Saturday, November 20, 2010

The Memory Preservation Project

Submitted for Project #6: "Oz Never Gave Nothing to the Tin Man"

“My goodness! What happened? Let me help you up. Here, step into my office and have a seat.”

“I'm really not sure what happened.”

“Well, I see you've met one of our products.”

“One of your products?”

“Yes, indeed. Here at the Robotics Institue we create robots of all kinds. If I'm not mistaken, you're here about our memory preservation project.”

“Actually, yes. Yes I am.”

“You never checked in with the receptionist.”

“No. She was busy and I was late, so I thought I'd just come on up.”

“Ah, she would have given you a visitor's badge which the IG-12 would have recognised. You would have saved yourself the encounter with the stun gun.”

“I'm glad it was only set to stun.”

“Oh, my, we couldn't equip the unit with anything capable of deadly force. It doesn't know good guys from bad guys, so to speak.”

“So that was the IG-12, huh?”

“Yes, the Intelligent Guard series number twelve.”

“You say it's intelligent?”

“Yes, meaning that it can learn, not just function and perform menial tasks. For instance, now that it has seen me bring you into my office it will not tag you again. You're a friendly face in its memory bank now.”

“Well, thank God for that.”

“No, thank us for that. You can well imagine that it takes a lot of work to create an intelligent being. Most of the time, when a unit does something that seems unintelligent the cause can be traced back to human error.”


“Oh, yes. We had a scientist here once who decided, when he quit, to steal some information. He broke into the lab and was confronted by a unit on guard duty, an IG-10 I believe. He should have been captured, but he proceeded directly to a chess table. The unit took up a position opposite him and moved its first piece. The man then moved two pieces at the same time, creating an illegal formation on the board. We found the unit in the same position in the morning, still pondering its next move, unable to proceed because it couldn't understand the board configuration. The human error in this case was our neglecting to ensure that a unit on guard duty did not switch roles to that of "chess player".”

“I see.”

“Here at the Robotics Institute, we believe that the sooner we can eliminate the human error factor, the better. For example, let me demonstrate some of the problems we've had in our consumer division with the Intelligent Task Master series of robotic units. We sent an ITM-3 to the grocery store with a list of items. We instructed it to get 2 pounds of potatoes. It put them on the scale and continued switching potatoes in and out until it had exactly 2 pounds. We told it that we wanted 2 pounds of ground beef. Again, it failed to understand that 1.98 or 2.03 pounds would have been sufficient to satisfy our request. And it didn't know how to get half a cup of rice, because rice isn't sold that way. These are all examples of human error, not lack of intelligence. We were able to adjust the programming such that all these problems were solved. There was much celebration when the unit successfully traversed the grocery store and returned with all the correct items.”

“So you've fixed all of its problems?”

“Not exactly. We sent the unit back again with a new list and it skipped all the items that were duplicates from the first one. It "knew" that it had already gotten milk, for example, and didn't understand that we wanted more milk. Someone suggested that we give it an algorithm by which it could compare a household inventory with grocery store items. But human error intervened again—the unit compared every single item in the grocery store to the inventory we had given it for the household and proceeded to buy up the entire store. Again, this was not due to a lack of intelligence. We had given it the wrong instructions.”

“And were you able to fix those problems as well?”

“Yes, but there are countless others. It's quite a job to test every little task that an ITM may be required to do. Humans are generally unaware of the little things that they do when they accomplish a task, the common sense sort of things, those things that are so automatic that they don't seem to require any thought at all, so that's where the programming usually falls short.”

“Yes, of course.”

“But you're here about becoming a memory preservation client, is that correct?”

“Yes, that's right.”

“One of our most exciting projects, indeed. We're in direct competition with the Alcor Life Extension Foundation.”

“Aren't those the people who freeze heads?”

“No, that's a misconception. First of all they don't freeze anything, they use a process called vitrification which prevents the formation of tissue-damaging ice. Secondly, they're preserving the brain, not the head, but there is currently no way to safely remove the brain from the skull, so to prevent damaging the organ they leave it inside the head. Their big problem, though, is that the technology does not yet exist to discover whether a reversibly vitrified brain would actually function. They have had success with kidneys, but a kidney is nowhere near as complex an organ as a brain. What we're doing at the Robotics Institute is preserving memories, a much less invasive technique. We can download your memories right now without harming you in the least. What's more, we can upload your memories to a machine, one of our Intelligent Memory Preservation units. On power up, the IMP will think it's you—and essentially it will be.”

“That's interesting.”

“Indeed. And what's more, our clients can have a new download created any time they want one. We suggest at least once a year. When one of our clients dies, we upload his or her latest memories into an IMP unit, thereby bringing them back into the world.”

“But I—the person would be a robot.”

“Not just a robot, an intelligent machine, capable of learning new things just like you and I, but with the additional benefit of having all of the client's previous knowledge intact. What a head start over programming from scratch!”

“So what do I do?”

“Well, there's paperwork of course, legal stuff mostly. We don't want anybody to ever say we've stolen their identity. And there's a form that gives us permission to upload your memories while your alive, for testing purposes only. Then we can begin downloading as early as today.”


“As soon as the paperwork is signed.”

“And have you successfully done this before?”

“Oh, yes. Of course we're still working out some of the glitches. We discovered that we have to do some additional programming before we power up the unit. On our first test the IMP-1 wouldn't stop screaming. You see, it thought it was our client but it didn't know what had happened to its body, so it basically panicked.”

“So what did you do?”

“We added some "memories" of our own so it would know what was going on and be able to deal with the situation rationally.”

“Did it know it was dead?”

“Well, it thought that it had been near death, but saved, given both a new body and another chance at life.”

“And did it have all of its previous memories?”

“It seemed to, but we're still checking; It's a long and complicated process.”

“Where is it now?”

“It's still being worked on. Are you ready to get started?”


“We're going to hook you up to a machine now, that will download all of your memories. You will probably fall asleep; if so don't worry about it, everything will be fine.”
“How are you feeling?”

“What happened?”

“The operation was a success. You've got a brand new body and a second chance at living your life.”

“You said this would be harmless—Hey! Wait a minute! Look at me! I'm the robot! Where's the real me? I want to see my other body.”

“I'm afraid that's not possible.”

“What? Why not?”

“There's been an accident. An automobile accident; right after you left our building. We are not in possession of your body.”

“But how can that be?”

“Things like that happen. You never know when it's your time. You're just lucky we did a download before you left that day. And that you signed those forms, otherwise we wouldn't be authorized to bring you back.”

“Bring me back? You mean I'm—”

“You've got another chance. Your new body will seem clumsy at first but you'll get used to it, and we'll be here to help every step of the way.”

“This can't be. This can't be. I can't be—AAAAAAAHHHHHH!”

“Oh, my, where's your power switch? Why do they all go mad?


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