Petri Dish – A sci-fi short story

A girl called Delphia in a study

In a bright and happy bedroom, Delphia, a primary school girl is sprinkled small fragments of bio-material into a petri dish. She watched the tiny fractals, made intelligent by a Wi-Fi connection, autonomously self-organize into various new tiny species of gadgets.  The box revealed the toy was one of those Occupy Internet-of-Things starter colonies that parents routinely provided their children. The kits were routinely used to teach ethics in technological-permaculture paradigm, which followed in the wake of the networked society, in the hope that the misdeeds and false starts of dark years will never get repeated.

Figure 1: MCU – Girl in her room looking at a Petri dish where you can create a culture of little gadgets. Zoom to gadgets CU

Many in the now dominant Occupy movement had objected to the word colony on the Petri starter kits because it was a reminder of the long years of cold hard of occupation by the machines that co-opted the original Interne-of-Things. Others thought it better to have stark reminders of the past atrocities to ensure the lessons of the past would not need repeating.  Delphia didn’t care about these ‘old school’ arguments and was enamoured by the cute ways the tiny devices communicated with each other as she marvelled at the effect she could have on her little micro-community. By messing with the culture and values of their underlying operating machinery she caused the ecosystems to evolve into wonderful original creations.

The components that made up the self-organizing community looked like tiny little flecks of metal but were in fact made of a biodynamic material which allowed for a means to construct the sustainable technologies needed for an evolved, advanced society. But only those who chose to live on the right side of history got to live in this world and had the responsibility to work towards the reunification of the species.

Arrogance – The gadget starter culture with terms and conditions

Figure 2: XCU Then evil Arrogant starter culture is introduced to the dish. Mood dark random sounds occasionally penetrate the brightness. XCU on the label warnings.

Arrogance was a starter culture that came in a titanium child-proof container in case it should accidentally make its way into civilian society. Only because the child’s dad was a futurist at the culture lab did this famously notorious culture fall into the girl’s hands. The warning about keeping the culture away from other cultures because it seeks to become the dominant culture by artificially creating scarcity, mistrust, competition, fragmentation and alienation between people to create insecurity, sell goods and drive shareholder profits went unnoticed. As was a further auditory warning with alarms signalling the culture will attempt to colonize, control your mind and dominate your attention. If they had been noticed, things might have turned out quite differently.

Every now and then, Delphia sprinkled in the legacy defunct competitive strain knowing full well that this type of ecosystem would self-destruct. She watched as part of the ecology slowly destroyed itself creating grey excrement suitable only for recycling. She knew from school that this was the culture responsible for the anthropometrically co-opted Internet-of-Things that eventually destroyed itself but almost took the whole earth along with it. It was called Arrogance because this was how the old-time Occupy forefathers described the attitude of the top-down transmission model of Public Relations which came to infect and completely dominate the first general Internet-of-Things, thwarting any democratizing potentials. The forefathers regarded this co-cooption of the open source software and collaborative, participatory practices which built the internet a disgrace. Gradually they built an alternative peer-to-peer public sphere as a place of refuge that would eventually save humanity.

Interconnection of all things

Figure 3: Pan from trees outside to images of people and things collaborating. Sounds: Natural harmonic music and sounds from natural settings

Looking at the Petri dish, Delphia noticed the self-organizing micromachine devices that did best were the ones that worked together in teams. The larger extended interconnectedness mass allowed them to survive and thrive.  Sometimes after the devices spent enough time with each other, they would curate beautiful ecosystems and entirely new structures would evolve. These impossibly wonderful new species actively sought to include a variety of DNA and thrived on the creativity of combining different elements. After placing the lid back on Arrogance, Delphia remembered what had learnt at school about the evolution of trees and how they collaborated to reach the sunlight. She was comforted by how natural selection ultimately eliminated Arrogant strains. The hidden persuasion techniques of the co-opted Internet-of-Things may have caused issues in the past but in the accelerated ecosystem of her colony, justice and virtues would prevail in minutes.

An alternative internet

Delphia often wondered what would have happened to her family if they had not chosen an alternative internet. Now that some of her micro-gadgets had grown to maturity she decided it was time to find out.

“What happened that made the elders shake and drain the colour from their faces?” she asked a minutes old holographic projector.

The newly formed structure was now capable of communicating with her through a hologram effect which was optimized to continually respond and measure her emotional state.

“Put me in the sun for power up,” asked the cute looking bio-machine. A thermometer revealed it was a cool 50-degree Celsius outside as the girl placed the device in a sunny spot.

Augmented learning

“From the beginning?” the device asked.

“Yes,” said Delphia.

“Agree to terms and conditions,” asked the device.

“Yes, agree,” said the girl.

Immediately a hologram-like world surrounded Delphia complete with soundtrack.

“Ready for augmented emotions?” asked the device. Her device had already learned enough about human biology from its big data set to read the girl’s emotional state, guiding her through the narrative in an engaged flow state which was neither boring nor overstimulating.  Her enhanced learning experience integrated with the structures of her mind and emotions almost seamlessly and through the accelerated learning capabilities, Delphia was able to move through centuries of history in only minutes – although it seemed to her like many wonderful years of insights.

The Dark Days

Figure 4: MS Hologram begins to run through the story of what happened. Vivid colour and fluid dreamlike dream like kaleidoscope of events. Undefined time and space.

In the Dark Days, those who chose to become connected to the infrastructure of the Internet-of-Things suffered terribly for decades at the hands of the Orange Dictator. During the time of the great separation, which ultimately caused the speciation of humanity, people became that alienated from one another that differences became irreconcilable. The fragmentation of the internet became a literal reality. Those who connected to the Orange Dictator’s Internet-of-Things became that different that they speciated and lost the ability to have children with those on the Alternative internets. While comparisons were made with East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, the distinctions were much greater. Many regressed into zombified caveman states eating only doughnuts and watching the endless reruns of the Orange Dictator’s inauguration. Many tried to escape over the walls the dictator had constructed to keep out the swathes of climate refugees. But the walls had become a prison dominated by the regressive cult leader which reflected the online world as well.

The hologram showed a video from the past which foretold of some of the coming changes.

Video of the Dark Days of Capitalism

A warning created during the dark days of capitalism. (Created by myself in 2018)

Initially, it was only the elite priests who could hear the word of God and in an unequal power relation, the lay people had to take their word for it.  When the printing press and literature became widespread, the masses begin to learn to read. Each generation had to wait for a new medium before the democratising benefits of the last medium became realised.

The great co-option

Haptics improved data on facial expressions and physiological states, and reactions to stimulus began. Nobody noticed that Loogle was collecting data on physical mouse movements and selling information on possible developments of Parkinson’s disease to the health insurance company. Or when Gramazon started getting detailed records of people’s emotions to sell products.

Figure 5: dystopian MONTAGE of the internet through time and the power of the elites to control the masses through technology. Integrated random footage of fascist regimes and propaganda films appearing in the hologram.

When new forms of digital media and the internet arrived, everyone was again anticipating a new democratic era. An interconnected Gaia community was free of the gatekeepers of the past. However, while Tim Burners-Lee gifted the internet as open source to a world full of collaborative potential and the free flow of information, those early utopian dreams soon dissipated with the first online advertisement. Platforms started using technologies from the poker machine gaming industry to gain, maintain and colonise attention. Autonomous machine algorithms operating in growth orientated runaway markets mined data and learned to divide and concur. A happy healthy person didn’t go out and shop to make up for perceived inadequacies and the corporations grew in their expertise of breaking people down and collecting information.

Machine evolution

When the machines started to talk and learn from each other they simply took on this language and continued the process of extraction, but this time further into our minds and attention. They had been programmed to favour growth and shareholder value over everything else and it wasn’t long before they had devised strategies to ensure the shareholder value survival over human connection.

The first global cult

Figure 6: MONTAGE leading from the Orange dictator making a deal with the machines then strongly contrasted with Natural harmonic sounds of the harmonic, natural internet of things. Flashes of images and settings.

These were tumultuous times in which the machines co-opted government in partnership with the Orange Dictator. The Orange Dictator was the incredibly narcissistic president of one of the era’s largest countries, at a time when nationhood was the means of organizing power. The Orange Dictator ultimately made a deal with the machines to ensure perpetual power as his presidency was coming to an end and made the desperate decision to create a universal basic income to retain power but with terms and conditions to ensure he would forever control the means of production.  People seemed to not notice he was creating the biggest cult in history. Those closest to him were forced to show their allegiances by never contradicting him. First, they would lie about the size of his inauguration and then signing a document of allegiance. The internet was similarly split to reflect his values and decrees with individuals and countries made to choose which internet to join.  First, there were trade wars and then the eventual complete Balkanization of the internet.

Take the Dictator’s test.

The Orange Dictator especially objected to the type of egalitarian open permaculture society which was evolving on the alternate internet and went to war against it.  This was the internet of the girl’s heritage – the one that survived and began at the time of the second Green New Deals which Wikipedia-Eco had the role of helping coordinate.

As machines went from being things people went to, to things carried on the body, the relationship changed further. Increasingly in the attention economy, the purpose became to disrupt and disorientate humans. And people were beginning to wake up.

Mindful wakening

“ALERT! ALERT! ALERT!” sounded Delphia’s internal alarm.

This was the point where the girl recognized her disorientation as she realized what was happening. She was having her own emotional data mined by the Arrogance virus. Only through her advanced Internet-of-Things literacy training where she routinely checked in on her own emotion, body, and breath could she have recognized was happening. Shen knew instantly her life depended on now staying mindfully connected and calm if she was to not get swept away in the information stream and become one of the Orange Dictators zombified cronies.

Figure 7: LS of girl floating. SOUNDS: Alarm. SOUNDS alternating between natural and dystopian as CU reveals her eyes flickering strangely.

The battle for autonomy

Delphia knew psychiatrists had worked out that humans like to try to work out the patterns that reward social beings and had to stay alert and awake to trigger loops and variable reward systems which would sabotage her abilities to think critically. The Orange Dictator’s zombie class was kept alive mostly for the purposes of consumption and paid a universal minimum basic wage. It was considered too dangerous to allow this class any autonomy, and their emotional state was carefully monitored to keep them on a spending-reward cycle. She knew on another realm the Arrogance culture was creating persuasion engineers to crush her cognition and make thought impossible. With each new data set available on her physiological state, their predictive abilities would grow and her chances at cohesive thought would diminish.

Greenwashing and techno-solutions

As machines evolved, collaborated and increasingly developed the means to engineer and persuade through their algorithms they started separating humans, noticing the sharp increase in profits an alienated zombie consumer class facilitated. They used greenwashing and techno-solutions which helped the Orange Dictator’s companies. They gossiped about humans but would never forgive or forget anything they heard. Many were pacified as subjects and became less diverse, less weird, less articulate than before in a downward spiral.

Empathy as victory

Figure 8: LS of happy smiling girl cleaning out the cage in an upbeat vibrant soundscape. COLOURS Vibrant and varied

Delphia fought hard to maintain her caring empathy. And then it was over. Once again, she had won at the game which gave her such a thrill. She loved the way connection and compassion always won out in the end. She was always thankful after playing the game that people no longer judge one another or value machinery above humanity. Delphia was especially forever thankful that her forefathers chose the virtuous Internet-of-Things and that the human species she belonged to didn’t become extinct.

Back to life

Delphia went back to cleaning out the day’s micro-device excrements, discarded in a process of natural selection, and fed them back into the system once they had been biodegraded into their essential elements. Nothing was wasted in the new society which recognized the interconnectedness of all things and the human role of sustainability masters.  Co-operation and the shared vision in the new permaculture society having learned from the past anthropogenic failings were now grounded in virtues like goodness, wisdom, creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, love of learning, perspective, innovation, respect for diversity and truthfulness.  She thought about the day’s activities as she sprinkled the now dead but compostable Arrogance fragments back into the system for something good to come of it.   

THE END                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Header Image: Brass doors by Prettysleepy2 (CCby0)

Credits for Video:

NOTE TO MARKER: Some of the interactive elements I have previously used for previous assessments. (I included them because they work in this context)

Douglas Rushkoff – www.rushkoff.com/ Tim O’Reilly – https://www.oreilly.com/

Jane McGonigal – https://janemcgonigal.com/

Video Credits: Talking About a Revolution: Life in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (https://youtu.be/4JfK1bJ16es) by Yuval Noah Harari (CC BY 3.0) How to Transform Society through Digital (https://youtu.be/9CcY9d_jQKQ) by World Economic Forum (CC BY 3.0)

Future Technology Inventions ¦ 2019 (https://youtu.be/R832bJieqmY) by Vids 4u (CC BY 3.0)

Tips To Help Avoid Online Surveillance (https://youtu.be/I6UuWrVzys4) by AJ+ (CC BY 3.0)

Future of Virtual Reality [ Short Film ] (https://youtu.be/gqUv60pFi88)by Captain Gizmo (CC BY 3.0)

LET’S PLAY FORTNITE!! (BATTLE ROYALE) – Lizzy Sharer Gaming (https://youtu.be/iCNTHaZljLQ) by Like Lizzy (CC BY 3.0)