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Letters for Erika

by Arathyn 7 months ago in artificial intelligence

A dystopia only decades away

Letters for Erika
Photo by Man Kwan on Unsplash

Erika Metzer stopped counting the days until time became a bent wire; still vaguely stretching off to distant points, though obscured by fog, with its previously striking electric buzz fading to a sluggish sensation. She had no need to keep a schedule. She worked whenever she pleased, meaning that there were many a day spent silently loafing with a smile only on exceptional occasions (usually pertaining to short videos of cats or dogs, whose humor and charm remain immortal.)

The work of note wasn’t in the least fulfilling, despite granting a livable wage to support her single status and empty calendar. Erika seldom asked herself questions about the ethics or morality of it anymore, and whenever those even occurred, she found it easy to invalidate her concerns saying that the state, nation, economy, patriarchy - whatever was being criticized that day - was a catalyst for bigger problems that kept her pinned.

As usual, she felt numb when unplugging herself from her livestream. Streaming was not a new way of making money. It had been around for a few decades now, she recollected, but the level of immersion and the disconnect between the viewer and creator progressed to be a film nearly ignorable - which further increased the width of possible content.

What made Erika her money was an artificial display of affection that was in many cases, painfully one sided. The world was at an unprecedented population to be certain, but it was lonelier than ever, and the pursuit of a warm body followed depressed souls into computers rather than cafes. Many found temporary solace in caricatures from a variety of media - Japanese Anime was a sole provider a while back, but the emergence of Korean Celebrity culture and the changes of the gaming industry from Poland and Eastern Europe brought a ravishing cast of delusionally digital lovers for a generation of men who fell out of the system.

Though the sensation of touch from these fantasy experiences was brought about by the introduction of full dive virtual reality, the level of interactivity and comfort alongside a real human was yet to be achieved by an AI in a game, and passing this restriction was Erika’s purpose. When she needed money, or grew egregiously bored flipping through the stream of images and videos linked directly to her brain, she would lay in bed and immerse herself in a virtual reality that granted full sensory experience and control. Her mental movements would correspond to a rendered avatar that she customized via a linked asset store - her avatar, and persona, were named “Sabrina.”

Sabrina would tend to the arrivals of a crowd rationed at about 70% men who would pay for her services. Her signature characteristic was that she always had a heart shaped locket hung from her neck, in silver metal that shone with pinkish tints, which would contain a picture of her client that she would drag from their profile beforehand. It was quirky, and successful, as it surprised the customers with a genuine feeling of love that they so deeply required. Often these services would be surprisingly innocent - they would lay or sit in an environment of the client’s choice and simply be close to each other. Talking would happen often if the client warmed up to Sabrina. It would usually start out sluggish and restrained, but occasionally would evolve into some really heavy and depressing shit that she would have to force herself to forget. It was remarkable how the late twenty-first century was warping the life of the typical human consciousness: where social anxieties, dominance hierarchies, secular reforms, and persisting racial expectations dragged generations into the oppressive guilt of online personalities that barely kept them alive, and hardly sane.

There were always more demanding favors, and she couldn’t refuse, as the avatars she intercoursed with were always made to look attractive, and she could tone down Sabrina’s sensory relay if things got uncomfortable or painful. Sometimes on days where she couldn't be bothered, she just turned it off entirely, and lay there, feeling nothing, until it was over. Regardless, she would always leave gutted and empty, and could only tolerate a few of these sessions, virtual or not and sensory or not, before she logged off and dumbly looked back over the transfer of balances wired directly to her entirely AI monitored bank account.

Then, she would sit in her kitchen, lay her head on the table overlooking a small window showing only images of scenery far more amiable than the cyber cityscape (currently a sunset on the bay of Rio de Janeiro, sea mist and distant samba-choro present), and log into a mental application to request a driver to deliver food to her apartment. This current night, she would order a bacon cheeseburger with fried onion straws, as was regular, but didn’t feel like fries, so she made a separate delivery. The Kanegawa chain was to deliver a six pack of shrimp tempura to her door, extra soy sauce, no chopsticks. She had a reusable pair at home. The process was painless and contactless, so her fear of any more human contact would not be riled. Now Erika was to wait for fifteen minutes or so until she could eat and try to forget for another thirty, and this sometimes would devolve into a painful period indifferent to the short time that would elapse.

Her parents had always taught her to try not to tap into her Neuralink while at the table with them. It was obviously something that they could never attempt to prove or punish, so instead they fed her sound logic: if you distract yourself while around those you eat with - your friends or family, you tune out opportunities for meaningful conversations and relationship development. Since she loved her parents, and was on most days friendly with them, that habit landed, and stuck. Now, in her apartment, while waiting for dinner she would bring herself to cut out all the noise, so that the cluttered heap of a table would quietly cater to herself, and Sabrina, in her dreadful spirit.

The orders for the food were placed, and Erika sat in solemnity. There was a constant urge to touch her temple and bring back up the platforms of amusement directly to her retinas, blocking out the truth, but she resisted, and let her eyes truly see. They saw a mess in all cardinal directions, but she was used to that. Remnants peered through heaps of trash and computerized paraphernalia used for streaming, remnants of a time where this apartment was once a place of enthusiasm, and Erica looked at them longingly. Books and artwork lay off to the sidelines, cast in the surreal purple atmosphere emitted by LED strips hanging from the ceiling as a last ditch online order to bring contentment back under their gaze.

Seemingly far away but no longer than a few meters lay a curtained archway, the curtains having fallen down and never being put back up since, and over their crumpled silhouettes sat the dark corners of a bedroom far removed from its sacredness. It was Sabrina’s territory, not Erika’s. Never before had a single room ushered such dread - the smells of her very own clothes and sheets scattered on the floor were more fearful than those of sterilized needles. Though the need for money and fear of failure kept her trapped in it, with her digitized doppelganger standing testament.

Forcing her gaze away fruitlessly, knowing her angst would still remain, she brought her eyes back to the combined kitchen and living area where she was sitting. The mostly empty fridge caught her attention, another call to shame. Letters from universities hung longingly from circular magnets of bland pastel colors. Never had they been opened, as she was too frightened to, despite the constant inquiries about education from her parents, and occasional encouragement from the more conversible online customers. College terrified her. Had it always had this effect on potential students? Were the great people of the world’s past nations as hesitant? She liked to believe so, but knew she was lying, as they lived in a distant world with pleasantly different rules.

Erika always felt subject to constant judgement. Unlike Isaac Newton, everything that she did under the educational radar was recorded and processed by deep algorithms, all in the light of providing her an “optimal” education. Since she was barely six years old, a computer knew her IQ score, her genetic neurological aptitudes and biases, and compared these things to her standardized test scores and behavior reports to plan out her entire future. Her career success was analyzed on the first day of kindergarten.

Apparently, since she would have a predicted IQ score of 107 and “agreeable temperament” as an adult, she would be well suited to design school after she exited all of her years of primary classes. Erika was told a few years ago that she would be bound to working on the formatting and graphic design for the apps and streams to the nauralink platform, a promising career, but she wasn’t so sure about that anymore. It was clear that the majority of what she was was AI generated...the things could paint a new Mona Lisa if you gave them a large enough database of renaissance paintings to feed off of. She was smart enough to understand that she would instead be probably just working on managing the databases and approving AI designs for clients, who had the final say anyways, regardless of her “professional” opinions. What a stupid, shitty, life.

Erika, speaking to her soul truthfully, wanted to be at the forefront of computer progress, and always dreamed of being a robotic engineer. In this current climate, it certainly seemed the most enveloping way to contribute to the growth of the species into the next era - it certainly did more good than minimally aiding in the design of cognition numbing applications, or being a digital prostitute, for fuck’s sake!

But her closely examined adolescent past always told her otherwise - her IQ was too low, it said. She remembered her heart sinking when she was handed out a “vocational aptitude flyer,” which labeled the careers out in front of her, and the average mental scores of those who participated. Being a robotics engineer apparently required a score of at least 130, and the really good ones who made an actual difference, ranged into the 160s. She was told that she shouldn’t even try, and she believed it. A choice was never offered.

So instead of Erika Metzer, a motivated student with a career that promised her personal fulfillment above all, she was known as Sabrina, an immaculately pixelated anorexic whore who donned thigh high leggings, schoolgirl skirts, and chokers, suffocating to death in a system that failed her. She hoped that she would never again have to spend her morning hours finding pictures to put in that infernal little locket.

At the end of this thought, she heard buzzing outside her door and then a Neuralink blip, then more buzzing, this time waning in volume. Her food was here, and she gleefully shot up from the table, illuminated in the fake mask of a Brazilian sunset, to grab it. Eating was always a good feeling, it was the best drug. More natural and vintage than pot, that’s for sure. She peeked her head out the door, shuddering at the lengthy emptiness of the hallway, noting a lifeless drone hovering towards the entry chute - an ambiguous entity in this machine world. Returning to the table with the smell of soy accompanying her, she felt a sudden motivation to dispel the illusion at the window. The sea sight and sounds disappeared and she was struck with the hollow ambience of atomic wind. Erika ate to the company of hostile mechanical architecture - Sabrina did not join her.

In this moment of truth, Erika went to the fridge, and shakily pulled down a letter.

Sabrina fell, dead.

artificial intelligence

Arathyn

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