Wednesday, May 17, 2006

The hive model

David Brin's book Kiln People describes a near future dominated by the use of "dittos" -- copies you make of yourself (sometimes with specialized or limited abilities) which have a 24-hour lifespan, and which can, if they make it back, "inload" their memories back into your original body ("archie").

In the book most people will create a few "dits" (copies, or dittos) in the morning to do whatever they need done that day, then the archie goes about whatever they want to do that day, and at the end of the day the dits come back and inload. The archie body is preserved carefully; it's the single point of failure. But many people still think of it as the "real me", even though what the dits are doing and thinking ends up (assuming they make it home to inload) just as much a part of their experience and memory.

We meet one character who has chosen a different model for life: the hive. Her archie stays in one place and does nothing other than keep itself in good physical and mental shape, and imprint a bewildering variety of dits and inload them, an almost constant stream of dits coming and going. Everything she does and all her experiences and memories, essentially, come from one of her many dits. Her archie is the hive queen; her dits are the hive. The main character considers this approach kind of creepy and unorthodox.

But if kiln technology were available now, I feel sure I would go to the hive model right off. It's the only one that makes sense to me. The archie isn't any more the real me than any other body; to me it'd be the one of my bodies that had the narrowest and most specialized purpose, the one whose job is to coordinate and collate memories. As the single point of failure, it would be my highest priority to maintain it so it could keep doing its job. It'd be foolish to put it to even the slight risk of having it do anything even slightly unsafe when I could have dits to do that.

Assuming I could afford it, at any given time I'd have at a minimum the following hive.
  • Archie: First priority for the archie is keeping fit and safe. Any time left to spare would be spent in relaxing pastimes: reading, playing games, etc.
  • Guard: I'd have at least one dit (probably a general-purpose grey) always with the archie, tending to the archie's needs and standing guard over it.
  • Worker: One inexpensive green dit to do household chores and other mundane work. This is probably the only one that I wouldn't be happy to wake up as; however, greens are made with a slightly simpler mind that's more willing to do this kind of work, and as they say, "Some days you're the grasshopper and some days you're the ant."
  • Office: A highly focused ebony dit to go to work. Might seem like I wouldn't be happy waking up as this one, but really, I enjoy my work, and would enjoy it even more if I knew I could focus on it without worrying about other things needing to get done.
  • Learner: One dit per day, probably a grey or maybe a yellow, whose sole purpose is learning. He'd spend the day reading, taking classes, researching, and reading some more, then inload all that he learned.
  • Player: One dit per day who spent the whole day playing games. So many kinds of fun there are to have that I don't have time to have, and this dit's job would be to have the time, and have the fun.
  • To Do List: And one dit, in whatever color/model I needed for that day, to work on my to-do list, whatever projects weren't being attended to by one of the others. Taking satisfaction from getting things done.
This is of course the bare minimum. In each case, it's tempting to have two of each type. Two office dits would let one handle the constant stream of interruptions and emergencies while the other could focus on project work, for instance.

One interesting possibility that occurred to me is self-brainstorming. Often when I'm designing a program, I'm working on three different directions: the user interface, the data structures, and the algorithm. I'll focus on one for a bit and then bounce to another and then bounce back because ideas I've had in one area affect the other. Sometimes I've got ideas I need to capture in all three at once and I have to focus on one because I can only think and scribble so fast. I think my paradigm of thought when I'm doing this would scale very well to parallel processing: imagine three ebony dits of me, one working on each of the three aspects. If the one working on the data structure realizes a need to change the underlying data design in a way that will affect the user interface, he can tell the one working on the user interface and then keep working on his own thoughts without interrupting their stream, while the one working on the user interface can incorporate the change and continue on his own stream of design. I think I could achieve a synergy this way allowing me to get more than three times as much done in a given period of time, and produce a better result besides.

The central premise of the book is a little implausible compared to most Brin work, but it's a MacGuffin; the book's purpose is to explore the issues of identity and personhood through the premise. Even so, I do find myself wishing for that advance. I think I'm the kind of person who would adapt to the paradigm change and flourish with it.

1 comment:

litlfrog said...

I think this is the science fiction world I'd most like to live in. One of my (and most people's) biggest problems in life is not enough time. Creating dits would solve that problem so well! I'm glad you're enjoying the book; it's actually the only Brin novel I've read.