For me, it was two things:
- I've always looked up to my uncle, Kai-Fu Lee. When I was 9-10 years old, he had just graduated from Columbia and started his grad career at the CMU School of Computer Science. He's the one who convinced my folks to exchange my 10th birthday present (a TI99-4a) for an Atari 800. Yeah, blame him! :-D
- In 1986, I read a book for an 8th grade English book report at Severna Park Middle School (SPMS):
The Tomorrow Makers: A Brave New World of Living-Brain Machines. This book changed my life: eight years later, it was the chief non-technical reason I went into artificial intelligence research. A couple of excerpts:
Imagine this: fully conscious, you are in an operating room. The attending robot brain surgeon opens your brain case and peers inside. Each area of your brain is analyzed, perfectly simulated, and then transferred into a computer. Your mind (some would say your soul) has thus been removed and placed into a machine. Finally, your now-obsolete body is disconnected and the computer is installed in a shiny new model. You have been "downloaded."
(You'll have to take my word for it that this was quite a novel concept to a young American teenager in 1986, when the word singularity was fresh and new. This is especially so because the book featured interviews with CMU roboticists Red Whittaker and Hans Moravec, MIT AI Lab researcher and current director Rod Brooks, and K. Eric Drexler, the stars of the kind of research labs I wanted to join as a teen.)
Think of the possibilities. The process could be replicated -- copies of yourself could be sent on previously impossible missions. A "reproduction" could make the centuries long voyage to the outer reaches of the galaxy while the "original" is back in Manhattan attending the symphony. And, as technology moves forward and host machines are refined and sophisticated, you could download again and again and achieve greater capacity and mobility while continuing to gather wisdom and experience.
I did write several short stories on this topic, back when the Great Bird of the Galaxy was still flourishing. This would have been around the time of the ST:TNG episode "The Schizoid Man", which explored downloaded longevity and would-be immortality.
Yes, having a book with a chapter titled "Sleeping With Robots" does get you funny looks in junior high. I do note, however, that any resemblance to Warren Mears, express or implied, is not only purely coincidental, but surely a figment of the reader's imagination.
Quizzage, in case you missed it: hearts and swords
1 W00t! crypthanatopsis's thread, where istari_ala coined the term tronkie, is now the #1 Google hit for the word. :bows: