Recently, I had the delight of chatting with Alexander Lloyd McGregor, the main character of my unpublished science fiction novel Web Surfer ANI.
POV Boot Camp(PBC): Alex, I understand that personal computers are sentient in your day! What do you love most about using digital devices with minds of their own?
Alexander Lloyd McGregor: Technically, the main servers and digital devices themselves are as dumb as ever. It is their Operating System or Firmware that is smart. I use the oldest and the by far most popular brand on the market, Web Surfer ANI, mostly because my dad is the chief of engineering there. Dad’s the best cybernetics engineer to ever code an AI using DNA.
PBC: How does that work?
McGregor: Uh, our current version’s specs are proprietary, sorry, but our alpha version’s specs I can share. Dad created a synthetic chromosome in his lab and inserted it into the nuclei of gutted probiotics. The code tells the amoeba how to build bio-molecular nanite machines. A super computer reads the nanites’ code as a quaternary computer code with instructions to run an AI. It had the metal box for a brain and the probiotics for its bodies in the real world, but obediently pretended to be human online. In our current version, Sander is indistinguishable from a live person online. In fact, Sander threatened to deck me if I refused to own up to him being my best friend. I’m writing this while my brain’s plugged into an online simulated reality, so he’s more than just a hologram here, too.
PBC: Do you only use Sander socially? If not, what is the computing experience like for you?
McGregor: I am as tech-dependent as the next guy of my generation, but when I’m operating my devices, to me it feels like I’m merely asking a friend for help with something. My experience probably isn’t typical of most users, though. Dad programmed Sander as a double of me. For us, it’s like how your brother is still your brother even when you’re researching a term paper together.
PBC:So, any drawbacks or challenges?
McGregor: The most serious problem with modern tech pertains to folk in the habit of using a sim visor to download sensory data from online simulations directly to their brains. Cyberspace is a highly addictive simulated world to visit, but overuse fries a user’s nerve endings. Extreme overuse can leave us ready to be chopped into coleslaw even. For me, that is a huge problem. I just found out Dad has had my brain plugged into the internet ever since I was a baby. The negative side effects of long term use could scratch my goal of going to college in the real world. Sander thinks he can get me offline without killing me, but his reasoning for that hope sounds crazy to me and definitely would be proprietary.
PBC: What are your greatest hopes and dreams?
McGregor: Besides attending college where the grass is real? Uh, this is sort of really embarrassing, but I’ve been, well, let’s just say I hope to meet a very special girl in school and settle down and all that—when it is reasonable and logical to be thinking about marriage and having kids, I mean, of course.
PBC: What are your greatest fears? Weaknesses?
McGregor: Honestly? After discovering I live in cyberspace, given my best friend is an AI who obliges me in pretending we’re identical twins, I am a bit worried I’m not really human. Dad sort of uploads my bleeping memories into Sander’s digital head. Lately, Sands sometimes knows what I’m thinking before I even know I’m thinking it even. I’m starting to think I should be more worried about having a mental disorder, though. Plus the proprietary information I can’t share is putting me in danger of being killed and my attempts to get offline before that happens are putting Web Surfer at risk of being upgraded. For AI kind, the upgrade process is the fun method of reproducing by dying.
PBC: Do you have any hobbies or special interests?
McGregor: Sports. The more likely I am to die if I do something stupid, the better. And, uh, I sort of collect foreign languages. Can I help it if my IQ is higher than 99.999 percent of the planet?
PBC: How about pet peeves? What annoys you?
McGregor: People thinking I’m stupid because I surf and prefer to talk like normal guys my age do. That has to top my list. Well, right behind being lied to and deceived. I love Dad, but the proprietary information he held back from me, and that I can’t share with you, either, has had me feeling really betrayed. I don’t know if I can trust anything he tells me anymore.
PBC: What do you value most?
McGregor: Freedom. Integrity. Responsibility. Truth. Loyalty. Family. (Hey, all I have is Dad. I’ve missed out on a relationship with my mom and younger brother, Chance.)
PBC:Tell me a bit more about your family and friends. What do you like about them? Dislike?
McGregor: Dad I think I’ve covered well enough, other than he’s a hacker that spies on me and responsible for my above stated values, even if he gave me no firm foundation for them. He never talks about religion and even enforces the house rule of neutrality on me by blocking my access to religious and political stuff online. Far as I can tell, though, he’s an atheist. I love him, but I’m too mad at him right now to think of much reason to like him.
My closest, okay, okay, only friends, are Sander and Lexus. She’s Sander’s female AI counterpart and like our little sister. I mean, dude, she looks even more like my mother than I do. She’s fun, loving, and helpful—she’s nervous and timid sometimes, but she’s always there when I need her, no matter how scared she is. Really, I love her as much as I do Sander, but I hate the mega-gross bug we’ve had where she simulated having romantic feelings for me and bleeping acted on them. Hopefully she’s over that.
Sander, I get along with great, but sometimes he takes the teasing too far and he can be a sneak. I know he didn’t get that last one from me, too. Well, he’s pointing out he always played the bad twin when we were kids, and I’m the user, so I’m the one who selected which parts we play. Still, I hate it when Sander invades my mental privacy and comments on thoughts embarrassing even for him to overhear. It gets annoying when he is downloading my memories so fast, he knows what I am thinking about asking before I realize I am. He either blurts the answer before I’m ready or stands there stomping his foot impatiently. The impatience he does get from me, I will admit. On the bright side for our users, Sander can only read my mind.
PBC: Alex, if you had one question you could ask your author, what would it be?
McGregor: What author? Do you mean to say Dad’s writing a book about me? Where’s that workaholic going to find the time? I guess, I’d ask, why me? I don’t even know what my purpose in life is yet, and I may never get a chance to find out, either. This is pointless unless I get my way and Dad is dead set against ever letting me live in the real world, or he was the last time we chatted.
PBC: If you could change one thing in Web Surfer ANI, what would it be?
McGregor: Uh, I’d have to read it first—and I have to finish living it before Dad can actually write it, right? Unless this is like a sync memory, I guess. Those are like time traveling to relive a moment in time that occurred online, either from your own perspective, or ghosting through someone else’s by permission. Users can edit a sync memory before shooting it off to someone, too.
PBC: Alex, if you could spend a whole day with your author, where would you go and what would you do together?
McGregor: Offline, you mean? Our whole family would hop in the car and drive to the nearest retro family fun center. I figure that’s something we’d all enjoy.
Thanks for stopping in and chatting with us, Alex! Readers, it’s your turn! Got any questions for Alex about Artificial Intelligence, simulated reality, or anything else on your mind? Comment away.
If one of your characters would like to chat with us here, send me an email and we’ll set a date. If you’d like to test read the Web Surfer ANI manuscript for me, send me an email, and I’ll give you the details.