Friday, January 9, 2015

The Ride

 “A man who can't bear to share his habits is a man who needs to quit them.”
Stephen King

I woke up to the sound of a dubstep track randomly chosen by my alarm program. A quick glance to the right, it was four minutes past noon February 15th 2034. It's my birthday. my real birthday, not the fake birthday you would find on my profile. Shit! Its my 39th birthday. 39 years of this miserable city! inhaling its toxic fumes, watching its children run amok. I too its child, a proud son who has lived up-to her wasted ways. What have I done? Where do I go from here?

Uptown kids with their college degrees and socially accepted jobs call people like me riders. They would say “oh..  there goes one of those riders living in their augmented fantasy world” they would say this holding a face that has just smelt something foul. The more curious of these socially accepted pricks would ask me why I would choose to be this way? to which my standard reply would be “because I want to. Go fuck your self!”.  When I was younger this reply left me with no hesitation, with much conviction. As the years piled on, the conviction with which I held my reply started cracking up until one day it was so brittle that a mere breeze knocked it down. Why would I choose to be this way? the truth is I chose one day at a time.

I was born to a middle class immigrant couple in Los Angeles. They named me Sahan, my father left us soon after I was born, my mother who was an art major could not find a job suited to her qualifications, she lived her life working as a kitchen helper at a high class hotel. My early childhood was a long blur, spending time in a tiny hotel room and leftover food. Things didn't get a lot better once I started schooling, I was picked on for being the Asian kid, laughed at for being the poor kid and kicked around for being the weak kid. The only good thing about school was the computer classes we had. I showed so much potential,that my mom got me into a school specializing in computer science, she bought me a top of the line computer too. By day I was learning sorting algorithms, programming and fuzzy logic inference, By night I was an another one of the million surfers going from website to website learning, watching communicating and playing.

I took up gaming around the same time my peers at school started. By my 15th birthday I was an expert gamer, choosing MMORPG like World of Warcraft. My alias, kill 9(the linux command for terminating a process). This was my entry to riding though it did not even remotely look like what someone today might call ridding. I see it now,  what I got from submerging myself in games like World of Warcraft was what drove me to ridding. A virtual world where there was unlimited adventure, nights of wonder and days of companionship where I was respected for my achievements and no one knew my real world failures. I would play late into the night and sleep through school. Naturally I started failing school badly and the computer studies I once excelled ,slowly become a chore another one to my list of failures. I couldn't keep up with the others in the class as I was just not putting in the extra hours needed. This was fine with me because  the more unimportant I felt at school the more importance I got from my gaming life. In spring 2012 I dropped out of high school I finally had time to expand my gaming life to what I had in mind.

It was in early 2014 I started frequenting a gaming parlor called The Den. The Den was the third floor of a commercial building a few blocks from my house. It had low reddish lighting with blue padded carpets on which its patrons would often find themselves sleeping after a lock down. It was here that I first came  to use Head Mounted Displays. The Oculus 1.0 and 2.0 were crude in their design, they simply brought a display in front of the eyes and captured the wearers head movements so that it could allow the gaming program to render its 3D world accordingly. This simple technology  gave a more immersive first person experience for the wearer but it was the Oculus 3.0 that took HMD from the realm of gamers to the average person. It was a compact device little larger than a pair of sunglasses. The device had 3 dimensional cameras in front which captured the world with such realism that the average wearer could not tell apart the real from the augmented. This realism combined with the ability to process and enhance the wearer's visual experience of the world made it appealing for technologically forward individuals like myself. It took me 6 months of odd jobs to scrape enough money to buy one. I was hooked.

By Christmas 2018 it felt like everyone owned an Oculus. I loved the way the glasses allowed me to use my computer when ever-where ever, my computer was always on, always with me at the edge of my vision. All I had to do to execute any command on my virtual machine on the cloud was to focus on a the red dot that was always there on the right hand corner of my vision and a command terminal from my VM would morph in front of my vision, I had the transparency of the terminal set to about half way so that I could still see the world outside in the background. I would use my motion gloves to enter in commands to the terminal and presto! the results would unravel in front of my eyes. The device was solar powered(wireless charging modules appeared later on) and free wifi meant I had no reason to remove my glasses. I went through my early twenties to my late twenties seeing life through my glasses pretending to be engaged with the world outside but in reality keying away secretly on terminals and browsers. The games became exponentially better, more realism, more challenges and more glory Kill 9 was an unstoppable force, a force to be reckoned with a force to be admired and looked unto. I would surf, hack and play until I fell asleep out of sheer mental exhaustion, wake up to a game or to a terminal and just continue from where I stopped.

The outside world faded into the background, it meant less to me with each passing day. The only actual person with whom I still had any real human contact was my mother, If she was disappointed with the way I was spending my time she seldom showed it to me, I guess she justified my way of life thinking better this than drugs!  

The Oculus was replaced by the Neuralizer in 2020. It used the wearer's brain activity as an input mechanism, this marvelous feat of engineering was achieved with the advances made in fMRI and Computational Intelligence technologies in the previous two decades. I loved the way my new glasses freed up my hands, I no longer had to use my motion gloves to control my machine. I was amazed at how proficiently it could break down the words that pop up into my mind into commands. The device could do much more than just thought to type, it could identify my moods and feelings too! sometimes it would catch me off guard by identifying a subconscious thought or feeling before my conscious mind could acknowledge its existence. The next 5 years of my life passed by quickly, through my glass I saw only a silhouette of the world outside. Objects and situations. Objects I must manipulate get the desired output, Situation I must navigate through in order to get back to my virtual world as quickly as possible.

Research in merging animal brains with silicon based computers started progressing in early 2000s.  Scientists were successful in merging a silicon based micro computer with a rat’s neurons, they used specially created proteins to act as a bridge between the semiconductor material and the neurons. Neural signals could now be sent and received between computer components and the animal’s brain. As what animal’s experience with their bodily senses can be boiled down to variations of input values captured by our sensory organs given meaning by the brain, this same input values could now be fed directly to the brain. This technology was developed further in military research bases where it was moved from animal to human research. The researchers were able to perfect the emulation of bodily sensations, they coined this technology ‘’neural computer interaction’’. They were also successful in inducing feelings! Feelings of fear, hate and lust. This technologically went under the eyes of the average individual until it started appearing in prosthetics . For the first time amputees could get sensations from their prosthetic limbs,  the exact sensations you and I feel from our biological counterparts.

While neural computer interaction(NCI) was making its debut in the world of prosthetics, hacks started to appear on the web that allowed the amputees to induce other sensations and feelings. Nova Health a bio-tec startup took advantage of this opportunity and offered the operation for willing individuals in 2028 for ten grand. By this time I was making a bit of money by pirating software on the net, as my expenses were minimal I already had about half the money need to get the procedure done. I wanted an NCI port badly, I came up with the rest of the money by selling all the hardware I had accumulated over the years.

I remember walking my way to the Nova clinic on gloomy Tuesday. Outside the clinic a bum. He had an unshaved long beard, dirty long hair hidden away in what looked like a bandanna. He wore a ragged sweater tucked into a pair of torn pants, mismatching wool gloves and old boots. He held a sign.. The end is near! as I gripped the cold steel bars of the clinic door and pushed my way in, a voice at the back of my head spoke “is this really necessary? “. I walked out of the clinic two days later, half way up my spine a metal plate with a connector.

I jacked my self up to a NCI board I had done up my self using instructions I found on some sites. The visualization of my life was complete! The programs on my machine had access to my thoughts and for the first time the machine could send sensations into my brain. I could feel inside my virtual world! I could be on a broken down bed or a pavement on the side of the road, it did not matter because in my virtual world I could run a simulation program and I would be walking in a lush meadow, I could feel the wet grass crumple under my bare feet, I could smell the greenery, feel the wind on my face, when I looked up at the blue sky with big white clouds lazily moving along revealing brilliant sun I could feel the discomfort in my eyes as they adjust to the brightness I would bring my hand in front of my eye site to cover from the sun.I faded into the world I had created, where I felt and saw only what I allowed myself.  


It was nine minutes past noon,  February 15th 2034. It's my birthday. I glimpsed a shape moving slowly about in my room through a sub transparent terminal window. I close the window to take a better look. It was my mother slowly moving towards me navigating through all the junk accumulated in my room over the years, she would occasionally pick up clothes I had thrown away after wearing them months on end. She made her way to my bed where I had been for the better part of the last four years. She stood there looking down at me deciding whether I was there, whether I could see her. She spoke,

“Will you not look at me?”

I lay there looking at her. The years had not been kind on her, where there once stood a confident women, slender with brunette hair stood an old plummy women, skin wrinkled teeth discoloured and missing at places, her hair had gone gray. She had aged before her time. She had become a woman who has given up, who had slaved away at a hotel all her life to feed and shelter her son, the addict.

“Will you not look at me?” tears were at the edge of her eyes. she was about to turn away and retreat.

“I see you mom” I said.

she looked surprised,  has it really been years since I spoke to her? she quickly sat on a corner of my bed and put a hand on my arm.

“No. I want you to see me with your eyes.. not through that thing you're wearing”  

I wanted to lean back on my bed, to rest my hands on her shoulders reassuringly. All those years I had spent on my bed had left my body weak, I could barely move my hands. There was no denying no way of avoiding. My life was a mess. No, it was beyond that. My virtual world had all that my mind could fathom, but it did not have the warmth of my mothers touch. In my virtual world i was supreme but she was not part of it. How did she get so old without me noticing? It did not matter what I had in my virtual world, my mother would die out here alone. My mother, the person who made me, cared for me and loved me regardless of what the world felt about me, she never saw me as a failure she only saw me as her son. No, I will not leave her alone anymore. I finally had purpose. With strain I reached for the glasses and with one decisive tug I pulled them off. The light hit my naked eyes.