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Note to reader: Bobby Thompson may or may not appear as a fictional character in a novel which might or might not be titled, “Alan’s Nightmare.” His role in said novel is as the head of PR for Coastal University.

“Gene Poole here and this is “The Character’s Studio” where every week we interview a character about their life, their hopes and dreams, and their current gig. After the interview, those of you in the studio audience—aspiring characters from as yet unwritten works of art—will have a chance to ask questions as well. Our guest today is Bobby Thompson, who right now is playing a part in John Charles Thomas’s novel, tentatively titled, Alan’s Nightmare. Bobby, thank you for joining us today. My first question, as always, is simply why you decided to get into the business of being a character in a novel?” 

Bobby scanned through his repertoire of canned responses; found nothing appropriate and, for the first time, in months, made up something on the spur of the moment. “Well, Gene, in high school, English was my best subject. I hated science, math, and history. French and German involved memorizing a lot of crazy stuff. In college, I did okay in my business and psychology courses but didn’t have the grades to go for an MBA. My Dad knew a guy from his fraternity and got me a great summer internship with Lawrence, Rich, Green. By coincidence, my Dad was a big client of theirs. So, I made the most of every opportunity and I guess you could say I’m that typical self-made man you hear so much about in America. One of our clients was the brand new—at that point—California State Coastal University and they took me on for their PR point person.” 

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Gene said, “OK, but surely you mean that the author put you there. Not the University. That was the setting, not the cause.”

Bobby frowned. “Well,” he said, “I suppose you might look at it that way.” Then, he added, “From your perspective it might seem as though the author creates the world. But I think we in the fictional world create–or at least alter–the author.”

Gene nodded and continued with, “So, leaving metaphysics aside, you worked as an actual PR person for a college. What do you do there?”

“I mostly manage. I don’t really know a whole lot about PR. But we do have a pretty good undergraduate major in PR so I mainly delegate to our work-study interns. It’s my way of giving back to the community. Because I was an intern myself not so long ago. I’m younger than I look. It puts me in contact with younger people too. Younger women. And men. As they always say, ‘hard bodies and soft minds.’ I like it. Anyway, we keep the website up to date. We put out brochures. We also have a small budget for product placement of the University as a whole. And, of course, we put out fires. In some ways, that’s the most important part of the job. Now, you take this whole ado over AI. Some folks are extremely upset about AI and we have AI research right here at Coastal. So, my interns have prepared a set of talking points about AI. I try to keep the professors on script, but you know—they’re academics so they don’t pay much attention to staying on script. They like to ad lib. First rule of PR is don’t ad lib! Worse, they try to answer questions! Can you imagine? Second rule of PR is never ever ever answer their question. Answer the question you wished they asked you.”

Gene’s brow furrowed. “Can you give an example?” 

Bobby smiled and he became more animated. “Sure! That’s what I do best! So, say some reporter asks, ‘Aren’t you worried about AI taking jobs away from humans?’ If you answer ‘yes’, you’re screwed. If you answer ‘no’, you’re also screwed. If you say, ‘I won’t answer your question, you’re doubly screwed. Instead, you expound on one of your talking points. ‘Mr. Reporter, have you ever worked on an assembly line, lifting up heavy metal, turning your head and torso into an ungainly position so you can check something, turning a screw with your arm in this awkward position? Can you imagine doing that three times a minute? Day after day? Week after week? Month after month? No? Well, imagine it. Your body gets broken. Your mind gets numb. You come home from work and you scream at the kids and the wife and before long you’re drinking too much. Obviously, that will fix everything. In fact, did you know that life expectancy in this country is actually falling? Mostly from obesity, drugs, and suicides. And why? Mindless jobs more suited for robots and AI systems’.”

Bobby’s body became animated, his gestures growing larger and faster. “See what I mean? AI is no longer a problem leading to unemployment. No. AI is a solution. That’s what happens when people stick to the script I prepare for them.” 

“Interesting. What do you really think about AI personally, Bobby?”

“Me? I don’t have any opinion about it. I just want to make sure the University’s name is not besmirched by it. Or by anything else.”

Gene nodded. “I see. Well, do you have any advice for the folks out there considering becoming a character in a novel?” 

Bobby frowned and rolled his eyes for a time before answering. “I guess the main thing is never lose sight of who you really are. Work hard. Don’t commit to a position before you find out which way your boss is leaning, obviously. That’s about it.” 

Gene asked, “Do you think you’ll stay in the novel where you currently reside or will you look for other opportunities?” 

“Oh, I’m definitely open to other opportunities. Maybe working for Big Pharma or Big Oil. That’s where the real money is.” 

Gene continued, “Do you know anything about those industries?” 

Bobby answered quickly, “Oh, my no. Nor AI for that matter. I’ve found that subject matter expertise just totally gets in the way. Get your 5-10 talking points figured out and never stray from those and you’ll do great in PR.” 

Gene asked, “One final question: what is your favorite string of 25 or more curse words?” 

Photo by Dave Colman on Pexels.com


Turing’s Nightmares comprises 23 short stories about AI and can be found on Amazon in paperback or e-book. http://tinyurl.com/hz6dg2d

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