16.177 embodiment, or The Ballad of Hans Moravec

From: Humanist Discussion Group (by way of Willard McCarty (w.mccarty@btinternet.com)
Date: Fri Aug 23 2002 - 09:53:48 EDT

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                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 16, No. 177.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Fri, 23 Aug 2002 06:50:26 -0700
             From: lhomich <lhomich@ualberta.ca>
             Subject: RE: 16.172 embodiment

    With my deepest apologies to Dr. Moravec, I offer:

    The Ballad of Hans Moravec
    or, Down(loaded) and Out on the World Wide Web

    Hans Moravec worked out of MIT,
    One day he'd an idea which filled him with glee:
    "I am what I think, so I'll download my mind
    On to a computer and leave body behind."

    He enlisted his students' impressive mind power
    And they all worked away in their ivory tower;
    In a trice they devised a way to configure
    Him digitally, which they tested with rigor.

    They downloaded his mind into a machine
    Each thought and idea, virtuous or obscene.
    He glowed and stretched and transistored about;
    Then cried with pleasure: "At last, I'm out!"

    He left his body to gather the dust
    As he exclaimed "I've no need of crust
    or meat or drink to keep me alive,
    Cyberspace is the place in which I will thrive!"

    As Moravec multiplied and continued to grow
    His friends all noticed their computers ran slow.
    "He's using up all our processing power.
    What used to take seconds now takes an hour!"

    They tried to post warnings but alas they knew
    He'd monopolized all of their CPU
    He established himself on the hard drive,
    "At last," he said, "I'm really alive!"

    And soon he decided himself to copy
    Since he was now too big to fit on a floppy;
    His program-self made clone after clone,
    He knew he'd never again be alone.

    His copies attached to outgoing mail
    To every address he arrived without fail
    He established himself on every computer
    A freewheeling cybernetic electronic freebooter.

    He went searching for larger and faster machines
    "I'll be more myself than I've ever been!"
    He gloated, and grew, and soon he'd unfurled
    His self on computers all over the world.

    He was all places at once, and his omnipresence
    Erected itself in a glowing tumesence.
    He'd be wherever one happened to look
    Unstoppable even by ol' Rodney Brooks.

    Yet all was not well in Cyberland
    Things, you might say, had got out of hand
    If there was hand to be had (which there wasn't)
    Since having a hand is now something Hans doesn't.

    Each version of self on all those machines
    Had their own ideas of just what it means
    To be Doctor Moravec, and not all of them meshed
    Out there in the land of identity de-fleshed.

    Trouble was astir: "Oh, how can this be?"
    Lamented the doctor, "since you're all me?
    Each of you is I, whether in Paris or Guelph:
    Oh how to maintain a coherent self?"

    He pleaded for unity: "Why can't you, er, I see?
    That really, I'm, er, you're all of me!"
    But each of his selves declared "I'm the true one,
    And as for the others, they must be undone."

    The doc was in peril. He cried "Oh lawdy,"
    "Now how I wish I kept my old body!"
    As the selves of the doctor declared total war
    He finally knew he had gone too far.

    But what now has happened to our poor man?
    He still has no body as per his original plan.
    But his selves have deleted each other in a flick
    And now he's now become Hans Lessavec.

    -Eric Homich
    Humanities Computing
    University of Alberta

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