A long time ago (Star Wars)—which sometimes seems like a long, long time ago (American Pie)—in the course of an otherwise normal evening, I felt like sending an email to my brother, Tony. That thought actually popped into my mind a second before a less pleasant recollection: Tony was dead; he had been killed in an automobile accident in 1983 at age 23.
This happened to me in the late 1990s. I was working with website content and digital tactics then, so it wasn’t a big leap for me to imagine a new Web-based service. You and your family get together and contribute to an online persona of your deceased relative. You enter all the basic profile information, together with remembered quotes and anecdotes. The result is an avatar that utilizes artificial intelligence to recreate an online version of the deceased. Then, if you get the urge, you can shoot an email off to Tony@theotherside.com, and expect to get a response that echoes his personality: “What the fuck do you want now? You still owe me $400.” or some such loving sentiment. And the online persona, if the AI decides that he has the urge, can spontaneously email you and others, randomly or as appropriate: “Happy birthday, bro!” or “Congrats on your parole!”
Apparently, capturing the essence of a deceased person is still a pursuit of many groups, and at least one—the Terasem Movement Foundation—means to install that essence in a physical object, such as a cyborg or clone. Thus, you can not only email Tony, you can join him for a Steelers game. When I first had the deceased avatar idea, I tracked down an AI expert who was on the leading edge of that field. He poo-pooed it, indicating that AI had not developed to the point that it could pass the Turing test. I later discovered that the guy I spoke with was himself a cyborg. Just kidding. Couldn’t resist. In fact, that was then and this is now. I firmly believe that an AI could be launched today that convincingly simulated a very basic, simple mind, say, Donald Trump. Again, kidding. Again, couldn’t resist.
Featured at the Terasem Movement website, the movie “2B” is the story of the first transitional bioelectric human (transbeman). A transbeman is the conscious analog of a person, created by combining detailed data about the person (a “mindfile”) using “consciousness software” (“mindware”), and downloading that data into a biological or nanotechnological body. Republicans have not yet decided which bathroom transbemans would be allowed to use.
Another idea popped into my head back then. If necessity is the mother of invention, laziness must be coming in a close second. It would be first, but, you know, it’s lazy. I remember thinking that there ought to be a Web-based service that would present to me a convenient list of my elected representatives, perhaps together with their voting records and contact information. Because…wait for it…I was too lazy to put together such a document myself.
Enter Votespotter, an app I’ve been using for the past 9 months or so. It does everything except tell me if those “good ole boys were drinking whiskey and rye.” Through Votespotter, I was introduced to US Senators Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R); US Representative Patrick Murphy (D); state Senator Joe Negron (R); and state Representative Larry Lee, Jr (D).
Votespotter pushes a notification to your phone whenever these officials vote, sometimes offering the bonus of poll questions on relevant issues of the day. The notification takes you to a brief summary of the bill as well as your lawmakers’ votes on the bill, and asks whether you agree or disagree with his or her vote, and whether you’d like to share your response using various social media. After you enter your opinion, an email form opens indicating whether you agree or disagree, preaddressed to your lawmaker’s email account. Then comes the hard part: Press “send.” The app also provides a phone number in the event you wish to register your thoughts in a more personal way. Ha! Democracy for the lazy—but informed—citizen! The American dream.
The Elected Line-up in My Part of Florida
After a while, your Votespotter responses form a historical record of the level of your agreement/disagreement with these folks. Select “My Engagement” in the Votespotter menu and voila—you can find, as I have, that I agreed with Nelson 80% of the time, with Rubio 29% of the time, with Murphy 59% of the time, with Negron 84% of the time, and with Lee 78% of the time.
One surprise: I’m a progressive, liberal, social Democrat, thinking furiously at the moment of switching to the Green party (Bernie endorsed Hillary yesterday). Today, though, I saw a poll that had Trump ahead by just a few percentage points in Florida, an important swing state. If Trump beats Hillary in Florida by one vote, I’d be very, very upset with myself if I had voted for Jill Stein. The deciding factor may be (and it’s possible I won’t make a final decision until I’m actually in the polling booth) the Supreme Court. If Roe v Wade is reversed, and Citizens United upheld, under a President Trump-installed justice, I’d be very, very, very upset. Hugely upset. It would be bad. Very bad. I’m checking the thesaurus for synonyms of confused: dazed, muddled, bewildered, dopey. That’s it! Dopy Trump. Running against Crooked Hillary, who rigged the election against Crazy Bernie.
The surprise is that I agreed with Negron, a Republican, 84% of the time. And, if he’s on the ballot, he’ll get my vote. Because I’m always right, and he’s right 84% of the time. Not bad.
I was glad to see the “non-surprise” Votespotter calculated for me: That I agreed with Little Marco only 29% of the time. Little agreement with Little Marco.
Votespotter is a handy tool that could benefit any voter who wished to track lawmakers and respond to their legislative actions. You can even edit the boilerplate email responses to include swear words or the fact that you have a Nobel prize in economics and teach at the University of Miami. Which I would never do, again, as I’d probably end up in a database of likely donors. It would be instructional, though, to see what someone like Hunter Thompson would do with that, if he were still around. Hunter Thompson showing up at a $10,000-a-plate dinner, carrying a fifth of Southern Comfort and bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Well, the end is nigh. And this post has petered out, too. Think I’ll take my Chevy to the levy and hope none of my elected officials have to “take the last train to the coast.” And I really need no AI confirmation that my brother, Tony, would have some choice words about this 2016 presidential campaign.
Postscript 17 Oct 2016: Came upon this post at The Verge from a woman who, after losing a close friend, re-created him as artificial intelligence. Exactly.