EC: Welcome to the Wastes, Arthur! Hey, real quick before we get started… I understand you like to “poke pixels into proper shape”. I’m a bit of a video game nerd, could you tell me about the game developer thing?
AW: A friend I’ve known for 25 years, asked me to help him build games. He loves games, but isn’t super creative. I design, write, and render, while my friend writes the code. I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to try indie dev at all, but when a friend like that asks me for a favor, I don’t say no. 🙂 I’ve grown to like it since our first game. And, of course, I wanted to do a post-apocalyptic RPG after that. I’ve had to reach out to all sorts of skills, and the indie dev community. There are lots of great people there.
EC: I recently finished the first book in your Uroboros Saga series and compared it to Bladerunner. First off, I gotta say that it has been an extremely long time since I’ve read a book that’s grabbed me by the throat and not let go from the first page. Secondly, there’s a whole lot more going on than what I had initially thought. I was intrigued by the “idea of technology that extends and expands the modern notion of identity, and the sort of dystopia that such technology could create.”
AW: In the books I refer to it identity extensive technologies. It is what I expect will eventually arise from current cognitive technologies like IBM’s Watson.
EC: Identity extensive technologies? Oh man, you gotta talk to me like I’m four years old sometimes. What exactly is that?
AW: In the present day, it is very limited, and amount to services that are not fully autonomous just yet. Amazon and Google can merely suggest products and web sites based on your previous search and buying habits. Facebook can push advertising you might like, based on information you’ve provided. Pandora comes a little closer, playing music for you based on your previous choices, automatically. I use an extreme example in my books.
A nanotechnological replica, with an imprinted neural construct that acts essentially the same way as your brain. It is a machine that looks and thinks like you, with implied legal (a thing I don’t touch on) ability to act as you. It could buy things it knows you like, enter into contractual agreements, and contribute to your works and desires, autonomously. Basically, a technological redundancy for a person, acting as they would act. There are cognitive technologies (IBM’s Watson) and data holds (the Internet) that could give rise to such in the future.
Automating human agency is one of the darkest and most dangerous things, done incorrectly. Apocalyptic in the extreme. Instead of a wasteland of burnt buildings and radioactive zombies, you’d have an intellectual wasteland, and a cognitive disparity in the population. People who could afford the technology, employing it ethically or otherwise, would have extreme advantages over others. I could write a book, while I was editing, while I was illustrating the cover, two books ahead, outpacing other independent authors. This, provided the technology worked flawlessly. And, it didn’t assume identity markers outside my own (constituting a separate being with its own desires).
In my books, replicas do just this, “going delta” and becoming their own distinct folks, with varying consequences. Some of the Deltas are murderous psychopaths, while others are staunch protectors of humanity. I see machines of this type as reaching polarizing conclusions about morality, but not necessarily the “rise of the machines” scenario that Hollywood constantly puts on display. Still, Deltas would not possess the same anthropological imperatives as humans, so they’d likely reach slightly different conclusions.
Cognitive technologies have real world commercial applications, but not for the average consumer just yet. I’d like to be able to take a picture of my closet, send it to a service that could examine my purchasing habits and buy me clothes at an appropriate interval, based collected biometric data, without me having to lift a finger. It would be eerie at first. Especially if the service was dead on, mostly buying stuff I liked, with the few regretful purchases I inevitably would have made anyway.
I wonder how society would grapple with such technology. Also, how it would treat redundant identity systems that go “delta”, and so forth.
Arthur H. Walker likes to write about identity extensive technologies, fiscal/economic collapse, Intelligent Agents and A.I.s, Compliance Implants, and genetic engineering. You can find him on twitter at https://twitter.com/ArthurHWalker.