We live in an age when regular people of modest incomes have access to artificial intelligence that can automate their responses and minimize the amount of time they spend talking to boring people about boring things. But billionaire and chairman of the company that oversees CBS and Viacom Sumner Redstone had to do the normals one better. According to the Wall Street Journal, lately Redstone, who is 94 and in ill health, has taken to communicating via an iPad outfitted with clips of him saying “yes,” “no,” and “fuck you.” Midway into a story on a potential CBS-Viacom merger, the Journal reports:
Questions have surfaced in recent years about Mr. Redstone’s mental standing. To help him communicate, some people who recently have met with him say that he has an iPad loaded with snippets of his voice, connected to buttons for words or phrases including “yes,” “no” and “f— you.”
The future is here, and it is an ailing media titan fashioning a makeshift robot of himself with the ability to curse at people. And a bonus: Someone finally figured out a purpose for iPads!
That Redstone was apparently not content to use a generic robot voice but instead wanted clips of himself saying the words seems telling: Even in his dotage, he has too much ego to relinquish speaking duties to someone—or something—else’s voice. And rather than futuristic, Redstone’s solution to his communication problems feels like an old person’s hack to keep doing the things he’s always done—maximize profits and screw over other companies—in about the same way he’s always done it. It’s an oddly minimalist approach to roboting oneself. Maybe that’s why it’s so easy to picture Redstone’s iPad-controlled voice fighting with Rupert Murdoch’s iPad-controlled voice not too far down the line: both of them saying “fuck you” back and forth in the same never-changing cadence, over and over, for the rest of time.
Another fun thought experiment is to consider exactly how Redstone set up this system. Was it his idea? Did a whole program have to be designed for it? If he can no longer talk, where did the tape come from? Presumably, there was a large library of audio from Redstone’s many interviews and speeches over his years as business mogul to choose from, which is not something most people can fall back on. In this way, it’s a stealth power move, like when a celebrity communicates in GIFs of herself, as Riley Keough recently did in her Instagram story, or when Chrissy Teigen references a meme of herself. They’re reminding everyone that they are famous and powerful enough to be GIFs and memes.
In Redstone’s case, he’s reminding everyone that he has the resources to MacGyver a Redstone-bot, because he’s worth $5 billion, enough to buy and sell you and talk in clips of his former self if he wants to, no matter how ridiculous that is as a mode of communication. If you don’t like it, well, has he got a button for you.