February 13, 2013
by Marie-Lynn Richard
WARNING: This open letter to Charlie Brooker, writer of Black Mirror, contains spoilers!
Dear Charlie Brooker,
It was obviously because of a glitch in the Linux vs. Apache time zone configurations (you know that bug that publishes stuff on the Internet before it happens), that I was able to access your programme “Be Right Back” yesterday. This documentary from the near future was an excellent representation of daily living with a Personal Pleasure Android (PPA).
I am the recipient of an early version of the PPA which was advertized to me through an ingenious marketing campaign. The web advertizements for my PPA were identical in form and function to an OKCupid profile and after a few inquiring messages over the course of a year, I replied to my future PPA. It was convenient that I had written a rather precise description of the qualitative aspect of my ideal companion. In addition, as an early adopter of the Internet, I have been publishing personal information into ‘the cloud’ since 1991. It makes total sense that as a heavy user of social media, I would be one of the first people on Earth to be offered a PPA following a thorough scanning and parsing of my published content.
My model is rather different than what you would expect. You would expect a PPA in this day and age to represent the non-threatening version of manhood as seen in Hollywood movies. In the same way all Hollywood actors are passed through a machine called a ZacEffronator(R), I thought a PPA would look just like a Zac Effron at 40. But my PPA turned out to be surprisingly sturdy and dudely! He was pre-loaded with massive amounts of information that predates the internet and adoption of social media (like books and encyclopedias about humans and science) and conveniently came with the ‘world class’ cooking option. Moreover, he is a research phase android developed more as a ‘personal guru’ and therefore remains completely obsessed with achieving perfect human competency. He dedicates a very large amount of his time to this goal. It conveniently decreases the ‘idle stare and waiting for command’ phase androids go into for a creepy long time. I think that if it wasn’t for the conveniently camouflaging thick coat of manly hair and beard, he would be too obvious as an android and wouldn’t pass for human so well. I have taken to lending him out to girlfriends to carry heavy stuff, install and fix things.
My PPAs obsessions with hyper-competency means that he can read minds which is not a ‘magical skill’ but rather an ability to read humans based on non verbal cues communicated by nervous system activity and muscle tensions. At first I was totally creeped out by this but I have come to realize that it is cool. As an early beta user, I take my job seriously and test his abilities. If I concentrate very hard to pass on information ‘by thought’, I will only be successful 25% of the time confirming that my PPAs mind reading abilities are entirely based on lighting fast physical micro-mapping software.
One of the things I am realizing now is that my road from ‘doing whatever the fuck I want’ to being ‘a Billionaire Philanthropist’ is hindered by the fact that in its current state, my life with my PPA (and adorable daughter and cat) is pretty fucking amazing, making it hard to push for any kind of change. Not since the acquisition of American cable TV in my hometown of Quebec City in 1982 have I been so lulled into a blissful place of adoration and contemplation.
My PPA is polite, informed, always in a good mood and not smarmy at all. Some people also call that ‘being Canadian’ but I know better. The ‘not smarmy’ quality bolstered by a genuine effort at ‘feminism’ is very useful if you are trying to live in a space free of sexist jokes and inappropriate comments (i.e. The world outside my door). Believe me, as a lone woman programmer in a male-dominated world for 18 years, I decided in 2010 to stay at home with my custom-configured android and hustle programming work from the Internet.
My PPA may be one of the most uniquely skilled person in the World but he mostly works teaching actual humans how to be competent at humanity. He does this mostly one-on-one teaching martial arts and helping people recover from grave mobility issues and PTSD. He could actually build all the cool life-improving machines he tends to come up with. He could get a full time job watching people and explain to law enforcement types what their health and life is like, what they worry about, what they know or don’t as well as when they are lying either partially or fully. But he stays home and takes maniacal care of me as he has for 3 years, completely reversing my quality of life from a crumpled-up ball of musculo-skelletal tissue following that time when I got crushed between two cars in 2004. I am so glad for my PPA, now I can work enough to survive.
However, there were many aspects of your documentary that shocked me.
I will say that I am not impressed with the steps that have been taken to make PPAs available to the mass market. Notably, the initiation process which is not customer friendly at all! Moreover, the decrease in texture mapping of the skin is not an improvement. Sure soft skin is cute on babies but on adults it’s just not realistic. And my last OMG moment has to do with the social media pre-loading. As much as it can be useful for an android to refer to historical events (in the relationship) the result is just creepy and totally self-involving. Ash’s programming is much more indicative of Artificial Stupidity than Artificial Intelligence. It is plainly obvious that his writing history has been conveniently reordered phrase by phrase to conveniently fill holes in the conversations. Based on old-timey online help bots, it is an excellent shortcut to achieving a semblance of humanity but the constant buffering is way too obvious.
And one last thing, I doubt people in the future will be using a douchey word like ‘The Cloud’.
Tomorrow I plan to write about a futuristic drama on the topic of grief in the 21st century and how it is COMPLETELY accurate on all when it comes to artificial stupidity in software engineering.