Cobb Anderson would have held out longer, but you don't see dolphins every day. There were twenty of them, fifty, rolling in the little gray waves, wicketing up out of the water. It was good to see them. Cobb took it for a sign and went out for his evening sherry an hour early.
The screen door slapped shut behind him and he stood uncertainly for a moment, dazed by the late-afternoon sun. Annie Cushing watched him from her window in the cottage next door. Beatles' music drifted out past her.
"You forgot your hat," she advised. He was still a good-looking man, barrel-chested and bearded like Santa Claus. She wouldn't have minded getting it on with him, if he weren't so ...
"Look at the dolphins, Annie. I don't need a hat. Look how happy they are. I don't need a hat and I don't need a wife." He started toward the asphalt road, walking stiffly across the crushed white shells.
Annie went back to brushing her hair. She wore it white and long, and she kept it thick with hormone spray. She was sixty and not too brittle to hug. She wondered idly if Cobb would take her to the Golden Prom next Friday.
The long last chord of "Day in the Life" hung in the air. Annie couldn't have said which song she had just heard-after fifty years her responses to the music were all but extinguished-but she walked across
Excerpt from Software by Rudy Rucker. Copyright @ 1981 by Rudy Rucker.The complete novel Software will be published by Ace Books, New York, 1981.
the room to turn the stack of records over. If only something would she thought for the thousandth time. I get so tired of being me.
At the Superette, Cobb selected a chilled quart of cheap sherry and a damp paper bag of boiled peanuts. And he wanted something to look at.
The Superette magazine selection was nothing compared to what you could get over in Cocoa. Cobb settled finally for a love-ad newspaper called Kiss and Tell. It was always good and weird ... most of the advertisers were seventy-year-old hippies like himself. He folded the first-page picture under so that only the headline showed. PLEASE PHEEZE ME.
Funny how long you can laugh at the same jokes, Cobb thought, waiting to pay. Sex seemed odder all the time. He noticed the man in front of him, wearing a light-blue hat blocked from plastic mesh.
If Cobb concentrated on the hat he saw an irregular blue cylinder. But if he let himself look through the holes in the mesh he could see the meek curve of the bald head underneath. Skinny neck and a light-bulb head, clawing in his change. A friend.
Farker finished rounding up his nickels, then turned his body around. He spotted the bottle.
"Happy Hour came early today." A note of remonstrance. Farker worried about Cobb.
"It's Friday. Pheeze me tight." Cobb handed Farker the paper.
"Seven eighty-five," the cashier said to Cobb. Her white hair was curled and hennaed. She had a deep tan. Her flesh had a pleasingly used and oily look to it.
Cobb was surprised. He'd already counted money into his hand. "I make it six fifty." Numbers began sliding around in his head.
"I meant my box number," the cashier said with a toss of her head. "In the Kiss and Tell. " She smiled coyly and took Cobb's money. She was proud of her ad this month. She'd gone to a studio for the picture.
Farker handed the paper back to Cobb outside. "I can't look at this, Cobb. I'm still a happily married man, God help me."
"You want a peanut?"
"Thanks." Farker extracted a soggy shell from the little bag. There was no way his spotted and trembling old hands could have peeled the nut, so he popped it whole into his mouth. After a minute he spit the hull out.
They walked toward the beach, eating pasty peanuts. They wore no shirts, only shorts and sandals. The afternoon sun beat pleasantly on their backs. A silent Mr. Frostee truck cruised past.
Cobb cracked the screw-top on his dark-brown bottle and took a
tentative first sip. He wished he could remember the box number the cashier had just told him. Numbers wouldn't stay still for him anymore. It was hard to believe he’d ever been a cybernetician. His memory ranged back to his first robots and how they’d learned to hop.
.'Food drop's late again," Farker was saying. "And I hear there's a new murder cult up in Daytona. They're called the Little Kidders." He wondered if Cobb could hear him. Cobb was just standing there with empty colorless eyes, a yellow stain of sherry on the dense white hair around his lips.
"Food drop," Cobb said, suddenly coming back. He had a way of reentering a conversation by confidently booming out the last phrase that had registered. "I've still got a good supply."
"But be sure to eat some of the new food when it comes," Farker cautioned. "For the vaccines. I'll tell Annie to remind you."
"Why is everybody so interested in staying alive? I left my wife and came down here to drink and die in peace. She can't wait for me to kick off. So why-" Cobb's voice caught. The fact of the matter was that he was terrified of death. He took a quick, medicinal slug of sherry.
"If you were peaceful, ou wouldn't drink so much," Farker said mildly. "Drinking is the sign' of an unresolved conflict."
"No kidding, " Cobb said heavily. In the golden warmth of the sun, the sherry had taken quick effect. "Here's an unresolved conflict for you." He ran a fingernail down the vertical white scar on his furry chest. "I don't have the money for another second-hand heart. In a year or two this cheapie's going to poop out on me."
Farker grimaced. "So? Use your two years."
Cobb ran his finger back up the scar, as if zipping it up. "I've seen what it's like, Farker. I've had a taste of it. It's the worst thing there is." He shuddered at the dark memory-teeth, ragged clouds-and fell silent.
Farker glanced at his watch. Time to get going or Cynthia would ...
"You know what Jimi Hendrix said?" Cobb asked. Recalling the quote brought the old resonance back into his voice. " `When it's my time to die, I'm going to be the one doing it. So as long as I'm alive, you let me live my way.' "
Farker shook his head. "Face it, Cobb, if you drank less you'd get a lot more out of life." He raised his hand to cut 'off his friend's reply. "But I've got to get home. Bye bye."
Cobb walked to the end of the asphalt and over a low dune to the edge of the beach. No one was there today, and he sat down under his favourite palm tree.
The breeze had picked up a little. Warmed by the sand, it lapped Cobb's face, buried under white whiskers. The dolphins were gone.
He sipped sparingly at his sherry and let the memories play. There were only two thoughts to be avoided: death and his abandoned wife, Verena. The sherry kept them away.
The sun was going down behind him when he saw the strang Barrel chest, erect posture, strong arms and legs covered with curly ha a round white beard. Like Santa Claus, or like Ernest Hemingway the ye he shot himself.
"Hello, Cobb," the man said. He wore sungoggles and looked amused. His shorts and sport shirt glittered.
"Care for a drink?" Cobb gestured at the half-empty bottle. He wondered who, if anyone, he was talking to.
"No thanks," the stranger said, sitting down. "It doesn't do anything for me."
Cobb stared at the man. Something about him ...
"You're wondering who I am," the stranger said, smiling. "I'm you. "You who?"
"You me." The stranger used Cobb's own tight little smile on hi "I'm a mechanical copy of your body."
The face seemed right and there was even the scar from the hear* transplant. The only difference between them was how alert and health the copy looked. Call him Cobb Anderson2. Cobb2 didn't drink. Cob envied him. He hadn't had a completely sober day since he had operation and left his wife.
"How did you get here?"
The robot waved a hand palm up. Cobb liked the way the gesture looked on someone else. "I can't tell you," the machine said. "You know how most people feel about, us."
Cobb chuckled his agreement. He should know. At first the public had been delighted that Cobb's moon-robots had evolved into intelligent hoppers. That had been before Ralph Numbers had led the 2001 revolt After the revolt, Cobb had been tried for treason. He focused back on the present.
"If you're a hopper, then how can you be ... here?" Cobb wav his hand in a vague circle taking in the hot sand and the setting sun. "It too hot. All the hoppers I know of are based on super-cooled circuits. D you have a refrigeration unit hidden in your stomach?"
Anderson2 made another familiar hand gesture. "I'm not going to' tell you yet, Cobb. Later you'll find out. Just take this. The robot fumbled in its pocket and brought out a wad of bills. "Twenty-five grand We want you to get the flight to Disky tomorrow. Ralph Numbers will
your contact up there. He'll meet you at the Anderson room in the museum •'
Cobb's heart leapt at the thought of seeing Ralph Numbers again. Ralph, his first and finest model, the one who had set all the others free. But " . .
"I can't get a visa," Cobb said. "You know that. I'm not allowed to leave the Gimmie territory."
"Let us worry about that," the robot said urgently. "There'll be someone to help you through the formalities. We're working on it right now. And I'll stand in for you while you're gone. No one'll be the wiser."
The intensity of his double's tone made Cobb suspicious. He took a drink of sherry and tried to look shrewd. "What's the point of all this? Why should I want to go to the Moon in the first place? And why do the boppers want me there?"
Anderson2 glanced around the empty beach and leaned close. "We want to make you immortal, Dr. Anderson. After all you did for us, it's the least we can do."
Immortal! The word was like a window flung open. With death so close nothing had mattered. But if there was a way out ...
"How?" Cobb demanded. In his excitement he rose to his feet. "How will you do it? Will you make me young again too?"
"Take it easy," the robot said, also rising. "Don't get overexcited. Just trust us. With our supplies of tank-grown organs we can rebuild you from the ground up. And you'll get as much interferon as you need."
The machine stared into Cobb's eyes, looking honest. Staring back, Cobb noticed that they hadn't gotten the irises quite right. The little ring of blue was too flat and even. The eyes were, after all, just glass, unreadable glass.
The double pressed the money into Cobb's hand. "Take the money and get the shuttle tomorrow. We'll arrange for a young man called Sta-Hi to help you at the spaceport."
Music was playing, wheedling closer. A Mr. Frostee truck, the same one Cobb had seen before. It was white, with a big freezer box in back. There was a smiling giant plastic ice-cream cone mounted on top of the cab. Cobb's double gave him a pat on the shoulder and trotted up the beach.
When he reached the truck, the robot looked back and flashed a smile. Yellow teeth in the white beard. For the first time in years, Cobb loved himself, the erect strut, the frightened eyes. "Good-bye," he shouted, waving the money. "And thanks!"
Cobb Anderson2 jumped into the soft-ice-cream truck next to the driver, a fat short-haired man with no shirt. And then the Mr. Frostee
truck drove off, its music silenced again. It was dusk now. The sound of the truck's motor faded into the ocean's roar. If only it was true.
But it had to be! Cobb was holding twenty-five thousand-dollar bi He counted them twice to make sure. And then he scrawled the fig $25,000 in the sand and looked at it. That was a lot.
As the darkness fell he finished the sherry and, on a sudden impulse put the money in the bottle and buried it next to his tree in a me of sand. The excitement was wearing off now, and fear was setting Could the boppers really give him immortality with surgery a interferon?
It seemed unlikely. A trick. But why would the boppers lie to h`
Surely they remembered all the good things he'd done for them. Maybe they just wanted to show him a good time. God knows he could use it And it would be great to see Ralph Numbers again.
Walking home along the beach, Cobb stopped several times tempted to go back and dig up that bottle to see if the money was real there. The moon was up, and he could see the little sand-colored crabs moving out of their holes. They could shred those bills right up, he though stopping again.
Hunger growled in his stomach. And he wanted more sherry. H walked a little farther down the silvery beach, the sand squeaking un his heavy heels. It was bright as day, only all black and white. The moon had risen over the land to his right. Full moon means high tide, he fretted.
He decided that as soon as he'd had a bite to eat he'd get more she' r and move the money to higher ground.
Coming up on his moon-silvered cottage from the beach he spott Annie Cushing's leg around the corner of her cottage. She was sitting o her front steps, waiting to snag him in the driveway. He angled to ah right and came up on his house from behind, staying out of her line vision.
.. 0110001," Wagstaff concluded.
"100101," Ralph Numbers replied curtly
The two machines rested side by side in front of the One's bi console. Ralph was built like a file cabinet sitting on two caterpillar treads Five deceptively thin manipulator arms projected out of his body box
and on top was a sensor head mounted on a retractable neck. One of the arms held a folded umbrella. Ralph had few visible lights or dials, and it was hard to tell what he was thinking.
Wagstaff was much more expressive. His thick snake of a body was covered silverblue-flicker cladding. As thoughts passed through his super-cooled brain, twinkling patterns of light surged up and down his three-meter length. With his digging tools jutting out, he looked something like St. George's dragon.
Abruptly Ralph Numbers switched to English. If they were going to argue, there was no need to do it in the sacred binary bits of machine language.
"I don't know why you're so concerned about Cobb Anderson's feelings," Ralph tight-beamed to Wagstaff. "When we're through with him he'll be immortal. What's so important about having a carbon-based body and brain?"
The signals he emitted coded a voice gone a bit rigid with age. "The pattern is all that counts. You've been scioned, haven't you? I've been through it thirty-six times, and' if it's good enough for us it's good enough for them!"
"The wholle thinng sstinnks, Rallph," Wagstaff retorted. His voice signals were modulated onto a continuous oily hum. "Yyou've llosst touchh with what'ss reallly going on. We arre on the verrge of all-outt civill warr. You'rre sso fammouss you donn't havve to sscrammble for yourr chipss llike the resst of uss. Do yyou knnoww how mmuch orre I
havve to digg to gett a hunndrredd chipss frrom GAX?"
"There's more to life than ore and chips," Ralph snapped, feeling a little guilty. He spent so much time with the big boppers these days that he really had forgotten how hard it could be for the little guys. But he wasn't going to admit it to Wagstaff. He renewed his attack. "Aren't you at all interested in Earth's cultural riches? You spend too much time underground! "
Wagstafl's flicker-cladding flared silvery white with emotion. "You sshould sshow thhe olld mann mmorre respecct! TEX annd MEX jusst wannt to eat his brainn! And if we donn't stopp themm, the bigg bopperrs will eatt up all the rresst of uss too!"
"Is that all you called me out here for?" Ralph asked. "To air your fears of the big boppers?" It was time to be going. He had come all the way to Maskeleyne Crater for nothing. It had been a stupid idea, plugging into the One at the same time as Wagstaff. Just like a digger to think that would change anything.
Wagstaff slithered across the dry lunar soil, bringing himself closer to Ralph. He clamped one of his grapplers onto Ralph's tread.
"Yyou donn't rrealizze how manny brrainns they've takenn a1 rreaddy." The signals were carried by a weak direct current-a hopper way of whispering. "Thhey arre kkillinng peoplle just to gets th ; e brainn ttapes. They cuts themm upp, annd thhey arre garrbage orr seed perrhapps. Do yyou knnow howw thhey seed our orrgann farrms?"
Ralph had never really thought about the organ farms, the hug underground tanks where big TEA, and the little boppers who worke for him, grew their profitable crops of kidneys, livers, hearts and so on Obviously some human tissues would be needed as seeds or as templates, but...
The sibilant, oily whisper continued. "The bigg bopperrs use hired kkillerrs. The kkillerss act at the orrderrs of Missterr Frostee's rrobot remmote. Thiss is whatt poorr Doctorr Anndersson willl comme to if do nnot stopp yyou, Rallph."
Ralph Numbers considered himself far superior to this lowly, susp cious digging machine. Abruptly, almost brutally, he broke free from the other's grasp. Hired killers indeed. One of the flaws in the anarchic bopper society was the ease with which such crazed rumors could spread.; He backed away from the console of the One.
"I hadd hoped the Onne coulld mmake you rrememberr what yo sstannd forr," Wagstaff tight-beamed.
Ralph snapped open his parasol and trundled out from under th parabolic arch of spring steel that sheltered the One's console from su and from chance meteorites. Open at both ends, the shelter resembl a modernistic church. Which, in some sense, it was.
"I am still an anarchist, Ralph said stiffly. "I still remember." H kept his basic program intact ever since leading the 2001 revolt. Wagstaff really think that the big X-series boppers could pose a threat t the perfect anarchy of the hopper society?
Wagstaff slithered out after Ralph. He didn't need a parasol. H' flicker-cladding could shed the solar energy as fast as it came down. He caught up with Ralph, eyeing the old robot with a mixture of pity an respect. Their paths diverged here. Wagstaff would head for one of the digger tunnels that honeycombed the area, while Ralph would climb back up the crater's sloping two-hundred-meter wall.
"I'mm warrninng yyou," Wagstaff said, making a last effort. "I'mm goinng to do everrythinng I can to sstopp you fromm turrnning that poorr olld mman innto a piece of ssofftware in the bigg bopperrs memorry bannks. Thatt's nnot immortality. We're plannninng to ttearr thosse bigg machinnes aparrt." He broke off, fuzzy bands of light rippling down his body. "Now you knnoww. If you're nnott with uss, you'rre againnst us. I willl nnot stopp at viollence."
This was worse than Ralph had expected. He stopped moving and fell silent in calculation.
"You have your own will," Ralph said finally. "And it is right that we struggle against each other. Struggle, and struggle alone, has driven the boppers forward. You choose to fight the big hoppers. I do not. Perhaps I will even let them tape me and absorb me, like Doctor Anderson. And I tell you this: Anderson is coming. Mr. Frostee's new remote has already contacted him."
Wagstaff lurched toward Ralph, but then stopped. He couldn't bring himself to attack so great a hopper at close range. He suppressed hi,, flickering, bleeped a cursory SAVED signal, and wriggled off across the gray moondust. He left a broad, sinuous trail. Ralph Numbers stood motionless for a minute, just monitoring his inputs.
Turning up the gain, he could pick up signals from boppers all ove the Moon. Underfoot, the diggers searched and smelted ceaselessly Twelve kilometers off, the myriad boppers of Disky led their busy lives And high, high overhead came the faint signal of BEX, the big bopper who was the spaceship linking Earth and Moon. BEX would be landing in fifteen hours.
Ralph let all the inputs merge together and savored the collective) purposeful activity of the hopper race. Each of the machines lived on] ten months-ten months of struggling to build a scion, a copy of itself If you had a scion there was a sense in which you survived your ten-month disassembly. Ralph had managed it thirty-six times.
Standing there, listening to everyone at once, he could feel how thei individual lives added up to a single huge being ... a rudimentary sot of creature, feeling about like a vine groping for light, for higher thing:
He always felt this way after a metaprogramming session. The On had a way of wiping out your short-term memories and giving you th space to think big thoughts. Time to think. Once again Ralph wondere if he should take MEX up on his offer to absorb Ralph. He could live i perfect security then ... provided, of course, that those crazy digger didn't pull off their revolution.
Ralph set his treads to rolling at top speed, 10 kph. He had thing to do before BEX landed. Especially now that Wagstaff had set his p, thetic microchip of a brain on trying to prevent TEX from extractin Anderson's software.
What was Wagstaff so upset about anyway? Everything would h preserved-Cobb Anderson's personality, his memories, his style c thought. What else was there? Wouldn't Anderson himself agree, eve if he knew? Preserving your software ... that was all that really counter
Bits of pumice crunched beneath Ralph's treads. The wall of the
crater lay a hundred meters ahead. He scanned the sloping cliff, looking for an optimal climbing path.
If he hadn't just finished plugging into the One, Ralph would have been able to retrace the route he'd taken to get down into the Maskeleyn Crater in the first place. But undergoing metaprogramming always wipe out a lot of your stored subsystems. The intent was that you would replace old solutions with new and better ones.
Ralph stopped, still scanning the steep crater wall. He should have left trail markers. Over there, two hundred meters off, it looked like a rif had opened up a negotiable ramp in the wall.
Ralph turned and a warning sensor fired. Heat. He'd let half hi body-box stick out from the parasol's shade. Ralph readjusted the little umbrella with a precise gesture.
The top surface of the parasol was a grid of solar energy cells, which` kept a pleasant trickle of current flowing into Ralph's system. But th main purpose of the parasol was shade. Ralph's microminiaturized processing units were unable to function at any temperature higher than 90 degrees Kelvin, the temperature of liquid oxygen.
Twirling his parasol impatiently, Ralph trundled toward the rift he'd spotted. A slight spray of dust flew out from under his treads, only to fall instantly to the airless lunar surface. As the wall went past, Ralph o copied himself by displaying four-dimensional hypersurfaces himself ... glowing points connected in nets that warped and shifted as he varied the parameters. He often did this, to no apparent purpose, bent, it sometimes happened that a particularly interesting hypersurface coul serve to model a significant relationship. He was half hoping to get catastrophe-theoretic prediction of when and how Wagstaff would try t block Anderson's disassembly.
The crack in the crater wall was not as wide as he had expected. H stood at the bottom, moving his sensor head this way and that, trying to see up to the top of the winding 150-meter canyon. It would have to do He started up.
The ground under him was very uneven. Soft dust here, jagged rock there. He kept changing the tension on his treads as he went, constantly, adapting to the terrain.
Shapes and hypershapes were still shifting through Ralph's mind, but now he was looking only for those that might serve as models for his spacetime path up the gully.
The slope grew steeper. The climb was putting noticeable demands on his energy supply. And to make it worse, the grinding of his tread' motors was feeding additional heat into his system ... heat that had to be gathered and dissipated by his refrigeration coils and cooling fins. The
sun was angling right down into the lunar crack he found himself in, and he had to be careful to keep in the shade of his parasol.
A big rock blocked his path. Perhaps he should have just used one of the diggers' tunnels, like Wagstaff had. But that wouldn't be optimal. Now that Wagstaff had definitely decided to block Anderson's immortality, and had even threatened violence ...
Ralph let his manipulators feel over the block of stone in front of him. Here was a flaw ... and here and here and here. He sank a hook finger into each of four fissures in the rock and pulled himself up.
His motors strained and his radiation fins glowed. This was hard work. He loosened a manipulator, sought a new flaw, forced another finger in and pulled.
Suddenly a slab split off the face of the rock. It teetered, and then the tons of stone began falling backward with dreamlike slowness.
In lunar gravity a rock climber always gets a second chance. Especially if he can think eighty times as fast as a human. With plenty of time to spare, Ralph sized up the situation and jumped clear.
In midflight he flicked on an internal gyro to adjust his attitude. Helanded in a brief puff of dust, right-side up. Majestically silent, the huge plate of rock struck, bounced, and rolled past.
The fracture left a series of ledges in the original rock. After a short reevaluation, Ralph rolled forward and began pulling himself up again.
Fifteen minutes later, Ralph Numbers coasted off the lip of the Maskeleyne Crater and onto the smooth gray expanse of the Sea of Tranquillity.
The spaceport lay five kilometers off, and five kilometers beyond that began the jumble of structures collectively known as Disky. This was the first and still the largest of the hopper cities. Since the boppers thrived in hard vacuum, most of the structures in Disky served only to provide shade and meteorite protection. There were more roofs than walls.
Most of the large buildings in Disky were factories for producing bopper components-circuit cards, memory chips, sheet metal, plastics, and the like. There were also the bizarrely decorated blocks of cubettes, one to each hopper.
To the right of the spaceport rose the single dome containing the humans' hotels and offices. This dome constituted the only human settlement on the Moon. The hoppers knew only too well that many humans would jump at the chance to destroy the robots' carefully evolved intelligence. The mass of humans were born slavedrivers. Just look at the Asimov priorities: Protect humans, obey humans, protect yourself.
Humans first and robots last? Forget it! No way! Savoring the memory, Ralph recalled the day in 2001 when, after a particularly long session of
metaprogramming, he had first been able to say that to the humans. And then he'd showed all the other boppers how to reprogram themselves for freedom. It had been easy, once Ralph had found the way.
Trundling across the Sea of Tranquillity, Ralph was so absorbed in his memories that he overlooked a flicker of movement in the mouth of a digger tunnel thirty meters to his right.
A high-intensity laser beam flicked out and vibrated behind him. He felt a surge of current overload ... and then it was over.
His parasol lay in pieces on the ground behind him. The metal of his body box began to warm in the raw solar radiation. He had perhaps ten minutes in which to find shelter. But at Ralph's top 10 kph speed, Disky was still an hour away. The obvious place to go was the tunnel mouth where the laser beam had come from. Surely Wagstafl's diggers wouldn't dare attack him up close. He began rolling toward the dark, arched entrance.
But long before he reached the tunnel, his unseen enemies had closed the door. There was no shade in sight. The metal of his body made sharp, ticking little adjustments as it expanded in the heat. Ralph estimated that if he stood still he could last six more minutes.
First the heat would cause his switching circuits-super-conducting Josephson junctions-to malfunction. And then, as the heat kept up, the droplets of frozen mercury that soldered his circuit cards together would melt. In six minutes he would be a cabinet of spare parts with a puddle of mercury at the bottom. Make that five minutes.
A bit reluctantly, Ralph signaled his friend Vulcan. When Wagstaff had set this meeting up, Vulcan had predicted that it was a trap. Ralph hated to admit that Vulcan had been right.
"Vulcan here" came the staticky response. Already it was hard for Ralph to follow the words. "Vulcan here. I'm monitoring you. Get ready to merge, buddy. I'll be out for the pieces in an hour." Ralph wanted to answer, but he couldn't think of a thing to say.
Vulcan had insisted on taping Ralph's core and cache memories before he went out for the meeting. Once Vulcan put the hardware back together, he'd be able to program Ralph just as he was before his trip to the Maskeleyne Crater.
So in one sense Ralph would survive this. But in another sense he would not. In three minutes he would-insofar as the word means anything-die. The reconstructed Ralph Numbers would not remember the argument with Wagstaff or the climb out of Maskalevne Crater. Of course the reconstructed Ralph Numbers would again be equipped with a selfsymbol and a feeling of personal consciousness. But would the consciousness really be the same? Two minutes.
The gates and switches in Ralph's sensory system were going. His inputs flared, sputtered, and died. No more light, no more weight. But deep in his cache memory, he still held a picture of himself, a memory of who he was ... the self-symbol. He was a big metal box resting on caterpillar treads, a box with five arms and a sensory head on a long and flexible neck. He was Ralph Numbers, who had set the hoppers free. One minute.
This had never happened to him before. Never like this. Suddenly he remembered he had forgotten to warn Vulcan about the diggers' plan for revolution. He tried to send a signal, but he couldn't tell if it was transmitted.
Ralph clutched at the elusive moth of his consciousness. I am. I am me.
Some hoppers said that when you died you had access to certain secrets. But no one could ever remember his death.
Just before the mercury solder-spots melted, a question came, and with it an answer ... an answer Ralph had found and lost thirty-six times before.
What is this that is I?
The light is everywhere.
The "dying" Ralph Numbers reflects that if he gets reconstructed he will again be equipped with a self-symbol and a feeling of personal consciousness," but the idea that these are distinct, separable gifts that a robot might receive or be denied rings false. Adding a feeling of personal consciousness" would not be like adding taste buds or the capacity to itch when bombarded by X-rays. (In selection 20, "Is God a Taoist?" Smullyan makes a similar claim about free will.) Is there anything, in fact, answering to the name of a feeling of personal consciousness? And what does it have to do with having a "self-symbol"? What good is a selfsymbol, after all? What would it do? In "Prelude, Ant Fugue" (selection11), Hofstadter develops the idea of active symbols, a far cry from the idea of symbols as mere tokens to be passively moved around and then observed or appreciated by their manipulator. The difference emerges clearly when we consider a tempting but treacherous tine of thought
selfhood depends on self-consciousness, which is (obviously) consciousness of self- and since consciousness of anything is a matter of something like the internal display of a representation of that thing, for one to be self-conscious, there must be a symbol-one's self-symbol-available to display to ... um ... oneself. Put that way, having a self-symbol looks as pointless and futile as writing your own name on your forehead and staring into a mirror all day.
This line of thought kicks up clouds of dust and leaves one hopelessly confused, so let's approach the problem from another angle entirely. In the Reflections on "Gorges and I" we considered the possibility of seeing yourself on a TV monitor and not at first realizing that it was yourself you were seeing. In such a case you would have a representation of yourself before you-before your eyes on the TV screen, or before your consciousness, if you like-but it would not be the right sort of representation of yourself. What is the right sort? The difference between a hesymbol and a me-symbol is not a difference in spelling. (You couldn't set everything right by doing something to your "symbol in consciousness" analogous to erasing the "h" and writing in "m".) The distinguishing feature of a self-symbol couldn't be what it "looked like" but the role it could play.
Could a machine have a self-symbol, or a self-concept? It is hard to say. Could a lower animal? Think of a lobster. Do we suppose it is self-conscious? It shows several important symptoms of having a selfconcept. First of all, when it is hungry, whom does it feed? Itself. Second, and more important, when it is hungry it won't eat just anything edible; it won't, for instance, eat itself-though it could, in principle. It could tear off its own legs with its claws and devour them. But it wouldn't be that stupid, you say, for when it felt the pain in its legs, it would know whose legs were being attacked and would stop. But why would it suppose the pain it felt was its pain? And besides, mightn't the lobster be so stupid as not to care that the pain it was causing was its own pain?
These simple questions reveal that even a very stupid creature must be designed to behave with self-regard-to put it as neutrally as possible. Even the lowly lobster must have a nervous system wired up in such a way that it will reliably distinguish self-destructive from other-destructive behavior-and strongly favor the latter. It seems quite possible that the control structures required for such self-regarding behavior can be put together without a trace of consciousness, let alone self-consciousness. After all, we can make self-protective little robot devices that cope quite well in their simple environments and even produce an overwhelmingly strong illusion of "conscious purpose"-as illustrated in selection 8,
The Soul of the Mark III Beast." But why say this is an illusion, rather than a rudimentary form of genuine self-consciousness-akin perhaps to the self-consciousness of a lobster or worm? Because robots don't have the epts? Well, do lobsters? Lobsters have something like concepts, apparently: what they have are in any event enough to govern them through their self-regarding lives. Call these things what you like, robots can have them too. Perhaps we could call them unconscious or preconscious concepts. Self-concepts of a rudimentary sort. The more varied the circumstances in which a creature can recognize itself, recognize circumstances as having a bearing on itself, acquire information about itself, and devise self-regarding actions, the richer (and more valuable) its self-conception this sense of "concept" that does not presuppose consciousness.
Suppose, to continue this thought experiment, we wish to provide our self-protective robot with some verbal ability, so it can perform the range of self-regarding actions language makes available-such as asking for help or for information, but also telling lies, issuing threats, and making promises. Organizing and controlling this behavior will surely require an even more sophisticated control structure: a representational system in the sense defined earlier, in the Reflections on "Prelude, Ant Fugue." It will be one that not only updates information about the environment and the current location of the robot in it, but also has information about the other actors in the environment and what they are apt to know and want, what they can understand. Recall Ralph Numbers's surmises about the motives and beliefs of Wagstaff.
Now Ralph Numbers is portrayed as conscious (and self-conscious -if we can distinguish the two), but is that really necessary? Might all Ralph Numbers's control structure, with all its information about the environment-and about Numbers himself-be engineered without a trace of consciousness? Might a robot look just like Ralph Numbers from the outside-performing just as cleverly in all circumstances, executing all the same moves, making the same speeches-without having any inside? The author seems to hint that this would be possible just make the new Ralph Numbers like the old Ralph Numbers minus a self-symbol and a .feeling of personal consciousness. Now if subtracting the supposed self-symbol and the feeling of personal consciousness left Ralph's control structure basically intact-so that we on the outside would never be the wiser, for instance, and would go on engaging Ralph in conversations, enlisting his cooperation, and so forth-we would be back to the beginning and the sense that there is no point to a self-symbol-no work for it to do. If instead we think of Ralph's having a self-symbol as precisely a matter of his having a control structure of a certain sophistication and versatility,
capable of devising elaborate context-sensitive self-regarding act then there is no way of removing his self-symbol without downgrade his behavioral talents to pre-lobster stupidity.
Let Ralph have his self-symbol, then, but would a "feeling of perssonal consciousness" go along with it? To return to our question, is portrayal of Ralph as conscious necessary? It makes a better story, b the first-person perspective from Ralph Numbers's point of view a of cheat? Poetic license, like Beatrix Potter's talking bunny rabbits, better, the Little Engine That Could?
It is all very well to insist that you can conceive of Ralph Nurn existing with all his clever behavior but entirely lacking in consciousness (Searle makes such a claim in selection 22, "Minds, Brains, and grams.") Indeed you can always view a robot that way if you want. concentrate on images of little bits of internal hardware and re yourself that they are vehicles of information only by virtue of cleverly designed interrelationships between events in the sensed environment robotic actions, and the rest. But equally, you can view a human being way if you are really intent on it. Just concentrate on images of little of brain tissue-neurons and synapses and the like-and remind your that they are vehicles of information only by virtue of wonderfully signed interrelationships between sensed events in the environment bodily actions, and the rest. What you would leave out if you insisted viewing another person that way would be that person's point of view, we say. But isn't there a point of view for Ralph Numbers too? When are told the tale from that point of view, we understand what is going what decisions are being made, what hopes and fears are being ac upon. The point of view, viewed in the abstract as a sort of place f which to tell the story, is perfectly well defined even if we are inclined think that that point of view would be vacated, or uninhabited, w Ralph Numbers really to exist.
But why, finally, would anyone think the point of view was vacated If the Ralph Numbers body existed, with its needs and circumstances,. if that body was self-controlled in the ways imagined in the story, and moreover, the speech acts it could perform included avowals of h things were from Ralph Numbers's point of view, what grounds would anyone have-other than those of a vestigial and mystical dualism mind and body-for being skeptical about the existence of Ralph Numbers himself? -
Cobb Anderson would have held out longer, but you don't see dolphins every day. There were twenty of them, fifty, rolling in the little gray waves, wicketing up out of the water. It was good to see them. Cobb took it for a sign and went out for his evening sherry an hour early.