As the last seats were taken, he stepped out unto the stage and gave the microphone a quick test. Far too many times the sound system had failed during campus events, much to everybody’s embarrassment and disapproval. It was a smaller crowd, and it only took one cleared throat before it quieted.
“Good Afternoon. I’d like to thank you all for joining me today. Especially the undergrad students in the back who are only here to fulfill an academic requirement posted by their professors.” A polite guffaw swept through the crowd, and a few faces blushed and smiled. More than a few members of the audience were too busy copying word-for-word the contents of the first slide to get the joke.
Allen took a deep breath in. It stopped the trembling a little bit. The auditorium smelled like a pool hall. Chalk. That’s what it was.
“Today, I’d like to present our project’s findings. After a year of trials and experiments, our team’s proud to present to you the world’s very first inorganic, artificial brain: a nearly perfect electronic emulation of what makes the very essence of the man you see presently before you, down to the molecular level.”
The crowd maintained its silence as a rather large computer tower was wheeled in from stage left. A minute or two was spent fumbling with the power cords and connectors. Allen elected a nervous, but prepared, stalling via filling in the audience with general information.
“Resting in a semi-dormant state, deep within this processor, lies a sentient consciousness. One that resembles myself in all ways but physical.”
The screen lit up with a program display. Lines of code ran at blindingly fast speed. A few drivers were run, and the sound of a test beep was emitted from the speakers.
“Hi, me!” the computer replied.
A collective rolled over the crowd. Allen couldn’t help but smile a little sheepishly.
“Earlier this week, our team made the final scan. Just a few days ago, we completed the finishing interface touches. It was certainly no easy task, even with months of preparation done ahead of time on a gradual scale. Even so much as learning to scan and emulate the brain of a simple Argentine ant required the development of technology unlike that which the world has ever seen before.
“Perhaps the most difficult element to this procedure was outfitting our new team member here one the screen with the faculties needed to exist comfortably within its new format. After all, by default, it’s highly unnatural for a biological mind to exist in a realm void of it’s biological body.”
On rehearsed cue, the computers voice took the baton. “Ultimately, I was chosen for the scan based off of my psychological profile. My mind was considered the most resilient to the sudden shift in format, and the continued existence outside of a human body. Granted, even if I’ve managed to adjust exceedingly well, I do miss the feeling of wiggling my toes.”
A wave of laughter fell over the crowd. Allen smiled: their expressions weren’t merely from humor, but of delight and awe. So far, so good.
“We believe that a demonstration of sustained intelligence on an electronic format, where every element of a person’s neurons are emulated to perfection, displayed the irrefutable possibility of intelligence occupying formats beyond what we’ve previously defined…”
“…That what we consider to be ‘alive’ doesn’t necessarily require the composition of cells, a construction based entirely off of organic material, or a metabolism. That perhaps an entity that is indisputably “alive”, such as myself, can exist outside of the definitions we’ve held unto for so long…”
“…We believe that our findings have a number of additional applications and startling implications, that can provide fruitful results with additional research. From redefining the core philosophies of ethics, to medical analysis, to developments in neuroscience…”
“… It may even be the key that ultimately unlocks the possibility of fabricating entirely unique artificial intelligences. However, we don’t want to be too hasty in our claims, considering that these advancements are only in their infancy. But we are incredibly optimistic, looking into the possibilities that this project provides.”
With that, Allen smiled, and a smiling face appeared on the screen. They spoke in perfect unison, as practiced.
“Do we have any questions?”
Hands shot up. Allen sat back and let Allen pick hands from the crowd to answer, based off of the video feed provided to him by the camera mounted on the lectern. Most of it was what he was already expecting and had rehearsed before being split. What it felt like to be in the machine. The fear of death. The regret of this new version of himself not being able to return to the normal body. The possibility of determinism. Allen took over most of the conversation, though Allen occasionally interjected with clarifying information. Other colleagues made a remark here or there.
After some of the questions started repeating themselves, both Allens declared the second portion of the demonstration: A Turing test. Randomly selected audience members would participate by holding conversations through a text-messaging system with one of either Allens, while the entirely of the conversation was displayed on the screen. To further enhance participation, audience members were encouraged to vote their opinions over their phones.
When the event was finally finished, the team took to the stage and bowed. The applause was deafening, and further questions were loudly exclaimed, drowning each other out. Allen reassured them that further questions could be submitted to the team’s site, and that he personally would have access to the page, giving audience members who weren’t selected the opportunity to speak to the intelligence. This seemed to satisfy people enough, and after a second round of applause, Allen requested that he be put back into hibernation, and the team went their separate ways.
As Allen managed to escape the lecture hall, a sense of doubt and worry overcame him. It had been bothering him, even on the nights before the final scan took place. From the copy’s perspective, up until the moment of the event, he had been living his normal life. Now, it was residing permanently in its new home; distant from the world from before.
He shook the thought from his head. He knew what he was getting into. He had prepared for it. He had told himself that, should he need to, he could die for this cause. And besides: ultimately, it was for the greater good. A benefit to mankind.