There was a lot of discussion in last week’s New Media seminar about augmented memory and the evolution (or de-evolution, depending on your viewpoint) in the use of non-human memory storage (smart phones, Google, etc.) for remembrance of all sorts of everyday information like phone numbers, trivia,reference materials, etc.
This discussion made me want to bring up Charlie Stross, blogger and SF writer extraordinaire. Charlie’s blog (http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/) is a vital resource for discussion of near and far futurist concerns, political and technological trends and SF in general, and I highly recommend making it part of your reading list.
Between 2001 and 2004, Charlie wrote a series of linked short stories and novelettes that were published in Asimov’s. These have since been collected as Accellerando, which is available for free here - http://www.jus.uio.no/sisu/accelerando.charles_stross/. Each section of Accellerando extrapolates the evolution of technology starting from a near-future perspective and ending up in a post-singularity, post-scarcity world.
Of particular interest to this conversation is Chapter 3 – Tourist, which extrapolates the use of augmented memory to a place perhaps beyond where it should be and demonstrates not only the potential uses, but also the potential pitfalls. It begins as follows -
Spring-Heeled Jack runs blind, blue fumes crackling from his heels. His right hand, outstretched for balance, clutches a mark’s stolen memories. The victim is sitting on the hard stones of the pavement behind him. Maybe he’s wondering what’s happened; maybe he looks after the fleeing youth. But the tourist crowds block the view effectively, and in any case, he has no hope of catching the mugger. Hit-and-run amnesia is what the polis call it, but to Spring-Heeled Jack it’s just more loot to buy fuel for his Russian army-surplus motorized combat boots.
The victim sits on the cobblestones clutching his aching temples. What happened? he wonders. The universe is a brightly colored blur of fast-moving shapes augmented by deafening noises. His ear-mounted cameras are rebooting repeatedly: They panic every eight hundred milliseconds, whenever they realize that they’re alone on his personal area network without the comforting support of a hub to tell them where to send his incoming sensory feed. Two of his mobile phones are bickering moronically, disputing ownership of his grid bandwidth, and his memory … is missing.
A tall blond clutching an electric chainsaw sheathed in pink bubble wrap leans over him curiously: “you all right?” she asks.
“I -” He shakes his head, which hurts. “Who am I?” His medical monitor is alarmed because his blood pressure has fallen: His pulse is racing, his serum cortisol titer is up, and a host of other biometrics suggest that he’s going into shock.
“I think you need an ambulance,” the woman announces. She mutters at her lapel, “Phone, call an ambulance. ” She waves a finger vaguely at him as if to reify a geolink, then wanders off, chain-saw clutched under one arm. Typical southern émigré behavior in the Athens of the North, too embarrassed to get involved. The man shakes his head again, eyes closed, as a flock of girls on powered blades skid around him in elaborate loops. A siren begins to warble, over the bridge to the north.
Who am I? he wonders. “I’m Manfred,” he says with a sense of stunned wonder. He looks up at the bronze statue of a man on a horse that looms above the crowds on this busy street corner. Someone has plastered a Hello Cthulhu! holo on the plaque that names its rider: Languid fluffy pink tentacles wave at him in an attack of kawaii. “I’m Manfred – Manfred. My memory. What’s happened to my memory?” Elderly Malaysian tourists point at him from the open top deck of a passing bus. He burns with a sense of horrified urgency. I was going somewhere, he recalls. What was I doing? It was amazingly important, he thinks, but he can’t remember what exactly it was. He was going to see someone about – it’s on the tip of his tongue…
Charlie Stross – Accellerando, Chapter 3 – Tourist
Check out the rest of the story to find out if Manfred gets his memory back. It’s well worth the read, as is the entirety of the collection. Charlie is a great writer, and I think Accellerando is a pretty important work that’s very relevant to many of the topics we’ve been discussing.