The Cyborg and the Cemetery grew out of a simple premise. What happens if you hook a guy to a prosthetic leg, then require the leg to interpret, from his past actions and current behavior, whether it’s supposed to step, jump, stand quietly, or kick a soccer ball?
The answer is it can’t. There’s not enough information. In order for an artificially intelligent prosthesis to correctly predict how it ought to behave, you’ve got to piggyback it directly on the host’s neural system. It has to hear what the host hears, see what the host sees, and understand how the host thinks in order to predict the host’s actions. (This isn’t as far-fetched as it sounds. Click over to google to find out about some of the truly creepy things that have been done with cats and thalamus implants.)
However, even that might not be enough. The Cyborg and the Cemetery takes the thought experiment a step further. What if the prosthesis was also hooked to the host’s endocrine system; that complex system of chemical messengers that so often gets overlooked when people try to replicate human sentience. And what if the prosthesis, after getting access to all this information, began to do some thinking and feeling of its own?
It’s a fascinating question that enfolds in unexpected ways.
Of course, none of that is what The Cyborg and the Cemetery is actually <i>about</i>. Smart prosthetics are backstory. The actual plotline involves questions about death, the scope of our humanity, and whether using technological gadgets as extensions of ourselves is unethical.
Originally published in Technology Review, the story is now entering a pledge cycle on Moozvine. That’s a somewhat risky proposition for an author to make. In exchange for a one-time payment from a subset of backers, I’m releasing this story into the wild. Once funding completes, I will no longer have the right to deny access to this story to anyone. It becomes the property of the public under a Creative Commons License. People can copy it, share it, put it on their web site and distribute it on billboards as long as they (a) don’t change the text and (b) provide appropriate attribution.
Am I nervous about this?
A little. But I’m also excited. Out of my current body of work, The Cyborg and the Cemetery includes some of the most fascinating ideas – ideas about who we are, and who we ought to be, and where humanity ought to go from here. Those seem like ideas worth sharing.
If you’d like to back The Cyborg and the Cemetery, you can find it at http://www.moozvine.com