Excruciatingly Large Things

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Life Imitates Really Far-Fetched Art

→ by Robokku
On reading Stanislaw Lem's Solaris - a rewarding activity - it might seem that the simulacrum-based goings on can be nothing more than convolouted allegory. So far-fetched are they that one would think their existence, as far as humanity is concerned, is destined to remain firmly in the world of the literary image. But one would be wrong. It seems we may actually be on the brink of one of the more bizarre distopian futures we thought would never happen.

(Minor spoiler warning: a very brief plot summary for Solaris follows, but you'd probably learn as much about it by looking at the back cover. Here goes.)

The story involves some sort of a, well, force - to be appropriately vague - which can probe human consciousnesses and reproduce things and people recorded in the minds it reads. Thus, a man within reach of this force might be visited by a version of a long-lost but well-remembered old friend. The replica would be a walking, talking, - apparently thinking - thing. However, since the source material for the copy is the mind of someone else, anything unknown or forgotten by that someone would have to be left out or extrapolated somehow. Hence discomforting imperfections occur...

I said above that it's an enjoyable thought experiment, but outreaches flying cars and the like in terms of the "that-might-actually-happen" side of things. But I was wrong! The following post regarding the new videogame Battlefield 2142 from Electronic Arts was mentioned on Penny Arcade recently. (It originated on Shack News and was reported on Kotaku.)
"When you open the [Battlefield 2142] box, a big slip of paper falls out first, preceeding any discs or manuals. The slip of paper says, essentially, that 2142 includes monitoring software which runs while your computer is online, and records "anonymous" information like your IP address, surfing habits (probably via cookie scans), and other "computing habits" in order to report this information back to ad companies and ad servers, which generates in-game ads."

From Shack News
Ok, so there could be in-game ads which are a direct result of what I have seen and done online - as my online self, you might say. EA can read the memories from my online mind and regurgitate them right before my eyes.

Of course, those imperfections of Lem's mysterious planet would be even more vivid here. For one thing, the technology would not be super-accurate in guessing what I wanted to see on the billboards of the Battlefield, but perhaps more telling is that the ads I see will be aimed at my real self - not just the online part. However, they'd be derived only from my web-based activities. I would be existing in a world where I'd be treated to a personalized existence filled with personalized entities, all catering perfectly for a crude interpretation of myself created by a being completely unlike me. And, as Lem makes apparent, that would be rubbish.

Oh yeah, and Penny Arcade did a nice cartoon about this story. Take a look.

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