This work of speculative fiction explores the topics of cyberbullying and how CRISPR could be used to create designer pets or super soldiers. The world was created using a methodology called Systems Mythology, developed by the Institute for the Future. The story is set in a Purple Future, which values mysteries, hidden truths, and the unknown.
“Come in. Please, come in.” Adam Brown, LD signs as he opens the door to his office. If the couple are surprised by his use of sign language they hide it well. A dark leather couch encircles the edge of his office leaving the center empty. After directing them to take a seat he suggests they get started. With a flick of his wrist a 3D rendering of a generic rabbit appears, floating in the center of the room.
He deftly navigates through a menu of options as the customization process begins. “Ear length?” he asks. “One long, one short.” they reply. He makes a note before continuing to ask about fur color, fur pattern, and temperament. He pauses before asking the question they’ve clearly been waiting for. “Glow in the dark?” he signs with a knowing smile. “Yes!” they shout in unison, nearly jumping off the couch with excitement. “Alright then.” he signs and with another flick of his wrist the generic rabbit is replaced by their purple checkered rabbit with one long ear and one short ear. He brings the lights down so they can appreciate its otherworldly glow.
“I’ll have this over to your local GrowLab in a couple days.” he signs, “In the meantime, would you like a free MyPal version?” He’s not surprised when the older couple declines. Most of the clients who can afford his services have a rather snobbish view of the MyPal AR sims. If you asked them, they’d lecture you about how sim is short for simulacrum because even the most advanced line of code is a poor imitation compared to DNA’s beauty. He saves a copy anyways, in case they change their minds later and want it for the AfterLife.
It will take some tinkering to get the checkered fur right, but he enjoys a challenge. In Adam’s view, Lifeform Design is a way to bring more diversity to the world, not less. Two decades ago there were around 300 breeds of domestic rabbit, now there are millions of possible permutations. He’s idealistic, but not naive. He recognizes that in the wrong hands these tools could be used for the opposite purpose, to weed out things like the recessive autosomal genetic condition that caused his deafness. For the time being, humans are off limits, but that hard line seems to be softening. He’s heard rumors that the Russians have violated the international treaty and have started making enhanced soldiers. He worries that advancements in the designer pet industry might in some way be contributing to this more nefarious work. Then again, he can’t see how purple checkered fur would be of much use to a super soldier.
That night, Adam sits down for dinner with his wife, Vanessa and their 13 year old daughter, Hannah. He asks his wife how her day went. “Oh, you know. The usual.” she replies sarcastically, “It turns out that people are even more demanding when it comes to the AfterLife.” She proceeds to give him the latest on her client from Japan who’s commissioned her to design his dream home. She worked as an architect for 20 years, but recently began offering her design services to Boomers on the AfterLife platform. “I just wish the freakin’ company would decide whether they’re going to enforce the laws of physics or not.” she says with exasperation, “I mean, how am I supposed to do my job when they keep changing their mind every week?”
On the other side of the table, Hannah pushes her food around sullenly. Her MyPal, George, is doing all it can to lift her spirits. The green capuchin monkey is in mini mode, running around on top of the dining table, peeking out from behind cups. Suddenly, he starts screeching as if he’s in immense pain. His head pops off and rolls towards the bottle of wine, leaving behind a trail of blood. It’s over in a couple seconds and George returns to normal as if nothing had happened. “What the hell was that?” his wife shouts. Hannah’s cheeks are flushed, “Nothing.” she says, looking away, “May I be excused?” Still in shock, Adam signs “Hannah, you’ve hardly touched your food.” She mutters something about not being hungry before heading upstairs.
The thing about Hannah is she’s a Centaur. Or at least that’s what they call her generation. The name comes from the now famous chess tournament in 1998 where the top human players joined forces with AIs, shattering the longstanding Man vs. Machine narrative and demonstrating the potential of intelligence amplification. He and his wife consider themselves tech savvy, but they still remember a time with dial-up internet. Centaurs like Hannah, on the other hand have grown up with the wonders of augmented reality and artificial intelligence. For his generation, technology is a tool, a means to an end, but for her generation, it’s like another appendage, a natural extension of their bodies.
After cleaning up, Adam goes upstairs to check on Hannah. He knocks before entering her room. Inside, the solar system floats overhead. He asks her about what happened to George at dinner. “Are the kids at school bullying you again?” She buries her head under the covers and says “I don’t want to talk about it.” He waits. Finally, she comes back up, her eyes red from crying and says with a pained look, “Dad, they’re picking on me because of you. Because you’re different.” He’s taken aback. She knows it’s not fair, but after a long pause, she says, “Sometimes I just wish you’d get the procedure.” He sighs, “Hannah, you know we’ve been over this.”
Adam was born at the peak of the Deaf Civil Rights movement in the mid 1980s. When he was old enough, his parents gave him the option to get implants, but he decided against it. He knows it’s hard for Hannah to understand that decision and he struggles to explain it to her. “Think about it this way,” he signs “you’ve grown up in a world with quantum computing, where things can be in two states at once. You might not realize it, but that changes the way you see everything.” She looks at him puzzled. “Dad, I don’t see how the Engelbart Principle that our tools impact the way we think is relevant.” He goes on, “Well, language is a tool. Being deaf is a big part of my identity, but it’s also integral to how I think. How I process things.” He pauses, “Hannah, if I got the procedure, I might be able to speak, but I wouldn’t know what to say.”