C.O.I. Anonymous

by Colin Campbell

     This weekend I went to my first meeting of the Clone Optimizers Anonymous support group. Yeah, the whole ‘Hi, I’m Dave, and I can’t control my optimizing” thing.

     I was glad to find out I’m not the only one who’s been clobbered by the C.O.I. app–Clone Optimizer, Inc.–maybe you remember when it came out a couple years ago, the cute logo of a cartoon goldfish curled around looking back at you through its own tailfin. “Don’t be coy. You can change your life.” It was pretty famous for a couple months.

     The digital clone fad is passe now but I’m still trapped in it. It wasn’t like going into the avatar clone booth at the PAX video game convention to get a full-body 3D animation of yourself. You can animate that clone and talk to it and the AI will give it your voice. That’s not what COI offered. 

     I admit that I was an eager early adopter. It sounded like fun: Reset your life! Send a sample of your DNA to Clone Optimizers Inc. Enter the data for yourself at birth and raise an electronic version of yourself. Keyboard in some changes and find out what would have happened if I hadn’t married that dumb bitch Ashley.  

     There wasn’t much else to do. These days, everybody is sitting home unemployed and surviving on the Technology Dividend, “Your Share of America,” funded by the tax on robot labor.

     I snail-mailed my DNA sample to COI and they set up my account the next day. Things are moving fast now that AI is handling everything, everywhere. They took my DNA and re-set it to zero in a computer model of a single cell, and then the DNA divided and replicated in the sequences from zygote to blastula to embryo, as supervised by the COI app.

     Instead of nine months it took nine days and COI emailed me that my clone was ready to be born.

     When you sign in the AI asks a list of questions to get your clone started in “life,” starting with birthplace and date of birth. The COI app searched the internet for all information about me. It asked me to confirm various checkbox questions. You went to Grover Cleveland Elementary School starting when you were 5? Check. It asked about a couple pre-schools but I had no memory of them. I bought a lift ticket at a Tahoe ski lodge when I was 16, yes, remember that well.

     The AI searches more, guided into new areas by your answers, and then your clone is born and you can watch a life-like video of yourself growing up in exactly the same sequences as in your own real life.

     You could zoom in and rotate the point of view. COI knew the blueprints for the building I grew up in and the dates when Mom had the new kitchen built and then the driveway was repaved that same summer. That’s when I fell off the driveway guy’s backhoe when he was away having lunch and that’s right, that’s when I broke my leg and missed a month of school and it was all strange and different when I returned. COI knew that from my hospital record and my school record.

     You could look at your clone at the current moment and it’s like looking into a mirror of your room. If your clone is sufficiently optimized, that is.

     The Optimizers Anonymous meeting was already under way by the time I arrived and some really old guy was talking.

     “Hi, my name is Bob and I have not looked at my COI clone for 172 days,” he said, and the group burst out in momentary applause.

     He told us how he fled to Canada when he was 18 after he got a draft notice. He didn’t want to go to Vietnam. After President Carter’s amnesty he returned to the USA and worked in the construction industry all his life and now was retired.

     “But I always had a nagging thought–was it really conscientious objection to the war, or was I just a coward?”

     So he signed up for COI and maneuvered his clone into submitting to the draft, and then the clone died in combat within six days of arriving in country. Game over, dude. He watched his clone drive an M54 cargo truck in a convoy on a tightly curved mountain road, and when a mortar attack began the clone panicked and shoved the manual transmission into the wrong gear and the truck spun and tumbled over the edge into the valley below.  

     “I went back and signed the clone up for a different Military Occupational Specialty, and the clone still was killed in its first week in combat. And then it became an obsession, because no matter what changes I made, the clone was always killed. I tried all kinds of changes and nothing worked, the clone always died, and I was paying a ton of money to Clone Optimizers. And it made the whole rest of my real life even more of a flop than it already was. Sorry, Charley, your life is not Optimizable.

     “Finally I joined this group and I’ve been able to stop. I was not made for a military life. You can’t fight your DNA.”

     The old guy stepped down and other people stood up and recounted their stories. One man was sorry he’d rigidly followed his parents’ strictures, but when he burst the clone free of the stupid strictures, there was no discernible difference in the clone’s life. The reality is, no matter what you do, you’re fucked. Whatever your situation is, make the best of it.

     “I always thought I coulda been a major league contender,” another guy said, “but it turns out that wasn’t in my DNA.” He raised the clone with all the encouragement and coaching and yes indeed it became a baseball star in high school and college and was drafted by the Dodgers.

     But instead the clone took a job on Wall Street and became an international financial wizard until he was busted for fraud and ended up in jail.

     An obese woman said, “It was so depressing, no matter what changes I made in my clone, it still became a fat pig. I put the clone through every diet, every exercise fad. I’m predestined to be fat. Nothing I can do about it.”     

     Another woman stood up to talk. “I’m Hannah and I can’t quit cloning. My clone is in City College right now and it was fun when the clone was in high school, once I got her dressed right.”

     The clone Hannah looked at wasn’t wearing the right clothes. They were the AI’s best conjecture as to what she would have been wearing on any given day. “I downloaded a list of my mother’s credit card purchases for clothing during those years and clicked on the ones I recognized as being for me, like this one jacket I loved, my signature garment back then. I inserted the data into COI and then my clone walked around with more of a strut, like I remembered from school.”

     As she talked, I slowly realized that she was talking about my own high school class. She did look vaguely familiar, same age as me. She was in my yearbook, I found out on my iPhone. It was a big school and we’d never had any classes together. I don’t think I ever talked to her. Such a long time ago.

     Hannah changed away from talking about clothes for clones and said, “Now my clone is at City College. I had a big event in real life then. I was at this big party and a brawl broke out, people screaming and guys slugging each other, and I ran into the restroom. When I came out, everybody was gone except for one guy lying on the floor, knocked out. He was bleeding from the neck, stabbed by a broken beer bottle, and I called 911 and applied pressure to the wound until the medics arrived.

     “The medics told me I saved Jerry’s life. I went to see him at the hospital and it was like a crazy total bonding between us, and we got married. And then after a year it turned out that he liked to get drunk and beat me up.   

     “My life was hell for a long time. That’s all over now, and I wanted to see what my clone would do if I hadn’t gone to that party.

     “I tried to steer my clone to avoid going to the party but it took a long time because nothing seemed to work. I heard about the party from Kaiden and so I deleted Kaiden from my school’s roster, but the clone still went to the party. I changed all kinds of things and it was starting to get expensive because I used the Premium version to speed things up, besides paying the fee to insert altered data. Over and over. I was spending all my time optimizing my clone.

     “Finally the clone didn’t go to the party, yay, and instead the clone was jogging and saw a car veer out of control and hit a tree. She dragged the unconscious driver out of the car before it burst into flames and applied pressure to the driver’s bleeding neck injury until the Emergency Medical team arrived. And then the clone married that guy.”

     Hannah kept going with her tale of woe about being unable to stop altering her clone’s reality in order to escape the trauma, and using expensive Premium features she couldn’t really afford.

     It sounded like what happened to me. What if I never married that stupid bitch Ashley? You can’t send your clone a note saying not to marry her, you have to alter the clone’s environment. Remove Ashley from my clone’s universe, and you have to go through the slow part again, or pay to speed it up.

     And then my clone ended up marrying some other bitch who was exactly like Ashley, except she wasn’t as dumb and cleaned the clone out in the divorce settlement.

     I tried having the clone be accepted to Yale on a full scholarship and thus sidestep ever meeting Ashley at State College. But then the clone turned into somebody far different from the real me, no affinity at all.

     Then the meeting was over. On the way out I thought I saw Hannah looking at me. I wondered if she remembered me.

     I have to admit that the group changed things for me. I went home and altered my clone’s tenth-grade classes to be in the same classes with Hannah throughout high school and paid the COI Gold Level premium to accelerate it to real-time reenactment instead of the plodding 30-days-per-day of the free version. Maybe things will be different this time.