Carla and the Uncanny Valley

The idea of marrying my two primary preoccupations – statistics and literature – has been in the back burner of my mind for as long as the split began. I went through high school thinking I was going to take a course in comparative literature in university, but come the time to actually decide my very pragmatic parents were naturally against the idea. Being the good firstborn son, I conceded without further discussion and applied for a Statistics degree in UP.

Essentially college became a sort of juncture for my later career as I devoted what meagre mathematical facilities I had to the study of probability and at the same time refused to kiss goodbye my dreams of writing fiction. After all, can one ever really stop writing? Now I work ten hours a day helping a multinational corporation take more money from its customers and spend the rest writing stories about capitalist greed and the everyday struggles of the proletariat. Corporate pays me good money, which I then funnel into travel, food, and supporting my writings on how our corporate overlords are evil, oppressive bastards. Hypocrisy pays.

But all that is prologue. The point is that since college I’ve felt like Chekhov when he once remarked of medicine as his legal wife, and literature his mistress, except I don’t get to enjoy the moral dignity of the former. Yet I’ve always wondered if there was a way to make my writings better reflect that split, that is, by bridging the gap between Hilbert and Goethe, between probability and prose.

My latest short story, Carla, published just this week on the November issue of The Brasilia Review, by far my favorite publication to work with, and which consequently has been gracious enough to house two more of my works in their archives, is my latest attempt at such a career bridge. Carla is the story of a work-from-home data science consultant who receives, by accident, an AI assistant in the mail. The eponymous assistant becomes a mainstay in the consultant’s apartment and, later, his heart.

Story-wise there is nothing new in the story (though we know there is never anything new under the sun). It’s a riff on the story of the uncanny valley, that looming technological milestone whereby we begin to lose all distinction between robots and humans. It was inspired – perhaps too much – by Sophia, the short story from BJ Novak’s collection, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, which I read back in college and never forgot about (both the story and the book as a whole). In Sophia, an unnamed narrator recounts buying a sex robot and is surprised to find the eponymous machine developing feelings for him. It’s a tale full of comedy and pathos, neither of which I wasn’t able to replicate in my own version, but it was fun to write and, I hope, somewhat fun to read as well.

I actually have more stories coming up on this vein. Writing Carla opened me up to a new ground in my writing. I’m curious to see where it lands me – lands us, if you’re on board.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: