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In The Fake Future We’ll All Live Forever

Hi, I’m Lance Robotson. I’m a poet and aspiring science-fiction author in the US. I was born in the early 1980’s, and entered adulthood just as the internet was starting to bleed into mass society. By the end of the millenium I had eagerly adopted the dreams of utopian techno-progress pedalled by outlets like WIRED magazine. I got swept up in the hype like a lot of other people. But as time went on, my notions of progress and the promise of technology have become more tempered, my outlook has grown more cautious. Now, in the adolescent 21st century, I am interested in more critically exploring the tropes of futurism that have long since fascinated me. My plan is to create a podcast series in which each episode is centered around a prominent futurological theme. I’m calling it The Fake Future with Lance Robotson. For the first episode I wanted to focus on the most controversial and grandiose claims that I could find, and I was intuitively drawn to the subject of living forever. This essay is my attempt to outline the discussion I’d like to have on this theme.

I’ll begin by attempting to make a case for why we should take the prospect of living forever seriously. In the process of doing this I’ll talk about some of the key players in the radical life extension movement; the people, the organizations, and the various approaches involved. This will lead us to look at some of the more far out transhumanist implications of these ideas. I’ll also discuss some of the potential objections or concerns that the broader public might have about radically extending the human lifespan. Employing the classic futurist forecasting method of scenario planning to look ahead, I’ll imagine potential optimistic and pessimistic outcomes we might encounter down the road. Finally, I’ll summarize the major points I’ve made and offer some personal conclusions about what kind of future I would like to see, along with a call to action for both supporters and detractors of the quest for technologically enabled immortality.

The Promise of Radical Life Extension

Longevity, life extension, anti-aging - these are the callsigns of a modern movement of people who want to live radically longer lives. The quest to overcome mortality has been with humanity in varying forms over the ages, and modern medicine has brought us closer than ever to realizing this old dream. Futurists talk about trends and supertrends, and global life expectancy seems likely to rise. Baby Boomers living longer will lead to a fast growing demographic of centenarians in the mid 21st century. Whether or not the claims of the most optimistic promoters of life-extension are validated, there is good reason to believe that their ideas will continue to gain traction in the coming decades. But who is leading the charge?

One of the most visible proponents of extending the human lifespan is Aubrey de Grey, a theoretician in the field of gerontology with a PHD in biology from Cambridge. Cofounder of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence Research Foundation, de Grey has been interviewed in numerous mass media outlets, given TEDtalks, and has even appeared as a guest on The Colbert Report. The SENS foundation approach involves researching potential medical interventions to counteract the effects of growing older. De Grey has identified several broad categories of damage he refers to as “the seven causes of aging” or “the seven deadly things,” molecular processes which roughly equate to various problems associated with DNA mutation, build up of “junk” inside and outside cells, and too much or too little cell division. De Grey believes that these challenges of aging are surmountable, that the SENS approaches will lead to an indefinitely long lifespan, and that he himself (born in 1963) may live long enough to see the fruits of these efforts. Although some researchers have written off his ideas as unrealistic, the view that aging itself can be cured like a disease has gained more respectability in the time that has passed since de Grey first appeared in the public sphere at the turn of the century.

Another figure who believes we will surpass the current limitations imposed by our biology is the noted futurist and inventor, Ray Kurzweil. Kurzweil is credited with creating text-to-speech systems for the blind, multi-instrument musical synthesizers, and other devices, but he is better known today for his bold predictions about the exponential rate of technological advancement. In books such as The Age of Spiritual Machines, Kurzweil lays out a vision of a world transformed by artificial intelligence that surpasses our own capabilities. He has become arguably the most vocal popularizer of “the technological singularity” - a nebulously defined theoretical event in our future that has been described by some as “the rapture of the nerds,” something akin to a transformative point in human evolution that may lead to a merger of man and machine unlike anything we have known thus far. Born in 1966, Kurzweil has estimated that the Singularity will be upon us by the year 2045, and he intends to live to see it. To this end he has publicly voiced support for Aubrey de Grey and the SENS foundation’s mission. But where de Grey’s work primarily focuses on biotechnology and genetic therapies to combat aging, Kurzweil believes that by 2025 we may see nano-scale machines that can enter our bodies and repair damaged cells, and even augment our consciousness by connecting our brains to computer networks. To Kurzweil, extending the lifespan of the biological organism is merely a stopgap measure, allowing one to survive until a human’s mind will be able to be scanned and uploaded, like a computer program, into machines that will hopefully be more robust than our fragile fleshy forms.

Kurzweil and de Grey are aware of the possibility that they may not live long enough to see life extension technologies truly take off. As a back up plan, both have signed up to have their bodies cryogenically frozen and preserved in the event of their deaths. Cryonics remains a controversial field, as it is not yet possible to reverse the cryopreservation of humans or other complex creatures. Still, the largest cryonics provider today, the Alcor Life Extension Foundation, counts more than a hundred members who have already undergone the procedure and are currently stored in liquid nitrogen cooled aluminum containers housed at their Scottsdale, AZ facility. A good deal of their clients have opted to have only their heads preserved, both to save costs, and also because of the view that the brain alone will be able to provide enough information to successfully resurrect the unique qualities that make up a person, assuming sufficiently advanced future technologies.

Alcor’s current CEO, Max More, is another influential figure in the life extension world, though he is not as widely known as Kurzweil or de Grey. He is attributed with establishing the modern usage of the term “transhumanism” in his 1990 essay, Transhumanism: Toward a Futurist Philosophy. Transhumanism encompasses a wide range of beliefs that can be difficult to pin down, but a basic definition that most can agree on could be summarized as “the belief or theory that the human race can evolve beyond its current physical and mental limitations, especially by means of science and technology.” Today there is a dedicated culture of transhumanists around the world. There are transhumanist discussion forums and online communities, and formal organizations that put on conferences where the movement’s luminaries espouse their principles. It is within these transhumanist and futurist communities that de Grey, Kurzweil, More, and other figures hold the most sway, offering their supporters reasons to believe that humans can be smarter, healthier, and longer-lived than ever before. While transhumanism has so far appealed mainly to avid technophiles and those with a science-fictional bent, there have been recent signs that the field of life extension is gaining more mainstream credibility.

Silicon Valley is increasingly regarded as a critical driver of economic activity, and the rise of the Internet as a frontier for new markets has minted new fortunes. The ascent of these notable personages leads inevitably to their efforts to make a distinct mark on society; the initiatives that they lend their influence to are a reflection of their principles. Consider Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin. At the end of 2012, they hired Ray Kurzweil as the company’s director of engineering, boosting the profile of his singulatarian predictions. Then in 2013 they announced the creation of a new biotech company called Calico that would be tasked with developing therapies to reverse the effects of aging. Brin promised the new company would have hundreds of millions of dollars to work with. Page said the research could be more important than a cure for cancer, though he acknowledged it could be decades before it saw results. Or take another look at the SENS foundation: though Aubrey de Grey has put much of his own inheritance into the enterprise, it has also received millions in funding from venture capitalist and former PayPal CEO Peter Thiel. These investors recognize that curing aging could not only transform human existence as we know it - and potentially make them a ton of money in the process - but also come with the ancillary side benefit of prolonging their own lives. In the past, when captains of industry wanted to leave a legacy, they funded universities and concert halls bearing their names. Today we confront a situation in which the Gen X founders of tech companies and their Baby Boomer financiers may not ever have to leave at all.

Cause for Concern?

Disputing the inevitability of death elicits strong reactions, some enthusiastic, some more hesitant, others outright hostile. Many people will state that life requires an endpoint to have meaning, or that dying is in and of itself a noble thing. Longevity advocates have a term for this sort of doctrine, they call it “Deathism.” To those who would live forever, deathism is like a kind of stockholm syndrome: in our attachment to the condition of our mortality we have learned to justify it as both necessary and good. Deathist attitudes may stem from religious convictions or fear of upsetting the natural order of things, or more mundane concerns, such as how to thwart the boredom that may arise over the course of centuries. There are philosophical considerations: how might radically extended lifespans transform humanity? Would a digitally uploaded mind be an authentic continuation of that person? Will immortal intelligences run into cosmological constraints? These questions can serve as fun thought experiments for people like me who want to write science fiction stories, but there are also ethical dimensions to human longevity that very tangibly relate back to the here and now.

If the anti-aging activists are even partially correct, people living in the mid 21st century may witness a great increase in life expectancy. This would create profound consequences in our societies, potentially exacerbating challenges that we are already facing. Today’s economic inequality and uneven access to lifesaving medical treatments cast a grim shadow over the prospect of future breakthrough rejuvenation therapies. When asked if only the rich will have access to the technological advancements he prophesies, Ray Kurzweil brushes off this concern and brings up the example of cell phones becoming ever cheaper through economies of scale. Will people living longer lead to overpopulation problems? Forward thinkers will point out that space colonization will eventually become necessary to assure the survival of our species anyhow. Another possibility that may confront us is a kind of social stagnation. What will become of the intergenerational struggle between the old guard and the youthful rejuvenating force that opposes it? If new scientific advancements succeed when their opponents die out, can the same be said for other conceptions of progress? Can the arc of history bend toward justice if the generation in power refuses to make an exit?

Five Fake Futures

Having skimmed the surface of the longevity movement and brought up some of the common concerns about it, lets project ahead a few decades from the time of this writing (2014) and imagine a range of potential worlds that we might inhabit. Futurists usually like to think of a quadrant with four outcomes, a status quo outcome, an optimistic outcome, a pessimistic outcome, and a disaster outcome. Then they throw in a fifth “transformative” outcome for the sake of showmanship. Lets imagine how longevity might fit into these different takes on the year 2044:

Status Quo

We can try to picture a future that hasn’t deviated far from our expectations too much, by extrapolating from trends that we’re already witnessing. This will help give us a baseline to compare against our other possible futures. Drawing on recent predictions made in publically available studies, here are some things we might anticipate about the world in 2044:

Global population is around 9 billion people. Worldwide overall life expectancy gains a decade, nearing an average of 75 years. US population increases to 400 million. India becomes the most populous nation surpassing China and the US combined. Much population growth occurs in Africa, with a quarter of the world’s inhabitants living there. The world is getting older, with the median global age around 36 years, 41 years in the US. Japan, Russia, and much of Europe see declining, aging populations. Economically, a rising global middle class is expected to emerge across parts of today’s developing world. For countries with older populations, debates about how to care for the elderly will grow in prominence. Should modest advancements in medicine and health policy be effective, people may be able to effectively work longer, and the retirement age may be driven up. To accommodate changing demographics, societies may be forced to reorganize workplaces and transportation systems to suit the needs of the elderly.

For the longevity movement, a status quo scenario may be something of a pessimistic outcome, because the predictions based on today’s trends cannot take into account the breakthroughs that may be possible by 2044. Aubrey de Grey says we have a 50/50 chance of having developed indefinite lifespan treatments by 2040. Of course, it may be a bit early to see at that point, as even if such therapies are created we won’t know if greatly increased lifespans are possible until sometime later in the next century. Ray Kurzweil predicts that nanotechnology will have drastically altered human life, with the period from the 2020’s into the 2040’s seeing a transformative effect on par with that of the industrial revolution or the information age. Even if Kurzweil is being wildly optimistic, it is reasonable to expect at least some applications derived from research into the nascent field of nanomedicine to become available in 30 years. Even if immortality remains out of reach, more of the diseases associated with aging should become treatable. Perhaps the field of cryonics will see some advances that lend increased credibility to the procedure, prompting changes to the current medico-juridical regimes that regulate the determination of death and the treatment of the bodies of the deceased. Political parties are already today being developed to promote longevity, activists may see their positions gain cultural currency by organizing into constituencies that can effectively promote their issues. Privately financed research is likely to play a major role in developing anti-aging therapies, with projections of an aging demographic already creating a growing market for investments in biotech startups.

Private investment may be necessary to make anti-aging breakthroughs, because the governments of the world will have a host of other challenges to face in the year 2044, including the effects of climate change, wealth consolidation and income inequality, higher resource consumption from growing populations, demand for increased food production, and limited supplies of freshwater for large amounts of the world. These factors could lead to outbreaks of conflict between and within nation states. But let’s put aside our pessimism for a moment and delve into a more hopeful future than that of the status quo scenario that we’ve just outlined.

Optimistic

What is considered optimistic is of course subject to one’s own biases, a paradise imagined by one person may look dystopian to another. For the purposes of coming up with optimistic views on longevity in the year 2044, let’s imagine that the predictions of the life extension proponents are successful and that they’ve managed to answer most of their critics in a satisfactory manner.

Between de Grey’s SENS foundation, Google’s Calico, or any number of other biotech outfits, research has paid off. Life expectancy reaches up to 100 years and rising. For the world’s 1.5 billion people aged 65 and up, treatments become available to stave off the debilitating effects of aging, and chronic conditions become manageable. Many of today’s developing economies have reached the prosperity seen previously in only the most developed parts of the world, and access to medicine is viewed as a top priority. Since older people are healthier and more capable than they ever have been before, concerns about an aging populace are assuaged. Nanomedicine is advancing rapidly and indefinite life extension with wide availability seems to be right around the corner. Cryonics is demonstrated to be practical for complex mammals, giving hope to those with diseases that have not yet been cured. Longevity activists have succeeded in making anti-aging feasible, desirable, and affordable to the much of the masses. Having won that battle, their efforts can turn to uplifting the quality of life for all.

In this optimistic vision of 2044, technological advancements have turned the transition to renewable energy into the driving economic force of the century. Desalination plants provide water, high yield automated food production on a distributed local basis ensures adequate nutrition in the regions that need it most. Population concerns drive efforts to make seasteading and space colonization realistic solutions to human habitation by the end of the century. While economic inequality may still persist, a rising standard of living is giving much of the world the breathing room they need to organize politically for their own interests. Challenges remain, but total warfare has been avoided. Sounds nice, doesn’t it?

Pessimistic

Now let’s indulge our cynicism a bit. There are numerous trajectories for life extension that could be thought of as pessimistic, including scenarios where anti-aging therapies become successful. Even if life extension proves workable, there are no guarantees that it will be available on an egalitarian basis. Plus, the social stability required to sustain anti-aging research may be threatened by any number of difficulties posed by climate change, resource scarcity, and inequality.

One pessimistic vision of the future is posed in a 2013 science fiction novel by Zoltan Istvan called The Transhumanist Wager. Consciously written in the mold of a kind of Atlas Shrugged for the 21st century, Istvan’s story centers on a philosopher named Jethro Knights who travels around the world promoting indefinite life extension. But the governments of the world turn into theocratic dictatorships, fueled by a populist anti-transhumanist movement that is assassinating scientists working on life extension. Eventually Knights retreats to a floating Galt’s Gulch-like seasteading colony to continue his work, leading to a war between the transhumanists and the rest of the planet.

Another example from fiction is offered in the 2013 film Elysium. In this future, advanced medical therapies are available to an elite class that lives on a orbital space habitat, while the residents of earth suffer in poverty and disease. Both of these fictional examples are projections based in the fears of today; Istvan’s novel dealing with the fears of libertarian transhumanists encountering resistance to their philosophy, and Elysium dealing with the current concerns about income inequality and access to medicine. But both of these scenarios may be a long way out for our time table.

In a pessimistic 2044, there may be a thriving market for drugs and supplements meant to extend lifespan that are ultimately only marginally effective - snake oil salesman have been with us this long and are likely to persist into the future. Even if treatments are effective, they may be limited to those who can afford them, possibly creating a long-lived class of oligarchs. Other factors such as the ongoing automation of economies may increase the concentration of wealth to new heights, ushering in another gilded age. If anti-aging research fails, societies face difficult choices about how to care for the elderly. If they succeed, harsh population control measures may be implemented. Aside from the questions posed by the life extension movement, there are still all the other challenges that humanity faces: regional conflict, climate refugees, and competition for resources could strain efforts to reduce child mortality in the poorest of countries. But these outcomes may not even be the worst imaginable.

Disaster

In some sense, any future where humans continue to survive is an optimistic one. But we can also imagine scenarios where the population is drastically reduced by all out warfare, nuclear exchanges, treatment-resistant superbugs, or even a man-made doomsday virus. Existential risks posed by biotech, nanotech, and artificial intelligence are already being discussed in today’s think-tanks and universities. Perhaps Kurzweil’s predictions of AI and nanotech will lead us to a situation in which the majority of humanity becomes obsolete, and the elites of the world are content to let the masses perish. Anti-aging treatments may succeed in extending the human lifespan somewhat, but create unintended consequences to human health that negate the gains achieved. Cryonics may turn out to be a pseudoscientific dream, or social instability may make it impossible to ensure that those who have been cryopreserved continue to receive ongoing infusions of liquid nitrogen. Global economic crises and runaway climate change could threaten the very foundations of industrial civilization, rendering life extension research largely irrelevant. On the other hand, technological progress itself could create a world where augmented cyborgs live in unparalleled prosperity while a global underclass is subjected to draconian subjugation. The merger of man and machine may make life unrecognizable to present day humans in ways that could lead to conflict. AI researcher Hugo de Garis has suggested that a war between the faction of humans that embrace the technological singularity and those that resist it is all but inevitable by the end of the 21st century.

Transformative

Futurists know that nobody likes to end a good round of prognosticating on a downer note, so let’s counter these apocalyptic pronouncements with some utopian thinking. The elderly in 2044 may very well have access to rejuvenation therapies that can effectively restore their youth, but a host of other trends will have to come into play to achieve a transformative hopeful tomorrow. Techno-progress may allow us to meet the needs of the growing population. The rise of new economies may shift the balance of geopolitical power and inject fresh values into the global discourse. Movements to guarantee basic necessities and human rights for everyone could gain traction, as increases in efficiency and production challenge the paradigm of economic scarcity. The developing world may be able to leapfrog the worst effects of industrialization and labor exploitation as they progress. Humanity may learn to thrive without the ecological destruction we now witness. New communications technologies could allow the coming generations to empathize with each other across traditional boundaries of nationality. Perhaps the inklings of an egalitarian planetary civilization may begin to stir if we can effectively mitigate the sources of conflict in our world today. Efforts to extend the human lifespan may not figure directly into much of the problems that humanity confronts, but should we succeed in meeting these challenges, we may have many more years than our ancestors did to engage in artistic pursuits and advance our scientific understanding. How’s that for utopian?

Final thoughts

I’ve tried to remain fairly objective about this subject in order to give it a fair hearing, but my own political leanings have probably shown through along the way. I’d like to conclude this essay by summarizing the major themes I’ve presented and offering some parting thoughts of my own, including suggestions for the longevity movement’s supporters and critics alike.

Immortality is probably one of the most fantastical claims that futurists and transhumanists are advancing, but it seems like nearly every day there are medical breakthroughs reported that should make us take notice. Aubrey de Grey says he doesn’t like the term “immortality” and prefers to think of his work as advancing human health in general, and a similar tack is taken by Google when describing the work of their Calico initiative. The view that aging can be treated like a disease to be cured is becoming more and more respectable as time goes on, and powerful interests are beginning to get behind such efforts. The demographic trends of an aging populace and the fact that wealth tends to skew older are likely to create a burgeoning demand for longevity solutions. Indeed, there are already magazines, supplements companies, advocacy organizations, and other entities arising to service this market. The consequences of greatly extended lifespans may not become apparent to us for decades to come, but we could be grappling with them by the mid-century.

There are religious and philosophical objections to the concept of radical life extension, but the concerns that stand out most to me personally are questions of access. Much of the discussion on the subject that I have witnessed tends to brush off this issue. Longevity activists tend to believe that new technologies start out subsidized by the wealthy and eventually fall in cost and become available to a growing proportion of the populace. But one of the primary impediments to anti-aging research is a lack of funding, which itself is hindered by a lack of public support. It seems fair to question whether life extension should take precedence over the many other pressing problems humanity faces. Proponents of life extension argue that we should be able to work toward curing aging at the same time that we support other initiatives, such as reducing child mortality rates and combating curable diseases in the developing world; these efforts don’t have to be mutually exclusive. But if public support is necessary to gain increased funding, longevity advocates would do well to signal their own concerns about growing economic inequality and humanitarian crises existing in the world today. After all, many people would consider it tragic if we found ourselves in a world where the rich have access to rejuvenating medicines that allow them to live indefinitely while there are still large numbers of children born into the poorest parts of the world who aren’t able to make it to adulthood for lack of access to clean drinking water. I have personally heard transhumanists argue that it is outside of the scope of their mission to work on such problems since we already have the technology to solve them, and it is my opinion that this represents something of a perceived empathy gap in the longevity movement that is stifling its potential.

For those who want to live forever, there are all manner of suggestions to optimize one’s lifestyle for longevity. But if you want to go beyond the years that you could naturally expect to see, you may wish to monetarily support the research of the SENS foundation, or perhaps you could indirectly support Google’s Calico by using the online services they offer and clicking on the advertisements that make up their primary source of revenue. You can become a member of a cryonics provider and sign up for insurance to preserve your body should the need arise. The biggest contribution you could make may involve swaying the public discourse, you might consider joining advocacy organizations, or one of the political parties that are forming. If you strongly desire to see the cause of longevity advanced, my advice is to at least attempt to pay lip service to the problems of inequality and access to medicine, lest you run the risk of seeming too selfish to marshal broader support in society.

For those who feel more ambiguous about immortality and its consequences, I believe it becomes necessary to engage with these ideas in a critical way, instead of simply avoiding them. Personally, I have nothing against the concept of life extension in and of itself; the concerns that move me are applicable whether we defeat aging or not. My goal is to examine the liberatory potential of technological development while remaining conscious of the coercive possibilities it may also pose. Imagining the failure modes of the future allows us to conceptualize outcomes we’d rather avoid. In drawing attention to the longevity movement and the questions raised by it, I mean to contribute to the larger conversation about the kind of world we are headed toward, and find commonality with others who share my concerns. Let’s create templates for critically examining the future, and let’s bolster each other’s efforts along the way!

Further Reading:

A History of Transhumanist Thought -
http://www.fhi.ox.ac.uk/a-history-of-transhumanist-thought.pdf

SENS Research Foundation -
http://sens.org/

Aubrey de Grey AMA (Reddit Q+A)
http://www.reddit.com/r/Futurology/comments/28e4v3/aubrey_de_grey_ama/

Predictions made by Ray Kurzweil -
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Predictions_made_by_Ray_Kurzweil

Alcor Life Extension Foundation -
http://www.alcor.org/

Google Calico details emerge: Immortality, Obamacare, and millions of dollars -
http://www.slashgear.com/google-calico-details-emerge-immortality-obamacare-and-millions-of-dollars-09300752/

Immortality: The Next Great Investment Boom -
http://www.inc.com/eric-markowitz/immortality-the-next-great-investment-boom.html

Will Old People Take Over The World? -
http://io9.com/will-old-people-take-over-the-world-458358266

10 Projections for the Global Population in 2050 - http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2014/02/03/10-projections-for-the-global-population-in-2050/

UN: World Population to 2300 (2004)
http://www.un.org/esa/population/publications/longrange2/WorldPop2300final.pdf

BRIEF EXPOSITION ON A NEAR-FUTURE DYSTOPIAN AMERICA

the latest test had been going well, users were adjusting to the system positively, and senior management declared all the major new features ready to bake. expanding to the larger market always meant some hiccups, uncertainties that could never completely be accounted for until after the product shipped, the as-yet-to-be known unknowns that permeate through an entire change of architecture like what was being attempted. nevertheless progress and growth demanded continuous recuperation, and consumer throngs must be threshed out every season for this feature or that - provided of course that their social benefits were maintained. thus faith was vested, as always, in the economy: to deliver a good harvest, to give strength to the almighty denominations that enabled the life sustaining trade that nearly everyone depended upon to survive. for the end users, a greater rank of confidence bestowed protection from the ravages of the world of high-finance, the valleys of algorithmically induced flash-crashes and panicked sell-offs of stocks, and the massive flux of devaluations on the currency exchange markets. although the system had overcome much of the difficulties of scaling up to such a massive capacity, the rollout presented a bumpy road ahead yet to travel.

launch days came and went fairly frequently for all the major certified kit produced by the centrally planned national industries. they’d become very routine, but there was still a kind of mass hysteria around these events that drew people in like the midway sideshow barkers of yore. camps sprung up around old libraries and storefronts that had been renovated to become public exhibition spaces for the elite American brands, flocked to by eager patrons ready to plunk down their state issued coupons, good for one mobile computer per year, subsidized to nullify the digital divide and give everyone a shot at the egalitarian dream of an equal opportunity society. as for the outcomes, they didn’t have to turn out to be perfectly equal, but at least some effort was made to effect a fair sense of proportionality between the greatest wealth accumulators and their subordinates, that was part of the new consensus.

in the wake of globalization, american innovation had became paranoid and elusive, choosing to move more and more of the supply chain in-house, to be controlled under walled-off proprietary silos inside a culture of secrecy. information security procedures developed by the intelligence community were employed to keep a tight lid on product roadmap; false leaks and disinformation circulated through embedded media outlets to confuse the enemies of the country. this kind of isolationism was not entirely uncommon in the various economic blocs, and better surveillance capabilities continued to get cheaper for the competing governments every single day. who could produce and outspend the militaries of the world, ultimately, in times of extraordinary crisis and national emergency?

the continuity of the state dictated the priorities that drove investments. in an increasingly competitive multilateral world of rising economic forces, superiority through strength was becoming more difficult to maintain. military dominance could not be achieved solely through sheer overwhelming power, but had to be assured through the use of advanced force multipliers. combining a near total consolidation of mass media outlets and advanced research and development efforts, the entertainment industrial complex engineered the consent of the population and exported abroad the cultural values deemed to be of strategic importance. the arms race of communications technology was a vital front as always.

Great progress had been achieved over the years in securing the national interest by mobilizing natural monopolies in service to the common wealth and welfare. All things being equal, the changeover for the nationalized companies that became the core of good governance and reliable deliverables went about as well as nearly anyone could have hoped for. the conceit in many of the various founders’ ambitious visions of transforming human social relations on truly massive scales fit well with the scope of the task involved in providing the back-end services that encompassed the new society.

No more were rouge transnational interests within the state’s boundaries to be the primary beneficiaries of the highly centralized mega-industrial vertical integration and globalized logistics capabilities they had developed. instead their powers would be brought back home to roost, their surpluses repatriated in service to civil society, where investments in public infrastructure and a sustained social campaign had fended off any serious internal threats to the preservation of the state. free markets and rule of law under liberal parliamentary democracies promised to ensure peace and prosperity, provided the benefit of those markets did not become super-stratified to the point of social-breakdown and collapse.

The ascendancy of this neo-feudal arrangement was self-regulated under the direction of the democratically selected plutocrats who were legitimately vested with the public’s trust via the new consensus, the pact made with those inheritors and guardians of wealth who understood that providing for the public welfare was as beneficial to enabling society’s creation of wealth in the long term as much as it was dependent upon it in the short term. to maintain the class system occasional concessions from above would have to be made in the interest of social cohesion, a tenuous balance that shifted with the mores of the times. thats how unemployment, liberalism and democracy persevere on in the twenty-first century, by providing a platform of integrated services to facilitate the mass adoption of a common set of toolkits that an equally opportunistic majority can exploit for themselves to generate value, with some redistributive measures built-in to prevent losses of productivity from outpacing gains.

Confidence could now be redeemed by virtually everyone, across competing platforms using a host of mature standards, enabling the basic guarantees of the enhanced entitlements regime to continue to be provided for on the strength of the currency, ipso facto. blessed by the enlightened choice of early adopters in the military, the global reach of the scheme was now propagating toward interoperability with traditional fiat money world-wide. eventually, previously informal value transfer systems would soon be able to be monetized nearly frictionlessly in real-time under a proposed update to specifications of the existing protocol. the newest major features were designed to increase buy-in and strongly incentivize migration, expanding the supply of wealth by sharing upstream revenue returns to the end users, increasing the total confidence generated by micro-fractions taken from every transaction in the system.

these newly public utilities and device makers empowered a once fledging generation of creatives to carry the burden of the depreciating value of labor. where automation continued to increase efficiency at the expense of jobs in manufacturing and an increasing share of the service economy, marketing became so prevalent as to have to begin subsidizing the audiences’ engagement with the officially mandated awareness campaigns and informational outreach efforts that were dictated by new directives designed to encourage an uptick in adoption of available goods and services.

despite a basic opportunity grant for necessaries with no preconditions for approval, some segments of the citizenry held out from upgrading to the benefits of the new operating system. they subsisted mostly based in rural communities, trading over darknets that emerged to piggyback on the formal economy and evade its security measures, aided by no shortage of sympathizers entrenched in urban metropolitan areas willing to assist in the laundry of illicit gains, often in exchange for handcrafts or vegetables. A grand solution to this pirate activity remained an attractive proposition to the great powers of the world, with host states and corporations busily collaborating on policies and technologies to widen their shared spheres of influence and limit the potential for disruption.

the ongoing perpetuation of any civilization invariably rested upon the ability to keep records: the collective memories that gave a people their story, and the clandestine data collection that allowed potential threats to be neutralized. of course it was practically impossible to truly know just how much information the state could sort through and store, and to what extent that information could be analyzed into useful product. the whistleblowers that might have come forward were forgotten within the span of a day’s news cycle, and anyone still paying attention remained effectively gagged by the congressional committee on censorship. their hearings had concluded that officially there was no problem with censorship, and that to proclaim otherwise would constitute falsely disseminating misstatements injurious to morale, a state crime punishable under federal emergency powers. Therefore as far as the public was concerned, the freedom of open society had been preserved, at least to the extent that they were allowed to know of. people who suggested anything to the contrary had a tendency to be forgotten by their former friends and neighbors rather quickly, after abrupt relocations or mysterious disappearances. if they returned, they themselves had already put such thoughts behind them.

even so, from back end and distribution, to currency and point of sale - absolute loyalty to the total stack was impossible to assure. controls on imports of open hardware were expensive to enforce and despite near ubiquitous monitoring of online communications and the employment of armies of loyalists flooding the public networking sites, dissenting opinions still managed to afflict marginalized members of the populace, necessitating an unwieldy rehabilitation and treatment infrastructure. Criminals and other anti-social types could be retrained with a combination of psychotropic therapies and skills-based training sessions, providing the factory cities that churned out much of the nation’s hardware with a steady supply of labor.

this rehabilitation regime was hailed at its introduction as a kind of redemptive salvation to the waves of crime that blighted the country during the long depressed austerity years. ask any average person on the street if they thought it was just that you could be snatched out of your home for posting a negative comment about a policy initiative to the networks and end up chemically lobotomized and assembling tablet computers in some factory town in the southwest, and you’d probably get an answer in the affirmative. a small subset of the population went out of their way to pass along messages about forbidden subjects, or install loudspeakers in hidden corners to broadcast speeches condemning the censors, or project out of moving vehicles illicit videos of the factory dormitory conditions onto the walls of buildings, terrorizing the rest of society with their poisonous malcontent rancor.

"why can’t you just be happy like everyone else? you have everything you need. involuntary poverty has been abolished and education is accessible to even the most miserable wretch. isn’t that what you people have been fighting for, for all this time? you should be ecstatic, you should be celebrating with all those gadget worshipers lined up around the blocks waiting for the doors to open-" those are sorts of things one could hear them saying to anyone who dared to mutter anything less than gleaming praise for the new consensus, for its enhanced benefits and rehab centers, and the whole American way of life. There was no argument to have, no public debate, you either acquiesced and went about with your day filling out surveys and watching public service announcements, or you drew too much attention to yourself and ended up in one of those treatment centers pumped up full of compliance medications while you waited for readjustment specialists to root out your negative attitudes. anything else was too dangerous, to threatening to personal safety.

yet there were still whispers of others practicing the old ways in esoteric rustic communities outside of the metroplexes, occasionally you might even see an eruption of dissenters in a city, disrupting the flow of commerce for a brief stoppage of regular time, and melting away into the crowded shadows to evade detection just as quickly as they emerged. or perhaps these were merely romantic delusions that were the counterpart to an omnipotent control mechanism that employed double agents to ensnare the disloyal in entrapment schemes designed to totalize even the space of dreams that these fantasies grew out of. one could never be sure how paranoid one needed to be, since to consult another might result in the complete ideological reorientation of one’s own self, tantamount to destruction of the self. for most this would be too much to risk, and just the threat of this remolding of identity at a distance was enough to affect its aims. there could be no greater deterrent than a simple measure of basic comfort provided by affiliation and the potential disaster of the removal thereof.

iPocalypse - Part 1 (first draft)

They stood in single file, wild excitement on their faces in anticipation of the storefront opening. PhotoVolt-film-lined tents wrapped around the block with wireless charging stations plugged into them, and families filmed fathers holding their babies by the hands as they shuffled their young legs around, learning how to walk. Everyone was happy, the moment was joyous, the batteries were charged, the gates were about to open. The geniuses were about to welcome everyone in. Some of the crowd had been camped out for weeks - or even months. It seemed that there was always a continuous presence around the glass fronted stores, for blocks. People recorded their media and quickly produced it into slick prepackaged templates for easy consumption, camped out together, fed each other. They carried banners with illuminated paintings of St. Steve, and flags with depictions of the forbidden fruit and its poignant bite mark. The economy would rise or fall depending on the first weekend of sales. Riots had broken out around releases in the past, though the Jobsians, today, had developed a voluntary set of community agreements to self-organize and prevent violence. Security forces left them alone, for the most part.

As the doors of the glass palace opened amid cheers from the staff and delightful roars of those waiting, a darker spectacle began assembling in the thoroughfare leading up to the quasi-public square where the faithful awaited their prophetic commune with the future. In the center of the foamstone-cobbled court, an elongated cylindrical monolith stood illuminated by projections of the latest smooth translucent slates in various form factors, glowing with interfaces. Down the street a procession of black robed and barefoot outsiders approached the cylinder and filed around it until they all stood equidistant, hands held in a circle.

"You have no right!" someone shouted.

"There are families here!" a mother’s voice echoed.

"HAVE SOME RESPECT!"

The robed figures pulled down their hoods, revealing a cadre of mixed hued skin tones and strange tattoos and scars on masculine and feminine faces. To the North toward the open gates a thin framed orator with ornate braids and a crystal pendent hanging in the cleavage of their breast began the recital:

"For the ancestors of Turtle Island and the future generations!

For the laborers toiling under rehabilitation!”

To the East another deeper voice from a darker more muscular form intoned:

"What comes up - must come down.

As above, so below.

All empires that rise

will dissipate into cold.”

At the South, a soprano then called out:

"No more shall your hubris distract and enslave us!

The oceans will swallow the idols you’ve raised up!”

An androgynous monk-like spirit to the most West solemnly stated:

"We consecrate our bodies in a gesture of resistance.

Let our will be shown to those who see to bring about our vision.”

Three times, the group collectively repeated, “This is our will!” in unison.

While this incantation was being performed, a riot detail had begun shutting down the intersections of the blocks immediately surrounding the Jobsian temple; lower ranks had begun moving in to cordon off those who had legitimately gathered for the product launch.

"THIS IS AN UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY-" bellowed a captain at the established perimeter.

"By the authority of the people of California…" the barely intelligible voice continued droning, booming out of the sonic cannon shields the phalanx carried.

But by then the robed practitioners had already begun to break their circle and snake around clockwise, acknowledging each member in sequence with an embrace of hands. After they had all respectively looked into the others’ eyes, they each swallowed a capsule that the first to go around had distributed, and then started shuffling toward the entrance of the storefront. The geniuses, caught off guard, had neglected security protocol and failed to shutter the opening.

As they moved in, they left their robes behind at the outside and revealed bodies completely uncovered, decorated in branding and needled ink patterns worked over their otherwise exposed flesh in motifs of swirls and ancient geometric designs revered across the world. Modest onlookers gasped and shrieked in disapproval as they were hustled away by the security forces.

Widened pupils and goose pimpled skin lazily but deliberately filled the show room and changed the atmosphere decidedly. Even the workers, now effectively trapped inside, felt turned on – unwillingly - as if by aphrodisiac, to their own confusion. The naked school of bodies standing around the tables with patented rounded corners released sweat profusely, the scent of aroused mammalian primal drives crowded out any air of normalcy.

As the intensity of desire reached a boiling point, the nude forms gravitated toward one another, lit up by the bright white lighting falling on faux woodgrain and stainless brushed metallic surfaces. Jaws clenched and smirks and sly smiles opened into hungry grins; tongues licked lips. Display cases for smart panes were pushed to the side as ravenous glistening humans climbed and leapt onto the retail showroom platforms to indulge their lust. The dozens of them, a rainbow tribe of united nations represented in their heritage, now suckled and gnawed at one another, rolling over to mouth each other as they pushed and pumped into their flexed and extended centers. Moans and whimpers of malformed phonemes broke into wordless guttural vowel cries. The geniuses, backed into safety corners and against the radiant walls, were aghast, speechless, frozen.

The variant phenotypes permuted their meatspace into multiplicitous combinations of orifices and protuberances with little regard for any discernible order of social relations. They certainly were not interested in biological reproduction. Pure hedonic ecstasy and impulsive mercy won over their strokes and fondlings. Locked into a pulsing embrace as a kind of super-organism, the body of bodies increased pace. If ever one had seen an orgy, not only would what was taking place here qualify, but it started to resemble something beyond the motivation of sexual gratification. The intensity and dedication of the rhythmic contortions became desperate.

The temperature in the room had risen noticeably. A distinct, strange chlorine-like smell infused the other familiar sweaty odors wafting in the air. Tightly gripped hands scraped into midsections, and skin bore abrasions from the friction. Acidic internal contusions started searing through bellies; gagging mouths gasped for oxygen and began to retch up a foul sticky substance onto each other that burned a bright lilac-colored flame as it engulfed them, still clenched in their now mechanical thrusting and grinding. They went on like that automatically as their bodies blazed neon purple and the flesh melted off of their frames, boiling and bubbling as it cooked into ash. The geniuses ran out of the opening in horror and were immediately detained at the police line.

After the last worker escaped the front room, the building’s systems monitor dropped emergency walls to seal off the area and revved up the ventilation unit to suffocate the smoldering remains of the death orgy. The fumes cleared and robotic power washers sprayed a dry chemical cleansing powder over the afflicted area. The loose material was blasted off of the elevated surfaces and collected by autovac. Sweepers gathered the damaged slates and stocking units replaced them. Within a matter of minutes the look of the place was pristine, as if nothing had happened to disrupt the launch day event. A supervisor walked through the police line to examine the scene as the emergency walls receded.

The situation met with his approval. The supervisor turned to the crowds pushed back behind the lines and bellowed, “Ladies and gentleman - we apologize for this unfortunate delay. Any customers who witnessed any of this unpleasantness will be welcomed back to the front of the line, as soon as you consent to a standard non-disclosure agreement. Please line up to see one of our helpful legal assistants to guide you through the process.” The crowd seemed relieved by the return to order, and proceeded to huddle around the assistants who now punctured the corners of the police lines. The supervisor crossed back over and greeted the frightened geniuses, who were being released from the zip-tie cuffs they had been temporarily restrained by. “I’m sorry this happened to us on our biggest launch yet. A team of retail experts are en route to relieve you all of your duties today. You’ll all be receiving a day’s leave with sick pay.” They seemed to relax at the news and were released thusly.

A private shuttle pulled up at the intersection. A troupe of young, smiling associates in blue t-shirts and khaki shorts hopped out enthusiastically, and waved to the onlookers. The crowds shouted out their approval and at the direction of the newly arrived sales staff were led in exuberant applause as they stood in line to tap “I Accept” on the slates held by the legal assistants. Surges of deeply felt wonderment overcame them all.

- - -


(thanks to C.A. for editing assistance)

PAPER

low rez audiobook version here: http://soundcloud.com/robotson/paper-by-lance-robotson

"…And then the user is presented with a choice!" the young experience architect beamed.

"But those probabilities have been constrained beforehand, so the engine doesn’t have to think too many moves ahead," injected his quieter co-presenter.

He tossed a few stacks of technical specifications over to the share-space in the center of the table. Nobody interrupted the well rehearsed pitch.

"So because we’ve already artificially limited the potentially endless landscape for the user and sort of boxed him into a predetermined route, it still all feels very immersive, as if their own mind is producing the effects, right Arlo?"

"Oh yeah. Very immersive," came a voice from underneath a fiberoptic jellyfish covering the man’s head, his eyes twitching below his closed lids. The gear continued pulsing.

"And that’s where you writer guys come in! Our designers and architects are plumbing the depths of the most cutting edge research to accurately model experience states in the brain. We’ve got armies of interdisciplinary experts who can build you an alien landscape or simulate a supernova or recreate the colonial new world, and transport you into what it really feels like, really tastes like. But story telling is still a valuable, rare thing. And if someone who can tell a good story can hitch his cart to the right project, they can still build a reputation for themselves."

"Really stand out." quipped the co-presenter.

The writers looked out of their element, as usual. The IP managers who had invited them to the meeting knew that they were skeptical about working with the kind of technology that could infringe on the domain of their creativity, their stock in trade. Dynamically generated non-linear storytelling engines were the new cotton mills, and writers were already predisposed to being neo-luddites. Half of them worked on antique manual typewriters. Kelterton even made his own paper. And who even bothered with paper anymore, except people who could afford to fetishize it? But Kelterton had his ways.

After the meeting he stepped outside and hailed an auto-cab. Climbing into the two seater and flicking his destination over to the viewport, he accepted the transport agreement. He dimmed the windows as he sped away from the financial center. No images of obsolete veterans trying to get a black-market upgrade would creep into his subconscious on his way home. All day spent coming down from the mountains for this rights-holders discussion group and then this pitch, from the XP-tech interactive guys, it was all a set up. Normally he’d be happy for the work, but ever since he started making his own paper, all the gadgets and gizmos started seeming more and more vain and irrelevant. He wanted to go home and stick his hands into the pulpy mush, and lay it across the screens to dry. He wanted to slice off the rough edges with a clean, sharp blade at the cutting table. He wanted to feel the quill etching into the rough surface of the unbleached grey fibers.

The metroplex intruded back into his perception and punctured his pleasant fantasy as the auto-cab slowed to a halt and dinged in acknowledgement of its completed task. By reaching for the door he signaled his desire to escape the pod, and it opened automatically. The cab whirred off with a pleasant friendly sounding whine as he descended into the tube platforms and waited for the next omni-lev train. The tube bay doors sighed out pressurized gasses, yawning homeostasis as the passengers boarded into the capsule’s cabins. At least he’d have a short while to think to himself on the high-speed corridor up the coast. Visions of the farm, the green of the forest, the winding stream, daydreaming of some anachronistic water wheel storing up potential energy, past the wind farms and solar arrays. Energy sovereignty seemed feasible in the coming years.

The omni-lev trip seemed unusually short, round trip the commute figured about 3 hours out of his day. As Kelterton bounded out of the capsule chamber and flew down the escalators he remembered why he didn’t want to get sucked back into that whole LA brain dream factory again. He liked getting so far out of the city that this last public cab ride of the day patiently waited for him at the terminus, while he vended a cardboard bicycle from the on-demand transit station, and began to peddle up the path out into the hills. By looking back at the auto-cab he signaled his safe departure of his own cognizance, and the ergonomically sculpted vehicle seemed to rock back and forth in acknowledgement as it zipped away to its next client.

Inside the dwelling space he shared, his companion Katherine was alterted to his approach by the illuminated beacons along the path - they reported a recently fabbed bike nearing the outskirts of their cluster. “Well, that must be Bill!” she mused. Her workstation blinked as she started shutting it down; photovoltaic designs, ready to send off for fabrication, disappeared from the hanging screens on the walls. She walked out of the multi-use space, resetting its surfaces to their defaults.

A group of articulate but still somewhat feral children, toddlers and up to a few adolescents, lounged about in the play pod, engaged in a collaborative evolving design game where the participants grow colonies of slime over a decaying monumental fallen slab of obelisk, working to convert its nooks and crannies into harvestable food sources. A couple of the fathers gawked at their progress. Katherine stepped in through the pod’s vestibule: “Hey everyone, Bill’s almost back from his meeting!”

"Yay Uncle Bill!" the distracted children shouted, before returning their attentions to the evolving slime game table.

Katherine didn’t have any biological children herself but their cluster was teeming with them. They referred to most adults they knew as their aunts and uncles. One of the parents, Maihai, approached Katherine.

"Kate, I heard from some of the other writers at the meeting that William wasn’t enthused about the Guild’s rights holders’ strategy session, and he responded even less favorably to the experience tech demo. People are saying that he keeps checking this broken pocket-watch he has, as if it’s going to start telling time again. Do you think he’s going to leave the collective?"

"Oh really, Maihai, do you believe that? Bill may have his head stuck in a more fantastically antiquated view of getting back to nature, but his heart is with us here! He just needs to keep up his hobbies to deal with the overload, you know. His paper-making really does get him back in touch with an embodied somatic awareness. An abstract visionary life can be so tedious… touch is an important sense, too, you know."

"Well, I know you’ve always nurtured that in him. I’m worried he’s just not seeing all the possibilities here-"

Katherine interrupted him, “and you do?”

"Well, no Katherine, we all see things differently of course. But he’s just so stubborn! Which is great, sure. I mean, the man’s work is uncompromising…"

Katherine’s steady glance of appraisal began to droop into a pursed furrow of scrutiny. “I’m going to talk with him before he goes to bed. He’ll probably be tired.”

"Well, maybe you could ask him if you guys want to do a trial run on the latest compound out of pod 27. It’s supposed to promote acceptance, empathy, dense connections, and future-imaginative constructive thought. I think it’d be right up your guys’ alley."

As Kelterton rose up the path illuminated by the networked sensor beacons, he saw a pack of raccoons running along side him momentarily before jumping onto the dome paneled roof of the living chamber pod and leaping away into the shadows. A pet feline startled into the house as he opened the door panel, after attaching the paper bike to the recycling mount. If it was good to ride you could return it to the transit-fab and get some more access. Or you could just pulp it.

And there was Katherine in the living chamber, clearly anticipating him. When they embraced they remained solemnly silent, transfixed on pulses, sensory streams, the complex rate encoded emotional states and their outward projections. Breathing each other in, hearts syncopating a phase shifting polyrhythm, the sense of touch engorged with gratitude for a bit more time of life together in an alliance. She was satisfied that the preparations she made for him had not gone awry and he hadn’t had any difficulties traveling back safely. He was nearly delirious from the flood of sensations from making their circuit, connecting their currents. The lighting and the surfaces in the pod subtly shimmered and the edges of things twinkled.

"It’s so good to see you again," they said in unison, before decoupling from their ritualized greeting.

"How was the meeting with the IP managers?"

"I don’t want to think about it anymore," Kelterton pleaded.

Katherine approached softly, “Well, there are clusters of pods wondering if you’re going to consent to the publishing arrangement. They think you are trying to torpedo the whole deal…” She trailed off, seeing the stress it was causing him. She could see the arguments cooking in his brain-parts.

"I don’t want to have to care about the whole deal, Kate. The IP firms want to get every cut-throat hack kid off the street doing background narrative structures, filling in gaps in the engine. They’re promising them exposure. They’re saying if they get attached to the right scene they could win some acclaim. They’re promising everyone there will still be a place for them - as long as they help build the engine. If you’re not attached to some superstar simulation you might as well be invisible. And the pros! The pros are the most important part. They get to create the feature content, and the users get steered toward bumping into one of these fantasies from our respected pantheon of the living masters. They become the new brands, with teams competing to chart out the most compelling premises. We are going to ossify storytelling into an illusory prison of false choice."

"Doesn’t it seem like it’s always been becoming that?" Katherine asked sympathetically.

"Doesn’t mean I have to like it." Kelterton grumbled.

"Maihai said he heard you were not impressed with the experience tech demo." Katherine lead her companion over to the bedspace. He unbuttoned his un-collared shirt and took off his kevlar-socks, kicked to the floor. The lights gracefully dimmed.

"Well, I know Maihai thinks this revolution in media is never complete, until you can stop watching the simulation and actually become the simulation. From what I am told it is getting very close. I’m not so much unimpressed with the experience tech as I am terrified of its implications." He pulled off his long flowly lightweight utility pants and they too ended up on the floor.

"But isn’t that what it was always trying to become? All those physics engines? All those denser and denser resolutions and faster frame rates, all the new gestures and interfaces, the supercomputers who can hold deliciously cynical dinner party conversations… Why this sudden retreat? You’ve still got your paper, at least." She was leaning at his side, stroking his chest. He looked up at the dome’s panel ceiling, the trendy recycled composite tiles with flecks from different materials exposed so you know it saved some ecosystem.

"I just don’t want to go on developing myths for a machine that will suck out your soul and convince you it’s the most real thing you ever had. I’m looking for consensual hallucinations, as always."

"Well, speaking of paper, Maihai dropped off something he said we would enjoy. These wafers, they’re supposed to promote constructive imagination. Come on Bill, whaddaya say? You’re not considering all the possibilities," she said with a smirk, her head on his chest.

She handed him a tiny wafer lattice and placed one underneath her tongue. The flecks in the composite of the wall panels sparkled like the flecks in her eyes.

An hour later he was laughing, picturing all of the day’s events running forward, then imagining them running in reverse. This was hilarious. These poor lost souls didn’t even know if they were moving forwards or backwards in a temporal dimension. Katherine giggled along to his stupefied cackles, petting his mostly shaved head to soothe him, arms around him. He played and replayed his memories.

"You know… I feel like I’m imagining this, but, when I was on the train gliding up here, I could see all this happening…" he told her languidly.

"I know Bill. We’ve been through all of this before."

The edges of things felt fuzzy wherever he looked. “I saw a premonition, that you were getting talked to about the events of today, that Maihai would give you the new compound, I saw us talking about the deal, about the evolution of the engine and it’s interfaces, all of this, all these words I’m speaking in this instance, I know this has already happened to me and I know I remember this present moment.”

"Yes Bill, you were feeling all those things… and, you’re still here," Katherine offered.

He stared at her intricate form, now fully revealed to him. Her eyelashes flashed like peacocks, her breast that fount to nurse the world. The landscape of her physical beauty radiated like sunrise, just this one being, none other exactly the same. She climbed on top of him and his mind gave way, he was not merely the observer but the center of a permeable surface tension, and he could no longer feel separated from the energies he mingled with.

Katherine guided him with her hips, pushed her palms onto his shoulders and engulfed him entirely. She could see he had surrendered completely to her, and when she arched and pushed back he automatically mirrored her motions. She could see glowing circuitry spidering across his skull, the sinuous tensions in his muscles heightened then released continuously. A wave of image-forms poured into her mind’s eye - the changing coastline, a powerful tide sweeping away the boarders, the wailing of the universal child soothed by a well nourished mother. She saw every person unique and ubiquitous in their longing for connection, every lonely satellite in space, a germ of a life waiting to be unbound, still tethered to the ground of being by an umbilical lineage unbroken. Kelterton quickened his pace as the mysterious force who beckoned him dug in claws and tugged at his torso. In one unifying instant her consciousness became his consciousness and vice versa - the image-feeling culminated into every stream of every perceiving being accelerating more and more rapidly as all distinctions released into an undifferentiated hot stew of pure potential. Every life and all the matter of existence implode into absolute omega point. And then, emptiness.

As Kelterton and Katherine breathe side by side, new pictures emerge. He can see himself admiring the paper that he makes, penning poetry into the sheets of recycled bicycle. He can see himself waking up the next day and sitting by his garden area, taking in the coarse feel of parchment through the swirled ridges of the tips of his fingers. His vision laying next to Katherine jittered and flexed as the living space melted away to the garden, the garden morphing into the path down the hill. He watched himself as he retraced his steps back to the omni-lev, hurdling at seven hundred miles an hour as he sat in the capsule committing his resignation first to memory and then onto the extended piece of his mind that he had folded up into one of his pockets just for this task, scrawled in a longhand script many no longer found of much use anymore. He hopped out of the last enclosure, the last autonomous people mover that led him to the offices of the intellectual property management guild, and delivered them his handwritten note on his handmade paper. He sat and watched the eyes of his old partners, scanning over the words, watched their faces to see the reactions to his screed. He could simultaneously see their faces contort, and the tract’s invocation joined together:

"Dear Mountebanks of the IPMG-

No matter how immersive your virtuality becomes - no matter how skillfully you corrupt morally responsible agents - no matter what poor range of possibilities you shall force us to choose between, we human beings are versatile. Despite whatever efforts to colonize the imagination, and plant a flag there for the totalizing models of reality that work to subsume all aspects of human experience. You forgot that human curiosity runs deeper than whatever culture you have. You forgot that mystery can never be extinguished. You forgot new children are born every day into your systems, and will innately be able to challenge their validity. But most of all you forgot that no matter how realistic an empty fantasy can be drawn, its siren song does not dull the soul’s cravings for nourishments. The stop gap masonry stuffed into our minds will never be able to replace that hunger for sustenance, the desire for liberation. It can only be a mask for what becomes that dull imperceptible heartache that we make ourselves numb to. But just as that ache becomes masked so to does it become stronger. When it finally reaches its apex, just as you are ready to enclose around the entire nervous system forever, billions will decide that stories belong to everyone, that we’ll always need new stories, that a new story can feed or clothe another or keep them out of the rain. When that time comes - we will begin telling new stores, and we will begin to play new games. You won’t even see it happening because of all that work you put into creating the ultimate form of telling stories - all that work possessing a whole being’s ability to feel and think - and you will never have us all.

Consider this my resignation letter.

Sincerely, William Kelterton.”

The words melted away from their faces.

"Seriously Bill, you couldn’t have just dialed up our office com?"

"Yeah Kelterton, there’s no reason for all the theatrics."

"Well he is one of those writers," one mumbled to the others. The row of 5 confused and incredulous faces softened, became warm and flush again, humanlike. Kelterton hadn’t thought this far. He sensed that this impromptu meeting was beginning to take on a different character.

"William… Bill! Lemme call ya Bill. How long have we been in this business together? Twenty years? Remember? You predicted all of this would come to pass! You can’t turn your back on this project now! Not when we’re so close."

A couple of augmented goons in nondescript designer suits appeared at either side of him to restrain his arms.

"You haven’t even experienced the amazing progress we’ve made! How can you turn your back on nonlinear interactive storytelling when you don’t even know what it feels like?"

A trio of technicians entered the room with an XP-Tech fiber optic squid rig and approached nearer to Kelterton.

"After all, we can’t have one of the leading voices in storytelling sounding the battle cry against his old buddies…"

The technicians fitted the rig to Kelterton, and he started trying to shake himself free. The augmented muscle crushed his shoulders down to the chair and held his head still.

"We just think that you haven’t made up your mind until you’ve sampled the product. Make an informed decision you know? After you go through this, then everyone will really say, ‘You know that Bill Kelterton sure knows what’s right,’ and everyone will believe you!"

The squid began lighting up and Kelterton let out a cry that became inaudible to himself as he saw his own memories and beliefs multiplied into an infinite reflection of scattered psychic bricolage, projected down an endless tunnel that he had no control over. In the background, behind himself traveling now, he thought he could make out someone’s screams becoming ever more faint. He wondered if he should keep trying to listen and make out the bizarre sounds, but it wasn’t worth it….

"…WARNING…WARNING…" the helmet synthesized. "CONSENSUAL DREAMTIME VIOLATED. INITIATING SHUTDOWN SEQUENCE."

Kelterton looked shaken up. The technicians were removing the fittings from his chin and temples.

"Bill?" the smooth XP-tech pitchman nudged him. "Are you alright?"

"Yeah, I think," he responded. "I got put into one of these things against my will, in the dream-state."

"That’s right Bill, our scanners can tell when your psyche is getting too threatened so we pull the simulation before the memories can become traumatic!"

The writers and their IP managers sitting in on the demo clapped all in unison, a polite 16 beats.

The XP-tech guys went on with their presentation, describing how the storytelling engine works - “We can set up a dilemma or a crisis point, some kind of fork in the road,” they were saying.

One of the writers, Arlo, came up to Kelterton and asked of him, “So, how was it? Was it very immersive?”

"Oh yeah," Kelterton told him.

"Very immersive."

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