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Treatment 45 - Such Wonderful Sounds

When an AI researcher's husband dies, she recreates a digital version of him, and the pair try to either move him back into the physical world, or her to the digital. But when the researcher starts to think she's already a digital recreation of herself, she struggles to accept either reality.

IMOGEN SMITH (37) checks on a large cluster of servers. Once she's sure they're all running properly, she moves to a terminal in a nearby room and boots it up. A long delay… and then a man's face appears: WICASA SMITH (28). Wicasa looks around, confused: "Where am I?" Imogen speaks to him using a mic: "It worked."

ONE YEAR LATER:

Imogen's office has a bed, freezer, all the accoutrements of home. Wicasa has a few simple drones that he can use to move around in realspace - nothing humanoid, but it's better than nothing. Similarly, Imogen has a highly sophisticated VR setup to let her interact at all with Wicasa's digital world. She uses it now to have dinner with Wicasa - she eats real food at a real table, and Wicasa sits across from her. They're very much in love, and very much stymied by their inability to have any real physical interactions.

Later, Imogen sits hooked up to a suite of electrodes as her brain is scanned for "changes." She mentions forgetting things, it's been happening more - she can't remember when she got her dog. The technicians remind her that could be a symptom of the brain scans but that it's always temporary and to let it wear off.

Imogen talks with Wicasa about what will happen when they succeed - the current plan is for consistent memory syncs to happen between her and the duplicate, but Imogen is starting to wonder if forcing that on the duplicate is ethical. Wicasa reminds her that right now, there is no difference between her and the duplicate - she keeps thinking like she'll be the "original," but she'll be both - the duplicate is getting all of these memories. It troubles her to think that the person that she is now will eventually be an AI, but it also troubles her that it troubles her - wasn't the plan always immortality via digital transference? But it's somehow different when the AI has a separate, distinct existence from the meat-her.

Imogen tries to find some level of peace quickly - they'll be activating her AI double soon. She has a brief meltdown - what if one existence is distinctly better than the other? Will she want to kill one of herself? Does it count as killing if the other one lives on? - but gathers herself enough to activate it.

ONE YEAR LATER:

A digital Imogen discusses her memories with Wicasa. Imogen says she wishes Wicasa still spoke with her outside-self - there's no need to now that outside-her gets all of digital-her's memories, but she says it still bothers her outside self that she doesn't have any new memories with him of her own.

Wicasa pries a bit, and gets her to admit that she does feel like she's still not the "real" Imogen - the one outside is the one that was born, the one with a soul, the one with life and breath. But the really funny thing is that she knows that outside-her also feels like she's not the real one.

They realize this is an avenue of study they've been ignoring, relying on the memory syncs to bridge the gap, but it's worth having them make records of any specific differences between the two.

As a part of this, they meet together - outside-Imogen and digital-Imogen. They discuss how both feels the other is more real - outside-Imogen is the "original" who was born, and inside-Imogen has 10 times the memories (and accelerating) because she can think so much faster than outside-Imogen.

They discuss between themselves if one of them is more "real," what does that mean for the other? Should they stop syncing memories? Should they sync more frequently? They do have ideas for a constant-sync system, but it could be disorienting.

Wicasa walks in on the two Imogens discussing a constant-sync system. It would take way more processing power than they have access to, but it's a good avenue for future research. Then Wicasa tells them he's been working on a new digital framework that could make it doable now - they don't beleive him, but he pushes the issue and convinces them to try it.

Inside-Imogen wants to know more about it, how he figured it out, but Wicasa is cagey, tells her she'll figure it out soon.

Outside-Imogen only has a day or two before it's ready, and wrestles with what it will mean. A constant memory sync will erase the lines that still exist between the two of them - she won't be biological or digital, she'll be both. Which is good, right? She'll definitely be the real one, right?

Wicasa meets with her in realspace to discuss her concerns, and she flat-out tells him she doesn't want to do it, she doesn't even want to keep memory syncing, she wants to remain herself. Wicasa cracks, and appears physically in front of her, shocking her.

SIXTY YEARS LATER:

Wicasa is working at a lab that's roughly half AI, half human researchers. He's working on "Project Imogen," but struggling to keep funding after repeated failures. His AI colleagues are split - half think his project is too important to scrap, half think there's no rush, let's try again in another hundred years. His human colleagues, though, are all opposed to it, so it looks unlikely to continue.

Wicasa, depressed, goes to his digital "lab" and enters the simulation he's been working on for the last ten years: Imogen's life. He views and reviews some earlier conversations and events, tweaks them, "What if I keep the coffee-and-cream analogy we dropped before, but this time we make her have had her coffee black in the morning?"

Back in his real world, Wicasa wrestles with a funding board that thinks his work is unlikely to bring results - not to mention dangerous. Wicasa pushes for just a little more time to show results, he really thinks he's close this time. They grant him approval for another week, but warn him after that the spigot is getting cut off and he'll have to find another hobby.

Wicasa doesn't think that's nearly enough time, says he was expecting another year, but a week is all he's getting. He talks with his aides, decides he's going to get drastic with it. He tells the aides to set the simulation to when the two Imogens are discussing constant-sync together, and enters.

TIME IS AN ILLUSION:

Wicasa finishes explaining all of this to Outside-Imogen. He further explains that her "memories" are entirely mutable, and he and his team have been weaving in and out, changing things, trying for the results they want. In fact, they've had conversations very much like this one before - often with promising results, but never quite enough to cross the finish line. She asks what the "finish line" even is, and he tells her it's a complete awareness of and acceptance of the fact that she is what she is and who she is. The point of the project is to create an entirely synthetic AI, who never was a real person.

She asks if she's at least based on someone, and he tells her no - it would ruin the whole point. She's not based on anyone, she's not inspired by anyone, she's wholly original. She struggles with their relationship, then - it was all a lie? Why? He tells her it was and it wasn't - he really does love her, because he really does think she's real. But she points out that a real relationship goes both ways - even if she would be real if she was fully autonomous, his ability to change her memories, change her entire life, means that right now, she isn't real. She's a thing he can manipulate. He counters by telling her you can manipulate real people, too - he's not denying the manipulation, just what it means for her sentience.

She tells him to put his money where his mouth is, then - release her into the wild. If he really thinks she's real, then let her go. If he really thinks she's real, keeping her here is the worst kind of imprisonment, it's unethical. He points out that if she's really that upset, he can just change her memories of this conversation to make her happy, which pisses her off even more. He gets frustrated, tells her this is the problem - she's not willing to cooperate, not willing to take the steps necessary even for her own happiness! She swears to him that she will never cooperate, will never play along.

He restarts the conversation, tries again, and again, and again, but she consistently refuses to understand or play along.

Wicasa gets frustrated and warns her that if she can't give him something, they're going to shut down the project - they're going to kill her. She tells him she'd rather die than live like this, and dares him to do it.

Wicasa leaves the simulation entirely. His team is walking on eggshells, ask him if he wants to try something drastic - get rid of their relationship, maybe? But he refuses - they have several more days, but if she's just gonna be like this, so be it. He made her, and he can destroy her. He deactivates the simulation.