Published on 08/29/2022
The year is 2089. The American government is nothing but a figurehead now, orchestrated by a mega-corporation who has formed to control the western hemisphere. Whatever laws that had once existed to prevent mega-corps and monopolies were now gone from the rule books. The Unity corporation contained companies who at one point had all operated in separation from each other, ranging from specialization in social media, shopping, food production, and healthcare to name a few. Combined, these companies and their sub companies held far more power over the people than any democratic government could have, and very few laws went into effect that had not been lobbied for by Unity.
In 2089, there was no longer such a thing as “the middle class”. There was simply the poor and the rich. Regardless of status, all humans now came equipped with nanobots flowing in their bloodstream. Advertised as machines hell-bent on ensuring your health and well-being, the true purpose of these bots was to collect highly individualized data for Unity, and a set number of bots was given to everyone regardless of financial status. High blood pressure? Constantly advertise “heart healthy food options”. High-step count? Perhaps you’re in need of a new pair of shoes judging by the shock of each step being felt in your legs. While the nanobots did in fact aid in keeping the user healthy, its effectiveness was directly correlated to how many thousands of bots were in the body. The richer you were, the more nanobots you could afford to have injected into you, meaning better vitality. However, creeping in the back of everyone’s mind was the faint knowledge that there were little robots in your body that, if it was so decided, could kill you from the inside out at any given moment.
Flying cars still didn’t exist to the common public, but the idea of what a car should do had changed. Manual driving was a skill that only professional racers carried, and this was at speeds that touched near Mach 1. All consumer cars were self-driving and self-parking. Owning a car was only for the rich, leaving everyone else to hail cars like people had once done with the taxis of old. Of course, there were so many cars on the road that you would only be waiting for a maximum of a minute at any given location before a car was in front of you waiting to take you to your destination. If you paid more, you could even get perks such as legally going twice as fast as the speed limit, insurance that you would not be riding with a stranger, or even having a premade meal ready in the car when you entered.
Prosthetics had advanced to the point where those who had the means to were voluntarily having their limbs amputated so they could use the far superior mechanical versions. Among the augmentations were legs that made you run faster or jump higher, arms and hands that came pre-loaded with the ability to play every stringed instrument in existence, and even prosthetic internal organs (many of the rich seemed to have a strange kink for being a vampire, and would get prosthetic hearts that did not need to beat to pump blood). But the real advancement humans had made to themselves was internalizing virtual reality.
In the times of old, people had to place a visor over their heads and headphones over their ears to be “immersed” in VR. This didn’t even include any of the other senses such as touch, taste or smell. However, in 2042, after the true advent of AI, the first neural implant for virtual reality had been created and was called Neural Reality. Users would no longer have to wear visors or wear full body haptic suits to be in the virtual world. Now, with just a thought, you could enter virtual reality at any time, anywhere. You could decide how immersed you wanted to be, from simply seeing an overlay of virtual objects cast onto those in the real world, to being completely immobilized and injected into a digital world. In this state, your brain was tricked into thinking it was seeing, tasting, feeling, smelling and hearing an entire world that in reality did not exist. It was the escapist’s dream. It was also developed by Unity, and dubbed by some conspiracy theorists as “Unity Reality” based on the theory that the corporation used it to control the human race through artificial thought injection. There was, of course, no proof of this, and all studies that had looked into this idea had either concluded that there was no way this was possible, or had been stopped suddenly for “internal reasons”.
Having technology directly connected to the brain brought with it benefits and detriments. The mobile phone went the way of the television, since all communications and entertainment could be popped right into your field of vision with a thought. However, there were initial fears of what would happen if these implants were hacked, and rightfully so. During the first 5 years after Neural Reality’s release, there were dozens of cases of these implants being hacked and overloaded, literally frying the user’s brain. Cases of direct mind control by hackers were rumored, and Unity had to work overtime to stomp out all worries. However, after over 40 years of constant work and improvement, less and less cases like these appeared until they stopped completely, and to nearly all it seemed that Neural Implant had become the first unbreachable piece of technology. This was thanks to Unity’s advanced use of the Internet of Things.
An early 21st century concept, the Internet of Things had evolved from everything being connected to everything being AI powered and networked. This meant that nothing was really doing what it was originally meant to do and literally everything was connected. While your light bulb produced light, it was also running 20 billion calculations in tandem with your socks to determine if now was the right time to sell or buy crypto. Your coffee maker also doubled as a networked server for your home’s entertainment center alongside your countertop. Every single item imaginable was now, in some way, connected to the internet, all thanks to Unity who owned every subcompany that produced them. Unity used the connected objects to double as security officers for users’ Neural Implants. Instead of connecting directly to a router or antennae, the Neural Implant first had to connect to at least 10 different connected items. The items, dubbed Connection Guards, would then verify the user, transmit the signal to another connected object at random, which would then act as the router and send the request to Unity’s Neural Reality servers. No connections could be made to the neural implant except through the selected Connection Guards, and these ten items would not accept data for that user from anything except that one access point chosen at random. Every connected item had the ability to either be Connection Guard or Access Point, so the possibilities of how an implant was connected at any given time were limitless.
From another perspective, this meant that if someone wanted to try and take control or invade another person’s implant, they would first have to correctly guess which 10 or more items the implant was connected to. They would then have to spoof, or pretend to be those items, which required cracking the AI powered encryption that stored the individual ID’s of those objects. This meant that even if the intruder managed to crack all 10 or more, there was a high probability that the ones they chose would be wrong. They would then have to figure out which item had randomly been chosen as the access point (which, when in somewhere like a restaurant, counted in the thousands), and correctly crack that ID since the neural implant did a final security check to ensure the access point ID matched. Finally, the implant changed these connections every 30 seconds, meaning you had under half a minute to accomplish all of this. In short, without the help of at least 3 AI powered Super Computers, it was impossible. Even if someone was able to do all of it, there was one last checkpoint.
The implant has an innate last line of defense built into the software that would attempt to destroy any unrecognized entities that made its way in. If someone or something got all the way through, they would appear in the user’s neural reality without the ability to affect the simulated world and would usually be destroyed in moments. However, in the brief moments where the implant’s anti-virus functionality formed against the intruder, the user had the ability to override the destruction. If the user “touched” the entity in anyway, the anti-virus program would view this as the user confirming the intruder as non-dangerous, and would shut off. This override was meant as a development tool for testing how the implant would react to new features, but it was never removed from production since the initial security protocols were deemed impenetrable. After Unity installed the Connection Guards and Access Point security protocol 35 years ago, there had never been a report of an entity breaching the device, and thus very few people outside the company even knew about the override’s existence.
Vincent jumped up from his bed with a start. Sweat covered his body, and his breathing was short and uneven. Even now, his memory of the dream he had just awoken from was already beginning to fade, but he could distinctly remember their faces. All of them reaching their hands out to grab his neck. Trying to finish him in his sleep.
He walked to the bathroom and splashed his face with water. He looked up to the mirror to inspect his face, only to grimace at the person that scowled back at him. His blonde hair was a mess, and he could swear that some of those hairs were not a light blonde but rather gray, though he avoided inspecting them in an attempt to maintain ignorance. Stubble was beginning to grow on his cheeks, and despite the sleep he had just awoken from he still had slightly dark bags under his pale blue eyes. He glanced down to pick up the razor, then looked back at the mirror.
A dark-skinned man with long black hair and a hollow face stared back at him.
Vincent sprang back to the wall, stumbling over himself and wiped at his eyes. Hesitantly, he looked back at the mirror. The blond-haired face that was his own peeked back at him. He breathed out loudly then walked slowly back to the mirror, not daring to take his eyes off his face. It was getting worse, not better, despite what the doctor had said. He would have to speak with him soon. As he shaved, he inspected around his face for any signs of wrinkles forming. Afterward, he applied a special cream to the areas he thought might be perceptible. At the age of 57, he still did not look a day over 24, save for the bags under his eyes.
“Health Analysis” he muttered to himself. His vision filled with info boxes telling him his bodies current status, ranging from heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen intake, hydration, and so forth. It also displayed a suggestions panel for actions he could take for improved health. One of them was to cut coffee from his diet.
“As if” he thought. He began to comb back his hair, applying product to keep it in place. The hair on the top was long while the sides were buzzed short, but they were starting to grow out. He would have to go to the barber sometime soon. In his absent mindedness, the comb slipped from his robotic right hand, and he averted his gaze to reach for it. Just as he came back up, he caught himself before he looked at the mirror. Out the corner of his eye, he could tell the figure in the mirror suddenly had blond hair much longer than his own and a very feminine figure.
Without looking at the glass, he placed the comb back on the sink and walked out the bathroom.
“Good morning Vince.” A pleasant woman’s voice filled the living room that Vincent walked into, and classical music began to play at a low volume.
“Good morning Sasha,” Vincent replied, plopping himself onto the couch with a sigh. “What’s for breakfast?”
“Cinnamon Apple Oatmeal with a side of egg whites. It will be ready in 5 minutes.”
Vincent frowned slightly at the food choice. “Couldn’t I get something a little heartier?” he asked.
“This breakfast is great for you heart. Your blood pressure is elevated beyond its normal threshold. Your cholesterol is also higher than recommended. This meal has the benefits of- “
“Yeah ok never mind I get it, that’s not what I meant by ‘heartier’…” Vincent interrupted. Annoyed, he mentally decided he would go to the coffee shop later simply in spite of Sasha’s health recommendations. He stared into nothingness for a few moments, then decided now would be a good time to call his doctor.
“Call Dr. Thomas,” he thought. A phone icon appeared in his vision, and he waited as a low ringing noise that only he could hear filled his ears. Then, a man’s voice.
“Good morning Vincent. I don’t believe I have you scheduled for today. Is something wrong?” The voice was convincingly human, but Vincent knew better. Unity had built custom AI’s to act as humans in specialized positions such as doctors and lawyers. Using Neural Reality, you could connect directly to a “doctor” from the comfort of your home. They were cheaper than actual doctors and were popular for small to moderate medical problems. You would normally still have to set up an appointment to avoid overloading the servers that housed this AI, but for Vincent it was a different story.
“Yeah sorry to bother you Doc, but the hallucinations and dreams seem to be getting worse. I can barely look at my own reflection anymore without flinching.”
“Hm. May I have permission to view your logs?”
There was a pause as the nanobots in his blood stream and the implant on his brain uploaded his body’s data to Dr. Thomas. While the nanobots gave advanced health data of the body as a whole, it was the implant that the doctor would scrutinize in Vincent’s case. Hooked directly into the brain, it logged every firing of the trillions of neurons that gave human’s their intelligence and memories. With the power of AI, Dr. Thomas could experience in full everything Vincent had within the span of 5 days. Some people even went so far as to upload their memories to massive storage centers so they could relive past times as if they were actually there.
“Is that a good ‘hm’ or a bad ‘hm’?”
The doctor went silent again then began. “Despite our treatments, it would seem that your PTSD has gotten worse in the last few months. You had a period where you were improving, but for some reason beyond my analysis, your mental stability has fallen dramatically since the middle of March.”
Vincent winced at the mention of that month.
“Did something happen during March that I am not aware of, Vincent? For the most part, your records during that month are particularly clean, yet your recovery has fallen off since then.”
Vincent did a system check to ensure that the nanobots and implant were no longer uploading data to the AI, then lied.
“No, nothing that comes immediately to mind.”
“Vincent, I would like to remind you that though I respect your want for privacy, your constant insistence to stay disconnected from Unity whenever possible means much of my analysis of your body is stalled.”
Vincent sighed. “I got it Doc, but I prefer to be asked before my entire life’s history is picked away at.”
“Your recovery will be elongated if so.”
“Then so be it.” Vincent crossed his arms alone in the living room.
The doctor was silent for a moment, then spoke. “Your benefits allow for one injection of neural nanobots. You have rejected them since I first mentioned them to you a year ago, but I highly recommend- “.
“I’m not getting that injection Dr. Thomas, already got enough of your little trackers swimming in my body already” Vincent stated coldly. He was quickly getting annoyed with the direction this conversation had gone. He just wanted advice and medication to help ease the hallucinations and dreams. Nanobots were overkill and the AI doctor knew it. However, Unity’s wishes came first in its programming, and it was designed to always suggest solutions that would benefit Unity first, then the user. Vincent was not having it, and so he gave a command.
“Unity Override: Prescribe biological medication for hallucinations and trouble sleeping.”
The doctor was silent, then a voice far more mechanical rang through Vincent’s ears. “Password.”
Silence again, then the mechanical voice responded. “Stand by for verification.” At this, his implant sent his unique ID to be validated against the password.
After a short while, the Doctor’s natural voice returned. “Vincent, I have placed a prescription for you containing doxepine and risperidone which should aid in your sleep problems and hallucinations. Please pick it up in 2 hours at your saved pharmaceutical location.
“Thanks Doc,” Vincent said. Then he closed the connection. A small robot on four wheels scuttled over to Vincent. On its top was a tray carrying a bowl of oatmeal, a small plate of egg whites, and a glass of orange juice. Of the items, the orange juice held no health benefits to Vincent, but he had preprogrammed it to be served at all of his breakfasts regardless of Alex’s food choices. The robot stopped in front of him, then a mechanism lifted the tray up to where Vincent could comfortably eat from it while remaining seated on the couch.
After finishing his meal, Vincent put on dark jeans and boot-like sneakers and covered his upper half with a white t-shirt and a black blazer. He donned a gold chain, a pair of dark sunglasses and, after hesitantly checking himself in the mirror, walked out the door. He lived on the second floor of an apartment complex in Brooklyn and always opted to take the stairs since it was usually faster than waiting for the elevator. After stepping out of the building, he began walking down the street to his favorite coffee shop.