All things to all people: Obama the avatar

William Gibson’s second novel, Idoru, tells the tale of Rei Toei, a Japanese pop singer who becomes a national idol. Rei Toie is not in fact a real person, but instead an artificial intelligence that adapts to her interactions and adjusts herself to become whatever her viewers want her to be. She is, in other words, all things to all people. This president is too fond of slamming his opponents to be able to become an effective Rei Toei, but he nevertheless exhibits some of the traits that one would expect from an adaptive avatar. Every country, we learned in 2012, is Obama’s closest ally; every issue provokes his concern; all the talents are belong to him.

This model, one suspects, might be diminished slightly with a less celebrated president. But technology and the human tendency toward monarchy are likely to ensure that it will be here in essence for the long term. That is, unless Americans actively resist it. Looking forward, those who prefer their presidents quiet and their republics modest might consider focusing their attentions not on replacing Rei Toei’s software and spinning up a new personality to replace the old one, but instead upon pulling the plug completely, and reminding the head of the executive branch that he is not the roaming repository of the country’s hopes and fears, but instead a servant there to do a particular job — no more, and no less.

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