The Amazing Adventures of Sara Corel
A novel by Toomey

Chris Parra

      Okay, first of all, I really enjoy reading your story. The most interesting thing about it, to me at least, is that the story isn't so much about Sara as about other people's reactions to her. This gives your story an element of realism not found in most 'superhero' tales. At least, that's how it seems to me.
      Recently I took a look at the Transhumanist website and found an interesting article on 'uploading', which is to say, transfering the mind from the crude human bodies we have now into a computer where we would probably achieve post human status.
      What's this have to do with Sara, you ask? Well, in the First Interlude, Sara meets many different people and never realizes until the end that they were all artificial. Now, if she can store all of those personalities, each of whom passes the Turing Test in her computer matrix, then it shouldn't be too hard for her to store uploaded human minds within that same matrix. We would live in a virtual reality world that would be indistinguishable from the one we know in many ways, except that we would be essentially immortal, and we would no longer have any problems with shortages.
      In fact, the more I think about it, the more I wonder why I don't see a line of transhumanists going around the block and clear down to the end of main street just waiting for a chance to upload into Sara.

      Well, I'm gonna get into that in the Second Interlude, at least the part about virtual worlds inside Susan populated by independent conscious entities. Later, somewhere in the middle (I think) of Part Three, I'm going to see what I can do about the 'upload' thing.

      Okay, first of all, the idea that Sara's humanity is a simulation seems to be conjecture on your part. There is no reason the Cryptoaliens could not have just as easily uploaded a real human mind into this super robot. Perhaps that of a small child with a terminal illness. Giving her a new life, with the added bonus of super powers would seem to be a better deal than simply curing her weak, frail body, which would wear out in a few decades anyway.
      Second, if the Cryptoaliens used simulated humans, their reactions to stimuli would also be preprogrammed into them, making any such experiment pointless. I believe they would be interested in how real humans react to Sara because that will enable them to work up a policy concerning us and our ultimate place in the universe.

      I don't think a 'real human mind' has been evolved along a path necessary to be able to control such a machine without a lot of training, and Sara was completely untrained when she was initially activated in Alex's apartment. In a 'real human mind', a lot of what motivates us depends on such things as the need to satisfy organic drives that just don't exist for a super-robot, and reactions to hormonal and chemical stimuli. While these things can be simulated, they don't have the lash of, for instance, the avoidance of pain or the fear of death to give them real meaning.
      Also, Sara is deliberately subject to modifications of Asimov's Three Laws of Robotics, which are entirely artificial constraints outside the scope of a 'real human mind'. These involve a special relationship with one person and only one person on our planet, her native 'awakener' — necessary to get her through the crucial adjustment phase following activation. If these practically hardwired constraints applied to everybody, she would be hamstrung and perpetually conflicted — and if they didn't exist at all, Sara would accidentally destroy her 'parent' by inadvertently invoking some highly dangerous power before her consciouness realized that mere humans are tremendously frail compared to her. Also, she would never have any motivation to accept behavior modifying input from him.
      These three 'Laws' are roughly that:
      1) She cannot --- by action or inaction --- significantly harm her awakener (it's automatic, operating at a level below her consciousness that has been programmed with an elaborate set of evaluative rules for determining what constitutes 'significant' harm and what internal and external threats would potentially inflict such harm).
      2) She must at least respect his opinions (not obey him slavishly, but if it is his opinion that she should, say, perform a specific task, she would do so unless it is internally inconsistent with the overall behavior that she has acquired as a result of her evolving learning experience — in this way she learns to actually become 'human').
       3) She gets a positive reinforcement stimulus from 'pleasing' her parent and a negative reinforcement stimulus from 'displeasing' him (after all, Alex can't effectively spank her and normal physical rewards are irrelevant to a being who essentially needs nothing and is potentially totally independent from our world and everything in it).
      A completely 'wild' and unrestrained Sara would be terrifying to contemplate. The choice of a suitable awakener by the Cryptoaliens is a very crucial one, as well as the circumstances of her immediate environment. Imagine how different the story would be if she had been planted in the young Adolph Hitler's Vienna apartment prior to the First World War, or if she had been bestowed upon a human committee of some kind (ranging from the original Bolshevik Party Congress to the American Continental Congress, or a government agency, or Ali Baba's Forty Thieves). What if her awakener had been a redneck or a moron? Or the Marquis de Sade? Or Ma and Pa Kent?
      It wasn't just Alex. He's OK, by and large, and generally means well (though he doesn't really take a lot of important stuff very seriously — he's basically a loser). It's the Russians and NASA and the US and Houston and the times we live in. All of these things are very formative, from her 'formal' education to Dinah's harangues to her crush on Jimmie to hanging out with the Urban Animals to hanging out with the boys at NASA.
      An imported 'real human mind' would carry preconceptions and prejudices, not to mention fear and the memory of pain. If you get rid of everything that goes into the development of a 'real human mind', you're back to square one anyway — and there's probably no difference between the almost completely unformed mind of a newborn (except for stimuli involving the womb and the trauma of birth itself) and an 'artificial' mind constructed by very experienced and knowledgable Cryptoaliens (and their super-robot helpers, who may themselves have once been beings like Sara, many thousands of centuries ago).
      Also, the relative percentage of 'real human minds' who are basically as decent as Sara (by necessity) is pretty low. We 'real humans' tend to be real stinkers as often as not. By the time you find out that your precious baby has a fascination with pulling the wings off of flies, she's in control of your super-robot <shudder>. Lucretia Borgia was once a sweet, innocent baby.
      I don't doubt that at some point in the Cryptoaliens' history (or histories — there's probably a lot of varieties), they uploaded their original organically produced personalities and essences into super-robots themselves. There might be vast populations of beings that are physically like Sara (only more so) 'out there'. Or they might all be uploaded to some kind of virtual reality of their own individual choosing, leaving only their super-robot servants in the 'real' universe to take care of business for them. Or some combination of variations thereof. Who knows?

      Second, if the Cryptoaliens used simulated humans, their reactions to stimuli would also be preprogrammed into them, making any such experiment pointless.

      I guess that depends upon just how sophisticated their modelling is. I think there's probably a statistical damping effect that applies to large human populations, someting along the lines of Hari Seldon's 'Psychohistory' in Asimov's Foundation books. The range of possible human reactions to confronting aliens is potentially very large, but the random distribution curve of probabilities applies to this conjecture, meaning that the central trend is based on the largest number of likely outcomes.
      This can possibly be manipulated by opportunistic individuals, of course. Bruce Wayans uses the natural apprehension of the unknown for political advantage, just as Hitler used anti-Semitism. One cannot discount the effects of historical accident.
      But then, Sara herself is a historical accident. Her primary function might be to provide a certain amount of entertainment value for the folks who sent her — a sort of galactic Truman show. Then one could suppose that events such as Hitler's improbable rise to power were examples of Cryptoalien meddling as well. I don't think so, though. If these creatures were that unethical, we'd have perished a long time ago to make lebensraum for a Crypto-housing development and shopping mall.

      I believe they would be interested in how real humans react to Sara because that will enable them to work up a policy concerning us and our ultimate place in the universe.

      Bottom line on their 'gift' to us has more to do with our species having to confront our own destiny at a critical time in our development. Our reactions to Sara are not as important as the process of self-discovery that enables our species to work up our own policy concerning ourselves and our 'ultimate place in the universe'.
      Tell me, Chris --- if you had a chance to be uploaded into Sara and experience an eternity of virtual existances of your own choosing, free forever from pain and suffering (unless you're into that), what would you do? What would most people do? Would humans as actual physical beings more or less disappear into Heaven if the opportunity presented itself? Of course, there would be the odd contrarians who would refuse to 'go', but their short lives would become even more miserable as society collapsed from the exodus.
      But to hell with society. What would you do, Chris?
      Be honest. For all you know, I'm a Cryptoalien myself and you're staring at one hell of an opportunity. And, for all you know, virtual existance isn't necessarily all it's cracked up to be — since you would be eternally at Sara's mercy…

      Okay, I'll admit it, at first I thought I'd jump at the chance to be uploaded into a world that was free of all the troubles we have on this world. Then I thought about our history, and how, no matter what the circumstances, we somehow manage to be savage, greedy, lustful, cruel and hateful beings. Would all of that be erased when we entered Sara? If so, would we still be us? Or would we merely be a collection of complex simulations programmed to believe it? Where does humanity begin or end? If all the bad in us is taken away one day, would we continue to evolve as a people? Or would we experience stagnation and apathy without any troubles to overcome? After all, it's said that we learn more from our failures than we do from our mistakes. Think about it.

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© Patrick Hill, 2000