Personality back-ups: immortality through avatars?

Paul Raven @ 11-06-2010

The possibility of digitising the human mind is one of those questions that will only be closed by its successful achievement, I think; there’ll always be an argument for its possibility, because the only way to disprove it would be to quantify how personality and mind actually work, and if we could quantify it, we could probably work out a way to digitise it, too. (That said, if someone can chop a hole in my logic train there, I’d be genuinely very grateful to them, because it’s a question that’s bugged me for years, and I haven’t been able to get beyond that point with my bootstrap philosophy chops.)

Philosophical digressions aside, low-grade not-quite-proof-of-concept stuff seems to be the current state of the industry. Via NextNature, New Scientist discusses a few companies trying to capture human personality in computer software:

Lifenaut’s avatar might appear to respond like a human, but how do you get it to resemble you? The only way is to teach it about yourself. This personality upload is a laborious process. The first stage involves rating some 480 statements such as “I like to please others” and “I sympathise with the homeless”, according to how accurately they reflect my feelings. Having done this, I am then asked to upload items such as diary entries, and photos and video tagged with place names, dates and keywords to help my avatar build up “memories”. I also spend hours in conversation with other Lifenaut avatars, which my avatar learns from. This supposedly provides “Linda” with my mannerisms – the way I greet people or respond to questions, say – as well as more about my views, likes and dislikes.

A more sophisticated series of personality questionnaires is being used by a related project called CyBeRev. The project’s users work their way through thousands of questions developed by the American sociologist William Sims Bainbridge as a means of archiving the mind. Unlike traditional personality questionnaires, part of the process involves trying to capture users’ values, beliefs, hopes and goals by asking them to imagine the world a century in the future. It isn’t a quick process: “If you spent an hour a day answering questions, it would take five years to complete them all,” says Lori Rhodes of the nonprofit Terasem Movement, which funds CyBeRev. “But the further you go, the more accurate a representation of yourself the mind file will become.”

It’s an interesting article, so go take a look. This little bit got me thinking:

So is it possible to endow my digital double with a believable representation of my own personality? Carpenter admits that in order to become truly like you, a Lifenaut avatar would probably need a lifetime’s worth of conversations with you.

Is that a tacit admission that who we are, at a fundamental level, is a function of everything we’ve ever done and experienced? That to record a lifetime’s worth of experiences and influences would necessarily take a lifetime? Emotionally, I find myself responding to that idea as being self-evident… and it’s the intuitive nature of my response that tells me I should continue to question it.


NEW FICTION: OUT WALKING THE STREETS by Eric Del Carlo

Paul Raven @ 01-04-2010

After his excellent study of gender politics in “Fluidity” last autumn, Eric Del Carlo returns to Futurismic with another look at the unanswered yet imminent questions of posthuman identity. Short, sharp and timely – enjoy!

Out Walking The Streets

by Eric Del Carlo

I’m ravenous for sights and sensations, for the leathery creak of the seat beneath me, for the subtle reassuring hum in the metaplastic hull of the train car.  I feel the speed; I record in my mind the tug of force against my body, basic physical principles acting upon me at every moment.  It is new.  It is all worthy of my acute attention.

It is not new.  I am thirty-four years old, and the laws which oversee reality are as familiar–and discountable in day to day life–as the thump of blood in my veins.

I exert the effort not to make a spectacle of myself.  I’m hardly alone on the train, but no others, I feel sure, are as mesmerized by the cityscape streaming past both rows of windows.  I want to, but do not, press my nose to the clear ‘plastic and cry out at the pearlescent architectural wonder on display.  They’ve put me on this train, among regular people.  I’ve promised to control myself, and my promises have convinced those who needed convincing. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: OUT WALKING THE STREETS by Eric Del Carlo”


Cyborg

Sarah Ennals @ 07-02-2010

Cyborg - Does Not Equal

Does Not Equal is a webcomic by Sarah Ennalscheck out the pre-Futurismic archives, and the strips that have been published here previously.

[ Be sure to check out the Does Not Equal Cafepress store for webcomic merchandise featuring Canadians with geometrically-shaped heads! ]


NEW FICTION: WHITE SWAN by Jason Stoddard

Paul Raven @ 04-01-2010

It’s a new year, and we have new fiction at Futurismic once again, courtesy of a familiar face. We’ve published more stories by Jason Stoddard than any one other author, and if you can read White Swan and still wonder why that is… well, I don’t know what to tell you!

“White Swan” sees Jason taking on a different style and voice, and very successfully. It’s a tale of small bright hopes in a dark and difficult future, and a shining example of why optimistic sf doesn’t have to be unrealistic, trite or panglossian. Read and enjoy. 🙂

White Swan

by Jason Stoddard

The tiny room stinks of kid-sweat and puke, and greasy Portland rain, endless, rattles the thin plastic window. Little Beny thrashes in his narrow bed, clawing unseen monsters.

This is the hardest time, Lili Antila thinks.

Hardest because she knows Beny’s cries are echoing through the thin walls to reach his mother and father, who drip exhausted tears on screens bright with electronic hope. Hardest because this is when she always thinks, What if it doesn’t work this time? Hardest because it brings back gauze-wrapped memories of bright-lit hospital rooms and hard-faced doctors and soft sheets rough like sandpaper on her own changing skin–

Lili blinks back tears and turns to the wall, which is playing one of her favorite movies on a window not much bigger than her hand: Bad Girl. A black-and-white James Dunn is waxing on about his dream of owning a radio store. Lili knows what a radio store is. A physical location to house goods for sale, electronics so hopelessly primitive that they were not even interactive. She also knows it is a sad and impossible dream in the First Depression. The screen is smart enough to know this, and it displays the movie with no floaters, no contextual hints.

There is a scuffle of feet at the door. A polite noise. Lili waits for Freya to walk up behind her. She can feel Freya’s body heat in the chill room. Continue reading “NEW FICTION: WHITE SWAN by Jason Stoddard”


David Marusek on posthumanism and a soft singularity

Paul Raven @ 10-03-2009

Mind Over Ship by David MarusekWe’ve had it straight from the horse’s mouth that Charlie Stross isn’t an ideologue for the a posthuman future, but it appears (allowing for a little authorial hyperbole) that David Marusek is a little more bullish on the matter, due to his own reconception of what a singularity might really mean:

I sincerely believe that our near future includes the existence of posthumans. That is, if secular civilization survives and science advances, our subspecies Homo sapiens sapiens will branch out. Whether through purely biological means or in combination with some sort of inheritable machinery or machine interface, a new subspecies of human will coexist alongside us. Nothing like this has occurred for 30,000 years when our hominid cousin, the Neanderthal, was still around, or 200,000 years when we shared the planet with possibly three other human species. But this time we’ll be the obsolete species.

The idea of humans creating their own successors has been around for a long time and provides rich material for storytelling. The thing is, in most sf tales, you have to go through a Vingean Singularity to get to the Posthuman Future. We old model humans do poorly in singularities; by definition we are the past. Thus posthuman stories tend to be about trying to fight off the posthumans, especially if they’re machines. Brave humans strive to prevent their rise and maintain our biological supremacy. And this is where I try to break new trail in Mind Over Ship. I’m proposing a singularity that does not deny the importance of the human body but instead relies upon it.

The loathing of the body is one of the many detractions used against Singularitarian thinkers, and it’s easy enough to understand why (although, on some mornings, I’d gladly upload myself out of this damage-prone meat-machine). Perhaps Marusek’s new take on the trope will inspire another schism in post-human philosophy – a ‘soft’ singularity, perhaps?

And while we’re on the subject, Marusek’s new novel Mind Over Ship is a brilliant read, and comes heartily recommended to anyone who likes their sf to come packed to the brim with brain-bending ideas and complex plotting. Go buy it.


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