Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Alien aliens (more or less)

For no obvious reason, I got to thinking about my long-concluded "Alien aliens" series of posts. And decided that it wasn't -- concluded, that is. I'd omitted a key category: human-derived aliens. Hybrids, in a word. Some prefer the term transhumans.

For example: uploads. That's what you get by transferring a brain's content into a computer. Why would anyone, assuming they could? To cheat  death, perhaps -- at least till medical science can achieve immortality or transfer minds from failing bodies into new ones.

Imagine: all one's thought patterns, learned behaviors, and memories transcribed into a new form and format. However human that mind began, it has taken residence in an environment utterly alien to us Mark I humans.

The implications go far beyond the speed difference between synapses and transistors. Imagine speed-of-thought access to vast libraries. Imagine adding radar views of the world while losing some of the more familiar senses (say, smell). Imagine real-time access -- sometimes authorized, sometimes hacked -- to the net's many peripherals, from Earth remote-sensing satellites to power meters (to weaponized aerial drones?).

Surely the uploaded mind's temperament, attitudes, and interests will diverge from those of meat minds. And so: surely also its behavior.

Intrigued? Wikipedia offers s a very long list of uploads in fiction.

As one example, there's The Annals of the Heechee, part of the Frederick Pohl's Heechee saga. Now deep into the series, Gateway protagonist Robinette Broadhead has been uploaded to cheat death. Though I enjoyed the novel, I found Broadhead's uploaded version unconvincing -- IMO, he remained too human. (Not to mention Broadhead being an unfortunate name for an upload.) (As for the Heechee of the series name, they're conventional extraterrestrial biological aliens.)

As a second example, uploading is carried to an incredible (in a good way) extreme in Gregory Benford's Eater -- all the way into a black hole. And it's worth mentioning this is an intelligent black hole. That's quite the alien alien, too.

(If you aren't familiar with Gateway or Eater, each develops a Really Big Idea and does it Really Well. Masterworks by masters of the genre.)

Let's move on to another hybrid: computer-extended biological humans. We're not talking here about robots wrapped in skin, Schwarzenegger-like Terminators. Consider those handled by the post Alien aliens (AIs).

I have in mind -- pun intended, coming right up -- regular humans seriously enhanced. Like having nanites taking up residence in the brain, as in Greg Bear's Blood Music and my own Small Miracles. Carrying a library in your head or hearing voices -- with agendas of their own -- will make for a more-than-merely-human experience. Let alone if, ensconced within the brain, said nanites can pull the figurative levers of power.

Then there are gengineered humans. The changes may be overt, altering us for alien environments, as in the space adapted (four-armed, no-legged) quaddies of Lois McMaster Bujold's Falling Free. Or the changes may be subtle, like our Sleepless betters in Nancy Kress's Beggars in Spain. Certainly I'd accomplish much more if I never needed sleep.

For an excellent non-fiction survey of things we humans may become, consider Beyond Human: Living with Robots and Cyborgs, by Gregory Benford and Elisabeth Malartre.

Sort of alien. Sort of not. Sort of cool ...

1 comment:

jaguar said...

I truly would like to be uploaded.
I will have many good opportunities
and will blot (I'm afraid, also many) bad ones out
if my digital copy doesn't pirated.