Metronome

Artwork by the Miro Shot Collective 

WELCOME TO THE FUTURE

A (W.T2.F.) Sunday Series

Short Story Time

Speculative fiction is a way to explore a future that may or may never exist, technologies that we can only dream of today, and of the capabilities to exploit or improve the Earth and human lives. While I do not agree with all the philosophies of Ayn Rand that are presented in Atlas Shrugged, I do believe that we cannot prepare for a future that we refuse to acknowledge, with all of the possible pros and cons, and short term and long term effects of the decisions we make today.

Some of these WTF short stories have been featured at Virtual Futures in London, with the publication of “Memories Inc” to be released in March 2020.

METRONOME

He saw it everywhere. The green cars, the velvet coats, the white shoes and black pants with intricate halftones. Over the years the colors slowly faded into one another, becoming just another part of a commonplace uniform or machinery. Andy replayed the long years and the late night conversations, the early morning calls and drawn out applications. 

Today, Andy was sitting in another place, at another time. He knew that memories and time blurred with habits and repetition. He was trying to understand the seemingly abrupt changes in the world’s aesthetics, and the blank stares he received when talking about the past. Times flies they would say, but each day for Andy, time seemed to stand still. 

But forgetting doesn’t just happen by accident. He knew that, and, he also knew why everyone had forgotten the world they had left behind. But why could they not recall the recent months, or even years? He had been a part of it, at the beginning. It had been after an ideal that really seemed only possible in virtual reality. A race to the top. 

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———— (the past) ————

Andy listened attentively as the physician reported to the Neura Inc Chief of Operations. 

I can, she reported. We can use the same neuralace transmissions to begin, but it will only be effective with physical electrical stimuli and Substance E, that will interfere with this particular neurotransmitter, the one connected to memory.

They asked if she was sure it would work, and half listened while taking in the nodding heads and grunts of agreement. And our physicists on staff? Where are they? they asked. Andy and his colleagues raised hands. Do we have time? they asked. 

The three looked at each other, and agreed that it would be possible within the given time frame. In the lab, they began to run the simulations in every mirror world. These 3D large scale models were recreations of every known data infrastructure, real and digital alike, avatar, virtual human and human alike. Would this mass memory injection slowly change the known history of the worlds?   

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Memory isn’t an infinite store of information. Decision making is optimized for the future by remembering important lessons, stimulated by strong emotions. By interacting and repeating conversations and details of past events, these memories are altered. By replaying memories over and over in our minds, and in conversation, each repetition has the potential to alter the memory. As clear and as detailed as memories feel, Andy knows that recollections, as they stand today, are surprisingly inaccurate. Could they alter this to an even greater extent?

By accessing everyone’s visual memory bank from the metaverse, it would theoretically be possible to alter one’s memories by subtly force feeding sensory effects that would trigger the memory, and catalyze an automatic replay of events, slightly altered each time, until the memory was reconstructed. It was an inhuman task. More than human. They employed the most sophisticated AI with Neura Inc for the task. 

It’s for the Race To The Top, said Neura Inc. We, and the companies of the world will offer the best experience, the best tools, the best memories, for free. Those who want to enjoy the advanced packages, then they can apply, said the spokesperson of Neura Inc. 

Volunteers flocked to be the first ones to enter this new utopia, free of work, and free of responsibility. Small electrical stimuli and the injections of Substance E just after they were prompted to recall a memory, caused volunteers to slowly have less and less of an emotional proximity to the memory they were requested to recall. They had started to care less about their identity, and more about the world around them, the utopia that had been promised. Without a memory of the past, the present was flawless. Now submerged, they were no longer living with one toe in the past, and one toe in the future. 

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Next, they injected the memories on a blank canvas. World building, they called it. The perception of time was subjective, and they used this as their tool to build out a new history, and a new now. With millions of bursts of altered recordings of their lives in the metaverse, the elastic mind would stretch these out into full calendar years with the large number of details recalled. There was less to remember recently, so time and memory blurred, blissfully free of the past. 

But, the first volunteers were confused. They couldn’t agree on what was real and what was not. When recalling memories to one another, these memories slowly diverged into a completely unheard of place. Sounds, scents, motion, textures- the recollection of these with each individual’s experience altered the way they remembered the past. It was back to the drawing board. 

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The idea that they had nailed it with a visual identity of time and memory was only half of the Quest. They had to tap into senses, with electrical impulses so that subjects could taste, touch and smell things. It was a simple realignment of human code. Just like the way one feels things in a dream, these fabricated memories were just a new set of inputs, just as real as the real world. Memory was three dimensional and multi-sensory- an experience of the senses. They built a life support system that offered more than another word, it offered a truly sensational future. 

———— (the present) ————

Now, Andy sits in another place, at another time. He knows that memory and time blur with habit and repetition. He tries to understand the seemingly abrupt changes in the world’s aesthetics, and the blank stares he receives when talking about the past. Times flies they would say, but each day for Andy, time seems to stand still. He cannot remember why things appear to be out of place, and out of touch. 

It’s only the tingling feeling on his arms that suddenly Andy remembers where he is. He concentrates on the growing sensation and closes his eyes. He jogs his memory, the blistering rays of sun streaming in from the real world onto his real body acted in just the same way as had the electrical impulses in the earliest of memory alterations. Andy pulls at invisible straps and feels the desperately frayed material of his jeans. His hands automatically release his head from the contraption in the room, as if they’ve done the task many times before, as they have. 

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Squinting his eyes to the golden rays through the dusted glass windows, for seconds, this world too seems to be one of pixels and light. He stumbles to the window and pushes the makeshift shutters shut. On the other side of the room that he now crosses, the tinted windows allow for a view of the city where dust storms rage below, reaching up to the 158th floor. Above, the sun pushes into the thick particles of dust, creating the illusion of dancing red flames. Andy knows, that for now, he is still safe. This is the reality that everyone had not chosen to leave behind to this end, but it was the reality that existed and was the only platform where they could truly survive. Without this world, every world and every alternative would fail. Those like Andy who still had one toe in the future and one toe in the past, one foot in the real world and one in the virtual and skipping between the two, would rebuild both one pixel at a time, and one memory at a time to once again realize a humanity that had existed here not so long ago. 

By Anne McKinnon

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References:

How Nature Works- Per Bak

A Scanner Darkly- Philip K. Dick 

Time Travel – James Gleick

“It’s not a clock in the way we think of a ticking metronome,” says James Knierim, a professor of neuroscience at Johns Hopkins University and a researcher on a recent study that broke ground in this area. “It’s a signal that changes over time as a result of the experience.”

In the popular essay “Brain Time”, David Eagleman explains that different types of sensory information (auditory, tactile, visual, etc.) are processed at different speeds by different neural architectures.

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