“The idea to make make everything disappear so that you can just be in things and you can be in the interface”
– Paola Antonelli, Senior curator in the Department of Architecture and Design at the MoMA, talking about the design of tomorrow and MoMA PS1 Young Architects Program (YAP), The Colbert Report, February 27, 2013
In the first Black Mirror of the season, Charlie Brooker paint a portrait of modern grief. In a world filled with invasive social media and its cousin: emotionally manipulative targetted advertizing, can we really go through traumatic events or grieve in peace? Be Right Back is a brilliant story that follows Martha, a Digital Designer who works from home and Ash, her social media addict boyfriend. As they move into Ash’s childhood home, he disappears leaving Martha grief stricken. Wanting to help, a family friend signs her up for an entirely plausible service that will allow Martha to continue to communicate with Ash.
What I loved about the first episode of Black Mirror is that it is technologically exact. The software that runs Ash is EXACTLY the same kind of system that I have been tinkering with for years. It is brilliant Artificial Stupidity, like the brain of PingCognito, a distillation and remixing of existing facts to create a new experience every time to access it!
In my previous post about this episode, I wrote an open letter to Charlie Brooker about my experience living with an android. This lampoon post was published on Valentine’s Day and it is an ode to my relationship with my autistic boyfriend whom I enjoy poking fun at for being robot-like. If you met my spouse you would conclude that every part of that previous post is true, and therein lies the comedy! Since ideating PingCognito in 2007 and meeting my spouse in 2010, I have thought more and more about how my (in development) technology can be used to do more than just publish biographies on the fly. It can be used to build a powerful influence tree, a truth engine, as well as a software Ash!
Be Right Back is not even science fiction!
If you pay attention to how software Ash communicates with Martha, you will see an advanced version of the type of permission relationship we currently have with our apps. This is Artificial Stupidity and Robotexting at its best! Nurtured by the entirety of Ash’s active social media life and emails, at first, software Ash interacts with grieving Martha through text-only chat. Nurtured by their conversation, software Ash seems to know just what to say and just what to ask. As Martha feeds in videos of Ash talking, she accesses a new level of interaction with software Ash, on the phone. Through voice, software Ash doesn’t really need to be much more active in the conversation, simply listen actively, ask questions and nod his approval as Martha goes on and on talking about work and life. Does this sound like a couple you know? When software Ash becomes duplicate Ash you can really tell how his social media media feed is embedded into his personality. You can even see Ash struggle sometimes to process info, search and access archive! When Martha tells Ash to jump off a cliff, you can almost tell that some customer support manager is secretly stepping in, preventing the product from self-destruction. Since we are only a part of ourselves on social media, our resulting duplicate cannot create a convincing experience because, unlike us, it cannot grow! And so Ash is relegated to the attic where the memories of his human family remain.
Aside from being a fantastic commentary on the power of smart content aggregation Be Right Back sees the usual corny brand of boy meets technology narrative turned on its head. As a head of household digital developer myself, I felt directly targeted by Brooker’s story! And I am totally the kind of person who would collect such technology, and I would start with my very own personal guru inspired by Neil DeGrasse Tyson!