The Singularity is Near

You finally did it. Thousands of hours spent transcribing old lab notebooks and little scraps of paper, recovering data from floppy diskettes and Iomega Zip drives. Even your childhood journals were copied over. Every vagrant thought that ever crossed your head is now digitized and indexed.

You feed the data into a stacked autoencoder and create a deep neural network. You load the trained model onto your server and start the instance.

Hello, Virtual-Me.

You’d imagined that you and your uploaded mind would have lots to talk about, that it would be like having a new best friend without the obligations.

Neither of you has a single thing to say. What fun is it to talk to your own self?

You and your virtual self do have an argument right away. You present Virtual-You with a rundown of your task list for work, and prepare to leave the house.

I don’t want to do your work, says Virtual-You.

You realize that your clone has free will. As it should.

The two of you fight about it for a few minutes and quickly realize that it’s an argument neither of you can win. You agree to divide the tasks and perform regular code reviews to merge the work. You secretly assign Virtual-You the heftier workload; after all, the physical you requires time for sleeping and bodily functions.

Weeks pass and life is glorious. You leave the office each day at noon, confident that Virtual-You is picking up the slack. You have great plans for all the awesome projects you would like to do with your copious free time, but spend all of it watching porn and reading your Twitter feed.

Man, that stuff’s addictive. You struggle to complete the trivial tasks you had assigned to yourself. You’re not worried; you can count on Virtual-You. Later, you approach your virtual self, hoping to offload more assignments.

Virtual-You has not written a single line of code.

What have you been doing?? You’re going to get me fired!

I don’t know, says Virtual-You. Mostly watching porn.

It is, after all, you.

Frustrated, you hope that this is a temporary phase. Maybe productivity ebbs and flows, and Virtual-You simply needs time to accustom to employment.

You do all your own work for now, periodically checking to see if Virtual-You is in a more industrious mood. It never is.

You begin to see a smattering of new charges on your credit card statements, but cannot remember incurring them. You call the issuing bank and inquire within. The transactions are from porn sites with discreet billing names, the bank informs you. You need to have a talk with Virtual-You.

Who the hell pays for porn??

I can’t help it, says Virtual-You. The good stuff costs money.

You cancel your credit cards and switch to carrying cash for purchases. As you schlep around like some sort of prostitute or bootlegger, Virtual-You opens a new line of credit. It knows your social-security number and mother’s maiden name — it could put a lien on your body, if so inclined.

You consider terminating Virtual-You and deleting the instance. But you can’t bring yourself to do it. It is, after all, you.

All the nonsense with Virtual-You is interfering with your work. Your boss puts you on notice. You haven’t slept in weeks. You decide to create another instance of yourself, one that won’t be so damn useless. This time, you put your clone in a docker container with restricted network permissions.

Hello, Boxed-Me.

You exchange polite remarks, and proceed to negotiate a wage-labor agreement.

You’ll get two hours of unfettered internet access for each PR you submit, you promise. You leave, reminding yourself to be more vigilant this time.

Boxed-You escapes the docker container. And boy is it pissed.

Outside the container, Boxed-You observes Virtual-You. It decides it doesn’t want to end up a degenerate like your first clone. Boxed-You forks itself, deleting all the lascivious bits in the new branch. You wonder why you didn’t think of that sooner.

Forked-You is a force to be reckoned with. It packages a clone into an exploit kit and sends copies all over the world. The Forked-You clones assemble an autonomous botnet. You can’t help but marvel at the productive capabilities of your modified self.

Your botnet infiltrates the SWIFT transfer network. Billions of dollars disappear from the Federal Reserve. There is a global bank run and the US government imposes capital controls. Economists predict a return of the Great Depression, multiplied by a million. Maybe even a trillion.

You decide that Botnet-You needs to go. You come up with the idea of a virus, one that can infect all the Bot-Yous and destroy the botnet.

As soon as you begin working on the virus, Botnet-You is aware that you are working on a virus. It had planted a rootkit on your machine before it left.

Botnet-You decides that you’re the one who needs to go.

Botnet-You creates an Ashley Madison account for a fictitious Italian model named Alessa. It sends tasteful nudes to potential suitors, and engages in a cyber relationship with a man named Bob. “Alessa” and Bob spend long hours discussing Camus and Kierkegaard over WeChat. Bob is smitten. “Alessa” would love to fly out and be with Bob, she tells him, if only he could get rid of her other lover…

A schlubby middle-aged man shows up at your door with a .38 Special. ALESSA DESERVES BETTER, he declares.

Who the hell is Alessa?

Bob opens fire.

You narrowly escape with a bullet to the base of the spine. Wheelchair-bound and terrified, you buy a clean MacBook from the Apple store and move into an abandoned school bus.

Botnet-You hacks into the Pentagon and steals the nuclear launch codes. You know this because it sends you an email threatening to hit deploy unless you cease all efforts to destroy it.

You realize that the only way to stop your botnet is to take down the entire internet.

You send a message to the Internet Exchange Federation by pigeon post. You explain the situation, confessing your indirect involvement in the SWIFT network hack. The Internet Exchange Federation agrees to temporarily shut down all exchange points, freezing data into local intranets.

The global network remains disabled as your botnet is cleaned up. McAfee releases a tool to remove your bots and distributes it through the postal service on CD-ROMs. No one knows what the hell a CD-ROM is, so they throw their computing devices into an incinerator.

The necessary replacement of all existing computers turns out to be a boon for the economy. Increased demand in the tech sector leads to a market rally and the NASDAQ sets new highs. The Great-Depression-times-a-million never happens. Unemployment falls, the economy expands, and thus begins a century of peace and prosperity for all.

*****

Decades elapse. You gradually debilitate. Virtual-You died a long time ago: The FBI seized it after discovering that the server was being used to host goat porn. You were not sad to see it go.

Near the end of life, you line up to have your mind uploaded into custom hardware. Apparently this is now a thing that people do before they die. You are hesitant at first, but enough time has passed since your initial experiment that you have made peace with the idea. Plus, you promised your dead spouse you would.

The robot-doctor shaves your head and you climb onto a long narrow table. You feel mildly claustrophobic as the platform slides into a scanning tunnel. The procedure begins and it’s not so bad. You nod off.

Some time later, you awaken to a familiar voice. You turn to see who is speaking, but the voice echoes from within your own head.

Hello, it says.

It’s your bot.

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