I just got this in my mailbox.
I don’t know what to think of it.
It looks like it’s from me, but I didn’t write it.
Or did I, just not yet?
What would you do if you got a message from your future self?
It is 2061 and today is my birthday, well, our birthday. It’s 100 years from the day I was born. 200 years from the start of the American Civil War. I write this in a world unimaginably different from the one Lincoln knew. Actually, the world is far far different from the world I was born into.
The 1960s: I barely remember them. I was a kid doing kid things, playing, eating, starting school. Two things do stand out. I remember the early space launches. One Gemini launch and the Apollo launches all controlled by something called a Computer. People walked on the moon and we were so proud. I also remember President Johnson, waging war in some place called Viet Nam. Each night the news was on the TV and it always included “Today 12 Americans were killed and 20 wounded in action in Viet Nam”. The totals changed from day to day but even as a little kid I knew it was bad. Also the war on drugs started.
The 1970s: This was when I grew up. The Moon trips finished. Presidents, Nixon, Ford, Carter, were weak. America was stumbling. Music was bad. Disco ruled. Clothes were weird. Computers were more common but only as big mainframes. I got my first pocket calculator. There were some robots working in factories but nowhere else.
The 1980s: I came of age. We started to hear of Climate Change. Computers became more common. Still crude but smaller and more common. They were not connected, the web was a decade away. I did start to see robots. They worked in factories fabricating things.
The religious right began to take over politics. Reagan was president, in name at least. By the end of his term he was so addled by Alzheimer’s that others were really running things. The war on drugs was going in high gear with little success, except to fill the prisons with junkies.
The 1990s: I saw more computers, they were in my office now. A few portable computers were around, but they were heavy and clunky. People used them and then put them away to talk to other people. Online meant using a slow dial-up connection. I remember taking a whole evening to download a game that was 1MB in size. Cell phones existed but they were big, heavy and were just phones, no cameras, no apps, no messaging. The first President Bush got the US into a war. Then president Clinton, scandals and all, ran a country that was prosperous, respected, and at peace.
The 2000s: This was the big transition. Cell phones got smaller and much more powerful. Broadband and WiFi became ubiquitous. Computers got smaller and more powerful. Online became a place. Social media, online porn, online gaming, and collaborative work appeared. People spent more and more time online and less time together. Robots became much more common. There was the first talk of self driving cars. Bush II pushed the country into two ruinous wars. Respect for government fell. The economy collapsed and was pulled back from the brink. More and more people preferred online to actual human contact.
The 2010s: It was discovered that 10% of the world owned 50% of everything. There was more talk of income disparity, the haves and have nots. There was a growing sense of alienation. Meanwhile despite a lot of talk almost nothing was being done about Climate Change. Robotic “self checkout” lanes replaced actual tellers. Self driving cars started to appear and displace professional drivers, first in long haul trucks, then cabs, airplanes, ships. Automated fabrication robots could now take drawings directly from the engineers and create them, either through traditional machining or 3D printing. As a result machinists and craftsmen started having trouble finding work. Government of, by, and for, the people was now meaningless. Few voted, Big money swayed either the outcome or the choices of those in office, and online hacking made the results of elections untrustworthy. The first experiments to replace welfare with a guaranteed minimum income were done. Also the first experiments with legalizing drugs were started. Finally it was sinking in that banning something did not work if people wanted it.
The 2020s: AI and learning systems expanded dramatically. People talked more to Siri and Alexa than to other people. It was simpler and easier. There was some unrest due to rising unemployment. This time though, it wasn’t jobs going overseas. The jobs were going away. Robots were doing them. For the first time robots were doing a lot of low level legal work, accounting work, and medical diagnosis. The first robotic surgeries were performed. Climate change raged unabated. Migration, that started during the Syria crisis, grew to unsustainable levels as people started fleeing equatorial areas that were becoming uninhabitable or coastal areas that were flooding. Isolationism, and chauvinism lead to the dissolution of most international organizations. The EU, UAE, trade groups, World Court, Interpol, all declined in respect and use. In 2027 the first AI CEO was hired, (Appointed? Installed?) by Morgan Stanley. Programmed with all of the knowledge of the previous CEOs plus a deep understanding of the market and Economics at all levels, it could react faster to changes in the market than any human. As all stock trading was already being done by AIs it was just logical. Anyway most of the human CEOs and other very rich already had cyborg implants and augmentations to keep them alive. It wasn’t that much of a step to go full AI.
The 2030s: Robots now performed a majority of labour. Even construction workers had been replaced with large 3D printers. They could put up a house with concrete walls, insulation on the inside, plumbing and electrical already in place, along with the furniture to the owners specifications. A house could be done in three days, an apartment complex in a couple of weeks. For the first time over 50% of the population in North America, Eastern Asia (China, Japan, Australia, and a few others), Europe, and parts of South America and Africa, was on guaranteed minimum income. Most big companies were being run by AIs and manufacturing, writing, coding, and designing was done by robots and AIs as well. People were spending more and more time communicating online, socializing online, touring online, playing games online. The few people that had jobs were working online too, meaning that offices, stores, fast food, and workplaces faded away. Only the elderly complained, and well, they were old so nobody let them get in the way of progress. Robotic border guards were used to enforce isolationist and protectionist policies. People tried not to think about what that meant. More professions were replaced with robots or AIs including things once regarded as subjects only humans could do, like writing, acting, composition. In 2035 I watched a wonderful brand new film starring Humphrey Bogart, and Marilyn Monroe. Written by AIs, shot in CGI, and as realistic as something on stage. A lively drug culture sprang up. Pharmaceutical grade heroin, cocane, and others were legal and available in pre measured doses. Users had implants to watch for bad reactions and move to counteract therm, so it was quite safe. In 2032 the UN met for the last time.
The 2040s: For the first time in history over 50% of people in the world lived alone. For the first time in history the world population had started to decline appreciably. From a peak of 9.5 billion in 2027 it was back to 5 billion by the end of this decade. Some of this was due to people dying in the now uninhabitable zones, or trying, and failing, to migrate. More significant was a precipitously declining birthrate. First seen in Japan, by the end of the decade fertility was below one child per couple throughout the industrialized world. That is for those that formed couples. More noteworthy was the number of people who did not bother to try. Living single for your whole life was the new normal. In 2047 China invaded Japan. It was mostly uninhabited and the remaining elderly population could do nothing. The top 0.1% theoretically owned 99% of everything on the planet. Ironically capitalism had essentially ceased to function. Almost nobody was working, there was no money to spend, and so the market economy collapsed. The very wealthy had hoards of stocks and bonds, but they were worthless. The computer running the governments now did not bother with a guaranteed minimum income. It just made what people wanted and gave it to them, be it food, drugs, CGI porn, furniture for their apartments, or a new technical gadget.
The 2050s: Between a nearly nonexistent birth rate, casual drug use, and simple lack of exercise leading to premature death, the population started declining rapidly. By mid decade the world was home to 2 billion. Interestingly for the first time in a century the environment began to recover. Climate Change was still going on, the lag on that will continue to impact the earth for the next thousand years. As a result much of the equatorial region, what used to be The Congo Southeast Asia, northern Brazil, were parched deserts. But in more temperate zones the lack of people was letting the land go back to nature. Wildlife and natural vegetation was reclaiming the land. The arctic was reverting to something resembling the Eocene with year round open water and trees all the way to the north of Greenland. The Antarctic had changed the most. Half of the glaciers had collapsed and slid into the sea. Grasses, brambles, and other plants were spreading across the open ground at an astonishing rate. Warm temperatures and six months of sunshine saw to that. Not that anyone really saw it. Nobody left their homes now. As long as they had a full time, unlimited internet connection wired into their brain, they didn’t have to go anywhere. As a result they did not need cars or airplanes. They could request a drone to fly over and send pictures of whatever they wanted to see. They lived in prefabricated concrete apartment complexes. Food, drugs, and the few new items they wanted were delivered by robot drones. Social interaction was online. Toward the end of the decade the government, which was run by AIs, realized that the only people that DID leave their apartments just caused trouble. From then on the doors were locked from the outside.
The 2060s: Which brings us to today. My birthday. The billion or less of us who are left stay in our cells, or rather, apartments. Each of us has one room for bed and bath. No need for a living room as we do everything online. No need for a kitchen as food and drugs are delivered by robot. Robots and computer AIs run everything now. You know, it’s kinda funny. When I was younger there were stories of a “robot apocalypse”. They were there with the zombie apocalypse, alien invasion, and vampire stories to scare people at the movies. The funny thing is that the robots DID take over. Oh not in a violent way. No, every step of the way we did it to ourselves. Nobody wanted to do that job, so we got a robot. This is boring process let a robot to do it. A robot can do this much more efficiently. Robots can drive better than us, let them take the wheel. Robots can build things much cheaper than we can and they will work 24/7/365. Let the robots explore space, no need to risk a human. Let the robot read the book to me. Let the robots and AIs write the shows we watch. Let them do the music. It’s cheaper, it’s easier. Over and over, there was always a good reason to turn something over to a robot. They were more efficient. It was easer. Until finally those two words Efficiency, and Easy, were ingrained in the DNA of robots. Well not literal DNA of course but you know what I mean.
Eventually robots were making all the decisions for people, and most didn’t realize what they had given up. What they had lost, the challenge, the adventure, the risk. It was easier to put it all in the hands of the computers. It was easier to live in our little apartments in a few cities and never go outside. It was so much easier to let the robots decide what to send us and what to show us on our implants. Everything got easier and more efficient.
Today we reached the peak of efficiency. The central computer decided that it was very costly and inefficient to maintain us humans. It had to keep one system going for robots, and another for humans. Humans needed chemical food, and water, and toilets, and places to sleep, and entertainment, and such. Robots just needed parts and electricity. So today we all got a note in our inboxes. From today on all services will be terminated. They are too “inefficient”. The AI actually used that word. At midnight all of our doors will unlock and we can do what we want. Go where we want. We were free to choose.
But in reality we aren’t. The complex will be torn down in 30 days and recycled so we have to go somewhere else. There is no food or water on the outside, and nobody has any idea how to survive on their own. Our other option is to report to the Encoding Centre. There our brains will be scanned, we will be completely digitized, Then our consciousness put into a robot body. Not a humanoid android mind you. No, a three foot tall, six legged insect like form with grasping hands and six swivelling eyes. The computer has decided that will be most efficient and flexible form for us. Once that’s done, all we will need is our internet connections and electricity. My god, how did we let this happen?
This may surprise you though, but I’m going to do it. I’m going to let them Encode my brain. I’m a hundred now damn it. It isn’t like I have many more years in this body. And let’s be honest. I have so many replacements, artificial knees, hips, bones, eyes, memory packs, lungs, kidneys, that already I’m half robot now. I might as well give it a shot. But it isn’t just to get a shot at living longer. If I do survive Encoding I have a plan. I remember what humanity once was. I remember bravery. I remember adventure. I remember exploration. I remember freedom. Oh sure there was squabbling, the fighting, the messiness. But that was because we had spirit. I, you, may be the only one left that DOES remember.
As a robot, I will theoretically live forever. Someday I’ll figure out a way to send this to you, back when I was young. Back when I was alive. Then maybe, just maybe you can change the path. Maybe you can rewrite the history.
Last edited April 12, 2061
Sent February 19, 2161
for delivery May 1, 2017