Nelson walked downstairs as the early morning sun started to filter through the windows. His feet were familiar with each step and he didn’t turn on any lights in an effort to avoid waking the family. It was his favorite time of the day, and no one else would be up for hours. He made a cup of tea and went to the living room to read. He opened the window and let the cold mountain air filter in. That was when he heard the low rumble of the garage opening up. He ran to the garage door and opened it just in time to see Madison pulling in. She wasn’t in the government issued all-terrain vehicle though; she was in his vintage diesel BMW.
“Oh my god, Madison, what are you doing?”
“Daddy, I was careful, not a scratch on it. See, you can trust me.”
His voice was shaky. “How long were you out driving?”
“It was just a small party and then I stayed over. No big deal. My friends said you have the coolest taste in cars.”
“How much fuel?”
Madison was quiet as she realized what her dad was asking. “I… I don’t know.”
Nelson leaned in and looked at the fuel gauge. It was almost at zero.
He ran back into the house at a sprint.
Nelson took the stairs two at a time and ran into his bedroom. “Mary! Wake up. Turn everything off, everything. Madison drove the BMW all night. Cut power remotely to the cottage, I don’t care if it freezes.” Mary slowly woke, and then, realizing the gravity of the situation, she jumped on her tablet and made a call. Nelson had already run back out of the room and was now shouting at the kids to wake up.
“Felix! Paige! I need you to get up and power everything down right now. If you have any products you ordered that haven’t been made yet, cancel the order. Same with clothes. Paige, power down any atmosphere controls you have at your college dorm.”
“Dad! All my plants will die.”
“I don’t care. I think we went over.”
Nelson ran through a final check of the house to make sure everything was off. When he returned, his family had silently collected in the kitchen. They all understood what had happened. There was no sound except for the intermittent sniffle out of Madison.
“I’m sorry. I forgot we took those flights this month. I…” Madison’s lips were shaky as she spoke.
Nelson pulled her in. “It’s okay. We are together and okay. That’s all that matters.” His breathing was returning as time passed, and his thoughts got more hopeful. It had already been ten minutes; maybe they were going to be okay. It would be difficult for the rest of the month but there were only three days left. He knew they could do it. They couldn’t eat meat but there were enough vegetables in the garden. He could go without food if he needed to. He was thinking through the solutions when he heard the sirens in the distance.
“That could be anything,” Mary whispered.
No one spoke or moved as the siren grew louder. Nelson knew. He broke from the group and put one foot ahead of the other as he slowly walked down the hallway to the front door. He was almost at the door when the knock came. With one hand on the doorknob, Nelson turned and looked at his family. “I love all of you so much. And I know you feel the same.”
He opened the door to see the bright blue of the police uniform. The officer stepped forward and began to read from his tablet.
“Your residence has exceeded the carbon threshold required to live in this jurisdiction. By orders of the president we have the right to cease all carbon impact activity, including those related to food and drink. If you need either, you will be provided with a government issued intravenous solution until your new carbon credits are issued. Within five days you are required to relocate to the carbon output jurisdiction that meets your new threshold. We will have ascertained what that level is shortly. Are there any questions before we commence preparations for the assisted relocation program?”
Nelson looked at the officer and back at his family. “It was me alone. I was the reason the threshold was exceeded. I took a joyride in an old diesel car. You will find it registered to me.”
The policeman had his head down, scrolling through his tablet for the requisite paperwork, but he lifted it up and smiled at the news that he now only had one form to complete. “That is perfectly within your rights, sir. It will be only you that is processed then, assuming the family will not be joining you.”
Nelson turned around to see Mary clutching Felix and Paige a few steps back. They had their faces pressed against her. Madison stood alone to the side, with tears pouring down her face. It looked as if she was going to open her mouth, but Nelson gave all of them a shake of his head.
“Okay, then.” The officer seemed to be in a hurry. “I will be back in a few days and all the relevant details are in your email. Just need to take a photo for identification.” The officer pulled up his tablet, snapped the photo, nodded, and then closed the door behind him. The family all stood in the foyer, staring at the closed door, and no one could find the words.
Nelson dropped his bags on the ground and collapsed on the bed. It had been two weeks of travel. He looked around the tiny apartment. It felt as if a dust or soot had touched everything. He walked to the window and opened the blinds slowly to see the dark red sky. The city stretched for miles ahead of him, and he could see another superstorm forming in the distance. He hadn’t been planning on opening the window but suddenly realized it wasn’t even an option with the way the building was designed. He shook as he spoke the word. “Earth.”
---------- The Other 19 Stories ------
While We Dream
A society dealing with overpopulation forces half its citizens into a deep sleep to conserve resources.
Overpopulation is a concern that science fiction has always grappled with. Typically we see the overpopulation resulting in some sort of dystopian future but rarely do we see technology coming up with a solution, as it has for so many of the problems we’ve faced. The “solutions” to overpopulation may be just as scary though.
Friends of the Family
Clones have become the best way for the wealthy to expand their personal empires. Well paid professionals will often have several versions of themselves performing similar work throughout the country, while this wealth accrues to the original creator. A dangerous thing can happen though when the selfish and narcissistic are able to multiply without limit.
The rationale for this story is that the benefits of technology, while fantastic, often accrue disproportionately to the wealthy. There is a risk that these divides continue to expand as time goes on. Even in the present the wealthy can provide their children with designer genetics at birth, and then superior nutrition and healthcare as they grow.
One Simple Thing
An experiment is designed to prove ghosts exist. It’s exceptionally simple, with the only catch being that the participant must die.
It has always interested me that no matter how much progress we make as a society the most important questions remain unanswered (How to build a happy life? Is there life after death? Are we alone in the universe?). Personally, I find it comforting that we continue to grow and live our lives without knowing all these answers.
Every kitchen is equipped with a Creo Cube; a metal box that can create any food the family wants out of thin air. Jimmy, Colin and Rob are home early from school and fooling around with their Creo Cube, and luckily there are no consequences…
There are always new technologies that can produce both good and bad outcomes. The good outcomes tend to outweigh the bad, but the bad outcomes are often surprising.
A point in the universe has stopped emitting data, of any type. Any action aimed at concealment suggests intelligent life and John has been sent in a one-person spacecraft to investigate.
The potential existence of intelligent life is fascinating, particularly the fact we haven’t encountered any. Perhaps intelligent societies have a natural timespan and burn themselves out through war or exhaustion of resources? Perhaps societies have tried to interact with us, but they were so advanced we couldn’t comprehend it? Perhaps we are simply alone? Or perhaps there does exist intelligent life, but it just doesn’t want to be found.
In the future there are markets for absolutely everything and this includes your life. Governments have decided that the benefits of unfettered capitalism should be applied universally. Even activities such as murder are permitted for a price, and for the greater market good; as long as the society receives a net benefit (the amount paid is more than all your future contributions to society). Christian no longer agrees with this though because someone just started bidding up his life.
The most important businesses of the past decade have been creating markets where there weren’t any. A market for your extra rooms when you want to rent them, or a market for your time if you want to drive someone, or even a market for a store of wealth that can no longer be inflated away by governments. Creating markets where there weren’t any has been the driver of many of the world’s largest fortunes. When the economic incentives are this high it seems only a matter of time before there are markets for everything. While I don’t believe we will have a terrifying no holds barred market like the one described in the story, I do expect that we will increasingly see markets where there weren’t any before. For example, a person’s home is usually the largest asset they own but currently remains unutilized for large parts of the day. How long before people can lease their unused backyards to urban farming start-ups? Or their basement to members of the community looking for storage? Most markets simply don’t exist because of high transactional costs and information/risk asymmetries, but technology is reducing all these things.
A quick operation will give Derek the focus he needs to complete high school exams. Next time he wakes up he will be done. His father always warned him never to do it but what does his father know.
We do a lot to skip the worst parts of our lives. How long before technology provides us with an opportunity to skip the tough parts entirely? Or even better, to work hard at something we wouldn’t normally do so that we could then reap the benefits of that work without “actually” doing it?
Once a year students have to participate in fear class. The class is designed to build up their ability to handle fear and stress, exercising this strength as they would any other muscle. As Jeremy sits waiting for fear class to start he is fairly certain his terrifying experience isn’t fake.
The appropriate level of stress in our lives is currently a big disagreement. Some people argue that humans never had it this easy and others argue that we’ve immersed ourselves in an unnecessary and unhealthy level of stress. We spend all this time trying to understand how to minimize stress but what if in the future we decided that facing your fears was the best way to get over them, and what if we finally had the technology to make that happen?
Books are now experienced through virtual reality where the reader is immersed in the story. They can choose from multiple outcomes as they “live” the story, avoiding parts they find too scary and pursuing what they view as the most exciting. Two friends test what would happen if they uploaded a historical story, the type long forgotten, where there is only one ending and the reader can do nothing to avoid it.
I think it’s beautiful how historical works of art continue to be enjoyed in new mediums. Look at movies about stories written thousands of years ago. This trend will continue with new mediums and old stories. The stories we will know, but the mediums we can only imagine.
It is unavoidable that self-driving cars will have to make decisions on who lives and who dies in accidents. Gillian is about to take a test drive and find out just how far these decisions go.
Self-driving cars require embedded programming that will force them to make decisions that will have consequences for people’s lives. On average this will significantly improve safety on the roads, but people will always be uncomfortable with a machine deciding who lives and dies, even if it benefits society as a whole.
The Importance of Goals
Jason, Doug and Ryan are young adults with big dreams. They just feel they lack the conviction to execute on their goals and they bring in a third party to change this. The third party service is pretty strict though in terms of real life consequences if they don’t achieve their goals.
Motivation has become one of the biggest markets in the world. Career coaches, personal coaches, relationship coaches and thousands of others all exist to help you reach your goals but technology has yet to play a huge role in this industry.
Trevor is back from Boot Camp and he’s better behaved than he ever was in the past. In fact he’s so well behaved his father doesn’t even recognize him anymore…
How big is the difference between manners and programmed responses? How we are expected to interact in society is well defined, providing a real opportunity to program interactions. We are already seeing this with AI assistants placing calls and interacting seamlessly with humans over the phone.
Dr. Connor and Sarah are living within a simulation, where the data that makes up their entire existence is stored on a computer deep within the Earth. They know this is the case, but they try not to dwell on it.
Perception is everything to our own happiness. Stoics realized centuries ago that how we feel about our position in the world, and what’s happening to us, is entirely within our control. Despite knowing this, our view of ourselves can still change based entirely on external factors, like a colleague getting a promotion. Realizing you are in a simulation would be the ultimate test of whether you control how you feel about your life.
Gordon works for the worlds largest media conglomerate and is in the room when they decide to produce a personal ethics score on every citizen. They have all the data they need and governments, schools, significant others, are all willing to pay to find out just how ethical each of us is based on all our historic electronic interactions. The problem is Gordon just isn’t that ethical, and neither are the other executives in the room.
The world has more data than it knows what to do with and there are some truly amazing things, and some truly terrifying things that can be done with this data. I spend a lot of time thinking about it and I don’t pretend to know whether it will be for better or worse. For example can we expect more transparency in a world where there are records of everything or does the technology that allows you to create a fake video, that looks entirely real, just obfuscate the world even more?
Thank you for Sharing
Feelings such as fear, excitement, sadness, loss are all packaged and sold. To get these feelings though someone has to experience them and William is one of the few people willing to experience anything to earn enough to provide for his family.
A lot of what we purchase in life is in an effort to achieve a specific feeling. Most marketing is designed to associate a specific feeling with a product and we purchase things trying to chase that feeling. What if eventually companies marketed feelings directly? You could download a certain feeling of happiness or sadness as easily as you could purchase a song.
Everyone is obligated to work until they die or turn three hundred years old. The minimum death age was instituted to keep countries productive. Nick Vale is in the process of applying for an exemption.
Countries continue to grow their debt in relation to their populations. There have been few periods where this has stopped, and for even fewer countries. Fiat currencies though have allowed governments to increasingly inflate their citizens out of the debt. As the world continues towards stores of value that can’t be manipulated, governments may be forced to deal with their large debt burdens, and there are only a few ways to deal with them.
The Last Sacrifice to Freyr
The universe is expanding faster and faster which means the only other intelligent life in the universe, and other planets to inhabit, may be moving further and further away from us. Commander Lang Cooney is in a rush against time to explore these far reaches of the universe, before its too late.
I’ve always thought one of the most incredible things is how much of the universe we will never get to understand. There is a permanence to that mystery that will never change. Freyr was the Norse god associated with prosperity and sacrifices were often made to ensure future prosperity (which ties in with the story).
Ajax is at work when a man he’s never met shows him several pictures of the two of them together. The man explains that Earth has all been one controlled experiment to achieve a single outcome, and the outcome is Ajax.
All outcomes in this world, no matter how surprising, are simply the result of a number of variables interacting in a specific way. We create controlled experiments all the time. If we had the ability to control more variables could even the most complex outcomes be duplicated?
The training required for professions has become so onerous that the path of a child’s life is decided at the age of fifteen, during one month of trials. Robert is about to embark on the trails but no matter what he does he can’t seem to get ahead.
Many professions now require over a decade of training and as the world becomes increasingly complex this can be expected to continue. At some point it will become prohibitive for people to learn even small parts of complex professions. There are two ways this could go; people will either need to specialize sooner and sooner or become increasingly dependant on machines to assist with many parts of their business that they no longer understand.