Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us
If it were necessary to make arrangements for it, my decision would be….that [my] friends should lay my body where they thought best….I shall leave it purely to custom to order this ceremony; I shall entrust myself to the first people this duty shall fall to….The arranging of funerals….are consolations for the living rather than supports for the dead.
-Michel de Montaigne, “Our Emotions Get Carried Away Beyond Us”
Right now, a keyboard app called SwiftKey can connect to your Facebook, Gmail, and Twitter accounts. SwiftKey reads all of your e-mails, status updates, and tweets, and learns how you speak — including what words you use most, what phrases you repeat most often, and any neologisms you happen to have coined. This enables SwiftKey to suggest complete words, based on a few keystrokes, when you’re typing on your phone.
Keep this in mind.
Let’s say you have already written 5,767 tweets, just over 500 blog posts, and somewhere in the vicinity of 100,000 emails. While many of these e-mails are short, with no lasting value, many others are pages and pages long, and the whole collection is much longer than Proust. Also available to you, with just a few mouse clicks, are thousands and thousands of chat transcripts.
Your Facebook activity — on average — could already fill a normal-sized book of 300-500 pages. Your web footprint is much larger than this, of course. It also includes every Amazon.com review, every published article, and every incensed comment you have ever written.
A week before your death, there is still much to be done. Your tweets must be swept up, every last one, and deposited neatly in a pile. Your chat transcripts must be decoded: every instance of “LOL” must be converted to “laughs out loud,” for example. Your prolific output on Facebook must be matched to every available form of “real” communication (such as e-mail) in order to determine how you were really feeling, to the nearest round number, when all of those selfies were taken. Your incensed blog comments — average position in the comment thread, #57 — must be re-copied neatly on a large scroll, which is then rolled up and sealed with a sticker that reads “TO BE OPENED IN CASE OF EMERGENCY.” Everyone who has ever found a Yelp or Amazon.com review of yours “funny” or “useful” must be put through a centrifugal process that eventually assigns them to a demographic.
Then the real work begins. Your tweets must be read aloud, in public, for charitable donations. Your letters must be performed in appropriate voices. Your blog posts must be categorized, tagged, and then released back into the wild for further study. Your Facebook pictures must be scanned, labeled, and digitally analyzed for greater searchability. A comprehensive study of your use of Instagram filters, entitled I Just Took A Picture of Yesterday, must be published to limited and local acclaim. Your top ten secrets must be ranked for potential future use as clickbait. Levels of permissions (or lack of permissions) must be negotiated with everyone to whom you have ever written. At last, once all this is done, there’s still no substitute for reading the most shocking postcards and handwritten letters, after they’re scanned in, one at a time, late into the night.
Four days until your death. Time is running short. If this work was being performed by a dozen human beings, it would take them approximately sixteen years to complete everything and transfer it onto a Sony Playstation Blu-Ray disc. Fortunately, none of this is being done by humans. Every single instance of “you,” in text or images, is being scrubbed and downloaded by a single program. It’s a bot, and it is specifically designed to read and learn from online conversations, online posts, and other massive archives, such as personal e-mail accounts. This bot’s own chat transcripts, known as ImmorTALES, can provide users with an equivalent experience to chatting with you, yourself, including jokes and cultural references. The ImmorTALES bot can search and re-render images from every photograph you have ever taken, and can be manually set by the user to various phases from your life. The user can also put ImmorTALES on “shuffle” mode, in which case the phase of life is assigned randomly, and changes at the beginning of every new chat. This is usually better for family members and long-standing friends.
The ImmorTALES bot is a combination of a search engine and a personality construct. It can quickly search for, and reproduce, excerpts or complete works from the individual’s life, such as tweets and articles. It also advises users about copyright permissions or other licenses (e.g. Creative Commons) applicable to each search result. (However, this feature will become obsolete in 2064, after all copyrights, including grandfathered exceptions, cease to have any legal standing.) Three days left. Let’s be honest. I am writing about myself. I hope things go differently, better, for you.
I would like all of my books to be cremated, and their ashes scattered near Madison Avenue, in New York, in the advertising district. It’s what they would have wanted. ImmorTALES can, on request, come up with a few short and moving words to say for the occasion, functionally identical to what I would have said, including tasteful jokes and somber cultural references (e.g. Fahrenheit 451 and Fahrenheit 9/11).
Nobody who has received a one-week warning has ever survived. There is some speculation that the killer actually works for ImmorTALES, but since the killer has a clearly political agenda, and actually pre-dates ImmorTALES by six years, this is obviously just a vicious rumor. Having two days until the date of assassination means that there is only one night more all together. We sing songs and hold a wake. I am actually reclining inside a large plastic coffin for most of the party, until I fall out with a loud crashing sound during a group rendition of “Call Me Maybe.” I am drunk and yelling that I have not been hurt, “or perhaps I have, but it didn’t kill me!” Laughter. My children have to be taught about Carly Rae Jepsen using the “Share” function on their phones, and our phones, and our earbuds. Our earbuds are our phones. It is the year 2034.
I have made special arrangements to receive, in addition to the usual gun, a complete wilderness survival kit, including a skinsuit with reflective coatings, as well as iodine tablets. “Running is very unusual,” comments a representative handling my assassination, in a neutral tone of voice, very hard to interpret. The iodine tablets are artifically flavored and taste a little like cherry cola. The assassination cooperative finally decides to provide the equipment to me at no charge. There is an overwhelming sense of fairness on all sides. I have a brief chat with my own ImmorTALES bot to make sure it is working correctly. It is too realistic, and for a period of several irreplaceable hours, I become depressed. I am hungover, as well. “Go ahead and talk to the bot, if that’s how you feel!” I yell, to several family members. I apologize to them soon afterward. Everyone is on edge.
Thirty minutes before Time Zero, as the cooperative says, I am already on a scientific research train, traveling down to the super-tropical zone at high speed. I have said goodbye to everyone. ImmorTALES bots are not merely “answer bots.” They continue to interact with the online world, and are licensed to publish on a pre-defined list of topics, especially in terms of new tweets. This occasionally leads to situations where multiple ImmorTALES bots, based on constructs of people who knew each other, encounter each other again in the virtual world. These interactions can, under certain specific conditions, produce infinite conversations that are both highly realistic and extremely taxing for computer systems. A landmark case in 2025, leading to the famous Supreme Court decision County of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Computing Solutions, made it a crime for servers to shut down conversations between bots “if those bots are based on discrete, previously living individuals.” At this time, infinite bot conversations are (by one estimate) eating up 0.05% of all server capacity, worldwide. The first line of dialogue with a Kugelmass ImmorTALES bot is always “Hey, what’s up?” This line changes to “What’s happening?” on weekends. The voice simulation is pretty good. Thirty seconds until Time Zero. Twenty-nine seconds. It is a beautiful, cloudless day. This is the third post in the Montaigne series.