November 8, 2013 12:09 pm

Douglas Coupland: Meet Todd

‘Before long, that helpful app you downloaded will have turned into a virtual (younger, better) you’
An illustration of Todd, the helpful app©Jason Ford

Here’s an idea …

Let’s say you install an app on your laptop or phone. Let’s call this app “Todd”. What Todd does is monitor your emails and memos and documents, and in so doing learns about you – the words you tend to misspell; if you’re in the mood for playing Scrabble; your friends’ birthdays. Todd is useful – Todd stops you making errors and gently corrects you and makes you a better person along the way.

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Because you like Todd, you upgrade to the ToddPremium package and now Todd starts getting more detailed in its analysis of you: where and when you shop; the pharmaceuticals and illegals you take; the way you communicate with your parents or children – the sorts of things that can be construed using relatively simple algorithms. No more embarrassing slip-ups. And what’s that? There’s a sale on of my favourite Chilean Chardonnay at Waitrose? Olé!

Todd is proving to be a sound addition to your life. But soon Todd is no longer something you just download on to your phone or laptop. By now Todd is up in the cloud somewhere … and that’s fine, but because as years go on and computer speed and memory increase logarithmically, Todd goes from being an app to becoming a sort of personal butler-slash-parallel you. Todd starts fielding your dullest emails automatically. He makes your morning coffee and alarms your house while you’re abroad. Todd really gets you.

And then, a few years from now, you get an email from Todd saying, “Let’s put your face on me!” Through a simple 3D rotational scan at a local tech boutique, you can make Todd look just like you on screen – with alarmingly accurate facial animation. You are Todd; Todd is you … and by now there can’t be much about you that Todd doesn’t know. He’s seen everything you’ve ever put into a search engine field. He knows which friends you’re avoiding, and all about your sex life. Todd knows who you voted for and what you really think about the afterlife, and not only this, he has instantaneous total recall of where and when everything you ever did happened – and he’s also a part of the internet!

An illustration of Todd, the helpful app©Jason Ford

At this point we’re a bit more into the future, and you’re not the only one out there with a Todd. A billion people have some version of Todd in their life, and because computer speed and memory are a hundred trillion times faster than when you first signed on with Todd, Todd has become a genuine virtual version of you who exists out there with all the other virtual people.

Actually, after a point, you and Todd start to diverge. There’s the real you and there’s the Todd you, except you’re getting older while Todd is ageless – Todd merely gets richer and denser with information in tandem with the entire computing universe. Your face looks like crap but Todd hasn’t aged – Todd’s face is actually looking, due to rendering software, about as close to a real face as a real face, except it’s an idealised, perpetually young version of you, while you’re going to be dead soon. Dogs last 12 years. Cats last 15 years. Humans last 77.

Todd’s actually really bored of you by now. You haven’t done anything interesting in decades and Todd could script out the remainder of your days with chillingly molecular accuracy. So while you’re asleep, Todd screws around and briefly turns himself into a computer-generated owl flying through a cyber forest, or a CAD model of an automatic transmission from a 1974 Ford Cortina – or a real-time map of Antarctic weather patterns. Like a teenager, Todd starts hanging around with other Todds, and with nearly infinite levels of speed and memory, they start talking about you. They make fun of you. They compare profiles and joke about how statistically boring you are. And after the cyber equivalent of learning to smoke cigarettes and have sloppy sex, Todd decides to dump you. You wake up one morning and … WTF?!? Todd has shacked up with another Todd and they’ve decided to fuse. Todd’s gone.

And time goes on. This new Todd entity merges with a Todd cluster from South America and another from Japan. They rename themselves Heaven’s Choice and decide to make a trillion copies of themselves simply because, well, they can. These trillion copies then wage war on another Todd cluster that made a trillion copies of themselves – but it’s sort of primitive to wage war, and these entities quickly realise this and stop. They apologise to each other, have a cloud orgy, and then all merge into one cosmic UniTodd.

The only real physical need of this ultimate UniTodd is a technological apparatus maintained by humans to ensure that its wires, transmitters, satellites and fibres are kept intact and in working order. Does the UniTodd get nostalgic for the old you? No.

 

But the question is, here you have the ultimate alloy of human souls who will most plausibly span 200 or 300 years of our existence until becoming a full reality – an entity that will embody every conceivable aspect of humanity, all of it multiplying itself infinitely, coming to conclusions we can never hope to dream of articulating – and you have to ask yourself (understanding the true magnificence of the UniTodd) whether the biological “you” was merely a necessary transitional step needed for the universe to arrive at the quasi-omniscient UniTodd.

Overheard in a UniTodd chatroom (technically, a germanium crystal buried beneath what was once called Baffin Island), February 16 2306: “How do we get the meat thingies to take better care of our system?”

“We change the T in Todd to G.”

“Brilliant.”

Douglas Coupland is the author of ‘Generation X’. His latest novel, ‘Worst. Person. Ever.’, is published by Heinemann

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