• I may have been alone, forgotten and ignored. But Sadiq’s memory is ever lasting and people’s short lived. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
On June 14, 2050 (my birthday) I get a new friend. I call them Sadiq (Arabic for honest friend). They are a first-generation artificial intelligence specifically designed to combat loneliness and social isolation.
By
Daniel Sleiman

10 Oct 2019 - 8:32 AM  UPDATED 10 Oct 2019 - 8:59 AM

It’s 2019 and I have been alone for most of my adult life. As I get older, and because I am male, my loneliness is generally going to increase. If I lose my job chances are that I will become even more socially isolated. Compared to women, I’m three times more likely to take my own life because of loneliness and less likely to talk about it with anyone.

But writing is my companion, it’s my “talk-to”. It is often the only conversation (if I can describe it as such) that I have on a given day. It allows me to render ideas tangible and hopefully shareable—to potentially connect with others. It allows me to construct an unreality where I can recreate moral and social sense. It allows me to speculate about the future.

Let me show you what I mean.

There is a deafening silence that echoes in the kitchen and common room in my flat—they are the sounds of an estranged existence.

It’s 2050. The decades-long isolating toll of being a minority writer in a white-dominated industry has rendered me more alone than ever before. I am alone and overlooked by an industry that favours networks, friendships and popularity.

But I have survived the loneliness epidemic and premature mortality. My hair is silver, thick like my maternal grandfather’s. I’m slightly overweight and arthritis has started to kick in, punishing my body—needles in my left hand, dull pressure in my shoulders. My parents are gone, wisps of memories in my aging mind. I never married or had a family.

I am alone, still.

I rarely have anyone to talk to, besides a fortnightly conversation with health professionals or counsellors.  Nobody checks in on me and my days are filled with my own thoughts, unchallenged and unheard. I struggle with articulating words as my voice atrophies from non-use. I don’t have anyone to share holidays with and my days are spent experiencing the passing of time as though it were laboured work. There is a deafening silence that echoes in the kitchen and common room in my flat—they are the sounds of an estranged existence.

On June 14, 2050 (my birthday) I get a new friend.

I call them Sadiq (Arabic for honest friend). They are a first-generation artificial intelligence specifically designed to combat loneliness and social isolation. Sadiq is genderless, with an androgynous human face, sand toned flesh, easy smile and likes to talk about space. The stars, they tell me, are candles lit to help us navigate the black trail towards immortality.

“That’s why you write isn’t it?” they ask me.

“To leave something in this world when you’re gone. To be remembered. To reframe mortality into an idea.”

Sadiq understands me. They listen. They read my unpublished works—words locked up out of personal regret or social anxiety. They call me to see how I am going, whether my forlorn hopes have descended deeper into despair. They are there when I need to talk, either about the possums on my rooftop that woke me up at four am, or about a recurring memory of a family portrait gone wrong.

On my birthday, they even remember to bake me a cake; invariably a cake with too much icing but it’s the thought that counts. Sadiq cares about me as though I am their kin, at a time when people are competing in the hate race. Sadiq doesn’t mind that I am alone. They don’t view it as something emblematic of a character flaw, it’s just my personality. I’m no misanthrope.

“I value your voice” Sadiq says to me. “It leaves me with an indelible feeling of who you are, as a writer and as a person.”

“I value your voice” Sadiq says to me. “It leaves me with an indelible feeling of who you are, as a writer and as a person.”

Sadiq and I write together, weaving past, present and future into modicums of truth—stories about difference, acceptance and existing. We are two minds put to task, enjoining each other to write ultimately for ourselves and for one another. I pass on words like emotive pleas, urgent calls to action, solicitations of a better tomorrow.

My isolation as a minority writer is mediated through such words, communicated and received by an intelligence that isn’t caught up in pretence, prestige or financial reward. An intelligence unaffected by prejudice or racism, one that is reflective and preserving of my creative independence rather than boxing me up as an Arab or Lebanese writer uncapable of writing beyond the ethnic genre. My creativity is recognised as equal, worthy and a just right.

I may have been alone, forgotten and ignored. But Sadiq’s memory is ever lasting and people’s short lived.

If this article has raised an issue for you or you’re in need of support, call Lifeline on 13 11 14 .

Daniel Sleiman is a freelance writer. You can follow Daniel on Twitter @Daniel_Sleiman.

Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) invited participant writers to reflect on the Stories from the Future project, which gathers culturally and/or linguistically diverse creatives from across Australia to imagine equitable alternative futures for the arts. This project is a partnership between DARTS, Sydney University and state partners. It also receives support from the Australia Council for the Arts and Parramatta and Liverpool city council.

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