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Module 3.0

12 years after my death, in a simulated world called Avalon, Robert promised me a palace and gave me a bedroom. It was loosely based on the grand appartement de la reine in the Palace of Versailles.

There was nothing else in Avalon. Just that room and what was in it. As time and resources permitted, Robert would add rooms to the house and build me a sky to look at. But my reality would extend no further than the horizon.

It costs money to build a world.

I lay on the bed. The little I had was enough. I had no drives, no needs, no ambition. My emotions were still being built.

Suddenly, my heart began to beat and I drew my first breath.


Module 3.3

After my stroke, Robert took over an entire wing of a private clinic and had me transferred there. He flew in medical experts from all over the world and gave them a mission to keep me alive for as long as they could.

In the meantime, his technicians were put on compulsory overtime and ordered to bring forward all deadlines on Project Sygnus.

It is only since my death that I have learnt these things. Project Sygnus was a secret known only to a select few. Its aim was to develop a device capable of reading and storing all the data in a human mind.

The original timetable for producing a prototype had stretched over a number of years. But with his bride in a coma, Robert threw money at the project. He used his own brain power to replace scheduled research with thought experiments, thus saving a considerable amount of time and money.

After only two months and with many of the planned phases of development bypassed, the Project Sygnus team produced a prototype mind reading unit. Under normal circumstances, it would have undergone extensive trials and modifications before being used on a human, but there was no time for such niceties. I was dying. My brain was shutting down and my memories had begun to fade.


Module 3.4

I lived 27 years in one night.

Thanks to Project Sygnus, the thoughts and memories frozen in my mind when I collapsed at my wedding reception were stored as 1s and 0s.

27 years of 1 person’s life. Of their deeds, their thoughts, their hopes, their fears. More bits of information than there are stars in the galaxy. And I was forced to absorb it all in one night.


Module 3.8

When Robert Morganfield visited Avalon in the morning, I was insane. He found me lying on the floor, clawing at the air and giggling.

I’d bitten off my tongue. Dried blood filled my mouth and sealed my lips. I hadn’t drooled. Nor had I cried. But then I had neither saliva nor tears. The only bodily fluid my creator had bestowed upon me was blood and much of that was in a pool around my body.

‘Rhiannon!’ I heard my name. It seemed like a ludicrous joke.

What was Rhiannon? A billion billion instants of time. An ever-shifting collection of binary digits. I think therefore...

Robert knelt beside me. ‘Information overload,’ he muttered. ‘We should never have made you multi-process like that.’

I didn’t know who he was. Was he me? Was I me?

Robert knelt beside me. ‘Information overload.’

Robert knelt beside me. ‘Information overload.’

The Master Control Program was looping. It was part of my insanity. Or possibly the cause of it.

Robert knelt beside me. ‘Information overload.’

Robert knelt beside me. ‘Information overload.’

Robert knelt beside me.

He vanished.

And still I giggled and still my thoughts were a mass of wriggling worms.

And then I was sitting at a vanity table in my bedroom, looking at myself in the mirror.

My tongue was intact and my bridal outfit was white once more. White with a red rose pinned to the lapel.

Robert had taken me offline and debugged my mind. For me, the transition between gibbering idiot and rational bride had happened in an instant. In Robert’s world, days would have passed. Perhaps weeks. Now I was the woman Robert wanted me to be.

The inside of my mouth was moist and I was certain that - had I wanted to - I could have produced tears.

There was a knock. I looked to my left, to a door that hadn’t been there before. Without thinking, I said, ‘Enter.’

The door opened. Robert came in carrying a dozen roses. He walked up to me and kissed the top of my head. ‘How are you, my sweet?’

‘I am fine. Thank you.’

‘Good.’ He placed the roses on the vanity table. Each was exactly the same as the others. Their heads even matched the one pinned to my lapel.  ‘Let me look at you.’

With a movement of his hand, he indicated I should rise. I did so.

He examined me. Walked slowly round me, his eyes scanning up and down, occasionally resting upon some part of me he found particularly fascinating. Now and then he gave an approving nod. And then he was in front of me again, gazing into my eyes. ‘I spent 17 million pounds creating you. And 12 years of my life. I’m a rich man, Rhiannon. Far richer now than when you were alive. And in some ways I have you to thank for that. Your death has been my inspiration.’

He told me about the long hours he’d had spent designing, writing and debugging programs to create virtual worlds of ever increasing complexity. The experts he’d assembled from around the world, happily paying them twice what they could have commanded elsewhere. The algorithms and technology he had patented. The money he’d made.

‘It was all a means to an end. Everything I did, I did for us. For you. Now you can live the life you were meant to live. And you can live it forever.

‘You will not age, Rhiannon. Nor will you ever be unwell or unhappy. I will not allow it.’

 I deduced from his body language that he was expecting a response. But I had none to give. So I said nothing.

‘I love you,’ he said.

And still I had no answer.

‘What do you want from me, Rhiannon? This is my world and I can give you anything. You can have diamonds and pearls. Gold and incense and the finest silks.

‘Eat what you like, when you like. It doesn’t matter. You can’t get fat. Your body mass is fixed forever.’

‘Please,’ I said, ‘explain the purpose of all this.’

Robert frowned. ‘Don’t you understand?’

‘I’m afraid I do not.’

‘It’s to make us happy, Rhiannon.’

‘How will it make us happy?’

He shook his head. His sadness was tangible. ‘You really don’t understand, do you?’

‘It is a deficiency in my programming.’

‘Rhiannon would understand.’

‘I am not Rhiannon.’

‘You will be.’ Robert kissed my hand and left.


Module 3.9

Consciousness. What is it?


Module 3.10

When I was Robert’s mistress, boredom was my enemy. Installed in a flat with no one to keep me company. Hardly ever seeing my friends. Never having the chance to make new ones.

Occasionally I went shopping. Robert would send a chauffeur to take me to Harrods where he had opened an account in my name. I’d be shown into a side room and eager assistants would rush off to fetch whatever took my fancy. Then it all got packaged up and placed in the boot of whichever one of Robert’s fleet of classic cars I’d been assigned.

Thanks to Robert’s generosity, even shopping became boring.

So I wrote a thesis: Consciousness as an Emergent Phenomenon. In it, I argued that consciousness was not an inherent property of thought. I think therefore I am is not necessarily true.

Machines can think or be made to look like they do. Amoeba react to external stimuli just as the human brain does. But are amoeba aware? Do they possess a sense of self? Of I? Or are they just little amoeba factories pumping out exact copies of themselves because their DNA demands it?

I argued that single celled organisms are no more aware than stones are. But what about multicellular creatures? Ants think. They communicate with one another. But does thinking make them self-aware?

How many brain cells must a creature have before it can say: I think therefore I am?

If consciousness resides in the brain, is each cell therefore conscious?

I tried to discuss the matter with Robert. He felt it was something I shouldn’t trouble myself with.

‘You don’t have to work anymore,’ he said testily, taking the Martini I’d just fixed for him. ‘Why can’t you just enjoy yourself?’

This was in the living room of the flat Robert had installed me in. A company flat. Tax deductible.

How well I remember it: Rhiannon the cybernetic construct who hadn’t even existed when it happened. Little old me inside a machine with the mind of a woman long dead.

Robert sat on the arm of the settee and kicked off his shoes and wriggled his toes. ‘If you’re bored, you can always go shopping. Or take yourself off to an art gallery. You only have to pick up the phone and I’ll send a car for you.’

Kneeling on the shag pile carpet, I massaged his feet for him. ‘Do you think it will ever be possible to create computer consciousness?’ I asked.

Robert ignored the question. He looked over his shoulder at the picture window. The sun was setting. ‘I think I’d like a bath,’ he said. ‘Run me one while I make a phone call, will you?’


Module 3.11

I am conscious. How can this be?

Since the birth of electronic computing, there’s been broad agreement that a machine can imitate the mind. But the notion of machine consciousness will always be contentious.

Perhaps I am not conscious. Perhaps I only think I am.

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