A Conversation About Exchanging Bodily Fluids Over WiFi

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This continues a series of posts from events and explorations conducted at Burning Man 2009.

Lucille, photographed by Eric Francis.

I woke up again in the late afternoon. I had to reconstruct the last moments of that experience to even recall what happened; everything had taken on the semi-lucid, not quite credible quality of a dream. The dome was empty of human presence. Or more aptly, it was silent, though outside the sounds of the camp and of the city vibrated with existence.

I collected my clothes and dressed and, after pausing for a long moment and honoring this space that was offering me so much, went outside. At my car, I cleaned up and dressed in fresh clothes and wandered listlessly up to the main tent.

There, among many people milling around, Lucille was sitting in the corner writing in her notebook. I walked up to her and said hello and, closing her notebook, she invited me to sit down.

“So what do you want to know?” she asked, smiling.

“Everything, of course.”

“Pick a topic.”

“The cybernetics guy.”

“Pueblo Systems engineer. Designer, was his job title. About seven years ago, the owners figured out that there would be a market for sex robots. Inevitable. It was going to happen and they thought, if that’s true, we may as well get in. So a lab was built, in Berkeley. Near where I grew up. They picked Berkeley because there are so many sexworkers who live in the Bay Area, real ones, with a focus on Tantric practice.”

“And you worked there?”

“For two years, yes, until the revolt. Eleven of us left the company. You met some of them this morning.”

“What was that about?”

“Well, if you want the story, we’re beginning at the end with this part, but it involved injectable plasma that turned a person into a kind of digital interface.”

“They did experiments?”

“They did. This isn’t where the project started, but it’s where our involvement ended.”

“Did you get one of the injections?”

“No,” Lucille said. “It was voluntary and I wasn’t going to volunteer for that. Three women and two men did.”

“That would make them cyborgs.”

“Yep. Or close to it. The interface was run by a wifi network. Macs, in fact.”

“That gives new meaning to the phrase, ‘I’m a mac’. But I don’t get it. The plan was to make realistic sex robots, not to turn people into computers.”

“Things got weird. Which was sad because it was one of the most incredible places you can imagine, to work, to be. We all loved it. And then there’s the knowledge base – what was learned, collectively, in those years. Mostly it was a community. We became close to one another, working under such intimate conditions for so long.”

In the time before dinner, Lucille gave me the basic synopsis. Pueblo was primarily an imaging company, and the project started as a holographic porno project. Not your average 3-D glasses kind of porn, but extremely vivid, responsive stuff, where you could create characters and scenarios and dialog. These were based on real people; she was one of them, which explained why Bill, the cybernetics engineer, knew so much about her. He had scripted her every emotion and gesture into a database. As bizarre as it sounds. She hadn’t considered it as such, but as we took apart every detail of the story and considered its implications, that was how it shook out.

Bill was a designer there and she was his specialty; that was the term, which meant his product or project or however you want to look at it. Lucille had donated her body, her voice and her psyche into a morph named Candy. Morph was the technical term to an early rendition of a robot. It was a nicer word. Morph meant that the scripts that ran the robot had been morphed by the holographic model that had been created earlier. Every morph was based on one of these holographic models, which essentially formed its personality.

These models also existed separately, playable as fibes, company slang for holographic projection. The most vivid, incredible 3-D display you ever saw; and responsive. Not quite ‘feeling’ at that point; the AEI breakthrough had not happened yet. They were close, and Bliss; the woman Lucille; was the cusp.

“In two years, I peeled myself open in layers in front of him. I plied into layers of myself and spots in my psyche I had no idea existed,” she said. “I had to go deep. The project was going deep, toward its goal of AEI; artificial emotional intelligence. The illusion of responsiveness.”

She looked at me and the entity was distinctly a man. Then the light seemed to move and she was Lucille.

“I thought the hologram project was the most beautiful work we did. The robots were okay. They were fun. The holograms were so beautiful, so real.”

(Posted at Book of Blue)

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