by Filip Wiltgren
Climate crisis, economic imparity, obesity, totalitarianism, re-nuclearization. The list is long, but there is a solution right around the corner.
It’s called the Holodeck.
The Holodeck is nothing new. It’s been around since at least 1950 (Ray Bradbury’s “The Veldt” features one), and existing in the real world since 1962 (Heilig’s Sensorama). But the Holodeck hasn’t affected the world much.
Here’s why: today’s holodecks suck. But they still draw huge amounts of players. Ingress had some 20 million active users, Pokemon Go about 150 mil. That’s still small.
Non-AR holodecks are larger. Candy Crush’s got 500 million registered accounts, while Fortnite clocks up a quarter of a billion and Smilegate’s CrossFire, which is huge in China and Korea, claims some 660 million. Video games are addictive time-sinks that manipulate the brain’s reward pathways in much the same way as SSRIs and cocaine. They’ve been shown to lower birth rates, give a high level of life satisfaction to unemployed males in the 18-to-34 bracket (and females, but neither the alarmists nor the scientists focus on that), and decrease the environmental impact of the economy (by lowering both productivity and consumption.)
That’s not enough. As a society, we’re still consuming large amounts of transportation, power, clothing, food, and non-electronic entertainment. But all that’s about to change.
Imagine the Holodeck. The perfect real-world simulation. Add to it the immersive, addictive gameplay of today’s most popular computer games, and the full-body environment of today’s AR entertainment. Give each user a power trip they could never achieve in the real world. Layer on super-stimuli, like today’s graphics, or pornography, that make the real world seem drab, unfulfilling, hollow, and pointless. What have you got?
The most amazing suicide machine in the world. Just climb in and play, play, play until nothing else matters. You can keep being powerful, rich, desirable, skilled, famous, loved, admired, and young until the day you die.
From old age, of course, the Holodeck will surely include safety measures that will prevent players from starving or harming themselves.
But while they’re playing, they’ll consume only a limited, controlled amount of resources. No weekend trips to the Bahamas. No honeyed lobster tails with garlic butter. No sex, at least not the kind that produces children. Instant population control, starting from the middle-rich and down. In a hundred year’s time, you’ll have the ultra-rich (able to afford the Holodeck pleasures in real life), the ultra-religious (shunning the Evil Holodeck), and the gamers.
The first two groups will likely be small, the last vast, but low-impact and low-consumption.
It’s a cause to celebrate for all sides: the death of capitalism and the absolute victory of the free market all rolled into one (nobody buys anything real, everybody gets an endless choice of attention economy games.) Ultimate democracy in a totalitarian state (total VR freedom, nobody remaining to challenge any laws.) Environmentally friendly limitless consumerism. The King is Dead, Long Live VR!
Add in human-indistinguishable AI bots, and you’ve also solved loneliness, trolling, and cyber-bullying (just toss the trolls into game worlds of their own, they’ll never know the difference.) And when the time comes for the “my AI spouse is a human too”-debate, well, all the debaters are safely locked up into pleasant, controlled, encapsulated environments. Let them bed bots all they want, it won’t matter in any other world, and definitely not in the real one. Just one more reason to stay in the game.
Maybe that’s the solution to the Fermi paradox: the giant filter is “play till you fade away.” Meaning that the universe is full of amazing archeotech games just waiting to be discovered. Likely by our robot-explorer children who won’t have the brains to appreciate them.
Because if they did, they’d hook themselves up to our holodecks and enjoy life to the fullest.
By day, Filip Wiltgren is a mild-mannered communication officer at Linköping University, where he also teaches communication and presentation skills at a post-graduate level. But by night, he turns into a frenzied ten-fingered typist, clawing out jagged stories of fantasy and science fiction, which have found lairs in places such as Analog, IGMS, Grimdark, Daily SF, and Nature Futures.