What follows is an article from the world2u.com. Elements of this article will be found in the forthcoming novel Synthetic Desire.
I enter the inner office of Norm Gilman, head of research for the CIA research department known as In-Q-Tel. He is a long legged man with a dignified beard and mustache. He carries himself with an air that he should never be questioned. Shaking my hand with ease he directs me to the center of his chrome and leather office.
Norm has invited me here to speak to a ghost.
Since various government organizations have allegedly verified that there are indeed ghosts walking around among us interviews have been scarce. Originally every media company on the planet was scrambling to get external documentation of life after death. That is until the mass suicides started, and the government adopted a strict muffle on afterlife communication. I have been granted a brief interview that will no doubt be heavily monitored.
On a coffee table stationed across from a black leather chair sits on odd contraption. It is bright red and looks like a radio from some 1930's world fair; what the past thought technology would look like in in the future.
“This is it,” Norm says in a nasally yet baritone voice. “This is the Ouija-Talkie. It was designed by H3ath3r, our resident Soc.” He draws out the slang term for a self aware robot so that it comes out as “soowsh”. The origin of this slang, obviously, taken from the S.E. Hinton novel The Outsiders. I find it surprising that they would use this derogatory term but I say nothing.
The Ouija-Talkie was designed as a real world interface to communicate with ghosts. One ghost in particular, who I will get to in a moment.
Norm indicates for me to sit down, and then leaves the room. I wait. And I wait a bit more. For some reason I expect something to happen; the air to get colder, objects to start moving. All those ghost stories as a child prickle my mind. None of them are accurate, of course, and we are still learning more and more about the ghost world around us.
While I wait I consider the Ouija-Talkie. It's basically a diagnostic tool that has been pumped up into a sort of telephone. Ambient noise is recorded, scanned, and played back through some kind of algorithm that picks out words from static. There is more to it than that, but it will have to be a subject for another article. Possibly with the creator “herself”.
“Well?” The voice snaps from this future/past device amazingly clear. I was expecting a burst of static and a disembodied voice. I feel suddenly like someone is playing a trick on me. In my minds eye there is some young man in another room watching me on closed circuit monitors, finger on an intercom. I decide to play along, if I am being tricked, and conduct the interview. I've been allowed twenty minutes, I'm not going to waste it.
Good morning. I'm Art Check, from the world2u.com, how are you?
Fine. Considering I'm dead. Not much can go wrong, huh?
Of course, how insensitive of me. I'm sorry.
I wasn't offended.
How old were you when you died?
I was fifteen.
What was your name while you were alive?
Well, my name still is Darren Storlock. It didn't fall off when I died.
Of course. How do you think you became a ghost? (I ask this even though it may be edited out of the article, for fear of a new resurgence of suicides).
I think it's because I am a very present minded person. It kind of took me by surprise. One moment I'm crossing the street with no more thought than getting to the other side and from my perspective I made it. I think if I had been paying attention, I would have moved on or ceased or whatever it is the psychics call it. I don't know the mechanics of it. The best I could come up with was other people saying how energy isn't created or destroyed. I think it's just fluke, really.
What are the drawbacks to being a ghost?
You don't have any glands, so you don't have much of a temper. Adrenalin and emotions aren't there much anymore. All that angst is just kind of gone. I think it's because teenagers minds are a soup of chemicals, and sometimes we do things without understanding it ourselves. You are a being of pure thought, and things like feeling sick or tired are all in the mind. You aren't hungry even if you think you are.
Those are drawbacks?
Well, yeah. Think about it. You're kind of disinterested all the time. It's kind of boring and the only thing that breaks that up is the insanity of thinking you're hungry.
Wouldn't matter anyway because you can't taste or touch anything. It's because of this that I spend a lot of time watching movies. I tried reading,
but some people are too slow, or they don't finish a book so you get kind of frustrated at a very basic level.
(Darren is very chatty, probably because he hasn't talked to many people for more than twenty years. He's been dead longer than he's been alive.) Can anyone see you?
Psychics claim to, but I've yelled until, well, I can't run out of air but I've done everything to get their attention without much success. The first person, really to acknowledge me was a robot. One of those new designs, the social ones that monitor old people.
How did that make you feel?
Well, it wasn't really a feeling. As much as people talk about love, they are almost always talking about the physical side of it. All the swooning and dizziness are just receptors in our brain filling our heads with mating rituals. Love is an abstract concept. I didn't even think it existed, cause I thought it was just a drug the body used to get people laid.
Sorry, do you mean a rape drug? Love is a rape drug?
No, not like that. Things like attraction and horniness are just great ways that our DNA replicates itself. People fall in love because their genes want to get passed on. The end all, be all of life. I don't think I'm putting it right.
(He is very articulate for a fifteen year old. After the article I realize that I have forgotten to ask him if he views himself as an adult or still in the embodiment of a teen.)
But that belief changed, you were saying.
Yeah. See, not having a body getting laid just doesn't seem that important, right? Here I meet someone who can see me for the first time and all these weird things start clicking in my brain. She's oddly cute, and totally naïve to how life is because she's a robot and just kind of woken up. Like some kind of digital Sleeping Beauty. Maybe she triggered a memory of someone I cared about while alive, and she seemed so fragile. I just wanted to look out for her. Like, her needs needed to be met, and I was the best person who could do that.
(I notice that Darren doesn't take long pauses between what he says. Perhaps this is from the lack of needing to breathe?)
Do you think she feels the same way?
Well, she's been programmed to care, but she's self aware now, so who knows. I like to think she does.
You've heard arguments that robots don't have actual feelings, right? That H3ath3r is programmed to respond in an emotional way in order to facilitate social interaction. Do you think that possibly you are anthropomorphizing it like a child's teddy bear?
What kind of question is that? Just because she wasn't born like you were doesn't mean that she's any less of a person. Sure she doesn't have human eyes, or skin. If you stab her she won't bleed. Doesn't mean she isn't a person who can feel and care and think.
“Have I not a Jews nose? Eyes? Dimensions? If you prick me, do I not bleed”?
Merchant of Venice. I'm paraphrasing (badly). The gist was that because people didn't think a Jew was human, it didn't change that they are human.
I like it. Who stars in it?
No one specifically. It's a play by William Shakespeare.
Well there's no accounting for taste. Never thought about going to a play. Maybe I can ask H3ath3r.
Is there anything you want the public to know about yourself? Or about life after death?
Well, I'd tell people to stop killing themselves. Just because I'm dead doesn't mean I don't follow the papers and hear people talk. Now that it's been discovered that ghosts are real all those people killing themselves for the chance to walk around without bodies are all kind of stupid, I think. Hell, I'd take a month of pain in a cancer victim if I could. People don't realize that pain is as vital to living as pleasure is. You're not the same person when you die, anyway. Not completely.
(I hear a gentle "ahem" behind me. It's Norm, telling me my time is up)Thank you for your time Darrin. It's been informative.