An image saying the title of the story "PFear? Anxiety? Dread? I AI-VOID now!" and author "Michael W. Lippert". It also includes the logo of Science & Fiction and a picture of a brain with a triangular alarm sign.

If you could avoid every fearful situation in the blink of an eye…would you?

Content warnings

  • death

The short story

I always was an anxious child. If you ask an expert, you could say, that I checked all the boxes. My mother was overprotective and had problems to let me go. I had an anxious temperament, was always careful in new or unknown situations. While other kids were playing football, joining clubs or doing theatre, I was sitting in my room, at home, playing The Legend of Zelda or Final Fantasy, trying to be the hero I secretly wanted to be, facing all the fearful stuff the games were throwing at me, while avoiding all the fearful stuff life threw at me.

So, some of you might be surprised to learn that I started to be a content creator in my late teens. It first started really slow, just streaming some games I played for the same one to ten viewers following me on the usual streaming platforms. But, over the months more people started to follow me and in no time, my usual viewer count was over 10.000. I have never known the feeling of being popular and was not really comfortable with my new role, only slowly adapting hiring a team of mods to keep an eye on the chat, so that I could focus on the game I played while keeping my audience entertained. While I loved some aspects of my new role like getting in contact with a lot of different people during my streams, I dreaded others. People expecting me to show up at conventions, people wanting to speak to me in real life, people wanting to take photos with me…you see. I want you to understand, what I felt, when NeuroCorp contacted me and asked me if I would like to try their new AI-Tool to simplify life, AI-VOID. Let me explain, how AI-VOID has changed my life and will change yours soon too.

NeuroCorp has developed an integrative artificial intelligence implant, which helps you to cope with all these situations that let your fear levels explode. The procedure to integrate the AI-VOID module into your brain is absolutely painless and has been approved by all important health service providers and committees all around the globe. When you wake up from anaesthesia you will feel no difference, maybe a slight headache. Then, the learning period begins. In the first four weeks AI-VOID will learn how you behave, think, and feel in a lot of different situations, feeding the artificial intelligence with all the material it needs to be you. After this initial learning period the module is fully operational. From this day on, your life will not be the same. Each time, you are facing a situation you are dreading, simply use your cognitive command to activate the AI. Then two things will happen. For you, the AI will start your comfort mode, which feels a little bit like drifting into slumber after a day-long hike, finding well deserved rest, just drifting of in a sea of happiness. The best thing is: Your personal comfort mode is totally customizable. If you want to relax on a beach feeling a slight breeze and hear the waves? No problem! Floating through space? Of course! I, for myself, have decided that AI-VOID should play the Song “Pink Beetles in Purple Zeppelins” by Arjen A. Lucassen, a song, in which he tells of a dystopic future, where all music is written by AIs using already existing musical material. I think it is ironic and absolutely fitting. So, whatever it is for you, you can lean back and relax. For all the other people interacting with you, nothing will change. You will behave as always, handling the situations as good or bad as you always handle it. The difference is, the AI will handle everything just as it has learned during the training period using personality probabilities, experience models as well as controlling for contextual cues. So, while the AI handles all the dreadful situation stuff, you can enjoy in your bubble. When the AI analyses the anxious situation to be over, NeuroCorp has added another innovative function to its application. In the exact moment AI-VOID finishes, you will receive a message via brain stimulation, showing how many minutes have passed and giving you the option to review the situation using the AI-VOID brain viewing function. As you can see, this has totally changed my life. I can tell you, for as long as I can think, this is the first time, I can live a life free of fear, free of this dreadful feeling keeping me awake. Actually, I am using AI-VOID right now as I am holding this presentation…

… I stop the review of my presentation of the nationwide game and tech conventions, where I have spoken in front of nearly two thousand guests in person and something over 2.5 million viewers online. Something which would not have been possible for me to imagine two years ago, before NeuroCorp and AI-VOID changed everything. Today, user numbers of AI-VOID are going through the ceiling. I go to the small hotel bathroom and look in the mirror. Same old face, same old shadows under my eyes, same old glasses on my nose. I take it off and drench my face in cold hotel bathroom tap water. That’s the life. My phone is ringing. One glance on my wrist confirms my fears, boyfriend. Once again. I let it ring, adding a missed call to the seven missed calls of the day. The last voice message said “We need to talk” and we all know what this conversation will be about. Having finished reworking my day, I decide to end this telephone terror tale. Knowing him and his accusing, toxic way to argue, I think the cognitive command to activate AI-VOID, my phone in hands. As the first guitar riff of Arjen Lucassen is starting to play in my head, I am already drifting off in ignorant bliss and as he is singing “Every song’s been sung before” I am already deep the comfort bubble. When I return, AI-VOID sends the message I am expecting to see.

You have 1 new situation review, duration 22 minutes. I stare on the phone, still in my hands. That was a long phone call. I shortly check the review to see if my expectancies were right and if he really wanted to break up. I fast forward, speeding everything up using the time saving option of AI-VOID until I finally find the phrase “It’s over”. I undress and, satisfied with myself, I drift off into a dreamless sleep.

Some months later my business is running at its peak, I have new invitations, new sponsor deals and more viewers then ever. Most boring and unnerving business meetings are handled by AI-VOID, always leading to the results I am expecting. I have entirely stopped doing presentations without AI-VOID. Even some streams, especially when I am tired, are done by AI-VOID now. Some viewers have started to play a game, trying to identify when I am using AI-VOID. To cut it short, no one so far was significantly better then just guessing at a 50:50 rate.

You have 1 new situation review, duration: 4 hours, 27 minutes. That was an exhausting day. First, I had a difficult sponsor meeting, someone not being satisfied with how I presented his products on my stream. Then, my new girlfriend wanted me to meet one of her childhood friends who I found annoyingly loud and cheery. Now, she, my girlfriend, not her friend, is in the shower, and I am dreading the conversation about me not liking her friends and how I could and should be a better partner…

You have 1 new situation review, duration: 7 hours, 4 minutes. I really hate those days I must do press interviews.

“Pink beetles in a purple zeppelin”…

You have 1 new situation review, duration: 11 hours, 43 minutes. Long convention days full of meeting new people.

“Same old sound, different song”

You have 5 situation reviews, 1 new situation review. Duration: 5 hours, 27 minutes. I don’t know when I stopped watching every review.

“Pink beetles in a purple zeppelin – Sound so right, feels so wrong”

You have 18 situation reviews, 1 new situation review. Duration: 45 years, 19 days, 8 hours, 3 minutes.

Time of death: 12:23. Cause of death: Natural.

This story was originally written in English.

The paper

Lippert, M. W., Sommer, K., Flasinski, T., Schomberg, J., Pflug, V., Christiansen, H., In-Albon, T., Knappe, S., Romanos, M., Tuschen-Caffier, B., & Schneider, S. (2023). Bochum Assessment of Avoidance-based Emotion Regulation for Children (BAER-C): Development and evaluation of a new instrument measuring anticipatory avoidance-based emotion regulation in anxiety eliciting situations. PLoS ONE, 18(1): e0279658.

Connection between story and paper

The paper introduces a questionnaire measuring avoidance as an emotion regulation strategy in children and adolescents. Avoidance is a concept which is highly connected to anxiety and anxiety disorders as a maintaining factor. Avoidance is highly effective in a short time, reducing all feelings of anxiety, therefore reinforcing this behavior via negative reinforcement (something negative is taken away). In the long run, the person cannot make corrective learning experience, resulting in the consolidation of anxiety or the anxiety disorder. The paper presents the first questionnaire to differentiate between different qualities of avoidance in anxious situations (e.g. avoidance on a behavioral, social and attentional level). The protagonist in the story choses to avoid anxiety-inducing situations completely using an AI-tool implanted in his brain. You can see throughout the story, that the fear generalizes to many more situations and that the highly reinforcing aspect of avoidance leads to him using the module more and more. This leads to the extreme in which he totally loses control and, in the end, fails to live his life, instead of facing his fears. A feeling which persons with anxiety disorders might tend to share.

What do you avoid? What would happen if you would face your fears?

If you are interested in the song used in the story, check out this YouTube video.

The author

Michael is a child and adolescent psychotherapist, outpatient clinic manager in the teaching outpatient clinic and coordinator of vocational training at the Research and Treatment Centre for Mental Health at the Ruhr University Bochum.

Dr. Helena Hartmann
Dr. Helena Hartmann
Neuroscientist, psychologist and science communicator (she/her/hers)