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Information Theory

by Julie Wornan

Sally said, “I’ve been thinking: everything is just information. For example, I take digital pictures and email them everywhere and people see them, copy them, even print them, but nothing has actually moved except the information about the pictures.

“And I’ve been thinking, matter is just information too! The whole world is made of the same sub-atomic particles. What makes bread or cats is just the way the particles are arranged. But that’s information!”

“What are you getting at?” asked Dale.

“Just this: if we could design a machine to decode the exact information in any object, we could replicate that object.”

“But why replicate objects? Don’t we have enough clutter already?”

“Well,” said Sally, “if you must know, yesterday I saw a wonderful Gallé vase in an antique shop. I couldn’t possibly afford it. But if only I could copy it...”

Dale always enjoyed a challenge. So they lived for the next seven months on peanut butter sandwiches and little sleep, and they made an Object Duplication Machine (ODM).

Copying the Gallé vase was easy. While Dale distracted the dealer, Sally popped the vase into the ODM’s “Model” circle and activated the Duplicate command. In moments, she had popped the new vase into her bag and put the old one back.

The new vase was not just a copy: it was another original, even to its specks of dirt. The atomic matter came from the air and the street (leaving a slight pit in the tarmac); the model had supplied the information for its arrangement.

Sally was delighted. She made room for the vase on a kitchen shelf, pushing a teapot aside.

Within a week, the cat had knocked the Gallé vase off the shelf and broken it, but Sally didn’t mind because she knew she could always make another. Besides, she had a new project. Images of food riots in Africa flooded the nightly news. “Everybody’s talking about world hunger,” said Sally, “but nobody does a thing about it.”

Dale understood. They booked a crossing to Africa on a sailing ship; air travel was now prohibitive except for the planet’s wealthiest 1%. They took one loaf of bread and the ODM.

The ship was fully automated, so the two crew members had little to do. There were a dozen other passengers, including a delightful, energetic, curly-headed blue-eyed child called Davy.

“I would love to have a child like that”, mused Sally. “I love kids but I’ve always been put off by the idea of pregnancy, childbirth, diapers... Hey, Dale?”

“Don’t think of it!” Dale warned.

“Why not? Wouldn’t it live?”

“We can duplicate the matter, but what about the soul?”

“Is the soul really separate from the body? Can there be a living body without a soul?”

“Well... do you think Hitler and Stalin had souls?”

“Good question.”

Suddenly, Davy had jumped into the Model circle, proclaiming “I am the King of the World.”

“Get out of there!” shouted Sally, while Dale tried to snatch the kid back. In the scuffle, the Duplicate switch jammed ON. Before they could turn it OFF, forty-nine clones of Davy stood on the deck, shoulder to shoulder.

They threw the crew and all the passengers overboard. They ate all the food.

The ship had lost some of its matter but, miraculously, it stood firm. Its tattered sails caught the wind. The forty-nine Davies stood shoulder to shoulder scanning the horizon. They could see very well, despite a certain void in the depths of their eyes...

Copyright © 2009 by Julie Wornan

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