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Title: Progress To No End Author: Marty M.

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  • Title: Progress To No End Author: Marty M.

    A bit over twenty years ago, Richard Thioeme wrote The Last Science Fiction Story. The gist of it is, anything new we attempt to imagine has not only been imagined before, but even designed before we think of it. It seemed to be true in practice; many a time I had what I deemed an ingenious idea (aluminum body guitars, neodymium pickups, urban rhyming dictionaries, single-use dildos...) and a quick Google search would reveal it to at least have an existing prototype, if not full-fledged production. Now, however, I see the flaw in his thought. The point of true science fiction has always been the social changes that result from new technology. That progress may never cease.

    I ride to the 42nd Def Con convention in Las Vegas in the back of a Google Mark 18 autopiloted sedan. It has a smoky little divider obscuring the empty front seats from my view, allowing me to immerse myself in my own little fantasy of affording a chaffeur.

    "You should really pace yourself," Alice, my lovely yet annoying companion starts, while snatching away my Sazerac. "If you make a scene like last year I'm liable to disown you." Her tone is half-joking; her expression dead serious. I can't honestly remember what happened at Def Con 41, but I saw it later on the Web. Suffice to say, the FCC wouldn't allow that footage to air on basic cable.

    "If you were anyone else, I'd smack you. But damned if I don't know a good thing when I see it."

    "Are you implying she has a penis?" the smart-alecky AI quips in the voice of KITT from Knight Rider. I kick the back of the seat. A meaningless gesture, but as gratifying as I can hope for.

    A few hours later, we arrive at the casino and resort bearing this year's conference. The theme is The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and our badges are shaped appropiately to recall Douglas Adams' beloved characters. I pick up a Speaker Badge shaped like Marvin from the 2020s movie, and Alice takes a Zaphod from the 1980s TV series. We're told that each is a development board and a "technological Swiss army knife" made primarily with graphene - partly the true stuff, partly a cheaper substitute derived from hemp - plus some other allotropes of carbon that give it immense sturdiness. The badge is about as thick as an old credit card, but contains six 32 terahertz processors -- three designed to act like GPUs and three set up as quantum processors. Clearly there would be some heavy duty cryptanalysis involved in this years' challenges. I lament that I may not have the time to truly compete, as my speech is still only half written.

    I've had the theme set in stone for months, now. When I was younger, I saw the shift from the Internet and advanced computer usage being the purview only of nerds and weirdos. When smart phones and tablets combined with social media to bring greater technology to the mainstream, I was mortified to see most of our society squander these gifts for greater and greater consumerism. But with the cheaper production of previously specialized and arcane lab equipment, tools such as rapid prototyping printers, gene sequencers, sonograms, supercolliders, molecular assemblers... We've slowly but surely shifted to a society of producers, creatives. A society with more and more true hackers.

    It's plain to see as I look around the packed floor that I won't shock anyone with these revelations. Once again, that old Thioeme short story was correct. Over twenty years ago, an amateur (though brilliant) chemist synthesized a decent yield of graphene in his basement lab, and today we have these badges with processors that were likely made in someone else's basement, each over 10,000 times the speed of those sad antiques we paid hundreds for back in the day. At one point nanowires and nanotubes were magical; now we don't bat an eyelash when someone walks in with an arm full of them - or I should say made of them - muscles made of synthetic myofilaments smaller and stronger than what they had before they needed a prosthesis. More and more problems are being solved every day, which, while great for the world, is a little sad for scientists, philosophers, poets, and hackers. Well, at least we haven't answered the Last Question, right?

    Wrong. Just as I have the thought, I find myself standing in front of a booth with a sign (in friendly red letters, of course), reading "Entrophy: A Thing of the Past?" Just under the sign stands a petite punk with pierced nipples and a functional reptilian tail implant. She taps a rhythm on the legs of the table, adding in polyrhythms with her claws.

    I accost her. "Oi Silurian!" She turns my way with a sense of rage in her eyes that gives way quickly to recognition. "Have you found a way to reverse entrophy? Are the laws of thermodynamics as we know them are wrong? More importantly, do I still have to pay my power bills?"

    "Yeah, sorry. We're still working on that. But our research so far is very promising. You should take a-"

    I'm out of earshot before she can finish her sentence. I meet back up with Alice at the Lockpicking Village, where she leans puzzling over a clear ALON safe with three types of lock: keycode, facial recognition, and smartcard. Among the tools laid out to assist her are a jeweler's phillips screwdriver, a thermal imager, a car battery, and an assortment of cables. Inside the safe is a wallet, or at least it appears that way.

    "I'm pretty sure I'm supposed to pick that guy's pockets," Alice whispers.

    "I hope this is the last safe," I say with a smile, directed half at her, half at her cleavage.

    "Nope, that is." She nods to a hermetically sealed box, looking for all the world like a solid block of metal.

    "I think I'd better abscond while I can," I say, and then I do. My mind drifts off to my speech again, and what I can do to keep from sounding like a tired old TED speaker. I pass by the beverage cooling contest, which has changed considerably over the past twenty-odd years. Since beverages are kept fairly cold by the cans they're sold in (~59 degrees Fahrenheit/~15 Celsius) the contest has shifted to seeing who can cool a material closest to absolute zero. Naturally, the interminable geniuses we attract at DEFCON have created a stagering number of Bose-Einstein condensates, and every year sets a new record for the scientific community. So, in a sense, we are coming close to stopping entrophy locally, for small quantities of gas or metal, but still not reversing it.

    I really do want it to happen. It would be great to save our planet, galaxy and Universe from their eventual fates. I glance at the projection room, pride of this year's convention, and soon I find myself inside of it. Early rooms used three-dimensional projectors to create the sense of being in a video game or movie, but this one used clouds of nanites, thus forming something solid. I looked through the window at the beautiful scene of worlds exploding, stars flaring, time ending. Omega less than 1. An alien waiter brings me an impossible cocktail, and I drink it, carefully, slowly. Another explosion, and this time, a sound of distant screams. I chuckle to myself a little, before the smoke in my periphery finally breaks my calm. It looks like someone got the beverage cooling contest very, very backwards.

    Suddenly I feel cold steel pressed against the nape of my neck, about where I expect my brain stem would b Another explosion, and this time, a sound of distant screams. I chuckle to myself a little, before the smoke in my periphery finally breaks my calm. It looks like someone got the beverage cooling contest very, very backwards.

    Suddenly I feel cold steel pressed against the nape of my neck, about where I expect my brain stem would be. I am a statue.

    "May I help you," I ask without turning around.

    "Yes," a muffled voice says, before I hear a deafening bang. I lose consciousness for a full minute before my body repairs itself.

    "I'm chock full of nanobots, each with a copy of my DNA at my prime, each like a stem cell on steroids," I say. "You won't kill me easily."

    "Just as I expected from the great Doctor Whitebread!" The mask comes off, and my old friend thrusts out his hand, taking me into a bro hug.

    "Remember that time I dropped you in a vat of muriatic acid?"

    "Ha, that one actually hurt!"

    "So, have you played any Capture the Flag lately?"

    "Only when I'm bored at work!"

    We have a few more cocktails before Alice sneaks up behind me, squeezing some kind of secret Mossad pressure point on the side of my ear with her nails.

    "Was teh deeh?"

    "Your talk is in fifteen minutes. Are you ready?"

    "Yeeeah, juss lemme hip my soper buddon..."

    Usually, I can totally do that. Hit a certain control, and my nanites take care of dutifully metabolizing all the alcohol I've imbibed, wrangling all the booze that slipped past my blood-brain barrier. Unfortunately, there comes a stage of piss-drunkeness when I can't remember how, making the whole feature sort of useless.

    The next thing I know, I'm up on stage, leaning on the podium, trying to focus on electronic paper, adjusting and readjusting the zoom factor. It keeps blurring and sliding around.

    "Hackers of Earth and Elsewhere! Look upon yourselves and marvel! You have won at life!" My every word, while brilliant in my head comes out like a disturbed gurgle. I rest my head for a minute, close my eyes and silently wish for a distraction. I nod off for a few minutes, before a loud crash wakes me up.

    "Hey, whatever happened to that fire earlier? Did someone- did someone get that?"

    I nod off again, and wake up in my car. The evening news is displaying on our smoky divider, with a somewhat apocalyptic scene. I stare at it in a daze, still half-drunk.

    "Alright! I didn't cause that this time, did I?"

    "No," she says with a sigh. I resume my nap.
    "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

  • #2
    Re: Title: Progress To No End Author: Marty M.

    A bit over twenty years ago, Richard Thioeme wrote The Last Science Fiction Story...
    Richard Thieme
    And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts, And I looked and behold: a pale horse. And his name, that sat on him, was Death. And Hell followed with him.

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    • #3
      Re: Title: Progress To No End Author: Marty M.

      This story sounds like a documentary of a Siviak clone. That's not a bad thing.

      Good Luck!
      "They-Who-Were-Google are no longer alone. Now we are all Google."

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