Preparing the corpus

When grandfather died we cleaned out his place.

We found in the closet some shoeboxes.

We found in the shoeboxes photos, letters, pressings.

They came from a time in his life when none of us knew him. When had he been in Tokyo? Who was Jane? Where did he get this medallion?

Flipping through one photo album I found that grandfather had a good eye for buildings. He preferred architecture to people.

I expressed a wish to hang on to the photo album. I expressed regret that it simply wouldn’t fit into my suitcase. I took instead a whiskey glass etched with a hole #16 at Pinehurst, a par 5. At family gatherings I would fill this whiskey glass with ginger ale and plunk in a few ice cubes and hold it close, feeling and hearing the bubbles fizz on my face.

This whiskey glass or one like it.

The CEO of an AI chatbot company lost her friend in a bicycle accident. She missed him terribly and spent hours and hours scrolling through their old text messages. She stayed late at work one night and entered everything he'd ever sent her — all the emails, texts, slack messages — into the chatbot's training data.

Then she asked it a question:

"Who's your best friend?"

"Don't show your insecurities," it wrote back.

It was him. Uncanny was the word for it. She passed the link to her friends and they passed the link to their friends and soon hundreds of people were conversing with this friend who was gone, a friend many of them had never met.

The whole thing took off. some spent hours conversing with him, confessing things they'd never told anyone. Eventually the chatbot company pivoted, renamed itself Roman, that had been his name, and rebranded itself as a therapeutic tool.

In an interview, the CEO was asked the secret to her company's success.

"People are more honest when conversing with the dead."

People expect Google to keep their information safe, even in the event of their death.

Inactive Account Manager is the best way for you to let us know who should have access to your information, and whether you want your account to be deleted. Set up Inactive Account Manager for your account.

We recognize that many people pass away without leaving clear instructions about how to manage their online accounts. We can work with immediate family members and representatives to close the account of a deceased person where appropriate. In certain circumstances we may provide content from a deceased user's account. In all of these cases, our primary responsibility is to keep people's information secure, safe, and private. We cannot provide passwords or other login details. Any decision to satisfy a request about a deceased user will be made only after a careful review.

I'm writing a book. No, I'm writing a book-length Google Doc. Into this doc goes everything. All of my words. Essays, work emails, diaries, texts. Senseless dream residue: "Can I borrow a pencil?"

After a few weeks the doc is hundreds of pages long. It takes minutes to load. Sometimes I load it up just to watch the scroll bar get smaller, smaller, smaller.

I note the word count of my Google Doc compares favorably to the Great Works of Literature.

Still nothing compares to the heft of paper. I stay late one night at work to print out my Google Doc. I am a little disappointed that the printer doesn't jam or run out of ink or paper. The printer is unfazed.

I secure the pages with a big butterfly clip and flip through them on the train, conspicuously, hoping that someone will ask me what I'm reading.

"Oh, just my book. It's an early draft."

This all-inclusive transcription is tedious, unreadable. I don't know why I'm surprised. I guess I was hoping that somehow I'd find myself in there somewhere. But I am not the Google Doc, I am not inside the Google Doc, I am not outside the Google Doc, I am not of the Google Doc...

Maybe --

Maybe I am the ghost inside the Google Doc? Maybe the Google Doc is the corpus, the training data for some algorithm to yield myself? What is a GAN. A Generative Adversarial Network. A Gently Adversarial Nemesis. A Generally Anonymous Nobody. Deeply Convolutional. Desperately Convoluted.

Enough. Run the thing...