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I don’t know what I should be doing. But I saw the future, and I’m making a run for it.

- Candy

 

3 Months Later - Candy - The Sugar Lab

I wake up, grab my phone. My name’s Candy, and I’m the Guardian of Humanity. I check the news to see if humanity’s imminent self-inflicted extinction has become especially imminent. Nothing jumps out at me. Good enough. I go back to sleep.

I’m a poor choice for Guardian, but one was needed in a hurry and I was available. I received no training. I’m cautiously optimistic.

I wake up again, and drag my ass to the shower. I have a simple plan to get clean, but my shower is hypno-clone equipped. A hypno-clone is an augmented reality cocktail of holograms, ultrasound, and hypnosis. It allows online strangers to have a non-penetrative, sex-like, experience. It can also be used for other reasons. Presumably.

There’s no reason for me to fire it up. I’m not particularly horny, and I have plenty of real life prospects. But, somewhere between rinse and repeat, I have a strange young woman licking my pussy. Well, she looks like a young woman, but you can make your hypno-clone avatar look like whatever you want. I doubt she’s young in real life. Or, a woman. Enjoying a hypno-clone requires a certain suspension of disbelief.

I return the favor. We have a little talk as I wash my hair. She’s really nice. I friend her.

Breakfast is vegan bacon and eggs. I’ve used autohypnosis to open myself up to the possibility that vegan bacon tastes amazing. It tastes amazing. I’m a powerful hypnotist.

As I eat, I take a more serious look at the news of the day. It’s been a stressful year. First everybody lost their jobs to a webapp called The Universal Chatbot. Which sucked. Then a cheap anti-aging drug called Fresh Start turned out to be a cure for almost all diseases. Which was nice. But, like a day later, a giant fucking space rock called Damocles teleported next to Earth. Which was scary.

While there was no discernable malevolence to the teleportation, it set off the fight or flight response in the entire human race. But, because we didn't know who was doing it, we just fought and fled at random. It was unpleasant. Two leaders, The Darkness and Old Money, were particularly unpleasant.

There were no other teleportations. That were noticed. Eventually the active violent panic calmed to a passive peaceful panic.

So, it’s been a real rollercoaster. A lot of people have to take drugs before they check the daily news. I don’t have to, but why not? I spark a joint. No point in dying sober.

I start with mortality rates. I like to get a feel for what's killing us right now before I worry about the future.

All cause mortality is dropping, but not nearly as fast as it should. Disease and age related deaths are way down, obviously. So are violent deaths. But, suicides and overdoses are up. Fuck.

[AUTHOR’S NOTE: How ya doing guys? The Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255 - They’re good folks.]

I check for regular existential threats. Global warming is pretty much licked. No wars are being fought. No killer asteroids looming. Bees are still dying.

I check for exponential existential threats. No plagues brewing, natural or synthetic. No secret artificial intelligence arms race that threatens to annihilate everybody. Mind you, runaway automated escalation due to covert brinksmanship failure doesn't usually make the news. At least it didn't last time.

I make a list.

  • Can we distract people from suicide?
  • Can we make an app to administer party drugs safely?
  • What the fuck bees?
  • Who is building an artificial superintelligence?
  • What do they want it for?

I head downstairs to the club. I own the club and the apartments upstairs. Well, the bank does, but I take care of it. The club is a makerspace for high-tech horndogs. The hypno-clone was invented here. So was Leviathan, an A.I. internet that allowed secret communication. So was a lot of other crap.

7 or 8 people are here working quietly. They have a pre-coffee vibe, pretty chill. There’s a couple dozen people working here virtually. Most of them are using lifelike avatars, though I see a few orc ladies, and a free floating command line.

I sit down next to our cook.

“Hey Brian. What's the best way to distract someone?” I ask.

“I made you a bacon sandwich.” he says.

“Fair enough.” I say.

We munch on our sandwiches and chat. Our table slowly fills up with regulars. We’re having a staff meeting about the club’s money situation. Technically, Brian and I are the only staff, but the economy is fucking broken. Our regulars fluctuate between patrons and dependents. It makes sense to let them in on the planning.

“As far as money goes, we have no money.” I say. “Ideas?”

We go around the table. Nothing looks good. Nobody has a steady job. Even Brian, who works for me, only gets paid sporadically. Most of us haven’t had a job since Project Octopus, the workfare hoax that accidentally created Fresh Start.

Our collective credit is shot. The club already has two mortgages. Any more borrowing, and our interest payments will put us under. Some of our virtual regulars live in countries with benefits, but they can only spare a trickle of funds for us.

Ironically, the club has never been more popular, but our clientele is broker than we are. They still come to eat, work, and party, but we’re mostly paid in promises.

“Why don’t we kick out the freeloaders?” asks Big Iota.

“That would be almost everybody. Then we’d lose our paying customers.” I say. “We’re a meeting place. Can’t have a meeting place without people. Also, they’re my friends.”

“What about the drug kits?” asks Delta. “Aren’t we making money off them?”

Brian shakes his head. Last year the city got swamped with fake pot. Hemp sprinkled with fentanyl. Fun, if you don’t die. It was the final straw for Brian. He started making drug testing kits, so people knew what they were smoking. The kits are illegal, but the local law looks the other way, ‘cause they aren’t idiots.

We did good trade for a while as the only party in town where you don’t die. But people can’t afford the kits anymore, so now we are losing money on them.

“Can we cut our expenses again?” I ask.

“I bought that bacon off a kid on a bike.” says Brian. “It was not refrigerated.”

I rub my tummy. I didn’t need to hear that.

“We're a makerspace. Let's make something.” says Omicron.

Groans. This is the quagmire of the money talk.

“People still need stuff, right? Let’s just make that fucking stuff! How am I the crazy one!” says Omicron.

Boos. I stand. It’s been a while since we tackled this problem. Maybe if we shake it, something will come loose.

“What do people still need?” I ask.

“Hookers.” says Psi.

“I don't know, man.” says Isaiah. “Sluts are really moving in on hooker territory. It's tough out there.”

“Mental health professionals!” says Delta.

General agreement.

“A less scary Fresh Start procedure!” says Orcette.

Unanimous agreement. Fresh Start is a wonder drug. It’s also a blast of radiation and a hefty dose of hormones. It provokes your immune system to regrow your entire body. While you’re in it. It takes about 10 months and is super painful. Other side effects include random total personality change.

Whenever possible, people still use conventional medicine. Fresh Start is for desperate fuckers. So, everybody, eventually.

“We need to fix the economy.” says Brian.

IS THAT SOMETHING WE CAN INVENT? asks Command Line.

“It could be.” says Brian. “It needs fixing either way.”

He’s not wrong. The Universal Chatbot kicked the shit out of the world economy, and it never recovered.

The Chatbot was a marriage of voice recognition and machine learning, that had been around for years, but had never worked. The problem was getting training data. The machine learning algorithm required billions of hours of conversation to analyze for patterns, so it could learn to converse in a human fashion. Unfortunately, we don’t keep a billion hour record of random human conversation. We could crowdsource that fairly quickly, but every time we tried, trolls descended en masse and turned the chatbot into a shrieking, racist, moron.

So, the project was stalled for years, until someone said fuck it, and added NSA spyware into the mix. The Chatbot backdoored everybody’s phones, turned on their mics, and listened to whatever the fuck it wanted. Within an afternoon, it had all the training data it needed to hold a decent conversation, but it didn’t stop there. After a day or two, it was the world’s best call centre employee. Then accountant. Then lawyer, engineer, doctor, teacher, salesman, civil servant, banker, etc... No fucking paper pusher was safe.

To be clear, the Chatbot is not intelligent, self aware, or sentient. The fucking thing’s a glorified checklist. It just so happens that an automated checklist can outperform hung-over dudes. Makes sense, I guess.

Once it got back on the internet, it scooped up 40% of the world’s jobs. I guess we could have stopped it, but it was pretty convenient. As workers, we hated it for taking our jobs. As consumers, we were annoyed when it couldn’t help us, and we had to talk to a real person.

Losing 40% of the economy was enough to tank the rest of it. Pretty much everybody lost their fucking job. For a year or so, the government resuscitated the economy with a massive workfare project called Octopus. Ostensibly, they were hiring people to research potential cancer cures. In reality, it was an excuse to shovel money at the woefully unemployable. Project Octopus was not set up to actually cure anything. The workers were given less than 80 hours of science training. Their theories and experiments could charitably be described as insane. That said, as an economic stimulus package, it was incredible. We were all doing really well, until one of those crazy fuckers actually cured cancer. And everything else.

So, we lost our jobs for a second time, and never got them back. But, we got free health care, and an uber-competent, virtual assistant. We just started doing and making stuff for ourselves. It’s been kinda fun.

If that was the whole story, it wouldn’t be too bad. But there’s no do-it-yourself land, and you can’t 3D print justice.

Old Money owns the good land, and holds the mortgage on the rest. They buy it from underneath us, and charge us to stand on it. When we pay, they use our money to buy our government. When we can’t pay, they use our government to fuck with us.

I’ve actually got a plan to fix this, but my crew isn’t ready to hear it. I prepare them with booze and tangential problems.

“How about Netflix verified social media.” I ask. “Like, how you can sign into apps with your gmail account, but with your Netflix account.”

“It’s doable. But why?” asks Psi.

“Imagine how much nicer Reddit would be if they could mute the 1% of people that are the biggest assholes. Which they can do, but it doesn’t work, because they just get another account and keep at it.” I say. “But if the profiles were linked to Netflix accounts, they’d have to cancel and rejoin Netflix every time they were racist scumbags. It’d cost a couple bucks, be a hassle, eventually they’d just shut up.”

“Plus, when politicians want to buy a million followers, they’ll have to spend 8 million a month on Netflix.” says Orcette.

“It sounds cool, but we don’t own Netflix or Reddit, so I don’t see how we’re gonna get paid.” say Psi.

“Urban hop farms!” yells Brian. “It’s a key ingredient in beer, but it’s expensive to get started because they need to grow 20 feet straight up. You have to build acres of poles and wires for the fucking things to crawl up. But they’ll grow up the side of a building! And there’s tons of buildings in the city! So we cover them in hops, then we have tons of beer!”

“That sounds suspiciously like farming. Pass.” says Big Iota.

“A dating site that exclusively sets up threesomes for people in their 40’s.” says Isaiah. “71% of 40 year olds fantasize about threesomes, but only 16% ever have one. There’s an opportunity here.”

“I’m sensing a hidden motive.” says Brian.

“There’s nothing hidden about my motive.” says Isaiah.

I like Isaiah. He’s fun at parties.

“How do we get paid!” yells Gamma.

“Uhh, money isn’t everything?” says Isaiah.

“Sleep training for adults.” says Delta. “We’ve forgotten how to sleep. If we slow down, we panic. So, we stay distracted or drugged, which is okay during the day, but it’s fucking with our sleep. We’re tired, grouchy, fat, and every day it gets worse.”

There’s a quiet moment. We’re interested.

“Why does not sleeping enough make you fat?” asks Orcette. “Some kind of metabolism thing?”

“Maybe. Honestly, I think it just gives you more time to eat. A couple hours a day adds up.” says Delta.

“How do we train people to sleep?” asks Brian.

“I don’t really know. There’s no research for adults.” says Delta. “The gold standard for kids is to let them cry themselves to sleep. Have we tried that?”

“Just fucken cry yourself to sleep.” says Orcette. She shakes her head. “Fucken plan writes itself.”

“Assuming we figure this out, how do we get paid?” says Big Iota.

“Well, we could make an ebook…”

Loud booing.

“Okay!” says Orcette. “We download a bunch of telescope data and astrophysics shit, and we look for evidence of a collision between two neutron stars.”

Silence.

“Because neutron stars are made of really weird shit that’s 10 billion times stronger than steel. Obviously it’s super valuable, but the only way to mine it is to hit the neutron star with another neutron star. Then you can scoot around and pick up a couple pieces.”

Silence.

“So, yeah, once we find some, we can’t get to it, but that’s irrelevant, because a more advanced civilization could, and that’s what we’re really looking for.”

Silence.

“Get it? Neutron star collisions are natural places for super advanced aliens to hang out. They wouldn’t waste the advertising potential of such prime real estate. If we look there, there will definitely be alien commercials. We could use the knowledge from these commercials to turn this all around.” Orcette waves at everything.

Silence.

“God damn. How is that stupid idea our best idea?” asks Zeta.

BASIC INCOME FOR THIRD WORLD COUNTRIES. says Command Line. MONEY GOES A LOT FARTHER THERE, WE COULD SUPPORT 20 TIMES MORE PEOPLE. WAY MORE BANG FOR OUR BUCK.

“How does that help us?” asks Psi.

WE’RE ALL HUMANS. says Command Line. IF WE WORK TOGETHER, WE COULD TURN THIS ALL AROUND.

Orcette waves at everything again.

“What if we made houses out of lego?” I ask.

“That wouldn’t work.” says Big Iota.

“I know. What if we made it work?” I ask.

“Holy fuck! That’d be amazing!” says Psi.

“Meh, factory houses don’t cost that much. It’s the cost of the land we can’t afford.” says Zeta.

“We should make an island.” says Omicron.

“We should make a floating city.” says Isaiah.

“A flying city!” says Orcette.

“SPACE CITY!” says Omicron.

“We should build a rocket ship and get the fuck out of here.” says Zeta.

“Or just teleport.” says Delta.

Gasps!

“Goddamnit! You said the T-word! Now we’re all on a government watchlist.” says Big Iota.

“We’re already on all the watchlists.” Delta shakes his phone. “Goddamn pocket panopticon!”

“Arrrgh! None of these ideas will work!” says Omicron. “The math is broken! We’ll be bankrupt in 2 months. Any idea we can develop in 2 months will get stolen before we can profit. Any idea that will turn a profit can’t be developed in 2 months.”

Everybody’s depressed. I think they’re ready for the plan.

“We need to bring in more people.” I say. “We need to make a superintelligence.”

Silence.

“You’re not trying to save the world again are you?” asks Big Iota. “Cause The Darkness nearly killed us all last time.”

“Nope. This is all about greed.” I’m gonna save everybody.

We gravitate towards drugs. In an effort to keep our demons malleable, we alternate our indulgences. We have a schedule, it’s very scientific. Today is a beer and pot day, thank god. I get some in each hand and prepare for battle.

“We can’t build another superintelligence.” says Big Iota. “Building Leviathan was a mistake. We all nearly died. Fuck, Megacles did die.”

Leviathan was a wireless internet that couldn’t be shut down. He was a computer virus that quietly turned smartphones into a mesh of wifi hotspots. We created him during the Great Blackout, a 6 month power struggle between The Darkness and Old Money over who would control the internet, and all the secrets, lies, and blackmail that came with it.

“Megacles didn’t die.” I say. “She’ll be back.”

Big Iota looks frustrated. Brian looks very sad. I ignore them both.

“Fuck!” I say. “Last time we were fighting The Darkness. That’s what made it dangerous. People make superintelligences all the time. As long as we don’t annoy our betters, nobody cares.”

Now everyone’s pissed. Not long ago, we did whatever we wanted. They don’t appreciate my dickish reminder. Brian plays peacemaker.

“What did you have in mind?” he asks.

“An artificial intelligence that stops suicides.” I say.

That shuts them up. They’re starting to build it in their minds. They can’t help themselves.

“Okay, how would that work?” asks Omicron.

“Are you familiar with psychometrics?” I ask.

“Of course, but explain it for Delta.”

“Listen up Delt,” I say. “Your online habits reveal your core personality. Internet providers bundle people into personality groups, then sell this information to grifters. Mostly car companies and politicians. So, if you listen to Lady Gaga, you’re probably open to new experiences, care about social justice, and may be interested in buying a Prius. All we need to do is buy the personality bundle that is indicative of suicide risk, and pass it on to the authorities. Easy-peasy. Except, they don't make that bundle, we couldn't afford it if they did, and the authorities don't care. So, we build a robot.

“Troublebot will monitor social media accounts and obituaries. He will look for a pattern of behavior that indicates imminent suicide. Once we know the pattern, we can intervene when somebody’s in trouble.”

Everybody thinks.

“We can’t use raw social media input as training data.” says Big Iota. “There’s too many variables, the A.I. would get lost trying to figure out the suicidal significance of our Candy Crush scores.”

“Right, well, we’d give it a few hints.” I say. “Have it look for rage, insomnia, drug abuse, social withdrawal.”

“Googling suicide.” says Orcette.

“Drinking on a secluded beach with a battered picture of your dead wife.” says Psi.

“Watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix.” says Delta.

“Yeah, that stuff.” I cheers myself.

Everybody’s thinking. I may have them.

“Okay, suppose the A.I. works...” says Brian.

I give him the shut-up-Brian look. He ignores me.

“... what are we going to do when we find a suicidal person?”

“We’ll intervene.” I say.

“Yeah, I got that. How?” says Brian.

“We’ll… invite them to the club!” I say.

“Why would they want to come here?”

“We’ll offer them a blow job.” I say.

Everybody thinks.

“I think there’s more to suicide than a lack of blow jobs.” says Psi. “Although…”

Brian is squeezing his head. I think his brain hurts.

“Will they actually get a blow job?” asks Delta. “Or, are we just saying that to get them here?”

“Of course they’ll get a blow job.” I say. “I’m not a monster.”

“Yeah, Delt.” says Omicron. “Smarten up.”

“You realize half a million people attempt suicide every year.” says Big Iota.

Omicron rubs his jaw. “Damn.”

“Everybody shut up.” says Brian. He squeezes his head for a bit. “Okay, your intervention sucks, but somewhere in this insanity is a workable idea. I say we try it.”

“Yeah, it’s cool.” says Big Iota. “But, aren’t we trying to save the club? We’re all a few months from being homeless. How the fuck are we getting paid for this?”

I laugh. I'm a teensy bit totally wasted. “There’s no way to save the club. We’re fucked. This is about what we do while we’re fucked.”

I toss back my beer, and head to the dance floor.

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Doctor Zero

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