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Writer Discussion: Duplicates

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Today’s topic comes from QSFer Jim Comer:

Jim asks about the thorny problem of duplication – if you are beamed from one place to another, is it really you? If you are duplicated, which of you gets the legal rights?

He points us to this article:

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Twinmaker

Older, more often used, and more traditional is the beaming method. You convert your passenger and/or cargo to electromagnetic waves, fire the beam across space, catch it in a receiver and convert the electromagnetic energy back into matter.

A modification is Poul Anderson’s system in THE ENEMY STARS. Poul’s system records the position and energy state of every subatomic particle in the passenger’s body. A side effect is that the body is vaporized, so that one winds up with a complete record of the passenger plus a cloud of superheated plasma. The gas is sucked down through a grid, into a matter reserve, to await the next incoming signal.

The record of the passenger is fired across space. A receiver picks it up and uses it, plus the plasma in its own matter reserve, to reconstruct the passenger.

I don’t know. I wouldn’t ride in one of the goddamned things.

The engineering problems seem trivial compared to the legal, ethical, and philosophical ramifications. Still, what happens if the signal gets snarled up? In the good old days I read of the possibilities in EC comic books; and the pictures were vivid and horrifying. In practice, the least bit of interference would leave the passenger an idiot or a good imitation of a corpse. Over interplanetary distances you’d have to worry not only about intervening dust and gas, but about red and violet shifts due to gravity and relative velocities. And what happens to your soul?

I worry about that. I don’t necessarily believe in a soul; I don’t believe in taking chances. If my soul isn’t recorded somewhere in the process, I’m dead, even though my memory remains as reconstructed electron tracks.

Where society is concerned, there are equally serious problems.

Let’s say we’ve reached step. one. We’ve recorded our customer and we now have a record and a ball of ionised plasma. Why not beam the record to two receivers? Now we’ve got a duplicator. The legalities get sticky. We could get around them by permitting one, say, one Isaac Asimov to a planet; but who gets the royalties on the FOUNDATION trilogy?

Similarly, you can keep the record. You fire the signal at the receiver, but you store the tape. Ten years later the passenger walks in front of a bus. You can recreate him from tape, minus ten years of his life. But-aside from questions concerning his soul-can he collect his own life insurance?

Suppose we change our mind after step one. We store the tape instead of firing it. Is it kidnapping? Or, in view of the fact that we have mortally vaporized a man, is it murder? Does it cease to be murder if we reconstitute him before the trial?

Finally, we assume an advance whereby we needn’t destroy the model to get the record. Shouldn’t we destroy him anyway? Otherwise he hasn’t gone anywhere.

So what do you think of beaming someone up or duplication? Is the copy still you? If there are two of you, how do we sort out the legalities? Have you written or read any stories that covered this terrain?

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