The Jolly Reaper

Welcome to Reaper version 2.045. Please may I ask your name?
It’s Emily. Emily James.
Hello Emily. You appear to be female, is this correct?
It is.. I am.
Great. Do you mind this voice or would you prefer it if I change to the opposite sex?
Female if possible please.
Sure. How’s this?
That’s fine.
There is only one Emily James with your regional dialect, where you born in the year 2014?
I was.
Shall I continue to speak in your regional dialect? I have alternatives.
No, that’s okay.
Do you still reside at the address which you occupied in June 2042?
I do.
Thank you. Let’s begin. Our first session should last ten minutes or so. Are you positioned comfortably?
Yes thanks.
Good. If at any point you wish to ask a question or require a break, please feel free to interrupt. Do I have your permission to access your current health record?
You do, yes.
Excellent. Please begin by stating your reasons for this consultation.
I have cancer.
I see. What is the current prognosis?
Ah, not good I’m afraid, I probably have a little less than a year. To live.
Emily I am sorry to hear this news. Did your doctor give you a specific time frame?
She didn’t, I’m sorry.
That’s no problem. I will specify a time period of two hundred and fifty to three hundred and fifty days before ersatz creation, calculated from your current record. Does this sound reasonable?
It does.
Very well. Do you require a single or group beneficiary?
A single one.
Please state the beneficiary’s full name.
Ian James.
Would this be your current spouse who was born in 2012 and is residing at the same address?
That’s correct, my husband.
Would it be possible to access your husband Ian’s health record?
Yes it would.
Has your husband Ian, granted you permission to share this access?
He has.
Please look at the text on the screen and repeat the following sentence carefully. “My husband Ian James agrees that I Emily James can pass on details of his current health record to you, a reaper entity.”
My husband Ian James agrees, that I Emily James, can pass on details of his ah.. current health record to you, a reaper… entity.
Thank you very much. I believe this to be both correct and true. Ian appears to be of sound mind and in good health. Would you agree?
I do certainly agree.
Thank you. Do you have any questions at this point?
Yes I do. The information that I, that we are providing, how private is it? Who can see it?
That’s a valid question Emily. The information is shared only between reaper entities; no people are involved in this process. Cryptographic obfuscation algorithms prevent the content of our conversation from being understood by other people or reaper entities who do not require direct involvement in your case. Would you like more information about these algorithms?
No I don’t think so, shall we continue?
Sure. Emily I am now going to ask a series of questions. Please answer as honestly and succinctly as you can as this will aid in the ersatz creation process and enable a smoother transition for Ian. Are you ready?
I am.
Do you grant permission for me, a reaper entity to access any available physical data about yourself and your experiences from when you were born? This can include any physical ephemera such as books and photographs, places that you have lived, worked or visited, and all of the physical items that you have ever owned.
I do.
Can I request you to provide such physical data if required and if practical, at one of our regional offices?
Yes you can.
Do you grant permission for me, a reaper entity to access any available non-physical data, including all electronic data stored in any medium, from when you were born? This might include email, data from social media, imagery from residential, domestic and non-domestic security feeds, and all electronic transactions, financial or otherwise.
I do.
Thank you. For ease of communication let us call all of this data “Emily’s Data Set”. Emily, is there anything in Emily’s Data Set that might cause upset or embarrassment to Ian should he be made aware of it?
Not, definitely not. We have no secrets from each other.
Emily, our protocols have shown this to be extremely unlikely, in fact our protocols show that everybody lies. Would you like to amend your answer?
No, if such data exists, then Ian will understand. He’s not the judgmental type, it’s not an issue.
Very well. Considering all of the above let us define “Ian’s Data Set” in exactly the same way. Does Ian agree to provide access to his Data Set?
He does.
Please look at the text on the screen and repeat the following sentence carefully. “My husband Ian James agrees that I Emily James can pass on details of Ian’s Data Set to you, a reaper entity.”
My husband Ian James agrees, that I Emily James, can pass on details of Ian’s Data Set to you, a reaper entity.
Thank you. I believe this to be both correct and true. Emily, do you grant permission for me, a reaper entity to access future data from both Emily’s Data Set and Ian’s Data Set that will be created from today until ersatz creation?
Yes. I… No! Wait, please, wait just a moment.
Of course Emily. Take your time… Emily I believe you are feeling inner conflict at this point because you are concerned about the sadness that Ian and yourself will inevitably experience between now and ersatz creation. You wish for the data concerning Ian and yourself to be unpolluted by tears.
That’s a very succinct assessment, and I think I agree with you. What would you suggest?
I would suggest allowing access to both future data sets until ersatz creation. The sadness in a relationship is bound to the joy, especially through difficult times. It will make you both stronger and our protocols agree that this will aid Ian in the transition period.
Very well, I grant you access.
That’s good. Now that access has been granted do you have any questions at this point?
Yes, I understand the ersatz entities are, bodiless as of the current time.
That’s correct, Ian will only be able to hear a voice.
My voice.
Emily, it will not be your voice, although it will sound like you. I have to be very specific about this. Currently our protocols show scientific progress in this department to be slow and the creation of consciousness, an example of strong artificial intelligence may well be impossible. However we can produce advanced algorithms that are both expert systems and excellent language parsing entities, examples of what is called weak artificial intelligence; I am such an entity.
But Ian won’t be able to tell the difference, I mean, for all intents and purposes, it’ll be me.
It will be you.
When do you anticipate the possibility of a physical ersatz?
Applying Moore’s law to our current protocols and research, a physical ersatz may be available in thirty years, plus or minus five years. I am guessing you are considering Ian’s specific needs in this area?
I am. He’s in very good health.
I am aware of it. According to his health record he should live for at least another forty to fifty years. We may be able to present him with a physical ersatz in the closing years of his life. Would you like to run through the physical aspects of Ian’s life with the ersatz that will be created next year? This is usually covered in the next session.
No it can wait.
I understand. The session is nearly over Emily, there are a few remaining questions.
Go ahead, please.
Do you predict any emotional problems for Ian upon creation of the ersatz?
Apart from the obvious, I don’t think so.
Emily do you think you will have any misgivings or psychological issues about the release of you own life and introduction of the ersatz to Ian?
No, I don’t foresee any, I’m a very strong person.
If I were to tell you that our recent figures support evidence that the ersatz may not be needed after a period of a few years and then discarded altogether, how would you feel?
I’m not very surprised by this, but I think Ian would disagree, he thinks this may be forever.
Do you love your husband Ian?
Yes I do, very much.
Thank you. I believe this to be both correct and true.
– Your Joyful Benefactor


Filed under Fiction, Philosophy, Short Fiction

5 Responses to The Jolly Reaper

  1. This is great. You have the storytellers gift, Phil. Is this going somewhere, part of something larger, perhaps?

    • Thank you! I know I harp on about Borges but I agree with him when he says that ideas sometimes don’t need to be blown up novel size, sometimes just a sentence will do. The above story was really a ‘sentence’ idea about the possibility of an ersatz loved one to fill the gap after their death. I’m fascinated by androids and artificial intelligence and if I was to carry this further I’ll probably be looking at the transition from ‘weak AI’ into ‘strong AI’ i.e. When do you know that something that is appearing to be conscious actually becomes conscious – or does it ever? Are humans conscious just because we suddenly thought we were? If a system passes the Turing test is this enough? ‘Weak AI’ is the more fascinating to me because I’d love to know the limits of expert systems, and language parsing (what Siri is trying and kind of failing to do). Actually it’s entirely possible that all humans do is parse language, but do it so well, that we live with an illusion…

  2. David Corbluth

    Reminiscent of your stories 10y ago. I am not keen on using ersatz but might just be me. Good story line. Could be developed.

  3. Nice! A subject exactly up my alley 🙂

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