March 3, 2024

I, Science

The science magazine of Imperial College

The 2nd place entry for the 2021 Sci-fi Writing competition, Kantaphat Pinaree's submission shows us how the future of science can be interpreted using the prompt 'Spectrum'

By Kantaphat Pinaree

I walk within the starless city, ablaze with neon light. I walk beneath the driverless cars, soaring across the smog filled sky. I walk past a cybernetic man, who tips his cybernetic hat to me. The clock strikes twelve and the city welcomes a new year. The people cheer and look upon a brighter future. But all I see is dust and ruin.

When the age of wonder dawned upon humankind, we were promised a spectrum of possibilities: “Like how a spectrum of light has an infinite number of wavelengths, we too have an infinite selection of possibilities.” We were told that robots will do the menial work, leaving us humans to pursue our passions. We were told that we will no longer have to struggle to survive, that all will be provided for. A utopia, so they said.

What a load of lies.

It has been twenty years and I still live on Earth in my rented apartment. I still live from pay cheque to pay cheque. I still work at the same bus depot, though it is much quieter these days. There used to be more people. Dominic, Sarah, Sven. But they are all gone now. Replaced.

I am the only one left here, in charge of ensuring that the driverless buses run smoothly. Not that I am needed; the AI rarely malfunctions nowadays. Even if it does, it will automatically notify the programmers who usually fix it within the hour.

Don’t get me wrong, I like all the new technology. Heck, I don’t think I can live without my self-driving car and virtual reality set. It is just that everything is still the same as before – I wake up, go to work, head home and sleep. Then the cycle repeats. Still the same, even though so much could be changed for the better. And my old co-workers, they were made redundant in favour of AI! How will they eat now? How will they pay rent? We were told that the robots would help humanity. All they do is increase the profit margin for the company!

A few weeks ago, I met Sven on my way home. He was sitting on a park bench, wearing clothes more holes than fabric. His right leg has been replaced with cybernetic parts, with scars old and new littering his once unblemished skin. I remember looking at his gaunt face, at his sad, empty eyes. He seemed older, more tired.

“I went to New America, in the Sol II system,” he told me over a simple meal of bread and cheese, “sold everything so I could afford a ticket.”

“What happened?” I asked as I handed him a cup of coffee. “I thought they said that it would be ‘the land of opportunity’ and a place to ‘get a fresh lease on life’?”

He laughed. “It’s the same everywhere! Everything has been taken over by those bloody tin cans. Hell, I couldn’t even get a job as a labourer.”

I pressed him with more questions. What happened afterwards? How did he get back here? He offered no answers; all he did was smile sadly and shake his head. I guess that was answer enough.

“Thank you. It was good to catch up with you,” he finally said, standing up from his chair. “The world is not for us, not anymore! But we struggle on nonetheless.”

On his way out, while he thought that I wasn’t looking, he extracted a packet of white powder from a hidden compartment in his cybernetic right leg. He tossed it up and down a few times before stashing it back into the compartment.

That was the last time I saw him. The last time I will ever see him. The next day he was found dead, gutted in an alleyway.

Whilst the advent of technology changes how we live, it alone will not change our way of life. Ultimately, humanity is governed by greed and profit. Whilst we cannot provide for everyone, we do not ever seem to have an incentive to – why give to others when you can keep it all to yourself? Many think that, if we achieve enough advancement in technology, our problems will simply go away. However, the truth is that culture and human nature will not change alongside it. The people in power retain the power in a status-quo.

In the grand scheme of things, the advent of technology alone changes nothing.

Even with a spectrum of possibilities, an endless multitude of opportunities, we choose only to advance our own goals. Even with soaring cars and cybernetic men, we still walk within a starless city,

beneath a smog filled sky, heading to a future
of dust
and ruin.