Immersive Virtual Reality: Life as a Binary Sequence

With only one more week to go in the ThReading for Multi-core contest, I thought I'd mention another popular theme that had come up in several of the early entries. That is the idea of being able to copy a person's mind or thought patterns and downloading them into some hardware and be able to simulate life for them.

Robert J. Sawyer's The Terminal Experiment has an experiment set up where three copies of the researcher's mind are set to running in simulations. The twist is that each one has some knowledge left out in order to study what effects Life after Death and Immortality (the third copy is the unaltered baseline) would have on the human psyche. One remarkable part of the novel is that the process that is used to map out the thought patterns is described in a little detail. It's not just hooking someone up to a machine for a few minutes and reading out their memories. (A similar theme appears in Mindscan where the thought patterns of terminal patients are copied and downloaded into robotic bodies.)

The Turing Option by Harrison and Minsky reconstructs a scientist's mind into a CM-10 with a million processors that is installed back into the brainpan, which was damaged by an assassin's bullet. Our intrepid hero is researching artificial intelligence and tries to find who shot him.

Permutation City from Greg Egan is all about downloading yourself into a virtual world and interacting with others there. This raises the question about whether there is any difference between the simulation version and the "real" person. How can you tell which one you are? Other examples of downloaded minds living in virtual reality appear in one of the Heechee novels by Pohl and Accelerando by Charles Stross. In both cases, the downloading was done in order to get a human presence out into the far reaches of space to explore and interact with whatever they found out there.

And then there is "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov. As the universe gets closer and closer to heat death, the minds of the last humans get downloaded into the "AC" to add their knowledge to the great computational engine that is now spread throughout the galaxies.

Has anyone else read anything that has the virtual reality theme or downloaded human minds being run on computer hardware? Was that hardware described as being parallel? If so, get over to the contest website (before 15 SEP 2007) and enter.
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