyer puts a little bit of everything into this book from robotics, to brain studies, to psychology to philosophy with a little bit of high drama and excellent courtroom cross-examination. He studies the question "what makes a person"? and takes it way beyond what Asimov presented in the Millenium Man story. Jake Sullivan, a man with an illness that will eventually kill him decides to opt for a process called Mindscan where a copy of his mind will be uploaded to a robot brain and will live on as Jake on Earth why Jake goes to a pleasant retirement home on the moon to live out his remaining days. The "new" Jake faces all kinds of rejections from the people he knew, even his dog. He experiences new sensations like being able to see colors for the first time (he was color blind) and having too much idle time on his hands with no time to fill it since his biological self used it for sleeping, eating and other biological processes that Jake no longer needs to do. He meets and bonds with Karen, another mindscan who was 85 but has chosen a robot body that is about 30 while Jake was in his early 40's. The differences in their eras is what makes them so attractive to each other and they find that they have plenty to talk to each other even during "idle" time. When Karen's biological self dies, her son begins a court battle to claim his inheritance, claiming that the mindscan version of Karen has no rights because she is not really Karen. The court tension is amazing and great philosophical arguments are presented in a well scripted matter. To add another problem, Jake's biological self finds a cure for his ailment and then wants to regain his former life from his mindscanned version. Sawyer has outdone himself this time convincing me he is the best of the current Scifi writers out there today!
Mindscan offers a fascinating premise: what if you could upload your memories and personality into an android - in essence, making a durable, exact copy of yourself - while your mortal self is left to live out his/her days essentially forgotten and discarded? Sawyer's novel raises intriguing questions about what it means to be human, and whether a flesh-and-blood body is really necessary to obtain the 'human' label. Unlike Mark Wakely's clever novel An Audience for Einstein - which has human consciousness transferred from one person to another after death, raising its own unique and troubling ethical questions- here you have the fascinating 'problem' of two sets of you. Which one is the real you, or are they both real? As you might expect, the question ends up in court, as the son of a wealthy woman who had herself transferred to an android before she died seeks what he believes to be his 'rightful' inheritance - by cheating death, his mother didn't play by the rules, or so he claims. On the other hand, is the android really his mother, with rights like any living, breathing person? Or is she just a machine now despite her consciousness? These unanswered questions make Mindscan a fascinating story, one that will leave you pondering the eternal question of what it means to be a human being. Recommended.
The best science fiction always results in self-reflection and consideration of both philosophy and the arc of mankind's future. Rob Sawyer's willingness to meet that challenge is what makes him one of today's finest SF writers. His characters are real--flawed, uncertain, and sometimes even selfish. You won't get the type of set-piece action sequences that authors like Crichton drop in to ease adaptation for the big screen, but what you do get is excellent elaboration of current scientific and technological research, solid explanations of philosophical viewpoints, great analogies, and characters you care about. The first half of the book is nothing short of splendid, weakening in plausibility in the second half only a bit. (It's not that the courtroom scenes aren't interesting and procedurally correct, it's just that everyone involved could have and realistically would have done more to protect their legal position going in to the situation, with the stakes being so high.) As a Sawyer fan and someone who has written about mankind's almost inevitable transition to a world where uploaded consciousness occurs (though it is fair to say that my view of that transition is much less optimistic than Sawyer's), I heartily recommend Mindscan. Donald J. Bingle, Author of Forced Conversion.
Mindscan is the latest from Mississauga author Robert J. Sawyer, and continues with his tradition of using cutting-edge science to deal with contemporary moral issues.Telling the story of a near-future where a process is discovered that can 'scan' a person's brain and download a perfect copy of it into an artificial body. The artificial body then takes over the person's life, and the 'shed skin' of the original person is sent off to a retirement community on the far side of the moon.As always, Sawyer writes a tale here that uses science to further its plot and resolve some of the central issues of the book; however, at the same time, he does it in a way that remains accessible to people who aren't fans of science fiction. Much in the same way that George R.R. Martin is said to "write fantasy for people who aren't fantasy fans", Sawyer writes for the mainstream reader as much as he does for the science fiction fan.
Didn't think I was going to like this at first but then got sucked into the very different story line. Will read more by this author. Would recommend it.
Stayed up all night reading!!!