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Chapter 2
Alternate Technology

Alternate Reality Ain’t What It Used To Be

by INDIRA CHARUNDER-MACHARRUNDEIRA, Alternate Reality Fine Arts Writer

The future of the human race used to seem bright. Just a few years ago, scientists were saying that our machines would do all of the laborious drudgework that made many people’s lives miserable, things like cleaning out toilets, fixing furnaces and writing speeches for political candidates. This would give all of us the time to become philosopher kings (and, for our gay readers, philosopher queens), appreciating the better things in life, such as fine foods, great music and endless Facts of Life reruns.

Ironically, exactly the opposite has happened.

Sophisticated computer programmes can now analyze a human artist’s body of work, determining the precise features that make the artist unique, and produce new works that don’t just mimic the artist but for all intents and purposes come from the artist. Picasso. Mozart. Rowling. Long after they have died, they are now producing new work.

The problem is, how can a modern musician compete with Beethoven, or playwright with Shakespeare or critic with Gene Shalit? Some try, of course, and are doomed to obscurity. Daunted by the competition, most potential artists don’t even bother trying.

If there is little hope for new artists, a whole industry has grown up to maintain the Classical Artist Emulators (CAEs). CAEs are, as one might expect, highly temperamental, redefining the term “high maintenance.” Shakespeare-A-Tron 2076, for instance, will not write a new sonnet unless the temperature in its housing is exactly 28 degrees centigrade, while Gould-Ulation 12, well known for being performance averse, will not play any new works by Goldberg unless there is absolute silence in the concert hall.

“This was not the way it was supposed to be,” amateur philosopher Mark Kingwell IV, whose day job is CAE Engineer, third class, commented. “By now, we were all supposed to be eating grapes on the beach while creating vast concrete poems about the fickleness of love. Instead, we’re endless tracking down bugs in Coleridge Emulators that cause them to endlessly misspell the word Xanadu.”

When asked if he was referring to a specific incident from his work, Kingwell nodded grimly and stated, “It took me six weeks to find and fix the problem. Believe me, at this point I couldn’t give a [EXPLETIVE DELETED] where Kublai Khan his stately pleasure dome decreed!”

The antipathy towards artist emulators is by no means shared by everybody, however. “Just to know that the fact that Janet Evanovich is dead doesn’t mean that there won’t be any more Stephanie Plum novels – ooh, I get shivers!” literary emulator groomer Adrienne Prissy enthused. “She only wrote 27 in her lifetime, but, theoretically, there could be an infinite number of them! One Janet Evanovich novel for every drop in the ocean! One for every grain of sand in the desert!

“Besides,” she added, “I can’t stand grapes. They give me gas.”

Kingwell countered that the world might not be ready for so much work by so few artists. “Will we some day get an iPod full of new Nirvana songs and go, ‘Ho, hum, more grunge – how boring’?” Since computers can only emulate existing artists, and no more human artists exist, there can be no more innovation in art, only endless repetition of existing forms. Under these conditions, even a new play by Shakespeare might stop being exciting.

“Besides,” Kingwell added, “it didn’t have to be grapes. It could have been…apples or…or pomegranates.”

“I like peaches,” Prissy said.

“Whatever! The important thing is that we would be enjoying…whatever it is we enjoy while the machines did the boring work. Now, we do the boring work for the machines!”

When asked for its opinion on the issue, BurnsBot2018 replied with a poem so beautiful that the only way we could do it justice would be to publish it in full. And, we would have published it, too, all 340 gloriously written, magnificent bastard iambic pentametric pages. Unfortunately, BurnsBot2018 plans to make it the anchor of a monumental work on the meaning of being human, and its lawyers threatened us with a piracy lawsuit if we published it in full.

So, with sadness in our hearts, we passed up the opportunity.

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The Alternate Reality News Service (ARNS) has two advice columns: Ask Amritsar, a column about love and sex and technology, and; Ask the Tech Answer Guy, a column about +