The Future of Work
The Future of Work
Long Live Rock!
The truck driver
The Sales Pitch
Handcrafted or Factured
My New Toy
Out of control
The Drug Addict
The Future of Work
In the year 2019, the first key breakthrough allowing for direct communication between the human mind and computers was discovered in a small, underfunded computer science lab at Michigan State University. By the year 2024, the technology had been developed into a widely available commercial application by the privately held MindShare Incorporated.
The new technology accelerated trends in automation that had been in place for decades. Though simple in its design, the MindShare technology changed mankind forever within a matter of months. In the reports that follow, we document the impact that MindShare had on a variety of occupations and individuals. HIstory will judge the benefits and costs of the new technology accordingly but as with the invention of the wheel and the splitting of the atom, the genie is out of the bottle. There is no turning back now.
Long Live Rock!
Everybody love rock.
Rock was good. Rock was reliable. Rock worked.
But then Oog came along with stick.
Stick was new. Stick was light. Stick was fancy.
Stick was, how you say, accurate.
With rock we needed ten men to chase and kill mammoth.
But with stick just one man could kill mammoth.
Stick was, how you say, efficient.
Rock is old fashioned they say.
Stick they say is the future.
I hate stick.
My father use rock. His father use rock. Even his father use rock!
Rock is good I say.
Rock is very good I say.
But my son love stick.
The future creates a great deal of anxiety. It always has. What will the future of work look like? Will my children have the same opportunities as I have had? The answers to these questions have important implications for the choices we make today.
Human history is filled with episodes of technological change. From the hypothesized transition from rocks to sticks in the introduction to the transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers, prehistoric man made tremendous leaps in advancement which we take for granted today.
Arguably, the single greatest advancement in more recent history was the development and adoption of the steam engine. This development replaced the need for human muscles in physical labor. In this regard it leveled the playing field with regard to physical strength. Liberated of this constraint, man could focus on other activities such as the development of more mental pursuits such as scientific research.
That research produced a tremendous number of products such as the internal combustion engine, the transistor and the radio. Therefore, we may characterize the value of any single invention not by the value of its own production but by the number of new discoveries it allows. The steam engine was indirectly responsible for the development of computers, lasers and the moon landing.
Today we have this grand invention known as the Internet. Just as in the early days of the steam engine, we are in the early -- perhaps primitive -- stages of understanding the power of this technology. It will be highly disruptive but ultimately highly productive. As with the steam engine, its major benefits will come indirectly. Tasks will be shifted from human minds to silicon computers freeing us to pursue the next stage in human evolution. With liberation of the body and the mind, we may be free to pursue man’s ultimate quest: liberation of the soul.
The Truck Driver
Yeah, I guess I should've seen it coming the first day computers went into the cab but it was all so subtle. First we had these simple little GPS units. They were just fancy map readers that would figure out the best route between two points. But that was it. If was just another tool like the speedometer or the CB radio.
These gadgets improved every year and they were great. They helped us avoid traffic jams and warned us about bad weather. It was all good.
But we were still in control of the trucks back then. It was all our responsibility. We could choose to ignore those devices if we wanted. And sometimes they did make mistakes. We have probably all heard stories about that lady who drove her car into the lake because she was just following the GPS instructions. We laughed at those stories and took it as a sign that our jobs were safe. Common sense was a necessary part of the equation. We figured we had a lock on that.
Soon after the GPS units came into use, the dispatch companies got excited and started requiring us to install computers and location trackers on our trucks. It felt a little creepy being watched all the time but if that’s what the boss man wanted in exchange for a paycheck who was I to judge? Besides we figured out a few tricks to shield the signal when we needed to catch a little extra shuteye if you know what I mean. And those dispatch units weren’t all bad. You could plan your routes better -- and make more money -- if you could see when shipments were coming up.
Well you can’t stop the hands of time they say. The computers kept getting better and better and more sophisticated to the point that they started taking over some of the driving on the long-haul routes. Again we didn’t seem to mind much at first. You can drive for hours in Nebraska or Montana without seeing another truck. It's all straight out there anyway so the risks were small.
Heck, they’ve had autopilot on airplanes for years so why not trucks? It all made sense at the time. It was safe and we were still behind the wheel in the cab so we were still responsible. During those times I could do a little work like scheduling my next trip or filling out invoices. You could relax a little, grab a bite to eat or chat with your girlfriend. We had done those things previously while we were driving anyway. The autopilot just made it safer. “Go ahead and send all the text messages you want,” they used to say.
We got more and more comfortable with the system. Sure there were a few accidents at the beginning but fewer than we had had before when we were doing all of the driving. Of course, the earliest media reports never focused on this fact. All the hype was about the robots taking over and how we were all doomed. Anything to sell ad time I guess.
The system just kept improving with better sensors and faster networks. They quoted some crazy statistics like a human processes 300 pieces of information every minute he is driving but the computers process something like 300,000. It’s even higher than than if you consider the fact that the computers on the network are talking with other computers. It’s just crazy. As the systems got safer and safer, we learned to trust them more and more. And again, it was all for the good. Shipping costs went way down and safety records went way up. It’s hard to argue against the numbers.
Those computers were also safer because you didn't have the guys driving for 18-20 hours straight without any shuteye or so hopped up on amphetamines they didn’t know if they were coming or going. The computers also drove the trucks much more efficiently. When the price of fuel shot up, the system engineers compensated by having the trucks run smarter. They programmed trucks to drive closer together when they could to make them much more aerodynamic. Again, all of these changes meant less in expenses and more money in my pocket. Everyone was happy.
I was still getting paid and I was still responsible for the truck in those years, so why not why not use a little assistance to make life a little easier? Sure it meant that overall we didn’t need as many truckers as we used to but you know that was unavoidable. Those truckers that resisted the changes didn’t last long. For those of us who remained, life was pretty good. Trucking wasn’t nearly as physically demanding as it used to be.
Of course the inevitable happened and the system just kept getting better and better and it kept driving more and more. It got to the point that the computers were driving the trucks even in the inner cities. We were just sitting back watching making sure everything was alright. Every once in awhile I would need to intervene but it was pretty rare and nine times out of 10 the computer still did better than I would've done.
So was I surprised when they eventually took us truckers out of the cab? In a way, yes, but deep down I knew it was coming. You could see the writing on the wall. Maybe I was actually more surprised that we lasted as long as we did. Then again we ship less and less now anyway. Who would have seen that coming? Now that everyone's got these computers in their heads we figured out that we just don't need as much stuff as we once did. We don't need as many books or TVs or all sorts of electronics. Now you can get all of the information or entertainment you want all from one system -- and that system updates every single day. Once those 3D printers went mainstream, you could construct most any physical object you needed anywhere you needed it. And when you don’t need it anymore you just throw it back in the printer, melt it down and make something else out of it. It’s a crazy new world.
It wasn't just the trucks of course. The computers were taking over all sorts of jobs that we used to do. The factories were full of robots with very few people in them. But that's okay you know. When we started losing our old jobs we discovered that were things that we could still do that the computers could not. Or at least they couldn’t do some things very well. Without needing to do so much physical work, we didn't need to produce as much stuff either. We didn’t need as many cars to go work. We didn’t need to fill our homes with so much clutter. With the computers providing for us, people started spending more time with their families or experiencing the outdoors. People rediscovered arts and crafts. They took pride in creating and producing whether it was painting a picture, brewing beer or cooking a meal together. The computers replaced our jobs but they didn’t replace our curiosity.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed my time as a trucker. But I love my time as a wildlife painter. In the end the computers didn’t enslave us as some folks feared, they actually liberated us.
It sounded crazy at first but it made sense once you thought about. It was the natural next step.
And I needed the money. There weren't many regular jobs left for a person with my skills -- or maybe lack of skills.
I had gone to college. I went to a good school and majored in mechanical engineering -- one of those STEM degrees the politicians talked about -- just as they had advised me. I even made Phi Beta Kappa. The future looked bright and it was...for a while. I got a good job with one of the drone and rocket companies right out of school. I worked long, crazy hours but it was fun and exciting. Demand for our products was booming and we were revolutionizing all sorts of industries. People were coming up with uses for our systems that we couldn't even imagine.
We had a good run but like so many of the drone companies we were eventually taken over by one of the big 3 corporations. The founders became billionaires overnight which was great for them. But of course after the acquisition came the consolidation and the layoffs for redundant workers. I guess I was just one of the lucky ones to be shown the door.
I wasn't worried. I had saved up some money and figured that my skills were still in demand. I had even more experience than I had coming out of college and had worked for one of the pioneers in autonomous drone technology. Who wouldn't want to hire me?
And that's when I realized that the world had changed while I was behind corporate doors. I sent my CV everywhere and had a few interviews but never got much beyond compliments on my "impressive" background. For a while I picked up some project work with one of the consulting firms. It wasn't the most exciting work but it paid the bills. Eventually they said even that dried up.
They said that there was this new technology that boosted productivity of other workers tenfold. All of the new college graduates had it and had been using it throughout their studies. In fact, the students were graduating at a younger age because they ended up knowing more than their professors within a couple of years.
It wasn't so much that they knew more but that they had access to whatever information they needed instantly. Now we all had fast access to almost any piece of information with the internet but it wasn't instantaneous. First you would have to enter what you were looking for into a search engine. It might take you a few iterations to figure out the right combination of words to narrow it down. Then you would have to start looking through the various links the search engine provided to zero in on the information you needed. Then you would actually have to read the article or watch the video that you were interested in and process the information. If it was a particularly complex concept such as a mathematical axiom, you might need to work through the assumptions and theorems to really understand it. Then and only then could you take the information you just learned and apply it to the problem you were working on. The whole process could take hours, days or even weeks.
What these kids had was a more direct connection to the Internet. The bottlenecks in the search process were our human appendages. To interact with the Internet we had to look at a screen with our eyes. So there you have one delay with our brains processing visual information. We have to either type or speak a request into a search engine. That's another delay as we translate our thoughts into words. We have to select particular links by touching them with our fingers. Another delay. Once we found what we were looking for we had to read it and translate the author's words to thoughts and concepts that our brains understand. And that's the biggest delay. Did you ever think about how we are able to convert the light energy from our eyes to the electrical and chemical impulses that make up thoughts in our brains? It's mind-blowing. And a lot slower than the zeros and ones that make up the Internet.
So the concept was simple. By connecting to the Internet directly instead of going through our appendages, you could cut down processing time down to the zero. More importantly you expanded the storage capacity of the brain from whatever you could fit in your physical skull to the entire collective knowledge of the human race. That's a tremendous advantage.
The technology was a natural extension of the smartphone. If you remember the early phones couldn't do much more than check the weather or manage your calendar. Then they added in email access and location awareness. Eventually they became contextual so they would remind you to buy milk when you were near the store by checking in with the refrigerator. Originally everything had to be typed in by hand but then the voice recognition was enhanced so you could just speak your requests. Then cameras on the phone tracked your retinas and facial expressions so that the phone could deduce if you were hungry, cold or anxious and take actions like raising the thermostat.
The phones kept getting smaller and smaller to the point that the components were at a nanoscale. The phone casing was larger than needed just so you could hold something in your hand. The next step was to move these nanocomponents from this empty box to your brain.
The first models were a bit bulky -- just as they always are. They looked like hearing aids that you inserted just behind the ear. They had wireless capabilities and transformed the digital information from the internet into brainwaves that your mind could understand with a little bit of training. These first models were a bit like the early smartphones in their capabilities. You could follow sports scores and check the news but there were limitations on how much you could transmit out.
Those external devices were a bit tricky to manage as well. They had to be positioned just right for the brainwave transmissions to be understood. You couldn't sleep in them or even make much movement.
But eventually the system improved and an internal model was developed with better transmission capabilities. And so Mindshare Incorporated was born.
The Sales Pitch
In just a few short years, the Mindshare corporation had gone from an experiment in somebody's kitchen to the fastest growing company in the country with over 3,000 retail outlets. Despite this, I had to wait six weeks before I could get an appointment.
The office looked much like any dentist’s or doctor's office. There was a waiting room and a receptionist. I signed in and was directed to a small office along a nondescript corridor. Inside a middle-aged woman in a white coat greeted me and directed me to sit in a chair in front of her desk. I think she said her name was Linda but I can't remember the details given my anxiety.
She started by asking me a series of questions. I expected questions about my health and mental state but her questions were more related to marketing and my experience. How did I learn about Mindshare? How many friends do I have with a Mindshare connection? How easy was it to get an appointment? How likely was I to recommend Mindshare to someone else? Finally, she asked me what I knew about the Mindshare Connect process. Although I told her that I had done quite a bit of research, she launched into the full-on sales pitch.
Mindshare was created with the vision of creating a more universal and democratic society. For centuries knowledge has been closely guarded and available only to the privileged few. There were the shamans, the priests or other wise men. With the invention of the Internet knowledge became more available but it's use is still hampered by the use of imperfect physical interfaces like keyboards or mice. Even touchscreens are less than optimal as they still convert a digital signal from the computer to an analog signal in your finger and eye and then back to a electro-chemical signal in your brain.
Mindshare breaks down those barriers by providing a direct connection between your mind and the vast storehouse of human knowledge that is available through the Internet. With Mindshare users can seamlessly use knowledge to enhance their thoughts and ideas. Rout memorization is no longer required allowing users to devote more of their intellectual energy to creating new thoughts rather than just remembering old ones.
Mindshare is not mind control. Once you are connected you are in full control of when the service is active and inactive. There is no advertising on Mindshare. You don't have to worry about subliminal messages. Our objective is to make this technology freely available to everyone at no charge. We believe that with this technology our society will be much more productive and better able to address all the problems we face today.
With Mindshare you will be able to leverage all sorts of new ideas and thoughts as you go about your day. You will be amazed by everything that Mindshare can do for you. When you're not actively using Mindshare we will send your brain problems to work on that are provided by our customers. But don't worry. These problems won't get in the way of your own thoughts and ideas. Our clients include university researchers, governments and charities as well as a private companies who harness the unique problem solving and processing capabilities of the human mind to tackle the toughest problems of our time. You may be helping to work on a cure for cancer or increasing the efficiency of solar panels without even knowing it. And the best part is we will pay you for this service. Every Friday we will make a deposit in your online account based upon the amount of time that your mind has spent working on these problems.
Again you're in full control. You can choose to turn off this functionality or increase it. The amount of money you make is entirely up to you.
Not do you have any questions I can answer?
Did I have any questions? Loads of them. But none that I thought Linda might be able to answer.
How did this thing really work? Why should I trust her word that there wasn't any advertising or mind control? How would I be able to know? And just who were these private companies who would be renting out part of my brain?
No, no questions at all. Where do I sign? I needed to eat after all.
Linda giggled. Oh, we don't collect signatures anymore. Your voiceprint and retinal scan are all we need to prove consent. Besides, we'll know where to find you now, right? She laughed.
I'm kidding. The GPS unit is an optional add-on. You'll be in full control of who knows your location and who doesn't. Don't worry.
But usually people have at least one question. Don't you want to know how the Mindshare device gets installed.
Oh, yeah. I guess I had forgotten about that. All of the Big Brother talk was making me uncomfortable. I just wanted to get this thing and get out of there.
Well, Linda. I assume installation is quick, painless and perfectly safe.
That's exactly right.
Linda was enthusiastic and bubbly. The perfect spokesperson.
Mindshare uses advanced nanotechnology. The device is so small you can't even see it with your naked eye. It's delivered via a nasal spray.
She held up a small bottle with a nozzle that looked like any over the counter nasal spray you'd take for a cold or allergy.
You'll need hold the nozzle up to your nose and squeeze the bottle twice. The first spray will deliver a mild anesthetic. The second spray will deliver the nanos.
She held the bottle out to me. I held it in my hand briefly contemplating the next step. My stomach grumbled reminding me of the stack of bills that was piling up at home. Life was an adventure, right?
With a quick couple of sprays in my nose I was connected. Welcome to Mindshare.
Handcrafted or Factured
It used to be all handmade by necessity rather than by choice. Now everyone is in love with handmade, handcrafted and made by hand. Manufactured is uncouth, generic, plain and ordinary. Of course never mind that the word manufactured comes from the Latin manu factum which translates into -- you guessed it -- made by hand!
We've forgotten that there was a time not too long ago when people sought out manufactured goods. Before industrialization took hold the quality of handmade goods was variable and inconsistent. Moreover it was incredibly expensive. Manufacturing with machines brought consistency and accuracy. It leveled the playing field between the social classes by allowing people of modest means to afford consumer goods. Everything from dishes and cutlery to automobiles and smartphones.
People appreciated the beauty of manufactured goods when they first became available Their precision, standard sizes and consistent production with smooth clean lines differentiated them from handmade items. Hand crafted goods had their place. The could be artistic and unique. There is something special about items crafted by care with human hands but modern manufacturing opened up doors for many people. In addition to improvements in quality, prices fell. With less time spent crafting good and less money needed to purchase them, people could dedicate more of their time to other pursuits. This led to more time spent on education and improving skills for working with all of these new machines -- rather than competing with them. The ranks of mechanics, engineers and machinists grew to replace the army of unskilled laborers that existed previously.
As we go into the next phase of machine knowledge, the same pattern will repeat itself. Workers will be liberated by some of the more mundane or tedious tasks by computers that are better equipped for these tasks. They will figure out ways to work with these new machines to increase their own productivity and open up new avenues of creation. Creations that we can't even fathom.
Manufacturing will inevitably give way to mentefacturing.
The nasal spray was painless. Even the mild numbness that Linda had mentioned was virtually imperceptible. I didn't feel any different. It was nothing like any of those science-fiction or superhero movies where the hero gains immediate special powers or anything. No radioactive spiders here.
For Linda this was all routine. My incredulous look was nothing new for her. I guess everyone expected something magical to happen once those two sprays went up their noses.
"Okay. Now there are just a few simple exercise that you need to do to make sure the connection is established. You can always repeat these exercises in the future if you think the system is not working.
You'll want to think of a question with an answer that's always changing so that you can't memorize it. It should be a question that you could easily look up on the Internet using a standard search tool. So for example you might ask what the weather is like in New York City. Or you might ask what the population of United States is up-to-the-minute.
I thought about this for a minute. I reminded me of a lottery system that the mob used to run in the city of Baltimore back before the state took over the lotteries and made them legal so they could get a cut of the profits. Back then you could call your local bookie and choose a series of eight numbers for the wager. The winning number was determined by the amount of outstanding US debt held by the public that was reported by the US Treasury and printed in the newspaper each morning down to the last penny. This was a perfect system as nobody could rig the numbers -- and they were easily verified.
I told Linda my question was what's the current level of the US national debt.
Ooo, that's a new one. Very creative. Now all you have to do is focus and think 'Well Mindshare what's the level of US debt?'. Just make sure you include that the 'Well Mindshare' part.
I tried but nothing happened. Linda could see the frustration in my eyes and told me to try it again. I needed to be very calm, focused and concentrate. Clear away all other thoughts or emotions and just think about the 'Well Mindshare' part for a few seconds before asking my question.
I tried again still nothing. A third time nothing. On my fourth try I took a deep breath to clear away all my other thoughts and just focused on the on the “Well MindShare” part for a full minute before thinking of my national debt question.
All of a sudden number popped in my head $27,751,411,928,243.29.
I repeated the number to Linda. She smiled and she shook her head saying "Yep that's exactly what I'm getting as well so congratulations you're online. Just practice with the system using that same exercise. It will get much easier as your brain gets used to calling up information. You will get to the point where it's so seamless you won't even recognize the need to stop to get this kind of information."
She continued, "I like to think of Mindshare as my personal library card. I can pull it out when I need it to get the information I need right away. I can then go on with my day pulling out my card again and again as needed to answer each of the questions I come across. It’s like a continuous game or crossword puzzle.
LInda beamed her perky smile trying desperately to convince me that I had made the best decision of my life.
With that you're all set. There are some other tricks that you’ll learn along the way with Mindshare but it's best that you discover them so that you adapt to Mindshare in a way that's best for you. If you ever ever have any questions or any problems of course you can come back and see us. Just make an appointment with the front desk here anytime. It was very nice to meet you and I'm sure you're going to just love all the additional capabilities Mindshare will give you.
With that Linda stood up and shook my hand to keep up with what I knew was a schedule packed with other customers.
My New Toy
I spent the next few days practicing with the Mindshare system. I asked question after question trying to get it to work seamlessly. Well Mindshare what's the temperature in Fresno? How many days does it take Mercury to orbit the sun? How long would it take me to walk to El Paso? Any piece of random trivia that popped in my head was fair game.
I got up to about a 50-50 hit rate within a couple days which sounded depressing but was about average according to some of the user websites. It was an amazing technology. I could answer all sorts of trivia questions almost instantly without even having to open up the computer to type a question. Information just flowed into my mind .
But it was just information. It wasn't really making any smarter. You had to know the information you wanted in order to retrieve it. If you didn't know what information was out there, how would you ever find it?
I discovered one of Mindshare's advanced features by accident. It was a hot muggy summer night and I was trying to get some sleep but there was a mosquito buzzing in my ear. I swatted it way over and over again. But it just kept coming back.
Finally in my frustration night I yelled out "Dammit. What is that constant noise?" with a singular focus.
Instantly my mind was filled with information about the Asian Tiger mosquito. Apparently Mindshare was able to identify it based on the sound of this mosquito coming to my ear. It was a wild experience. Instantly I knew all about the mosquitos’ habits and habitats as well as the diseases it could carry. Most importantly, Mindshare gave me tips for exterminating it with just one swat.
Mosquito-free I slept soundly that night -- if only a little bit paranoid.
The sound recognition application was impressive. I started testing it out with all sorts of sounds. A passing siren could be identified instantly down to the make and model of the ambulance. Bird calls were wonderful. From the faintest little tweet I could identify birds I had never even heard of let alone seen such as an oriole or a bobolink. Was i superhuman? No, not really. I still relied on my own thoughts and reasoning . I just had a better memory. I even remembered things I never knew I knew.
Once I got comfortable with the audio portion of the service. I started experimenting with the visuals. I looked at a blade of grass and concentrated on the question of what it is was. Suddenly I had all that information about this variety of grass flowing effortlessly into my mind. That had direct applications for my work. Now I wouldn't have to go on a lengthy search to understand which material I should use for particular drone component. I didn't need to waste time looking up the drag coefficients of a certain arial design. Suddenly it was as if all of those reference tables and reference books were at my total command. I absolutely had to have this system to compete in the workplace.
Once I got started I couldn't stop. I kept asking questions about everything. Every sound I heard and everything I touched. Like King Midas, this tremendous new power soon went from being a blessing to a curse.
Out of control
It was too much.
The sense awareness triggered such a constant flow of information that I could scarcely hear myself think. As Linda had mentioned, the "Well Mindshare" activation phrase for looking up information became automatic such that I had no control over it. A random thought of what I should eat for dinner was immediately followed by a list of recipes and local eateries.
I laid in bed for several days as I tried to calm my fluttering monkey mind. By depriving the senses of sounds and sights, I hoped to gain control of my thoughts. It helped to some extent but the lack of external stimulus simply allowed my internal chattering voice to be heard much more clearly. The voice that dwells on the superfluous, the voice of fear, the voice of doubt. The questions became darker and philosophical. The answers brought further despair and desolation and fed upon themselves into a downward spiral of nihilism. I had to do something.
I attempted to gather information about the Mindshare service but I was served up information on all of the benefits that Mindshare offered with little regard for any drawbacks. A few symbolic platitudes were delivered to help: Feeling overwhelmed? Just relax and think happy thoughts.
None of this helped. In my disillusion, conspiratorial thoughts began to bubble to the fore. What did I expect? Of course the Mindshare Corporation would be censoring the results. Despite their noble intentions, they were still a corporation after all.
I took a different tack and began to concentrate on concentration. Images of sunsets and seascapes entered my mind. I felt a brief sense of calm that flitted away in a matter of seconds as I began to wonder about the locations of these images along with questions around the water temperature and salinity levels.
The barrage of information was too much. I decided to seek medical attention.
The hope and dream of the Mindshare technology -- like almost all new technologies -- was that it would help us address the major environmental problems that we humans faced. If we could eliminate or sharply reduce the number of smartphones, tablets and other screens that were proliferating, we'd make some progress. If the technology could help us to be better organized so that we didn't have to use our cars as much and plan better routes when we did use them that might help too. Maybe faster access to information would help us make better choices when making purchases and eliminate some of our wasteful or frivolous consumption. Maybe these were just nibbles around the edges of our larger problems but at least it was progress.
Of course, we learned that it's difficult -- maybe impossible -- to predict how technologies will ultimately be used. As Mindshare was rolled out, people started developing all sorts of interesting and creative uses for it. The smartphone was a big step in integrating computers into our daily lives. Mindshare was an evolutionary leap forward in that integration with information transmitted both to and from individuals seamlessly and instantly.
One mundane but powerful example of the creativity that Mindshare unleashed was the transformation of the tourism industry. We saw disruption of the tourism industry before when the internet came online as individuals could book their own flights and hotels directly without going through a travel agent. But Mindshare was leaps and bounds beyond that.
It didn't take developers long to figure out that Mindshare could be used to permit someone to visit a new place without having to move physically. By simply sitting quietly and focusing your attention you could experience all of the sights and sounds of any destination you liked. Want to visit Rome, the Eternal City? Just sit back relax and a virtual tour guide will take you through the streets of the city and show you images that are crystal-clear and perhaps even better than what you might see if you actually walking the streets of Rome. It didn't take long for developers to figure out ways to simulate the smells as well as the sights and sounds. With much of our olfactory senses tied to our visual field the first developers were able to trick the body into experiencing the smell of fresh baked pizza or lasagna. Later developers learned how to map the olfactory pathways through the Mindshare connection and stimulate the senses directly with whichever smells were most appropriate.
In a few years people were taking virtual vacations where they could just rent a hotel room for a weekend and join other Mindshare individuals in a conference room to explore a new destination together. Using the resort pool and kitchen facilities to simulate other parts of the journey, you could visit a new location at a fraction of the cost without any jetlag. Despite the initial skepticism, the trend caught on as those who tried it reported that it was even more enjoyable than the real thing.
The environmental savings were incredible. Of course the airline industry collapsed becoming a shell of what it once was as people could communicate with each other and explore the world virtually without having to go very far from their own residences. Taxi drivers and physical tour operators weren't too happy about the changes but they adapted as well. The advent of the technology allowed many more middle class people to travel, to learn and to explore while reducing their carbon footprint dramatically relative to conventional travel.
And this was just one of many simple examples of how Mindshare revolutionized life.
Of course we were worried when Mindshare came along. How could we not be? If individuals had instantaneous access to all knowledge since the beginning of time why would they need a teacher? But of course you need to be geared up for a fight. At first the politicians were on our side, protecting the noble profession of teaching -- along with our votes. But then they started salivating over the idea of being able to cut back on education spending tremendously while at the same time having a more skilled workforce. So much for the union.
That said,t our fears turned out to be all premature. First of all we learned that Mindshare technology wasn't particularly safe for a young impressionable mind. I daresay it's not safe for a lot of adult minds either. it's a lot of information that can flow right into your head and you need to know what to do with it. If you don't, you can go crazy with information overload. So the kindergarten teachers and the elementary school teachers were clearly safe. The curriculum certainly changed with much more emphasis on self-discipline and self-control as well as physical activity. We learned that some of the older arts such as meditation and yoga were particularly useful for when children did get their Mindshare systems implanted later on.
In the middle grades there was a lot of demand for developing skills for actually using all of the information that Mindshare could provide. We discussed the content but a lot of time was spent just helping students formulate good questions. It was also important to be able to distinguish between good information, falsification, bad information, and misinformation. That's a skill that even the most experienced user still struggles with. It’s really nothing new. After all, history is written by the victors as they say. But now with information available instantaneously to the masses, it was even more of an issue.
Early on we thought that it would be enough just to acquire good thought processing skills. Once you had these skills, they would be sufficient to learn anything else an individual may need to know. Sure you might want to take a course or two with an expert in a particular field but if you knew how to use the system and how to leverage the information, you would know how to learn and with that you could do anything you wanted to independently. Or so the thinking went.
But it didn’t turn out to be that easy. We found the need for students to keep going to high school and college although the curriculum changed dramatically. The feedback from the corporate bigwigs was not that they needed more instruction in the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math as we had focused on for the past couple of decades. It was entirely the opposite. We focused on the arts. Human ability for writing, poetry, visual arts, movement and all sorts of artistic thinking is what differentiates us from the computers and the robots. They can do the complex mathematical calculations faster and with greater precision than we will ever be able to. We built them to do that for us after all.
What they lack is creativity and a concept of mortality and the future. Our terminal state depresses us and creates anxiety but it’s also a motivator and causes us to view the world differently, less rationally than a machine might. With this focus on human expression and creativity, you saw all these old major areas of study that were thought to have been completely forgotten come back. Art schools swelled their ranks and supplanted the Ivy League colleges in the number of applicants. Programs that had been shut down in philosophy and religious studies were added back to the curriculum. Musicians replaced Silicon Valley coders. Poets became the new chief executives.
In the end it surprised us all to discover that technology didn’t destroy the arts. It actually saved them.
Mindfulness training was well established as beneficial to health and well-being long before MIndshare technology became available. It was actually well known for centuries prior to western medicine's acceptance of it.
To western minds focused on visible expression and constantly "doing" something, the idea of sitting quietly with an active attempt to clear the mind of all thought seemed foreign. That was the realm of the lazy. Idle hands were the Devil's handiwork. No, western minds and hands had to be busy in order to have value. Or so we thought as the twentieth century introduced amazing feats of engineering and gigantic leaps in scientific understanding. To remain idle was to stand in the way of progress, to fail to contribute to the broader society.
But that tremendous burst of activity came at a cost. We were unprepared to handle such radical changes that new technology brought. The mere fact that our life expectancy doubled in as little as 50 years was difficult to handle. Before the 1900s the objective was to be born, work and reproduce before dying. Now we had a whole second life to live in an aging body. What would we do with all of the extra time?
It wasn't too long that people started turning to alternative theories and philosophies to make sense of this new lifestyle. Alternative lifestyle communes sprang up with the idea to improve society by rejecting some or all new technology. But that didn't last long either. There were tremendous benefits to new technology. Unless your whole family and social group made the same choices -- like the Amish -- it was extremely difficult to disconnect from the broader world.
Some found solace in religion. Perhaps they chose the religion of their parents or grandparents or perhaps they found a new religion. For some it was the ritual and repetition that gave them peace, something to focus on. For others it was the connection to a higher power, an acceptance that they were but one small cog in a giant cosmic wheel. For some the idea that their own individual lives are of little consequence can be liberating: come what may the world will go on -- or if it should stop it won't be because of me. For others this idea can be debilitating, why bother trying if in the end it will end either with a bang or a whimper?
With the advent of MindShare came the need for deeper mind training. Soon charlatans of every stripe appeared with promises of providing meaning and order for a modest -- but continuing -- fee. The power of suggestion was enough for some to buy into these schemes but scientific testing only confirmed the benefits of one of man's oldest exercises: mindfulness.
The idea is quite simple. So simple in fact that no guidebook or guru is needed. In fact, we found that the mind and body were pre-programmed to enter the mindfulness state naturally if we only let them. It is as simple a breathing deeply and consciously. Although we may have industrialized food, shelter and clothing, the breath remains a common necessity for every man, woman and child that cannot be replaced through automation or technology.
Seven seconds to breathe in and eight seconds to breathe out. By the third breath, the active mind calms and the slow mind takes over. And yet "slow" is a misnomer as the seemingly empty mind remains quite active. It simply exists unguided, open to formulate its own thoughts and connections.
This aspect was particularly important for the functioning of the MindShare system and the true strength of the human mind over artificial systems. Computer codes could be written to execute a series of steps with greater efficiency and precision than the human mind ever could. Computers were not subject to memory loss or fatigue, fully capable of repeating the same task over and over again hundreds, thousands or even millions of times. Storage space for saving information was seemingly infinite with processes and algorithms that insured instant recall with perfect fidelity.
The human mind offered neither of these. Even those few individuals who possessed idonic memories possessed a mere fraction of the capabilities of the most basic of mobile phones. The complex and random nature of the human mind that made it so inefficient and unreliable for storage and computation was the source of its strength in creative and alternative thinking.
Though still poorly understood, the latest scientific thinking suggested that it was the inefficient placement of neurons throughout the brain that made such thinking possible. A neuron containing information about the color of the sky this morning might sit next to a neuron processing information about the traffic patterns facing a driver on the way to work. A random mis-fire between these unrelated neurons suddenly generates a thought that refocuses the driver's attention causing him to slow down to avoid a collision while reminding him to buy the orange box of diapers for his infant daughter on the way home that evening. These “mistakes” were the basis of our Eureka moments when suddenly we appear to be struck by inspiration whether it’s in the shower, climbing a mountain or sitting under a Banyan tree.
Try as they might, engineers and scientists were unable to replicate these random thought patterns in computer codes or hardware. A bit of randomness was a bit of error which could be overlooked or accommodated but never interpreted for its own benefit by logical machines. While disappointing for some, all-in-all it was a benefit for humans as it kept them relevant. MindShare offered a bridge between the purely analytic and creative worlds allowing man to live in symbiosis with machine rather than the much feared apocalypse.
They’ve been calling for the death of libraries and librarians for year. But you know what, we’re still here and we’re needed now more than ever. Some people still have the misconception that all we do is put books on a shelf and collect fines on overdue materials. But it’s so much more than that. What librarians do -- and what we’ve always done -- is categorize information for easy retrieval. Nobody thinks that’s important until they need to find something.
There are hundreds of automated services on the Internet that will serve up information to you. And for most day to day questions those are fine. What’s the temperature outside? Who won the Red Sox game last night? Where is the next Olympics going to be held? You know, the basics,
But when it comes to more involved research questions it could take a long time to sift through all of the information a search engine might deliver unless you know where to look and how to look. Most people don’t realize it but there is a lot of information that is hidden away in proprietary websites or in educational databases that don’t have the budget or resources to advertize or optimize their search engine results. What you end up with is information delivered by the highest bidder. Some of it is just watered-down light versions used to drive attention to some advertisements. Some of the information is just incorrect or unsupported by facts. It’s just so easy now for anyone with an agenda to manipulate the information that gets released.
Who gives a care about Mindshare around here? That's what we thought as farmers and ranchers. We did the real work in this country. Everyone has to eat at the end of the day. Despite all the machinery and the technology, farming was still hard work hard physical work. Sure, it was nothing like what my grandpappy had to do what with plowing the fields by hand and praying for rain. We had robots that took care of the fields from start to finish. They would plow and seed and harvest throughout the year and knew the conditions of the soil down to the last millimeter. With advancements in pesticides, herbicides and genetically modified organisms we were still feeding the world. All the billions of us.
So when this fancy-schmancy Mindshare technology came along we didn't give it much thought. We thought it was like another fancy smartphone. Yeah, it was nice to play games and send text messages to your buddies but it didn't change the game. Farming is physical not virtual.
But as science often does, Mindshare changed our lives in ways that we could scarcely imagine. On the producer side, it connected us into a community of farmers. Farmers have always been looking out for each other and have helped each other along the way by sharing ideas but this was different.
Going to my fields, I just have to look at some pest or bug and instantly I’ll get some information about that insect and how other farmers in the area have been dealing with it. Sometimes I realized that the bugs I thought were pests really weren’t or that they were already being managed out so I didn’t need to add additional pesticides.
By being plugged into a wider scientific community I was also able to better manage my mix of crops. For years we thought specialization was the key right? Focus on what you know like growing corn and you’ll come out ahead by not being distracted or spread too thin. If you're in Florida you grow oranges and sugarcane and become an expert at that. If you’re in Iowa, it’s corn and so on.
But that was an old way of thinking based on our own limitations. Now with this new technology we could keep track of all sorts of factors. We could grow a mix of grain crops, fruits and vegetables all on the same plot of land. Previously we would have grown not only just one crop but one species of crop for miles and miles. Now with MIndshare I could literally keep track of each millimeter of space. Ironically, we went back to the old way of farming that the Natives had before the Europeans showed up. They knew all about crop rotation and burning the grasslands and mixing symbiotic crops. They just did it on a smaller scale. With Mindshare we could achieve specialization with scale.
Practicing medicine today was nothing like it was in my mother's day let alone my grandfather or great-grandfather's day. Sure, medicine has constantly evolved so every generation could say the same thing about those that went before them. But, boy, today was REALLY different.
With the diffusion of the internet, everyone instantly became an expert. Or so they thought. Information is a wonderful thing in the hands of someone who knows what to do with it. Like any tool, it can be misunderstood and misused. A hammer is not a screwdriver. You know what I mean? A knife can cure or it can kill.
All sorts of hypochondriacs crawled out of the woodwork with the internet. A patient who felt a little bump on their arm suddenly jumped to the conclusion that it was cancer and that we needed to run a host of expensive tests to determine the best course of action. Of course, a casual glance showed that it was just a mosquito bite. That's just one real example. I've seen everything. People coming to see me because they think they have smallpox, a disease we eradicated decades ago. And if you did have smallpox, what are you doing walking around and coming to see me? And that's what I mean. There's a lot of knowledge but little common sense.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for freedom of information and access to it. Most of my patients have benefitted tremendously from MindShare either directly or indirectly by having more informed doctors around them.
But a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing if you’re not prepared to use it.
“Johnson, you’re up!” they said that day. I didn’t know what this was all about but I gave up questioning the rules a long time ago. I was in this place whether or not I deserved to be and that meant I no longer got to choose. I just had to obey if I wanted to stay out of trouble.
They had a nice way make it sound like you had a choice when you really didn't have a choice. Yeah, you could refuse. You could say no, it was your right after all but that didn't mean to be consequences. So when they asked me if I want to have this mind thing implanted in my head my first reaction was “Hell no!” This was exactly what I've been worried about this whole time. When you find out that the government is going to put something in your head it makes you wonder if those guys with the tinfoil hats had something right all wrong. But as it said it’s not really up to you to make the choices here.
The only attractive part of this deal was that they agreed to reduce my sentence. I still had another six years on to go and they said if this experiment worked I could be out in his little as six months. Now that's a bargain that's worth taking. This place is a hellhole -- everybody knows that. So yeah I took the deal. So what if they were going to monitor my thoughts. It's not as though I have a lot of freedom in this place anyway.
I sat down with this guy in a white coat. A guard of course was there watching over everything. It didn't really hurt much or anything. I thought it was going to be an injection or something but turned out it was just some type of a nasal spray. He snorted it up into my left nostril and then he gave me some instructions about just easing into it and thinking about things clearly. I'm not really sure what he meant. I've never been that much into those computers or phones or anything.
And that was it. Oh, the other nice thing about this was that they moved me to a different part of the prison because we couldn't get any Internet connections or social networks out in the general population. They set up a special cellblock with Internet access for those of us with these Mindshare things in our heads. It was brand-new wing. Nice and clean and we got it all to ourselves without having to deal with with the overcrowded block. And it was all funded by this Mindshare Corporation. I don't know why some company would want to give us bums a place this fancy by I wasn’t asking any questions.
To tell you the truth I didn't feel any different after that nasal spray. Actually I was feeling pretty good because I thought I was pulling a fast one on these guys when the spray didn't seem to work. I slept well that night all on my own. I didn't have to worry about anything or anyone sneaking up on you in the middle the night. That felt really good and the funny thing happened in the morning though I was thinking about the Red Sox and how many times they had played in the World Series. In this number 12 just popped in my head. Now I'm no Red Sox fan mind you. I was never been much into baseball at all and especially not all the statistics but this number is 12 just seemed so right. It seemed like it had to be the answer. It was just like in elementary school. I was pretty good at math in school as I could just stare at numbers and the answer would just kind of pop in my head. It was just like that. So that number 12 was kind of funny. But I didn't think much of it. Probably I was just remembering something that I heard a long time ago.
I met the other Guinea pigs at breakfast that morning. They seemed alright but the first thing you learn in prison is not to trust anyone. It didn't matter what happened the day or night before. You always made it seem like just another day in paradise.
Another strange thing happened that morning that made me start to question whether or not that guy in the white coat had really done something to my head. As I was looking at the guy sitting across from me at the breakfast table and studying his face I blurted out the name “Mike Quinton Johnson”. Well the guy looks up at me with grunt and says “Whaddya say?”
“So I says ‘That's your name, right?’”
Well he gets all puffed up and bellows, “I don't know where you got that but you better forget that quick now. You call me Shark like everyone else. Or are we go my to have a problem here?“
He shoved his spoon at me to make me understand. Of course I agreed to call him shark, squid or whatever else he wants. I didn't want any trouble especially over anything as stupid as a name. The truth is I had no idea how I knew his name. Like I said I kept to myself and I had never seen this guy before.
I started to get some answers later that day when we were called into this MindShare training session. It seems I wasn't the only one experiencing these strange thoughts. The pinhead in the white coat explained that the nasal spray contained some type of tiny machines that connected our brains to the Internet. It was all experimental but it showed tremendous promise. Oh and of course it was all completely safe based on their previous studies. Yeah, right! That’s why they rushed to give it to those of us stuck in the pen. Our wonderful government is always doing its best to look out for us prisoners. But whatever. Like I said, if it got me out of that hellhole even one day earlier it was worth it.
So white coat tells us that the Internet information will flow into our minds seamlessly but we have to be concentrating on just one thing at a time. But he also says we can’t overthink it either cause if we starting thinking about how we’ll get the information or why it’s important the system will get confused. Then he tells us to think of one thing we’d like to know and just focus on that. Maybe something we really miss knowing about from the outside world?
Naturally each of us thinks about the worst possible things imaginable -- we were criminals after all. So some of us are thinking about drugs or our next score or naked ladies. And of course the system doesn’t work. White coat finally catches on after asking us to focus and forget everything else. And of course he has to come clean and say that the system has some restrictions for those of us behind bars. Anything illegal is off limits. So where’s the fun in that! He also let’s us know that because this is an experiment, any requests will be closely monitored and recorded for quality control purposes.
Quality control. “Yeah right!” I’m thinking. Always looking out for the poor prisoner. Of course there using us to try this thing out. To see if it really works or if we go insane. It’s no different from the medical experiments and drug testing governments having been doing for years on prisoners without their knowledge. I know it, they know it, we all know it. But we have to play this game and pretend like we all love each other. So, thank you, white coat. Thank you for looking out for me and my fellow brothers behind bars!
Funny thing happens while I’m thinking about this. I suddenly get this detailed information on quality control:
Quality control (QC) is a procedure or set of procedures intended to ensure that a manufactured product or performed service adheres to a defined set of quality criteria or meets the requirements of the client or customer. QC is similar to, but not identical with, quality assurance (QA).
Whoa! It’s great to feel so smart but I have to remember that they’re on to me. Physical prison takes away a lot of your freedom and dignity but at least you got to keep whatever is inside your head. With MindShare that was no longer the case. Physical prison can be nightmarish hell on Earth but mental prison isn’t a walk in the park either.
The Drug Addict
Legend has it that Leo Locke, the neuroscientist and inventor of the brain-machine interface at the heart of MindShare, was trying to help his drug addicted son when he developed the original device. He hoped to create a device to stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain so that his son wouldn’t suffer the physical consequences of his drug abuse.
After years of trying various treatments and failing, the thinking was that he could at least spare the physical wear and tear on his son’s body from powerful narcotics by more surgically stimulating the parts of the brain that led to addiction. Pharmaceuticals are indiscriminate. Once absorbed into the bloodstream they flow throughout the body hyper-stimulating cells wherever they may be. A more targeted device could deliver this payload directly to the pleasure centers without the collateral damage.
At first he imagined a brain implant with a shunt to the outside of the head where the drugs could be injected. While this worked in animal studies, the dosing was unreliable and in some cases fatal -- especially if the addicted animal itself was given control of the dosing. Because the drug entered directly there was none of the dilutive effect that would traditionally accompany a dose taken by mouth or injection.
Dr. Locke realized that he needed to develop a mechanism to regulate the dosing precisely. He was working at the neural level which were far too small to connect to wires or filaments. It was almost by chance that he learned about advances in microrobotics that gave him the insights he needed to create the neurointerface that eventually became Mindshare.