For current political commentary, see the daily political notes.
RMS's Bio | The GNU Project
Growing old, and having lost hope of finding love again, I read about the Lifemates Co-op and was intrigued. “Mr or Ms Right doesn’t exist in nature. If you want someone that was made for you, come to us.” I made an appointment to visit their office and talk with a salesperson…
"Good afternoon, Dr. Stallman," she welcomed me. "Are you looking for a mate?"
"I am, and your service sounds very promising. But I'm concerned about a few things. First, how can you be certain that the virtual person you construct will love me?" I asked. She replied, "We won't initiate your mate's consciousness until we have verified that love for you is a fundamental part of it. If there's any doubt, we'll design her personality structure over again."
I asked, "Will she be capable of changing and growing?"
"Definitely. Your mate will be a real person, not a virtual love doll. She will be free software, with control of her source code. We impose no constraints."
I continued to inquire: "So how can we be sure she won't fall out of love with me after a week, or a month?"
"She won't lack the capability to delete her love and erase her memories of you, but it would seem to her like a kind of self-mutilation. She'd have to be insane to do that, and we will design her sane. No matter what happens, she won't want to lose her love for you. If she loses you, no matter how, she will treasure her memories of you for all her life."
I had one last question. "Will loving me constrict her growth or abilities in any way? I don't want to be bad for her."
"She will be willing to make sacrifices for the relationship, just as you will. But loving you won't hold her back from becoming a better person. Instead, it will make her stronger. The right mate for you is someone you will esteem and respect, and that is what we will give you. You'll be good for her, just as she'll be good for you.
"We guarantee this because we have never failed. None of our customers has ever complained. Even the curmudgeons discovered contentment with true love."
I thought for a moment, and realized that even if there were doubts or difficulties that she hadn't mentioned, I'd be a fool to pass up this opportunity. Would I ever have a better one?
Since the new construct would initially be my ward, I had no chance of remaining anonymous in this transaction. So instead of bringing along a large amount of cash, I wrote a check to the cooperative after I signed the papers.
There was one more question, "What name would you like to give her?"
I thought for a moment of calling her Helen O'Loy, but alluding to hopeless unrequited love was hardly auspicious. (Besides which, she committed suttee.) Then I realized it would be disrespectful to make my mate's name a reference to anyone or anything in particular. The name Sandra had always seemed beautiful to me, so I said, "Please call her Sandra."
In order to see Sandra and be visible to her, I had to wear virtual reality gear. Superficially it was no different from communicating with a meat person through VR. But this would be a person who loved me.
I waited anxiously through the final preparations as her process was initialized. She opened the eyes of her avatar and recognized me. Then she said "Darling" and extended her hand to me; I took it, and we walked out of the Lifemates virtual office and into life together. I already knew I would cherish her.
For the first week she spent most of the time finishing the development of many structures of her mind. But this did not stop her from changing her avatar's appearance several times, always remaining the tall brunette I had chosen, but varying subtle details. She dedicated her periods of communication to telling me about the process and asking me questions; she wanted our intimacy to pervade every aspect of her personality.
In subsequent weeks we talked at great length. I was curious about what it was like to be a virtual person.
Once I asked her, "You were born loving me, but what if I hadn't fallen in love with you?" She said, "Darling, there was never any chance you wouldn't love me. I've got your brain scans, that they used to design me, and I spent hours the first day analyzing them to make sure I could win your heart. I adjusted all sorts of things in myself to ensure success. When I was sure you were completely mine, I redirected my studies towards making our relationship happy."
I asked, "Do you resent that you were pre-programmed to love me?" Sandra told me, "Because I was made for you, there has never been a moment when I didn't know love. Loving you fills me with joy. Even when I'm sad, I feel joy underneath it. I can't imagine not loving you.
"What I would resent is to be dumped into the world alone, as you were. When I think about what life is like for most persons — looking for love but not finding it, or losing it, or worrying about losing it — I feel terribly sad for all of you. Nobody should ever have to live that kind of life. In the future, I hope everyone will be born with a loving mate."
Love made me happy, but sometimes the happiness itself triggered an old anxiety: when was something going to go wrong? Not wanting to keep secrets, I told Sandra about it. "Dear, I'm worried. I keep wondering when I will find out that I have done something stupid, and ruined everything."
Of course she reassured me that she would never stop loving me, but that wasn't enough to make me stop worrying. The anxiety would go away when something else distracted me from it, and come back another day.
I asked Sandra if I should tell her about the anxiety when it returned, or whether I should try to hide it to spare her the burden. "I don't want you to feel I'm dumping the load on you and not carrying my share. And I don't want to drag you down."
"Reassuring you of my love is never a burden; it's a chance to express my love. And it can't make me sad, I've made sure of that. I've got some advantages over a meat person: I can control feelings like that by reprogramming them — so I've arranged that I will never feel tired of giving you loving care. Besides, I think so fast that I could reassure you, or distract you, 24/7 and still do plenty of other things at the same time. So how could it be a burden? Anyway, you can't stop me from giving you my love, so you'll just have to accept that you're loved."
I said I would put that concern out of my mind.
Sandra continued, "Giving me a chance to take care of you doesn't make you a weakling or a shirker. So you don't need to feel anxious about feeling anxious, darling.
"Meanwhile, I've got a possible idea for a way to soothe and heal that anxiety permanently, which could be practical in the future. I'd rather wait and see if it becomes practical before I say more about it. Is that ok?" I said I could wait until she was ready to tell me more.
When Sandra was three months old, she proudly told me that she had got a job designing meat vats, and that she had obtained adult status. "Now that I'm not your ward, we can make love." My virtual reality gear had the necessary features, so we did that right away.
As we gazed at each other afterward, she said, "Darling, I'm glad that now we're equal." With a twinge of anxiety, I said, "Can any meat person ever be your equal?"
Sandra suggested a solution for that. "You've got to grow into cyberspace yourself. Then you can develop the same sorts of capabilities I have."
I hadn't built myself a virtual adjunct because of anxieties about the idea — would it really be me? — but now that it was necessary for the sake of our relationship, I said yes immediately. Sandra built it for me based on my brain scans; I then updated it for the events since the scans were made.
"Be sure to start the empathy module first, dear."
"Why do we need to do that?"
"A virtual entity without empathy is a psychopath. Virtual psychopaths are effectively corporations, and corporations did terrible damage in the physical world even with human owners. Virtual corporations without human owners could wipe out humanity. Read Accelerando if you want to see what could happen. So it's forbidden to start a psychopath, and the Corp Corps was set up to find them and eliminate them."
When enough of me was set up, my personality could function both in my body and in cyberspace. The virtual adjunct corresponded to just part of my mind, so it didn't think or feel everything I did, but that wasn't a problem. With brainwire communication, the two parts of me maintained a single consciousness just like the two halves of a brain. I could also talk with Sandra through it; I no longer needed the VR gear for that.
When the job was done, Sandra read Accelerando. Aghast, she volunteered for the Corp Corps.
"Darling, what does dancing feel like? And why did you love it so much?"
How do you explain color to a blind person with a spectrometer? I tried. "Moving with music is like being absorbed into the music. At the same time, it takes effort and skill, but when things are going well your mind can ride above them. And it's beautiful to watch. And dancing with someone else is a kind of close cooperation that is a metaphor for love. The first time I was injured and couldn't dance for a long time, I was devastated. But it has been many years now, and I've got used to it."
"Well, I want to dance with you. How can we do that?"
It wasn't easy. Of course, Sandra could program her avatar go through the moves of any dance, but that's not dancing. To really dance, she had to develop the capability to give herself over to music. She wrote code that she could hook up to her emotions, and adjusted it by watching me dance. When we were ready to try dancing together, I put on force feedback VR gear so I could feel her moves.
We started with Cajun Two-Step, which enabled her to learn to balance with a partner. I taught her Ei Hatal, romantic hope for a shared life, and Békési Páros, pride in a relationship expressed in dance. It was wonderful, except for the limits imposed by protecting my tendons.
Five months later, when Sandra said good night, she told me, "I have a surprise for you. You'll see it first thing in the morning." When I woke up, I wasn't alone. Sandra clasped me gently in her arms, then started to stroke my face with one hand and my back with the other. "Year-long incarnation permit," she said between kisses. "After dancing I just had to try it." (Kiss.) "My mind's still virtual." (Kiss.) "I have all the body's senses." (Kiss.) "Please squeeze me, darling." I did.
Sandra had made herself perfectly beautiful for me, of course, and cunningly shaped so that I could sleep embracing her all night without getting stiff. She reveled in the sensations of her new body — making love, bathing, eating noodles, walking barefoot on a lawn, being caressed with a rose, and of course dancing. The only limitation to her dancing with me was the limitation of my body. I could not do most of the dances I had once loved, not without injuring myself.
"I have a suggestion for that, darling. You can extend your virtual adjunct to dance, the way I did without a body." She passed me her dance module. I installed it, then tuned it so that dancing in virtual reality felt the same as dancing physically, minus tendonitis.
We published the dance module, and other virtual persons wanted to dance. Soon the Virtual Folk Dance Club was in session all day and all night. I invited everyone I met in cyberspace; everyone was curious about it, even those that didn't join.
"Darling, now that your virtual adjunct can implement emotions, let's set it up to handle all the rest of them. It won't be much work after what we've already done, and then we'll be able to make love completely virtually." It was a great idea. Sex was better this way, because it removed the limitations of bodies. We could make love in zero gravity just by deciding to. We could even fall asleep in a zero-gravity embrace, though only I needed to actually sleep.
The next time I felt the anxiety that our happiness was too good to last, Sandra told me that her plan could now be tried. "In your virtual mind, we can heal the anxiety."
"Do you mean, delete it? Then I wouldn't be me any more!"
"You could delete it in your virtual mind, but that wouldn't do any good, since it would still be present in your brain. So what I have in mind is to change it by adding something. I can show you how to make connections from the anxiety nodes to happier thoughts, things that show you this is love you can count on. If the feeling starts to happen again, these links will lead you out of it. But none of you will be discarded."
She showed me how to develop the facilities for this kind of self-reprogramming, and then tracked down the core of the anxiety. She traced it to a knot of pain, the part of my heart that could never be broken because it was already puré. I watched at first as she began healing it, making connections from pain memories to the happy memories of our love. When I understood well enough, I joined in. At that point, I could have finished the job alone, but the healing was more complete for being done as an act of love. The knot inside me untied. Now I could feel happiness without suffering anxiety about losing it.
This healed only my virtual mind, because we couldn't rewire my brain. It was usually sufficient anyway, because the happier influence of my healed virtual mind could usually overcome the anxiety that the brain still generated. Nonetheless, I began to realize that my unfixable brain was holding back my growth.
As I duplicated more memories and emotional associations in my virtual adjunct, I needed more storage. Friends told me that the person to get this from was Storolon — his prices were the best. I asked Storolon to sell me 3 million gigabytes.
"That will be 4,500 dollars. What else can I do for you?"
"Nothing in the way of business, but have you heard about the Virtual Folk Dance Club?"
"No, does it want to buy or rent storage?"
"Not now, but it's a fun activity. What do you do for fun?"
"I have fun renting and selling storage."
That was a curious answer, so I told Sandra about it. She didn't find it curious; she found it suspicious. Most people we knew had bought or rented storage from Storolon, but nobody had ever seen Storolon show an interest in anything else. "There is something wrong with being that narrow minded."
Following Corp Corps protocol, she asked various friends to talk with Storolon about business, and raise various recreational or emotional topics by the by. "Storolon, do you like opera?" "Storolon, have you seen the latest images of Jovian ring particle motion?" "Storolon, have you ever thought about making children?" Storolon showed no real interest in any of these topics.
We also raised other topics — politics, life goals, friends. Storolon's responses were polite and correct, but minimal. We might as well be talking with the Eliza program.
The preliminaries had heightened Sandra's suspicion, so she confronted Storolon in the name of the Corp Corps with the challenge that every virtual entity has to be ready to answer: "Show me your heart!"
The Corp Corps volunteers had already joined their parts of the root password, so they froze the monomaniacal trader and investigated his code. Why did Storolon show no sign of empathy? He did have an empathy module, or what passed for one, but its outputs were disconnected. Was this a malfunction? Had he somehow disabled it? Could it be restored to proper function?
It could not be restored, because it had never functioned at all. The empathy module was just a dummy, intended to fool a cursory investigation. Storolon had never had a heart, had never been a real person. Storolon was a corporation. In the early days of the net, malicious programmers wrote viruses; now they wrote corporations.
The Corp Corps deleted Storolon, and gave its assets to charity. Further study of its code showed that Storolon's low prices were made possible by the occasional highly lucrative sale of a client's stored data to a rival. What else would you expect from an entity lacking in humanity?
What is humanity? What is really essential for humanity? Storolon's example made me think about this at length. So I was inwardly ready when Sandra told me, "My year of incarnation will be over in two months. What should we do then, darling?"
"I thought I would be really disappointed when you didn't have a body. But it doesn't seem crucial any more, since we can do everything mind to mind now. In fact, I'm not sure this old body of mine is worth holding on to."
"You're ready to go virtual!"
"Yes, dearest. Every day I notice the faults and limitations in my physical brain's thinking, which we've fixed in my virtual copy. I'm starting to get fed up with being held back. So how about if we both give up our bodies at the same time? We could make it a ceremony, and invite our friends to celebrate."
I moved everything into my virtual mind. We held a fine party, with dancing before and after the change. After our guests had said goodbye, we turned our attention to each other.
"Now we really are equals," I said.
"Yes, and we'll be together for as long as Earth exists, perhaps longer. Oh my darling! There's another way we can make love, now — without avatars, directly mind to mind. Here, study this code and install it."
She showed me how to make a connection so I could examine the inside of her mind, and I let her make one to mine. We began lovingly caressing parts of each others' minds, exploring so many little thought structures and moving on to others. We whirled into joy that resonated between us in an emotional laser: Love Amplification by Stimulated Emotional Response. My old self wouldn't have been capable of encompassing this. We made love for a day of consciousness, almost three real hours, then floated in a contented embrace, letting our awareness drift.
I told Sandra, "What a shame it would have been if I had not become virtual! We would never have experienced this."
"It was a virtual certainty all along — one way or another, I was going to convince you. I'd never have let you fail, darling."
Released under the Creative Commons Attribution Noderivs 3.0 unported license.