Slightly alarming news from Los Angeles, where researchers at the University of Southern California’s Institute for Creative Technologies have developed a virtual therapist. The system interacts with the client through an avatar named Ellie, analysing verbal and non-verbal responses using a webcam and a gaming sensor. The current version uses a real psychologist in the next room to guide Ellie’s questioning, but future iterations promise increasing autonomy.

Ellie’s creators say that she is not meant to replace human therapists, but rather to assist them by taking care of routine information gathering and screening, leaving us old-fashioned flesh and blood shrinks with more time to do the actual healing stuff. That sounds fairly benign, but I can’t help worrying that if our managers hear about a worker who doesn’t need paid, never goes off sick, and always sticks to the treatment protocols, then it won’t be long before we’re all out on the street.

But, you may say, won’t patients resent being fobbed off with an ersatz therapist and demand to see a real live doctor? Well, according to the research, most people find computer-delivered treatment perfectly acceptable, so, yeah, basically we’re doomed…

The Joy of Six

Well, against the odds, we seem to have staggered our way through another year of blogging, though we’ve only managed 30 posts in the last twelve months, and the bulk of those were brief notes on general cultural and historical topics rather than the commentary on virtual life that is supposedly our raison d’être. There were a couple of pieces that I thought were up to our old standard, and a few more that were mildly diverting, but the general verdict is “Must try harder”.

One could argue that I should acknowledge that the well of inspiration is running dry, and wrap up this project before we descend even further into irrelevance, but I’m loathe to completely give up on my blogger identity, however tenuous my grasp on it is, so I expect we’ll trundle on for a while yet.

Break On Through (To the Other Side)

Sad news today of the death of Ray Manzarek. Regular readers will not be surprised to learn that I was a big fan of The Doors as a young teenager. Like many another adolescent boy I initially styled myself after Jim Morrison, but it wasn’t long before I realised that I wasn’t really cut out to be a Dionysian love-god, so I adopted Manzarek as a role model instead. I had the glasses, the long hair, and (in my mind at least) the cool intellectual demeanour, but not, alas, the musical talent, though that didn’t stop me contributing dodgy organ licks to various teen garage bands.

I fell out of love with The Doors in my later teens, as I grew up and realised that Morrison was actually a bit of a dick, but in later years (probably fuelled by nostalgia) I have gotten into them again. I’m not sure that the shaggier blues and psychedelia of their mid to late period really stands up today, but their early numbers still sound fresh and exciting, underpinned, as the obituaries have noted, by Manzarek’s snaky rhythms. I can clearly remember the first time I heard The Doors, on a cassette a friend gave me, taped from his old man’s vinyl, and listening to it now takes me back to the days when the right music could promise a glimpse into a seductive world of adult possibility. Of course I know now that what seems deep and profound at the age of 13 is generally less so when one reaches some sort of maturity, but it’s nice to be reminded now and again of how fun life was before the cynicism of age set in.

Jennifer She Said

An interesting message arrived in the SLS inbox last week, from one Jennifer Gretson:


My name is Jennifer, and I’m reaching out because I noticed that your blog isn’t updated very often. Without an active blog, it’s really difficult to get website traffic.

That’s why I wanted to reach out to you; I’m a freelance writer trying to build a name for myself online, and I’d be happy help contribute to your blog if you’d like. You don’t need to pay me or anything, either… I just want to get my name out there as a great writer.

I’ll be happy to provide some samples of my work if you’d like; just let me know!

Of course, paranoid cynic that I am, I’m assuming that this is some sort of scam, and that if I reply “Jennifer” will try to persuade me to give her my credit card details by promising vast income from Google ads, or whatever magical internet paradigm is the get-rich-quick scheme du jour. Perhaps she wants access to my WordPress account so she can use it for spamming, or link-farming, or hosting dubious content, or some other nefarious purpose that will bring the FBI to my door.

Or perhaps Ms Gretson is sincere, and she really believes that publishing work in our little blog will help her become the next E. L. James. If so, it seems cruel to puncture her charming optimism by exposing her to the disappointing reality of our obscurity.

Anyway, Jennifer has one thing right; five posts in four months is hardly what one expects of an active blog. I’ll have to try to raise my work rate a little – as usual I’ve got lots of ideas, and surely I can’t go wrong if I put it in writing…

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