We Care For You

By Paul Kitcatt

Would you let a robot care for your elderly mother – and what would the robot want in return?

Fiction | Sci-fi & Fantasy
101% funded
44 supporters
Published

Publication date: Autumn 2017

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Would you let a robot care for your elderly mother?

In a care home in Surrey, the owner introduces his new staff to the relatives of the residents. They’re tireless, committed and will transform the lives of the old people in their care.

‘Where do you find them?’ he’s asked.

‘We don’t find them. We make them,’ he replies.

Winifred is one - a convincing synthetic human. One of the first in the world. Her job is to care for the elderly, and to record her experiences.

She is one of two narrators of the story. The other is Margaret Woodruff, 87 years old, blind and suffering from dementia.

With Winifred’s care, plus the help of a team of nanobots inside her, Margaret returns from the darkness of dementia and back into the world. At the same time, Winifred is developing her self-consciousness and analysing everything she encounters.

Winifred is new to the world, and Margaret has just returned to it. Winifred has access to all knowledge, but no experience. Margaret has all the experience and wisdom gathered from a long life, but it’s unvalued in a world that prizes youth. Margaret’s age and nearness to death give her an understanding of life, but now she finds herself growing fond of a young woman who is not, in fact, alive. Or indeed a young woman.

Winifred’s creators have far greater plans than merely running care homes, and of course the rest of the world wants to know what synthetic humans mean for real ones.

Nobody thinks about what synthetic humans might want. Humans have invited a superior intelligence into our world, and once we’re removed from our self-appointed pedestal, we must give this intelligence what it demands.

Many stories have been told of robots taking over the world. But these robots want more. They want our bodies. They have everything, including consciousness, but they can't truly feel. For that, they need a body made of flesh and blood. The nanobots can repair and rejuvenate human bodies, and make them in effect immortal. All that's required then is for the robots to transfer their minds into renovated human bodies. Of which they have more than they could possibly need.

The novel ends with Winifred’s judgement on humanity, and her creators’ plans move into action.

The technology we create to serve us invades our bodies and our minds.

Stephen Hawking has suggested the coming of AI is ‘likely to be either the best or worst thing ever to happen to humanity.’

It’s possible, he says, that we’ll see ‘machines whose intelligence exceeds ours by more than ours exceeds that of snails’.

At which point, it won’t be humans who decide our fate.

The novel should appeal to readers of Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, or The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood, or Under the Skin, by Michael Faber.

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  • Paul Kitcatt avatar

    Paul Kitcatt

    Paul Kitcatt was a bookseller and an English teacher before being lured into the world of advertising.

    He started as a copywriter and then became creative director, and in 2002 founded his own agency with three partners. It did well, with clients such as Waitrose, VSO, Lexus, the NSPCC, AXA, Virgin and WWF.

    Throughout his career, he continued to write – for clients, for the trade press, and when possible, for himself.

    He left his agency last year, and wrote his first novel, We Care For You.

    During his time in advertising, the digital revolution transformed his business and the entire industry, as it has everything, everywhere. Technology is changing the world, and us with it, and the journey has only just begun. Paul’s novel is about where it might take us next.

    Paul is married with four children and lives in London.

  • ‘Mr Woodruff, would you like to come with me? Let’s go somewhere quiet for a chat. And I expect you’d like some tea? I’ll arrange for some to be brought in. Shall we?’

    I led the way out of the atrium, and he followed without a word.

    I took him into a small room off one of the corridors. I think they use it for giving relatives bad news. It was plain, with just two chairs, a sofa, a table and a box of tissues.

    I smiled at Mr Woodruff. No bad news for him today!

    I didn’t say that though. We have been taught to observe human faces carefully, and such a remark was wrong for the expression on his face. According to my database of human faces, he was feeling confused, surprised and a little angry. I was uncertain why.

    ‘How are you feeling?’ I asked him. Perhaps he could explain.

    Read more...
  • 30th October 2016 £165 in fact

    I overestimated by £4. It's not a maths book, luckily. 

    So £165 needed now... and just over a week to go....

    30th October 2016 Almost funded

    I'm now 95% funded - huge thanks to everyone who has pledged and got me so close to the finish line. I need only £169 to get there now...

     

     

     

     

    26th September 2016 Winifred speaks

    Fantastic performance from Eva Feiler (The Merchant of Venice, Othello, RSC) - thank you Eva.

    15th September 2016 The coming of nanobots

    I first read about nanobots in New Scientist, which is also where I discovered how close we are to creating convincing synthetic humans. And sitting with my mother, feeding her mushy food with a spoon, in the care home where she ended her days, I wondered if these inventions would arrive in time to help her. And if they did, what would happen. What would it be like if she were restored to health?

    14th September 2016 Thank you

    Thank you to all of you who've pledged. I'm nearly 20% of the way there now, with another two months to go. If you know anyone who might like to help, please give them a nudge.

    I've been planning a short film to help publicise the book, and with luck I'll shoot it on Tuesday. The actress who will play the part of Winifred unfortunately had an accident and burnt herself so it's taken a little longer…

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  • Lee Redfern
    Lee Redfern asked:

    Hi Paul, I hope you are well. Thank you for submitting your project. I look forward to reading it with interest. I have a question regarding the videos. Have you recorded more extracts with the same actress or was it just the two? She gives a very subtle understated performance. Also, how did you choose which extracts for her to read? Thanks again

    Paul Kitcatt
    Paul Kitcatt replied:

    Hi Lee She's very good, I agree. I only recorded what you see here - I have about four takes, but all of the same script. I wrote the script for her, using things her character says and thinks in the book itself. So it's not an extract, but a performance of the role. Thank you for asking, and I hope you enjoy the book. It's well on it's way to publication now - possibly in May. Best wishes Paul

    Samantha Smith
    Samantha Smith asked:

    Hi Paul, I enjoyed the short extract. How did you decide on the internal voice for the android? Regards Samantha

    Paul Kitcatt
    Paul Kitcatt replied:

    Hi Samantha Thank you - I'm glad you liked it. When I was imagining Winifred, I tried to think about how the world looks if you have a scientific understanding of everything, but no emotional connection. So a bird is life-form evolved from a dinosaur with specific adaptations to its lifestyle and ecological niche, rather than a beautiful creature that sings songs and makes us feel joy. And then if you look at humans that way, you see how our behaviour is illogical and hard to understand, because so much of what we do is decided by the culture we grow up in, and that's hard to understand if you're outside it. It's how we feel sometimes in a foreign country - and Winifred, as an android, is a foreigner on earth. But she is very keen to learn, and understand, because she needs to appear human, and because she was programmed by a scientist. Does that answer your question? Paul

    Samantha Smith
    Samantha Smith asked:

    Yes thanks! But her internal voice (and even the idea of having one) is very human? Is that a device to make it readable? Iain M Banks used to have a sort of robot / techno 'voice' for his AIs. That might be hard to sustain over a whole book!

    Paul Kitcatt
    Paul Kitcatt replied:

    Hi Samantha I understand your question now. Winifred has to appear to have consciousness, so that she is convincing. This is what she says about it to Margaret at one point: ‘We are designed to give humans the complete sense that we are conscious as you are. In achieving this we have to deceive our own software. We have to give ourselves the appearance of consciousness. To ourselves. We have to generate a self, in fact, and believe in it.’ Part of developing a consciousness, and a personality, too, is to reflect on your actions and the events around you. Winifred has been given this ability, and in the book, we can read it in her own internal voice. As she gets more experience, and learns more, her voice becomes more human. At the start, she is told she sounds like a computer manual, so she sets about reading human writers, and also doing what humans do - thinking about how to express herself. It makes the humans around her respond to her as if she were human, and it makes her narration more readable, too. There are two other narrators, both of whom are human. I hope that's what you wanted to know - please ask again if not. Paul