Making the Virtual Actual

@theo

“Don’t look at me like that,” Mimi-Siku says. “So I’m a few years shy of forty. You’re twenty-one. We’re both faking as tweens. So what?” He turns his back to me, pretends to be too busy making tea to look me in the eye.

Meanwhile, all I’m thinking is, twenty-one? Where’d that number come from? I whip out my phone and visit my SuperMegaNet profile—oh, that’s right. I’d lied about my age when I first signed up for an account. That, and the profile pic I uploaded was intentionally vague:

Theo's SuperMegaNet Profile Icon

You can hardly tell I’m human, much less twelve years old. Which, I guess, explains why Mimi approached me on the Semantic Web: he’d found the profile of a twenty-one-year-old Web designer identifying as an RKO Radio Pictures starlet who also seems to be into fundoshi, and had assumed I’d be chill to hang.

I quickly put my phone away as Mimi serves my tea. Fathoming the cherry blossom print on the saucer, I ask, “So…how’d you know my real name?”

“Like I said,” Mimi replies, “since converting to Sikuism, I’ve gotten so much more hacking done. Much of said hacking being how to fake as Mimi-Siku while actual.”

“We’re actual now?” I’d assumed this was some kind of #vanlife server.

“Mm-hm.”

I blink around Moyo’s interior, down at my arms and legs, still bare, still black and white, still not my own. I know Beta worked some coding magic to augment Jan’s default skin, but I thought that was the extent of it: making up for missing bytes. Mimi-Siku looks as actual as if Sam Huntington himself had decided to time travel forward from the year 1997 for the purpose of taking part in what most certainly has to be an elaborate prank of some kind. Still, I have to ask, “We’re persistently skinned?”

“A little something I’ve been working on.”

“But…I thought—”

“That skinning is ‘a beta feature of SuperMegaNet [which] currently only works in video chat?’” Mimi smiles, sets his mug on the desk, sits again. “Persistent skinning has actually been a SuperMegaNet feature since the pre-alpha days. It just hasn’t been made public for a variety of reasons, both technical and legal. If you ask Taurus’ programmers, they’ll say the code hasn’t been thoroughly vetted. On the legal side, the powers that be are afraid of SMN users deepfaking en masse as celebrities, athletes, heads of state… But hello—hundreds of thousands of cosplayers fake every year at Anime Expo alone. Just because my costume of choice is digital instead of fabric or latex doesn’t make my being Mimi-Siku any more nefarious than if I’d simply gone fundoshi in my default skin. More importantly, I’m not faking as Sam Huntington, I’m faking Mimi-Siku as played by Sam Huntington. I’m not the celebrity, I’m one of his characters.”

That’s probably as gray of an area as has ever been. “As long as there’s WiFi.”

“As long as there’s WiFi, yeah.” Mimi-Siku reaches over and steeps his tea bag. “That’s where the work comes in.”

“The work?”

“Making the virtual actual. As in liberating the SuperMegaNet source code.”

I steep my bag as well.

“Imagine a world where billions of people are using SuperMegaNet. Taurus can’t possibly handle the bandwidth. How can a single company support legion? The closed-source model is outdated. But free the source, free ourselves.”

Why do I feel like Mimi-Siku is about to ask me to sign a petition?

“For example, if you had the SMN source code, you could keep things like this from happening.” Mimi gestures at my torso. “Instead of waiting for a single closed-source company to patch a bug, the global open source community takes a look at the code and provides a fix almost immediately. That’s not even the big picture.”

“It isn’t?”

Mimi-Siku abandons his tea bag, leans forward. “You upload to a server, right? Your default skin is encoded byte-for-byte as pure data. Ones and zeroes. That’s all you are when you’re virtual. Now, what’s to stop someone from reprogramming their default skin if they want to? Change a few bytes and uninstall cancer, for example? Install a working kidney? A full head of hair? The tech is there—Taurus is just sitting on it until they can figure out how to monetize the technology. Meantime, we’re out here in the actual world getting sick, aging, and dying while the Holy Grail is literally in the palms of our hands.”

“Persistent skinning,” I reiterate.

Mimi-Siku nods. “Truly persistent skinning, without the need for WiFi augmentation. The skins feature is supposedly intended for virtual use only—despite the fact that SuperMegaNet’s basic uploading and downloading process already rearranges our bytes inherently. It’s the closed-source code that restricts us to our original skins when actual, or hacked persistent skins limited to whatever WiFi signal you happen to be standing near. The sky should be the limit, though. An Alzheimers patient uploads onto an SMN server. Erroneous plaques are uninstalled from their brain. They download again with proper cognition regained—persistently. Or what about cancer patients? People with AIDS? Diabetes? Burn victims? Influenza? You upload sick on one end, download healthy on the other. Persistently. How many lives could be saved, how many trillions of dollars could be shifted from obsolete healthcare to more lucrative pursuits if all we have to do to keep ourselves young, healthy, and vigorous is tap or swipe?”

Interesting point. I’d never really thought about it before. SuperMegaNet can encode a person into a data stream and then decode them into actuality again.

So, why can’t changes be made along the way?

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