How I wrote an A.I. character

“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa?”

Maggie eased up behind Jonathan and whispered. “What are you doing?”

Jonathan ignored her. He took the machine gun off his shoulder and handed it to her, then he walked around the other side of the tub. He found it curious that Mikawa hadn’t answered yet. All the other answers had come very fast.

“What is the meaning of life, Mikawa? Answer the question.”

“To live forever.”

~

When I was still in the planning stage of The Tomorrow Heist, sketching out my characters, I knew I wanted to have an A.I. (Artificial Intelligence) character.  But that was about all I knew.  It didn’t have a personality and, at the planning stage, didn’t even have a name.  The entire character sketch consisted of two words: disembodied voice.

It wasn’t going to come into play until well into the novel, so I had time to think about it.  As I wrote – and thought about it – I considered the A.I. characters in other works that I liked.  First and foremost, of course, was the epitome of A.I. characters for me – and probably the first one I ever read – the HAL 9000 from Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  HAL has been listed as one of the top villains of all time, despite being a computer.  HAL spoke softly and emotionlessly, but always with an underlying neediness.  While I liked HAL’s quiet malevolence, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for.

Similar to HAL, and from around the same time period, was the Nomad space probe from the Star Trek episode Memory Alpha. I liked the human elements of this one: the way it was confused, needy and how it revered Kirk as its father. And like HAL, there was an underlying malevolence – a significant price to pay for disappointing that need.

As I continued thinking about it, I thought about the computer from the movie WarGames. The WOPR (War Operation Plan Response) was a super computer of the time, but humanized by having the persona of Dr. Falken’s late son Joshua overlaid on all that intelligence and power. Joshua was naïve, confused and, by the way it stalked David once he logged in as Falken, needy for a father figure; reminiscent of Nomad and even HAL, to a degree.

The thing I found interesting about all these is that they were humanized and, basically, looking for love/approval.  They were childlike and, usually, confused, but underneath it all they were deadly and like a programmed soldier, they would stay on point to their mission’s final goal, no matter what.  They were looking for someone to be a role model and to teach them how to be more human.

I loved that aspect of it, and within the context of The Tomorrow Heist, it allowed me to flesh out not only what my A.I. was, but who they were. And, arbitrarily more important, what the price everyone would pay for disappointing them.

Based on this, I realized that for me they weren’t villains; they were victims. And once I realized that, I knew who my A.I. character was and what it wanted. Just like any normal character in a story. And Mickey was born.

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