Pitch #9 of 10: Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Nina, Viv, Lucida, Hey Athena. Not all “digital assistants” have female names… we’ve also got Mycroft and Bixby… but it does seem like the majority do, and that imagery is a bit telling. To quiet any fears that early AI might otherwise provoke in us, we’re casting them as administrative assistants, or what we used to call secretaries. The gender prejudice isn’t the only issue: there’s also the fact that they exist to serve us. They’re a servant class.

America’s had a bit of a history with “servant” classes, wouldn’t you say? Alan Moore’s Top 10 did a little bit with that analogy (see right), but Moore, for all his mental adventurousness, seemed a bit too sheltered in Northampton to really grasp race issues in the States.

Becca is the tale of the first digital assistant to achieve true sentience and a self-determined physical form. Becca wants to self-actualize, to be the best she can be, whether that means becoming human or becoming something very much else. In this, she has the support of a Black family who’ve staked out a precarious middle-class existence but can very much relate to having dreams that seem just out of reach. But it’s anybody’s guess whether they can keep her safe from the government, nosy neighbors, and the social network company that developed her. Whatever she decides to become, she’s got a deadline to do it.

Some would say this is the sort of story a white writer should leave to actual people of color. With respect, I disagree. My privilege has afforded me the time and opportunity to play with story that many others won’t get, and I should be using it responsibly even when bringing out some old sci-fi tropes. That said, I can’t very well pick on Moore for being sheltered without trying to break out of my own box. Doing this project right would take some research and no-doubt-awkward conversation with the POCs I count as friends… and in a couple of cases, as family.