Wednesday, March 14, 2018

A beta-level simulation

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I'm just finishing "Elysium Fire" by Alastair Reynolds, his follow-up to "Aurora Rising: Previously published as The Prefect". It's a perfectly serviceable SF techno-thriller: the action moves along briskly enough.

I am most intrigued, though, by the concepts of alpha- and beta-level simulations.
"An alpha-level simulation was a digitised version of a scanned human mind, perfectly replicating its brain structure. It was fully capable of remembering past experiences, learning, adapting, and was fully self-aware.

Later technologies allowed individuals to survive the scanning process, leaving essentially two copies of the same person, one physical and one digital. ...


Beta-level simulations were sophisticated computer programs designed to mimic a person in appearance, mannerisms, and thought-patterns. While capable of successfully impersonating a human mind down to their most minute idiosyncrasies, they were not in fact self-aware -- they were just near-perfect imitations of life. As such, they enjoyed no legal rights or protections.

In Yellowstone society, and presumably other Demarchies, it was considered a most egregious social faux pas to allow someone to believe a beta-level simulation was in fact alpha-level."
A continuing theme is that after someone is murdered, they may well have had a shadowing beta-level simulation which the authorities then sequester for interrogation - a chance to interview the deceased victim, if you like. It's quite a shock when they're told they are dead.

The beta-levels generally don't know they're simulations and the hero, Inspector Dreyfus, is conflicted as to whether he should adopt the instrumental view ("I'm interviewing an expert system") or the intentional view ("I'm interviewing a digitalised person"). For the reader, this dilemma is never truly resolved.*

It does give me itchy fingers. I want to go back to my Lisp environment, to my 'Eliza' system and my automated theorem-prover. I'm sure I could knock up a fairly awesome beta-level myself, if we were talking, say, of a cat .. .


* I suppose a remote descendant of Replika will give us all beta-level simulations.

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