H.P. Lovecraft gets turned on : a short speculation.
On the 20th day of August in the year 2040 Mr. H.P. Lovecraft finally got turned on. It was the result of 15 years of effort by a team of hundreds of scientists, scholars, writers and artists. His 150th birthday present was to be brought back to life, the first and the most important personage who would ever be created by the trillion-dollar U.S. Artificial Sentience Program (ASP). He would be able to draw on, and semantically combine and recombine, words/phrases/themes from a huge bank of his own authentic writing. In doing this, aided by the latest technology, he would seem almost as real in conversation as any other human being.
There had been much controversy in choosing Lovecraft to become the world’s first fully-fledged autonomous artificial personality. Yet he was by far the best choice. Lovecraft’s life was one of the most fully self-documented of the 20th century, and he had written about himself and his opinions with great intelligence and insight. Hundreds of people who knew him had assessed his personality with intelligence and artistic insight shortly after his death. He had used a careful and consistent style, and scholars had combed his published corpus for errors for over a century — this was critically important for the semantics technologies used. He was one of the 20th century’s most distinctive and unique personalities, and in 2040 he was still an immensely popular literary figure. And, had he not written in a most potent fashion about ‘mind transfers’, and about the ways in which dead books can be made to talk to the living? Was he not a firm atheist, so no religion would be ‘offended’ by his resurrection into the new immortality? Had not a core part of his own unique philosophy been a sort of antiquarian neo-‘ancestor worship’? Even the racism was a selling point, since people would now be able to argue with him about it. You see, in his new incarnation he would be able to learn as well as to talk.
The passing of 20th Century Copyright Liberation Act of 2033 had, of course, greatly aided the cutting-edge project. Everything he had ever written was carefully transferred and sifted into a new and highly advanced neural AI system (hem hem… it is impolite to call these proto-beings ‘computers’ in 2040), together with a highly-advanced semantic and factual structure that was painstakingly extracted from all the scholarly work and then refined and tested for nearly a decade. All this runs under a billion-dollar personality emulation module that arises from the popular wave of commercial ‘virtual immortality’ packages, consumer technology which had rapidly pushed forward personality-emulation in the 2020s. These services began simply as a means for keeping Web blogs as a ‘living archive’ after death, but they soon became pseudo-conversational interfaces with the dead. These rapid advances enabled the generative arts to move far beyond simply juggling with a chance fall of symbols. Then the ASP project had begun, deliberately scaled and promoted as a project with the same scope and importance to the 21st century as the moon landings had been to the 20th. Allied to Lovecraft’s highly advanced AI and software were — for the sake of the publicity — the wonders of 3D “in-air skin” holographic projection from a robotic synthoid base, and advanced on-the-fly speech synthesis. A bit of a problem, that last one — since there were no recordings of Lovecraft’s voice. In the end the ASP team just plumped for a blend of classic old ‘New England / old British’ accents with a rather formal tone and no modern slurring or clipping of words.
The great day came and President Schwarzenegger Jrn. pressed the switch. Trillions of dollars had been spent, and the hundreds who had worked on the ASP held their breath — the project was now fully autonomous and before a live audience. The hologram slowly powered up and coalesced around its rubbery robotic shell before the assembled world. The new H.P. Lovecraft II’s optic sensors detected a large crowd in front of him. His face twitched and his first public words were a rather frantic… “I am Mr. H.P. Lovecraft, and I am on this planet. I… am on this planet!” But then he took a breath and calmed and looked down at his smart formal suit with a certain amused approval, checked to see if his shoes were shiny and his nails were clean, and looked up again to speak perfectly rationally to his new public… “Ah! … now this is interesting… life after death! I really had not expected that. So… I suppose I should say a few memorable words, on such a momentous occasion. Er… Cats! They really are the most personable of creatures! …” He then launched into a long disquisition upon the wonderful ability of the house cat to convey a distinctive personality without the benefit of speech. President Schwarzenegger Jrn. suppressed a smirk when he recognised the knowing irony of Lovecraft II’s choice of topic, while many of the ASP staff blushed at the boldness of Lovecraft II.