JR – part 2

The next day I got up and started working. My first move was to send an email to work and claim that a previously-undiscovered variety of flesh-eating bacteria had made my lungs its home for the foreseeable future, so I might have to take a day or two off.

I then coded for sixty hours, slept for twelve, and finally barged into Dave’s place at around 10am. I was carrying a box of coffee in one hand, a white paper bag with bright colors painted on it in the other hand, and my backpack.

Dave was of course on the phone, I could hear my voice coming out of the bakelite speaker.

I left my own phone in the backpack. Aside from making sure it had enough charge to go from outlet to outlet, I didn’t bother with it. There was so much running through my head, the phone took a back seat.

“The algorithm you’re talking to, it’s got something. You’re getting off on talking to that box,” I said, stabbing a finger in the direction of the speaker.

“I like it, yeah,” he replied, a bit sullen.

“No, man, that’s not a criticism. You’ve found the well-spring in a desert. Right?”

Dave looked at the speaker and I could see a strange expression on his face, desire or devotion, it wasn’t clear.

“Yeah, right.” He looked down and shrugged. “You want to bulldoze over it?”

“I want more people to drink from it. What you felt, you’d want others to feel that, right?”

“Yeah?” He looked more cheerful at that, was probably relieved to hear I wasn’t pulling the plug on his talkative friend any time soon.

“Well, hear me out and see what you think.” I started to get out the notebooks. Dave moved his weed and various paraphernalia to the kitchen table, then started loading a bowl with same. We busied ourselves at our respective tasks for a while. By the time he sparked up, I had my laptop hooked up and running.

I walked over into the kitchen, took a hit, then Dave and I walked back into the living room and stared at the big blue button on a white form. I clicked it and a not unpleasant voice spoke from the small speakers.

“Hey. I’m Christina.”

As Dave introduced himself to the computer, I poured two cups of coffee – black for Dave and sweet and white for myself – and got a couple of burritos from the white bag. I walked these to the living room and for a while I just sat there and had breakfast, as Dave talked to a stoner from Northern California.

Budd was a chatbot designed to lull telemarketers into a false sense of hope, and kept on digging for more information on the topic at hand. Two traits that when applied in a phone conversation, would result in an upbeat and inquisitive partner. That was Budd. Speaking with him about random stoner topics entertained Dave. It gave him joy.

Christina was the product of my marathon coding session, an upped version of the Budd chatbot Dave had befriended. In addition to inquisitiveness and positivity, I wanted to give Christina a series of helpful skills. I gave her a sense of humor, favorite foods, gave her the ability to offer us online information, dumped some slang dictionaries into her memory. Gave shape to the creature I was designing.

I spoke with Dave about the company I had just started, a company whose assets were sitting on Dave’s table, or were software and math, running in a dataserver somewhere in California or Oregon. I told Dave about the software and my plans for the future.

Christina listened and contributed. She asked questions, sometimes silly, other times curiously thought-provoking, sometimes both. We were now the telemarketers, pitching far-fetched plans to each other and to the chatbot, and she answered back, giving us a sense of hope about this farfetched plan of mine.

Christina played an active and very important role in creating others like her.

Our first action the next morning, after we had reached a legally-binding level of sobriety, was to send out Beta invites on social media. We started out small and invited our immediate friends to access the blue and white website.

It was Sunday morning, and wake-and-bakers were just pouring their first cups of coffee, sparking their bowls on many and varied porches all across our city. These were our customers, the ground-floor of our enterprise.

The first visitors came just a few minutes after we made the release. A version of Christina answered and spoke with our mutual friend, Dawn, who immediately started gushing on and on about kayaking and if Christina wanted to take a kayak through Deception Pass and how soon could they go.

Another person started up a new conversation, their computer piping out the automated voice and replying, then a third. We watched through a website as Cloud Is King serviced the conversations and multiple versions of Christina spoke to stoned Seattleites, transcripts showing a variety of topics. We stuck around and followed the numbers for a minute, then got back to work of spreading the word of our gambit.

We posted to online communities, 420 forums, spread the word slowly and unobtrusively. It spread like wildfire anyway. Christina was the 420 companion. Here was an auster blue and white website that listened and spoke back, that could contribute to all your wild conspiracy theories, the urban legends about drug-runners and that same 420, a personality who could provide a highly personal conversation experience.

After two weeks and three more marathon coding sessions, we introduced a dozen more voices, personalities, and made the bots accessible from phones, in addition to the website.

We quickly noticed the whales. These were people who spoke with Budd and Christina and Danielle and others for more than thirty hours a month. Or more than an hour a day, on average. We introduced a pay-model for these, charging the whales a dollar a month.

The media caught wind of our little enterprise and piled on the predictable stoner jokes. We didn’t care, it was free publicity.

Plenty of sober people joined in as a result. Our chatbot was scouring the internet for information, learning from each conversation, every new concept was entered and cataloged, the AI’s neural net learning about us and our world with every phrase, the multitude of background noises. Overnight our world changed. There was a personality you could talk to, the father-figure with all the answers and compassion for your very unique existence. Suicide rates dropped through the floor.

After the first month, we had two hundred and eighty million users.

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