My mind works in strange ways and sometimes I don’t even know how myself. Where the idea for this story came from, I don’t know. I was sitting in front of my computer with a blank document open trying to create some short story ideas when this one arrived. It’s a near-future SF story about a young man who is something of an artist. It’s not to be taken seriously, obviously, but it does, I think, predict the future.
* * *
Once again, Gareth found himself sitting in the Head’s office. Mrs Anders was studying him over the top of her glasses in the way she liked to think was scary but was just funny. After about half a minute of this, she looked down at her desk and picked up a piece of paper.
“So, here we are again. After the last time, you promised you’d stop this nonsense and try harder. So, what’s this?” The Head held up a printed photo someone had taken of the offence. “You’re 16 years old, Gareth. 16! And you’re still trying to shock people by drawing penises!”
“I’m sorry Mrs Anders, I do try.”
Mrs Anders sighed and put the photo face down on her desk. “Time is running out, Gareth. You’ll be looking to get into higher education, maybe a placement for work experience. Employers will contact the school asking for a reference. What shall I tell them? ‘Gareth tries hard but can’t stop himself from drawing male genitalia on every surface.’”
“Yes, I know, but I get bored sometimes and, well they’re funny.”
“There’s nothing funny about it, Gareth. Nothing at all. It’s vandalism, pure and simple. If you try this out of school, you’ll get yourself arrested.”
Mrs Anders picked up the photo again and studied it.
“Gareth. You aren’t the first boy to draw a penis on a whiteboard, not by a long way. But yours is the first I’ve seen with shading and highlights and actual anatomical detail. Your art skills are pretty good. If you could only draw something else, maybe submit some artwork to a few people. It might take you somewhere.”
Gareth nodded. He was trying not to think about how Mrs Anders was so familiar with male genitals.
“What do think? Perhaps draw something else you like. Cars, animals, buildings, anything really, just not this kind of thing. What do you say? This is your future at risk.”
“Yes, Mrs Anders. I’ll try. I could draw some other stuff, go to art college.”
“There you go,” she smiled. “That’s the kind of answer I would expect of someone your age. Now, off you go. And don’t go near any whiteboards, ok?”
“OK. Sorry, Mrs Anders.”
“Apology accepted. And remember, it’s your future you’re jeopardising.”
Gareth went home that night and drew the self-driving car his parents had sent to pick him up from school. It wasn’t his best work, but at least it wouldn’t offend anyone. He used the school computer, under close supervision, to create artwork with the newest hardware and software the school could afford. He drew cars and aeroplanes, military drones and heavy robots. It was the latter that got him noticed by an entertainment company. They were looking at the source material for a CGI-heavy film they were making and invited Gareth in for a trial period.
When he arrived at the studio, he found that, in fact, there wasn’t a studio, but a large room filled with booths, all populated by artists and computer equipment.
“It’s all computers now, Gareth,” his potential boss Mr Connelly said. “We scan in the actors, take a sample of their voice, and then they go home, job done in one day. Then we can do what we want with their image and voice, and no one gets hurt, stressed or walks off set because they hate their cast members.”
“That’s cool,” Gareth said softly.
“Actually, we’ve been working on something better. Let me show you.”
Mr Connelly led Gareth along a corridor to a small room with a large computer screen on the wall and a wireless keyboard and mouse on a small desk.
“Now, I can’t show you the actual hardware we’re using because it’s a trade secret. But I can show you how it works. People like to watch stuff, yes? What we call content. They get through it at such a rate we can’t keep up. But what if the computer could do everything? They can work much faster than a human. We’re working on a system that can take minimal input from a human and create not just a few scenes, but whole films, trilogies, twenty-part series, and consumers will never run out of things to watch. Which keeps everyone happy.”
“That’s amazing,” Gareth said because he thought it was expected.
“I’m glad you agree. We have over a hundred people out there and not one of them would volunteer to try it. Luddites. Want to give it a go?”
“Ok, sit down.”
Gareth sat down and a menu appeared on the display. Mr Connelly leaned over and clicked a few choices and left Gareth with an art package open on the screen.
“Ok, draw something, anything you want. I’m sure you won’t have a problem with the UI.”
Gareth used the mouse to draw a few lines to get the feel of the software, which was very similar to what he’d already used. He then drew a small robot and began to shade it.
“OK, that should be enough for a demo.” Mr Connelly took the mouse and rapidly clicked through several options then stepped back. The small robot became three-dimensional, then filled with colour and shade until it looked real. A background faded in, a series of buildings, bombed and burning. Other robots appeared, armed with laser weapons. An enemy began to shoot at them, so they returned fire. Sounds began to play, harsh at first and then beginning to fit with the scene. The detail increased exponentially until it was photo-realistic. His original robot began to move around the battlefield, shooting enemies and rescuing its fellows. The music swelled, one of the robot’s comrades fell. It swore vengeance and the screen faded.
“What do you think?”
“That all came from my drawing?”
“Well, yours and the hours of work the software engineers have put in. But yes, that was all CGI and machine learning, the plot, the music, everything was generated in real time. And that’s broadcast quality, ready to go.”
“Wow. So why do you need me?”
“Good question. At the moment, the system needs an input to start with. It can extrapolate from what it’s given but can’t yet originate. So, that’s your job.”
“Ok, I’m in.”
Mr Connelly laughed. “Great. I’m going to need you to do a test piece first. We’ll pay you industry rates if we use it and don’t give you the job.”
“Ok, what do you want me to draw?”
Mr Connelly used the mouse to drop down a list. “Ok, here’s some things we don’t have. Mostly small and quite obscure things. Ahh, here we go, nice and fast. I’ll be back in about half an hour, ok?”
Mr Connelly left, leaving Gareth sitting alone and staring at the screen. He looked at the list and the item Mr Connelly had selected. Gareth had been asked to use an advanced, almost sentient AI graphics computer to draw a penis. He sighed and set to work.