Technology offers elderly template for destruction

Computer-generated personalities offer the BBC a way to cut out stale celebrities. If they fail to be engaging, intolerant viewers can eliminate them, says Iain Murray

I have long been a stern critic of the BBC, mainly on the ground that it has forsaken its bourgeois origins for an earthy populism that some call dumbing down. It has, in other words, moved from the plush saloon bar stool to the fag-clogged urinals in the public wing.

But credit must be given where credit is due. And I tip my hat to the corporation for paying &£1.8m last year to Noel Edmonds for, in his words, “doing nothing” after his House Party show was axed. True, that is an awful lot of money, but in our strangely skewed economy in which a footballer is said to be worth &£18.5 million, it seems a reasonable price to pay for keeping Edmonds off the air. It is a precedent which, if followed diligently, might go some way to winning over those of us who resent being forced to fund the BBC on pain of a hefty fine or even imprisonment. I for one would not mind in the least if the corporation were to spend a few millions more in the cause of finally ridding us of Esther Rantzen, Anne Robinson, Carol Smillie, Nick Hancock, Angus Deayton, Dale Winton, Robert Kilroy Silk, and the entire, grisly, rotating cast of Ready Steady Cook.

It may not, however, be necessary to make huge cash payments to shake off the incubuses of stale celebrity. Technology has the answer in the shape of computer-generated personalities. The first such creature has been devised by a division of the Press Association to recite the news in cyberspace. Called Ananova, she is said to be a blend of Posh Spice, Carol Vorderman, and Kylie Monogue. “She has been programmed as 28 years old, 5ft 8in tall, with a pleasant, quietly intelligent manner that makes people feel relaxed when they engage with her,” says one of her creators Mark Hird. From what little I have seen, she has difficulty in synchronising her lip movements with her speech, but that ought to be no bar to success. In fact, BBC’s Eastern region was ahead of the game when it recently appointed a weather girl who has no obvious acquaintance with normal speech patterns, such as stresses, pauses, and inflection, and may well have learned her craft in cyberspace.

So for a fairly modest outlay, the BBC could sweep away the whole hideous phantasmagoria of grinning celebrity and replace it with something genuinely artificial, so to speak. The possibilities are limitless. It would be entertaining to see the prime minister interviewed by a computer-generated combination of David Frost, Lulu, and Rolf Harris. And how much more interesting the news might be were it to be presented by an amalgam of Ronnie Corbett, Charlie Dimmock, and Roy Hattersley. The real-life Claire Rayner could be immensely improved by an injection of Barbara Windsor, a subtle grafting of Peter Snow, and a dash of Ned Sherrin. Better still, as Mark Hird indicates, the viewers “engage” with these creations, which, with interactive digital technology, holds out the possibility of causing them to implode, spontaneously combust, defragment or in some other way meet their end at the touch of a remote control. What one would give for the chance of doing that to one or other of the Attenboroughs. Or Dimblebys. The ability to wreak simulated bloody havoc on TV personalities without leaving one’s chair would at last bring to an older population some of the pleasure enjoyed by computer game playing youngsters. For advancing years bring few compensations; indeed, they daily bring some nasty shocks.

Recently, for instance, in the space of a few days, came the news that a group of scientists had discovered how to reverse the ageing process in cows (though they weren’t quite sure how the trick had been achieved), while another group had found out why modern music is just noise to older ears, and yet a third had worked out why the elderly are institutionally racist.

A team from Cambridge University advanced the idea that tunes are stored in the brain as a template against which melody is compared. An older generation tends to lack the templates for grunge, disco, punk or speed garage and is therefore unable to appreciate the pleasure to be derived from such entertainment. But that is of little consequence compared with the findings of a team of psychologists at Ohio State University, who say the elderly are more racist than younger people because of mental decay. “Our results suggest that many older people want to be more tolerant, but have lost a cognitive ability that would help them,” says researcher Dr William von Hippel.

As far as I know, this is the first evidence of what many on the liberal-left have long suspected – that opposition to, or rejection of, political correctness is a sign of madness. It will be for the politicians to decide what to do with a large and growing population who, thanks to science, are living to be 120 or more, and getting increasingly truculent and politically non-conformist with each passing day.

All in all, rather than let them roam the streets and get into trouble, it might be best to encourage them to stay at home and to spend their endless twilight years maiming and killing computer-generated grunge musicians and pleasantly synthetic, quietly intelligent TV personalities.

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