This story was inspired by playing Absurd Trolley Problems a couple months ago and some conversations with friends. Thanks to Ken Alba and Josh Thomas for their editing help.
Everyone at the lab thought the email survey was the start of an elaborate joke.
The survey was simple, containing a diagram followed by a single question. In the diagram, a runaway trolley barrels down a railway toward five people tied to the tracks, unable to escape. The track forks ahead of the group of five, and on the other side of the fork is a single person tied to the tracks, also unable to escape. The person is labeled "you", and the group of five is labeled "your identical clones".
Under the diagram is a single survey question: "You can divert the trolley, killing yourself instead of your clones. What do you do?"
Of course I chose to kill the clones! It's a simple matter of self-preservation; anyone with half a brain should be able to see that continuity of consciousness is what counts. If the clones were strapped to the tracks, they must have diverged for at least a couple minutes, and are thus no longer me.
At lunch we all discussed the survey. Rishabh and Bill agreed with me. Rishabh said, "Of course you kill the clones — they're you, and you know what you'd do in their place, right? So you know definitively that they'd kill you in a heartbeat too! You don't even have to feel bad about it."
Bill chuckled and said, "If the trolley is going down an empty track and the clones are on the other track I still flip the switch. There can only be one!" We all laughed — except Steve.
Instead, Steve leaned in earnestly and said, "I'm pretty surprised that I'm the only one here that would have run myself over. I'd 100% kill myself to save those clones. Those clones are closer to me than family! If it was a choice between yourself and five family members, what would you do?"
I snorted. "Of course we'd all run ourselves over to save our families, but that's an act of self-sacrifice. What you're talking about is more like an act of narcissism — who loves clones of themselves like their own family?"
There was an awkward silence punctuated by another chuckle from Bill.
Steve gave me a half-grin and said, "I never looked at it as narcissism before, but you're probably right. For the same reason Rishabh knows his clones would kill him, I know that my clones would never kill me — at this moment they are me, and I know what I'd do, so I know what they'd do."
He paused and thought for a minute. "Actually, it would be really cool to have some clones to work with. I bet we'd collaborate well together."
What a narcissistic asshole. With that level of introspection I bet he and his clones would be at each other's throats within a day.
We soon found out why the survey had been sent. One of the bio groups at the lab were looking for candidates among the engineers for human trials of 3D printed clones. They'd been secretly sedating animals and copying every cell in their bodies, even down to neurons, so the printed clones ended up having all the same memories as the original.
The email survey was the first foray into looking for human candidates. Those of us who decided to run our clones over didn't advance to the next round of tests, for obvious reasons.
Steve's answer to the modified trolley problem moved him into the candidate funnel, and he breezed through the rest of their qualifying tests. He ended up as the first human selected for cloning. I could not believe we were going to have two of the sanctimonious bastards.
The cloning process was a resounding success, and so management had to decide what to do with Second Steve. Original Steve had ideas about what he might do if he were a clone, and so Second Steve had those same ideas. While the company worked on getting Second Steve a birth certificate, social security number, and so forth, they just doubled Steve's salary and had both Steves work on the same team.
Second Steve was (of course) perfectly qualified, and Original Steve assured the company that there would be no conflicts. They believed him, since they had plumbed the depths of his psyche before cloning him in the first place. It took a while for the slow-moving government bureaucracy to officially clear Second Steve to work as a full-fledged citizen. By the time emergency rules were put in place Second Steve was indispensable to the team, so they hired him full-time.
After the successful integration of Second Steve into the company and society at large, Original Steve ended up being promoted to lead his group. Steve decided that he only wanted to hire more Steves, and he was lucky in the fact that the economy was blazing hot at the time — job openings were going unfilled throughout the company.
Making more Steves was expensive, but he was a known quantity and the company was growing fast. They had his template on file, and scanning bodies at the molecular level was a huge resource drain (let alone all the psychological tests that management insisted upon).
Original Steve had been an engineer, but Steve turned out to be highly adaptable. The new Steves retrained to take on many roles. They weren't great at management, unless they were managing other Steves. When you got a team of Steves in the room together their productivity was incredible.
Steve really screwed us. I don't understand how management didn't see this coming! Once the percentage of Steves at the company hit about 15%, they all quit en masse to start a new company, SteveCorp. Imagine the hubris required to name a company after yourself! I heard some Steves talking about it and they think the name is hilarious.
Apparently the Steves had venture capitalists ready and eager to invest, and somehow their non-competes were unenforceable. Our lawyers should be fired. I mean, our company is imploding anyway, but they should be fired first before the rest of us get laid off.
At last count Steve had about fourteen thousand clones, and SteveCorp is now one of the wealthiest companies on the planet.
After printed clones became commercially available, I found that there were more people like Steve than I originally anticipated. I never went through with the procedure, of course. The world doesn't need another one of me. The people who decide to copy themselves tend to do well, though. In fact, some cloned politicians were able to push through Universal Basic Income recently, using tax money obtained from Steve and Steve's ilk.
I only work about twenty hours a week these days and I'm spending a lot more time with my family and on my woodworking. I'm shocked at how well things turned out, but I still think Steve is an asshole.