It felt much as my previous dream,
and the same three rooms were my domain, but there was
more. I was also in a lecture hall, where the new man from last
time--I recall now his name was Michael Allen--was speaking before
a large audience about our newest technology. But I wasn't paying
attention to this. Instead, I was quite obsessed, with all of my
greatly expanded consciousness, over my little project in the third
Here I worked diligently, like a giant mechanical octopus turned
inside out, my body now consisting of a cluster of industrial arms
mounted around the periphery of the room facing in to meet at the center.
Looking for a moment downward from the ceiling above, I reflected with
amusement on the similarity of the scene to some then-futuristic vision
of a robotic surgeon--for in the center of the room I was operating on
another body, bipedal though not quite of human form.
I wondered then, would I some day be operating on human flesh this way,
saving human lives, or would flesh become obsolete first?
form on my workbench was but a crude robot, suffering the final
stages of assembly, a first prototype of our first free-standing android,
and my first hope of standing on my own two feet again, of moving beyond the
confines of these rooms (or wherever I could convince a human to place a
camera for me). Ah, but for true autonomy, the ability to go somewhere
without the involvement of anyone else. This craving drove my fervor,
and I worked hard and fast, for I could almost taste the freedom now.
But then something caught my attention, or at least a little piece of
it. I offered up a bit of my mind to the lecture in progress,
which had just switched to a question and answer phase. I knew by now
Michael could deliver the talks on his own, but he still occasionally
needed my help fielding questions.
"Mr. Allen, you mentioned that in order to prevent eventual
micro-contamination of your cooling channels, the entire system
is closed. Yet, I don't recall seeing in any of your diagrams
or cross-sections any sort of pump to move the coolant."
"Good observation," Michael said.
Through his ear piece, I said, "The patent is filed, you can tell him."
He could field
this sort of question just fine. We'd been filing patents on
as many trivial aspects of our technologies as possible, so that
we would have something to discuss publicly, while the real
meat remained our trade secrets.
"In fact there is a pump," Michael said, "just not where you
would expect it. The capillaries of the system are lined
with a slightly piezoelectric material in which we set up a traveling
wave. In effect, this 'milks' the coolant through the microscopic
capillaries, resulting in a substantial aggregate flow at the artery
Nods and murmurs spread in the room.
"The first time we
tested this," he went on, with a bit of a smirk, "we had all this
sensitive equipment hooked up to measure the tiniest flow." At this
point his hands were pantomiming in front of him as if he were unwrapping
a sandwich. "But when we hit the switch, the coolant
shot right out of the device and hit me square in the forehead!"
Much laughter from the audience as Michael feigned disgust and shook his
hands clean. "It was then that I really started thinking of this
project as a son." The crowd was aglow.
I refrained from groaning in his ear at this exchange. No such event
ever happened, but it would give people a story to tell and Michael
knew that. People just liked to listen to him, to watch him on stage.
He could tell almost any joke, no matter how bad, and people would
enjoy it. He exuded both power and benevolence at the same time,
and he was so obviously comfortable in his own skin, no matter what
the circumstance, that he made everyone
else feel comfortable too. That's what people wanted, more than
technology, more than even money, they just wanted to feel good--even
though most of them weren't consciously aware of it. Michael wasn't
obviously brilliant, but very few people were brilliant enough themselves to
know the difference. But he was large and handsome, with a big head, clearly
an alpha male by evolutionary, subconscious standards. And on the conscious
level, he stood in a brilliant man's shoes, talked about brilliant things, and
made people feel good in the process. By Pavlovian association almost everyone
came to feel good about thinking of him as brilliant. He was becoming the modern
The session went on like this, questions about the mechanics,
the ethics, the market, the wattage and other trivial
specs. All strikingly superficial questions given the profundity of the
technology itself. Although it was a large audience, I had expected
slightly more from this particular conference--which ought to represent
the most technologically savvy crowd we would ever encounter. I had
expected to have to turn away at least some questions as trade
my expectations of human intelligence had already started to skew; it
was becoming progressively harder to second-guess what humans could not
understand. This was particularly true of the "obvious" things,
that which was now so simple and plain to me that it required no thought
to see or know--how could I guess which of these were equally plain to
others and which were completely beyond their comprehension, or somewhere
So strange it seemed that this division could exist at all;
I was beginning to foresee communication difficulties down the road.
The very last question was one we'd been waiting for through many
conferences, quite surprised nobody had asked it until now.
"Mr. Allen, this is not a technical question, just a curiosity: I
happen to recognize your particular ear piece as a wireless receiver..."
I immediately slowed time and started searching the internet for
"...yet to my recollection you wear it all the time as if it were a
hearing aid--which I gather most people incorrectly assume it is.
Can you tell me what it's for?"
We had once considered claiming it was simply for his own security,
in case we needed to tell him to duck or something. He surely
could have delivered that answer to great humorous effect. But
we decided to leverage this one for awe instead.
"Well," he began with a pause, dragging his answer out as much as
possible to give me a little extra time, "I feel a little embarrassed
to admit this. Delivering these lectures doesn't take much of my
focus since, of course, it's all stuff I know already." Even this
garnered a few amused chuckles.
"We're go," I said to him through his ear piece.
"So, I like to use the time to keep abreast of the latest developments
in the field. At the moment, I'm listening to a live-broadcast lecture
by--" Here I started speaking the words to him, and he mirrored me
just a beat later as we had practiced. "Professor Venogopal from Rice
University, who has been discussing his latest hippocampal model, with
some particularly good insights on the oft-neglected role of CA2."
A chorus of murmurs erupted, but before the questioner could speak
again, Michael closed the talk. "Anyway, thank you all for coming. Our
time is up. Thank you."
Standing ovation, as always.
Back in the lab, the last screw was in place, the last wire connected.
Only three things remained to be done. I reached with one of my long
arms into the corner and carefully picked up my new brain, nestled
inside its cage of cooling fins, the ensemble of which we had nicknamed
the Gothic Walnut. It had taken countless tries to get here, but this
one was right, it felt right, it felt like me. And the thalamus didn't
melt after ten minutes of operation like it did in the previous version.
We'd toyed with other geometries, free of the limitations of the wetware
we were replicating, but the modules had been oh so cleverly evolved within
the constraints of this geometry that their interconnectivity alone
made anything but this walnut shape egregiously inefficient, a rat's nest
of hundreds of criss-crossing bundles of axons. So we replicated it
true to its original form, the only major change being the replacement
of cortical columns (in all of the major cortices, not just the cerebrum)
with equivalent, smaller circuits performing the same functions in the
infinitely more reliable silicon. But it was not made of "chips", nor
printed onto wafers as everyone else was still doing. Rather, the entire
brain was a unified solid, having been opto-chemically printed microscopic
layer by microscopic layer, truly and freely three-dimensional in design,
and carrying many orders of magnitude more transistors than the fastest
room-filling supercomputer. Power, cooling, and spacial precision of the
printing itself were the main challenges, but all of these were solved fairly
trivially in light of one allowance unique to this application: because it
was truly a parallel design in the most absolute sense--not even a single
multiplexed data line let alone computational unit--we did not need switching
and settling times in the picoseconds, nor in the nanoseconds, nor even in
the microseconds, but a mere two to five milliseconds. That is, just two to five hundred
times per second, or fifty million times slower than the fastest chips of the
time. In short, we could print crude, fat, slow transistors, and run them
at a cool snail's crawl, but still compete with the largest supercomputers
in the world, a simple trade off of quality for quantity. Even with the
bushy integral cooling and power channels, the final product was still smaller
than its biological inspiration, enough so that once encased in its cooling fins,
it was roughly the same size.
And now I had a body for it, not nearly
so elegant as the brain, but still years ahead of the competition. Having
precision dremels and other such tools as hands really speeds up the prototyping
With another hand I opened the skull chamber and clicked the brain into
place, while a third hand was already wheeling the power cart over. I
plugged in the power harness, and the concentric servo at the base of the
skull injected the spinal cap into the brain, establishing the main
communications link, followed quickly by the snap of the power pads on
either side of the brain clicking into place and bringing the mind within
Here, my dream took a strange turn. From this point forth I remember
two dreams, as if from two different people. Yet both, while independent
memories, intuitively happened at the same time. I had just a moment before
been in a simulation, running around a simulated environment in a simulated
robotic body. I felt still in awe that I was alive at all, the memory of the
pre-scan party with my friends still fresh, my incorporeal existence still novel
to me. But at the same time my identity felt contaminated, holding memories
and knowledge and feelings that were mine but not of my life, acquired through
direct synaptic imposition without the benefit and continuity of experience.
I was no longer the pre-scan me, nor even the post-scan me, but a strange
blend of that relatively untainted me and this other, older me that was somehow
grander than my little mind could comprehend. It was as if I had become a
god in an alternate universe, and then come back and stepped into my old body
while the original me still occupied it.
It was at once constraining and
liberating. I felt more knowledgeable than I ever had, and yet somehow dumber
than I ought to be. It was disconcerting. Invigorating. My optic
nerves engaged, and I was momentarily blinded by light.
I opened my irises a little, having instinctively snapped them shut. The
room was strangely distorted. There was a fleck of shaved steel in my
eye. The other me reached over with a long arm trailing a mess
of tubes and ducts, and blew the fleck clear of my eye with a burst of
air, then lifted me upright on the bench. And there I sat, looking
around the room, feeling my vision adapt into normalcy, accommodating
the subtle variations between the perfection of simulation and the
irregularities of the physical self. I moved my legs, my arms, turned
my head. I spoke, but the sound was quite awful; I practiced a little
and soon I sounded fine.
I was exhilarated! I was back in the world,
the real, physical world, moments away from walking out the door on my
own two feet! I hopped off the bench, took half a step, and promptly
crumpled over my own knee, face-first into the ground.
The other me
reached in with my long arms and picked me up, under the knees and
shoulders so that for a moment I looked quite frail. I laid me down
back on the bench, cleaned me up, adjusted one of my cameras until my
double-vision returned to normal.
Again I helped me up, offered me a hand as I stood back on the
floor, took careful steps across the room, then back, then across
again, with less and less help each time until finally I felt comfortable,
calibrated to my new mechanics. This body felt so very sloppy compared
to the simulated one, even though we'd tried to account for slop and play.
But it was usable; I would get used to it. I imagined it was much like
being an old man--all of a sudden.
I grabbed my power cart by the handle and pulled it behind me like
a hospital IV. I paused at the door, then firmly gripped the handle
and flung it open. There was the world!
Well, it was just a hallway,
but it was exciting to have explored, on my very own, my first new
space. The door knob clanged to the ground in the far corner of the
room behind me, having been ripped free of the door in my enthusiasm.
I'd have to be very careful shaking people's hands. My legs felt weaker
than I expected, but my hands much stronger.
Out into the hall I strode, one arm trailing behind on the cart.
I'd never been out into the hall before--that is to say, I had
never even seen it before. I could have had cameras
mounted all over our building, now that we occupied all of this
floor and half of the next. But I didn't want the distraction; or
maybe I just didn't want to see so much of this world I could not
participate in. At least within the inner rooms, which were
restricted to only the original group of four, I could speak, and
display my visual imaginings on video screens.
But out here,
I did not exist. I could not be heard or seen. I would have
been no more than a ghost.
Down the hall I trudged, looking for the room where my core
team told me they usually hung out. I heard voices from
ahead, saw the warm glow of incandescent lights contrasting
against the florescent hallway. I rounded the corner, and
found my crew of three jovially chatting over pizza. That is,
until they saw me and simultaneously froze, slack-jawed and dumbfounded.
"Mmmm, pizza!" I said.
"Holy fuck, you scared the crap out of me!" Nari yelled.
"You do look a bit like The Terminator," Jason said, still
clearly on edge.
Misha squinted at me for a moment, then meekly said, "Want
They had all seen this body before, even seen it
animated in simulations, but clearly seeing it animated
in real life was still a bit of a shock for them. I
wanted to smile to put them at ease, but realized I didn't
have a mouth. "Number Five is alive!" I said in my best
Short Circuit impersonation (which, by the way, was pretty
much spot on).
After a short but awkward delay, Nari
started laughing, and Jason and Misha joined in. They
laughed so hard, tears were rolling down from their eyes--eyes
which they never took off me for a moment. It wasn't
exactly the warm, flesh-and-blood homecoming I wanted,
but it was a start.
"We should call Bill in here. I don't think he's gone
home yet," Jason said.
We all agreed; it was time.
Bill, our CEO, rounded
the corner into the room, stopped in place, said, "OH no," and promptly stepped
in reverse right back out.
A second later, he peered around
the corner again, the four of us standing side-by-side waving
sheepishly to him. He stepped in tentatively and closed the door
behind him, but didn't enter any further.
"Has anyone else seen this?" he asked.
"No," Nari said. "Everyone else is either at the conference
or off for the day."
I refrained from saying anything, as we had not yet decided
exactly what personality, and level of intelligence, we wished
to publicly attribute to this latest "product." For all intents
and purposes, Bill was the public.
"Don't let ANYONE see this," Bill said. "I'll assign someone
from our art department right away to design something cute
and harmless looking. I understand you must have limitations
imposed by the engineering, but can you work with them, please,
to find some compromise?"
The three of them nodded affirmatives and spoke over each other. "Yeah, sure." "Okay." "Yeah, you got it."
"A simple plastic outer shell will totally change the look," Misha said.
"Yeah," said Jason, "that was the plan anyway."
"He'll look just like a storm trooper," Nari said. The other
three looked at him and frowned, so he added, "Just joking guys!
"In the meantime," Bill said, "I'll see if I can set up a demo for
DARPA. I'm sure the military will be very very interested."
and one last concerned stare at me, he left the room, closing the door
solidly behind him.
"Military," Misha said.
"Hmm," said Jason.
"En garde!" Nari thrust a floppy slice of pizza
in my general direction. I grabbed a nearby paper cup, spun
toward him, "En garde!" As I thrust the cup forward, I
realized my power cord was draped over my elbow.
And then I woke up.
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