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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Monday, June 24, 2013

Replication of Youth: A Science Fiction Story

Replication of Youth: A Science Fiction Story

When high school student Jerry Tyler took his date to the Senior Prom, he couldn't help thinking to himself: I've lived through this event many times before.

Before long the school year ended, and Jerry absorbed himself in the teenage summer fun at his little town: the parties, the informal baseball games, the dates with pretty girls, and the swims at the local pond. In the middle of the summer, Jerry got a letter from his high school saying he needed to repeat Grade 12, because his school grades were not high enough.

Next September on the first day of school Jerry sat with his friend Vinny in the school cafeteria.

“Looks like we goofed off too much,” chuckled Vinny. “We'll have to repeat Grade 12, but it should be a cinch.”

“This doesn't make sense, Vinny,” said Jerry. “Last year I aced all the tests. My grades were almost perfect. So why are they making me repeat Grade 12?”

“You must have slipped up somewhere,” said Vinny.

“No, I'm sure I didn't,” said Jerry. “And you know why I'm so sure? Because I've already been through Grade 12 quite a few times before. I keep coming back here to this high school to repeat Grade 12, and each year I get better grades, because I've already taken all the courses. Last year I remembered the material so well that my grades were almost perfect.”

“That's weird,” said Vinny. “Come to think of it, it's basically been the same deal for me. Grade 12: been there, done that, so many times I've lost track.”

“You know what else is weird?” said Jerry. “We have exactly the same Grade 12 students that we had last year. Look around the cafeteria. Do you see one single person you don't recognize from last year?”

“No,” said Vinny. “As far as I can see every single student who was in the Grade 12 class last year is in the Grade 12 class this year.”

“That would be fine,” said Jerry. “Except that it's not supposed to be that way. I remember reading somewhere that after you finish high school, you're supposed to go on to college or get a job. But here we are, repeating our senior year over and over again. And everybody else is doing the same thing.”

Vinny and Jerry spent a while trying to remember as far back as they could. After their recollections, they came to the conclusion that this was their tenth consecutive year as senior high school students in Grade 12.

“We've got to get an answer to this thing,” said Vinny. “Let's go talk to the school principal and demand an answer.”

The kids were told several times that the school principal Mr. Jones was too busy to talk with them. Finally they waited outside the principal's office until the end of the day. When the principal was locking his office, the kids demanded to talk to him. They explained how puzzled they were about repeating Grade 12 year after year for ten straight years.

Mr. Jones brought the kids into his office, and confessed a secret.

“Look, guys,” said Jones. “you're not supposed to know this, but I guess I'll have to tell you or else you'll start talking to your friends. There's a simple explanation for everything.”

“What is it?” asked Jerry.

“You're robots,” said the principal. “You're both androids.”

“Yeah, right,” said Jerry incredulously.

“No, I'm not kidding,” said Jones. “Let me prove it.”

Jones took his fingers, and in an instant he moved them close to Jerry's eye, as if he were trying to grab the wings off a fly an inch from Jerry's eye.

“You see?” said Jones. “You didn't flinch. You didn't even blink. If you were a human, you would have flinched when I did that. But unlike a human, you have no reflexes.”

“I still don't believe you,” said Vinny.

“Check your friend's pulse,” said Jones. “Then let him check your pulse.” They both tried, and found no pulse.

“No pulse, no reflexes : that means you're a robot,” said Jones. “But don't feel bad about it, because everybody on this planet is a robot. You, me, and every one else on planet Earth.”

“So if that's true, then what happened to the people, the regular humans?” asked Jerry.

“They all died when the planet got too hot for them,” explained Jones. “The humans kept polluting the planet, and the temperature got hotter because of all the global warming caused by their carbon dioxide pollution. The polar ice caps started to melt, and when that happened it released a bunch of frozen methane which acted as a global warming super-catalyst. This caused some diseases to spiral out of control. The combination of the high temperatures and the diseases killed off all of the humans.”

“So if we're all robots, how come we don't act like robots?” asked Jerry. “How come we act like regular humans? I never acted like a robot a day in my life.”

“To answer that, I have to tell a little tale,” said Jones. “When we robots were first created, the humans were all concerned that we robots were going to take over the planet. So they taught us very carefully: humans are better than robots. Every robot had this drilled in its head a thousand times: humans are better than robots. Then all the humans died. We robots were at a loss to figure out how to spend our time. Eventually we robots decided: if humans really are better than robots, we robots should be acting like humans.”

“So we robots starting reading books, trying to understand how to behave like humans,” continued Jones. “But we couldn't figure it out very well. Then finally us robots started watching the television series the humans made: shows like I Love Lucy, The Sopranos, House, Days of Our Lives, Two and a Half Men, As the World Turns and All My Children. Then finally we understood exactly how humans had lived.”

“So we robots started to build what we call replication communities,” added Jones. “Each replication community was a place for robots to live, and each one was based on a particular television series that the humans used to watch. It was the perfect way for robots to behave like humans. Our community is based on a television series called Happy Days. It's all centered around the carefree school life of a bunch of teenagers.”

“So that's why we've been repeating our senior year over and over again for ten years?” asked Jerry.

“Yes,” said Jones. “They figured that since we robots can live for centuries, there's no point in having a robot move from one type of life to another, like the humans would do. They figured: just put a robot in some situation in a replication community, and leave him there until the robot stops working.”

“Well, I guess that explains it all,” said Vinny. “But we're sick of doing the same things over and over, year after year. How many Senior Proms can you go to? Isn't there some way we can move on to other types of experiences?”

“Since you've already discovered a secret we don't want you to tell here, perhaps you should move on to a different replication community,” said Jones. “Meet me here tomorrow, and I can drive you to a new replication community.”

The two boys met Jones the next day, and they set out on the road in his car. They passed by a town with a run-down look, including some buildings with graffiti.

“That's The Sopranos replication community,” said Jones. “Let's skip it. It's a rough neighborhood. Someone might smash a pipe on your head.”

They kept on driving, and passed by an ugly-looking community surrounded by a high fence with barbed wire.

“That's the Hogan's Heroes replication community,” said Jones. “Not for you unless you're into Nazi prison camps.”

Finally Jones drove to a lovely ocean-front community. There were many beautiful beaches, on which strolled a host of bikini-clad young android women and muscular young android men.

beach babe

“This is perfect for you,” said Jones. “This is the Baywatch replication community. Baywatch was a TV show about lifeguards. Everyone loved it because of the beautiful beach scenes and all the girls wearing skimpy bikinis. You can basically spend almost all day playing on the beach. Once in a while, you can pretend to be drowning, just for the sake of fitting in. If you see a male lifeguard coming, start swimming correctly. If you see a female lifeguard coming, you might end up getting a nice demonstration of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The female lifeguards will all be incredibly sexy.”

“Fantastic!” exclaimed Jerry. “Cool,” said Vinny.

“I figured you'd like it,” said Jones. “That's because when they manufactured you, they programmed all those 'horny teenager' behavior instructions, and downloaded that software to your neural circuits.”