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From the Magazine Society

“I was one of the lucky ones…”

(Illustration: Clara Kirkpatrick for Techonomy)

I woke up one morning to a loud, insistent voice. It was telling me to wake up. It took me a while to realize it was Siri. And nothing prepared me for what she was saying. “GET TO THE DONUT!” she screamed. “GET! TO! THE! DONUT!” My response was, of course, “Huh?” “Donut?” “WTF?”  Then I checked my email, as you do when your dreams are rudely interrupted.

Very long story short, but the end of the world was nigh, and my only means of survival was to get to Cupertino. Cupertino? Of course. Where else, I wonder, would you go when you’re trying to detour from dystopia? I made it, somehow. But this story isn’t about that journey, it’s about what I found when I got here.

We’re now known as the House of Apple. Ours is the Appleland—a giant, donut-shaped, and seemingly perfect, panoptic utopia.

In the beginning, back before we all got here, all the Apple-ites and techies, the architects and designers, the media and intelligentsia, talked about the donut like it was a temple to a new kind of utopian company life. “It will revolutionize the way people work together,” they said. “It will form the blueprint for a new paradigm in office buildings,” they said (as if we needed yet another one of those). “The buildings will seamlessly integrate not only into the landscape and nature, but into the environment—100 percent sustainable and climate resilient,” they said.

It was ambitious, and innovative, and absolutely beautiful…

But it wasn’t about building an office. It was something quite different. It was in fact a modern, techno version of a medieval fortress. It was built, not to be open and harmonious with everything, but to enclose and protect, to keep certain people and things out. The Apple Ring, despite its beauty, was a walled city, planned down to the last detail to be effortlessly and endlessly self-sustaining when the inevitable end came. The vision turned out to be not merely “the best office building in the world”: it was the survival of humanity itself. In hindsight, maybe it was a predictable ambition coming from the richest company in Silicon Valley.

An iPhone was required for access.  But of course not everyone with an iPhone could get in, or even get there.

But I was one of the chosen. I found myself on the inside. We’re led to believe selection was random, kind of like how they pick lottery numbers. But if you listen to rumors (and let’s face it, who doesn’t? We are, after all, mostly human), then we were mindfully and deliberately chosen by an algorithm designed to identify those who could optimally contribute to the Age of Techno-Humanity.

The truth is, I’ve never figured out why I was picked. On entry, the human curation seemed designed to appear satisfyingly democratized. But it became clear that many were left out. How were we chosen? Why were we chosen? Who or what was doing the choosing?!

I’ve been in here for an indeterminate amount of time. I’m not sure when I realized it, but I stopped aging almost as soon as I arrived. Everyone did. Time ceased to have meaning. Once we’d undergone the medical intake, which cross-referenced data from our microbiome, DNA, neurograph, social graph and FICO score, we were connected to the Internet of Things via a nanosensor. Then we were issued Burberry-esque jumpsuits (yes, Angela was in on it) and Yeezys, then shown to our micro apartments.

(Illustration: Clara Kirkpatrick for Techonomy)

Things worked out well in techno-utopia for a while. Ethical super intelligences ensured order. There was no visible conflict. We had a universal basic income! We didn’t need healthcare, because we hardly ever got sick. On the rare times we did, personalized medi-techno updates and cured what ailed us almost instantly. Nutrition was plentiful because of the indigenous flora, the giant vertical greenhouses deep underground, and Soylent.

We didn’t get bored in the old sense of the word, because our minds were in constant education and upload mode. Population growth wasn’t an issue as we only reproduced as needed, on-demand (yes, we basically 3-D printed babies). And EVERYTHING was blockchain-based! Sleep was a thing of the past (sorry, Arianna). Kite surfing (virtual, of course) was the “sport” of choice. And nobody talked about the jobs or work of the future.

It was great.  Or so I thought.

Once you scratched the surface, and with time (which was endless) you realized that things weren’t quite right. Our muscles atrophied from lack of physical activity. The default realities were virtual, augmented or mixed, but never real. Ultimately we are neither man nor machine, and it turns out there are constant glitches in the middle ground.

We’re now grappling with the unintended consequences of our past decisions and actions.  There’s a reason evolution took time and institutions existed. And no matter how techo-enhanced we are, it has become clear that what has made us truly human—our emotions, our feelings—is  not fully quantifiable or digitizable. Even our most independent, intelligent mechanical creations get tripped up by our own complex neurological and emotional responses. Despite our many advances, we don’t seem to have cracked the code on the human brain, or the soul.

Data began to take on a life of its own: self-replicating and autonomous. It clogged up the internet of everything, and the information on which the AIs fed became increasingly meaningless. Some kind of techno-disease began to infect the system, clouding the judgment of the machines and creating friction between our fellow robot citizens and us enhanced humans. Yet we continue to muddle along.

For a while there was contact with other techno-settlements. There was Musk-on-Mars (designed by Zaha Hadid, who Elon had brilliantly thought to cryogenically freeze just for this purpose). And there were the cavernous, underground doomsday bunkers of Amazonia, with their endless supplies of reading material, packaged goods and Spam.

So what is it like out there? How are those techno-civilizations doing now? We don’t actually know. The elegant metal fins on those giant curved glass windows haven’t lifted since the day they closed.

 

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