Richard G. Epstein

 

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WELCOME TO THE FUTURE!

Sunday, May 14, 2028

Sunday, May 14, 2028 is a collection of short stories about the future of technology.  Some of the stories are humorous, others are quite serious.  All of them are intended to provoke thought and discussion about technology and the social implications of technology.  These stories explore many issues that are of great interest today, such as the nature of intellectual property, data privacy, and the impact of technology upon human relationships.  Many of these stories investigate the promise and the perils of artificial intelligence.

About the Copyright

It is the author's intention that these materials be distributed freely, so long as the author's copyright notice appears with each story.   The purpose of the copyright is to preserve the stories in their original form and to preserve the integrity of the author's vision and message. 

Please Provide Feedback

The author hopes that this web will become a valuable resource for people who are interested in computer technology and what it means for the evolution of human culture and of the human spirit.  The author welcomes feedback and comments.  You can contact the author via e-mail at the following address:
    epstein@wcupa.edu

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ORIENTATION FOR NEW VISITORS 

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INTRODUCTION

First-time visitors should probably read the "orientation for new visitors".  It explains the nature of cyberspace in the year 2028.  

The introduction discusses the objectives of this collection of stories and should be of special interest to educators and students who might want to use these stories as an educational resource. 

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Sunday, May 14, 2028

 

ORIENTATION FOR
NEW VISITORS

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THE NATURE OF

CYBERSPACE IN

THE YEAR 2028

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The stories, essays, interviews, commercials, book reviews, speeches, and other materials that you are about to read are all drawn from the media during May of 2028, with a special focus on Sunday, May 14. As a visitor from the past, you may not appreciate what cyberspace means to people in 2028. This preface is intended to fill you in on some of the technological progress that has been made since the turn of the century.

In the year 2028 the meaning of the word cyberspace is changing, and a new reality is emerging, but the reporters, authors, technologists, and intellectuals that you shall meet have not yet decided upon a standard term for describing this new reality.

Before the turn of the century, cyberspace became synonymous with the World Wide Web or the Net. Meetings between people in cyberspace mostly took the form of linguistic interactions with little or no visual content. An example would be the "chat room" where participants communicated by typing messages to one another.

In addition, at the end of the last century, cyberspace was beginning to become a place of sorts. For example, Virtual Jerusalem and Digital Philadelphia are places that one could visit at the close of the last century, but these "virtual" places did not have the full vibrancy and aliveness of an actual place. Visitors would tend to visit such virtual locations for the purpose of accessing information that would be displayed on a flat computer screen or perhaps played through a computer's audio system. Visitors to certain "Web sites" could interact by typing messages to one another. The dominant mode of human interaction at these virtual places was by means of the computer keyboard.

Independent of cyberspace, the technology of virtual reality was also coming into its own at the close of the century. In virtual reality, a user would experience the visual and auditory and spatial cues of an actual place by donning virtual reality goggles and perhaps data gloves. This required that the user interact with a computer program that had no necessary relatedness to the Web. Entering a virtual reality was a separate thing from journeying through cyberspace. There was a tendency, at the end of the last century, to endow anything novel that had to do with computer technology with the title "cyber" or "virtual".

In the early and mid 2020s a new technology was introduced that radically changed the nature of cyberspace, merging world-wide digital communications and virtual reality. This technology, called self-projection technology, combined virtual reality, which had evolved considerably in terms of realism and technical sophistication, with the Global Landscape, the ubiquitous and awesome information infrastructure that replaced the Internet around 2010. In 2028 the Global Landscape no longer represents a fixed information infrastructure, but a continuously evolving and improving infrastructure that integrates all forms of electronic communication in a system that is orderly and efficient and ever more intelligent. In 2028 the keyboard is no longer the dominant device for human interactions in cyberspace. People can don their virtual reality suits and enter cyberspace as if it were an objective space. Thus, the Global Landscape and self-projection technology represent the full realization of cyberspace as first envisioned by science fiction writers, like William Gibson, in the previous century.

Self-projection technology involves two critical elements. The first of these is the ability of the user to project himself or herself into cyberspace as a form that other users can observe and interact with. In 2028 some critics of this technology say that these self-projected images are somewhat cartoonish, still not completely realistic, but perfectly life-like self-projections are expected by 2035 or 2040 according to most experts. The second critical component of self-projection technology is the existence of "objective" virtual spaces into which people can project their cyberselves.

It is the first component (that is, one's ability to project one's form into cyberspace) that distinguishes self-projection technology from cyberspace at the turn of the century. It is the second component that distinguishes self-projection technology from virtual reality. Even if many users are interacting in a multi-player virtual reality game or simulation, this is not self-projection technology, unless their interaction occurs in an objective space that all users of the Global Landscape can access, a space that has been registered with the Global Landscape Cooperative, the powerful international governing board for the Global Landscape. For example, if five people play a virtual reality game, and engage in combat or some other form of interaction in virtual reality, then that is not self-projection technology unless the location of that combat is a publicly accessible part of cyberspace.

The key to cyberspace in the year 2028 is that it is an evolving and developing virtual place, with enormous computer-mediated virtual spaces. Some people are calling cyberspace an electronically mediated collective imagination, and one psychologist has even suggested the term "Collective Consciousness" to describe cyberspace in 2028. Cyberspace is becoming a virtual place of tremendous complexity, but like actual space, its structure is a matter of public record and that structure is persistent. When five people stop playing their virutal reality combat game, the location of that combat evaporates. But, when five people engage in some kind of virtual combat in true cyberspace, the location of their combat remains in cyberspace even after the players are finished with their game. This is the critical difference between virtual reality and self-projection technology in the year 2028.

Although the new cyberspace has some degree of objectivity or persistence, like conventional reality, there are public, private, and semi-private spaces in the new cyberspace. For example, one can establish a private club in cyberspace. It must be registed with the Global Landscape Cooperative in order to become an objective and persistent feature in cyberspace, yet the owners of the private club are allowed to restrict membership and charge fees, consistent with the laws that govern business transactions and civil rights in cyberspace.

In the year 2028 the term "cyberspace" is almost always used, at least by journalists and those who are involved with technology, to refer to self-projection technology. Thus, cyberspace does not mean what it meant at the turn of the century. Some authors will use the phrase "new cyberspace" to emphasize that self-projection technology is involved. Other authors will use the phrase "virtual space" to refer to the vast collection of virtual locations that are being established on the Global Landscape and which are accessible by means of self-projection technology. When more primitive means of interaction via the Global Landscape is intended (such as traditional electronic mail), then that should be clear from the context.

You will encounter the term "non-entity" quite a few times in this book. The technical definition of a "non-entity" is any form that is projected into cyberspace that is not the projection of an actual living person or animal. A non-entity is pure illusion, so to speak, even though it has some objective existence in the software that creates cyberspace.

If you were to visit Virtual Jerusalem in 2028, your tour guide would be a non-entity, actually, an expert system that is projecting as a human being for the purpose of guiding you on your tour of Virtual Jerusalem. The human form of the tour guide is viewed as "the outer shell" of an expert system. The developers of Virtual Jerusalem have incorporated many thousands of non-entities into Virtual Jerusalem for the purpose of adding local color for the tourists, like yourself, who might visit. The non-entities are indistinguishable from the projections of actual human beings. Thus, real people, like you and I, can project into Virtual Jerusalem as a form, and we can interact with the non-entities who seem to be human beings, but who are actually pure illusions. They are the outer shells of expert systems and other computer processes that are operating behind the scenes in creating the vibrancy and immediacy of Virtual Jersualem.

There are many new technologies that are emerging in the year 2028. Some of these technologies involve self-projection technology and others involve virtual reality simulations. Still others involve neither virtual reality nor self-projection technology. It is hoped that you will find this clarification concerning the meaning of cyberspace in the year 2028 useful as you begin your visit.

One final note: as you read the following media accounts of life in 2028 you will encounter a few footnotes that I have inserted to explain unusual terminology. For example, it is not expected that you will know that YRAX is a deadly disease that is sweeping the tropics in the 2020s. These occasional footnotes are all signed "Future Guide". This signature will distinguish these explanatory footnotes from the actual footnotes that occur in the original source materials.

Enjoy your visit.

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INTRODUCTION

About fifty years ago, George Orwell wrote his classic novel about the future, 1984. Of course, Orwell's book was not a prediction about the future, but a warning about a possible future, based upon the political ideologies of the post-war era. The world of 1984 that Orwell depicted was dominated by communistic and fascistic states. It was a world in which continuous warfare was a means of controlling and crushing the individual. It was a world in which the state was everything and could do everything, including changing the very meaning of language. It was a world in which the uniqueness of the individual meant nothing. Among the questions that Orwell posed was the following: Could individual freedom, conscience, creativity, uniqueness, and integrity survive the advent of the centralized super-state that spanned entire continents and had new instruments of warfare, manipulation, information gathering, surveillance, and mass communications at its disposal?

As we enter a new century and (incredibly, it seems), a new millennium, the world of the future seems less likely to be controlled by the fascists and the communists. The future belongs to creativity, entrepreneurship, technology, and science. Ironically, the computer, which some saw as potentially a powerful instrument of control and repression by a centralized state, has become the source of decentralization and freedom of expression. The present time seems to be an unparalleled time of change, and yes, chaos. There is a fiercely competitive creativity behind this change, and that creativity is inexorably emeshed with modern technology, the Internet, and cyberspace. The future will be determined perhaps not so much be the desire of the few (the dictators and tyrants of the past) as by the desires of the many (the consumers of technology).

This is a book of questions about the social implications of technology. It is a meditation upon the meaning of virtual reality, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, and a host of other technologies. The purpose of this book is not so much to predict the future (books about the future nearly always carry this disclaimer, and rightly so), but to stimulate discussion about where we are going. This is a book about the social implications of computing in the widest sense. Rather than being a theoretical discourse about a probable future for technology, this book is a work of fiction, portraying a possible future in the form of numerous written accounts from the media of the future. It is through these numerous stories that the author poses his questions about the future, about the meaning of technology, and the evolution of human culture and thought. The intention is to paint a portrait of life in 2028, stressing the intellectual and cultural climate as well as the practical implications of the numerous technologies and systems that are described.

The social implications of technology are vast. As technology becomes pervasive, the implications of computing carry over into just about all human endeavors. Each chapter in this book focuses on one sphere of human activity. These include business and commerce, education, government and law, medicine, culture and the arts, war and peace, religion, psychology, spirituality, philosophy and thought. The author is not only interested in how technology will impact our lives in these practical domains, he is also interested in the impact of technology upon human culture and consciousness more generally. How will technology impact upon our understanding of ourselves and of our world? How will humanity react to the psychological and spiritual challenge of artificial intelligence?

Thus, this book is an essay about virtual reality, cyberspace, artificial intelligence, and other possible technologies, albeit in an unusual and hopefully entertaining form. The author's hope is that the readers of this book, hopefully including many students who must read it because it is required reading, will find this book a source of provocative ideas and insights into the social implications of technology. Hopefully, the book will raise many interesting philosophical and cultural questions that are an intrinsic part of these technologies. The author's primary purpose is to raise questions and, hopefully, this book will help the reader to explore the many questions that lie behind the headlines and the news stories about technology in our own era. If this book does help to stimulate a lively discussion concerning technology and its social implications, then this author will consider this book to be a success.

The world of 2028 depicted here is radically different from the world that Orwell depicted in his 1984. The world of 2028 includes many advanced technologies, and many of these will probably not be in place by the year 2028, but the author does believe that every form of technology depicted in this book is a credible application of technology, given enough time. This would seem to be an opportune time to consider these various technologies. The author believes that the seeds of this vision of the future are evident, perhaps even obvious, in the present. Even the more imaginative (or, seemingly far-fetched) stories are grounded in the potential that is manifesting today, in the technology that is currently under development.

At a recent Ethics and Technology Conference held at Loyola University in Chicago, Professor Carl Mitcham of Penn State pointed out to this author that this collection of stories about 2028 has no central character, no central protagonist struggling against the forces of technology. Professor Mitcham thought this was interesting and perhaps even suggestive of what 2028 might be like. Perhaps it is only fitting that a story about the highly decentralized and democratic world of 2028 should have no central character.

In some sense, you, the reader, are the central character of this book. The stories presented here are presented as you might read them sometime during May of the year 2028. This book consists of numerous written accounts taken from the newspapers, magazines, television programs, and literature of May 2028. The idea is to plop you down right in the middle of that future time by exposing you to the news of the day. Most of the stories in this book take the form of newspaper stories taken from the fictitious Silicon Valley Sentinel-Observer on Sunday, May 14, 2028 (Mother's Day!). All of the stories are either newspaper or magazine articles, book reviews, short stories, public speeches, advertisements, infomericals, product reviews, or transcripts of interviews conducted over various media. These stories are intended as a portrait of this future time. You are the central character as the reader of these stories and accounts, and the manner in which you react to this vision of the future might be considered a plot of sorts. Otherwise, there is no plot in the usual sense. There is just news, interviews, information, reactions, developments, all gleaned from various media. The absence of a plot does not mean the absence of some central theses concerning the meaning of technology and its relationship to the human psyche. If there is a plot, it appears in the central ideas that emerge as threads that run through the book. So, the intention of this book is to challenge the reader to react to and reflect upon the world of 2028 as depicted here, which is really our present world viewed from the perspective of its latent potential.

The year 2028 is during a time of intense philosophical and spiritual questioning and questing. The astonishing success of technology is a challenge to our understanding of what it means to be a human being and our uniqueness in the scheme of creation. Technology is not only a tool for reflection upon the human personality, it is also a means of helping to develop that personality and to free it from all sorts of psychological and spiritual ills. Furthermore, the prevalence of virtual reality is forcing philosophers and physicists to question our very notion of what is real, after all. You will encounter many characters who are wrestling with these issues and questions as you read through this book.

The author believes that the emergence of artificial intelligence, virtual reality and cyberspace are utterly profound. They have implications far beyond the obvious. Ultimately, it is this author's faith that technology will prove a great force for human liberation on many levels. But, this outcome is by no means certain. We need to understand our tools and we need to consciously master them, if we are to be the masters of our own destiny. Otherwise, we will become slaves to the forces that, we ourselves, have unleashed in our heedlessness and lack of consciousness.

Richard Epstein
West Chester, PA
July 6, 1997

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