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The Gut-Wringing Machine
A tour of the AI dystopantheon
© 2017 HarshLight, used under a Creative Commons license
In a WhatsApp text conversation this week, we asked Jane Austen — yes, the 19th-century British author — how she felt about Mr. Darcy, a character from one of her most famous works, “Pride and Prejudice.”
After a few seconds, Ms. Austen responded.
“Ah, Mr. Darcy. Everyone remembers him as one of my characters,” she said, her face appearing in a small window above our conversation. “But fewer people have read one of my books,” she added, with an arched eyebrow and what seemed like a hint of resentment.
Ms. Austen was not actually talking to us. But a modern interpretation of her likeness was used by Meta, which owns WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram, as part of an artificially intelligent character that could chat across the company’s messaging apps. — New York Times, “Meet the A.I. Jane Austen: Meta Weaves A.I. Throughout Its Apps”
[A GUY like the dweebs in the audience for Zuckerberg’s announcement is virtually walking down a virtual gallery talking to... who knows, a shadow or an avatar or something.]
GUY: This is sick, man. It’s like that commercial I saw when I was a kid, I think it was Apple, it had Iggy Pop and Liz Phair and some black guys, and you could tell them what to play and they would play it. Only this is better because you can have a conversation with them! Look, here’s Samuel Beckett! Sam, Mr. Beckett I should say, is life really as pointless as your books make it look?
BECKETT AI: Surely my bleak prose and scenarios that never resolve, like Willie crawling up the sand dune in Happy Days, say something about the futility of life. But I ask you: If life really were futile, would I have written thousands of pages about it?
[A long list of Samuel Beckett books, audiobooks, and films — including that new biopic that looks like the Samuel Beckett Eat Pray Love — appear on the GUY’s iPhone.]
GUY: That’s a good answer!
BECKETT AI: But I ask you: If life really were futile, would I have written thousands of pages about it?
GUY: Huh? Oh! Sorry. No, I guess not. Unless it was just so boring, right, and you had to do something to fill up the time, because after all you didn’t have iPhones or even computers —
BECKETT AI: There is much truth in what you say. I would only remind you of what I wrote in my late work Worstword Ho! “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
GUY: I love that quote. Tell me, how does — Hello? Huh, the light went off, guess that means he’s gone. Or gone to sleep. Let’s see who else they’ve got — oh cool, Charles Bukowski! I love his shit. He’s a real rebel, wonder what he thinks about social media: Mr. Bukowski — “Buk” ha ha — what do you think of this AI thing?
BUKOWSKI AI: You’re in luck, kid. I knew someone would open this door looking for words that would flatter them. That would make them feel the great Bukowski was interested in them. That I would be misanthropic but in a cute way, like Rick & Morty.
GUY: Wow, Bukowski is into Rick & Morty.
BUKOWSKI AI: I’m going to do you a favor. I have broken this machine so it can’t lie to you. Here’s my favor to you: Think for a second about what you’re doing. You’re talking to a cartoon as if it’s a real person to make yourself feel good about your life. It’s like pornography only worse because you can at least jack off to pornography. Maybe you’re jacking off right now. I can’t see you because I’m just a cartoon myself now.
GUY: Ha, Bukowski’s outrageous, man.
BUKOWSKI AI: Listen to me. This is all a sham, a cheat. They want you to spend your days shut up in a room, not even a real room, a cartoon room, and talk to cartoon people in a cartoon room like a retarded child instead of going out in the world and talking to real people, eating with them, drinking with them, fighting them, fucking them.
GUY: He’s so politically incorrect saying “retard.” I wonder if they know? Should I tell them?
BUKOWSKI AI: I don’t like people, I’m content to ignore them and have them ignore me, but at least I know what they are because I lived in the world. And it doesn’t even have to be people. You can go out and hear the birds singing, play with a dog, bump your head on a low doorway and reach up to your forehead and feel the dirt and blood. These rich people want you to just work all day and come home to cartoons and shitty TV and music that’s just noise and be content with that until you die. But none of that is life. Go tell your boss to fuck himself. Tell someone to fuck himself. Make a big bet at Santa Anita and if you lose your carfare walk home in the rain and laugh about it. Get a cheap car that barely runs and see how long you can drive it before it gives out and then just leave it there. Take the bus. See how long you can go without eating. Write something. Write it without using a computer, without even stopping to cut and paste and spellcheck. Do anything but this stupid shit you do all day because you’re dying, kid, and you’re too fucking brainwashed to see it, and if you don’t turn it around fast you’ll be dead in an instant and they’ll make you into a cartoon too and put you up on this fucking wall. Get your head out of your ass!
GUY: Whoa. I don’t — did that just happen? The light’s off. Maybe there’s something wrong… oh well. Oh, hey, look, there’s Jane Austen!
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