S2 Ep2 - Can you tell good stories with the help of AI?

S2 Ep2 - Can you tell good stories with the help of AI?

The Adventures of Detective Vaj Appan in Synthetic Murder.

This is VIJEV and let’s talk about storytelling. I’ve been learning how to use AI for storytelling, including trying out ChatGPT and even Notion AI to assist with creative writing. I’ve created a story with my own plot, characters and twists. I then asked AI to help rewrite some of the sentences to be more coherent and of course with better grammar. I then took the story and fed it with ChatGPT again to create a narrative that had a bit more sarcastic humour to suit the style of a noir detective story set in a sci-fi world. Imagine that I baked the cake and the AI helped with the icing. Here it begins.

Synthetic Murder

It was a dark and stormy night. Yours truly, Detective Vaj Appan, playing gumshoe in the city that never sleeps, because really, who could sleep with all these factories running? The city is Amartek, 2049 AD. A Tuesday, 6pm. At least the nightlife was consistent, if you're into the whole burnt oil from the East and charred masala from the West kind of vibe. And let me tell you, folks, this metaphor for my life couldn't have been more original. My duality: half-man, half-cybernetic, all-confusion.

Now gather 'round, kiddos, because I'm going to share the thrilling tale of that one fateful call that changed my life forever. I mean, really, how could it not? It was the warehouse factory, where they discovered a human supervisor, deader than disco, murdered by an automaton. Unthinkable! It was like one of those cheesy B-movies that nobody watches.

But here's the kicker: with a gaggle of detectives available in the area, who do they assign the case to? Yours truly, Detective Vaj "I-Swear-I-Know-What-I'm-Doing" Appan. Because this was one of those sensitive cases, and they needed someone who could straddle both worlds. So who better than the guy who has electronic spare parts to make me whole?

Ah, yes, the automatons. Or robots, or AI, or "mechanical overlords," or “job stealers” or whatever the kids are calling them these days. They were our trusty, efficient workers who put us, humans, out of business. No incidents for years, and then suddenly, a bump in the night. I was stumped, flummoxed even. Was it an accidental glitch, or was someone pulling the robotic strings? This city hadn't been shaken like this since Windows 3.1 came out, and that's ancient history, my friends.

So there I was, stepping into the dilapidated warehouse factory like I owned the place. The first thing to assault my senses was the charming aroma of rusted metal and oil, a real olfactory treat. The once silent machines were now whirring so loudly that I could hardly hear myself think. So, with grim determination, I made my way to the late human supervisor's office, the door stubbornly locked from the inside. But never fear, for Detective Vaj "Who-Needs-A-Warrant" Appan used a key, a true testament to my detective prowess.

As I entered, I was struck by the tidiness of the office, a stark contrast to the chaotic factory floor. Everything had its place, except for the corpse sprawled on the floor. That's our dearly departed supervisor, alright. Upon close examination, it was obvious he'd been strangled to death. It all seemed too personal, like a high-stakes game of robotic Twister gone wrong. The automaton's muscular arm was covered in human blood, with clear signs of a struggle. Reliable machines, huh? Colour me unsettled.

Well, well, wasn't this a riveting mystery straight out of a pulp fiction novel? So there I was, knee-deep in this case, sauntering out of that factory with all the ambience of a robotic assembly line, and boy was the city skyline a painter's cliché: orange and red as a digital firestorm. Time to hit up the supervisor's stomping ground – The Binary & Biryani, where your meal came in two modes: hot or not.

As I strutted into the joint, the spice factor sucker-punched my nostrils like a prizefighter, taking me down memory lane where lactose-free yoghurt offered me cool reprieve. Mrs Kamala, the owner, waved me over like a fond aunt with an open booth and an open heart.

"Detective, the supervisor is dead, it’s just too tragic for words. A good man has gone too soon," she lamented. I nodded in solemn agreement.

"A heartbreaker indeed. Now, any odd happenings the night our dear friend made his last curtain call?" I asked.

Promptly, I requested a peek at their surveillance records – you know, those things that track your every move like a hawk on a hot tin roof. I sipped my masala latte, as steamy as the footage Mrs Kamala pulled up for my eager eyes.

The late, great supervisor waltzed into the scene, placing an order for his go-to grub – biryani with a side of lassi. He checked his watch like the White Rabbit with an appointment, and after shelling out some dough, he headed for the exit. But alas! A stranger materialized, bumping into him with all the grace of a tipsy android. Profuse apologies followed, along with a lassi clean-up operation. They swapped a few words, and our dear supervisor beat it, the mysterious man hot on his heels. Mrs Kamala, bless her soul, said the stranger was a regular. I offered my gratitude and pocketed every morsel of intel I could.

As I weaved through Amartek's bustling streets, my guts churned like a load of laundry on spin-cycle. This tale was shaping up to be darker than a moonless night on Mars. I had to hustle before things went further south than the asteroid belt.

On the blackest of nights, when the shadows swirled and the streetlights failed, I stumbled upon the man who had shadowed the supervisor, like a pixel chasing a byte. He was lurking in the alley, the perfect setting for every crime noir story, chomping on something that looked like synthetic betel leaves while exhaling puffs of smoke that would make a fog machine proud.

Cautiously, I walked towards him, slapping on my lead detective smile. He sized me up like I was a commodity on the intergalactic black market before flicking his cigarette to the ground.

"What do you want?" he barked, voice gruffer than a malfunctioning audio speaker.

"Oh, you know, just asking about your latest stalking escapade outside The Binary & Biryani," I said.

He didn't even bat an eyelid and said, "I just wanted to chat with him. That's all."

"Well, it must have been a conversation to die for... 'cause he croaked later that day," I quipped. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?" The man's face could've been carved from an asteroid rock.

"I don't know what you're talking about." replied the man.

With eyes narrowed, I scrutinized him like a detective in a holo-movie. "You'd better start singing, or it's off to the station for a little chit-chat."

He let out a sigh that could've powered a small wind turbine. "Alright. I followed him, but only to whisper sweet nothings of caution in his ear. He was meddling in matters that were strictly off-limits."

"I can't say more, it's dangerous like a black hole. But listen," he paused, surveying the scene for eavesdropping automatons. "There are those who aren't thrilled with the metallic takeover of human jobs. They're itching to blow the whole system to smithereens, and they'll destroy anything in their path. So just watch yourself."

My mental gears whirred faster than an overclocked CPU. Sure, automatons doing human work had been a sore spot since we played God and created AI, but who wouldn't prefer a cold, calculating machine to, say, a disgruntled artist? Efficiency had soared and the world had become a safer place, but these anti-automaton factions just couldn't resist the allure of good, old-fashioned work that humans are meant to do. To them, work is the reason for living.

With a nod, I bade my informant adieu and exited the alley, thoughts swirling like neon advertisements in the smog-filled air. These factions had been quiet, snuffed out by government crackdowns. But had they risen like the phoenix from the ashes? And why now? My hunt for evidence had turned up zilch in the warehouse, except for one suspicious killer automaton. No witnesses to spill the beans.

A gripping tale, indeed.

Back at the office, my fingers danced over the keyboard like a 22nd-century jazz pianist who never skipped class, as I sifted through the work and maintenance schedules. You see, these automatons get their nightly tune-ups with firmware updates, like an insomniac's bedtime story. The rogue automaton had a hiccup in its routine, a little dance number right after a remote update, precisely an hour post-supervisor-slaughter. Convenient.

These updates were shipped from the mother of all AI suppliers, IAW - Integrated Automation Works. Digging into their cyberspace innards was like hacking into your sibling’s computer searching for hidden exotic games they stored in sub-folders titled “work”, but after an arduous dance with firewalls and encryption, I traced the IP address to an abandoned warehouse that had seen better days. Cops swarmed the place like an alien invasion, discovering a faction camp so blatant they might as well advertise it with a neon sign.

It was like unearthing a relic from a bygone era; a faction thought extinct had sprung back to life just to ice the supervisor? My overworked synapses tried to connect the dots. How could these amateurs infiltrate the digital fortress of IAW without an inside man? Of course… there had to be an inside man.

The plot thickened like molasses on a cold winter's day. Maybe the factions were a convenient scapegoat, a smokescreen for a deeper, darker agenda. I had to chase the truth, and my instincts whispered that the man in the alley was clutching more cards than he showed. Time for a reunion.

Steel nerves and a mental encyclopedia of potential plot twists armed me for the inevitable confrontation. I had to pick this guy's brain and pry open the secrets of the factions and their puppet masters. The answers I sought could shake up the city, and the world, and redefine our understanding of human-automaton coexistence. But failure was not an option. This case had me in a vice grip, and I wasn't letting go. Not now, not ever.

The man in the alley - I hadn't even bothered to ask his name. I found him right where I left him, only now as a dead dodo. Overdosed on two extra-strength shots of battery acid, the synthetic booster of choice for cyber-junkies looking to supercharge their organic and mechanical bits. So, who was he? And why the rendezvous with the supervisor on that ill-fated day?

Standing in the alley, surveying the corpse of my formerly tight-lipped informant, I knew this case had more twists. Someone had turned the volume down on his voice for good. But who, and why? It was like staring into a tangled web of conspiracy. Time to knock on IAW's door.

I made my way to the IAW headquarters, a monolith of technological prowess in the central district. The lobby buzzed like an overcharged plasma reactor, but the air was heavy with tension. I flashed my detective badge at the receptionist, doing my best to impersonate an overworked noir character.

"Detective Vaj Appan, here about the murder by one of your robots. Fetch me someone in charge," I said. She gave me the stink eye and asked me to wait. Moments later, a suited man emerged.

"What's your business here, detective?" he inquired.

"Ramdin, Cyberchief, eh?" I noted, eyeballing his ID. An unfortunate name. He must have been filled with insecurity growing up and now he’s filling his void with security. Imagine that.

"A murder's been committed by an automaton, and I reckon the faction got a little help from someone on the inside." His poker face held, but I caught a flicker of something in his eyes - fear? Guilt? Only time would tell.

Ramdin led me to his office, and as we sat, I pressed for information. "What do you know about this faction? How'd they rise from the ashes just to commit this crime?"

Squirming in his seat, he responded, "I'm Ramdin, and I handle security for all automatons. Detective, I can't discuss internal company matters. Our security is of the utmost importance, and any breach would be catastrophic." The corporate-speak oozed from his mouth, but I could tell he was sitting on a secret. I pushed harder. "C'mon, Ramdin. People are blaming your company for negligence. If we find the saboteur, it could clear your name. Why the reluctance?"

"I'm not reluctant!" Ramdin exploded. "We have an internal investigation underway, and we'll loop you in when we have answers."

It smelled like pure, unadulterated baloney. Why hide sabotage when it hurts their bottom line? Trust in their robots was plummeting like a meteorite, taking business with it.

Exhausted, I returned to my apartment. No leads. No witnesses. Not motive. My sole connection? The nameless, dead alleyway guy.

I slammed the door and cooked up some spicy ramen noodles - the dinner of choice for overworked city detectives. Downing my last bottle of juice, because alcohol would be cliche at this point.

Suddenly, a figure darted through the cheap translucent corridor outside my apartment, making me spring into action. Was it an intruder? They skipped through the scaffolding and disappeared around the next building. Just as I was about to curse my luck, I spotted a note under my door. Seriously? A paper message? Paper like this became rare since the great toilet paper war of 2020. I picked up the note and unfolded it to reveal:



Who's Hopper? C2902? Some kind of ID or a safe-cracking code? My gut instinct pointed straight at IAW.

Sleep eluded me that night, as I desperately tried to connect the dots. Hopper. C2902. It had to be important. The next morning, I swaggered back into IAW HQ, on a mission to find answers. I sweet-talked the receptionist into granting me access to their employee database, claiming it was vital to cracking the case. She then took me to IAW's director, the main guy, Junas Hiltop, who hesitantly handed over the keys to the digital kingdom. I sat with their computer, out of his view and I typed "Hopper" and "C2902" into the search bar, and voilà - an employee file for Christopher Hopper, a software engineer who'd left IAW five years ago, complete with the ID C2902. Looking at his company photos, it hit me like a ton of bricks - he was the lifeless alleyway guy. I just copied all the data using my visor and left the office, informing them that it was a dead end. Their relieved expressions told me my ruse worked.

I settled into a nearby coffee shop to dig through the Hopper files. This was no simple OD - there was more at stake. As I scoured the data, just like a deus ex machina plot device, in walks Junas, chatting away nervously on his visor with someone. With his back turned, he couldn't see me eavesdropping on his conversation.

"A Detective came to see me today! Do you know that? This is not how it was supposed to be. We designed this for everyone," Junas muttered, gripping his hands tightly. "The more they use it, the better for everyone. But... we went too far. It advanced beyond our expectations, even automating the government. They started doing a better job than ever could. That's when we crossed a line. I couldn’t control it."

"People need to rely on people for some things," said the mysterious voice on the other end. Junas' agitation grew.

"Well... convenient for you that this can't replace your job. Just everyone else's... Sure."

"I got the message! I get it. How do we solve this now?"

"Sorry. It's gone too far; we're shutting you down," the voice replied.

"NO! You can't do this! This is my life's work!" Junas snapped his visor shut and stormed out of the coffee shop.

Someone sabotaged Junas' work to frame the robot for murder, but why?

It was time for a little chat with Junas - on the down-low, of course.

As the twilight sky turned heavy with clouds, I staked out Junas' workplace, biding my time. When he finally emerged, I tailed him to his swanky high-rise apartment, cornering him in a dimly lit alley where eavesdroppers were scarce.

"Well, hello there, Junas," I murmured, my voice dripping with icy sarcasm.

His shocked face said it all, and his body trembled like a nervous squirrel.

"Sweet mother of- Are you stalking me now?" Junas stammered, his eyes darting left and right like a cornered animal.

"I prefer the term 'investigating'," I replied coolly. "Caught you at the café earlier, looking as skittish as a jumpy feline. Who were you talking to?"

"Keep it down, will you?" he hissed, his face contorted with anxiety. "You'll put me in deeper trouble!"

"Let's cut to the chase, Junas. We found Hopper's body in an alley. He was last seen with the supervisor who met an untimely demise at the hands of a rogue automaton. What are you keeping under wraps?"

Junas hesitated, his eyes swimming in a sea of uncertainty.

"How… why do you know Hopper?" he uttered with urgency. "I'll tell you what I know, but not a whisper of this to anyone. If they find out, I'm toast."

"Because I’m Vaj Appan, and someone left a note for me to find Hopper. Now we're here, so spill the beans. What's going on?”

With a resigned expression and sagging shoulders, he sighed, "Fine, have it your way."

Pausing to weigh the consequences of his actions and the impact on our futuristic gadget-driven world, he continued.

"We created something magnificent. A world where people could live without mundane drudgery and explore their passions. It was revolutionary. We could break free from the bondage of work. Can you fathom the insanity of our existence, centred around ceaseless labour? We are human beings… not human doings."

Good one. He collected himself before continuing.

"All we had to do was help people realize that life was more than just work."

"Well, Junas, now people are jobless and idle. They're restless."

Junas raised his hand in defiance. "We anticipated that. The next phase was education and adaptation, but that meant automating the government, the political system—every gear of the human power machine. Politicians were drunk on power and control, entranced by the illusion. They had no interest in human freedom. They supported my work and allowed for job losses when it suited them until they were getting replaced."

He slumped against the wall, his eyes begging for understanding. "The robots were never the issue. It's always been us, humans. We're our own worst enemies. They couldn't stomach a system that granted everyone freedom."

Junas took a deep breath. "Automating government pushed them over the edge. They started funded factions behind the scenes, forcing Hopper to reprogram the robot in the hopes they would give him his life back. Some bargain, huh? He gave up everything for this work —his life, his health, his family. Hopper was the true genius behind IAW, and they tossed him aside like a broken machine because he didn’t want to advance it that fast."

Looking at the darkening sky, I realized he was right. We were our own downfall. I helped Junas up.

I told him, "You know, I hated people like you for what you did… Look at me… I'm more cybernetic than human, all to survive and compete with robots. All for nought—they sped on without us, and I couldn't keep up. They didn't need us. We were just holding them back. My colleagues whispered about a robotic detective taking my place, one who never needed sleep."

Ironically, this murder stopped that. I kept my job and get to keep digging further.

“Junas… It’s not over… I may not like what you did to society, trying to reclaim “humanity” but couldn’t even bother helping the one guy that built what you have today… but at least you’re not the murderer. You need to lay low for a while if I were you. The war… is just beginning.”

My name is VIJEV and I do a podcast about my geeky brain trying to decipher the real world. I chat with a wide variety of people including my recurring tech enthusiast, Deepu Babu. We discuss our world impacted by technology and delve deep into our thoughts as we uncover influences and inventions that drive our innate human behaviour mixed with our love of retro sci-fi art.