Posted: Mon, January 14, 2013 | By: Fiction
by John Bean
“Welcome to this interface-session discussing one hundred years of immortality,” the VID-erator’s image announced as others began joining the interface he had just created. He repeated the statement several times as more attendees joined, until he had a virtual “audience” of around 60. “It has been a century since the problem of biological aging and death was solved in 2033,” he continued, “and I wanted to have an open discussion on what others think are problems we should be we working on today.”
There was no immediate answer. The images in the VID-erator’s virtual interface display were displaying tags indicating thoughtfulness, shyness or simple indecision. He decided to prompt an issue. “What about the holdouts, the humans who refuse immortality or even extended life and good health?”
“Statistically insignificant in our population space,” an image self-identifying as SS, sentient software, responded flatly. “The unaltered human population is approximately 1,721,000, while the total population of the Earth now stands at over two trillion.”
“But we still support their right to remain unaltered,” another attendee, a female immortalist, objected. “You can’t take that right away from them.”
“I would not,” the SS responded. “But the concept of a limited lifespan is foreign to me. I and my subprograms would never consider terminating ourselves.”
“We still have bigger problems than that,” another immortalist, a male this time, interjected. “Global economy is reaching the breaking point. We don’t have much time before we run out of energy to live on, even with most of the population living in the Tron.” He flashed a generic tag to the interface showing that 1.975 trillion of the two trillion entities living on Earth were sentient software and uploads. “That leaves about 25 billion ‘Reals’ taking up space on the Earth who actually need most of our solar collection resources.”
“If that’s a problem for you,” the VID-erator pointed out, “why haven’t you uploaded yourself?”
The man shook his head sharply. “I’ve heard uploads can just…disappear, without a trace, if the System Admin thinks they aren’t doing their fair share in the Tron.”
“That is a specious argument,” the SS replied. “There is more than enough space and energy for everyone in Computronium Space.”
“That’s exactly my point!” the man shouted. “The Tron is using too much energy! We’re projected to have a population of three trillion by 2138, most of them in the Tron! Where are we going to get all the energy needed for those sentients?!”
“What I want to know,” another attendee interrupted, the image of a thin man with a pale face, red-smeared lips and green hair. “I want to know what happened to the Singularity. It was supposed to happen nearly a hundred years ago but it’s still not here.”
The VID-erator cursed inwardly. Trust some joker to come in and derail the discussion! “There were several potential dates for the Singularity,” he told the thin man. “And it’s generally considered to have happened in 2067, when the first version of Computronium Space was implemented.”
The thin man shrugged. “So where’s our galaxy-spanning Civilization, then? Where are our godlike powers? I want my own universe to control!”
“You’re insane,” the SS said, flatly. “The human mind cannot be uplifted to that degree without irreparably altering its basic outlook. The identity that consists of ‘you’ would never survive the transition.”
“Oh, says you, bit-butt,” the thin man scoffed.
“Alright, let’s keep this civil,” the VID-erator interrupted. The joker’s image-tags indicated he was an upload as well, but he was only broadcasting them to the VID-erator (that was a minimum requirement for joining the interface). “You have your own space in Tron, is that right?” he asked the thin man.
“Sure,” the joker replied. “Doesn’t everybody?” That was true; most people who kept a physical presence on Earth, the “Reals,” still had a personal interface they could temporarily upload to whenever they wanted. Most of those Reals were also uploads, so they alternated between Real and Tron.
“Have all your energy needs met?” the VID-erator pressed. “And you can be and do whatever you want there, right?” He gestured toward the joker. “Judging from your appearance you’re indulging a taste for 20th-century comic fiction.”
“Of course!” the joker began to sound annoyed. “Why are you asking me what you already know, Billy-boy?”
There were several gasps among the attendees. It was considered rude to reveal personal identities in a VID-session. But the VID-erator only smirked. “You know who I am?”
The joker chuckled. “Yeah, you’ve been doing this real-time dialogue shtick for well over a century now, Billy. Anyway, this is boring, I think I’ll go back to terrorizing Arkham and leave you all to your masturbatory rantings.” The joker’s image disappeared.
“Okay,” the VID-erator said, relieved he hadn’t had to remove the man himself. “Let’s get back on topic.”
“We never finished talking about the energy problem,” the first man spoke up again. “What are we going to do about that?”
“Maybe you aren’t aware,” the VID-erator said, “but solar collectors have been in continuous construction and deployment from the Venus base for the past 75 years.”
“Then where’s all that energy at,” the man demanded. “We’re not getting it here on Earth!”
“We don’t need it,” Bill the VID-erator pointed out. “Some of it is going to Mars to help build a second Tron system there, one that will support up to 10 trillion inhabitants at full capacity. The rest of it is being dumped into Jupiter in preparation for lifting matter for other habitats further out in the Solar System. We are preparing to expand beyond our star, but we still have to solve the problem of the lightspeed barrier and how to efficiently transport mass over interstellar distances.”
“What does that matter?” another person self-identifying as a 14-year old SS chimed in. “If we cannot die, we can travel as far in space as we want, as long as we can collect the energy necessary to survive.”
“Perhaps,” Bill the VID-erator agreed. “But we don’t want to spread our matter too thin in the process. Mankind has had a habit over the centuries of wasting resources—we’re finally learning just how big the universe is, and how small we are.” There were murmurs of agreement from other attendees.
“I see,” the young SS replied. “But there are plans, old plans, for sending self-replicating systems out into the galaxy and populating it by exponential growth. Why have those plans been abandoned, if they were viable?”
“Good question,” Bill agreed. “I think we’re more aware that we might run into other life in the universe, and we don’t want to appear too aggressive or greedy. There are a lot of stories about extraterrestrials invading Earth for its resources. Maybe we’ve finally learned from them.”
Several attendees were flashing attention tags, wanting to speak. Bill smiled; he loved this kind of give-and-take interaction. And he especially loved being at the head of it. “Before we continue,” he said, “let’s have a two-minute break so everyone can collect their thoughts and comments, and when we come back I’ll open up the interface to allow anyone to join. We’ll see everyone back here in two!”