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VWN Product Reviews: We Can Build You
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We can build You is a very strange tale, centring around Louis Rosen, one of the partners in a firm attempting to sell electronic musical organs, that his father?s factory creates. Business has not been good of late: The organs are squeaky, tinny things, and by the second page it is clear the small firm is in dire streights. The solution comes in the form of his business partner, Maury Rock?s daughter, Pris Frauenzimmer.

She is very unusual, in that she was diagnosed as schizophrenic at seven years old. Now 18, she is better, or so the state says. She has attracted the attentions of an ex-NASA engineer, who left under mysterious circumstances.

The quartet collude to combine electronic organs with simulacra ? fake people used to replace astronauts in the vacuum of deep space., in an effort to take things up a notch, to create a simulacra so real, it is literally a person in its own right.

The problem is, they require funding, and Pris has a fantasy for Abraham Lincoln. Harmless, save she is the one in charge of the simulacra project?

- - - - - -

The book is a winding, meandering tale of small-scale life, of brushes with the rich and famous, yet managing to avoid the gains and getting swept along in the undercurrents. It is a tale about ordinary people in an increasingly diseased world; a world of atomic test mutations, and a committed mental illness rate of close to one in every four US citizens.

At the same time, it converges on technologies of the near future ? including electronic stimulation of the human brain, creating escape from the world outside, in the world inside. This forms an undercurrent throughout the book, but is rarely examined in too much depth, save itsuse in maintaining mental stability. As the title suggests, the bulk of the book is dedicated to the integration of simulacra with organic humans, told from a very down to earth perspective. The novel examines in considerable detail, without naming them explicitly, the twin issues of substrate chauvinism and substrate independence.

Substrate Chauvinism is a narrow belief-system emergent from the mixing of belief systems of old religion, and new concepts such as substrate-independence. Substrate chauvinism is the conviction that only biological matter can carry moral worth. Consequently, it is used to reinforce the belief by some, that self-aware AI, could never be regarded as personages, as they are inorganic.

Substrate-Independence is one of the main ideas developed by philosopher Nick Bostrom, one of the leading minds behind the Simulation Argument. Substrate-independence is the simple, logical, yet profound idea that mental states can reside on multiple types of physical or digital substrates. A conscious, intelligent, self-aware person can reside in an organic brain, a silicon brain, a magnetic brain? the physical construction is fundamentally irrelevant.

As he notes, "a computer running a suitable program would be conscious."

??It?s all self-deception. We can?t really restore life to something that?s dead.?
?Is that what you?re doing? Is that how you think of it? If you put it like that, I agree. Sounds like you?re too deep in it emotionally. You better back away and get perspective.?
?You mean we?re just making an imitation that walks and talks like the real thing. The spirit isn?t there, just the appearance.?
?Yes.? I said.
?Did you ever go to a Catholic mass, Louis??
?Naw.?
?They believe the bread and wine actually are the body and blood. Maybe if we get the tapes perfect here, and the voice and the physical appearance, and ???
We can build you, page 69

 

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