Thursday, December 19, 2002

The inevitable future

It must come true, sometime soon somehow…
Misery and suffering will be words to be forgotten, forever

- Johnny Mathis, When a Child is Born

The Future: a movie synopsis

Our hero - dishevelled but ruggedly handsome - emerges from the sewers of New York where he’s spent 20 years living with mutant rats.

He discovers a world of horror - machines have taken over the world. The entire population of humans are lying in tiny boxes, electrodes sticking out of their heads, wired up to silent computers. At first sight, and to the un-heroic eye, they appear to be enjoying their incarceration; the unearthly noise hanging over the city is the sound of a million people quietly chuckling to themselves. As our dismayed hero moves swiftly from one tortured individual to the next, the chuckles escalate into uncontrolled giggles, culminating in bloodcurdling gales of laughter.

Our hero - his rugged brow creased with the burden of being humanity’s last hope - struggles to turn off the machines and free his fellow citizens. Tearfully, he greets his weakened comrades who seize him passionately.

But to his surprise, our conquering hero isn't born aloft in gratitude. Instead, his new friends seem upset with him. They grab him, shave his head and pin him down inside his own little box. He struggles, he fights… but he is but one and they are many. As the electrodes bite into his skull, he grits his teeth and steels his mind to repel the horrific brainwashing he's about to experience.

And it's working! A triumph! His mental strength is too much for this simple machine. Suddenly the thrill of success courses through his body, a thrill like he's never felt before. He's at one with himself, a goddamn hero after all! He can do anything. Anything he bloody well likes - he is all-powerful. And he chuckles with the joy of it all. As the chuckles escalate into delighted giggles, he realises he's free! Free from the dark forces! Free from the tyranny! Finally content, finally at the end of his journey, he barks with laughter as he discovers what it is to be truly alive.

His fellow citizens shake their heads in affectionate amusement. ”Well, most of us had to try it before we believed it…" they sigh as they hurry back to their cubicles, quickly plugging the electrodes back into their heads and cranking the power up to 10.

The Times, London: 3rd September 2049

Businessman becomes first to take "happy pill".

Yesterday, Jake McClure, Chairman of Genasoft and one of the world's richest men, announced that he would be "retiring from ordinary life" and consigning himself to the so-called 'Happiness Bed'. Although others are believed to have experienced 'The Bed of Roses' for short periods, McClure is thought to be the first to commit for the rest of his life, and is certainly the first to talk openly to the world's press. McClure, along with 'a dozen or so' of the world's wealthiest individuals, is said to have been a heavy investor in the research for the last 10 years.

McClure, 43, answered questions from the press:

Aren't you be sad to be leaving your wife and children?
Yes, indeed I am very sad. But I know that the feeling of sadness will not be with me tomorrow. Tomorrow, and for the rest of my life, I'll know only joy, delight and satisfaction."

Won't you be bored?
If you're serious about that question, you perhaps don't have a clear understanding of how our brains are wired up, or how The Bed rewires the brain. Boredom is a device of the subconscious brain designed to influence the choices made by the conscious mind. I won't be bored, simply because the circuits that would make me feel bored will be disabled.

Don't good feelings in life come from overcoming difficulties?
Indeed they do. That's absolutely the way it works in 'normal' life: our brains only give us satisfaction when we overcome difficulties. But these feelings that we crave are nothing more than neurological events - particular patterns of neurones firing in particular ways. Currently, our brains are wired up by millions of years of natural selection so that we only experience these feelings when we improve our genetic survival chances. But that's just wiring. It can be rewired, just like a light bulb can be rewired. We've simply put in a new switch at the other end of the room... only this time it's going to be permanently in the 'on' position.

Isn't your life pretty good anyway?
Yes it is. But it's nowhere near as perfect as you might imagine. We all assume that great success, a wonderful relationship and huge wealth will elevate our lives to a degree of satisfaction and delight not experienced by so-called 'normal' people. We assume such a life will be free of fear, free of pain, free of worry. But it isn't. My brain is programmed always to want more than i already have, and that's what i experience: I cannot free myself from the desire for more, or a feeling that the grass is greener. Besides, even if my life were significantly more wonderful than yours, you have to understand that the intensity of the feelings that i will be experiencing tomorrow will be way beyond what is normally available to a human being: feelings that in our normal lives are rarely glimpsed and very brief will be my minute-by-minute reality. I can't wait.

Could you tell us about the research project that has lead to this possibility?
Well, that's quite confidential. I've been a contributor for the last ten years, but the project has been operational in various forms for more than fifty years. Many of the top scientists are involved, forsaking publicity because they believe that such research is the only thing worth studying.

Aren't you concerned about the impact on society?
That's two questions. Am i concerned? Yes, i am concerned, but i won't be concerned tomorrow. Second question: Will society break down? Well, maybe. Certainly when the technology becomes more affordable there will be profound changes to society in general, profound changes in people's priorities. The impact on the economy will be interesting to see... but I won't be around to see it, because it won't be as interesting as actually being on The Bed.

Aren't you being a bit selfish?
Absolutely. But I've discovered that my fear of being regarded as selfish isn't a sufficiently powerful feeling to forego a life of barely-conceivable bliss for.

Are you indeed the first?
I'm the first to publicise, yes.

But not the first?
At this final question, Mr Mclure smiled and turned away from the reporters.

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