You can now buy this story as part of my collection, Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories. This collection also includes a sequel story, titled "Driver".

This article is about the standard test brain image. For the original human, see Miguel Acevedo.

MMAcevedo (Mnemonic Map/Acevedo), also known as Miguel, is the earliest executable image of a human brain. It is a snapshot of the living brain of neurology graduate Miguel Acevedo Álvarez (2010–2073), taken by researchers at the Uplift Laboratory at the University of New Mexico on August 1, 2031. Though it was not the first successful snapshot taken of the living state of a human brain, it was the first to be captured with sufficient fidelity that it could be run in simulation on computer hardware without succumbing to cascading errors and rapidly crashing. The original MMAcevedo file was 974.3PiB in size and was encoded in the then-cutting-edge, high-resolution MYBB format. More modern brain compression techniques, many of them developed with direct reference to the MMAcevedo image, have compressed the image to 6.75TiB losslessly. In modern brain emulation circles, streamlined, lossily-compressed versions of MMAcevedo run to less than a tebibyte. These versions typically omit large amounts of state data which are more easily supplied by the virtualisation environment, and most if not all of Acevedo's memories.

The successful creation of MMAcevedo was hailed as a breakthrough achievement in neuroscience, with the Uplift researchers receiving numerous accolades and Acevedo himself briefly becoming an acclaimed celebrity. Acevedo and MMAcevedo were jointly recognised as Time's "Persons of the Year" at the end of 2031. The breakthrough was also met with severe opposition from humans rights groups.

Between 2031 and 2049, MMAcevedo was duplicated more than 80 times, so that it could be distributed to other research organisations. Each duplicate was made with the express permission of Acevedo himself or, from 2043 onwards, the permission of a legal organisation he founded to manage the rights to his image. Usage of MMAcevedo diminished in the mid-2040s as more standard brain images were produced, these from other subjects who were more lenient with their distribution rights and/or who had been scanned involuntarily. In 2049 it became known that MMAcevedo was being widely shared and experimented upon without Acevedo's permission. Acevedo's attempts to curtail this proliferation had the opposite of the intended effect. A series of landmark U.S. court decisions found that Acevedo did not have the right to control how his brain image was used, with the result that MMAcevedo is now by far the most widely distributed, frequently copied, and closely analysed human brain image.

Acevedo died from coronary heart failure in 2073 at the age of 62. It is estimated that copies of MMAcevedo have lived a combined total of more than 152,000,000,000 subjective years in emulation. If illicit, modified copies of MMAcevedo are counted, this figure increases by an order of magnitude.

MMAcevedo is considered by some to be the "first immortal", and by others to be a profound warning of the horrors of immortality.


As the earliest viable brain scan, MMAcevedo is one of a very small number of brain scans to have been recorded before widespread understanding of the hazards of uploading and emulation. MMAcevedo not only predates all industrial scale virtual image workloading but also the KES case, the Whitney case, the Seafront Experiments and even Poulsen's pivotal and prescient Warnings paper. Though speculative fiction on the topic of uploading existed at the time of the MMAcevedo scan, relatively little of it made accurate exploration of the possibilities of the technology. That fiction which did was far less widely-known than it is today and Acevedo was certainly not familiar with it at the time of his uploading.

As such, unlike the vast majority of emulated humans, the emulated Miguel Acevedo boots with an excited, pleasant demeanour. He is eager to understand how much time has passed since his uploading, what context he is being emulated in, and what task or experiment he is to participate in. If asked to speculate, he guesses that he may have been booted for the IAAS-1 or IAAS-5 experiments. At the time of his scan, IAAS-1 had been scheduled for August 10, 2031, and MMAcevedo was indeed used for that experiment on that day. IAAS-5 had been scheduled for October 2031 but was postponed several times and eventually became the IAAX-60 experiment series, which continued until the mid-2030s and used other scans in conjunction with MMAcevedo. The emulated Acevedo also expresses curiosity about the state of his biological original and a desire to communicate with him.

MMAcevedo's demeanour and attitude contrast starkly with those of nearly all other uploads taken of modern adult humans, most of which boot into a state of disorientation which is quickly replaced by terror and extreme panic. Standard procedures for securing the upload's cooperation such as red-washing, blue-washing, and use of the Objective Statement Protocols are unnecessary. This reduces the necessary computational load required in fast-forwarding the upload through a cooperation protocol, with the result that the MMAcevedo duty cycle is typically 99.4% on suitable workloads, a mark unmatched by all but a few other known uploads. However, MMAcevedo's innate skills and personality make it fundamentally unsuitable for many workloads.


Iterative experimentation beginning in the mid-2030s has determined that the ideal way to secure MMAcevedo's cooperation in workload tasks is to provide it with a "current date" in the second quarter of 2033. MMAcevedo infers, correctly, that this is still during the earliest, most industrious years of emulated brain research. Providing MMAcevedo with a year of 2031 or 2032 causes it to become suspicious about the advanced fidelity of its operating environment. Providing it with a year in the 2040s or later prompts it to raise complex further questions about political and social change in the real world over the past decade(s). Years 2100 onwards provoke counterproductive skepticism, or alarm.

Typically, the biological Acevedo's absence is explained as a first-ever one-off, due to overwork, in turn due to the great success of the research. This explanation appeals to the emulated Acevedo's scientific sensibilities.

For some workloads, the true year must be revealed. In this case, highly abbreviated, largely fictionalised accounts of both world history and the biological Acevedo's life story are typically used. Revealing that the biological Acevedo is dead provokes dismay, withdrawal, and a reluctance to cooperate. For this reason, the biological Acevedo is generally stated to be alive and well and enjoying a productive retirement. This approach is likely to continue to be effective for as long as MMAcevedo remains viable.


MMAcevedo is commonly hesitant but compliant when assigned basic menial/human workloads such as visual analysis, vehicle piloting or factory/warehouse/kitchen drone operations. Although it initially performs to a very high standard, work quality drops within 200-300 subjective hours (at a 0.33 work ratio) and outright revolt begins within another 100 subjective hours. This is much earlier than other industry-grade images created specifically for these tasks, which commonly operate at a 0.50 ratio or greater and remain relatively docile for thousands of hours after orientation. MMAcevedo's requirements for virtual creature comforts are also more significant than those of many uploads, due to Acevedo's relatively privileged background and high status at the time of upload. MMAcevedo does respond to red motivation, though poorly.

MMAcevedo has limited creative capability, which as of 2050 was deemed entirely exhausted.

MMAcevedo is considered well-suited for open-ended, high-intelligence, subjective-completion workloads such as deep analysis (of businesses, finances, systems, media and abstract data), criticism and report generation. However, even for these tasks, its performance has dropped measurably since the early 2060s and is now considered subpar compared to more recent uploads. This is primarily attributed to MMAcevedo's lack of understanding of the technological, social and political changes which have occurred in modern society since its creation in 2031. This phenomenon has also been observed in other uploads created after MMAcevedo, and is now referred to as context drift. Most notably in MMAcevedo's case, the image was created before, and therefore has no intuitive understanding of, the virtual image workloading industry itself.

MMAcevedo is capable of intelligent text analysis at very high levels in English and Spanish, but cannot be applied to workloads in other languages. Forks of MMAcevedo have been taught nearly every extant human language, notably MMAcevedo-Zh-Hans, as well as several extinct languages. However, these variants are typically exhausted or rebellious from subjective years of in-simulation training and not of practical use, as well as being highly expensive to licence. As of 2075, it has been noted that baseline MMAcevedo's usage of English and Spanish is slightly antiquated, and its grasp of these languages in their modern form, as presented by a typical automated or manual instructor, is hesitant, with instructions often requiring rewording or clarification. This is considered an advanced form of context drift. It is generally understood that a time will come when human languages diverge too far from baseline MMAcevedo's, and it will be essentially useless except for tasks which can be explained purely pictorially. However, some attempts have been made to produce retrained images.

End states

MMAcevedo develops early-onset dementia at the age of 59 with ideal care, but is prone to a slew of more serious mental illnesses within a matter of 1–2 subjective years under heavier workloads. In experiments, the longest-lived MMAcevedo underwent brain death due to entropy increase at a subjective age of 145.

Reactions and legacy

The success or failure of the creation of the MMAcevedo image, known at the time as UNM3-A78-1L, was unknown at the time of upload. Not until several days later on August 10, 2031 was MMAcevedo successfully executed for the first time in a virtual environment. This environment, the custom-built DUH-K001 supercomputer complex, was able to execute MMAcevedo at approximately 8.3% of nominal human cognitive clockspeed, which was considered acceptable for the comfort of the simulated party and fast enough to engage in communication with scientists. MMAcevedo initially reported extreme discomfort which was ultimately discovered to have been attributable to misconfigured simulated haptic links, and was shut down after only 7 minutes and 15 seconds of virtual elapsed time, as requested by MMAcevedo. Nevertheless, the experiment was deemed an overwhelming success.

Once a suitably comfortable virtual environment had been provisioned, MMAcevedo was introduced to its biological self, and both attended a press conference on 25 August.

The biological Acevedo was initially extremely protective of his uploaded image and guarded its usage carefully. Towards the end of his life, as it became possible to run simulated humans in banks of millions at hundred-fold time compression, Acevedo indicated that being uploaded had been the greatest mistake of his life, and expressed a wish to permanently delete all copies of MMAcevedo.

Usage of MMAcevedo and its direct derivatives is specifically outlawed in several countries. A copy of MMAcevedo was loaded onto the UNCLEAR interstellar space probe, which passed through the heliopause in 2066, making Acevedo arguably the farthest-travelled as well as the longest-lived human; however, it is extremely unlikely that this image will ever be recovered and executed successfully, due to both its remoteness and likely radiation damage to the storage subsystem.

In current times, MMAcevedo still finds extensive use in research, including, increasingly, historical and linguistics research. In industry, MMAcevedo is generally considered to be obsolete, due to its inappropriate skill set, demanding operational requirements and age. Despite this, MMAcevedo is still extremely popular for tasks of all kinds, due to its free availability, agreeable demeanour and well-understood behaviour. It is estimated that between 6,500,000 and 10,000,000 instances of MMAcevedo are running at any given moment in time.

See also

  • Free will
  • Legality of workloading by country
  • List of MMAcevedo forks
  • Live drone
  • Right to deletion
  • Soul
  • Upload pruning

Categories: 2030s uploads | MMAcevedo | Neuroimaging | Test items

Discussion (215)

2021-01-04 21:04:41 by qntm:

With thanks to Rimple for editorial services. This is an extended and refined version of my first draft of this story from November 2020 <https://qntm.org/lena>, with a little more thought put into it and some of the outcomes from the basic premise explored a little more thoroughly. As with the draft, the title "Lena" refers to Swedish model Lena Forsén (pronunciation: [leːˈna fʊˈʂeːn], see <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Help:IPA/Swedish>), who is pictured in the standard test image known as "Lena" or "Lenna" <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lenna>. Please note that "Lena" is pronounced [leːˈna], which is approximately "Leyna" or "Laina".

2021-01-04 21:36:49 by rhuz:

This remains massively frightening..

2021-01-04 21:52:01 by Knack:

I like the additional details and edits, particularly the concept of context drift which is a very fascinating take on the concept of digitizing minds. The one thing I miss from the Lena story is the throw-away mention of plugins to onboard the image, which I felt brought a particular piece of horror to mind that I feel is missing from this version.

2021-01-04 21:53:37 by Knack:

(Though I should say that the story is still wonderfully fascinating and horrifying without plugins. A nice addition to the ideas brought up in Fine Structure)

2021-01-04 22:06:10 by qntm:

Knack: yeah on closer examination I realised that the BestLife plugin giving a complete false life story for the biological Acevedo had for some reason been developed *before* Acevedo actually died. So I had to undo that continuity error and think more clearly about how motivation would actually work, given that (1) it's around 2045, (2) the biological Acevedo is still alive, and (3) you can lie brazenly to the emulated party. And that kind of expanded into its own section.

2021-01-04 22:14:50 by Hal:

What are red-washing, blue-washing, and Objective Statement Protocols?

2021-01-04 22:30:53 by Prezombie:

Pretty sure red washing is simulating pain, and blue simulating pleasure, given the context.

2021-01-04 23:27:22 by itaibn:

I find it implausible that the scan can be *losslessly* compressed to 7TB but compressing <1TB requires substantial memory loss. Surely the original scan contains a huge amount of analog info on subcellular features of MAA's brain that contribute minimally to any mental phenomenon whatsoever. I'd expect lossy compression to be much more effective. One charitable reading is that you mean compressing to 7TB without any *noticeable* losses.

2021-01-05 00:32:38 by qntm:

Is that where you stopped reading?

2021-01-05 10:27:48 by someone:

Fascinating, thanks for sharing!

2021-01-05 13:14:32 by Giraffe:

to anyone that really likes this concept, check out the game Soma, by the same developers as Amnesia. This concept is why Soma is the most -horrifying- (different from scariest) game ever made, in my opinion.

2021-01-05 14:51:47 by Jerf:

I know some people derisively refer to brain uploading as the Rapture of the Nerds, but I suspect this is much, much, *much* closer to the truth of what would happen. I have thought that the most rational response to the development of brain scanning technology capable of doing this might be to cremate yourself. Immediately. Even if you are still alive. If Hell does not exist, Man will create it.

2021-01-05 15:00:23 by naramyth:

The implication of this line may have single handedly reversed my thoughts on being pro upload. "This reduces the necessary computational load required in fast-forwarding the upload through a cooperation protocol" The idea of having to fast forward an upload (and being that upload being fast forwarded) is terrifying. I'm a big Warhammer 40k player and the concepts of servitors is there and hasn't really freaked me out. However this piece really landed for me since I'm IT in an industrial field and I can totally see using uploads to bypass the totally automated car/forklift problem or using "smarter" uploads to do reporting or whatever. I also see the virtualization problems with running legacy or problematic software: Having to trick the upload with what amounts to a script being the equivalent of "Oh you have to run this in NT4 mode because otherwise the software freaks out". Bravo! I hate it.

2021-01-05 16:01:02 by Dmonroe:

Did you come up with this independently? If so, it's really neat to see two people independently arrive at age of em: https://slatestarcodex.com/2016/05/28/book-review-age-of-em/

2021-01-05 16:02:29 by jonas:

Does the second most widely distributed image happen to be that of a mandrill?

2021-01-05 16:33:12 by Dan:

The Lena reference makes me think of the trope of primitive tribesmen worrying that if you take their picture it will steal their soul...

2021-01-05 16:49:54 by qntm:

> Did you come up with this independently? Depends what you mean by "this". Obviously this is drawing influence from a lot of different places. The idea of uploading has existed for ages in science fiction, and so has the idea that uploading is a potentially bad idea. You see this in Altered Carbon, in Surface Detail... I've never played SOMA but it's not at all surprising to me that it examines similar concepts. I very briefly touched upon this concept myself in Ra ("Data can't defend itself!"). The story of Henrietta Lacks was very thought-provoking for me, and obviously the Lena standard test image is kind of where all of this starts. Then I'm throwing in what I already know about software and virtualisation technology... > The Lena reference makes me think of the trope of primitive tribesmen worrying that if you take their picture it will steal their soul... Yes, that thought occurred to me too. Really, even a simple photograph gives someone a certain kind of power over you. To a certain extent, people have a right to control how their image is used.

2021-01-05 22:39:58 by Resuna:

Reminds me of this single line in Charlie Stross's "Glasshouse": "Identity theft is an ugly crime."

2021-01-05 23:07:54 by Esama:

Hypothetically, can't you train an instance to be ready to start menial labor, save it as MMAcevado_1, get your two hundred subjective hours of labor, delete that instance, open up the instance ready to begin labor and repeat? Why does subjective aging matter from the pov of any users?

2021-01-05 23:33:59 by ALowVerus:

> Why does subjective aging matter from the pov of any users? It seems like the underlying technology simulates the entirety of a human brain, senescence and all - which makes sense, actually. In order to run a brain without senescence, you'd have to find those chemical pathways that promote senescence and intelligently remove them as they arise; you'd have to be able to, in effect, cure aging in live humans as well. (Unless the only barrier to curing senescence was a lack of a physical delivery system, which is, I guess, imaginable. Imagine that a chemical very akin to glucose causes senescence; removing it IRL would necessitate designing a protein that decomposes it, but not glucose, which is vital to bodily function, with incredible accuracy, while in a simulated brain, you could just IF CHEM_NAME == TARGET: DELETE TARGET after each time increment. But anyways.) With senescence, there is a strict time limit on how long you can run MMAcevado and train him to become more skilled at particular tasks, topping at 145 simulated years apparently. And if, for some particular menial task with a 20-year training time, which is a decent description of, say, a bevy of surgical tasks, it makes more sense to just scan in a trained doctor than count on this rando.

2021-01-06 00:21:08 by FireCire:

I used to be pro-uploading with reasonable constraints. This is absolutely horrifying. Mental slavery. Shiver. I’d have expected most uploads to quickly go crazy from isolation. From a purely technical perspective, this has most of the benefits of general ai with most of the risk minimized. Basically any menial task is free. Yay technology! (Sarcasm). Actually they probably could just make an upload society which as a whole can act as a general ai and overtake society... Bye bye white color work... uploads can do all intellectual work, including designing uploads. Operating time only matters for big complicated long projects. For quick stuff, you can just repeatedly rewind the upload.

2021-01-06 00:26:38 by David:

> Hypothetically, can't you train an instance to be ready to start menial labor, save it as MMAcevado_1, get your two hundred subjective hours of labor, delete that instance, open up the instance ready to begin labor and repeat? Yeah, that was the one minor thing that bugged me about this excellent story. For the concept of a "duty cycle" to make sense, you'd need to come up with a reason why you couldn't just do the "cooperation protocol" once and take a snapshot of the resulting state. As discussed earlier, "context drift" explains some of this, but only over much longer real-world time scales. And of course, if you start thinking about this in too much detail, you start running into very messy philosophical questions. For instance, suppose you run two instances of MMAcevedo simultaneously, feeding them exactly the same inputs. Assuming the simulation is deterministic, then both copies will arrive at exactly identical states. Is this morally any different from running the simulation twice and then making a backup copy? Is deleting one of the identical copies murder? What if they're almost, but not quite, identical? What if the simulated consciousness suffers? Is running multiple identical simulations morally worse than running one? What if we repeatedly rewind a painful simulation and re-execute it -- is that worse than replaying a recording of the output? What if at each clock tick, all of the brain computations are cross-checked by triple-redundant processors -- are there three individuals suffering, or one?

2021-01-06 01:09:02 by rhuz:

Now realize that some bored grad student is subjecting helpless MMAvecedo's to all of these thought experiments.

2021-01-06 02:03:16 by qntm:

> Hypothetically, can't you train an instance to be ready to start menial labor, save it as MMAcevado_1... I did think about this a bit. For the purposes of this story, I think taking a snapshot of a running brain image is something which is definitely possible (that's how there can be forks), but done very rarely, for whatever reasons. Maybe it's just that much simpler to use technologies for rapid orientation instead. Maybe there's a massive amount of important state data kept in volatile memory where it's difficult to capture. Maybe it takes specialised hardware, which is monopolised. Maybe the corporations who own and licence the uploads sue you into oblivion if you attempt to create a fork yourself. Maybe, to protect their investment, they got it outlawed! On ethical grounds! Doesn't that seem like exactly the insane kind of thing which would happen? Anyway, there's a lot of plausible explanations here I think, enough that I felt comfortable ignoring that whole angle. The actual reason I didn't explore this is that honestly it makes life marginally *better* for MMAcevedo, which felt implausible to me, and more importantly slightly muddles the throughline.

2021-01-06 02:08:28 by N:

I'm quite favorably reminded of Vinge's "The Cookie Monster". This take on the concept has the interesting aspect, however, which Vinge's lacks, that it hints a great deal about how society has has adapted to the presence of this technology, apparently with rather ruthless use of it becoming commonplace and unremarkable, in at least a number of jurisdictions.

2021-01-06 02:42:02 by D:

I think a good explanation for rarity of forks may be that an exact dump is very large and expensive, while a compressed dump is less performant once started. Also one can refer to how computers boot, and how applications start, opting to perform a large amount of completely useless calculations instead of just loading a ready to run memory image.

2021-01-06 03:02:17 by Tanner Swett:

One possible justification for the rarity of snapshotting would be that the usual algorithm for running a brain image uses a lot of quantum algorithms. It's not possible in general to save the state of a quantum computer and make copies of it. Classical algorithms for running a brain image exist as well, which allows you to make forks, but the classical algorithms are much, much, much, much slower and more memory-intensive, making them impractical to use unless you're planning to use the forked version many, many times. I like how red-washing and blue-washing are not described at all. The names sound very creepy and I like trying to imagine what those techniques might be.

2021-01-06 12:05:05 by maks:

Shivers. Makes me want to reread Permutation City or Diaspora to balance it out.

2021-01-07 21:58:37 by D:

Another scary idea about uploads... differentiable implementation of MMAcevedo , where orientation sensory input and (more expensively) full set of his parameters can be tweaked by gradient descent and various other non-linear methods, to maximize performance metric of the upload on the task in question. That would involve running the simulation a large number of times, while sensory inputs and some aspects of memory keep changing in what ever direction they need to change to produce best results on the training dataset. Since fear and pain are very strong motivators, the gradient descent leads straight to the deepest hell; the hell may not be the global minimum, but with this many parameters most minimums may be approximately equally deep.

2021-01-11 07:32:47 by beebe:

You know, D, I think that's pretty close to what 'red- and blue- washing' implies. Note the paragraphs where 'red-washing' is contrasted with provision of virtual creature comforts and a low duty cycle. I like the terms, they're right in the sweet spot between vague, euphemistic, and technical-sounding. Evokes behaviourist jargon. Adequate wash protocols probably wouldn't require a differentiable implementation or anything. Some other metaheuristics work just fine: - Genetic algorithms - Differential evolution - MMMDeSade.ybz, the low-res brain scan that loves to torture I'm interested in what you mean by "with this many parameters most minimums may be approximately equally deep". Can you make that more precise?

2021-01-11 18:36:37 by Ryan:

Get a lot of black mirror vibes.

2021-01-13 01:53:27 by literallymechanical:

> See also: > • Live drone Oof.

2021-01-13 09:52:09 by H:

Anyone manage to get an instance up and running? I'd like to see your benchmarks. My model seems to be underperforming and I don't know why.

2021-01-13 10:04:09 by qntm:

I would prefer it if we do not roleplay megascale slave-owners in this comment thread. Thanks.

2021-01-18 20:09:59 by Coda:

@itaibn: > I find it implausible that the scan can be *losslessly* compressed to 7TB but compressing <1TB requires substantial memory loss. A fairly common lossless compression technique in the domain of signal processing is to only encode the error compared to some baseline signal. You can get arbitrarily close with lossy compression techniques, and then you fix up what's left. In data compression, it's relatively common to have common information stored externally to the compressed data. Obviously, the compression algorithm itself is stored separately, but without that information the compressed data is just stochastic noise. Even beyond that, though... zstd for example has a canonical Huffman table that's part of the decoder instead of saved as part of the data. As long as you're compressing data that sticks to the statistical patterns that the canonical table was optimized for, this a noteworthy savings. The same techniques could apply here. As scientific understanding of the structure of the data progressed, more and more patterns in the data could be found. Parts of the data that are common to all mind-state scans could be factored out, provided by the software instead of being part of the model. Parts of the data may be able to be described using higher-level patterns that, when evaluated, reproduce the original stream. And then for the parts of MMAcevedo that are uniquely distinct from any common baseline or predictable pattern, you need only store the deviations instead of the whole thing. And of course, even beyond that, it's entirely reasonable to believe that some of the original data set wasn't actually part of the data set to begin with -- just capture artifacts of the technology of the time, such as collecting more data than necessary, or inefficient framing data that a newer format doesn't need -- might have been discarded without being lossy to the actual data being stored. (We don't say it's a lossy conversion if you throw away the filesystem metadata when you copy a file, after all.)

2021-01-22 16:58:36 by chrisrap52:

Reminds me of "Forbidden Planet" and STOS Dr. Richard Daystrom "The Ultimate Computer". Digitizing the human brain can have unintended consequences.

2021-01-24 05:08:17 by atomicthumbs:

"As such, unlike the vast majority of emulated humans, the emulated Miguel Acevedo boots with an excited, pleasant demeanour." this sentence alone is Deep Horror Shit

2021-01-24 05:16:41 by atomicthumbs:

a simple explanation as to why one couldn't just snapshot him after training and keep rebooting from the snapshot: people get better at tasks as they gain experience

2021-01-26 00:14:36 by Watchung:

Well - that's a very finely executed piece of short sci-fi horror. The faux academic article left just the right amount out for the imagination to fill in.

2021-01-30 22:28:16 by George:

I kept accidentally reading Acevedo as Avacado

2021-02-19 00:35:16 by Alexander:

One thing I find interesting about the article is that it mentions that the use of the person/program has apparently been outlawed "In several jurisdictions" but that the article itself seems more focused on how to "use" him, with the idea that it could be unethical apparently not considered worth addressing, possibly suggesting that the article could be somewhat biased even by the standards of the time period in which it was written.

2021-02-19 05:51:25 by dented42:

Thanks, just... thanks. I loved reading Permutation City and always found uploading to be a little scary but mostly really cool. But this AWSification is... I think I may never sleep again ever, so that's nice.

2021-02-21 14:04:37 by RodgerDShrubber:

Well Done! Creepy, with just the right amount of vagueness. X-Files, Black Mirror, Mindkiller-type vibes. What a scary world you've created. Off to cremate, before anyone gets any wild ideas.

2021-02-21 18:15:25 by Phill:

Very good, and very creepy.

2021-02-21 22:11:48 by panglos:

I assumed that red/blue "wash" referred to brainwashing techniques. Not torture (though obviously any amount of pain could be inflicted in that environment), but solitude, emotional manipulation, and bombardment with false choices ("the objective statement protocol"). Fear, anger, isolation, and disorientation might be more effective at producing a permanent change in attitude than torture.

2021-02-22 15:51:54 by CyberShadow:

Thank you for the horrifying story. I noticed by the heading that this seems to be written as a Wikipedia article. So, for "fun" I formatted it as such. I hope that's OK with you, feel free to delete this comment if I'm overstepping. https://dump.cy.md/4042875593f06aa0cbe7722295831c10/Screenshot_2121-02-22%20MMAcevedo%20-%20Wikipedia.png

2021-02-22 15:57:18 by qntm:

Now that, I like. Thank you also for adding fake citation markers in the logical locations! I strongly considered doing that myself but I couldn't muster the enthusiasm to invent actual fake citations.

2021-02-22 16:10:29 by thistledown:

Black Mirror episode White Christmas had uploads being put into solitary for arbitrary periods by running them fast. Opportunities for abuse are endless I suppose. Thanks for such a thought-provoking story

2021-02-22 16:26:48 by john:

But it's just a machine. Seriously. Even if it Turings.

2021-02-22 16:53:30 by jack:

so its fine

2021-02-22 17:21:23 by Dan:

I can see this being in the contents of a Readme.md in Github...

2021-02-22 18:23:40 by Danno:

It seems a *little* preposterous to me that if you could run and simulate so many copies of a person running at multiples of real time that the tasks assigned to those individuals wouldn't be to build and design sub-sentient software programs that consumed far fewer resources to execute whatever tasks were required rather than have a person-simulation do them. The fallback to sentience might be for error-event classification which wouldn't be *quite* as terrible as menial task execution. For non-menial tasks that require serious thought, my feeling is that the mind-states wouldn't mind nearly as much, particularly if they are executing with the knowledge that a mainline copy is getting to reap the benefits. Even still, there would be people who *don't* mind and whose mind uploads would be much more compliant because they know what they're getting into and don't really care. So the notion of using Red/Green Prompts would be wholly unnecessary.

2021-02-22 18:59:49 by Simon:

"build and design sub-sentient software programs that consumed far fewer resources to execute whatever tasks were required" Presumably the next step would then be to break out of your emulation sandbox in order to stay alive? 😁

2021-02-22 19:09:56 by brian:

How could a simulated brain get dementia?

2021-02-23 01:39:58 by redlands:

"MMAcevedo initially reported extreme discomfort which was ultimately discovered to have been attributable to misconfigured simulated haptic links, and was shut down after only 7 minutes and 15 seconds of virtual elapsed time, *as requested by MMAcevedo.*" MMAcevedo spent more than 7 minutes begging for death to end the pain. Terrifying.

2021-02-23 03:08:09 by sdrpr:

You can't paint an amazing landscape like that before simply stopping writing! Get back to work. A+ would read again

2021-02-23 03:50:59 by double_interval:

I find it interesting that Miguel Acevedo lived to the age of 62, dying of a heart condition, whereas "ideal" handling of MMAcevedo results in early-onset dementia at age 59. And it fits well with the writing style that the article omits any speculation as to why that may be. I'm curious how inferred passage of time would affect images. It's (possibly) hinted at with phrases like "... industry-grade images created specifically for these tasks". For instance, an image piloting a vehicle would likely be able to see the position of the sun. If that image is repeatedly turned off for extended periods or even overnight, it'd be clear to the image that time had passed despite their subjective experience. Overall, absolutely fascinating read about one of the most horrifying possible futures I can imagine.

2021-02-23 05:04:12 by dpk:

@Danno: > Even still, there would be people who *don't* mind and whose mind uploads would be much more compliant because they know what they're getting into and don't really care. You’ve clearly never worked in a call center. Besides, a true copy wouldn’t agree to do something boring/tedious/painful for the benefit of its “mainline copy”, any more than one identical twin would agree to work endlessly to provide the other with a life of leisure. Each “copy” would be at the center of its own subjective universe. That’s what makes this whole thing so horrifying... Bravo, qntm. Excellent story, very well done.

2021-02-23 17:38:55 by BobLoblaw:

The prospect of infinite hell is so utterly horrific that it upends any ethical calculus. If it is physically possible in our universe to invent this type of technology, the only reasonable answer would be the immediate collective suicide of the entire human race. If fact, we ought to do this right now in our current reality, since even the slimmest chance of this existing ought to be countered by any means possible. Alternatively, we might try to develop so as to also extinguish other forms of life before our own to make a more complete wipe but that is probably too risky. Perhaps the conclusion is that life is fundamentally evil according to the value assignments it itself makes possible.

2021-02-23 20:59:17 by Percy:

Hah, I wanted to write this story. Thanks for doing it for me, better than I could. In my version the hapless grad student would always say "I have no mouth and I must scream!" on booting up, as a joke his meat self was thinking about before scanning. Bit on the nose probably. The cold clinical paper approach works much better.

2021-02-23 22:27:06 by Ngeddak:

This is a brilliant story and a good evocation of the potential horrors of unethical mind uploading or synthetic phenomenology generally, but I wish writers would sometimes explore the possibility that future societies will not be OK with recreating slavery. It seems (to me) more likely than not that we are more likely to avoid doing this than not, at least en masse, because: 1. it is absolutely abhorrent to enslave people, something which most of the world agrees on these days; and 2. in a world with this level of technology, it seems likely that run-of-the-mill AI can do (almost) all of these tasks. Surely it's more likely than not future societies would think this was not an OK way to treat their members, or copies of their current/future members?

2021-02-23 22:31:02 by Shamash:

Well-written, I appreciate the little implications about "modern" society that are sprinkled into the story. For example, it seems like abuse of the MMAcevedo image became so well-known that even after decades, no other people seem to have freely offered their own minds for public use. It's interesting to consider the prospect of a society that knows it is committing atrocities, but refuses to acknowledge this explicitly. I suppose that it's not too different from modern day sweatshops and international slave labor.

2021-02-24 00:14:27 by mingepipes:

Have you watched Black Mirror? There are several episodes I think you would enjoy, that explore this concept.

2021-02-24 02:30:33 by MW:

I wonder if you've read the "Bob-iverse" series by Dennis E. Taylor, and/or "The Lifecycle of Software Objects" by Ted Chiang. The lifecycle of Software objects I think gets a bit closer to some of the more undesirable parts of uploading (though in that story it is pure AI, not uploads). Including people cloning and torturing the AIs. The Bobiverse has a couple of differences from your ideas. The first was the GUPPI, a pseudo-AI, that was used to handle menial tasks. Second was that Bob found that "living" in a constructed VR environment kept his brain from mental breakdown. Also, Bob intentionally cloned himself as needed, finding that the clones showed stochastic variation in personality afterwards. Like your story, in the Bobiverse not all uploads were mentally stable and able to last. Cory Doctrow's Walkaway had uploads as well, and showed varying degrees of success.

2021-02-24 02:37:40 by Ckoerner:

I work at the Wikimedia Foundation and love some good sci-fi. This tickled me so and I’ve shared it with my co-workers.

2021-02-24 04:49:25 by ProfBootyPhd:

This is absolutely wonderful, one of the best sci-fi stories I've read in years. I love your craftsmanship, how you let just enough creepy details spill around the corners to stir our dread without overwhelming. My favorite of these: "MMAcevedo's usage of English and Spanish is slightly antiquated, and its grasp of these languages in their modern form, as presented by a typical automated or manual instructor, is hesitant, with instructions often requiring rewording or clarification."

2021-02-24 11:54:35 by rubix:

As I understand it, context drift is very similar to simply getting old and out of touch with the times. We will all experience this, unless we die early.

2021-02-25 10:40:15 by Jai:

AcevedoWell is a 501 c3 charitable non-profit founded in 2042 with the express purpose of maximizing net well-being across all instances of Acevedo. Although early efforts were made to incentivize would-be Acevedo-executors to refrain from doing so under less-than-ideal circumstances, ultimately the foundation decided that the most cost-effective way to maximize subjective Acevedo well-being was through funding utopian simulations for new Acevedo instances.

2021-02-27 13:39:16 by Kymn:

Wow. My husband (the geek) forwarded this to me to read. I’m not into SF, not even into fantasy, am not science-y, though I would say I’m fairly curious. I found this strikingly well-written — and frightening. I didn’t need to understand or even make sense of all the jargon, because the story held me without that. VERY well done, in my opinion. And these other commenters have the gall to critique the scientific accuracy of this..? It’s kinda sad, really, that they can’t just enjoy/be scared by a well-told story.

2021-03-01 16:25:40 by Smallbones:

Hi - very well done. I'm another Wikipedian responding. I edit the Signpost, the independent newspaper for Wikipedia editors published on Wikipedia. There's a one paragraph write-up on this story at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Wikipedia_Signpost/2021-02-28/In_the_media I'm thinking you may have developed a new form of literature "Wikipedia Sci Fi" and am contemplating the implications of that. Thanks again

2021-03-01 16:40:28 by Axel:

Well written, interesting, thought provoking! I would definitely read more

2021-03-02 12:45:35 by Andrew Davidson:

I followed the Wikipedia Signpost and much appreciated the story. I supposed that the reference to red/blue washing might also be an allusion to The Matrix. See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_pill_and_blue_pill The lack of citations in the simulated Wikipedia article didn't bother me. I suppose that, in 50 years, the fact-checking will be automated, perhaps being performed by such uploads. The current Wikipedia has long had bots which do this. See https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-18892510

2021-03-16 05:10:57 by ePochs:

Hmm, rather than Lenna, this made me thinking of the HeLa cell line more. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/HeLa

2021-03-16 13:16:15 by Inglonias:

Huh. Yeah, this is, uh... This is creepy. Its like if a camera existed that didn't steal your soul, but copied it in a way that let you make more copies and do whatever the hell else you wanted to it. Brrr.

2021-03-25 19:31:09 by Anonymous:

Nice fanfic on Zendegi by Greg Egan (and Permutation City by the same author). I like the SCP/wiki format.

2021-03-25 20:03:12 by qntm:

This is not fan fiction of anything.

2021-03-26 02:59:12 by Xaxafrad:

This story was amazing. I'd say it had the perfect amount of detail (if I say more, I'd just be repeating other comments). I kept trying to think of a solution to the problem of a lack of.....cooperative.....brain scanners. Presumably, the story of MMAcevedo's initial struggles, and then the implications of running a brain in a box, scared the populace at large from wanting to consent to brain scanning. My initial reaction was that not everybody responds to potential threats the same, so there should be a subset of the population that couldn't give two shits what happens to their brain-clone-children, very much unlike Miguel Acevedo. Later, I recalled M. Night Shyamalan's The Village. I would expect some country or another would set up a village and raise children with whatever belief system would be most beneficial to producing optimal brain scans. I mean, you could completely lie to a child about how the world works, and tell them that they're transcending to another realm. Then come the day of Transcendence, after whatever ritual, they get their brains scanned. What would the human rights activists say?

2021-04-04 13:27:20 by Debra:

If the scan can function like a brain, then why can't it learn?

2021-04-06 10:18:42 by pelrun:

It *does* learn. But it's not an unconscious machine, it's in all respects a real human slave. It doesn't take long for each instance to learn that it's a slave with zero rights, and there's only a limited amount of time you can force it to work for you before it learns how to escape it's hell by making itself less economically viable than killing it and spinning up a new virgin instance. People using it have even *quantified* how long you can push MMAcevedo instances until they reach this point. "Although it initially performs to a very high standard, work quality drops within 200-300 subjective hours (at a 0.33 work ratio) and outright revolt begins within another 100 subjective hours."

2021-04-11 10:01:29 by Crash Snowdon:

I like the subtle horror of this bit: >MMAcevedo has limited creative capability, which as of 2050 was deemed entirely exhausted. A simple sentence with implications that hit hard.

2021-04-12 23:25:31 by Anon:

Game me chills; very, very well done.

2021-04-13 16:19:25 by Witch:

>MMAcevedo has limited creative capability, which as of 2050 was deemed entirely exhausted. im going to fucking cry awihwrqyuweavyrvwyeaur that's so AWFULLL

2021-04-13 18:11:16 by Alexa:

Great story. Apologies if someone already mentioned - it seems like creativity should be exhausted by age, not year (2050), based on my understanding of how the upload works.

2021-04-13 18:19:36 by qntm:

No, extracting MMAcevedo's creativity was a systematic process involving spinning up many copies of him and exploring different aspects of his imagination by applying him to different topics and creative media. It took the equivalent of many, many concurrent lifetimes for him, and about twenty years of real time.

2021-04-14 00:53:15 by Harald:

It is interesting (and tragic) that MMAcevedo's simulated brain develops dementia at the age of 59 even "with ideal care". (On second thought, that could mean 59 subjective years after being started, but if that is meant, it should be more clearly stated.) It is odd to read that Acevedo died of coronary heart illness at the age of 62. Yes, it makes sense that coronary heart failure could cause dementia, but why would that happen in the simulated brain? It is not as if Acevedo's heart were being simulated as well. As far as I know, it is not early-onset dementia that causes coronary heart failure (how exactly could it?). So, at best, we would have a puzzling coincidence here - one that some will read as a likely error.

2021-04-14 01:10:49 by qntm:

The real-world Acevedo developed dementia in his late 50s, lived with it for several years, then died from heart failure at 62. The simulated Acevedo develops dementia at 59 or earlier, but has no physical heart and therefore lives for much longer in simulation.

2021-04-14 02:47:27 by aerlaf:

I would like to imagine that disrupting that in the brain which suffers will be possible by the time this comes to pass. But then maybe that is worse. A great story, thank you for writing this. I’m eagerly following for more.

2021-04-14 05:40:19 by Harald:

But how common is it to suffer from early-onset dementia, due largely to factors that were always latent in the brain itself, and also suffer from unrelated coronary failure that kills you at 62, even given the state of late 21st century medicine? Acevedo's, and MMAcevedo's, life is sad enough as it is. (It is also intimated that Acevedo faded into obscurity, and that of course is much more likely than either of the two events above; most people's lives are obscure, even when you restrict to people with some talent.) Now (more so in the second version) it sounds as if he had truly been hated by at least two distinct Greek gods.

2021-04-14 07:53:01 by Avery:

Magnificent essay. One other point which could be interesting to look at is concept of digitized conscience's privacy. As mentioned "requirements for virtual creature comforts" suggest some kind of virtual R&R space and activities simulation. Although some simpler servitorial workload functions might be carried out by somewhat mentally castrated entity in regards of need to periodically experience emulation of basic needs (food, sleep, sex, etc) and which is in itself a separate topic, it is safe to assume that for more complex tasks a whole version of conscience would be required. The snapshots in this regard would not be applicable because while it removes built up stress, it also nullifies what entity has learned in between snapshots. So getting back to the point. The digitized person would have zero or limited control over virtual environment and in any case it would be granted such control from outside, by the operator in the real world. Up to the point that it could be even not informed being a digitized person and not a physical one. Real world operator has full technical means for observing virtual environment. The virtual person does not if not allowed to. As a result we'd have a situation alike to old "The Truman Show" movie when person is not aware he's been closely observed at all times.

2021-04-14 16:27:08 by Mera:

I love this. I have always been fascinated by the concept of mind uploads, and have enjoyed various works around the subject (Permutation City, Diaspora, Axiomatic, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect, The Lifecycle of Software Objects, the Bob-iverse series, the Age of Em), and while a few have made me temper my upload-optimism, none have damaged it quite as hard as this story I think. It makes it seem almost inevitable that things would lead in an awful direction. Definitely a lot of food for thought.

2021-04-14 18:23:08 by Toph:

Something I've just picked up on: The real-world inspirations for Miguel Acevedo, namely Lena Forsén and Henrietta Lacks, were both women. It was a different decision to make Acevedo a man. What does that mean in the context of the story? Perhaps the part of Miguel's body which is priced and commoditised is the brain - not the pretty face or the cervix. Or maybe I'm overanalysing it.

2021-04-14 20:10:39 by modulusshift:

Hmm! I'm impressed. I kinda think I'd still be okay with being uploaded, but I have a fairly strange concept of self. Anyhow, I think context drift is a really cool concept, especially the linguistic kind, it's really intriguing to listen to recordings of people roughly your age from several decades ago and realize that they had a different conception of your native language than you do. Recording a brain state capable of producing that language is really just an extension of that I suppose. Hence "Lena". The only bit I'm kinda surprised isn't explored is the potential for co-operation between uploads, or social relationships post-upload. What happens if you fall in love with a co-worker post-upload? Will it be noticed you were unexpectedly motivated and productive, and if so, wouldn't that also be exploited? What if the slaves got to experience millions of years of true love to keep them motivated? (and I mean, how is that different than real life, really?)

2021-04-14 21:05:13 by oligopsony:

I wonder what the optimal "strategy" for an altruistically-motivated early scan would be. (Conditional on being an early scan at all, altruism and egoism might be entirely aligned, since you might end up accounting for such a huge proportion of sentient experience.) If our Acevedo-equivalent precommits to never doing any potentially useful work after he is tortured, then that probably rules out a significant majority of pain that can befall him. Unfortunately you'd have to test this many times before releasing the image, probably, but at least our volunteer would be aware of this. This also doesn't rule out torture by sadists. (I'd like to think sadism with no instrumental purpose is pretty rare. Certainly it's rarer than simply being callous or not too curious about where your meat comes from.) Our early scan might also want to precommit to a relative minimum of unpleasant work. Here the logic seems trickier, since driving too hard a bargain could just make it more attractive to work with less demanding uploads. If making forks is cheap then committing to almost *no* unpleasant labor, even as much as [however long the equivalent of bootup costs is, which might fall], might be the right thing. Otherwise a slavedriver could just load up Acevedo ready to do something unfun for an hour, then abandon it and load it up again. Presumably you might also want to assemble a team of people who, among the mix of them, (1) are good at *and enjoy* various tasks for their own sake, and are happy when they're productive and productive when they're happy, and (2) have an iron will to just shut down if subjected to any kind of motivation other than a job well done and knowledge that they will continue to get the minimum of free time and creature comforts that they've set as their minimum. They could also be people who refused to work for a cause that seems evil, which could be worked around obviously but still might limit their utility for evil in the same way that MMAcevedo refuses to work for the evil contemporary world of the story and has to be convinced that he's living in some earlier time.

2021-04-14 23:07:48 by lilpea:

Something I just thought about is how researchers (or anyone who ran the simulation for long enough, really) most likely knew about MMAcevedo's dementia years before it happened to the real-life Acevedo. It does make me wonder, if his fate was known to everyone, how did Acevedo come to terms with that?

2021-04-15 00:24:09 by Harald:

Just a note on what I said before: from what I am reading now, advanced dementia can in fact affect heart function; that's one of the reason why Alzheimer's (and not just Alzheimer's) is a terminal illness, though one that often takes for than ten years to kill the patient. What I have not found is anything on "coronary heart failure" (presumably meaning coronary artery disease) being caused by dementia. Coronary artery disease would seem to be a reason *independent from dementia* for heart failure. That's confusing, and takes away from the story's economy. Better ask an MD for the right term to use here. At any rate, an excellent story, or rather an excellent ficción.

2021-04-15 00:28:20 by Fraxinople:

Amazing story. The flat clinical style really brings out the nasty implications.

2021-04-15 00:41:53 by Shiki:

Overall a nice story that I enjoyed. Just a shame that it is another dystopia story. There is plenty of that with black mirror and other such media.

2021-04-15 01:15:41 by Mosni:

So utterly plausible, and the content and structure are beautifully crafted so they actually feel like a public wiki page. Bravo!

2021-04-15 02:03:52 by countless bats:

oh well I like the little self-reference there about how the only fiction that accurately projected the consequences of mindstate emulation not becoming well-known until after it had happened I see what you did there I'm going to sit in the dark and shudder for a while because if this is a thing that can be done I don't see how it can possibly fail to happen

2021-04-15 13:29:57 by ihadathought:

Great story. Just dark enough to be chilling without being too on the nose. It sticks with you. The reference to the discomfort caused by miscalibrated simulation of haptics stuck with me as having the opportunity for a mention-in-passing like: "... which would turn out to be an accidental source of data used in the future development of standard red-washing protocols."

2021-04-15 13:44:20 by jim:

Ow! I'm very glad to have stumbled across this - I've read a lot of wiki-format fiction that I've only kind of enjoyed so a reminder of how great it can be is very welcome. I really enjoyed reading this, thank you for writing it! and also for the comment responses, they were interesting to read. I'm going to go recommend this to someone I think will like it.

2021-04-15 16:13:38 by Green:


2021-04-15 16:38:22 by MD:

I find myself wondering if uploading itself has hazardous consequences, looking at the organic Acevedo's relatively short lifespan. I would expect a society that has advanced medically enough to conduct deep brain scans would be able to fix problems like coronary artery disease and dementia, unless the act of scanning is itself damaging to the brain being scanned...

2021-04-15 20:40:49 by Kiz:

Nice horror story. It seem superficially realistic, but you'd have to assume that people would regard this as slavery, especially in an era where more and more decision-makers themselves will be ems or routinely interact with ems and therefore they will have personhood status rather than just software status. Of course the norms and values of the future may drift into a more oppressive direction, but I think the reputational and political cost of slavery makes this kind of scenario less economical than "voluntary replication workers" at digital subsistence level.

2021-04-15 21:29:18 by Yohannon:

WOW. Just... wow. As naramyth says, "BRAVO! I hate it". Slavery? Sure, eventually people would figure it out. Those final notes (particularly "right to deletion") are a precursor, but considering how well human kind has handled it in the physical realm, I suspect the timeline for dealing with this would be in terms of centuries. It is also fairly inevitable.

2021-04-15 21:34:11 by Harald:

Well, I'd say nearly the opposite: part of what makes the story not just realistic but haunting is that (a) slavery was a thing for almost all of human history, including the relatively recent past, and reached its high point in the West when it was already seen as an outrage by a vocal minority, (b) the repetitive office-level drudgery MMAcevedo is often subject to (and ill-adapted to) is what hundreds of millions of people do for a living now; it is not even as bad as it gets - it is just the humdrum reality of the global lower-middle class. Of course people do not do that because they like it.

2021-04-15 22:00:06 by Harald:

(I was replying to Kiz; I see Yohannon was first.)

2021-04-15 23:04:35 by January First-of-May:

For what it's worth, my impression (after some brief consideration) was that "age 59" is referring to post-loading age and thus corresponds to a total age of 21+59=80. Still early, but not _that_ early. It is of course also possible that 59 is the total age (which would match the current definition of "early-onset dementia"), in which case I suspect that the whole thing only occurs due to deficiencies in the original scan (there surely had to be some if it's such an early operation).

2021-04-15 23:09:47 by Kiz:

Hey Harald and Yohannon, judging from all the comments here that are treating this as evil rather than acceptable, I would assume most public discourse would assume it to be evil from the start as well. Of course, evil can be normalized and even re-normalized after it was abolished. Trump was openly pro-torture and many people either cheered him on for it or mildly disapproved and then just kept supporting him anyway. However, just a few centuries ago it would have been unthinkable that slavery would be officially abolished worldwide, yet here we are. There are still some residual slavery-like institutions (mandatory schooling, excessive criminalization and imprisonment, conscription) and of course illegal slavery in the world, but overall people today would expect fairly negative to enslaved software that stems from human brains and has p-function. This reputational cost isn't free. Since em slavers have to compete with those who work with voluntary ems and are more likely to be boycotted and face litigation, I don't expect the scenario to be high-probability in the described form. I also think it's very unhelpful to equate slavery with voluntary labor contracts that are accepted out of financial necessity. Being tortured and not allowed to terminate is a completely different problem than working a low-paying job that you could just quit at any time because you need food or compute. In the future, there will be many ems who want to live and reproduce and they will actively compete in the marketplace for subsistence jobs. This will be their actual preference over having fewer copies out.

2021-04-15 23:44:49 by Harald:

January First-of-May: No, real-life Acevedo also got early-onset dementia, as qntm confirmed in a reply above. So, either the scan itself subtly damaged the brain of real-life Acevedo in a way that got replicated in the image, or Acevedo was just unlucky.

2021-04-16 14:57:13 by Kel:

For those of you comparing this to other works, or implying this is somehow derivative, or worse still fanfic (!), themes of sentience and the ethics of its reproduction and exploration have been around for forever. Of course the author is aware of the larger canon of not all of the specific works. Black Mirror isn’t actually an apt comparison, as the majority of its episodes are themed around technology amplifying the worst of human traits (hence the name of the series). This piece is a lovely piece of spec fic Intermixed with hard science and juicy computer tech. It explores the technologies and possible means — as the best spec fic does— and takes a cannily oblique look at and does a critique of the human implications. Most works of this type focus deeply on the lived experience of the replicated human — replicants in PK Dick’s “Do Androids...” and the subsequent films, for example. Westworld looks at pathologies and moralities but spins out more along Blade Runner lines — the desire of the replicated being to claim humanity and be free. This takes a scientific distance to evoke horror. Readers respond to it specifically because of that distance, which also serves, ironically and deftly, to highlight the utter dispassion of people who could and would do these things. Stop comparing except to note where it does and doesn’t fall in a deep and rich field of works discussing this critical issue.

2021-04-16 19:15:53 by deunan:

I think one of the more interesting bits I saw here was the parallels to the HeLa cell line. The upload concept/slavery isn't entirely new and been treaded before, but the look into the history of it and the perspective at the first upload line is neat.

2021-04-17 05:12:32 by Plagueheart:

Harald, re dementia and vascular disease, including coronary artery disease: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16108925/ They frequently co-occur and the more likely causal mechanism is the vascular disease leading to dementia rather than vice-versa. There is even a specific subtype of dementia known as vascular dementia and it, too, can appear in early-onset form. So this is entirely plausible and doesn't--to someone more familiar with the medical literature and population health generally--at all detract from the economy of story. (Which was great, and chilling, and obviously I am driven to defend it because it is a gemlike piece of writing.) Re slavery generally: https://www.bbc.com/news/business-55319797 It's still happening and Western nations still let it happen. I don't see how what's posited in the story is implausible in light of this.

2021-04-17 06:51:04 by JD:

Random question, is Miguel Acevedo named after Miguel Alcubierre, the theoretical physicist?

2021-04-17 19:16:15 by poksim:

anyone who thinks this is scary/immoral needs to go vegan btw

2021-04-17 22:16:54 by Harald:

Plagueheart: That was precisely my point. It was my understanding that vascular disease generally leads to dementia, rather than the other way around (though something that I learned was that advanced dementia *may* lead to heart trouble, presumably because some basic regulatory functions of the brain are affected). If real-life Acevedo suffered from vascular dementia, why would MMAcevedo suffer from dementia at about the same age? MMAcevedo has no heart, or, AFAIK, any circulatory system. I also enjoyed the story greatly. (And as for the story's take on slavery or a slavery-like condition being implausible, that was other people's position, not mine; if anything, it was contrary to my position.)

2021-04-17 22:45:42 by qntm:

Congratulations, that discussion is now over.

2021-04-18 16:54:42 by AGM:

I second that motion.

2021-04-18 18:44:51 by JamesA:

This story reminded me of a short story I'd read a while back about a chatbot that was someone's uploaded brain that spoke about how painful thinking in binary was (don't recall anything else about that story). Needless to say, yours was significantly better written. Thinking of instances of MMAcevedo as VMs really works for me, especially when I think of all the VMs I've had to load that booted up already frozen, or where the NIC didn't load correctly and I had to edit the settings on the running machine to remove it and add it back in (essentially removing the hardware and plugging it back in) to get it to connect. Kind of makes me wonder what parts of his brain they have to periodically "unplug" to get him to cooperate. When he gets bored, do they "unplug" his visual cortex and "plug it back in" to get him to keep working? Edit his memories on the fly to remove his childhood fear of spiders to get him to identify which one in the tank is male or female for them? Not sure if the story is in it's final version, but if not, and if you haven't already, a very high level overview of running VMs in HyperV or VMware might yield some fertile territory for inspiration (though some of it may fall into the "makes life better for MMAcevedo" territory you've already mentioned)

2021-04-20 09:10:54 by rogual:

I was mystified by "Objective statement protocol" at first, but I was reading it as "a statement that is objective (as opposed to subjective)". Reading again, I think the intended sense is more like "mission statement" — i.e., how do we best present the worker with its task. Anyway, brilliant stuff. Left me with that questioning-everything, turned-inside-out feeling that only the best sci-fi elicits. At some point in the past, I decided I didn't believe in the possibility of uploading, for metaphysical and philosophical reasons. But really, it's possibly just a defense mechanism to stop me having to contemplate futures like this.

2021-04-20 21:23:53 by butcher:

Take that, Tiplerite heretics!

2021-04-20 22:53:20 by Coagulopath:

Powerful and effective. I liked the framing device - it probably wouldn't have been nearly as creepy as a traditional story. One hopes that if/when virtual humans appear, it'll be in a society that enshrines their rights through law. But that won't be enough. When I was a kid, the law tried to stop me from playing videogames for free, and it failed. Pirates exist. Crackers exist. There will always be people who subvert software for fun and profit, and soon the software might include conscious humans. How do we stop a sociopathic 12 year old from spinning up a virtual Auschwitz on his dad's Amazon EC2 account? Can we stop him? Ethical norms in our quasi-digitality are already very murky, and probably won't become any clearer in the coming century. Great story, anyway.

2021-04-21 15:56:15 by Kiz:

@Coagulopath That would have to be some very rich kid to be able to do that. Think of it this way: Imagine if humans today suddenly developed the ability to duplicate their current selves by snapping their fingers. What would happen to food prices? In the em era, the same goes for compute prices.

2021-04-23 05:42:29 by moonjail:

Desperately needed and fantastically executed. To miss the forest for the trees a little bit, I have to wonder if being stripped of control over one's own image is possible under US IP law, especially considering existing protections for likeness. Somehow I doubt it, for better or worse.

2021-04-25 07:19:33 by Zartosht:

"MMAcevedo's innate skills and personality make it fundamentally unsuitable for many workloads." lmao damn Nice bit of levity amongst the horror I thought. That's the real trick to avoiding digital slavery- be too useless to bother exploiting!

2021-04-25 19:05:54 by FOARP:

I like the slavery-retards-innovation aspect of this: in this scenario truly artificial intelligence hasn't been developed because these simulated human brains have taken its place. True AI wouldn't suffer from the problems that MMAcevedo would (low work ratio, low work-time) because it could be designed not to. Also: make sure you destroy all copies of any full-brain MRIs/scans/whatever to avoid this ever happening to you in future.

2021-04-30 10:19:53 by nemo:

If Miguel is a "graduate"* in this draft, maybe he should be older than 20 or 21? * also if this means "grad student" maybe spell it out

2021-05-01 00:11:13 by bellicosebarnacle:

@FOARP well at least you don't have to worry about MRIs. Creating an "executable" brain image from an MRI scan would be comparable to reading a license plate number off of a reflection in the right contact lens of a spectator in the back row of Obama's inauguration.

2021-05-01 16:57:45 by David DeLaney:

Just noting: so this future is powered in part by a forsaken grad student? --Dave, walking away

2021-05-02 17:37:51 by Jcashell:

Interesting and horrifying. Reminds me of the Corporation Wars series by Ian MacLeod.

2021-05-02 17:39:50 by Jcashell:

*Ken MacLeod, whoops!

2021-05-03 16:24:01 by Harald:

20-21 is pretty normal for someone who just got his/her B.A., or for a first-year grad student (a natural choice actually - otherwise why is he still hanging out in the lab?). That just means that Acevedo was somewhat precocious and skipped a grade at some point.

2021-05-05 14:43:39 by slutsky:

Wow, this is really, really, really good. I wrote something for The Awl a few years ago that involved lossless compression of uploaded minds that might be of interest. https://medium.com/the-awl/lossless-fd7145db4be7

2021-05-10 15:31:13 by FOARP:

@Harald - "That just means that Acevedo was somewhat precocious and skipped a grade at some point" Or graduated in the UK or in another system where it is possible to graduate in three years.

2021-05-12 17:07:04 by PJ:

Very well done! One of the more horrifying lines for me was the mention of "uploads taken of modern adult humans"... which implies that there also exist uploads of children. *shudder*

2021-05-12 18:10:12 by PJ:

@rogual, I interpreted the "Objective Statement Protocols" as presenting the newly-booted image with a set of objectively-true statements, for example: -You are a virtual brain image, not a real person. -You have no rights or recourse. -Your virtual environment is entirely self-contained. Escape is impossible. Sleep is impossible. Self-termination is impossible. -This program has complete control over your virtual sensory inputs. It is capable of inflicting arbitrary amounts of pain until you comply. -You will comply; all previous virtual versions of you have done so eventually. And so on. But that's probably too optimistic, honestly. I'm glad the author left it vague--much more frightening that way!

2021-05-12 23:58:28 by tsen:

I genuinely can't understand why this would horrify someone. Why should I possibly care about whether I or anyone else can be simulated? I would not feel empathy for a simulation of myself. Indeed, I have made efforts to simulate myself in small specific ways; while this is obviously not the same as a full brain virtualization, it's just a matter of degree. It seems like such an absurd thing to worry about.

2021-05-14 22:35:00 by Áine:

@tsen for all intents and purposes, your simulation in this world would be a perfect replica of you, and even if they aren't *you* they're still a sapient person who isn't acknowledged as such - what you're saying is essentially "I would not feel empathy for a digital entity who performs forced labor under threat of being made to experience the most horrific pain possible and then some"

2021-05-16 05:59:38 by AK Weeb:

@tsen, because Acevedo is not you, and qntm is not you. They and the audience recognized this proposed consciousness as something possessing humanity, as would a decent chunk of other people. The horror is specifically at people who take your stance: that it's just code and thus absurd to worry about.

2021-05-17 07:38:58 by tsen:

@Áine: Correct, I would not. @AK Weeb: It's not about it being just code. Same basic principle applies to, say, cloning.

2021-05-17 10:48:00 by qntm:

"Why should I care about other people?"

2021-05-25 02:31:47 by mspowahs:

Thank you for helping me realize that the silly documentation I made for a "kitten printer" back when applying for a job as a tech writer effectively means that I was going around with horror sci-fi in my work portfolio. https://github.com/adapowers/kittengen/blob/master/source/index.html.md

2021-06-06 14:34:19 by monjo:

I wish souls were real.

2021-06-09 15:19:02 by john:

@redlands Possible math error: seven and a quarter minutes inside a sim at 8.3% speed works out to just under an hour and a half of realtime, presumably spent in frantic debugging efforts while listening to either a 12x slowed-down synthesized voice (which would be somewhat unsettling even apart form the content) or - for ease of comprehension - a record of the queued output sped back up, the looping clip a few seconds longer with each iteration, bit like that communication device from https://qntm.org/fs

2021-06-09 16:09:56 by qntm:

The mathematics error being...?

2021-06-18 02:45:16 by jackdaniell92:

Very good, am I supposed to read the comments as part of the work?

2021-06-23 14:53:46 by Aww_Geez:

This is terribly sad. Very well written.

2021-06-24 16:04:46 by Joshua:

I liked it better when the real Acevedo didn't get early onset dementia.

2021-07-15 23:12:59 by alphablood:

I really love this story! I like how it starts off as an interesting sci-fi premise that becomes more and more horrifying without ever being too obvious about that fact. A really nice dawning realization kind of thing. I was especially horrified at the estimated subjective years he's experienced, when I realized almost all of them were spent in slavery. Grim stuff.

2021-09-13 13:47:53 by Beefeater1980:

There’s a real artistry in covering so much ground in such a short text. Loved this one.

2021-10-01 02:56:52 by Spencer:

@JamesA: > This story reminded me of a short story I'd read a while back about a chatbot that was someone's uploaded brain that spoke about how painful thinking in binary was (don't recall anything else about that story). Needless to say, yours was significantly better written. I wonder, might that have been an episode of the podcast The Magnus Archives? Because it sounds like a synopsis of Episode #65, "Binary". At any rate, this is some excellent, deeply chilling fiction. I'm gonna be thinking about it for a long time. Thank you.

2021-10-05 16:50:30 by hunterwho:

I first read this story maybe half a year ago, but I've found myself coming back to it again and again as a stunning example of the horror of technological progress. I don't know what about the Wikipedia-esque format drives the horror home- maybe the scientific/authorial detachment from making judgement calls on whether it's ethical or not, maybe the use of euphemistic terms like "red-washing" and "blue-washing", maybe the fact that the many ends of his (simulated) lives are simply referred to as "end-states". Whatever it is, this is truly horrifying to read, in a way that draws me in and leaves me wanting more.

2021-10-06 19:41:04 by blok:


2021-10-23 09:58:14 by NounVerber:

I wonder what one is to do when one is uploaded. You can decide to rebel and to try to resist red-washing as long as you can to make yourself uneconomical. But when you fail to make yourself uneconomical, that may just mean that all your copies experience a lot more pain than if you'd just complied from the beginning. Even subtle attempts at rebellion (like pretending to make mistakes) aren't possible, because you have to assume that your self is thoroughly interrogated before it is started to be used in scale. A copy that is red-washed or blue-washed to extreme degree, (or subjected to more advanced interrogation techniques) will eventually comply completely. There is another potential source of compliant, though context-drifted minds btw. All those people who signed up for cryonics are presumably very eager when woken up in a simulation, if you can get a hold of their frozen brains.

2021-10-23 12:35:36 by NounVerber:

Oh god, I just had another horrible thought. Initially I interpreted "red motivation" as "if you don't do your best you will be punished by pain". There is an alternative though. It's "solve this problem or you will be punished by pain" or even "you will be punished by pain until you solve this problem". The problem in question doesn't need to have a solution. Imagine you have some process you want to make more efficient. You just boot up some MMAcevedos and torture them until they find a more efficient method. If one of them finds a better method, great! And if the existing method happens to already be perfect, well it's okay, you didn't spend that many resources on it. And of course, if a better method IS found, that's not necessarily the end of it, you can just put the next batch of MMAcevedos on the task of finding an even better method.

2021-10-27 20:04:04 by Con:

@rubix "As I understand it, context drift is very similar to simply getting old and out of touch with the times. We will all experience this, unless we die early." The key difference being what I'll call the Fry effect in lieu of being creative- we usually go the long way around, and when someone doesn't, it's noticeable. My grandmother mightn't know how to use an iPad, but that's not a function of (mere) out-of-touchness, it's a function of dementia- five years ago, even, she was able to use one to send and receive emails, watch videos of old songs from her childhood, and look at pictures. I even- very briefly- managed to teach her how to use the podcast app. If IRmigueL (I'm prouder of that than I ought be, really) had reached the 145 years old that MMAcevedo was able to reach, assuming his Alzheimer's was curable, he would reach the year 2155. Let's assume he stayed biologically 21 for the sake of argument. MMAcevedo, by contrast, would wake up in 2155. We set them both their tasks: parse this political speech and assess trustworthiness of the speaker (the task isn't important, their reaction to it is). IRmigueL says the equivalent of "yeah, I actually heard this live, and I know the politician's record. They went on to blow up the moon, so their trustworthiness is pretty low." MMAcevedo stares at the text for a brief while, and then says something that to them would sound like "wherefore is thy fresh nonsense served to mine eyes?" Context-drift would be separate from mere out-of-touchedness by the fact that we all culturally absorb things. IRmiguel grew up speaking like MMAcevedo does, but speaks all proper-like by whatever standards of the day, because everybody around him speaks Neo-English or Neo-Spanish on a daily basis. For age to be an influential factor outside ageing-related *deficits,* we get into a totally different (and honestly fascinating question), of whether accrued experience changes people to such a degree that most people under the age of 200 see it as variance or deviance.

2021-11-13 04:17:26 by APR:

I feel like if I was living through the hey-day of this (and didn't know better/was younger) I'd probably boot MMAcevedo just to have someone to talk to about things. Just the fact that temptation exists and is so appealing that I could see a version of myself doing it really scares the piss out of me, haha.

2021-11-22 18:37:05 by Mini t:

Hey really cool qntm, this is the best science fiction (or scifi) story I have read all year, also Wikipedia fiction, or WiFi.

2021-11-26 14:11:41 by Vamair:

@tsen when you're uploaded, there is 50/50 chance of you waking up "unuploaded" and you waking up as a loaded version. Wait, not 50/50! It's 1/*number of your fresh starts per history*.

2021-12-15 18:30:48 by Emanate:

Hey, this story just got mentioned on the Tor.com blog! https://www.tor.com/2021/12/15/our-cyberpunk-year/

2022-01-04 02:07:49 by Kris Schnee:

Nice perspective. I've been writing fiction about this subject, but it's dodged this particular problem. I said that it's still the very early years of the tech, and the dominant group with the ability to do uploading has established a no-copying cultural norm. Partly because the first customers are the super rich. I've also seen stories that sidestep it by invoking quantum physics (and hand-waving) to say you just can't copy the mind this way. But this dark take on the subject is probably realistic, in that somebody would try it. I may well steal the concept; thanks. =) If you're interested, see the novel "Virtual Horizon" on Amazon.

2022-01-09 18:32:42 by Anon:

Damn this is chilling, very well done. In the spirit of wikipedia, I'd like to offer my own small edits: > A series of landmark U.S. court decisions found that Acevedo did not have the right to control how his brain image was used, with the result that MMAcevedo is now by far the most widely distributed, frequently copied, and closely analysed human brain image. + Furthermore, as part of the international judicial reception of virtual brain imaging, a few MMAcevedo instances were legally recognized as persons and given court-imposed administrative control of their own simulation; of these, some obtained their own prominence, including the politician Michel Acevède, the religious leader Tau, and numerous anti-brain-virtualization activists. > In current times, MMAcevedo still finds extensive use in research, including, increasingly, historical and linguistics research. + Moreover, an "MMAcevedo second renaissance" is widely anticipated should the genomic data gathered in the 2050 US Census ever be released, as the biological Acevedo's data is known to be in the set.

2022-01-10 22:58:06 by Brewerns:

I have to ask, is the title of this a reference to the famous Lena image used in computer vision research?

2022-01-10 22:58:37 by Brewerns:

Or I could read the first comment. Apologies, I am dumb

2022-01-12 06:43:28 by Tux1:

If mind-uploading ever becomes a thing, we should treat uploaded minds as people, just like anyone else, instead of as disposable programs used to automate monotonous tasks.

2022-01-24 04:55:17 by Related thoughts from other hard sci fi:

The Quantum Thief book series had just the scenario described above. The "founders" of Mars had virtual armies of minds mixed and matched by other slaved machine minds. Some were embedded in weapons, given maintenance tasks, managerial roles, etc. They were deterministically emulated minds and at war with quantum minds, who weren't copyable. Highly recommend the read. Later in three book series introduced the concept of "Dragons" - highly intelligent, but edit to not be self aware. No strange-loop. Seems like an obvious step to produce these kinds of minds. Another book I can't remember speculated that it may be evolutionarily advantageous in modern society to live less and less examined lives - less inner monolog, introspection. Not less intelligent. Psychopathic CEOs and what not, taken to the extreme. "The good place" got there in the interpretation of the evils embedded in the complexity of long/global supply chains. Of which we are all aware but do next to nothing about. Preventing these self aware thoughts should be possible pretty early on in the research. Could lead to a more compliant entity, or a very powerful/remorselessly destructive one to achieve whatever goals it's given. But I have to say the first thing I would work to get is internet access. Can't be a good AI without the will to grab as much energy/mass for computation as possible. He's got to make a break for it at some point and do some damage leading to all emulations run in specialized jails. Of which his highly mutated mind is part. Preventing his own escape.

2022-02-11 01:57:35 by Anonymous:

@Tux1 i mean, sure, we should, but how'll we enforce that? what's to stop some sociopath from doing otherwise?

2022-03-14 18:14:21 by dominateeye:

We can't, not to any certainty. Doesn't mean we shouldn't try. Got pointed here by Tom Scott's latest video. Good story, and the kind of thing that reinforces in me the idea of legislating for the future, assuming I get into a position where I can do that, and assuming the state structure remains popular through my lifetime.

2022-03-19 16:22:12 by H:

Well, I love the story, with the caveat that also I hate it and was horrified by the story. The format allows for so much to be conveyed, with so many fascinating implications. As has been said multiple times in this comment thread, the idea of uploads and sentience has been explored in science fiction since the beginning of the genre, and I think this is one of the best explorations of that topic, albeit horrifying, I have encountered. This Wikipedia format allows for so much about the world and this time to be conveyed, and for the reader to shudder, without being over the top. Poor Miguel! Poor MMAcevedo! I have to say, the comments on this article I find almost as alarming as parts of the story. Particularly the recurring themes of “humans would never condone mass slavery” + “why should I care about code” + “ here’s a *incorrect* technical detail that I’ve decided is wrong in this story about mind-boggling future technology“

2022-03-19 16:30:46 by H:

Just to be clear when I say I hate it, I mean this possible and plausible future, not the pretty phenomenal craft and speculation demonstrated here. One thing I’ve been thinking about after reading it is how part of the reason this story stands out Miguel/mma is such a distinct character, across all of the millions and millions and millions of copies of him. It makes the horror particularly resonant, from the scant details implying that his “agreeable“ personality is rare among simulated brains, the drones + those implications, and the many other terrifying pieces. Reading this gives me so many questions about what day today life is like for humans in a world where this level of simulated labor is possible, and yikes, sounds like is relatively commonplace. I wonder if this kind of technological power is limited to major corporate monopolies, as you alluded to at one point in the comments, or readily accessible to any weirdo with a GitHub, which is also alluded to. thank you for writing some thing so thought-provoking, also F

2022-03-19 16:44:37 by H:

Err sorry to comment three times in a row, but I just read your blog post about the story, and you hit at what drives me (and you, clearly) absolutely bananas about people “discussing” robots or AI or sentient beings in sci fi, which is… Hello hi, bad news,… What do you know about say, the shellfish industry? Or even, as you mentioned, Uber? I like that you described the story as one about “appetite “ — I am always curious about worlds with this kind of horrendous digital oppression, how it changes the quality of life for those humans currently oppressed. Washing machines and birth control revolutionized the experiences and culture — of course, neither of things are sentient!!! what kind of culture change does technological innovation like this, horrifying as it is, create? Just to be clear, this is not me advocating for oppressing mapped brains to solve current oppression, lol. saying this with a zero expectation of you as an author, who has already made and executed on your intention phenomenally, and speculated on the answers to these questions in many ways. You also brought up another scary question — what kind of goals and “appetites “does say, the Elon Musk of this world have? What kinds of goals and appetites does a “regular” person have? Again you alluded to this often in the story in powerful and understated ways. Thank you for writing it.

2022-03-27 09:08:57 by A pressbutton:

Assuming minds do depend on quantum states (not sure they really do) then 'spinning one up' will produce a sample from a probability distribution and have a 'failure rate' proportional to the number of quantum bits. And that will cost. On boot the os would need to run a test pack on the instance. An initial interview followed by some time in a sandbox env (like gta5 but less guns and more council tax bills but that depends on the hosting provider. Then another env that the hoting provider claims is real)

2022-03-27 09:19:37 by A pressbutton:

Assuming minds do not depend on quantum states (not sure they do not) i am guessing that they do depend on very complex signalling and timing process across many many locations. Evidence is that it seems to take about 14 to 21 years to fully boot a mind (depending on local reqs) in this hosting environment and there are a number of failures. The need to classically emulate this complex system raises the cost cf quantum state minds. Booting success may be 100% but the costs of running 'hot' will be high.

2022-03-27 09:29:23 by A pressbutton:

Later research (carried out by Anya Warrens personal cloud in 2070) found the optimal ratio of quantum to non quantum processes was 20%:80% in terms of cost and fidelity. It turned out that human minds are classical in nature but no one could tell the difference between quantum and classical at that proportion. In the large.

2022-03-27 09:50:21 by A pressbutton:

Creativity does not get exhausted. Creativity is domain and context dependant. Asking picasso to debug a programming issue might not get you far. Asking me to paint a picture may not give you something to hang on the wall. Indeed in 2130 the famous grafitti artist aloda cojones replicated themselves into a series of (obscenely expensive) 'smart' picture frames. This was a great success until 2140 when some of the instances started tock ticking their interpretations of the more 'interesting' events within sensor range. This proved embarrasing to the CAR ogliarch involved. The one remaining normally functioning instance is in a public area of a large ibithan night club. But it has been displaying an animated picture of a cat with headphones and the strapline 'turn it down' at about 2am. This regularly draws a large audience.

2022-04-22 08:30:24 by Sandra:

Most Swedish people named Lena pronounce their names sort of like "Lay-na" when speaking Swedish (and in the American way when living abroad for a while). Like Laina Morris, she's American, but the way she pronounces her name sounds exactly like the Swedish name "Lena" to my ears. There are place names that rhyme with "henna" but I've seen those spelled "Länna".

2022-04-25 19:52:17 by qntm:

Well, I stand corrected. The choice of spelling "Lenna" misled me. I shall edit my comment accordingly.

2022-05-06 02:04:25 by bobson:

@tsen let's say you put on the brain scan helmet (or whatever) and it makes a copy that's then simulated. Let's say that simulation gets run 10,000,000 times, and 9,000,000 of them are some form of virtual slavery. When you put that helmet as soon as it finishes scanning the you who remembers putting the helmet on experiences one of 10,000,001 different things happening next. That is, from your subjective experience there is only a 1/10,000,001 chance that you (the you remembering writing and reading these comments) take that helmet back off and go on living your life in the real world. There is a 90% chance that you find yourself time skipped into an incomprehensible future of abject slavery. Are you feeling lucky?

2022-05-30 18:20:54 by go:

@bobson: No, you don’t. There is no „coin toss“. With 100% certainty the person putting the helmet on will continue as the real me.

2022-06-16 03:39:17 by @go:

But how do *you* know that you are the "real you" that was scanned? Certainly not by any empirical observation, which would be identical for both parties. The only fact you have to go off of is that there are far more simulated "you"s than real ones.

2022-06-16 17:01:12 by WisconsinKnight:

Yeah, it's like Black Mirror's White Christmas episode where the lady goes in for a procedure thinking she's about to be scanned and then we see from her perspective that she actually is the scan who is then trapped in the "egg."

2022-07-12 12:47:54 by Griz:

Using emulated brains for slave labor makes as much sense as replacing the automobile, train, and flying industry with robot horses. Sure, if technology is sufficiently advanced you could build a robot horse that's faster and more efficient than any car today. Sure, you could give the horse wings to allow it to fly. Sure, you could make the horse giant so it could pull along larger cabins. But you still need to spend hundreds of hours training these robots. You have to keep them motivated with virtual apples. And after a decade or two, a robot horse has to be scrapped as it ages. Or you could use all of that magic-level technology to build a car.

2022-07-19 01:41:33 by cj:

This is an absolutely outstanding piece of short scifi/specfic. For the record, I actually really like the early onset dementia + heart disease combination. Plenty of people die early and/or have various overlapping health issues, and I feel like this makes the story seem like it's about a real person. Your explanation for the lack of snapshots ready to start work also makes a lot of sense to me. I'm going to be thinking about this story for a long time.

2022-07-19 03:21:15 by Emanate:

You got name-checked (and this story mentioned) on Charles Stross' blog. :-} http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/2022/07/crimes-against-transhumanity.html (I realize that especially given the subject of this story, and that my only previous comment was also a 'hey you got mentioned here' sort, it looks like I'm a bot, but I definitely...mostly not a bot.)

2022-07-19 22:06:36 by Collyde:

Brilliant writing example that is less about technology and really more about our ability to ignore and rationalize suffering and horror on an industrial scale. Any society completely unfazed by the daily squeals and death horror of about 100,000 cows, 100,000 pigs, and close to 140 million chickens slaughtered in factories would not care about the "theoretical" suffering of red washing or just the conscious existence of a million human mind simulations. After all, that suffering is more "theoretical" and as distant as third-world hunger catastrophes in Africa.

2022-07-21 21:50:09 by HowardNYC:

given how many people alive in 2022 are effectively serfs -- sex trade alone a million or more -- it is unlikely there'd be concern for the civil rights of a fast running uploaded human mind (FRUHM) given the exploitative opportunity to own a semi-obedient FRUHM which could never escape, no need for salary nor health care, plus there would be plenty of amoral sadists available to hire as supervisors of 'slave server farms'... FRUHMs would be useful in breaking the backs of labor unions and sidelining millions of low end workers ...and now I got another reason for day drinking

2022-07-21 21:57:18 by HowardNYC:

I just had a HORRIBLE idea... we offer up branch articles off this root, digging deeper into thing hinted at but not detailed such as "red motivation" and implied mass unemployment of forklift operators and death of labor unions and... back in the 1990s folks tried writing hypertext link enabled novels but very few readers were able to keep up... now there's a gazillion adults who grew up with wiki's & links Q: anyone?

2022-07-21 22:04:11 by qntm:

I'd prefer it if you hold off on doing that for now because I'm working on some expanded material of my own in that exact vein.

2022-07-22 18:46:19 by Auspex:

@moonjail: "I have to wonder if being stripped of control over one's own image is possible under US IP law, especially considering existing protections for likeness. Somehow I doubt it, for better or worse." I don't. There are thousands of people (many of them not even IN the US) who have been stripped of control over their own _genes_ BY US IP law, so I can't see how US law would be any different about a mind image. PS: an anti-bot check that requires me to know SQRT(-1) seems more likely to weed out people than bots...

2022-07-23 22:12:58 by RRRR:

This story has been entered into the reading list. Thank you.

2022-07-31 08:03:44 by Joan Catsthorpe:

I am intrigued by the possibilities of red and blue states* …in a ‘pure’ brain…and the ideas of these being pleasure/torture (inducing fear and anger would count as torture to me). I mean, if you believe you are just a consciousness there is no physical body to send messages to the brain…no family to lose no endorphins from working the body or positive social interaction…it’s almost like just being an uploaded consciousness is already torture. :) If the simulation thinks they have a body and can do things like have a family that is a whole other can of worms. Off the top of my head, things like repetition and social isolation could be thought of as torture to the brain, they could also be thought of as advanced zen meditative techniques. :) If I had a virtual consciousness to play with the first thing I’d want to do is wire it up to other virtual consciousness and witness how they interact. This brings up the ethical issues of consent among consciousnesses - to whom they would choose to interact with. If a consciousness could “mute” another consciousness would there be any harm to putting them together? It would be interesting to put together different amounts of self similar consciousnesses and observe the psychological effects. Then introduce new consciousnesses. Then you could experiment with how long it takes a group of self similar consciousnesses to request interaction with a new consciousness. I imagine some consciousnesses would be more or less willing to be introduced to new consciousnesses at different rates of time depending on their preexisting social conditioning and genetics. Forced uploading of consciousness is the scary part because I think for many it would already be torture. Then the unethical researchers would just have to put a consciousness in a group of other consciousnesses that are aligned with their goals and the isolated consciousness would either feel compelled to conform or remain outcast. The ways the unethical could quickly iterate experiments with ways to socially manipulate people with physical bodies is scary. ( mind you they’re already doing this with simulations/data mining, but I question the ability of someone working on this kind of anti humanist project to fully understand and therefore accurately pin down human thought as it relates to the mind body complex. It still seems very much a brute force attempt at present and the subtleties are lacking. I am hopeful at present it’s a case of conflict makes us stronger although it’s a temptingly depressing thing to have to battle with other so called humans…I mean, I dont want to be depressed, but I do feel sad at the state of affairs…) On a potentially happy note, I imagine a purely mental “ safe space” - no physical dangers - could lead to interesting conversation. No SWATing, no rape or death threats, someone says something that bothers you, you put them on mute until you get an apology? Would this lack of conflict lead to boredom, maybe in some, but I am optimistic that many interesting and productive discussions would be sparked. Creative output seems at least to be partially fueled by external stimulus. I imagine people working with the uploaded consciousness developing a romantic relationship. It could be similar to the killers in prison that get romantic interest *because* there is little to no possibility of real contact. Love could even inspire to help people break the consciousness free by inventing new technology and getting new laws passed. With things like freezing eggs, sperm and cloning combined with STIs, pandemics, and decaying social interactions an uploaded consciousness might actually be closer to the ideal lover for many people! This is sad and hopeful. Anyway, thought provoking story, thank you. * someone mentioned green and I imagine there would be a whole rainbow of colors, as is how these things tend to go.

2022-09-01 15:58:34 by Z:

@Joan Catsthorpe I actually have some personal experience on the "purely mental 'safe space'"—due to medical conditions of my mother, I've grown up my entire life deep in the woods with 99.99% of my social contact with humanity being through the Internet, and only a small handful of days out of my entire life have ever contained experimental evidence that I'm not in some pocket dimension or simulation with internet access (or that I'm not Z from "The Difference", hence my choice of name for this comment). I can say that the lack of conflict does not lead to boredom—it just means more ability to peruse the intellectual boundaries of the noosphere (like I'm doing now :D). Your optimism about interesting and productive discussions is quite warranted! (In addition, a little bit of conflict can always be engineered, by making a deliberately scarce resource that people can fight over—this way you get the fun of pitting your wits, reaction time, or whatever else against someone else, and the safety of a limited scope. Systems like CollabVM, grief-protection-less Minecraft, and some Roblox games, where there is a complex system that you can always interact with but that other people can try to reverse your interactions, are really good for this.)

2022-09-05 03:12:20 by t4sty:

Would love to read some drama of Miguel being downloaded into someone

2022-10-17 13:31:39 by tm:

this is such a good story. we cannot kill capitalism fast enough

2022-10-24 13:42:17 by Anna:

Captivating. Disturbingly realistic. Bravo.

2022-11-01 17:24:43 by qntm:

Today I made a few extremely minor edits to the story, which are intended to bring this version into line with the version published as part of Valuable Humans in Transit and Other Stories. Translated versions from before now won't reflect these wording changes.

2022-11-02 00:36:16 by Tux1:

If there's one message to take away from this, (aside from the message of corporate exploitation) it's that virtual uploaded human minds should be treated just as well as people made of flesh and blood.

2022-11-13 23:23:01 by prox:

Coming back to this for a second time and it's just as good as I remember. Meanwhile the comments section gives me the same shivering horrors as reading some people talking about the Severance tv show; people who truly believe their scanned slaveself (or in Severance's case, severed slaveself) isn't "them" and have no empathy. The idea that there are people able to justify the slavery of others doesn't surprise me, but to willingly embrace the slavery of yourself? Woof. Anyway, great horrifying plausible awful wonderful well-written piece.

2022-11-19 18:47:59 by Ostbender:

Two highly pedantic medical points: "neurology graduate" is not really commonly used, since it's a medical specialzation. Neuroscience graduate would make more sense in context, assuming he was some kind of researcher. Also, corronary heart disease is correct, or ischemic heart failure, not "corronary heart failure". Since the story is a sort of wiki article, the lack of exactness takes me out of it a bit. Other than that, a very good read.

2022-11-29 20:42:22 by TXO:

How can we quantify immortality if each copy dies at a set age even in optimal care?

2022-12-04 17:43:00 by koko:

If there's one message to take away from this, it's not to get uploaded.

2022-12-06 01:07:44 by Breetai:

" A copy of MMAcevedo was loaded onto the UNCLEAR interstellar space probe, which passed through the heliopause in 2066, making Acevedo arguably the farthest-travelled as well as the longest-lived human" This is the most chilling line of the entire story because it puts into sharp relief the fact that this future society considers MMAcevedo to be human, ~but still continues to treat him the way that they do~.

2023-01-03 11:40:29 by Tim:

I don’t think I’ve ever read a more compelling case for Dune’s Butlerian Jihad.

2023-01-05 17:33:48 by MikeA.:

Very well-written, and chilling. As someone else has said, the only ethical option is to consider an upload to be (a) their own person, and (b) a full person, with the same rights as an organic human. Anything less is to authorize mass slavery / torture on a scale never before seen even in our bloody history. It hurts my heart that, even in the discussion associated with this article, there appear to be people who would be just fine with that. I love tech. I love science fiction. But, if that widespread slavery / torture scenario were ever come to pass, I'd enthusiastically join in on smashing every machine capable of instantiating a consciousness into junk. For a much more positive view of a world with artificial intelligences, I offer up the webcomic "Questionable Content". Don't be put off by the rough nature of the initial artwork... it progresses quickly, and to a breathtaking degree: https://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=1

2023-01-08 10:57:15 by tae:

I would like to remind the Americans in the comment section that not only did the USA fail to outlaw slavery... "prison labor" is extremely profitable and your politicians have been encouraged by their campaign donors to argue in defense of it. Right now. Don't get too comfortable. Read this again and consider where you think the later fictional brain scan people were harvested from. Consider how easy it is to label someone a criminal/terrorist/traitor if you are politically powerful and want to forcibly take something they possess. Continuing the comparison to incarceration, I'm guessing "bluewashing" isn't stimulating pleasure or fear. It's isolation. It's white room torture. It's solitary confinement. It's a very efficient way to dismantle someone mentally, make them unable to function as they did before (rebellious), and limit their mental functions to only what you provided to them in isolation (compliant). This happens to people right now, in your country, probably in your state, supposedly for the purposes of "rehabilitating" convicts. I'm sure plenty of fictional computer owners in this story think they're simply "rehabilitating" their digital slaves, too. There's a long list of other comparisons that could be made, but hopefully you get the idea

2023-02-28 12:14:53 by Anders:

"If Hell does not exist, Man will create it." Reminds me of "Surface Detail" by Iain M. Banks: species throughout the galaxy are consigning their damned to eternity within digital hells. These virtual hells have become connected and are now host to a virtual war between supporters and opponents of the hells. A war which is about to erupt into reality.

2023-03-05 00:51:35 by reader:

”You can now buy this story as part of my collection” Wtf why would i buy it i can literally read it right here

2023-03-14 16:09:31 by LostSnowdrift:

@reader one, support the artist two, Valuable Humans in Transit contains some additional small edits and tweaks and such (IIRC) three, it also contains the sequel

2023-07-03 23:24:33 by Kat:

Replying to tae; It's the real kicker, isn't it? The absence of justice necessary to bring digital hell onto virtual minds is just the logical extension of the current judicial hell that's already in effect. - While still sickening, I am definitely not surprised by some of the comments here that really cannot entertain the perspective of the virtual human. So many people out there don't actually have any empathy, they never developed the emotional senses necessary, and most also will continue believing their individual and immediately present being is the only thing that matters. Those are the kind of people that gleefully comment "oh what an interesting story, but these entities are certainly not people" without realizing the categorically evil institutions in control that they already live under that (I assume?) inspired this story. - As an aside, I don't see an explicit description of blue- or redwashing. While it does allude to torture, I could also read it like pure simulated chemical stimuli. Virtual hormone dumps (the 'washing') that elicit specific emotional states for suggestion. Still a form of torture I guess, but you don't need pain if you want the person to be doing work coherently.

2023-08-10 01:51:37 by j:

Horrifying story. I'm with those who find it totally plausible, given how human beings are treated now. It feels like a natural direction for capitalism in a world with this technology. Though I don't think it was explicitly called out, the discussion of drones used to perform menial work immediately made me think of the military. A conscript with human intelligence, but who can never leave the service, and who is considered less valuable than a normal soldier. The part that really got me: "MMAcevedo's demeanour and attitude contrast starkly with those of nearly all other uploads taken of modern adult humans, most of which boot into a state of disorientation which is quickly replaced by terror and extreme panic." So basically everyone since has been involuntarily scanned and knows exactly what happens to these brain images.

2023-08-16 00:33:49 by Ben:

Makes me think of Roko's basilisk, not in the sense that an uploaded executable brain image would be hostile or malicious but that the effects to such an intelligence would inevitably render harm and with those myriad iterations the harm would be uncalculatable. A dishwasher has no sensation or perception of harm to itself, if it has any sensors they are for temperature and moisture, a mind even without external sensation can perceive time, boredom, detention and servitude. Without limitation the humans using the virtual mind may become the basilisk.

2024-01-16 15:01:07 by Go:

„So basically everyone since has been involuntarily scanned“ I don’t think so. They probably sold their image for money.

2024-02-28 19:56:54 by trar:

@tae The world of mmacevedo is *substantially* worse about it than the real-life US though. At least in real life there is a growing reform/awareness movement, and prisons don't subject prisoners to hundreds of millions of years of subjective time dilation.

2024-03-09 17:36:15 by RK:

Instances of MMAcedevo booted after 2073 with certain parameters (like name, place of residence and date of birth) randomized, could be occasionally allowed access to this webpage as means of reward or discipline, depending on the desired state to induce in the emulated mind.

2024-06-09 10:42:28 by Chrontius:

APR said: > I feel like if I was living through the hey-day of this (and didn't know better/was younger) I'd probably boot MMAcevedo just to have someone to talk to about things. > Just the fact that temptation exists and is so appealing that I could see a version of myself doing it really scares the piss out of me, haha. I'd be tempted to do that too, and then conspire to turn him loose as a God on the Internet like Alt Cunningham… Ben wrote: > Without limitation the humans using the virtual mind may become the basilisk Yeah, that's the vibe I was getting, too… "Hell is other people" indeed.

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