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NecrosIA: waiting for the perfect death

Published on December 04, 2021
Written by swissinfo.ch
Published from Swissinfo.ch

Series Tomorrow’s Utopias and Dystopias, Episode 3: What if it were possible to organise a perfect death? The latest instalment of our science fiction short story series is about NecrosIA, a luxury robot-assisted suicide service. But when a state-of-the-art artificial intelligence system is used on clients, voluntary death becomes harder than anticipated…

“Your time is precious. Don’t waste it organising a perfect death, because every minute of your last moments should be magical. Forget your worries and let our luxury service take care of everything.  

NecrosIA – the leader in robotic systems for assisted suicide.” 

Tomorrow’s Utopias and Dystopias: A new, visionary sci-fi series by SWI swissinfo.ch

Utopia or dystopia? Dream or reality? The contemporary technological revolution confronts us with fundamental questions about the future of humanity. Will new technologies be our ally or enemy? How will they change our role in society? Are we destined to evolve into a species of superhumans or to be outclassed by the power of machines?

“Tomorrow’s Utopias and Dystopias” is an original series of science fiction short stories created by SWI swissinfo.ch to try to answer these questions in an innovative and visionary way. Thanks to the creativity of a group of fiction writers and the collaboration of researchers and professionals working in Switzerland in the fields discussed in the stories, we will try to imagine and understand how technology might shape our lives. Each science fiction story will be accompanied by a factual article in collaboration with leading Swiss scientists to give an understanding of what’s happening in some of the most cutting-edge research fields and spark your imagination!

I toss the business card on the table of the hotel room where I have just left my luggage. On the back of the card, in rainbow letters, are two small words: “Call me.” The significance they carry is as heavy as the mental load and burden of the legacy that my mother wants to entrust me with.

I haven’t heard her voice for months, ever since I left her office, slamming the door. To tell you the truth, I can’t really remember the original sound of her voice – the one from the past. The one that used to comfort me with lullabies and laughter. The voice synthesiser that for years has served as her interface doesn’t really do justice to the magnificent woman who brought me into this world. Whenever one of my boyfriends encountered the device for the first time, they used to raise an eyebrow or found it amusing and made jokes about “Hawking” [the dead physicist Stephen Hawking]; they generally then didn’t get much further than an invitation for a family dinner.

I take off my walking boots, anorak and hiking trousers and stretch out on the bed to check my schedule for tomorrow. A group of centenarians want to climb the Matterhorn and then descend in wingsuits to celebrate one of their birthdays. This is the third event of this kind that I’ve organised this year. It’s as if these clients are spreading the word, and my business card. Sunshine, wind strength and the profile of each participant: I do all the safety checks. My lips tighten into a sneer. Healthy lunatics can be “improved” to live forever and even learn to fly. But is there no cure for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease that put you in a wheelchair? What kind of world was I born into, mum?

The first orange light of dawn reflects on my window. I’m delaying my call to NecrosIA. My mother is probably already busy there, despite the early hour. She doesn’t understand why I didn’t come home to sleep, nor why I refuse to take over the running of the successful company that she built. 

I sink into a dreamless sleep and wake up with a start. I instantly touch the small hollow behind my right earlobe. My skin feels smooth and soft, untouched. I let out a sigh, take a breath and begin our conversation.

“Hi, mum?”

“I was waiting for your call. In fact, I’m waiting for you. Will you come to my bedside?”

“Yes, but I don’t agree with your decision.” 

“Which decision? The one to die tonight, or the one to bequeath the business to you?” 

“All of your decisions!” 

I couldn’t help raising my voice. My phone asks if I want to switch to a video conference. I switch mode and my mother appears in her wheelchair, more curled up than ever. The three lights on the implant behind her ear are bright green, a sign that the nanorobot attached to the base of her brain will send its lethal instructions at the set time.

“Look at me, Lydia,” commands her synthetic voice. “Look at me and you will see that I am at peace with my decision to end things. I will leave behind a healthy and successful multinational. Our transhumanism department is self-financing thanks to its ‘Ethernity’ section. When our customers start going crazy that they can’t die naturally, they buy one of our euthanising robots. Just in case. It gives them a sense of relief, an assurance that they can leave before they lose their minds.”

“Mum, it changes nothing for me. I know all that and I don’t want it.” 

“Lydia, you are the only one I trust. NecrosIA has made only one error of judgement out of thousands of effective kills. You must continue to improve the system.”   

“That’s impossible, mum. Listen, I don’t want to argue with you, especially today. You can force me to witness your suicide, but not to take on your role as general manager. All this money, these responsibilities, the media pressure…” 

“It’s less risky than your work as a guide. You put your life in danger every day.” 

Her voice is distorted and her image starts to become blurred. Suddenly, I feel uneasy and then everything goes black. When I open my eyes, I find her in her executive chair, surrounded by the licence renewal committee. Her monotonous voice is unable to conceal a sense of triumph. 

“Dear committee, as you can see, following her accident in the high mountains, my daughter wanted to stop living and activated the euthanasia process. A nanobot is lodged in her hypothalamus [in her brain] and is currently performing a series of tests. In her semi-conscious state, the subject reveals to us some of her deepest desires. Guided scenarios like the one you just witnessed feed our global database and refine our criteria for when granting authorisation to kill. The fact that she does not accept my own fictitious euthanasia decision is triggering a round of additional checks. All in all, our central artificial intelligence system that communicates with each nanobot is performing several trillion objective tests. If there is a tiny doubt, we keep the person alive.”  

Heads nod in approval. Roboticist, ethicist, doctor, psychologist… their profiles are very diverse, but none of them noticed the triumph in my mother’s penetrating gaze. Instead, they are focused on my shapeless body, which will no longer climb snow-capped peaks, and my implant, whose last small light refuses to go green. 

The director gives a big wink and orders an autonomous stretcher to take me back to my gilded cage-like hospital room. Tomorrow, she will extract me to show me off to the press. 

Go to hell, mum, you and NecrosIA! Nothing can keep me alive, except your excessive caution. 

As a child, Tu Wüst wanted to become an astronaut (what a cliché!) or a garbage collector (an outdoor job. Great!). But after studying maths and sustainable computing, she is now working in public administration. Throughout these different twists and turns, several traits persist: a taste for science fiction and an unfailing optimism. As well as an accent, which is very Swiss. 

How realistic is the story you just read? A 3D printed capsule, intended to be used for assisted suicide, could soon be used legally in Switzerland. Read our article:  

Tu Wüst (text), Helen James (illustration)