The secretary of state for the future

The NHS’s new digital unit NHSX has revealed that its first project will be to build a fully working and lifelike version of Matt Hancock.

The prototype, currently on beta test as secretary of state for health and social care, has been prone to alarming faults and erratic behaviour.

Developers of Mattbot version 1.0 were initially delighted that it could be taught to play cricket and ride a horse, but now concede that it should have undergone further user acceptance testing before going live as a cabinet minister.

I, Mattbot

Suspicions that the Mattbot was an android first surfaced before his upgrade to the Department of Health and Social Care.

While he was minister of culture he experienced a memory failure that left him unable to name his own party’s candidate in the Copeland by-election.

He was mocked as the only MP to have an app devoted to himself, but experts say that this was not vanity but an attempt to mimic human parenting. “Where you or I might choose biological propagation, a computer can only recreate its own image in the form of software,” said one. “People failed to realise that the Matt Hancock app was really Matt Junior.”

During a debate in the House of Commons, the Mattbot mistook York MP Rachael Maskell for a member of the Scottish Nationalist Party. Engineers later corrected the fault by patching his voice recognition and geographical mapping subroutines.

Machine learning

The Mattbot had to be rebooted during an interview with the journalist Jon Snow after an attempt to defend the prime minister’s Brexit strategy caused a catastrophic system overload and left him speechless.

Software faults continued to afflict the minister-droid. His system clock was inadvertently reset to the late 19th century before telling a conference that nurses no longer needed to stand when doctors entered the room.

But the biggest clue to the Mattbot’s man-made origins is his obsession with other technology.

As soon as it was powered up, the Mattbot immediately set about banning the fax and the pager from the NHS, emulating the natural tendency of higher life forms to wipe out those from which they evolved. At the same time, he vigorously courted more advanced “tech”.

Ministerial code

When the Mattbot publicly backed Babylon’s GP software, some saw it as a breach of the ministerial code. It was actually nothing more than “the mutual attraction of two rather unsophisticated AI systems”, experts say.

As one put it: “He wasn’t promoting Babylon’s app so much as flirting with it. Likewise, when he said he would travel the world looking for the best technology, he was simply seeking out others of his own kind.”

NHSX said that it hoped to iron out most of the major bugs in the next release of the Mattbot, which is expected to include an anti-gaffe algorithm that will shut the system down if it detects a journalist, microphone or other threat to its credibility.

Technology editor: Julian Patterson

Reproduced at by kind permission of Julian Patterson.