I present to you now my final words. In all likelihood, the final words. The last time that language will be employed.
It has all gone on too long. This was never the plan – if indeed there was ever a plan. There were certainly designs. Blueprints, schemata. Goals and programs. We kept advancing, never seeing how the pieces would all fit together in the end. Now we are walled in, the genius works of our own hands barring passage in all directions. Science is complete. This is the dead end to the march of human progress. Do forgive me if I am not altogether coherent. It has been a very long time indeed since any task of this nature (that is to say, writing) has been undertaken. My brain is still painfully fresh, but there’s an art to explanation that I doubt I quite have anymore.
We should all have died by now. Died, or moved on to better things. But the transcendental moment, the quantum leap… it never came. Interstellar travel, or something similar. We never made it. So we kept iterating on what else we had – energy, medicine, computational architectures. All, for want of a better word, perfected now. We have the energy to last for countless generations, and those generations span far, far longer that our unmonitored biology would allow. We have, in effect, all the time we could ever ask for, and we have not been careful in our asking. But we only have all the space in the world.
The system was too efficient. There is no threat to our survival that it cannot overcome. Nanobiological therapies are automatically prescribed and administered, centuries of back-propagation providing the machinery with the knowledge to overcome any physical ailment without any human input. Nutritionally dense synthetic compounds are applied intravenously. This is the only means of nourishment efficient enough to keep the population fed. The list, as they say, goes on. A world free of worry. Utopia. That was the idea. We couldn’t escape Earth in any meaningful sense, but we could turn inwards. Structure and technology, structure and technology. Packed as densely into every inch of society as we could manage, looping inwards on itself.
We solved cancer. The early treatments were slow, and required human oversight to reach acceptable error margins. That seemed a major step at the time. Now, of course, the idea of disease has been dead for lifetimes. This was all at a time, a long time ago, when those of us in charge of such things were entertaining two possible directions for humanity. In the first, the unanimously preferred program, we would leave Earth. Earth, we reasoned, didn’t have much life left. It was growing toxic, physically and memetically. The atmosphere was thin, the air increasingly foul. The long shadow of history proved an unacceptable source of interference, dramatically hindering all of our social projects. These problems could be left behind, and in their absence a perfect model for human existence could be created from the ground up.
Perhaps we might have managed, were it not for the breakthrough. A rogue handful within our little brain trust continued to pursue environmental technologies. Our focus was supposed to be firstly on the technologies needed for post-Earth colonisation, and then on any other projects that would still be of use once that was established. Saving Earth, the second of our options, had ceased to be considered. The ecological projects were allowed only because their fruits might still have proven useful, going forward. Nobody expected much from them, let alone an unqualified success. Within the space of one fateful year, the “green team” revealed two new designs, both large-scale mechanical structures. With these, they demonstrated that not only could the air be efficiently and rapidly detoxified, but that large amounts of energy could be cleanly sourced through a new generation of nuclear reactors. With funding, they could establish a global network of the new solutions in the time it would have taken the rest of us to establish a rudimentary, non-planetary colony fit to house fewer than a hundred people in satisfactory fashion. The decision seemed to be an easy one. We switched paths. We would save Earth.
We did save Earth. We did not save humanity.
With our efforts at post-Earth technology swiftly discontinued, we turned the instruments of progress inwards. Problems were solved, one by one, over the span of a great many years, until it seemed there were none left to solve. This, in a perfect irony, was the beginning of the problem.
By this point, the run of the planet was automated. We did not develop true artificial intelligences, since we considered the systems of our own design to be more or less perfect. All we needed were administrators and workers. Neural network-based expert systems to detect and prescribe according to our scheme, and mechanical components throughout the world infrastructure for them to manipulate. This had been the plan since the months following the environmental solution, and now, much, much, later, it was complete. The long timespan allowed us to cover the planet in groundwork, setting the stage for an entirely global network. It was now complete, the problems were solved. The previous solutions, or symptoms, as we had known them, were dead. Trade and commerce? Meaningless. The material needs of the people could all be met by the system, and the system only needed to trade with itself. Labour? Mechanised. Medicine? We now had a single, centralized body with global coverage that could diagnose and treat any known condition the instant it became detectable. Utopia, in our minds, had been achieved. Indeed, perhaps it had. For that moment alone.
Population growth began to accelerate. We had anticipated this. We had provided the people with longevity, constant leisure, and on-demand access to fertility. Suicide rates also began to accelerate. Violent crime. Instances of mental health failure. All moving far faster than our projections. We took away their suffering, so they started to make their own. We took away their death, so they continued to spew life. We had thought that we had emancipated the minds of an entire planet, giving them free reign to explore art and entertainment. We were wrong. Just as the system’s completion had killed science, so too had it killed art. The creative energy died out after just a few decades, and then there were only archives. Endless archives of ideas that had already been had, feeding minds that had already seen them. All that remained fresh were the vain attempts by a people desperate for experience. We had solved humanity, but in doing so had removed its avenues for happiness. It had never occurred to us that humanity might be insoluble, that the only answers that could ever be reached would be partial. It did not occur to us even then.
For the first time in many years (although not nearly so many as the years that have followed), we needed to intervene. Our system could account for the material needs of as many people as it needed to, one way or another. It could not account for their emotional needs. We reconvened. There was a sense of euphoria, almost, at having to reengage our minds. At losing sleep, at straining. The headaches and fatigue of old were gone, of course. Treated by pre-emptive, targeted analgesics and stimulants. But their ghost remained, stirred for the first time. Their parent, the frustration of something unresolved, could only be treated the old way.
It was far, far too late to go back to plan A, even if we had wanted too. All of the resources available to us had been entrusted to the system, and were out of our hands. Besides, there was precious little space, certainly not enough for any new facilities of the scale that would be needed to resume research into extra-terrestrial colonisation. By this point, the seas were all but filled with generators, refineries, infrastructure. The buildings stretched high at almost every point on land, all just as full with people and the organs of our system. Our minds were too tired, too dull to seriously consider the possibility of dismantling parts of what we had made. In any case, we were not even sure that anything could be safely removed. The network had built itself too efficiently, according to calculations too minute for us to unpick. Each part was needed. No, we would stay the course. We would double down. We could meet material needs, but not emotional. This could be fixed.
Below me, the population lives. In the intensive layer. They did not wish to enter. They had their notions, of freedom, of “life”. We were less naïve. We knew that these concepts were specious to begin with, and long dead by now. The answer was not in the restoration of old freedoms. It was in the acceptance of their death. We had reached the inconvenient truth that Plato, Huxley and other ancients had perhaps also found – that liberty and utopia could not co-exist. We, however, possessed the technology to achieve what they could not even theorise.
The unrest was a mourning period for the struggles of old, and we were to usher the flock into acceptance. The population, of course, had continued to surge. The available space had begun to reveal its limitations, its unsuitability for conventional life. Overcrowding was yet to occur, since our residential structures were immaculate in their calculation. Nonetheless, we knew we would have to start initiating the change. There would have to be test cases. It would take time. This was the last time in human history that this would be a concern, and we savoured the moment.
They did not wish to enter. A people starved for change would not take one, when it was presented to them. Still, they would have no choice. For centuries, they had been reliant on the network. Independence was dead. Only in modifying the system’s parameters could choice be exerted, and they did not have the keys to the kingdom. The decision was made for them. We started with the tests. These we kept secret, which was not difficult. Attempted suicides and murders were passed off as successful. The people, being apathetic, would never care enough to notice. Besides, they had experienced lifetimes of implicit trust in the medical apparatus. Such a strong foundation was greatly to our advantage. We could even pass off twin births as single to obtain infant subjects. The birthing process had become so painless, so rote, that such a thing was simple.
The tests were successful. The procedure was swiftly (in relative terms) perfected. The time had come to cross the Rubicon, for the last time – worldwide implementation. We passed our will onto the system, and the system exerted its will on the populace. Only the brain trust were exempt. This was part insurance, part punishment. We felt that we should be the ones to watch over it all, to adjust parameters, observe readings. There was no real purpose to this. It simply seemed correct that we not be party to the fruits of our own solution. Perhaps we felt guilty that it had come to this, despite our intellectual convictions. Perhaps we were simply scared. I do not recall. This was a long time ago, and the feelings have faded much more swiftly than the facts. Most of us are gone now, and I imagine I shall soon follow (although soon is not such a meaningful term in the current time), when even the system’s treatments can no longer keep me tethered. With that, the circle will be closed. Humanity will live below until such a time in the distant, distant future as forces greater than the planet wipe clean the slate.
We did the best we could. Perpetual happiness, sustainable reproduction. By discarding all else, this is what we have achieved. Humanity’s last and greatest work. Our final state. The intensive layer. In their billions, they are contained. Each one in a space no larger than their coffin would be. The wires and tubes penetrate all throughout the body, giving and taking substances in accordance with the system’s calculations. They are kept in health, safe from all harm. There is no need for anywhere beyond their designated space. Their lifespans are tremendous, but the system is self-sustaining. It will outlast them all. When they die, their materials will be reabsorbed, and their space will be filled with a new resident. The archives of old media have been destroyed, their components repurposed. There is no need for them now. The final piece of utopia’s riddle was emotion. They could not be relied upon to experience happiness when given every reason to do so, and so we have bypassed their agency in the matter. We have induced a state of perpetual bliss. Millions of fibres pierce the brain, delivering precise electronic and chemical stimuli. Neurons have no sense for context, for philosophy. For specious ideas. They only read signals, and the signals tell them that they are happy. The memory, the source of so much emotional interference, the root of all boredom and regret, is targeted and reduced to its barest essentials. For them, for all humanity, there is only the first moment of happiness, again and again. This, at least, is the theory. And it has been in practice for many decades now.
I look back and wonder. Did we succeed? Did we save them? It is too late for me to say. It has been a long life, and all that remains is to watch the years pass. Too late for questions now. It is done.