CYBERJOHN WAKES

John Adenoyote woke at 7am GMT on Tuesday September 9th, 2130.

To be exact, he didn't wake, the cyber-representation of him in the cloud, the e-clone which occupies RCRs (Remote Cognitive Representations) as needed for the variegated tasks of daily life, went through the processes of enabling consciousness as scheduled, while his physical body remained in stasis in the storage unit deep below ground in a tectonically inactive zone until it should be needed. But to John, it felt like waking up, the familiar process of renewing contact with your extended body, of clicking through the different layers of awareness until you could say, yes, I am awake, and I will get out of bed. Actually John had dispensed with bed. Some people prefer to retain the experiences of the appurtenances of physical life, or their sensory qualia. It's optional, like most things.

Of course, there isn't just one representation of John in the cloud, there are several, for safety, but not too many because of the necessity to 'maintain state' across the different e-clones, which is still a bandwidth-heavy application, although large parts of John's e-clones are standardized, naturally, so they can be called in as apps when needed. Some types of memory, for instance, are regarded as sufficiently impersonal that there is no point in maintaining 30 billion sets of instructions for tying shoe-laces, one for each person. Yes, even in the cloud you have to tie your shoelaces if you are going to a meeting.

It was decided early on that the structure of the human psyche would be retained in e-clones, since nobody felt confident about which bits could safely be removed without damaging 'human-ness'. Modular standardization is one thing, but changing the specification quite another. A key part of the specification is of course consciousness, and maintaining consciousness in an e-clone is strictly equivalent to the same process in a living, physical human being. Consciousness, on an ongoing basis, including the 'remembered present', is well understood to be fed by constant streams of sensory input, so that John's e-clone has such streams of constructed sensory input, often called 'ersatz' input. They are illusory, but comparable to those he would have received while in his physical body, except that when an RCR is in some sense 'behaving', the inputs become more real. Illusory or real, they leave their traces in John's psyche, and once a day his physical body, in its suspended state, will be updated, backed-up if you like with the latest state of his e-clone, if that hasn't already taken place through the use of redundant bandwidth in the magneto-wireless ever-open connection that connects John's physical body to his e-clone. And vice versa: when John opts to use his physical body, it takes over the process of maintaining consciousness and the psyche, so that the ongoing and daily back-up processes act in reverse.

At the instant that one switches from e-clone to 'real' or vice versa, there is a immediate update, an instant of a microsecond in which consciousness and the psyche are transferred and you switch. It's just a blink of an eye, a slight disjunction of attention which you scarcely notice. You have to give notice of about one hour to the storage facility though when you want to 'go physical' so that they can prepare your body to resume activity, move it to the surface, and place it in the back-up harness.

There are rules, of course. When the earth's population stabilized at 20bn, this was thought to be the maximum number of people that would allow individuals to spend a reasonable proportion of their time 'physical', in terms of scarce resources. It has worked quite well: on average one can spend 10% of one's time 'physical', although it is bunched at certain periods of life, including pregnancy, birth, early socialization, and puberty. Sleeping, education, and most day-to-day activities are usually conducted in e-clone or RCR mode, while optional 'physical' time is often spent on holiday.

Education has become an ever more extended process. First you have to learn to live within your own skull, or anyway the e-clone that represents it. You are introduced to your unconscious at age seven as a part of socialization. Training in using limited forms of RCCs begins at age 11 and is complete at age 25, when physical development is stopped and your physical body becomes immortal. Your e-clone already is immortal, of course, although some people get 'tired of life' and choose to switch themselves off. Euthanasia, in this sense, is as hedged about with restrictions as ever it was, and permission to die in this way must be given by an advisory RCC. These ethical guardians are effectively sub-committees of the G3, the Global Genetic Gathering, which is responsible for all aspects of the onward development of the human genome.

Although it's possible for one's RCR to 'eat' on a social basis, and many people enjoy cooking and eating as much as ever, it isn't necessary. The e-clone's constructed sensory input models the chemical and nervous signals that would result from eating and other bodily activities; tuning them is possible, but most people just don't bother - it's easier not to. John is one such; he prefers to get on with the business of the day. John is eighteen years old and his major preoccupation is education, which contains a very large component of social interaction with his peers, just as it would have done in the pre-RCR world.

In the cloud, physical proximity has ceased to be much of a driver of social interaction. Shared interests are what count, and these are often surprisingly multifarious. The atomization of knowledge and the extreme specialization that characterized tertiary learning and professional activity in the first half of the 21st century have long gone due to the enormous capacity that a RCC has for blending individual sets of knowledge into synthesized structures.

RCCs are such powerful instruments, however, that access to them is carefully restricted to individuals who have matured psychologically and who have demonstrated a high level of competence in managing their lives and careers as RCRs. According to received wisdom, this usually this cannot be achieved before age 18, and unfettered access to larger RCCs is not given until age 25, when the psyche is considered to have reached something close to maturity. Limited capacity RCCs used for gaming and learning are a different matter, and are routinely used both for recreation and education from age 12 onwards.

"What's it like in an RCC?" nags Peter, John's younger brother, 11, for the hundredth time as they relax after playing tennis. He is better than John, and won easily this morning in straight sets. He knows that John has recently begun to participate in a level 18 academic RCC. John is bright, and along with a group of his friends has moved steadily ahead of his peers over the previous ten years. They are now several years ahead, and this is problematic for their teachers (RCCs themselves) who have to balance the group's probable emotional immaturity against their demonstrated academic superiority.

"Pete," says John wearily, "You know I'm not allowed to talk about it. I can't say you wouldn't understand, perhaps, but then you might think you understand when you don't." He paused, knowing that he and his friends had already gone far past the rule-book in terms of managing their RCC, and that they were comprehensively dissing their supervisors, apparently successfully.

'Talking' in this way is not to be compared to normal human speech, of course. It is an elementary feature of RCRs that they communicate more or less instantaneously, and one of the disciplines that has to be acquired early on, round about age 7, is the ability to hold back mentally while considering carefully the social implications of what you are about to say, and taking in the maximum amount of input from the partners you may have (friends or enemies) in that conversation. Children are taught to imagine themselves in 'real' inter-personal situations, rather than being allowed to use instantaneous communication, to give time for this to happen. The problem arose when it became clear that linguistic speech is no more than a interposition between the thought-generating part of the left brain and the external observer. At least, that is true of most types of word. Some of the more philosophical or abstract types of word are drawn from a separate learned lexicon it is true, and don't appear to have very direct sensory bases; but this lexicon is a standard feature of the human brain, well or badly learned, and is nowadays supplemented by a readily accessible app in the cloud. It is quite amusing to listen to a 'physical' who has not had the appropriate chip inserted trying to communicate complex thoughts. That's why we normally only go 'physical', or 'fizz' as it's usually called, for holidays, love-making and other activities that make intensive use of the physical body.

"The problem is," essayed John, "that it isn't like anything I expected or could have imagined. So how can I describe it to you."

"Try, at least," said Pete, seeing that he had won.

"Well, you know how some days one feels more intelligent than others? As if you are in a big space where the knowledge you want comes and stacks up so easily, whereas on other days it's as if you are hemmed in by walls of darkness and incomprehension. Maybe you're tired, or whatever. Well, in an RCC the space is just so much bigger, and all this other knowledge is already in there without you had to gather it for yourself in the first place. But because you don't, so to speak, know you've got it, you have to learn to find it. The discipline is that anyone in an RCC has to set up an explicit indexing structure that can be used by the other people, and of course it has to be the same indexing structure for everyone. That calls in other problems, like you can't have one indexing structure for one RCC and a different one for the next RCC. On the other hand it's not something you want to completely standardize because that wouldn't get an optimum result. At this level, you also have to have some very careful barriers psychologically speaking. If the RCC is an academic one, and those are the only type we're really allowed into, then you can't let emotions spray around, and that's quite hard to control."

"How can they tell?" asked Pete, worryingly. "Can you know when they're in there checking? Do you make reports, or what?"

"What are you asking such questions for? You're supposed to use the process as they lay it out."

"Oh, it's for kids," said Pete. "Don't tell me you follow the rules."

John was trapped.

"Don't blank me," said Pete. "I can tell you've done it."

"How?" asked John.

"It's a feeling, like a wall where there should be a door."

"Have you got a group of your own, then?" asked John.

"Sure," said Pete. "We can't get very far, because they won't let us have any of the RCC structures obviously, but they can't hide the text-books on it, so we've built our own. And obviously it doesn't include any space for them. From the outside it just looks like a normal RCR hook-up. What about yours?"

"About the same," admitted John. "Of course we can use the standard RCC blocks, but we've deconstructed them as far as we can to make sure they're not watching. From the outside it looks as if we're using the standard apps, but actually they just end in a fake environment, and we have our own internal apps."

"What are you actually after," asked Pete. "I mean, what do you want the RCCs to do that you're not allowed to?"

"We're trying to make real group people," said John. "We want to know what it's like for one collective to interact with another."

"Oh, sex," said Pete, disparagingly. "That's all you teenagers can think about!"

"Just wait," said John. "Your turn will come."

But it wasn't about sex, he thought to himself, strangely enough. Yes, they were teenagers, and just as obsessed with sex as anyone; but in the group it was more like being in church, like a mediaeval university where the business of learning was somehow wrapped up with the polishing of your eternal soul. Did groups have souls? John didn't believe in God, anyway; there were very, very few people who did, by now. But he did believe in moral imperatives, in the absolute necessity for an individual to have an ethical lodestar. And that's the problem, he thought. How come that after 120 years of development, there was no model for the 'soul' of a group. Could it have one? Of course. It was their goal to try to find it. If the grown-ups knew about it, they weren't saying, they just took refuge in useless 19th century statements like: 'of course society must have moral principles'. But they themselves had destroyed such principles, which had once existed, by allowing the rampant growth of individualism in the 20th century.

This subject was a main focus of discussion among the eight members of John's study group. There was no class that morning, which was why he had been able to play tennis with Pete, and the rest of Tuesday would be spent on individual study. But in the morning he would return to his group environment and their endless search for enlightenment would begin again, he knew.


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