ArtSEA: In a new novel, Seattle is the seat of technological dystopia

Amazon’s chief scientist for Alexa, Rohit Prasad, noted that many people had lost loved ones during the pandemic, and said, “While AI can’t take away this pain of loss, it can certainly make memories last.” Meanwhile, on social media, people were generally scared.

ArtSEA: Notes on Northwest Culture is Crosscut’s weekly arts and culture newsletter.

Last year, Microsoft got similar comparisons to a certain black mirror episode (“Be Right Back”) with his patent filing for a chatbot based on a deceased person’s online profile. But according to Prasad, which he shared at the conference“We are unquestionably living in the golden age of AI, where our dreams and our science fictions are becoming reality.”

It was an odd connection to the new novel I just finished reading: Immortal King Raoby Vauhini Vara. This radical, prescient and vividly told story spans roughly 100 years, including a near future in which a Seattle-based tech company – with a “Frank Gehry-designed campus” on Bainbridge Island, “whose the centerpiece was the quintet of giants of transparent spheres that acted as tropical greenhouses” – took on the role of civic government.

In this dystopia, citizens are “shareholders” and your position in life is determined by your “social capital” online. As is the current custom, the tech company – headed by a computer whiz named King Rao, who grew up on a coconut farm in southern India – claims its technologies are bringing the humanity. One of its developments is hosting the internet in your brain.

After an uprising, a group of humans known as “Exes” retreat, choosing to live without the internet on islands around the world, including Bainbridge, where resisters are fomenting a new kind of utopia. The story is told by Athena, Rao’s only child, whom he gave full access to his memories through a technological trick.

Irene B. Bowles