Hugh Howey’s story ‘The Plagiarist’ has been around for awhile, but it felt pretty timely when I got around to reading it. The gaming world has been saturated with stories about ‘Sim City’, an excellent (albeit flawed) game about planning and running a simulated city. The Plagiarist is about a man, and an entire society, that loses itself in those same type of simulations.
Howey’s story takes places in the near future where games like Sim City have been combined with artificial intelligence to a degree that the characters in the simulation are essentially people in their own right. Universities and corporations run server farms dedicated to these artificial worlds where the software citizens are as intelligent as we are and they’re allowed to develop in their own ways. Thanks to the time dilation (time moves quicker in the sim than in reality) scientists are able to study aspects of their fields they can’t otherwise see. Geologists use them to study planet formation. Psychologists and anthropoligists use them to study relationships without the observer interefering. The simulation is so good that the simulated people have started doing their own independent research and found interesting new inventions and cures that never came up in our world. An entire profession has sprung up where practitioners go into the simulation and bring details from these simulated advancements for use in the real world. The protaganist is a literature professor who has a side hobby of searching the simulations for the next William Shakespeare. The story begins at a point where the simulated worlds have started their own simulated worlds.
The Plaigarist is a very plausible extrapolation of current trends in internet usage, social media, and computing will probably take us in the near future. It raises some very interesting questions about identity, and reality versus virtual spaces. It’s also a great sneak peak at the ethical issues we’ll be confronting as software gets more lifelike and potentially learns to think for itself. It’s available as an e-book .