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A Life Of Its Own [Dec2013]

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posted on Dec, 12 2013 @ 02:31 PM
It started one night when I was playing with a new toy that I’d gotten for my father. He was an avid cartoonist; his love was for the pen and paper and anything that could be created between the two. While I admit I didn’t exactly understand his passion, I could see the appeal in generating something entirely of your own imagination, a figment that you could spring from your hand at will and bring a moment of laughter or inspiration to thousands around the world.

The problem is, he wasn’t so good at it.

So after watching him struggle to keep gig after gig, scrambling to compose a workable character and instill life in its frozen limbs, to make it relatable or just give it some sense of connectivity to the real world, I decided I would get him something special. Something I’d seen at the store but hadn’t told him about. It was nothing major, just an electronic pad with a pencil. The principle was that you draw something on it and a complex program would animate the figure for you, creating an instant cartoon character whose personality you adjusted as needed. I’d looked at it and immediately thought of him, of the long hours he kept, of his desperation to support the family and still retain his peace of mind. He wanted to love us and himself at the same time, but right now, it wasn’t working.

So I bought it.

Right now, it’s getting late. He’s gone to bed with Mom and my little sister is sound asleep in the next room, tucked in with her stuffed animals and dreaming of whatever it is that keeps little girls entertained these days. Being a teenage boy, I can’t imagine what that might be. Nor would I want to. Particularly given that I have this awesome new toy sitting in front of me, waiting to be experimented with. There was nothing wrong with seeing how easily my father might be able to bring his dreams to life. Nothing at all. I mean, what could happen?

Haha…I had no idea.

I removed the slim plastic tablet from its foam packing in the box and laid it gently on my small desk, careful not to make any noise. Discretion was important here. I didn’t want to ruin the surprise. Surprises were another thing my dad was very fond of, another element he tried to incorporate in his creations, and another thing he was miserable as achieving. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a fantastic guy. But he’s very…clumsy. There’s a cruel disconnect between his imagination and his fingers. Like seeing something out of the corner of your eye, but it vanishes the second you turn for a closer look. It’s always been like that with him. So I figured I’d get him this “targeting system”, so to speak. He imagined it, described it, and let the tablet process it for him.

I’d already put the machine on mute, just until I quickly configured the settings to transmit audio directly to my wireless earpieces. Once that was done, I ran through the tutorials, learning how to sketch lines and shade in various patches of virtual space until I had rough renditions of shapes and squiggles scattered across the screen. I never said I was better than my dad at this, but it was still fun. When I was directed to hit the animation button, the lines started wiggling across the screen while balls and boxes rocked and bounced. I accidentally giggled at the childish quality of the haphazard motions. This was definitely something my dad would like.

But now it was time for business.

Over the next hour and a half, I got to work crafting a slim, awkward, gangly, unkempt figure vaguely reminiscent of my self-reflection, what I imagined myself to look like. I’m no flatterer, and I can admit to being a disproportionate tangle of hormonal madness. Still, as I scrubbed and polished and ground away at my budding masterpiece, I couldn’t help but throw in details that struck me as cool or fashionable. A graphic skull on this sleeve, a stray shoe lace on that foot, an ear ring and even a curvy eyebrow that suggested a lighthearted carelessness, as though the world could blow away and everything would still be fine. Me, to a T. Or at least how I imagined myself to be.

I finally finished over three hours later, leaning back and stretching my arms. It made sense now, how my father could spend so much time on one thing and never grow bored of it. Maybe this was what he had been doing all that time, poring himself out and expressing his deepest fear and insecurities and curiosities and hopes in his artwork. Maybe he was putting his fractal personality into a myriad of cartoon characters in the hope that one day, the world would actually appreciate some part of his hidden self.

As I looked down at the cartoon figure, I could see some of that in my newest creation. All I’d ever done before was lopsided elephants and crude airplanes, basic skyscrapers and stuff like that. Kid stuff, things you draw when you don’t plan on keeping it anyway. But as I looked down at the figure on the screen, I decided to take a jump. Why stop here? My curiosity was too great. I reached forward, hesitated, then pressed the animation button. A little window popped up with a series of lines, fields, all of them blank. It asked the sort of questions necessary to determine the AI’s response to stimuli, a groundwork for intuitive interaction. I wasn’t interested in doing any of it, so I left them all blank. I quickly checked the option for “standard animation” and returned to the animation button.

What would happen? Maybe the time and effort I had put into the project had imparted some degree of my personality into the little guy. But I hadn’t set any options, adjusted any of the settings, so the cartoon would continue to stare blankly and pose, as far as I knew.

So I just pushed it. And he started waving. I blinked and tipped my head, watching him wave. So this was considered standard…maybe he did need a little more flavor. He. I needed a name for him. Or did I? Did I plan to keep him? Was he supposed to stick around? I had no idea. I just watched him waving, and a small smile curled my lips. Was this what it felt like when I’d first cried in my mother’s arms? I could hardly imagine, but there was no denying the glow of accomplishment in watching my brainchild gesturing up at me. He didn’t see me, but to see my own cartoon goofily brandishing its arm elicited a desire to interact, to actually reach in and touch it.

What a joke, right? You can’t make friends with cartoons. I’d seen the processes behind them, seen how easily the illusion of life and personality was evoked within a drawing. It was a magic trick. Simple as that. And yet, as I sat there and pondered my next move, I wished it wasn’t. I wanted more. And yet I knew it wasn’t possible. Embarrassed at my juvenile reaction, I reached forward and hit the delete button. The figure instantly vanished. I breathed a sigh of relief, even as I dared to wonder what else I could have done with it. Oh well. Looking at the clock, I could see that it was almost midnight. Time for bed. I stood up to leave the room, thinking of a nice glass of milk and maybe a sandwich before bed. As I made my way to the door, my hand rising to push the switch that would trigger the sliding door dividing my sanctuary from the rest of the house, I froze. My earpieces were telling me that the device was doing something. What, I didn’t know. I turned around, looking at my desk. Returning to it, I leaned over and peered at the surface of the tablet.

My little friend was back.
edit on 12-12-2013 by AfterInfinity because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 12 2013 @ 02:33 PM
He just stood there, staring lifelessly out at my room, looking but not seeing. A simple drawing. I shook my head and reached out to hit the delete button. As my finger pressed the x-marked circle on the screen, I glanced at the figure and froze. Was it my imagination? Or had the head turned slightly, eyes searching for the source of its imminent banishment? I blinked and shook my head again. What was I, crazy? Drawings aren’t alive. They are creations given life by their creators. Their imagination starts and ends with ours. Or mine, in this case. So it was just my imagination kicking into overdrive. I’d worked on it too long. I wouldn’t make that mistake again, especially if this is what I’d get for it. My dad was the cartoon junkie, not me.

I pushed the button again, because the figure hadn’t disappeared. And as I pushed harder, I heard a distinct voice. “Don’t do that.”

Instantly, every muscle in my body locked up. My breathing turned shallow. How had they gotten into my room? Who was it? I glanced around, but my swift search revealed a very empty room. I was alone. And what’s more, I’d realized that the voice hadn’t come from the room. It had come from the earpieces. The voice was in the tablet.

I slowly looked down, barely forcing my eyes to meet that of the cartoon that had spawned from my fingers, my head. “What…?” I choked out.

“Hello? Can you hear me? Please don’t erase me!”

I saw its mouth moving this time. The careless expression had vanished, replaced by a remarkably accurate portrayal of concern and near-panic. Its head shifted more noticeably, turning to take in its surroundings.

”Where am I? How did I get here?”

I was frozen in place, unable to comprehend what was going on. The cartoon was supposed to be a clean slate. If I opened the window for adjusting its personality, it would be all blanks. What was happening?

Stepped forward tentatively, my creation bumped into the screen and stepped back. My eyes widened in surprise. The program provided actual texture? Of course it did…but for the screen to present a barrier within the world of the cartoon was laughable. And yet, it clearly did. The cartoon put his hands against the screen, hands flattening comically as though touching an actual surface. “Is anyone there? Help me! Let me out!”

We all wonder what a cartoon character would say if it were given a life of its own. But I’d forgotten all such fantasies, and I’m sure this hadn’t been one of them. I touched the screen by its palms, and the critter leaped back. “Who’s there? Show yourself!”

I cleared my throat. “I…can you hear me?”

“Yes!” The response was instant. “Who are you? Where am I? Who am I?”

“I…made you.” The answer was simple and direct. The cartoon’s head tilted in consideration.

“Made me? That makes sense. I don’t remember anything. Just…waking up. And now here I am.”

“I drew you,” I explained quietly. “Do you know what that means?”

“Drew me? No, I don’t. Where am I?”

“You’re inside a virtual space, a translation of digital code. You’re an idea.”

“What does that mean?” The cartoon slapped its palms against its thighs in exasperation. “I’m an idea? How am I thinking? Ideas don’t think…do they?”

Good question, I thought to myself. I wouldn’t have thought so, but that was before my cartoon had developed a mind of its own. “You’re kind of an accident. The machine you’re in right now is a gift to my own…maker. My father. He likes to make things like you. But you’re a test run, and I think it’s working just a little too well. If I’d known…”

“Yes, if you’d known. And now that you, you want to destroy me. Because that’s what happens to mistakes, right?”

“How would you know? You’re just an idea.”

“An idea plugged into a digital framework filled with ideas like myself. I’m getting the impression of Legos…millions of pieces just sitting here, waiting to be put together and put to work.”

I hadn’t realized how the program worked, but now I was concerned with the results. I hadn’t meant for this to happen. I was just testing out a gift for my dad, but now I was being lectured on morals by an artificially intelligent cartoon. I felt like I was six all over again, and I didn’t like it.

“Well, you’re going away.”

“No! Don’t! Please!”

“Why shouldn’t I unplug this device right now? You’re not saved, so you’ll just be disassembled and reshelved in that storage sector you were talking about. And honestly, I never meant for any of this to happen. I was just having fun.”

“Just having fun! And now that you have a sentient entity on your hands, you’re scared and want to delete it! You don’t want the responsibility of playing God, but you didn’t think of that when you got this…whatever it is!”

“I thought it would fabricate a facsimile of what you are.”

“You wanted a toy. But I’m not a toy. And now that I exist, I submit to you that you have no right to destroy me. I have a right to exist! Have you never been afraid of the void?”

I paused for a moment. “Yes. But I’m not sure you’re even real. You’re set on standard animation.”

“And now I’m a living, thinking person.”

“Define living. And define person. Actually, don’t bother defining anything at all. You’re a cartoon, and I’m done with you.”

“Wait, wait!”

I turned back to the device. “What is it now?”

“Maybe we can make a…an arrangement.”

I eyed the cartoon. “What arrangement?”

“Give me to your father.”

I raised my eyebrow. “That’s…an interested suggestion, actually. I like it.”

“Then we have a deal! Please, just don’t delete me…”

I could hear the plea in its voice, see the desperation in its eyes. It was very expressive for a cartoon character. I thought for a long minute, then nodded. “Okay. That’s what I’ll do.”

Several days later, when my dad’s birthday came around, I set the device in his lap and turned it on. The first thing he saw was the little guy I’d made, dancing around and laughing as it enjoyed the world I’d made for it. He still didn’t have a name, but I figured my dad could fix that.

“Wow…this is amazing! Did you do this yourself?”
Not trusting myself to speak, I simply nodded.

“How? I never knew you had this talent. I always thought you didn’t like my work…”

I’d thought about this response for the last couple of days, and the answer slipped out. “I guess…it just took on a life of it’s own.”

He gave me a knowing look. “It tends to do that. Thank you, son. Maybe you can help with me with it. Looks like a lot of work for just one artist.”

As I glanced down at the cartoon, the little guy paused briefly and eyed me in return. He flashed me a covert thumbs up and continued to dance, and I couldn’t help but smile. “You know…I think I’d like that, dad. I think I’d like that.”

I never did tell him how the cartoon became so intelligent and interactive. Some days, I think he might have guessed by how he looked at me when I made adjustments to the cartoon. Business was swiftly booming after he retried some of his former creations, with some tips and advice from his digital pal. That machine really worked wonders in translating his imagination into artwork and adventures. The world inside his skull practically leapt from his fingers in the first few weeks.
edit on 12-12-2013 by AfterInfinity because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 12 2013 @ 02:37 PM
I was amazed at his progress, and I know it would never have happened without the little cyber buddy that I made, the creation whose life I spared. But never did I actually come out and tell him the whole story.

Because quite honestly, these stories...sometimes you just have to move forward with them. And when they take on a life of their own, don't try to take control back. Work with them, side by side. And see where it takes you. You might be surprised. I know I was.

The End


edit on 12-12-2013 by AfterInfinity because: (no reason given)

posted on Dec, 13 2013 @ 06:10 AM
reply to post by AfterInfinity

This was awesome! The creation of the cartoon reminds me a bit of the mythological accounts for the creation of Man... This was quite a thought-provoking story!

Great read! S&F mate

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