On CharactersOn Writing

An Origin Story

I love making characters.

Borg by Cylonka.
Borg by Cylonka.

I thought you might like to hear an aborted origin story for Carter.  In case you don’t know, she’s Mason’s handler in Upgrade.  Like many of the actors in the book, I played with a bunch of ideas for her — whether she should be human or an alien, or a machine, or a collective consciousness.  It’s this last one that I found … interesting (and I can share with you, because: no spoilers!  It’s not what she ended up being).

A few years ago my Dad died.  That was a hard thing as many of you who’ve gone through similar will know, but I consider myself luckier than some: not only did we have a good relationship despite living in different countries, we communicated all the time.  I have reams of letters from before the Internet, and terabytes of emails from after the Internet, all in his voice with his thoughts and ideas.

Before he died, he was always there — just on the other side of the world, but that distance was easily bridged with technology.  After he died, he was just … gone.  I got to thinking, what would it be like if you could use technology to breathe some life back into someone?  What if technology could emulate my Dad?

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a horrible idea, bringing people back from the dead is bad for a couple reasons well covered in popular literature — it’s an idea that needs a flexible moral compass.  Still, let’s put that aside: what if you could get a machine to suck up all the imprints someone left on the world — video recordings, their phone calls, letters, emails, blog posts, articles they write for work — and get that same machine to emulate them using their voice?

Then you put in up online, say www.berforeheaven.com, and charge people a fee to talk to their loved ones.  It’s not them, but is it enough of them to make you put in a credit card number?  What about if all you want is to apologise for something, or to say goodbye properly?  Could things like this give you the closure you needed?

And, perhaps most important in today’s age of zero privacy, could this all be done without your knowledge or consent?

That was one of Carter’s possible origin stories — a sentient machine speaking the voices of the dead.  I like her better the way she is right now, but maybe I’ll dust this one off in the future for someone else.

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