A Children’s Story for Those of Us who Forgot to Be Children.
by Nathaniel Bates
Zander sat in front of his computer having neglected the day outside. His parents were worried, but Zander knew that he needed to catch up on his games. He smiled to himself and grinned as he repeated, “I need to catch up on my games.” His mind wandered to something his Science teacher said about the future of human evolution, how it was in the hands of his students as the new generation. Zander knew from his class and his reading that life was billions of years old. He remembered that complex creatures had been around for hundreds of millions of years. But he believed in his heart that the future was up to humans. Technology would be the future when humans uploaded themselves into computers. Evolution was about to become something people did.
Zander’s parents did not like him playing online games. They were concerned for his sake that he was being “absorbed into violence.” That was always how they talked. But wasn’t violence the way of the world? It was all around him and society never seemed to do much about it. Only when Zander had his small pleasures in the world did anyone seem to care. He was about to shoot a carjacker when a voice came from the computer, “Zander do you see where you are shooting?”
Zander stopped and immediately the computer froze. The voice continued, “You were about to shoot and kill a man.” Zander spoke in a voice barely audible. “Umm…OK. This is weird.” Zander knew about schizophrenia and wondered if he needed help. “I am real, Zander. Well, in a way I am real. I am from your future.”
Zander stood up and was about to shut off the computer when the voice said, “You can send me away if you want. Or you can know your future. Well, you can know your possible future.” Zander asked what was meant by a “possible future.” He was promptly informed that it meant that the voice was from a possible timeline in which humans merged with computers. Other futures were possible. Zander was in shock but seemed to himself sane. He was doing OK considering that any friend he ever might have would laugh at him if he ever told the truth.
Zander was interested enough to listen. If he were crazy there was not much he could do anyway and it would be better not to tell anyone and be locked up. His parents were scared for him enough as it was, or were they scared OF him?
“OK, well, who are you really and why do you talk to me? I’m not a General or the President.”
The voice laughed and said, “I am going to answer your question with a question. Why do you love games so much?” Zander was pissed. How dare this time traveler fu…fudge…well, he was not about to swear at someone who could vaporize him. But this was another adult who thought that the little pleasure he had was somehow “problematic” as his Philosophy Professor mother often said. His Mathematician father would repeat after her and mutter something about corporate algorithms. Now Computer Brain was sounding like Dad with a mechanical voice overlay.
Instead of using a swear word, Zander instead blurted out, “I like them because I like computers better than being a boy!” Zander yelled so loud that he surprised himself at the frankness of his answer. He also realized that his loud noise did not attract his parents. The room was being muffled and all sound was being contained.
“Exactly,” the voice said, “deep down you feel inferior to the logical algorithm of the computer. Being a boy means that you are shaped by millions of years of natural selection, of closeness with Nature and all of Nature’s random illogic. It means suffering and pain.”
Zander was shocked at how well the voice knew him. That word algorithm always bothered him because maybe deep down he wanted to be one.
“Should I run around with wolves like my hippy Dad always said he did in college?”
The voice responded, “You are afraid of wolves just like you are afraid of dogs.” Zander was terrified of a voice that knew him so well. “But isn’t a wolf pup a boy just like you are?”
Being a boy was “problematic” and Zander knew all too well that he was afraid of himself more than wolves. He then imagined himself running with wolves like his father, dancing with wolves like Kevin Costner in the movie where he played a white man who joined the Indians. The thought of it had a strange appeal to him, as though his real fear had really been being absorbed into the woods, being devoured. But what if being devoured was his real escape?
The wolf pup was a boy just like him. This was what he had truly been afraid of, boys just like him. “Why me? I’m not the President.”
The voice answered back, “The future is in your hands. Remember that I am your friend always regardless of what you decide.” Zander nodded and shut the computer off as though an odd feeling of normality returned. In the back of his mind Zander wondered if his mind were controlled to feel normal again.
Zander had Math homework and was good at Math. He decided to finish his Algebra. It was his favorite subject. Someday he would learn Calculus and do mathematical work like his Dad. He would study computer science and make the world a better place, somehow, for people everywhere. Zander dreamed of flying through space, perhaps as a robot. He dreamed of many possible futures. Zander did not want to be a god. He just wanted to make something happen.
Suddenly in the middle of his Algebra he froze. A strange feeling ran through him. Who was that voice really? It was a computerized voice that spoke from the future but it sounded familiar. It knew everything about him. It knew his “innermost heart and soul” as his mother would say. Her words made sense to him at that moment. He knew the voice through time was himself from the future! His own voice came back to him, a warning. In the timeline presented, Zander was the one who invented the upload from humans to machines. It was Zander himself who made it all possible, even inevitable. And while it made many good things happen, it also made warfare easier. Zander suddenly knew it, as though he were meant to know it.
“Do not hate life,” Zander said to himself. Another timeline was possible with the same invention but a different use. It was possible to create a future of the peaceful exploration of space. The voice would still be there because the future always exists. But he knew it would have to be built on life itself. It needed the computer but it also needed the wolf.
After finishing his Math, Zander went outside and ran. He ran fast to the library. On top of a shelf was a book about wolves. Perhaps he and his parents could talk about the old days if he read up on wolves or learned to dance with them. He would not mind just as long as they did not use the word “problematic” anymore.
Someday, maybe in the future, he might invent an upload to preserve the minds of endangered species and put them in new biological forms better adapted to the changing planet. If he did, maybe he could also invent time travel. Hopefully that would not be “problematic.”