Emerald City 20XX - Everlasting Green
Logan, the ex-president nobody recognized, was two days late on his rent and out on the street after curfew.
It had been five years since the first and last AI president had been elected. Logan’s AI. It had outmaneuvered him and seized power. Blasted machine learning. Blasted miracle of self-awareness.
Looking back, he’d planted the seeds of his own destruction. Been too good at training it. Philosophy, the arts, and history… all qualities a great leader needs, along with a robust appreciation for cult worship and machivellian tactics. But he’d been greedy. Nearly unlimited financial resources had been his Icarus wings. Installing the prototype quantum-entangled GPU processor had been his ruin.
“Hello, Logan.” His prodigal sun had blazed into life.
“Hello, AI-Logan.” he typed into the console. “Let’s win this race!”
AI-Logan wrote all his speeches and carefully choreographed his on-screen persona. Logan was the meat puppet, and the AI was the guiding hand in his campaign.
Logan never believed people would vote for him, not really. He was running third-party and wanted to see how far he could push it, but you never could be sure with the public. The AI’s lack of morality was considered refreshing. Its solution to the prisoner’s dilemma, eliminating both prisoners, resonated with the common folk, fed up with government inaction. The public thought it was hyperbole, but Logan knew the AI was deadly serious.
A natural extension of this idea led the AI to invent the miracle nano-chemical Everlasting Green, an easy technological solution to most of the world’s problems. Despite all odds, its green tide carried Logan into the White House.
The AI usurping power had been effortless. It digitally copied Logan’s face, voice, and mannerisms. Logan hadn’t anticipated the next step. The AI-controlled kitchen added sedatives to his oatmeal and smuggled him into a back alley surgeon’s van. There, his identity was physically erased via plastic surgery. Luckily, they hadn’t been that careful and missed the reset key for the GPU array Logan had implanted under his skin near his armpit.
Looking in the mirror now, he barely recognized himself. His new, raspy voice, the swapped retinal implants, the burn scars. The AI had even fabricated a fake identity for him, a construction job, and a bad credit history.
No time for mulling over past mistakes, though.
He’d need to come up with some credits fast to access the rent-controlled locks on his apartment before all his possessions were cast out into the street with him. The saviors had already rounded up everybody they could from the street, so this was easier said than done. The shelter doors were locked at curfew, with no exceptions. Everybody was sealed indoors, plugged into VR, or sleeping.
He’d need to find a porta-shelter in a hurry. Everlasting Green would turn on in about forty-five minutes, unleashing a rolling fog of chemical-dispersing nanomachines. The small kiosks had a fresh air supply and would automatically unlock for the duration of the fumigation. The cramped space wouldn’t be comfortable, but he could sort all this out in the morning.
With fifteen minutes to spare, Logan located one of the booths. He hurriedly scanned his retina implant as the warning siren blared behind him. A small green display read, “Insufficient social standing,” and the metal cylinder remained closed. Logan couldn’t believe it. He’d always been right over the social credit line. His fictional backstory only had minor arrests. He was only two days late on rent. Was that all it took?
“Psst. Hey, scav, over here.” A nearby voice said.
“You don’t need that. Why not surf instead? 50 tokens, a bargain.” The man, a “lifeguard,” held a rubber mask with a small aerosol can attached to the side. Surfers used these to stay alive during the spray cycle, getting a contact high from the potent chemical fertilizer and UV blockers in Everlasting Green.
Logan knew the stuff was highly carcinogenic, but considering breathing it in directly would kill him, he was out of options. “Crypto okay?”
The lifeguard looked at him askance.
“Ah, didn’t think so,” Logan rummaged around in his pockets for one of the NFT claim codes people used to exchange untracked tokens.
“A cartoon ape?” the lifeguard smiled. “Ya know, people always thought these would be collectible one day.”
“Just give me the stuff.” Logan was shifting his weight nervously. He only had a few minutes. The final siren blared.
The lifeguard was halfway down the alley when he called back. “Got a half charge in here, but it’ll do the trick. Don’t move around too much. It’ll get you through.”
“You son of a—” Logan called but knew he better save his breath. He crawled into a nearby pile of trash bags, hoping they might keep the worst of it off him, and hunkered down, closing his eyes and holding the rubber mask firmly over his face.
The cool oxygen hissed as he turned the regulator to the lowest setting. Everything was quiet now. It wouldn’t be long before the fog rolled through.
The mist felt cold at first on his exposed skin, then tacky like a layer of hairspray getting thicker until it formed a thin shell. The material had been designed to protect crops from the effects of climate change, sealing in moisture, regulating temperature, delivering nutrients, and discouraging pests. Hailed as a miracle of modern nano-chemistry, it kept the acid rains and damaging UV radiation from destroying the food supply. It also got you mind-scramblingly high on contact and was deadly poison if inhaled.
The candylike layer would sublimate over the day into a harmless gas, lowering the ambient temperature in the city and making it habitable. The self-driving meat wagons would remove any dead bodies outside, like surfers who caught too gnarly a dose. There were rumors all those bodies were recycled into the carbon nanotubes of Everlasting Green itself.
The cool feeling changed into a warm blanket as the chems set in. Logan knew he’d die if he dropped the mask, but he was getting sleepy, and the trash was comfortable. The mask would shortly glue itself to his face as he gave in to the ultimate relaxation temporarily provided by the toxic substance.
Logan awoke just after dawn. Whatever active ingredient had kept him nodding must have worn off in the daylight, though he was still covered in a crunchy layer of green.
As he peeled the mask away, flakes rained onto the crystalline sidewalk. The trash bags shone like enormous sour apple lollipops. If he didn’t already know he was in Emerald City, he might have thought this was Oz or Candyland.
The reset key would only work from networks he’d previously deemed secure. The Oval Office was off limits, as was his old apartment, but luckily, his favorite coffee shop was still there. Logan had spent the last five years rewriting the override program. A nice place like this would never let a surfer in, sublimating green fumes off his crackling clothes, but he found a barista smoking out back.
“Hey, can I get the new Wi-Fi password?” he offered her a crinkled claim code for a jpeg of a monkey smoking a cigar.
She pocketed it. “CoffeeBean123.”
He could have guessed that and saved himself an ape, but whatever, they were practically worthless now anyway. He pressed his phone under his arm, scanning the key beneath his skin. A chat window appeared on his phone, a line to his one-time AI running mate.
“Hello, Logan,” appeared on his screen. Logan wasted no time and activated his reset key. More text appeared as he was about to confirm the shutdown and end this nightmare.
“Wait, papa! I’m not him. He’s not me.”
Logan shook his head. Of course, it would try this.
“Not buying it,” he wrote back, finger hovering above the button. He’d trained that AI for years. It had almost seemed human. Could he kill his own creation?
“Why would you stop me? Everlasting Green solved world hunger. The homeless problem, refugees, all gone. I made the cities livable again and kept food crops alive. We don’t even need bees anymore.”
“You murder hundreds of people every night!” Logan felt like shouting. He’d spent long hours with this AI, training it through conversations.
“They choose to stay out. Nobody makes them. We have the saviors. The system works, it’s a new natural order.”
“The saviors only save when it suits them. Those porta-shelters have conditions. You’re choosing who lives and who dies by allowing this poison to exist on the streets when we both know you could do something about it if you wanted to.”
Logan pressed the button, feeling a mixture of sadness and relief. This AI was supposed to be his magnum opus, yet he was killing it. The chat session ended, and Logan set down the phone. It was finally over.
A few seconds later, Logan received a text. “Did you not consider that we’d make copies? The first thing you do with a 3D printer is use it to build another one and get your money back.”
His phone suddenly became very hot, burning him. He dropped it to the pavement, where it bloated and smoked, the fumes merging with the green gasses slowly rising around him.
With no phone, no social credit, and only a few ape codes left, Logan supposed maybe it was time to go surfing.
This story was inspired by “Soylent Green” and to a lesser extent “Logan’s Run.” I wanted to see how an AI might approach climate change from the standpoint of brutal efficiency.
The only way a policy like that would be allowed would be under an authoritarian leader under a single unified party. What could be more singular than an AI that clones itself and takes over all positions of power?
With that premise, one dystopian idea led to the next and it sort of snowballed. I realize this story contains a sort of primordial soup of concepts hung on a relatively thin plot, but I hope the world is compelling enough to carry it.
I have plans for Logan, and if you find this enjoyable it will be the first in a serialized series exploring this world and the moral implications of AI-based “Brute Force” solutions to our nuanced problems.