Our New Species (Part 1/2)

Harrison and Alice
This is part one of this story. You can read part two here!

The Age of the Spiritual Machine

Boot Sequence

A softly toned, analog alarm pierced the quiet of Harrison’s city apartment. His forgotten dreams slipped through the cracks as his consciousness took over to start the day. Just another day.

He sighed, rolling out of bed, and switched on his phone. The morning ritual’s feed sprung to life with a firehose of ads, notifications, software updates, and Twitter notifications – all masquerading with self-importance.

Harrison scrolled through, filtering for anything important, or messages from loved ones. Amid the stupid tweet recommendations and ancient newsletters he really ought to unsubscribe from, a Calendar notification caught his eye.” Meeting reminder: Lunch with Jacob @ 12pm”. He was looking forward to this.

Stepping into the shower, he welcomed the hot water to wash away an average night’s sleep. Showers were his sanctuary, a private oasis to think, generate ideas, and relax without any distractions or Slack messages.

His mind booted up. He hadn’t seen anything in the mornings feed regarding his application for the Neuralink surgery. He grew anxious; it was just over a week since they said they would get back to him, and there was still radio-silence.

Feelings of jealousy arose with painful thoughts of his fellow programming colleague who’d recently received a Neuralink. Already, in the two weeks since he’d had the surgery, his co-worker had rebuilt the entire API service for his department, learned sales, marketing, and was now championing technical client relations. All with a new paycheck and high-praise from the CEO, of course.

Harrison was still stuck as a QA engineer, left to do the manual human testing of the AI’s complicated work. Despite the consistent late-night studying, algorithm practice, and competition submissions, he was only just managing to stay afloat at his job. 5 years ago, he had a high paying role as a senior engineer, but some things had changed in the past few years. It was hard to keep up.

A temporary blast of cold water shattered his stream of thought. He dried off in the kitchen and put on a brew of Golden Teacher mushroom tea. It had been 3 years since psychedelic psilocybin mushrooms had been approved for legal, personal use. Harrison brewed them daily. It was not enough to feel anything or create any hallucinations. The tea gave Harrison a necessary, though only slight, edge in the competition with the Connies. Others had also embraced the “natural augmentation” that psilocybin offered, eager for anything to expand the mind and stay relevant amongst the chaos. An increasingly common blend of techno-spirituality and psychonaut techniques permeated Harrison’s online social network.

Since the “Linked Revolution”, a “Connie” was a nick-name for those fortunate enough to afford and receive the Neuralink surgery. They were a different kind. The “Linked Revolution” took the world by storm. An increasing number of professionals, creatives, investors, business-people, and politicians itching to get the implant. They couldn’t build the installation machines fast enough.

The world underwent vast sweeping changes as the bandwidth between humans and machines exploded by several orders of magnitude. A bridge for humanity and AI to co-exist. Human 2.0.

Nothing was the same. Harrison sipped his tea.

Harrison’s best friend was his ryukin goldfish, Alice. The pair had a simple relationship, and he liked it that way. Harrison would talk, and she would listen. She was good at that.

He stood there in his towel, staring into her large bowl, watching her circle aimlessly.

“Are we still relevant, you and I, Alice?”

She bubbled in response.

Harrison wondered if normal humans and goldfish had grown more alike over the past few years.

“Are we trapped to the confines of a watery sphere? At the mercy of a greater force, one that can expand beyond the physical constraints of our world? Is our entire existence defined by the chance that they forget to feed us one day?”

He chewed his lip and concluded the tea was kicking in.

“Good chat Alice.”

Harrison cleaned his mug, slipped on his freshly washed jeans, and put on a WWDC 2030 shirt from earlier this year. The years alone at a computer all day and night had not done wonders for his health, and the jeans were a bit too tight. He opened Tesla Fetch on his phone and ordered a ride to his usual cafe spot in the city.

Running downstairs, he bumped into his neighbor, an old-lady chatting away on FaceTime to her grandchildren in Bali.

“Oh, Harrison, dear! Say hello to my oldest grandchild, Namibia. She’s in Bali, you know?” the old-lady enthused.

“Bali? That’s a dangerous place to be,” Harrison squinted at the tiny screen she was thrusting in his face, “How are things down there?”

“We’re here to enjoy the last of it before it goes under,” Namibia sighed, “Doing what we can to help the locals, you know?” She seemed sad.

Harrison worked for a startup, Rising Tide, that provided AI relocation assistance for struggling islanders. The thought of being in Bali right now made him queasy.

“Ah, ok. Well, look after yourself!” and he darted down the remaining stairs into the tiny backstreet of his city. Strangers weren’t his strong suit.

After a quick glance at Fetch, it told him the ride was still a few minutes away. Instead, he opened HackerNews and leaned against the wall as he consumed his most trusted source.

The last one caught his eye. SpaceX had successfully established a Martian base in 2027, officially turning humans into an interplanetary species. Incredible efforts and resources were now being poured into the space industry. Transportation, energy innovation, various offshoots of spacecraft companies, asteroid mining expeditions, pirates fighting with the US Space Force; it was all very science-fiction and exciting.

Unfortunately for most, the experiences of this brave new world were limited to news articles and immersive video games. Space was reserved only for those who could afford it, or smart enough to work in it. The competition for a job in space was astronomical, and a non-Connie securing a position these days was almost unheard of. Harrison day-dreamed.

Not long after, the pleasant hum of the driverless, electric, Tesla Fetch zoomed into view, stopping with perfect deceleration right in front of Harrison. The doors swooshed open, and a gust of cool, conditioned air rushed to greet him as he stepped inside to sit on the comfy leather seat.

In the corner, a purple-haired tween was socializing loudly with her friends on some app.

“OMG, did you see her new TikTok video? I was like, ummmm, who are you trying to be, you know? Like, don’t pretend to do your own content when you’re just copying me. Be original, bitch. What? Oh yeah, I know. Yep. Mhm. She’s so fake. And it only got like 3 likes, so whatever. Mine got like, 300. Anyway, so what did you tell Ryan last night?”

There was another passenger, however, that intrigued Harrison much more. The strongly-built, middle-aged man was dressed only in black, sporting heavy boots, tinted sunglasses, and an expensive suit. His short brown hair was contrasted by his clenched, freshly-shaved jawline and tight lips. The air felt colder around him, and he seemed to exude a sense of danger and anger. He didn’t move a muscle as Harrison pulled out his phone, and the doors closed with a click.

“We’ll be ignoring him,” Harrison thought, uncomfortably resuming the perusal of today’s updates. The Fetch was speeding quickly through the city and took a slight turn, down into one of the city’s tunnel openings. The new underground system was AI-Designed, created by analyzing traffic patterns over the years. AI identified the most common routes and destinations people took, and humans drilled the tunnels. It was extremely efficient. Virtually nobody owned a car anymore, let alone drove – traffic was an issue of the past.

Harrison lamented on the hours he used to spend driving to the corporate office. All that wasted time, and for what? Since COVID, everything went remote, and the world had never looked back. SABER virus had only deepened the new workflow.

The Telsa slowed, stopping outside a mysterious, unmarked brick building. The agent (as Harrison supposed he must have been) promptly stepped out, without a sliver of expression, and entered the two reinforced steel doors of the building. Good riddance. Miss Tween was still happily gossiping away.

Harrion’s phone buzzed, notifying him he would arrive in a few minutes. 2 article headlines later, and they pulled up at The Electric Fig.

The Electric Fig

The tiny, hipster cafe was wedged in an alley between two gigantic skyscrapers, barely seeing the sun. It opened up to the street with a giant floor to ceiling window, inviting busy passerby’s in with scents of fresh, 4th wave coffee and down-tempo jungle beats. Harrison stepped through the open door, waving at some of the staff, and tiptoed his way past potted plants and laptop chargers. His regular seat was at the very back.

As usual, the energy was palpable, with the tiny room stuffed full of other remoters, designers, devs, and bloggers. He was grateful for his noise-canceling headphones. A few other regulars he knew smiled at him from their conference calls.

Harrison made his way to the counter and was met with an unfamiliar, pretty face. He felt the butterflies in his stomach as he stumbled over his words.

“Hey, ugh, you new here?” Great. What a line idiot.

“Yeah I am,” she smiled, she had a happy voice, “Just started today”

Harrison glanced at her name tag, “Ugh, Khaleesi? Nice name”

“Yeah,” she sighed, and seemed annoyed he’d said anything, “My parents are real fun. Most people just call me Kali”

“Oh, yeah, sorry. I’m a big fan, but yeah. Nice to meet you Kali” Why was talking to girls so hard? “Umm, can I get a cappuccino, please? No sugar”

“Sure”, she fumbled with the kiosk, “I’ll bring it out to you”

Harrison’s mind flooded with the million different ways he could have handled that interaction better. Returning to his table, he mumbled to himself. “Maybe I should renew my gym subscription” he thought.

He opened his laptop, Chrome, and Google meets to join his companies daily standup. He yawned; these meetings were always dull.

“Hi team!” His manager, Augustine, was annoyingly chipper, but today seemed especially intense, “How was everyone’s weekend?”

His team gave a half-hearted response, and those game enough turned on their mic to offer a “Good thanks”, or a “Yeah, alright”. Go, team.

Rising Tide was a relatively new startup, only founded in the last two years. The founder was a Jamaican refugee who was forced to leave his country with his family due to sea levels reducing the island’s capacity. He met the CTO in a holding camp near Toronto, and the pair decided to join forces to tackle the severe issue.

Harrison zoned out, opening a separate tab to check some of his favorite subreddits, and his mind drifted. He wondered about his lunch with Jacob today. He’d never met him in person, only on Twitch. What intrigued Harrison mostly was that Jacob claimed to be a Connie. What would he think of Harrison?

“Harrison? You still with us?” Augustine broke his focus.

“Oh, yeah, sorry, mic problems” he lied. “Uhh today I’m fixing that issue with the invalid tokens being sent to the client”

Augustine didn’t seem convinced, but Harrison wasn’t sure if it was an internet lag.

“Ok, thanks, Harrison. Have a great day everyone” The call ended with a patronizing chime.

Harrison couldn’t concentrate. Between the upcoming lunch, the boredom of his Jira tickets, and the frustrations of his interaction with Kali, he was distracted. The code in front of him blurred into colorful blobs, dancing in front of his eyes, taunting Harrison with its declarations, control flows, and loops. An artificially generated soup of complexity.

The mushrooms weren’t helping today, at least not for this.

Had coding shifted along with everything else over the last few years? With the Connies and their AI generating most of the code more often, how was a human supposed to keep up?

“It’s not like I’m dumb” Harrison complained to a small Telegram group of other programmer friends, “I spend so much time studying this shit. Are you guys struggling with this too?”

His message was seen by several, and gained a couple of thumbs-up emojis. Harrison was encouraged that he wasn’t the only one. Mindlessly, he opened up Gmail to check if there was any Neuralink update. Still nothing.

A Slack question from a more junior co-worker sucked him back into his work. The unique blend of caffeine and psilocybin was in full effect as he forced himself to zone in and be useful. He disabled his notifications so he could program in peace and spend the next few hours debugging.

By the time his Calendar reminded him it was time to leave, Harrison was well on his way, packed to go. He paid, waved awkwardly at Kali, and returned to the now empty, cold street. The sunlight valiantly sought for any small break between the skyscrapers, providing patches of illumination before returning to the darkness of steel, cement, and glass. Harrison reached the end of the street and turned left, the sky breaking out to a view of the lake. He enjoyed this walk, and today there was a spring in his step.

Jacob had suggested they meet at an upmarket lunch bistro that Harrison had never heard of. Google Maps told him it was a 22-minute walk, so he resumed an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Joe’s current guest was a Seargent of the Martian Space Core, discussing an ongoing referendum for Martian independence. Recent political tensions over trade agreements between Euro-Chinese leaders and the Martian settlers were a hot topic.

The Sergeant’s argument was that Earth was demanding too many critical minerals to be shipped on returning voyages – minerals that Mars needed. Mid 2025, a global state of emergency introduced heavy international rations on precious metals running out. There were insufficient physical resources to supplement the titanic consumption of energy produced by non-renewables with solar or wind. Despite the cultural perspective on nuclear fission opening to more research and deployments, we were not moving fast enough. Asteroids, though rich in assets, were an expensive and risky operation. Mars was ripe for the picking to sate Earth’s hunger.

The breezy bike-path along the lake gave way to chic, elegant architecture, stylish murals, and groomed hedge-trees. The people here dressed differently, and nobody said a word—Connie territory.

Harrison had arrived.