Aftermath, Introduced

The New York Times
June 11, 91 A.T.

Ours is the oldest newspaper in the Western Hemisphere. It has survived the American Civil War, three world wars, the demise of print journalism, the Tecton, and the dissolution of the city for which it was named. Against staggering odds, our presses have turned out real, paper copies of the New York Times since before the Internet was a literary gimmick in 1940s sci-fi.

No longer.

Next week Syzygy Corporation will put its finishing touches on Aftermath, and the platform will be released to the public. Most of our staff will retire to one of Syzygy’s countless subterranean pod barracks, along with nearly a billion others around the globe, where we will live out Earth’s remaining decades tethered to I.V.s, pregnant with nanobots, exploring a strange, manmade world.

Perhaps we will find a way to print newspapers there. But here, on this analog planet, the tabloid you now hold in your hand is the last of its kind.

Syzygy’s final software update will ensure that Aftermath can fulfill its binary charter of being both “immortalizing” and “infinitizing.”

The curious term “immortalizing” means that our physical bodies will live on indefinitely in their pods – far beyond the conventional limits of human longevity – through nutritive infusions, electrical muscle stimulation, and cellular rejuvenation. Whether or not these technologies will literally immortalize human beings is an academic question, as Syzygy’s scientists have demonstrated that they can extend life by at least 500 years – enough, easily, to carry our species to its inevitable rendezvous with the sun.

But “immortalizing” also means that without billions of humans scouring the earth for natural resources and razing its forests for timber, we might just stave off the more immediate threat of extinction posed by Earth’s vanishing atmosphere. If the Remainder keeps its industrial appetite in check, then our planet will heal itself within a few decades. Some of us might even choose to wake from our technicolor slumber and spend our last days in an unspoiled variant of the world once known to our ancestors.

“Infinitizing,” meanwhile, means that our new, virtual reality will expand and evolve exponentially under the direction of powerful A.I.s, ultimately rivaling (or even surpassing) the near-infinite breadth of our real-world universe.

Some of the more superficial outputs of “infinitization” will include massive multi-player games, on-demand avatars suited for friendship or romance, and otherwise unbridled (albeit unreal) opportunities for wish fulfillment. Moreover, select denizens of Aftermath – especially those with science and engineering backgrounds – will assume control of Syzygy’s legion of real-world drones and robots, presently dormant in hangars and bunkers on every continent. Through such machines we will maintain a physical presence in the world we leave behind. With them, we will monitor our planet and manage the infrastructure that powers our pods. But more importantly, we will use them to build a new class of barracks capable of interstellar drift. Or, perhaps, to create thrust systems powerful enough to correct the Earth’s orbit.

This, after all, is the ultimate mission of Aftermath. It will harness the collective genius of the world’s remaining population and direct it at the only problem truly worth solving: our impending immolation.

Over the course of its three hundred years, this newspaper has covered the obsolescence and displacement of countless technologies. Our columnists once debated the merits of automobiles over horse-drawn carriages – only, centuries later, to question the value of autonomous vehicles. Our interviewers challenged Bell on the scalability of his telephone. We published editorials on both sides of the boutique genetics debate, and wrote at length about the promise of bioelectric integration.

Next week the human body will become obsolete. It will live on, of course, like corroded railroad tracks or abandoned fiber conduit, a vestige of a bygone era. But the brain will inherit new eyes, new limbs and a new universe in Aftermath. And though it is tempting to editorialize about the fall of man’s physicality — to predict a post-physical utopia, or to foreshadow a malware-induced apocalypse, or to decry the notion of a future engineered by a single corporation – history suggests that the best stance this newspaper can take is none at all.

So, to those readers who will join us underground: We look forward to meeting the next version of you. Who you were in this reality will mean nothing in the next; you will choose your appearance, your gender, your size. There will be no common currency in Aftermath – no wealth, no class. Together we will explore vast new tracts of cyberspace. We will learn languages in moments, entire sciences in nanoseconds. The whole corpus of human thought will be at our beck and call. But no matter how powerful we become, no matter how content or elated, we must always remember our end goal: to save the outmoded, barbarically corporal, misshapen orb on which we live, and on which man’s life – or at least his life support – depends. This we must never forget.

To the Remainder: Good luck. You are either the wisest among us or the most stubborn. But you are certainly the bravest, for you are few in number, and this planet will show you little mercy in the years to come.

And to all: Goodbye, for now.

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