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WELCOME TO PLASTICINE

[Excerpt of notes from my journal visiting 2673. The future beings were opposed to allowing technical devices like cameras or phones for documentation. They provided an oral description of some items they wanted to show from our age.]


[Artifact 1: a set of different core samples]


I’m standing in front of what appears to be a set of core samples from around the world. It contains a light layer approximately 9 inches below the surface, and I’m told this is the indicator of the Upheaval (this seems to be a poor translation of this term but it is being referenced frequently as if I should know what it is). They described the layer in these terms:


“This layer is predominantly various byproducts of petroleum, which was produced from carbon rich deposits of ancient creatures that pooled into reservoirs deep in the Earth. The light coloration comes from the human-made materials such as plastic and other products that are characterized by their ability to last for extremely long time spans. Such compounds and chemicals have not been widely produced since around 2100 (exact date unknown), shortly after the Great Upheaval. This era is also known popularly as the Plasticine.


This layer is found nearly everywhere on Earth, even undersea core samples. It could be found in virtually all animals and ecosystems from the 1900s-2080s through activities such as disposal of trash into oceans, incorporation of the materials into nearly every facet of human life, and a general lack of concern for impact to the environment. In this core sample, you can see small fragments of plastic containers that held sugar-based drinks popular at the time.”


The beings appear to be quite critical of humans based on this description. I’m unclear how they got these core samples. They don’t appear to like machinery either.


[Artifact 2: collection of computer parts]


Next, they led me to a pile of computer parts, a monitor, motherboard, hard drive, and a few other devices I don’t recognize but seem similar. They seem keen to ask more about these devices, as I don’t see anything like this in their culture.


“These are parts of a computer, a ubiquitous pre-Upheaval technology that first came into being in the 20th century. These items specifically are a set of different types of devices that could hold information, called hard drives. These devices could be connected to a device called screens that would allow humans to read or otherwise view information, such as photo representations of SUMMER 2023 COMPASS 147 the real or imaginary worlds. These crude devices are believed to use considerable energy in the form of electrical current flowing through cords made of copper, gold, glass, and other materials.


These types of devices were instrumental in enabling the Upheaval because humans used them to spread information quickly but also with minimal concern for the recipient of that information. Don’t mistake that these were only for exercising power over others, as they also were used to coordinate people to fight back.”


They finally ask me a single question, “How could you embrace this tool when it has such potential for harm?” I was taken aback but could really only answer that computers did a lot of good and nothing can be fully good or bad. They did not respond further.


[Artifact 3: a set of silver, gold, and other coins minted in the 21st century]


The next step was in front of a bunch of coins, which are clearly from collectors despite their assurances this was money. I guess it was money, too, but they hadn’t seen paper bills which I showed them and they asked to keep some for display. I offered to trade a small bill for a gold coin.


“The concept of money was central to life before the Upheaval. These are metal circles called coins that represent a specific value that was essentially used in exchange for something else of value. While this idea is hard to fully understand today, the basic idea was that by collecting more money, one could be exchange them for things to improve human life. In order to eat food, a human would use a certain amount of money to obtain the desired food (an act called purchasing).


While we do not have a similar concept today, the primary impact was that money allowed humans to share the things they needed as a neutral intermediary. In the Plasticine, the concept of money remained strong but was not bound to coins like these. The value of money was tracked as a number inside of a computer, like you saw earlier. It fell out of favor when humans left the scene and is considered their most impactful creation as it influenced all other behaviors.” I tried to ask them questions about how they exchange goods and trade, because they clearly don’t use money. They refused to share, as with any of my questions. They seemed to believe they understood the concept but outright rejected it.


[Notes continue…]


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Jeremy Wilken


Jeremy Wilken is an engineering leader who works in the Artificial Intelligence industry. He is currently seeking an M.S. in Foresight from the University of Houston and is passionate about exploring the future of Artificial Intelligence. He has authored several books on software engineering, and is recognized as a Google Developer Expert. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his family.

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