There are now two of me - or should that be “two of us”?
While that may be understandably alarming for some of you, it came as something of a surprise to me, too, as I had no idea I’d been duplicated until I received a Facebook notification that Michael Pitre had tagged me in a post to that splendid group The Vocal Creators’ Lounge.
As I’m not usually noticed by people, never mind tagged by them, I was curious... and couldn’t believe what I found.
Michael, whom I’ve never met, had been playing with a new piece of software - an Artificial Intelligence bot, I believe - and had collaborated with it to write a story together.
He’d started the story, fed some basic info about the real-life me and the equally-real-life Jeremy Frommer into the AI programme, then sat back to see what his computer collaborator would make of it.
It created a fictionalised version of me and of Jeremy (I’m beginning to feel closer to him, as we’re both in the same boat here) then it let our other selves loose in a parallel universe created partly by Michael Pitre and partly by the programme.
Perhaps no-one will understand my bemusement if they read this in a hundred years’ time, but right here and right now, in the third decade of the 21st Century, being turned into a fictionalised character in a story co-written by a robot is still a pretty unusual thing to happen to anyone.
My other self, as envisaged by Michael Pitre and his computer collaborator, doesn’t have a lot in common with me, nor, of course, can I be held responsible for any of his thoughts or actions.
And that could become a problem.
Imagine if someone had purloined your own identity and turned you into a fictionalised character in a story that was then published, without your consent, on a platform as public as Vocal+.
It’s flattering, admittedly; intriguing, certainly; but what if the AI bot had written your character as a rapist, animal-torturer, or a paedophile?
“Ah”, the bot and its human collaborator might say, “but it’s not the real you. The character in the story is fictionalised, so no-one will think any the worse of you.”
If only all humans were as understanding as that.
You might well feel utterly appalled that someone with your name, and based on your real-life character, was behaving in a totally despicable way that was utterly alien to everything you’d ever believed in or stood for, and there’s a sporting chance that others, not just the trolls, would condemn you roundly and publicly for attitudes or behaviours that you knew nothing of and had no control over whatsoever.
On the other hand, if the AI bot were kinder and cast me as some younger-than-my-years lothario who was magnetically attractive to women and so handsome that young ladies were advised to wear sunglasses, would I be so ready to complain?
As it is, I’m astonished that anyone - anyone at all - would have gone to the trouble of feeding my details into an AI bot and producing a fictionalised version of me to star in a story in which I was pitched against an equally-fictionalised Jeremy Frommer in a plot over which neither of us had any control or influence.
Celebrities must feel like this all the time when the tabloid newspapers in the UK write totally fabricated stories about them but present them as fact, as if their doppelgängers were out there doing disreputable or at least newsworthy things while they, the real versions, had their feet up on the sofa eating a tub of ice-cream.
The comedian Freddie Starr never ate a hamster, of course, but the front-page story in The Sun, claiming that he did, made it the most famous “fact” that anyone knew about him and he remained most known for that throughout his life and in every single obituary.
Imagine if the trend started by Michael Pitre caught on: other Jon McKnights would start popping up in video games, novels and movies, and I, the real Jon McKnight, would end up as the least interesting Jon McKnight of all time.
Whereas, until Michael and his AI friend published their story, I could also claim to have been the most interesting Jon McKnight, too.
In the meantime, and while I can still (arguably) out-write an AI bot, you might be interested in some of the following: