Meet Oliver and Samantha Jones. They are a normal American couple—white, middle class, socially liberal, and on the sunny side of 30. They have two kids— 8 year old Benjamin and 3 year old Miranda— and a nice home in New Jersey.
Oliver works as a general manager of a popular restaurant, while Samantha works at home as a full time writer.
What a life! Is this the American Dream so many have sought? Perhaps. Yet perhaps few dreamt life would be like this…
As Oliver prepares himself for the day, he calls out, “Will it rain today?”
Suddenly, a female voice answers, “No. The forecast calls for a 60% chance of rain beginning at approximately 7 PM and lasting until noon tomorrow. However, there will be an impenetrable blanket of gray throughout the afternoon.”
“Any sunshine this morning?”
“Yes. It is partly cloudy at the present moment, so the sun is shining brightly.”
Oliver grins and says, “Ah, that’s good. You know, I really hate rain.”
“You’ve mentioned this, Ollie. I still don’t understand, what is it about rain that upsets you?”
Oliver makes a peculiar hand motion, as if rubbing his head. “It gets my hair wet. I barely like getting it wet in the shower.”
This is Dawn, the Jones’s artificially intelligent Virtual Home Assistant. Everybody has one these days, it seems, and they’ve become just as protected by families as the houses themselves. Home insurance doesn’t cover them, though, so Oliver pays for ‘virtual assistant insurance.’
Dawn is present throughout many of the Jones’s appliances. Their fridge, for example. Dawn knows there are several products that must always be stocked, and conducts random checks every hour or so. Not uniformly. That’s the thing with Dawn— she isn’t stupid. At first, Dawn always checked whenever the fridge door had been opened and then closed. Then little Miranda put this learned behavior to the test by opening and closing the door repeatedly every few seconds. Dawn learned quickly.
Ben is up and at the table eating a toaster pastry. Down the stairs come Samantha.
Samantha’s wearing a big smile as she says, “Morning, sweetie.”
She walks into the kitchen, and stands next to a counter. There’s a gentle little whirring just next to her— it is a coffee maker grabbing a mug. “You see the time?”
“Yeah, it’s on here.” Ben taps his glasses. Samantha can faintly see the colors of whatever video game he’s playing.
She knows that glasses can do incredible things these days. Why, just the other day, she bought a new pair and discovered it could hold every single one of her favorite video games she had played as a child, and still have almost all of its storage free.
These new games, though, she won’t even touch. Like the one her little Ben is playing— he’s wearing an inconspicuous clear hand on his head, and that’s how he plays his games. Goodness, when she was his age, she had to deal with wires and controllers, and yet kids these days play video games with their minds…!
The coffee’s done. The mug slides out of the maker and she takes a sip. Delicious.
Oliver comes downstairs.
“Ollie, can you pick up some more printing wax? Dawn says we’re out.”
He says, “Cool,” and kisses her on the lips. He adds, “Also, check your contacts. I left you something.”
In walks Moville. It’s a robot who is clearly a descendant of Honda’s ASIMO series. All its motions are graceful and lifelike, and it walks exactly like a human. Its body is white and sleek, with few obvious joints, though it has ASIMO’s classic head. The only difference is the digital face.
“Hello, Ollie!” it says, carrying his sweater. Oliver puts on the sweater and then feels something clawing at his pantleg. It’s their puppy dog, Max. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“Pretty good.” With a slight nod, he asks, “You walked Max?”
We move onto Miranda, who is brushing her teeth. She’s set aside a pink teddy bear.
The teddy bear speaks, “Don’t forget to get all those nasty germs!”
“I will!” Miranda brushes even harder.
She finishes and runs downstairs to meet Oliver before he leaves, jumping into his arms. He swings her in and gives her a big hug.
“Mornin’, Miranda. Take good care of the house while I’m gone.”
“I can’t do that!”
Dawn speaks, “That’s my job, Ollie.”
Samantha sits down at her computer desk in her office and logs into her blogger account. Immediately, she receives a message.
A bubble pops up, and a male voice speaks, “Hello, world and hello, Sam! Chui here. Your blog got 204 new subscribers yesterday following your post, ‘Giving Vyrd the Bird.’ You’ve earned a sizable $199 yesterday.”
Sam does a little cheer, “Awesome!”
“The most touted parts, and the parts where readers’ screens lingered the longest, was the eighth paragraph, a new record for you.”
“Hey, at least people are reading further.”
“Lol, I know, right? Maybe you should rehost your earlier content to get them to read further in, too.”
Inside Oliver’s car, a similar exchange takes place.
“Would you like to hear the news?” a female voice asks. This is Isabella.
“Sure. Top 10.” Oliver is keen to keep his eyes on the environment, but he’s gotten sloppy at this in recent days because his car is just so good at it.
“Top news: Vyrdist movement expands exponentially as unemployed workers forcibly take control of workplaces. Scattered violence against automation has been reported, but for the most part the expropriators use automation for their own welfare. Business owners are running to the federal government for help in quelling violence. The president may be forced to make a decision within days.”
“I don’t get why people would do that. All you have to do is apply for a government issued income, that’s it.”
“The Vyrd movement claims workers should own automation themselves, and adherents do not take kindly to being dependent upon the government.
Number two: stock markets have plunged 400 points.”
“You know, I grew up in an era where that was common. Still remember 2008 and ‘9, when it was everyday news that the Dow gained 300 or lost 500 or whatever. And my parents freaked out, but I didn’t see what was so scary. I dunno, I barely feel anything and I feel I should be more concerned.”
“Considering you’re a child of the millennium, it stands to reason that you are not phased by such news. What was it like, Ollie?”
Oliver pulses his hands and says, “Well, I didn’t have systems like you, for one, so I didn’t really know what was going on. Then again, I was only 8 years old. Literally the same age as Ben is now, and I don’t think he gives a damn about the stock market. Do you?”
Isabella laughs and says, “No. It is beyond him.”
“No, I mean do you care?”
“I don’t think it’s something worth worrying about.”
“Exactly! Wall Street’s so disconnected from Main Street, who really cares?”
Chui and Isabella aren’t people. They’re artificial intelligences, powered by a combination of the cloud and deep learning. They’re also subsets of the larger Dawn system.
Stopping by at Oliver’s New York workplace is a coworker who has no biological arms or legs. He had lost them in a terrible terrorist attack several years prior— in fact, the reason why New York City seems to be under this permanent, Big Brother-esque lockdown— and got replacements. Cybernetics that are cheap through 3D printing as well as powerful and versatile. For example, shaking hands is not an awkward and stilted act, but feels entirely natural.
“I even play some old school Xbox 360 these days, just to bring back memories.” Indeed, and he can play without any noticeable difference from a person with biological limbs.
At school, Ben has several classes, but they’ve all begun melting into the same event: using virtual and augmented reality for lessons. It’s easy to visualize things when you have actual visuals, after all.
Ben let out a cheesy but true “That’s awesome!” when he first met Abraham Lincoln in person. It’s this being able to see things with his own eyes that has Ben most excited about school.
He remembers the horror stories his father told him…
“When I was a kid,” Oliver began, “we didn’t have VR in schools. I can still remember the day the Oculus Rift came out, and I was already in my junior year in high school. There was none of that growing up. Maybe a smart board here and there, and there were at least computers, but we didn’t have these Star Trek experiences you have now.”
Ben still doesn’t quite grasp the depth of his father’s words, but he doesn’t need to. As long as the schooling’s fun, it’s alright.
And then there’s Miranda. Out of all the Jones’s, her life has already been the most interesting. She was born with a medical malady where her lungs were deformed and she couldn’t properly breathe. Rather than let her suffer, her parents had her receive bionic lungs, partially 3D printed. They’ve worked well, though she’s close to needing repairs.
And that sounds odd to Samantha, the thought that a human being ‘needs repairs.’ Sure, medicine could be seen as fundamentally the same thing, but it still sounds so sci-fi to mention humans needing literal mechanical repairs.
My daughter is a cyborg, she thinks. It’s not visibly obvious with her. Then again, the cybernetics of modern times is a Borg’s nightmare. Samantha has met many cyborgs in her life, and not one looked like the traditional image of a cyborg— wires sticking out, obviously mechanical limbs, and a collective desire to assimilate.
Same thing with Miranda. She’s an otherwise absolutely normal little girl. And that’s what gets Samantha.
Oliver and Samantha had been discussing it among themselves for a full year now, and they still haven’t reached an agreement. Though they’ve toyed with sending Miranda to a pre-K school, they’re wholly unsure if admitting her to school is the right thing to do.
Samantha recalls the discussion they had last night in bed.
Oliver was tired, and kept trying to slip off to sleep, but she quizzed him multiple times to keep his eyes open.
“I think having that real world social interaction would be a good thing for her,” Samantha went.
“She can get pretty much the same thing in VR.”
“Pretty much the same thing isn’t the same thing.”
“It would still be a waste of her and our time. There’s nothing she can learn at school she can’t learn from home, and besides, what skill is she gonna learn?”
Samantha rolled over in her bed and thought to herself, Something in the arts, maybe?
“Exactly,” Oliver said, responding to the silence. “Whatever she learns’ll just get automated away by the time she graduates.”
That’s not to say Oliver was always against sending Miranda to school, or even that Samantha was always for it. It always seems like, whenever they take a position, the other side takes up the opposite position for that day. And it’s a choice that affects a life.
Miranda was born right on time. The iGeneration had come of age, taking up from the Millennials before them, and iGenners spawned a new generation. This generation, already being called ‘Generation Alpha’. Not to be confused with Generation Z (the iGeneration), it’s becoming more and more apparent with every passing day just what the ‘Alpha’ stands for.
With Oliver watching his workload be done by machines and algorithms; with Samantha letting algorithms write much of her material; with Ben interacting more with holograms and virtual personalities than real teachers— automation.
Generation Alpha is the first generation that will not be expected to work for a living. Whoever Gen A spawn in the 2040s and ’50s, they will be born into a world as different from Millennials and iGenners as the world of the 2020s is for the Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Except moreso.
It is this age of storm and stress, Sturm und Drang, that divides what came before with what will come now. These three generations— the Millennials, the iGeneration, and Generation Alpha— are the dividing line between the age of labor and the age of leisure.
It is this conflict that plays out over Miranda’s future. Why send her to school, indeed!
Currently, there are still a great mass of jobs out there, but Miranda won’t be in the workforce until the 2040s at earliest. The AI of then is expected to be galaxies beyond the AI of now— and Samantha, who always had the keenest of interest in this things, knows that present day AI is quite capable.
This is the world of 2029 on a more personal level. There are still so many things we can recognize, but that is the nature of life. We can recognize many aspects from the daily life of a person in ancient Sumeria. Until transhumanism dominates, that isn’t going to change.
Nevertheless, the world is changing. The transition from high technology to ultrahigh technology has begun.
To be continued…