Personal Digitization in Johnathan Strahan's Godlike Machines

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Digitization of the human personality,what Frederick Pohl called vastening in the Heechee Saga[citation needed], is a plot device in three stories in Godlike Machines. It provides a plot twist in Baxter’s Return to Titan and Doctorow’s Life/Tomorrow and is common practice in the Amalgam universe of Egan’s Hot Rock.

I’m not sure what the big attraction is—self- preservation? If I take a picture of you and spread it around for all to marvel over as a close likeness, it still isn’t you. It’s just a picture. If I record your voice and upload to Youtube, it may sound just like you, but it isn’t. Do we say that Edith Pilaf lives on on Youtube singing Je ne regrette rien? Non. We may say it, but it is not literally true. The same is true if I digitize your personality and memory and upload them or download them into a clone or a robot. Or if you do the same to me. No matter how strong the resemblance, if my body is dead, it’s dead. You can clone my body and re-instill my essence. But it will not be me.

To return to the Heechee Saga, the main character, Robinette Broadhead, dies and his personality uploaded to Gigabyte Space. To keep him company, his lovely wife Essie is copied there too. So the reader has Meat Essie going on with her life and Virtual Essie keeping Robin company. There’s even a virtual Albert Einstein. Robin makes it all sound quite wonderful. He can think faster than ever and more deeply than ever and subjectively is living much longer because his micro processors process faster than human synapses. And he can virtually experience anything. Robin sends a copy of himself to try to talk things over with the Foe. Its all good though, because as a result of the encounter, the Foe is persuaded to not destroy all life in the galaxy because they see Robin as evidence that humanity and the Heechee are moving toward digitization and pose no threat to their plans to reboot the universe.

Doctorow has used personality digitization in previous works. In Tomorrow/Now he has it lurking in the background till the end. Jimmy’s prospects in the virtuality are murkier than Robin’s in Heechee, but at least he gets the girl. Sort of. As Jimmy puts it, “I tried to argue, but I couldn’t. Whether that was because there was a bug in me or because he was right, I couldn’t say. “ 265

Baxter puts the concept to fuller use in Titan. Poole and associates interview a “virtual backup” of Emry when they recruit him for their caper. Easier to deal with than the flesh and blood version. Emry likes the idea of “backups” not at all. He muses to himself, “And besides, the backup copy could never be you, the one who died; only a copy could live on.” “backup” Emry threatens violence when he realizes he is doomed after the conclusion of the interview. The best he can hope for is merger with the real Emry. Virtual General Cassata in Annals of the Heechee has a similar thought. He stays aboard Robin’s ship, the True Love, to postpone his liquidation. If he returned to JAWS, well, they couldn’t have a bunch of virtual generals hanging around. What would it do to the chain of command? Backup Emry only gives in when Poole makes it clear that they’ll kill the real Emry if he does not. So he goes with them to Titan, with it understood that backup copies have been made for all just in case. The interesting plot twist of the story is the idea of the backup copy dying to save the real living, breathing person.


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