Saturday, February 14, 2004

I experienced today as if through borrowed eyes -- what robotic telepresence might feel like if we develop sufficiently realistic android stand-in bodies.

I imagine hooking myself up to a tangle of motion sensors and electrodes in the privacy of my apartment and "logging in" to a synthetic body halfway around the world. The foremost technical problem with venturing far from home in my second body is time-lag. The invisible tether that keeps my brain synchronized with my sense organs is stretched to capacity; my surroundings take on a dreamy, half-real quality, the cognitive equivalent to cheap videotape.

To combat this implacable sense of lag, I take drugs designed to modulate my brain's sensory intake. But even telepresence pharmaceuticals are a poor surrogate for actually being there, existing simultaneously in space and time. By the end of a typical session with my rent-a-body I'm addled, clumsy and irritable. The dream-like association between self and the "outside" world persists like a nagging, partially remembered nightmare. My brain has been supplanted, however momentarily, by a new host of rules, forced to adapt to alien parameters.

So, enervated, I log in to my other self once again, seeking communion, starved for reconciliation. I travel the world in a far-flung squadron of rented artificial selves, battling increased doses of time-lag, consuming ever-more-powerful drugs to combat depersonalization.

But at the same time, something in the depths of my bilocated mind craves this novel anonymity. Escaping into the flux of transmissions that comprises my electronically scattered "self" is the only readily available way to bridge the widening fracture between cause and effect. And so I become autonomic, my consciousness diluted into a thin mentational smoke.

One "I" is no longer sufficient.