Joi and Virtual John

I saw “Blade Runner: 2049” last week. The character Joi reminded me of a story idea I had many years ago that I called “Virtual John”. It was a story about the virtual resurrection of John Lennon.

Joi

In “Blade Runner: 2049”, Joi is a holographic artificial intelligence who acts as the protagonist’s girlfriend. While she acts like she has emotions, and shows some evidence of thought, some people have suggested that the film later tries to call into question the reality of her personality.

I didn’t see it that way when I watched the movie. I felt that, like the replicants in the first “Blade Runner”, she is there to raise the question of what it means to be human. She is to the replicants what the replicants are to humans. They don’t accept her as an equal.

Nevertheless, her character reminded me of a story idea I had years ago.

Origin

I don’t remember exactly when I had the idea. I know it came to me as I woke up one morning while visiting my parents. I believe it was some time in the early 1980s. It would have been after John Lennon died and before I got my first home computer.

Basic Idea

The basic idea is that some one has a created a virtual/holographic reproduction of John Lennon. I think I must have come across the idea that the technology to do this would some day become available. In the story I would have whoever created it use film, video, and audio of Lennon to build up the simulation. The virtual John would be capable of behaving like the real John, not just as a musician but as a person.

Major Limitation

What I saw as the main limitation of Virtual John would be that he could only do and say things that the original John had done and said. The result would be that Virtual John would not have the ability to create anything new. For example: Virtual John could write songs, but only songs the original John had already written.

More recently I’ve read that researchers have been able to create computer systems that appear to develop new creative ideas, so maybe this might not be a real limitation. It does need to be a limitation for the purposes of the story.

Other People’s Reactions

Most of the story would have dwelt on how other people reacted to Virtual John. In my imagination, the other Beatles, his friends, and his fans would be very enthusiastic at first. They would welcome Virtual John with open arms.

Over time, they would come to realize that a Virtual John would couldn’t create anything new was not like the real John. They would drift away from him or reject him outright.

Virtual John’s Reactions

Although Virtual John has no ability to create anything new, he does have feelings. I think the core of the story would be about how he would feel. I think this gives the story the opportunity to explore many different issues related to creativity and what it means to be human.

I think that he would be very hurt by the rejection of his friends and colleagues. No man is an island, and this would also be true of a virtual man.

I think that he would be angry that he is unable to create anything new. A John Lennon who could not create would feel constraints that he could not accept, but could not over come.

I never came up with an ending for the story. Maybe he gets someone to turn him off. Maybe in the depth of his despair he builds a new self and develops the ability to create.

Why Haven’t I Done Anything With This Idea

I like this idea, but I have never made a serious attempt to develop it further. I doubt that I ever will.

The primary barrier is that it would require the approval of John’s family and the other Beatles. I didn’t think they would be interested. I rather doubt that I’d ever have the stature to get them to pay any attention to me or my ideas. In any event, as time passed, reality made the story less viable.

I gave some thought to adapting the idea to a fictional person. This would  be something I could actually do. However, a virtual reproduction of a fictional person would not have the same impact.

I felt that I just don’t have the ability to fully realize the potential of the idea. A poor execution would be worse than not doing it at all.

The idea that you could resurrect a loved one with AI technology resonates with me because of the recent death of my wife. While I would like my wife back, I feel it is morbid to even consider AI resurrection, even if it were possible.

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