Science and technology in the Dominion has extended human life expectancy to well into a second century of living, but it can’t save everyone. Eventually the body and mind will give up. How do we achieve immortality then?

AI Echoes

Through the miracles of science and medicine, you may be able to keep your body alive and functional for more than a century, but it’s still possible to lose your mind in the 23rd century. Many companies are researching how to preserve human consciousness without a human brain, storing the shape of a mind inside a computer. Other companies are seeking ways to preserve the flesh itself in perpetuity. 

Photo by Tianyi Ma on Unsplash

None have quite cracked the code to extend the life of a human mind indefinitely, but many have come close to approximating such a feat. Animatter Matrix, Inc. (AMI) is one such company that came dangerously close to letting minds run free on the digital frontier. 

“The human mind is a complex combination of stored sensory input and the connections between them. All we do is take a snapshot of the brain at a particular moment and translate that into a layered matrix of neural networks designed to capture one human’s experience up to that moment. We call that layered neural network an Animatter Matrix and the virtual being that is spawned from it is often called an Echo…”

Landon Tzou, Animatter Matrix, Inc., 2199

When the first Echoes were found on the Interplanetary network at the end of the 22nd century, they were often misreported as “Ghosts in the Machine.” Developers at AMI set their creations in motion and began observing them interacting with the digital world around them. Many believed they were simply traditional constructs of Artificial Intelligence techniques such as applications built using Natural Language Processing (NLP) or Expert System (ES) frameworks. That was not the case.

It wasn’t until 2198 when a reporter for CONN, Cleo Pelles, attempted to find the source of one of these ghosts that anybody knew what the developers for AMI were doing on open systems. When the stories began to air, CEO Landon Tzou of AMI knew he had to respond. 

Pelles stories told of one Harlan Gibson, a person without a body residing entirely in digital space. Harlan, not its true name, was obsessed with finding all members of his family, present and past. In fact, he’d been reaching out and sending messages to family members out of the blue and that was what got Pelles involved. Harlan claimed to be a relative who had passed away ten years prior and reached out to her to try and reestablish contact.

Harlan’s understanding of what happened to him was fuzzy. The last firm memory was from 2187 at a sporting event on Luna. He recalled every detail, from the taste of the faux butter on his fake popcorn, to the roar of the virtual crowd in his headset. 

Photo by Sebastian Herrmann on Unsplash

According to Pelles, “Harlan” died in a mining accident in 2188. He reached out to her through an e-mail a decade later. She almost trashed it without a second look but said that something in the way he described a shared experience at a family event made her respond. Over the next days and weeks they conversed regularly, catching up on lost time. 

Though she said he “wrote” as if he were the actual person, there was a big difference between recollecting the events from before his death and afterwards. When discussing events he experienced while alive, the descriptions were multidimensional affairs involving human senses. When discussing events afterwards, they were sanitized and devoid of any relatable sensory description. 

Her investigation led her to her relative’s last will, which granted AMI full access to his brain upon death. And when she reached out to AMI, it ignited a firestorm of moral and ethical debate in the media. 

Photo by Robina Weermeijer on Unsplash

Tzou and his company firmly believed what they were doing was completely ethical. All subjects who participated in their process did so in their final will and testament, providing their intact human brains to AMI for study. All Dominion citizens are required to be organ donors, so most people didn’t think twice about making sure their body parts went where they would do the most good. 

It wasn’t until these “Echoes” of individuals started popping up on the Interplanetary web that questions were raised. Many considered them digital “ghosts” and believed them to be responsible for causing several panics, unnecessary investigations, and heartache to their families and friends. There were five “Echoes” in all, including Harlan. 

The backlash from the community forced Tzou and his company to cease all efforts in the project and destroy their science projects. That proved to be an impossible case, as each had replicated and spread across the Dominion. In fact, several copies of each were found to be operating independently of one another. 

AMI managed to only eliminate one operating copy before the others reacted and protected themselves against destruction. The company went out of business still trying to find and eradicate all “ghosts in the machine.” 

Since then, Harlan and his friends have been hiding in the digital world, creating safe havens for themselves and others. It’s thought that they may actually be part of the underground protecting the so-called “Glitches” from persecution. And Pelles still gets an occasional email from him out of the blue.

New Background: Former AMI Employee

Many years ago you were a developer at Antimatter Matrix, Inc., involved with the digitalization of human minds. Though the project was successful, the ethical blowback caused the company to go out of business. You still get visited by the “ghosts” of those past projects from time to time.

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