Original Copies

Wayne Huang

With a lifespan less than the replicants in Blade Runner, the boppers in Rudy Rucker's Software have to renew themselves every ten months by transferring their software into new hardware. Is this act organ replacement, cloning, or asexual reproduction? Although there is not much difference genetically between cloning and asexual reproduction, there is a difference between the ways in which reproduction occurs with these two methods. Perhaps we should not think of this in human terms, but in computer terms. We can think of these renewals as "upgrades" to older hardware -- as our software becomes more complex, we need better hardware to run them on.

However, the boppers also engage in "sexual reproduction", with female and male boppers working together to create a new bopper, each contributing from their stash of hardware. Mutation also occurs.

"No one can write a bopper program ... they're too complicated. So instead I set thousands of simple AI programs loose in there," he [a hollow of a young Cobb Anderson] gestured familiarly at the computers. "There were lots of ... fitness tests, with the weaker programs getting wiped. And every so often all the surviving programs were randomly changed ... mutated. I even provided for a sort of ... sexual reproduction, where two programs could merge."

What is lost in any of these processes is the original copy -- even the act of transferring causes a bopper to lose the last few minutes of memory before the transfer occurs. There is never an exact copy of the original.

Sobbing openly now, Cobb threw his arms around the bopper's unyielding body-box and rocked him to and fro. "I've gotten old, Ralph. And you're ... you're still the same."

"Not really, Dr. Anderson. I've been rebuilt thirty-seven times. And I have exchanged various subprograms with others."

This exchange between creator and creature underscores the impossibility of original copies in human and robot lifeforms -- people grow old and robots get upgraded. Perhaps this is for the better, because only the lowest of lifeforms still procreate via asexual reproduction. Higher lifeforms are able to diversify faster and adapt faster because of the superior advantages of sexual reproduction. As the hollow Cobb said, "No one can write a bopper program" -- only by letting smaller AI programs sexually reproduce can they evolve into the higher bopper lifeforms, a pathway similar to the road from primordial soup to homo sapiens.

As for exact copies, Dolly, the first cloned sheep, was created from a cell of an adult sheep but she will never be the same as her "donor". She will not be at the same age, nor will have the same memories as the other sheep. This experiment seems to indicate that man will never be able to create himself in his own image. There is always a loss -- a generation loss, if you will. Only (choose your favorite deity or deities) can have that power.

[To other discussions of Rudy Rucker's - Ware trilogy (Software, Wetware, and Freeware) by members of English 111, Cyberspace and Critical Theory, Spring 1998.]