Thinky Thoughts: Synthetic Upgrades and Mary E. Pearson’s “The Rotten Beast”

Mandroid thinksk being a robot is pretty cool.Note: I wrote this earlier today before I screwed up my shoulder or I might have mentioned wanting better shoulders, too.


Every week Tor posts up a free short story.  Sometimes they're funny, others are really creepy.  The one posted today, called "The Rotten Beast" by Mary E.Pearson, came with the tagline "The computer chips inside you insist that you’re human, even though only twenty percent of you is still original. How long can you hold out against those voices? How long would you?"

As you can imagine, my brain immediately jumped to robots and I had to click over.  I was not disappointed.  It's a solid short story about a girl's reaction to waking up to find herself now predominantly engineered flesh.  Pearson manages to create a solid impact with not a lot of length.  Of course characters aren't really developed and there's a whole vast world wanting for explanation, but it's still a good story about human emotion and our relationship with science.  When does it cross the line?  How do we accept advanced technology?  

It also got me thinking - would I do it?  If given the availability of biologically created human parts "programmed" by computer chips, would I find it distasteful?  Would I choose death over replacing a large part of my body with scientist-created things?  And if I did, would I still be me?

Because of the format, there's no details on what disease the main character had that destroyed her body, but she still has her memories.  Either her thoughts have been transferred to a synthetic brain or she still has her own biological one.  I strongly believe that what makes a person that particular person is all contained in the thoughts, memories and actions controlled within one's brain.  It gets a little cloudy when you start talking about cloning and memory transference, but in the simple context of today, I think that's what makes me who I am - the thoughts in my head, the memories contained within, and the actions I take - not the flesh on my bones or the biological functions within my body.

Marvin is always sad, but I think that would have been the case even if he wasn't a robot.I don't think I would hesitate to get artificial body parts if I could afford it and there weren't any awful consequence or side effects.  I've had very bad vision since birth, so it would be nice to have cool robot eyes, where I can read my clock in the middle of the night and don't have to ask for help finding my glasses if I accidentally drop them.  Yes, I know there are doctors that shoot lasers in your eyes to fix things like this, but I've heard too many horror stories and I don't think I could sit still or keep my eyes open long enough for the procedure when suffering from abject terror.

I'd also get a nice shiny new ankle.  I've torn the ligaments in my right ankle so many times it's all but useless.  It means I can't wear heels and I have a tendency to trip and/or fall down.  Add this to my natural clumsiness and I trip and fall down a lot.   It'd also be nice to upgrade the nerves in my neck that cause all my migraines.

But would I still feel the same being 80% artificial?  I'm not sure, but I think it wouldn't take me long to adjust and appreciate still being alive, still being me.

And of course I could technically consider myself to be a robot and that would be super cool.

What do you think?  Would you be okay with waking up mostly synthetic?  If you could pick and choose what pieces to replace, what would you do?

Oh, also, go read the story.