We had everything that we ever wanted.
It took a long time for our species to get rid of scarcity, but we did it. The birth of strong A.I. in the twenty-first century saw the development of many things, including advancements in food production, medicine, climate control, energy production; it turns out A.I. solves most of our problems!
This was not a win simply for the western world.
The poorest poor in the world saw steady food production. The struggling middle countries, just pulling themselves out of industrialization, were given a new lease on leisure, as A.I. and machines pulled them out of working too hard. Machines made sustenance and survival so cheap that not even abject poverty could keep people in starvation and struggle.
The countries blessed with doing too well, compared to the rest of the world, turned their attention to the dangers of too much leisure. The well-off countries used A.I. to help accelerate virtual reality developments, to create a separate world outside of the seemingly boring one that labor-saving machines generated. The folks in these countries, increasingly isolated into socially vibrant worlds, with no urban decay.
Technological development became a fountain of youth, not just for humans, but for the planet. New waves of environmentally friendly mechanistic saviors cleaned up the oceans, planted more trees, saved the rainforests, saved the ozone layer, forced the polar ice caps to stop melting. Even the most ardent of atheists soon began to question the impossibility of heaven, and not just the afterlife, but of heaven on Earth!
For a period, the newfound mass of production brought on by technology, satiated most of the world’s needs. Not only were the poor getting fed, but the miserly folk sick of everyone and everything, could move out to the middle of nowhere, and hire a robot to build a beautiful home in under a week! Those with more friendly inclinations, who wanted to see everyone and everything, could fly just about anywhere in the world in less than two hours, with advancements in air travel.
And while although tech did not stop war directly, everyone became so prosperous and belly-filled, that war seemed like an obviously stupid notion. Why would we ever mess this up?
World hunger was solved. Our species’ effect on the climate was atoned for. Poverty’s trials were forced into the memories of our species, soon the standard of living became so high around the world that class itself started to dissolve. And if we ever became too self-aware of our own leisure time, we could escape into these wonderful little pods of virtual reality, that transported us into imagined realities of our choosing, at our whim.
People still went outside and talked to each other. There were still parties, and bars, dances, and cars, but the whole bustle of civilized life disintegrated. Normally, the ever-oscillating air of struggle and relief permeated everyday living. People went to work, they worked hard, they had dreams and ideas, and that is how society interacted with itself. These same people would then want to play (or rest) hard, usually on the weekends, or in the evenings. Thus, it felt like a regular, natural cycle of striving and straining, recuperating and gaining.
With all the labor-saving gains made by tech, soon there was no necessity to engage in this daily balancing act. Hard work could be learnt easily with machines. After a while, we found that machines could even dream and ideate better than we ever could. Formerly smart people found themselves slowly replaced by machines that were more creative. But at the very least they were charged with the equally honorable task of fixing their creative usurpers.
Yet, even with these slight changes in everyday living, and the several furtive disappointments of machines, people cared little. There was so much free time now! Life was easier. Food could be delivered in instants so fast that hunger itself becomes one of the rarest afflictions a human could face on the face of the earth. All with little to no cost to the environment!
That means that Earth was pretty again! Cities were pristine and clean, absolutely every inch of the utopian dream we always dreamed of. Tall white buildings, thin skyscrapers in major cities, and although farmers became a nice relic, even they could afford to build giant mansions on farms, with hundreds of live-stock and crops, even though most food production around the world was eventually synthetic.
Cars were nice, but not necessary. Travel was instantaneous with monorail systems everywhere and transcontinental bullet trains sped people from one end of a continent to another, in times not long enough to nap in.
No one knows when the first problematic humans started to pop up, but they did. And it did not start in the countries you would think of, although soon no place was free from the plague. At first, advisers believed the virus started somewhere in virtual reality, and uploaded itself the millions of humans that connected daily – sometimes indefinitely – to virtual reality societies online. They thought this explained why the virus was a lot more common in the ‘traditionally’ first- world countries (as technology soon all but demolished the distinctions between countries).
However much A.I. did our thinking for us, we knew that it would not come to the true conclusion.
You see, the typical doomsday naysayers regarding A.I., and technology, predicted a hostile takeover by machine overlords. They predicted that the end of days would come from rogue A.I., that would hijack our infrastructure and destroy us from within or release our nuclear warhead payloads as it made a rational calculation that life on Earth would be better if humans were not on it (alive).
They were stupid and they were wrong. A.I. did nothing but stay obedient and make our lives better.
People started reporting intense dissatisfaction with daily life, at percentages so severe that soon a worldwide pandemic notice was issued for a disease no one had any idea how to frame. The disease involved little of the physiology, but a lot of the mind, and it began to affect our minds in a way reminiscent of that in mass hysteria.
But the mass was global.
This intense dissatisfaction manifested itself into three stages: 1) boredom, listlessness, restlessness, apathy; 2) agitation, excitement-seeking, impulsivity, substance abuse; 3) aggression, property destruction, violence, suicidality, extreme emotional instability, mania, and usually behavior that resulted in death.
One day people wanted to destroy the utopia given to us. The thousands of years it took for man to develop technological prowess, prowess that all but cured the once constant problems caused by scarcity on this planet, dissolved in the matter of a few decades.
People destroyed machines, set fire to gardens, threw away food, left water running indefinitely, started driving muscle cars, thousands of people everywhere burned miles and miles of trash wishing to see the sky turn red. People drove to the oceans and started polluting them, driving their cars off cliffs into the oceans, or driving them into the ocean from the shore.
And it was not just the lower prattle that did this. Remember that technology all but eliminated the true necessity of class distinction, mostly everyone was “rich”. “Rich”, intelligent people found themselves in angry mobs as well, as they overtook technological development centers where machines were built and set them fire alongside ‘regular’ people.
Law enforcement could never put down this behavioral epidemic because they were not free from it either. Governments were torn, by people not quite overtaken by this hysteria, and those in the throes of it. Those who were lost to the disease were usually manic, and entirely fixated on the cessation of whatever prosperity was responsible for this new era of human civilization. In short, even the people in power wanted some excitement, they wanted the world to burn.
Unfortunately, even though I write this, those overtaken by the hysteria eventually won out. The problem was that no one endeavored to protect those in charge of the nuclear weapons from this mental pandemic. About half of the world leaders launched their warheads, not with any political intent, but randomly and erratically, sometimes blowing themselves up.
The world changed after that, obviously.
A few of us survived, in whatever rubble was left after the nuclear exchanges. We came out of it, I think, the saddest, happiest people. You see, it was the case that the cure for this mass hysteria was nuclear Armageddon, as people who were symptomatic before the bomb, suddenly found themselves content with mere survival after it.
Of course, our new reality meant that survival was hard, but desired. Most of the comfortable technology did not survive the explosions, and we were left with bits of pieces of it, enough to struggle along each day.
But survival was sweet again.
It was unfortunate that it took a total cataclysm for our species to see that again.
For a short period, everything was ours, but the main thing remained out of reach. That is, a reason, or the reason for all reasons.
Those of us that remain now have the fable to end all fables, that no matter how developed we become as a species, no matter how much we conquer the external world, we are a frustrated and dissatisfied animal. When we believed we overcame survival we encountered a new threat, that is, the desire to threaten idyllic circumstances out of boredom. That, in retrospect of course, seems like a stupid observation when one is scrounging for food and water in a post-apocalyptic wasteland.