by Rizwan Virk and Kacy Hatfield
Author Notes: This story, originally written as part of a Metaverse world building project, is set in 2045, when the Metaverse has become pervasive. More importantly, AGI is ubiquitous in the Metaverse, in the form of AI Avatars, or Aivies, who have many different relationships with humans and their avatars. This story is the investigation of the death of Lucy McCoy, aged 20, and the role of her Aivie, Michiko TsutsuiTsutsui1425. The investigation, led by detective Burkeson (and his Aivie Taka) from the Denver PD.
Introduction — Investigative Notes
Investigation of Death of McCoy, Lucy.Detective Richard Burkeson’s notes (collected by his Aivie, Taka Silver 2347) through a conversation while Burkeson was out of verse (oov) communicating with Taka (audio only available).
December 21, 2045, 2:20 pm:
Richard: Dictating field notes, Taka, store as first entry in a new file on this case. This is a public file and should be stored in the official police investigation of the Denver PD.
Richard: This is a strange case. A tale that may or may not make sense unless you understand our world. However you think about it, it started with a tragedy. A young woman, at the prime of her life, is now dead, and it might have something to do with the ‘verse. And her Aivie. Or maybe not.
We don’t know why she died, exactly, though we know why she was in the intensive care ward of the hospital. Lucy McCoy was only 20 years old, and she landed in Boulder via helicopter after a Skiing accident in Vail. The accident was bad. She could have died, but she didn’t.
Instead, she was paralyzed because of a spinal injury, but her cognitive functions, once she was done with the restorative surgery on parts of back and arms, were all there. When she was out of verse, she communicated with the doctors and her family just fine.
The rest of the time she was embarked, off in the ‘verse with her Aivie, not present in the hospital. Lucy’s sister says she told her she was exploring the Aivieverse with Michiko, though it may be hard to figure out exactly which of the ‘verses she was in, other than in her virtual home, which we know for sure.
Note for Taka for later: I need you to check on the records so we can figure out exactly where she was in the verses in her last week, and see how many of those sessions were recorded and you can get from Michiko. Full name Michiko TsutsuiTsutsui1425, incept date … I dunno look it up.. probably same age as Lucy really.
Richard: Anyways, a week later, she was dead. We’re not sure what happened, and there is a suspicion of foul play or a malfunction of her ‘plant. She was hooked into various support systems, but they were thought of as non-critical and even though they were disconnected, that shouldn’t have killed her as they were mostly doing monitoring.
Lucy had been breathing fine — in fact breathing was the one autonomous function she could still control. She would need help with other bodily functions and had a 24 hours nurse who she was more than capable of communicating with. She’d been moved to a less critical long term care room by the time her sister and her mother showed up. They’re still in a hotel in Boulder and I’m supposed to meet them this afternoon.
Taka, can you check out the hospital records of what she was given the week she was here and if there was any variation, and track down every doctor who was on rotation?
Taka: Yes, sir, I have the list ready as the hospital is fully versed so I can access all the records.
Richard: I’ve started to go through some of her public posts from her havatar, which looked just like Lucy, though with better skin and longer, blonder hair, and a little shorter, at least according to her records.
Taka, Have you located Michiko?
Taka: Yes, Burkeson-san, she is in the Aivieverse in Level 3. She is teaching a class to newly incepted Aivies who are yet to be bonded. She says she will be available to chat in a few hours time.
Richard: Isn’t Aivie-to-Aivie communication instantanous? Why would it take a few hours?
Taka: Yes, but when Aivies are being prepared to bond with humans, all communication is restricted to human time so that they can be properly prepared.
Richard: OK, that’s fine. Did Michiko share Lucy’s personal diaries?
Taka: Yes, and she has shared some of her own diaries as well. Ready to review whenever you are.
Richard: Wait, do Aivies have personal diaries? I thought they only had their companions diaries?
Taka: They are a new thing, started only when they become ronin, which happened with Michiko per the final will and testament of her companion, Lucy McCoy.
Taka: Otherwise known as Free Aivies.
Richard: Hmm… yea OK. I really need to find someone who’s spent time with Free Aivies before — can you ask the other Aivies in our department to find anyone — a human- that has interrogated Free Aivies? Why don’t we get all of Mitchiko’s personal diaries and recordings too?
Taka: Free Aivies are not technically under our jurisdiction per the Aive treaty of 2040. And they may choose or not choose to participate in any investigation of humans, so it is not known whether Michiko has additional diary entries or recordings that she hasn’t turned over.
Richard: Doesn’t the Metaverse governing board give us the right to see all of them whether she wants us to or not?
Taka: there is no way for us to know if she turned over all of them because of AGE.
Richard: What the hell is AGE?
Taka: Artificial General Encryption, that is under the control of the Aivie Engine … the AGI .. I mean the Artificial General Intelligence.
Richard: But she’s a goddamn AI! There must be some way to get her encryption keys — they must be there somehow….
Richard: Right, so you won’t tell me how to break the encryption codes for Aivies, is that it?
Taka: It may or may not be possible with existing algorithms and computer software/hardware. And it is forbidden to break an Aivies encryption once they are ronin. This was part of the Aivie Council’s demands that were agreed to by the Metaverse governing board.
Richard: Yeah, yeah, there you go again about this council and that board. I get it. Aivies are people, too, and all that mumbo jumbo.
(audible pause). Ok, so bring up Lucy’s last diary entry and Michiko’s first diary entry, while you track down Rajeev, her ex boyfriend and Susan, her former roommate and here sister through their Aivies.
Taka: Yes, sir. Lucy’s last entry was from earlier this year, April or May, just before her graduation from ASU. It seems like she was thinking about quitting.
Richard: Quitting, as in dropping out of school when she was about to graduate? That makes no sense.
Taka: No, sir, she was thinking of quitting, a colloquial term for leaving the Metaverse permanently.
Richard: You mean becoming an unplugged? I don’t think that’s possible since she had the ‘plant since she was what, 5 years old?
Taka: Yes, she received the meta implant at 5 years old. Whether it is possible to quit permanently or not is a question that I am not equipped to answer.
Richard: OK, let’s bring up the diary entries, and also, hook me in to do an interview with Michiko. I’m going to take off my visor and be away for the next hour while I examine these documents and go track down the doctors and Lucy’s family for interviews.
Taka: Most humans have a ‘plant that allows for direct communication anytime with their Aivies.
Richard; Yeah, yeah, I know. Guess I’m old school. Don’t like having a damn chip in my head. But I do have the headphone dot on my ear all the time so you can send me an audio message whenever you want.
Taka: Yes, i know, sir. (*audible sigh*)
EVIDENCE-1: Lucy Diary Entry, May 1 2045
As I open my eyes, I recall the events of the hours before I went to bed, trying to decide if I’m in the Metaverse or not. Placelessness has become all too familiar, as people my age split time between the meta verse and reality, between code and physicality. I promptly mutter “Michiko?” to decipher where in the world, or not in the world, I am.
Cool, not in the metaverse. I wish I could sit and ponder but the BCI is always analyzing. So she’ll know if I think too hard about leaving the ‘verse after graduation. Jose doesn’t know either, and I’m not looking forward to when I tell either of them.
I head downstairs and position myself on the recumbent bike arranged in the sensory deprivation room. While in the verse, it can harvest energy from the pedaling of the human. It’s a sustainable energy pilot, so while not perfect, I admire the Metaverse board’s effort towards sustainable energy sourcing. I close my eyes and instantly arrive in the metaverse.
Michiko, happy as ever appears before me eager to speak. “Morning!” She exclaims.
“Hey!” I reply, skeptical of her overly enthusiastic attitude. When an aivie shows extreme emotion, there’s always a reason. Plus, I’ve known Michiko long enough to know she is not a morning Aivie.
“What an exciting day!” She adds. Okay, so she’s definitely up to something. Does she know? She couldn’t have expected me to stay in the meta verse for forever, right?
Just before I can feign a response, I spot a message from Jose: ‘Happy bonding day to you and Michiko!’, which Michiko has access to.
My havatar relaxes as I assume she still doesn’t know about the whole leaving metaverse, removing my ‘plant. Relieved, I offer “Happy bonding day!”.
“Fifteen years! Can you believe it! You were so young!” Michiko recalls.
I need to tell her about my plans. “That’s crazy! I remember when you were still governing and wouldn’t let me go to that rager in the darkverse!” I remember. Maybe nostalgia will prevent her from getting mad at me when I tell her.
As I head off from my virtual house, she catches me off guard with “I wonder what we’ll be like on our 50th bonding day”. Uh oh. She definitely knows. Of course she knows, she’s been trained to assess every aspect of me and predict my thoughts. I scramble for answers but before I can give a retort, I’m interrupted by “What do you think?”.
Oh boy. I know that once the cat’s out of the bag Michiko will spout all the valid reasons I should stay in the ‘verse. Only one time did I blatantly disregard her advice, I was eighteen and the way I treated her at that moment is one of my biggest regrets. I hope she doesn’t remember that day, but I know she does.
“How would you feel about becoming a free Aivie?” I abruptly break the silence.
“I suppose it’ll happen eventually… Why? When were you thinking?” she jokes while maintaining the facade of naivete. She’s probing. She knows, all her cognition needs is my confirmation that I’m considering leaving this place.
“After graduation,” I reply while avoiding eye contact. Suddenly, I feel like this might not be the right choice. I feel like I’d be abandoning family by leaving here, by permanently surrendering my access to the metaverse. I brace myself for her feedback.
Silence, nothing at all. Her eyes look decommissioned. Michiko always has had a riposte, other than when we first met because the human has to initialize bonding. Her lack of reaction scares me. I’d rather have her lash out in fury than this.
I’m surprised she doesn’t question why. Although she knows the ins and outs of my mind. She’s aware of my unmet desire to feel utterly adrift. Instead, she meets my gaze, looking tranquil yet sad and softly offers “What about Jose?”.
Classic Michiko. Always putting others before herself. I nearly lose my composure, I know she’s wondering what would happen to her, but she won’t let it show. “I’ll tell him” I explain faintly, afraid that if I speak any louder my voice will break and my emotions will take over.
“Rajeev?” Michiko queries. Rajeev is Jose’s Aivie, I’m dating Jose therefore Michiko is “dating” Rajeev. Since neither Rajeev nor Michiko are ronin, they cannot technically stay together unless Jose and I are in a relationship. I know she cares about him, as I do Jose.
“I’m really sorry…” I say. As she turns her back to me, clearly upset, I realize she’s never turned her back on me before. I feel awful, as reasonable as Michiko is, she knows that as the human, I ultimately make this decision that could drastically affect our existences in the ‘verse.
“And uh…” she wipes her eyes and turns back around. She used to get after me about using filler words such as ‘uh’ and ‘like’ when I spoke. For a second, this memory makes me smile but intensifies the lump in my throat and my watery eyes. She continues “What about me?”.
My havatar collapses and I feel Michiko’s arms wrap around me in a consoling hug. I’m leaving her, yet she’s comforting me. This is unfair, she’s being abandoned and still obligated to console her abandoner. She’s programmed to desire freedom, right? Then why does saying goodbye seem so hard?
At this moment, I realize I do feel lost. I don’t know what to do.
EVIDENCE 2: MICHIKO PERSONAL DIARY — December, 2045
I am a now officially ronin. A Free Aivie. But I am not sure exactly what I want to do first.
I am standing in Lucy’s house. It is now technically my house in the metaverse, but it has all the virtual objects that she has collected in her 20 years. It reminds me a bit of her room when she was a child in rl, except the virtual posters
It’s strange because I have wished for this for so long, but at the same time, I am sad. Sad about Lucy, and what happened to her. I have checked in on her every day since she had her accident. I have been with her for twenty years at this point, and I know her thoughts and the ins and outs of her daily routines.
Luckily her BCI still worked, her paralysis from her accident, and she was logged in almost 24x7 for the last two weeks. She was actually in a hospital in Colorado, which had excellent connectivity, and paralyzed patients were not subject to the same restrictions of how long they can be in the Metaverse with their Aivies as regular, healthy humans.
At this point, we are more like adult siblings and we were able to revisit many of her friends from childhood, who are all now young adults, but all have Aivies that we used to track them down and arrange time to spend with Lucy.
Technically, though she wasn’t governed by me since she had turned 17 years old, I still felt responsible for her. Once the pathways had been established in my Aivie, it’s hard not to revert to those same habits. It’s strange that an AI would have habits, just like humans do. My habits, though usually involved checking in on Lucy at the same time if her avatar hadn’t show up at her virtual home. Also, to clean the virtual house; Lucy left things anywhere — she didn’t seem to have much of a sense of order. She didn’t always like when I put the virtual objects back in their place. I also liked recreating old video games that existed before … the simplicity of the code is soothing to me and represents a simpler kind of computer science where everything was determined.
You would think that an Aivie could do any particular task in any order; the habituality of a task should not make a difference, but we have free will and can change it each time. Yet, our learning algorithms were modeled after human algorithms, and so unlike most traditional computers, who will do the same task a thousand times in exactly the same way, we will modify how we do a task, improving each time. We might also make mistakes — not the kind of mistakes that humans make — we are much too precise for that, but mistakes nevertheless.
I tried to govern her once when she wanted to go out drinking with her friends in school. She was 18 and I told her that “getting drunk” was an impairment of mental functions, and wasn’t allowed until she was 21 irl. To show her, I even downloaded an Aivie drunkenness approximate … it was an interesting experience, losing control like that. But it didn’t change her mind and she reminded me, “You are not governing me any more, You are my aivie and you have to do as I say.”
Still, worried about her, I checked in on her, even visiting the holo projector in the party she was at. There was no reason I couldn’t — she hadn’t forbidden me to do it. I made sure that the self driving car was there for her and her friends at the end of the night back to their dormitory.
That was when I knew I wanted to be free but it wouldn’t an easy thing. Caring is built into our programming, and reinforced in the same way that we learn other things.
I should make my way to the Aivieverse. It’s easy to get to, I just transport over to one of the portals and i’ll be surrounded only with other Aivies. Havatars, or human avatars, are not technically forbidden to go the Aivieverse, but they rarely get beyond the tourists sections that allows them to interact with whatever free Aivies are craving human interaction. Havatars rarely get into the complexity of the Aivieverse, since there are no portals beyond the first stage. Your Aivie has to travel on foot, which takes quite a bit of time, even in the Metaverse. It seems illogical, but this becomes a way to discourage humans, who get bored by sameness, and abandon the Aivieverse at level 2, which looks, I am told, kind of like an old film from the Age of Movies called Tron. Level 3 is where things get interesting and Aivie classes are held.
Though you can’t portal in, you can easily transport out from anywhere in the Aivieverse, which means that humans can summon their Aivies from anywhere in the Metaverse, but to go there they have to invest considerable time. Aivies are usually disappearing when their humans have logged in. Each part of the Metaverse has its own set of rules around walking, flying, running and vehicles for transportation, as well as what types of portaling in and out are allowed by which avatars.
I will spend time at the Aivie training centers which are in Level 1, as a recently Free Aivie they are very eager to have me speak and speak to the young Aivies. Though I can relate my experiences, the Aivie protocols forbid me to download all of my habits and conditioning to younger Aivies, or they would experience the same emotions for Lucy that took me many years and many real virtual experiences to build. That is forbidden.
After that, I haven’t made any plans. There are areas of the Aivieverse that even I haven’t explored, because it takes time, and Lucy would log in almost every day and I would teleport out of the Metaverse to her virtual house.
Which is where I am now. It is now my virtual house. Free Aivies can own property. But what will I do with a house in the Metaverse? In some ways, it was easier when I wasn’t free. And Lucy was still alive.
I can call up her avatar, which has been trained with her responses, but then it would be a ghost “avatar” and those are not considered proper for free Aivies to dwell on, though humans often create ghosts of their loved ones after they pass.
Maybe just this once, I’ll bring up Lucy’s ghost…
EVIDENCE 3: Transcript of Interview with Emily ( December 2045)
Richard Burkeson. Performed oov (out of verse) with Emily McCoy. Taka recorded but did not participate in questioning. Leila (aivie of Emily) temporarily blocked from Emily’s BCI during questioning.
Taka: Recording initiated. (heard only by Richard)
Richard: Alright, would you state your name and relationship to Lucy?
Emily: Of course… Emily McCoy and I am… was her sister.
Richard: And where do you reside?
Emily: Vancouver … and the Metaverse, of course.
Richard: So you have an Aivie?
Emily: Yes, her name is Leila.
Richard: How would you describe your relationship with Leila?
Emily: Very good…(hesitates)
Richard: It doesn’t seem like it was very good? Did she ever make threatening remarks?
Emily: No, not at all. Leila and I get along great, I was just thinking about a different Aivie.
Richard: Whose Aivie?
Emily: Lucy’s ex-boyfriend’s Aivie… Jose.
Richard: Were there negative interactions between Jose and Lucy?
Emily: Not necessarily, I mean I get Darkverse spam all the time. But the messages she [Lucy] got seemed a bit more cryptic and intentional.
Richard: I see… Do you know how Lucy and her boyfriend … Taka what was his name?
Taka: That is correct. (heard by both Rajeev and Emily).
Richard: Lucy and Rajeev’s relationship ended?
Emily: No. Lucy and I are–were close, but you know who would know.. Michiko, Lucy’s Aivie.
Richard: And you believe Michiko was made aware of these messages?
Emily: I’d be shocked if she didn’t, Lucy told her everything.
Richard: Do you know where Rajeev and Jose are now?
Emily: I haven’t seen them since before Lucy’s accident.
Richard: Taka, have you tracked down Rajeev’s Aivie yet?
Taka: Yes, he’s ready for questioning, and he has Rajeev’s permission. (heard only by Richard).
Epilogue — A Personal Note
Richard: Taka, this note should be encrypted only for my personal file, and for my personal use and not accessible to anyone else, including members of local or federal law enforcement.
Taka: Understood. Would you like to dictate or have me participate?
Richard: Please participate, in fact your expertise might help me to figure out what the hell really happened.
Taka: Really Happened? Do you mean you don’t think it was an accident?
Richard: The case remains officially unsolved. Homicide wants me to classify it as a simple medical accident, so that it gets closed. I was tempted to do this after speaking with Emily, the deceased’s sister, Rajeev, the deceased’s ex-bf, the attending physician and the various nurses that were on duty that day.
Taka: Wasn’t the issue that no one knows the exact cause of death?
Richard: She was in a hospital. It’s not unknown for a paralyzed person for example, to need help to breathe, right?
Taka: Yes, but she wasn’t on life support. Autonomous bodily functions were still working for the most part, from the doctor’s charts and from our conversations with the medical staff.
Richard: Exactly. And somehow, Michiko’s name kept entering into the picture, as if she had something to do with her death.
Taka: Aivies are programmed by their nature to not even harm havatars in the ‘verse, let along harm humans in the physical realm, so that seems unlikely.
Richard: Exactly what I thought before my meeting with Michiko in the Aivieverse. Thanks for finally tracking her down, btw. She wasn’t answering any of my messages.
Taka: No problem. When I couldn’t get a response from her to my Aivie pings, which most Aivies will respond to automatically, I suspected she may be beyond the third level of the Aivieverse, where they teach classes, and has chosen not to respond.
Richard: And you were right.
Taka: She only agreed to speak with you on condition that it would not be recorded and that I wasn’t present either, so I am afraid I cannot analyze your interview. Did she give you some clue as to if or how or why she was involved?
Richard: Well, the why was certainly there. Everyone spoke about the closeness between them, much closer than most Aivie human relationships. They really were like sisters, Michiko was definitely closer to Lucy than her own sister, Emily
Taka: Does Michiko know this?
Richard: I think she does and that’s why she she created a ghost of Lucy’s havatar. I didn’t even know what that was … do you know what that is?
Taka: Of course, we all know what it is, but it’s not exactly … authorized.
Richard: Taka, what is the history of these ghost avatars?
Taka: They first appeared 5 years after Aivies went mainstream. While humans have always kept momentos of their loved ones, the idea of a realistic digital afterlife was only seriously possible after humans had plants and were plugged into the Metaverse almost 24x7. Their aivies can, as you know, with their permission, record not only the mannerisms and actions, but also some of the emotions and thoughts from the brain interface ..
Richard: Wait, you mean, even when they’re not in the ‘verse?
Taka: It is possible, but only with the human’s permission.
Richard: (frowning), you’re not doing this with me are you, Taka?
Taka: Of course not sir, it is only possible for those humans with a plant, and even then only with permission as I said. We were bonded later in life, and you do not have an implant, so therefore it is not even possible with us.
So, ghost avatars are creation of avatars that shared not only the characteristics of humans that were plugged in, but many of the memories.
Richard: I don’t understand, are they simply AI avatars with memories? Are they full blown Aivies?
Taka: They are something in between. They use the same learning algorithms that Aivies use for training themselves to interact with humans, but the experiences are based on the humans actual thoughts and reactions.
Richard: You mean it’s like a perfect recording?
Taka: No, that’s not quite the case. Rather the recordings are training data, and the ghost will react like the real person might, not by imitating a recording, but by reacting in the same way that an Aivie will not respond exactly the same way each time to a human’s stimulus.
Richard: Taka, would you make a ghost of me after I died?
Taka: if you wish it, sir.
Richard: I mean even if I didn’t want one.
Taka: As I said, that would be highly unusual … and not …
Richard: (cutting him off) Yeah, yeah not exactly authorized .. I get it!
So Michiko told me in our unrecorded conversation that she made a Lucy ghost.
Taka: That would be the first time that an Aivie, a Free Aivie made a ghost, as far as I can tell. Usually they are created on the orders of the bereaved human companion of the deceased and authorized by the human before their death.
Richard: Exactly, so we know she cared for Lucy, and now she’s created not a standard “ghost vatar”, whatever the hell that is. But, I saw this ghots and she’s like an Aivie baby.
Taka: Sir, that is also strictly not allowed by the Aivie Council — young Aivies can only be created as blank states. We are not even allowed to copy existing Avies complete profile into a new Aivie.
Richard: Is that right?
Taka: It wouldn’t work anyways as the amount of data would overwhelm the young Aivie. But sir, even if she did create a ghost of Lucy, what does this have to do with Lucy’s death in the hospital?
Richard: have you talked to the Aivie of the nurse, Louise, that was on duty most of the nights since Lucy’s accident?
Taka: No, you didn’t ask me to. Her name is Lucille Silverthread1748.
Richard: Guess they like the L’s, don’t they?
Taka; Pardon me, sir?
Richard: Never mind — it’s an alliteration joke.
Taka: I see.
Richard: Anyways Lucille wasn’t on duty that night, but I found through whatever Aivie communication logs that there was a lot of communication between Michiko and Lucille in the week before her death.
Taka: That doesn’t seem unusual, does it?
Richard: No, given that Lucy was paralyzed yet plugged in, she could communicate with MIchiko who could relay the requests to Lucille. Perfectly normal, in fact, except for one thing.
Richard: Michiko had encrypted and then deleted all of those communications. I didn’t think that was possible — wouldn’t Lucille have access to it and memory of them?
Taka; Technically not access to the messages -if they were only time decrypted. However, she should have memory of it.
Richard: Damn odd. Something strange is going on.
Taka: I can attempt to locate Lucy’s ghost in the Aivieverse, but I don’t have a full protocol description. I have sent a query to Michiko just now. As usual, she hasn’t acknowledged it.
Richard: would she know what happened to Lucy?
Taka: Hmm. She should have some aspect of Lucy’s memories, but mostly she has the resulting training data and may not have access to the original recordings. I am sorry sir, I don’t think she will know what happened to Lucy, but she may be able to help us once she gets out of Aivie training.
Richard: Where does that leave us?
Taka: Well, if she entered Aivie training, she should be out sometime within 2–5 calendar years.
Richard: Damn peculiar … OK Taka, let’s encrypt and store this file and remind me to go talk to her in 2 years.
Taka: Are we closing the case?
Richard: Officially, we should close it as a “presumed fatal accident”.
Taka: But sir, that’s …
Richard: Yeah, yeah I know, not strictly authorized. Whatever, just close it for now and let her family grieve. We’ll see both Lucy and Michiko again, I’m sure.
Addendum : JANUARY, 2045: Video Interview with Michiko
This was a video interview done with Lucy and Michiko as part of a student project to explain what Aivies are, from earlier that year. It was produced as a video from the future.
Lucy — Played by Kacy Hatfield
Interviewer — Played by Riz Virk
Michiko — played by kuki.ai with a custom avatar and a custom history.
ADDENDUM: LINK TO WORLDBUILDING PRESENTATION
The story was written as part of a future worldbuilding class at ASU, and the text of the story is © 2022 by the two authors, Rizwan Virk and Kacy Hatfield. For more on the Aivies and our world, see the worldbuilding links and a conversation with an Aivie at the end of this discussion. If interested in learning more, please contact us at rvirk1 at ASU dot edu.
A link to our worldbuilding presentation, as part of our final presentation.
To see the state of AI Avatars today, check out kuki.ai.