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<   No. 3636   2017-04-04   >

Comic #3636

1 Terry: So what do you do about all these existential threats to humanity?
2 Simon: We study them!
3 Terry: No, I mean what do you do with what you've learnt?
4 Simon: Well, occasionally we have some dreadfully fun office parties where we compare notes and gasp in mock horror.

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You need a good sense of humour working in a place that deals on a daily basis with the possibility of every living thing on Earth being wiped out.

This is also why nuclear launch technicians are a laugh-a-minute.


Dr Simon Beard (the real one, on whom this character is based), actually does know how the unshrinking ray works. He writes:
At the Centre for the Study of Existential Risk we take the view that persons are fundamentally complex informational systems encoded in matter. That is, what makes a person is the way that they receive, store, process and transmit information to the world around them. I use "information" here in the scientific sense. Information of course comes in many forms, not just communication, we must also consider all sensory data, movement, homeostatic mechanisms, personality and indeed the structure of whatever we ingest and excrete etc. etc. It is important to see humans as informational systems encoded in matter because the matter we are constructed of is continually changing, but this change is governed by the interaction between the information system of the individual person and the world around them. It is also helpful to understand people in this way because it allows us to use the same theories to understand and evaluate both humans and animals and non-biological persons such as potential artificial intelligence. There are other reasons we take this view as well, but I digress.

The upshot is that it would be a significant mistake to try and unshrink a person by simply increasing the size of their constituent components (be these organs, tissues, molecules or whatever). This would invariably cause a discontinuity in their personal identity, and thus effectively imply their death, because altering the size of such components relative to the environment they exist in would alter their informational structure. What the shrinking and unshrinking rays therefore do is to make a very detailed model of the person as an informational system and then determine how to construct a different material entity on the relevant scale which encodes the same information system out of other available biological materials (preferably in an easy to configure form). This will mean that the original matter must be destroyed and reconfigured, but the information continues to exist without an interruption and so the person being unshrunk survives the process intact.

The point of the magnifying glass therefore (apart from the fact that I am actually nearly blind and need around 8×l magnification to do anything even remotely technical) is to facilitate a detailed scanning of the shrunken organisms, which can be combined with the readouts of other sensors to produce the informational model that will be necessary to generate the unshrunk versions of Steve, Terry and Jane F Goodall. The actual unshrinking is performed by the uploading, dematerialisation and resynthesis machine that is currently off shot, having its elephant dung reservoirs refilled in case we need to use it again at short notice.

Sorry, I should have explained all this to you before!

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