Tony Ballantyne


For Robin and Michael

Welcome to the Digital World!

Welcome to your new life!

Or should that be…welcome to the first day of the rest of your life?

Becoming a personality construct is regarded by many as an exciting next step in their personal development. However, it can be a little daunting, particularly if circumstances in the atomic world (or some would say physical world) mean that you do not remember making the life choice that led to this transition.

Please take a moment to read this guide and familiarize yourself with your new reality. It has been carefully ordered to minimize potential stress, so no peeking ahead! Your Social Care operative will be along shortly to assist you in the first phase of your induction into the digital world.

So, without further ado, here we go!

What year is it?

2252. This may come as a shock. Try to put it aside for the moment. Just read on…

Who are we?

We are Social Care, the branch of the EA devoted to helping humans, be they personality construct or atomic being. Medical care, education, crime and punishment, counseling, advice…it’s all handled by us!

And what is the EA?

The Environmental Agency. The thing is, in the year 2252, the Earth Domain is occupied by more than just humans. There are artificial intelligences, Von Neumann Machines (machines that can replicate themselves), robots, animals, plants, insects…The EA ensures they all get a fair slice of the pie.

And who runs the EA?

It runs itself.

Not everyone would agree with this. It’s a new world for you out there, and you may hear people talking about the Watcher. Some people say the Watcher runs the EA. They believe the Watcher was the first AI, and is more powerful than all the others. Some people believe the Watcher created all AIs, and is leading them, along with humankind, to a better future.

Others believe the Watcher is just a myth. As you can see, religious debate is alive and well in the 23rd century!

So what exactly is a personality construct?

Ah! That’s the crux of the matter. A personality construct is simply a human mind running on a computer. Actually, “computer” is an old-fashioned phrase for an old-fashioned concept. Nowadays we say “processing space.”

So I am a personality construct. Does that mean I am no longer human?

No! This is very important. Your right to be recognized as a human being was laid down after the Transition of 2171. Briefly, the Transition was the period when the EA assumed full control of the Earth Domain. Many issues relating to the rights of AIs and PCs such as yourself were established then.

Can I return to my old life?

The question does not apply. You do not have an old life. This is your life. Your are a sentinel digital being. The digital world is the world of your birth.

But I remember the real world!

This is a real world. Somewhere out in the atomic world there exists a being who had the same thoughts as you at one particular instant in time. Nothing more than that can be said. You can no more live in the atomic world than a chimpanzee can return to the primeval soup.

So what is the difference between the atomic and the digital worlds?

The atomic world is the world of the amoeba and cellular replication, of ferns and plants, of coelacanths and dinosaurs. It is the place where creatures crawled gasping from the sea onto the land. The place where mammals climbed down from the trees and underwent the process of evolution that resulted in Homo sapiens sapiens.

The digital world is the world of algorithm and recursion, the Turing machine and the Neural Net, the AI and the personality construct. It is the space where the next great steps in humankind’s evolution are taking place.

Are you ready to join in the adventure?

Helen 1: 2240

Come on then; see if you can spot which ones are the true botanicals.”

Sunlight dappled Helen as she raised her eyebrows in challenge to Kevin. Amongst the warm green life of the woodland glade, her tanned brown limbs and flower-plaited blond hair gave her the appearance of a nymph. She looked good, and she knew it. Kevin knew it too; she could tell. He rubbed his chin in an exaggerated fashion as he looked around the arboretum, his eyes lingering on her for a little longer than was necessary.

“Hmm, can I touch?” His voice was a delicious gravelly rumble. He waggled his eyebrows at her. “The plants, I mean.”

“If you like.” Helen smiled.

She leaned back against the bark of a lime tree and watched Kevin kneel down to feel the leaves of a McCusker’s Miracle. She felt a little glow somewhere inside. The defined V of his shoulders and upper body, the gentle way he rubbed a grey-green leaf between his fingers: it made her wonder what it would be like if he were to fold her up in his arms. Maybe just to kiss her.

He straightened up, rubbing the leaf’s metallic residue from his fingers, and caught sight of a nearby hawthorn, ragged green leaves dancing in the fresh breeze.

“No way is this one natural,” he said. Helen was impressed that he was tall enough to reach up and catch hold of the end of a branch.

“Ouch!” He winced. “It has spikes! Look at that twisting effect on the trunk as well. This one is definitely a venumb.”

He came back towards Helen, his dark eyes running up and down her body. For the twentieth time that day, she silently thanked the set of circumstances that had led to her drawing Kevin for the arboretum tour; thanked Lucy for asking her to swap shifts at the last moment; thanked Marek for pointing out the man who had just stepped from the Lite train.

She’d been tidying up the winged seeds display, placing natural sycamore seeds and ash keys next to the AI-designed VNM carriers used on Iota Cancri 4. Marek had raised his eyebrows at her, then deliberately turned to look in the direction of the tall handsome man who had just walked into the airy glass structure of the visitors’ center. He had quickly pressed an ash key into one of her hands and the strange double-fluted IC4 carrier into the

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