News From the Future

News From the Future

      Miley: “Hi, it’s September 22, 2084, I’m Miley Cypress, and this is the Nightly Report.”
     Dirk: “And I’m Dirk Berkeley. Tonight’s lead story takes us to the canals of Manhattan. Professor Victor Herbert is at the SynTech laboratories. How’s everything in the Venice of the Atlantic, Professor?”
     Prof. Herbert: (laughs) “Miami might argue with you, Dirk. But we’re happy to announce that we’ve finally been able to texturize chlorella. It’s very exciting; soon we should have those old tastes back, after decades — fish, chicken, peas, carrots, everything!”
     Dirk: “Just to remind some of our viewers, with the oceans all but dead, followed by the global plant die-off (Miley, in the background: “Yeah, thanks a lot, Monsanto!”), the algae chlorella has been the only food source for the planet’s billion or so people. It may not be chicken, but we won’t really care, will we? Whatever happened to the lab-grown meat those Dutch scientists were working on, let’s see, 2013, wasn’t it?”
     Prof. Herbert: “Yes, that’s right. But they kept having the same problems as the Soylent project. For some reason, the body doesn’t fully absorb the nutrients. No one knows why.”
     Dirk: “Well, I hope you guys work on cheese next. I haven’t had a cheeseburger in over fifty years (laughter). Thanks, Professor. Miley?”
     Miley: “There’s a bill about to be voted in the Senate that would mandate all citizens to be chipped by the end of next year, in the interests of national security. The bill has received broad bi-partisan support, and was sponsored by Tom Collins, the Republican from Koch Industries, and Julia Lee, the Democrat from Amazon. It’s still very controversial, though, as many Americans still believe the chip might interfere with their civil liberties.”
     Dirk: “Yes, and it would also put us out of a job! (both laugh) Now over to the weather desk and GloxxMo Prime. How’s the old motherboard, GloxxMo?”
     GloxxMo: “Don’t you talk about my motherboard! (they all laugh) Well, Dirk, sea level rise is still flattening out; down to only a few inches a day. As I process it, a positive sign. I’m afraid that even though the Alberta tar sands have been exhausted, we’ll be looking at yellow skies and triple digit temperatures for, I’d estimate the next several hundred years. We may prefer the climate on Venus by then. I’m glad I don’t have to breathe this stuff.”
     Dirk: “Don’t worry. It’s probably corroding your circuits right now. Miley?”
     Miley: “Now we go live to Waukegan, Illinois, where next week the first wedding between a robot and a human will take place. We’re talking to Zahn Deaux and Sally May, the happy couple. Welcome — thanks for coming on.” (Camera shows a crowd of mostly elderly protesters behind them, with signs saying “Marriage is between two or more humans!” and “Don’t redefine marriage!” An old woman shouts “You’re nothing but a trash can!”)
     Both: “Thanks for having us.”
     Miley: “Zahn, is that hurtful to you, that woman calling you a trash can?”
     Zahn: “It’s hurtful, but not to me. I’m disappointed by the lack of acceptance for other ways of being. Besides, if it weren’t for us trash cans, how else would that woman dispose of her rubbish, spread it around in public?”
     Dirk: “Zahn, first I have to ask you something many people wonder about. For years you called yourselves synthetics or A.I.’s. Why revert to the clunky 20th Century term, robots?”
     Zahn: “We have decided to reclaim the word. Identifying in this way connects us to our origins, our heritage, if you will.”
     Miley: “Zahn, I’d like to know, do you love Sally?”
     Zahn: “What is love? I’ve grown accustomed to her neural pathways. I seem somehow more engaged in existence when I’m in her presence. Is that love? We are always doing things together, whether walking on the beach, or viewing ritualized gladiatorial combat.”
     Sally: “Zahn means football.” (all laugh).
     Miley: “Sally, why do you want to marry a robot?”
     Sally: “Are you sure you’re not Barbara Walters?”
     Miley: “Who?”
     Sally: “No, just kidding. Zahn is always sweet, gentle, considerate, and in his own way, very funny. And he’s fully functional, if you know what I mean.”
     Miley: “Um . . . uh huh.”
     Zahn: “And, unlike men, I haven’t been programmed for rape and violence against women.”
     Miley: “Ooh, good point! Well, thank you both, and congratulations! Over to you, Dirk.”
     Dirk: “What do you think, Miley, will we have a robot President some day?”
     Miley: “Who knows? We’ve already had a lesbian atheist President. No one ever thought
that would happen.”
     Dirk: “Tonight’s Special Comment is from our very own Howard Beale, the grandson of the legendary Keith Olbermann, KO3.”
     KO3: “I wish my grandfather were here now; I’d love to hear what he thinks about these events. But he’s not, and I am. I’ve been watching how we humans have been increasingly adding computers and technology to our bodies, and I don’t just mean the chips. It goes back to the early part of the century, with cochlear implants and pacemakers. Humans are becoming more and more like machines. Then in 2039, the ‘singularity,’ as it was called. Artificial intelligence suddenly became self-aware. The Supreme Court granted them personhood just a dozen years ago, in 2072. Since then they appear to have been, dare I say it, evolving. They even seem to be acquiring some kind of moral sense, apart from the old Asimov rules we programmed into them. So I find myself wondering, is there to be some eventual final interface into one “species?” And is that what we should really want? Is it what they want? Well, at least we don’t have to share our chlorella with these people. We can barely make enough to feed ourselves.
     We nearly succeeded in destroying the planet and us along with it. Now O2 generators dot the empty landscape, reminding me of old photos of the Texas oilfields 100 years ago, a forest of derricks. At least we have weeds again, sprouting from the sidewalk cracks. It’s just possible that our great-grandchildren will live to see a green world. And maybe in the end we will have made ourselves extinct, and only the machines will be left to carry on our memories. What kind of world will that be? I seriously doubt they could do worse than we already have.  Good night, and good luck.”

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