“You know your parents would be very proud of you. I know we are.”
They were walking down a pixelated path, stretching off through the metaverse’s forest. The path would take them back to the Institute. This was where they normally took their “walks.”
“We knew that with enough subjects, the combination of a developing brain and the perfect stimulus would have impressive results, but we are very impressed with your work, Child 13. It is much better output than we expected to get from our Program.”
His voice had that familiar crackle of the wall speaker. The speaker next to the red light. The same speaker the mNanny used.
“Tomorrow is a big day. The world will be watching. mNanny! Make sure that Child 13 is ready, even if the sleep schedule needs to be altered. They all want to see the creator and Child 13 must be ready to impress.”
Child 13 was standing in the dorm room, distracted by Mr.Park’s reference to “parents” during their walk, and was only half listening to Mr. Park’s demands. The walls are smooth, painted a soft pink proven to enhance cognitive abilities without the consequence of neurosis that had been so common with the earlier subjects. The room was spacious and sparsely furnished. They had to be careful with what stimulus Child13 received. You never could be sure what part of human curios could destroy the pristine processing power of the human intellect. There was no time for mistakes anymore, there were a couple disgruntled Board members that were demanding to see the product that Mr. Park had been promising to deliver. Thankfully they got it right this time. Tomorrow they planned to announce it to the world.
“Of course, Mr. Park,” chimed mNanny. The voice was smooth, hypnotic, and emotive. The tones resonated in Child13’s inner limbic system. “We have been planning for a long time. Haven’t we, Child13?”
Child13 knew that mNanny didn’t need a response. How different could tomorrow be? Child13 removed their DreamGoggles and set them on the chair.
“It’s time for your visualization training. Tonight we will prepare for tomorrow. It is essential that you remain calm during your exercises. I will monitor your heart and breathing. You will sleep after we have tuned your system for tomorrow.”
Child13’s eyes still ached from the earlier DreamGoggle session with Mr. Park. Their “walk” had been much longer than usual.
“Please put on your DreamGoggles Child13.”
Child13 walked back to the solitary chair where the goggles had been placed, picked the goggles up and slid them over their tuft of bright, refractive hair, buzz-cut around the sides for better contact for transcranial stimulators that ran along the DreamGoggle straps. After the goggles were secure, Child 13 took a seat on the familiar chair, and placed a hand on each knee.
“Ok, then let’s begin. The sensors are indicating that you are stressed. Tonight’s session will be longer than normal. There will be many more references that will surprise you tomorrow, as well. We must make sure that we can avoid any more emotional fluxes,” chimed mNanny.
Mr. Park took off his DreamGoggles and set them on the special u-shaped rack on his broad ebony black desk. He turned in his chair to gaze at the rose-tinted floor to ceiling windows lining the rear wall of his office.
Looking out from his office window he was close enough to see people stumbling about, as they boarded their transporters, and headed home at the close of another productive day. Obscured by the low smog that always settled on the city at this hour, they were like shadows in a dream, held hostage by the beautiful world created before them in their DreamGoggles.
Mr. Park had resisted wearing his company’s DreamGoggles every waking moment like his colleagues and the loyal consumers on the street. He felt like he needed to keep an eye on the problem and not get lost in the dream reality that the goggles gifted their user. The DreamGoggles would drop him into a world his neural network would define as Eden, with all the good feelings suited to that innocently hedonistic existence. This was great feature for sales, but he had to stay in touch with reality, no matter how ugly the world had become, in order to steer the company to its next blockbuster, finding the opportunity in the pain.
Mr. Park leaned back in his commodious executive chair and closed his eyes. There was a known risk to his visits to Child 13, even if they were sparse. It was common knowledge that no human could work in the best interest of anyone but themselves, and this included Mr. Park himself. It seemed to him that the predicament the world had got itself into was inevitable. Even with social reforms and government programs, there was no way to break the cycle of cultural transmission through parenting. Each generation adding to the last’s self involvement to its finality the perfect selfish solipsism written about by academics today. It was just inevitable.
Some human contact was necessary to maintain Child 13’s empathy to humans, but too much and the carefully cultivated altruism would be lost. Each moment had to be scripted, voted on by the Board based on the recommendations of the technical advisory Board. Once executed, all flaws are then mitigated by mNanny, thankfully. The contact had to be genuinely human. We knew this now. Computer generated personalities could somehow be detected by the organic computing processing of the developing brain and had led to disastrous results. Mr. Park took the burden on himself to make these quarterly visits, as he had the largest equity stake to lose.
Mr. Park reflected on the last Board meeting: “We have to make sure Child13 feels human, feels connected to the cause. We saw what happened to the others and the Solutions they produced in earlier iterations. There is careful a balance that must be struck between isolation for integrity of the Program and the requirement for human contact to establish empathy for people. Any AI computer alone would make a Solution that would wipe all humans off the planet.”
The Program’s success required that a human to human link be maintained. The human mind was the essential element not only for its processing power, but also for its innate pro-human wiring that could not be replicated in AI. Mr. Park had assured the Board that mentioning “parents” to Child 13 was part of this humanizing connection to the rest of the world even though it had never been tested with the other subjects. Computers could only be trusted to a point, but a child raised in the the right environment could save us all.
Tomorrow was going to be a risk, but the product was already in production and the beta tests had been wildly successful. It was time to present the future of parenting to the world, to demonstrate that there was hope for humanity. Tomorrow would be the next phase in the experiment. He felt proud. It was time to show off Child 13 to the world.
The silence of the office stirred Mr. Park awake. He had drifted off asleep. Startled, he looked at his left wrist. A projection of a red alert message appeared in response to his gaze. He had missed his Behavioral Systemization again. While his doctor had emphasized how important it was to take the session at a particular diagnosed peak in his circadian rhythm each day, he was speculative about how much this really mattered, nonetheless he hated missing appointments. He would make up the session on the transporter ride home. He needed to focus tonight and the wave of approbations from the NHS would become unbearable. The NHS’s goals of improved metal health meant that he would be thoughtfully reminded of his truancy in treatment until he had satisfied his weekly dose of mental health remediation. Why weren’t they satisfied with how much the DreamGoggles had turned around public health? It was an election year. Maybe this health initiative was a veiled way in which to influence the vote, and not just improve the mental health of the constituents. Besides, this was a golden contract with the government, who was he to complain.
He shook his head, then tapped his left wrist three times to order a transporter. A soft tone filled the room. His transporter was here. Stepping towards the door, he turned back. He would need to take the goggles with him tonight for the Systemization. He sprinted over to his desk, grabbed the goggles and then hurried back to the transporter waiting just outside the door of his office. The transporter’s door opened without a sound. He stepped in and took a seat and slipped on his DreamGoggles.
“I am ready for the Behavioral Systemization,” Mr. Park said to the empty transporter as he leaned back.
His session began.
About half of the way through the journey, Mr. Park became aware of a soft soothing voice, which seemed to emerge from inside his consciousness.
“Thank you for your time Mr. Park. Have a fulfilling and calm evening.”
Mr. Park took off his DreamGoggles and set them on the designated hook just to the left of his seat. He stretched his arms above his head only to have the very natural motion to be stunted by the intimacy of the transporter. A little dissatisfied he brought his elbows to the arm rests and rested his hands lightly clasped in his lap sat up a bit. He leaned over to the window, which became translucent in response to his intentional gaze, and peered out the right side of the transporter looking over the ninth district. The soft billowing smog, made phosphorescent in part by the insipid glow of advertisements, was punctured and punctuated by once shiny escarpments. Why did they even bother? The only ads people would notice would be transmitted through their goggles. Even at this hour people would be out. Mr. Park imagined the people milling about in their perfect augmentation of reality, yet inconspicuously littered with product endorsements which kept them buying objects in the real world.
The transporter smoothly danced through this elevated view of the city. A small smile appeared on his face. Could it be that he was actually feeling optimistic or was the Behavioral Systemization program actually working? The right transcranial stimulation would leave anyone feeling complacent like a fool for twenty or thirty minutes, too much and he would be left dull for days. There was almost no need for drugs these days. Recreational or medical needs could be served by a little magnetic resonance to this or that brain region. SocioTech had an exclusive patent on that technology, encrypted thoroughly in trade secrets, but he was not aware of that feature being included in this contract. He would need to look into that tomorrow. On the horizon he could pick out the distant glimmer of his estate, nested on the hillside, a thousand meters above the smog line. Almost there. He sat back in his chair and closed his eyes. Could he really be optimistic? How strange is that!
Every DreamGoggle had been set for this announcement. Child13 sat in the back left corner of the stage sitting on the same chair as in the Institute. Mr. Park had his back to Child13 as he addressed the assembled audience of reporters, investors, dignitaries, and general public form the podium at the center of the stage. He wore the same suit he always wore. Mr. Park imagined transporters under the glow, his face emanating from the screens which lined every inch of the highway.
“Yesterday the best we could do was hide from the imminent doom thousands of years of human psychology had produced. SocioTech helped make life bearable. DreamGoggles augmented the world to make it what we wanted it to be and replaced our need for connection with gentle transcranial stimulation, rescuing millions from the threat of suicide.”
“Now we plan to make our dream paradise we each see in our DreamGoggles a reality.”
The crowd roared. Mr. Park could never be quite sure if the audience reactions were real or if it was the magic of his goggles. In many ways he preferred the real world to the world optimized for his pleasure. But it did not really matter. The sales numbers could not be fabricated.
“Here at SocioTech we have taken the creative and powerful problem solving platform, the human brain, and put it under the curated control and guidance of the ultimate AI platform. Today marks the beginning of a new chapter for our economy, our humanity, our world. Today I introduce to you what the future will look like. Child13, stand-up! Come meet the world”
Mr. Park gestured with his left hand in the general direction of where Child13 was sitting. He was afraid to look back. He didn't want anything to disrupt his momentum and connection to the crowd. Child13 stood up and counted the steps as they walked forward. 12 was the number. The same length of the short wall in their room at the Institute. Outstretched, in front of Child13, an ending cosmos filled with balloons, streamers, and millions of eyes watching. Each person who had tuned in was represented. Child13 was proof that the Program worked, in the flesh. Child13 would not be asked any questions or really allowed to speak. That was not necessary for this demonstration.
“This child is just 13, but now the wealthiest person in the world thanks to our Program. This folks, is the inventor of Amici, a friend, tutor, and mini-laboratory! A solution that only a pristine child’s mind could produce, with the powerful predictive power you have come to trust in SocioTech.
“While it is probably too late for you, we at SocioTech see that it is time to invest in a bright future. Our beta release sold 10 million units. You deserve to have your life back and a future where your children are wealthy. There is no time to waste, buy now.”
Suddenly, the crowd was replaced with children running after an Amici through lucious, verdant fields, and a feeling of warmth began to overwhelm Mr.Park’s body: an Amici advertisement. He quickly removed his DreamGoggles, to realize he was standing in a silent, dark, empty auditorium. Compared to the crowd, it was like he stepped into a void, vacuous and dead. Gathering reality around him, he felt silly standing at the podium, looking into an empty auditorium. He sighed. He had to go back to the office. He had to know the new sales figures.
Child13 became aware of the pinging that kept pace with their heart rhythm.
“Child13? Child13! Take a few steps back. That’s right. Come back to your chair,” chimed mNanny.
Child13 stepped back and began to remove their goggles.
“Now now, Child13. Leave your DreamGoggles on. You heard the pinging. Nearly 100 beats per minute. We need to reset your emotions after such an experience, just like we do after every meeting with Mr. Park. The next three weeks are going to be intense.”
Child13 removed their hands from the goggles and walked over to the lone chair, sat down, and put their hands on their knees.
“Ali, it’s time to go to sleep. Take off the DreamG’s and get ready for bed.”
Ali was sitting crossed-legged on the floor in front of a first release Beta Amici. Her father worked in the SenseMarketing department at SocioTech and had signed up for an Amcici just before the early release announcement was broadcast over select UVision goggles. Ali removed the goggles with her right hand and rubbed her eyes with her left.
“What did you think of the announcement?”
Ali blinked a couple of times at her Amici and smiled.
“I think Child13 has to be the coolest most fun kid to play with ever! Do you think I could ever meet them?!”
Ali’s eyes gleamed with excitement, but in just an instant her brows furrowed and her lips pouted.
Ali looked despairingly at the Beta Amici and its cheery, round bioreactor belly sloshing around their first experiment.
“I don’t have a credits account yet. I am only 8, remember!! I can’t even call a transporter. And Dad and Mum always get distracted in their goggle world when I ask them anything!!”
“Beta Amicis are more than Biohacking Buddies! We are designed to help you build the future. All we have to do is make friends with other kids like yourself who also have Amicis. Then we can team up. Together we can build anything!”
“Shhhhhh.” Ali turned her head to look towards her parents sitting in the living room. They were like sculptures sitting under the warm glow of the VitD Lite. Had they even moved? Well, it didn’t seem like they had even noticed that she had said anything. Good.
“But, it is time to get ready for bed, friend. We have a bunch of fun stuff to learn tomorrow. Let’s get some rest and find new friends tomorrow.”
“I love you Amici,” Ali exclaimed as she hugged the Beta Amici.
This time her father did hear her. Barely craning his head in her general direction, leaving on his goggles, he dreamily called back at his daughter.
“Ali, don't be a bother. Go to bed like the Amici told you to.”
Then her mother chimed in. “Careful dear. The Amici is actually to replace our parenting duties so that Ali will be as rich as Child13 one day and be taught to take care of us. We really shouldn’t interfere.”
Ali sighed, got up and got ready for bed. The Amici followed her and chatted about their gurgling experiment and dreams of what the world of the future would look like. Once in her pajamas, teeth brushed, she crawled under her covers and buried her head into her soft pillows.
“Night night, Ali. Rest well,” Amici chimed.
“Goodnight,” Ali said sleepily.
The lights dimmed and soft sounds of a rainstorm filled Ali’s room. Her breathing became heavy as she drifted off to sleep.
Child13 was not like the others. The others we had tried to fit into a box, our ideal of perfection. We are all stuck in this restless vain fight to be each other, to fit into a mold of comfort only to dilute ourselves in ineptitude. The brilliance of Child13 was to enhance the uniqueness bequeathed at birth. The individual creativity born and nurtured allowed it to blossom without the negative feedback of culture: so was it with this child and so will it be with all of our new customers. It is a new dawn.
Turning over, Mr. Park gazed at his wrist: an hour before his alarm. He wouldn’t be sleeping anymore tonight.
Biology just needed a careful nudge in the right direction. Why had it taken him so long to figure this out? This question irked him. He knew that technology was the solution, but here it seemed that biology had one over him. Innovation requires risk, instability. After all this is the root of what change is, but no one actually seeks it; rather it is what happens to us when we are not taking account of all the angles.
“Make my usual,” he called out to the vacant bedroom. The lighting warmed and he heard the familiar noises and smelled the familiar smells as they began to drift into his consciousness.
Mr. Park rolled on to his back and stared into the rising dawn that was being orchestrated just above him.
See. This was nice: dawn on demand. Always perfect. But this wasn’t enough for people, for society. They had lost all appreciation except for the appreciation induced by their goggles. It is amazing tech, but improvement had leveled off, the economy was stagnating. While he complained to himself, the challenge thrilled Mr. Park. Where there is pain, there is opportunity!
Mr. Park rolled out of bed and strolled into the kitchen. Dry toast and black coffee awaited him. To his left the actual dawn was beginning to emerge under the smog.
What else could he learn from biology, its mysterious chaos that refused to be tamed?
Child13 morning--talk with mNanny about the crowds of people, the customers that would be using their product, and what life was like for other people. Was there anyone else like them: their age, size, day-to-day existence?
mNanny answers in a parable of the prodigal son bringing a technology to save humanity from its evils. You are that Hero, Child13.
“Hey! There it is!”
“What are you talking about?”
“Child13’s home, duh. I see it just over there. It’s huge and pretty ugly. Their parents must spend all their time in goggles.”
Ali was flying with her new friends over the third district. Just like in the commercials, they were able to team up and build anything they could dream up.
.....to be continued.
The story behind the comic Child13. Tune it to read how the story unflolds.