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The Replicator

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Paul
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Posted 10/07/06 - 10:35 PM:
Subject: The Replicator
I stood on the open threshold of the gleaming, polished office of the CEO. I imagined this was how a peasant in the middle ages felt on entering a great cathedral. The back wall was a giant window, and the abstract art on the other walls hinted that only the occupant of the room was intelligent enough to understand the real meaning of the paint splatters. Everything about the room was carefully designed to remind me that that I was in the presence of a higher power, a power relative to whom I was less than an insect and who it was my great honor to serve.

The higher power was facing the window, looking down at his city, his back to me. He knew I was there, but it would've been inappropriate for him to acknowledge it before I asked him to.

"Sir," I began, "I've come to give you the demonstration. Your secretary said you were ready to see me. May I enter?"

He swiveled about in his chair and gave me a long look, perhaps trying to determine if I carried any contagious diseases. "You may," he offered generously.

I bowed my head slightly in in acknowledgement, walked in, carefully set my device on the table and took a seat. "I'd like to say how proud I am to have helped design this. It's taken six years of my life, but I'm sure --"

He cut me off there. "I don't care about your life," he noted. "Tell me exactly how it works, and in plain English, not technobabble."

This was a dangerous challenge, where I would have to explain one of the world's most complicated devices to a man with no technical knowledge at all, and would have to do it without giving him the slightest inkling that he might not be as qualified as me to understand it. Any hint that I saw him as inferior in any way could cost me my job. My years of experience told me that extreme oversimplification was the safest route.

"It's a replicator," I explained, "which takes any item you insert into the left side and creates an exact copy of it on the right side."

He nodded. "So I've heard. Just like in one of those sci-fi stories, eh? What do you project as the potential applications?"

"I'm glad you asked." This was a subject I'd prepared well for. "Our replicator will completely revolutionize human life. One replicator in a village can produce enough food to feed everyone. One replicator can duplicate a small energy supply to give all the energy the village needs. Expensive medicines can become free, saving millions of lives. Organ and tissue replacement can become cheap, a patient can give himself a replicated blood transfusion. All the world's most powerful and complicated devices can be duplicated in whatever quantity the world desires. From now on people will only need to produce one of anything and the replicator will do the rest."

"How much do you think it'll sell for?" he prodded. His face offered no indication of whether he was impressed by the applications.

This was a sticky issue which I wanted to avoid. "I wouldn't like to say, market analysis isn't my department."

He jotted down a note. "I'd suppose you can give me some idea, though, of how much it'll cost to make once we get into bulk production."

"Yes," I nodded. "It should cost virtually nothing."

He raised an eyebrow. "This is a complicated piece of equipment. Your department has spent millions developing this one device. How can you possibly say that?"

I hated to have to point out the obvious to him, but there was no alternative. "Well you see sir, a replicator can replicate another replicator."

He frowned. "Is there a feature in place to stop unauthorized people from doing that?"

This was the conversational direction I'd been afraid of. I only had the truth to fall back on. "The quantum replication process doesn't actually store data in a way that can be processed, so it's impossible to lock out particular patterns of data such as replicators."

His displeasure was obvious. "So as soon as we sell one, our customer can undercut us giving away as many as he wants to everyone he knows?"

"We have the patent rights," I assured him, "so we can make something from selective lawsuits."

"What about the power required to run the replicator, doesn't that limit reproduction?" He was grasping at straws.

"I'm afraid not, sir. It uses a very expensive set of batteries, but again, anyone can replicate a hundred sets of batteries before they wear out."

The CEO leaned back in his chair and gazed at the ceiling for a minute in deep thought, pretending to contemplate the piece of abstract sculpture which hung there but almost certainly thinking of matters entirely different. Finally he stood up, opened his wallet and removed a hundred dollar bill. Without saying a word he placed it in the replicator, pressed the replication button and removed two hundred dollar bills. He looked down at them, then up at me. "Is there no way at all to tell these apart?" he prodded.

"The nature of the process means they're identical at a quantum level," I explained. "It's impossible create a security feature which can't be copied."

"Wait here a moment," he ordered, and left the room. He re-entered carrying a hammer, and proceeded to smash the delicate equipment on the desk. I sat almost impassively watching my years of hard work destroyed.

His task finished, he sat back down. "The replicator is too dangerous to be allowed, all plans and materials relating to the project must be destroyed." He fixed his gaze on me as if to drill the point through. "If money can be duplicated, inflation becomes infinite and money becomes worthless. Any other item we might try to barter with could be duplicated as easily. The vast majority of jobs would be rendered obsolete."

There was no more point in protest than in trying to convince god to stop a flood, but I felt I owed the project a token effort. "Respectfully sir, would that matter as long as it gives everyone everything they want?"

He altered his strategy, more sure of himself than ever. "Put a gun in and get enough to supply an army out. Put enriched uranium in and get as much as you want out. Put a nuclear bomb in the replicator and you can make as many as you want. This invention would destroy our world."

I sighed. He was right, though not in the way he thought. I hoped I might live to see a world which would be ready for it.
IammyaspectofUs
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Posted 10/07/06 - 10:49 PM:

very realistic. screen play?

Are you answering technical questions about the replicator?
Paul
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Posted 10/08/06 - 6:17 PM:

I'm not taking pre-orders for it, since it's not a wise business investment.

As far as technical details, it's a form of quantum teleportation which manages to avoid destroying the original, or quantum telecloning. There's some progress on both apparently but the world is safe for a while yet.

Edited by Paul on 10/08/06 - 6:25 PM
libertygrl
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Posted 10/16/06 - 9:38 PM:

this is really great, paul. with just a few words, it paints an interesting and convincing portrait of both characters. the philosophical, metaphysical and ethical conundrum of the replicator is profound and thought-provoking. i like a good story that keeps me contemplating days later... this does that.

nice work,
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