I awoke with a start and peered groggily into the dimly lit room. There was a figure sitting in a large comfy lounge chair, a tablet on her knee.
“Welcome back” she intoned evenly.
“I, wait, who are you, what is this?” I tried to get up but my arms were weak, like trying to move in a dream, or a nightmare.
“You’ve had a psychotic break.” she continued in the same even tone, “please try not to be alarmed, my name is Susan and I’m here to help.”
I shook my head “psychotic break, what? and how are you going to help me?”
“I’m a psychologist, I’ve been assigned to your case and…”
“Why can’t I move? What have you done to me?”
“What do you think has been done to you?”
The question caught me off guard. This was obviously a kidnapping. A ransom, I was being held here, bound to this chair being interrogated by a… I checked her, the certificate on the wall, the tablet, and her demeanour.
“Psychotic break you say?”
OK, so I was sedated, they drugged me up and put me in this chair to be talked at by this shrink. I tried to relax. OK, OK, she’s trying to determine if I am crazy, then she’ll let me go.
“I’m not crazy.” I said as calmly as I could. “I just want to go home, please.”
She seemed unconvinced and continued “Can you tell me a little bit about how you’re feeling?”
This question caught me off guard again. “Angry, I guess” but there was no heat to it. Like I knew I should be angry. I WAS angry, but yet at the same time, it felt like I was watching myself be angry from a distance somehow, like I was on some kind of…”
“Am I High?” the accusation burst out of me.
Drugs, they’d pumped me full of something: happy pills to keep me calm, ok fine.
“OK, I’m fine, I feel fine.”
“Can you think of anything that might have caused your psychotic break?”
“I’m NOT crazy”
“Humour me please” she made a note on the tablet.
I sighed. Truth be told, if anyone were to ask me how I was feeling a few weeks ago, there’s only one word that could probably describe it.
“Depressed I guess, doc… Can I call you doc?”
“Yes, of course,” another note on the tablet “and do you have any idea as to why?”
“Why am I depressed?” The memories flooded back unbidden.
“I.. I’m a fraud” the word came out with a whimper, a dark secret I hadn’t ever shared with even my closest friends.
I shook my head. “I have this great job, people think I am so good at it, but I don’t think I really deserve all that.”
“What is it that you do?”
“Well, I….” I paused a little self consciously. Years of introducing myself to new people, trying not to let my job sound like a hobby.”
“I’m a content creator. An educator actually, focusing mostly on tech.”
“Oh, that’s interesting, tell me more.”
“Well, I make videos, explainers, telling people about new and upcoming tech, how it works. I do a lot of in depth research, actually, write detailed reviews and thought pieces… or at least I used to.”
“Used to? What do you mean by that?”
“Oh, well, I guess it all kind of started on twitter.”
I had been moderately successful thus far. Some videos had gone viral and were picked up by some other major networks. A few influencers followed me on twitter and boosted my stuff occasionally. I wasn’t big enough to have my own staff, but I had an editor who worked for me freelance.
It was after just one such viral video that I was first introduced to phaker.
“Faker?” she interjected.
“Huh? yes, kind of phaker with a ‘ph’. Tech still likes their weird names” I added apologetically.
I was scrolling through my DMs after this one video went viral and feeling a little overwhelmed. When you get… popular… I guess, you start receiving all kinds of attention. Good and bad. A lot of people want you to promote their products, some people want to debate you in the “free marketplace of ideas” some want to see pictures of your feet…. the Internet is weird.
I was scrolling through and responding to all the messages and as it happened, they had a promotion going with phaker. It gave me the option to send automatic replies to direct messages without having to read through all of them in detail.
It’s actually quite smart, it’s not just predictive text, it actually reads through all your DMs, the correspondence you have had with everyone and makes recommendations on what the response should be based on all that context, allowing me to work by exception.
“That sounds pretty normal”
“Oh, yes, it’s normal now, but I got super into it, saved me a lot of time you see. I suppose that was where I first started having this feeling. This feeling of being a fraud.”
“Well because people thought they were talking to me. They wanted to talk to me, and instead they were talking to some… robot.”
“But that’s not all of it, not by half.”
She silently gestured for me to go on.
“Well, after a few months I realised that I didn’t need to look at my DMs at all really, the responses were pretty much on par with what I would say and the responsiveness was really good, better than I could do myself. I enabled it on my other social media because it’s such a time-saver. And then this one day, this one day in particular I had a sore throat.
I couldn’t talk, you see, so I signed up for deep phakes.”
“Deep fakes” this note went down on the tablet as well.
“Yeah, you know those fake videos of the president saying something stupid… well more stupid than normal” I looked up to see if that had drawn a smile. Her expression was even.
Yikes, tough crowd.
“Well, so you can make a deep fake for yourself and phaker has this great video service. It was actually quite easy for me because I have a lot of content of me talking and my channel is pretty much all me facing the camera and talking anyway, so the video looked very real.”
“I suppose I should have told my audience it was fake, but it looked so real and I didn’t want to let them down, so I just published. If I got called out, I could always say it was a social experiment. It’s the kind of thing I would do anyway, you know, to educate people.”
Well, I didn’t get caught out. In fact, it was my most popular video to date, and you know what they say when you cotton onto a winning formula… from that point on, all my videos were deep phakes. I could dress the avatar up however I liked, get it to say whatever I liked, it had perfect diction, perfect poise, and it never had a bad hair day (unless that’s what I wanted).
“From that point on, all my videos were.. well, fakes.”
“But those were still your ideas.”
What? Oh yes, of course, those were my ideas. I wrote all the scripts. At least for a time.
“Well, my job is mostly reading and writing. It’s not a very hard job, but it is time consuming. The same technology that I used for automatically replying to direct messages can be applied to any kind of text really. I started by making every Monday morning tweet an automated one, then all of Monday, then pretty much the majority of my tweets were just Phakes.”
I mean, don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I didn’t have to do any work. I fed the algorithm every word I had ever written. Every short story, my novel I’d been working on, all my messages to friends, family and co-workers. All my many many blog posts over the last few decades, every youtube comment and reddit post.
I then started feeding it more. All the research I was reading. My notes. I kind of started relying on it to summarise research.
You have to understand, see, the research papers are long and verbose, they don’t need to be that long. A bit of AI can read through all that text and consensus it into a single paragraph. That’s pretty much my job anyway and the AI made it so much easier.
So one day, just for fun, I thought I would see if I could get it to write a script for my next video. I thought I would do it as a special April 1st post or something and talk about how AI just wasn’t quite ready yet but.. It was good, really good. I mean, it was me, it sounded like me, looked like me and it had the same kinds of thoughts I would have but it was just… sharper, crisper, more to the point, easier to understand.
That was my most liked video of all time. Once again, it’s hard to go back from that. Why work hard to produce a worse product when you can work less and do something better.
So, by this point, my twitter, instagram, and even my main video channel were all basically automated content. I reviewed them from time to time but honestly, there’s not much I would have wanted to change.
I got popular, really popular, embarrassingly popular. People would invite me to speak at Universities, but of course, they wanted me to talk about my latest stuff and oftentimes I hadn’t even watched my own damn videos.
So, I got little teleprompter AR glasses and a bone microphone, so I could communicate to the cloud, ask questions and get answers in real time. It was great, answers at my fingertips when I needed them. Any research paper, any topic I wanted. I could also “remember” people’s names, their partner’s name, their dog’s name. Frankly it was a godsend, I don’t know how I ever survived without it.
“…but how did it make you feel?”
Susan’s voice brought me back into the present.
“Like a fraud, a fake, I was living this life where I had all these great relationships, I was thoughtful, intelligent, articulate and I suppose I am all those things, but I feel like I was cheating somehow, like an athlete on performance enhancing drugs.”
“But that’s not the worst part, because the glasses came off when I went to bed. No, technophile that I am, I had to go all the way. Have you heard of a BMI?”
“I am familiar.”
“Yeah, a brain machine interface, lets you plug yourself directly in, no need for the glasses or the microphone, just straight into the net.”
I had expected it to be instantaneous but it was much more gradual. At first it was like exercising a new muscle, like flexing your third arm. Then it became intuitive, second nature. I could recall information in an instant, use surge capacity in the cloud to crunch big numbers, but I feel like I pushed it too far. I disconnected the BMI a few weeks ago, it just felt like too much, it felt not like me…
“Tell me what you’re thinking right now.”
I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes.
“I feel… I feel like not enough. You know, I have spoken to my phake. It looks like me, speaks like me, has the same knowledge I have. But it’s… it looks younger, has nicer skin, better hair. It’s doing my whole job for me after all while I sit back and reap the rewards. Sometimes I feel like if I were to die, no one would even notice.”
“How would they notice?” Susan asked quietly.
“I mean, if someone was talking to your phake, how would they know?”
Oh, well, of course, it’s just on a computer, it doesn’t have a 3D body, so that’s a dead giveaway, but nowadays so much interaction happens online…”
“Apart from that, what if they were talking to your phake via video, how would they tell?”
“Well” I dug deep and thought about that. I am a technology educator after all, it was an interesting question.
“Well, I suppose it wouldn’t really feel emotion, if you know what I mean. It would know that it should be angry or happy or sad, but as far as I know these things don’t have the same chemical processes we do, it wouldn’t feel a rush of adrenaline or dopamine. It would be kind of like it was doped up on….”
My eyes snapped to hers and her lips curled into a small smile.
“What did you say your name was, Doctor?”
Susan, Dr. Susan Calvin.
“The Dr. Calvin? The world famous AI researcher?”
“Yes, but I prefer the title robot psychologist.”