I live in Portland, Oregon. I have been sucked into the year 2080 through a portal in my closet. If you check under the carpet, you’ll see a wooden hatch. If you lift it up, you’ll feel immense air pressure that will suck you right in. I warn you. If I could leap back, I would, but Amazon has inserted a Google tracker under my skin. I would combust in a week.
I could’ve typed the rough draft of this email, but I would’ve cheated both you and myself of pure honesty, so I wrote it longhand to my best ability and transcribed it later. Please excuse me if some parts don’t make any sense. I struggle more at longhand than I do at shorthand. I had searched over a dozen online retailers for a pen—and the right pen, too.
I warn you, readers, if you make it this far, you’ll be controlled by Amazon. Amazon has changed the name Earth to Amazon (or Planet Amazon—the name of its restaurant chain). You won’t see any stores. Leon Skum, who once owned Amazon, made them shut down for the Amazon online store. You can purchase books through its app. You’ll pay ninety-nine cents per minute. I suggest you take some speed-reading courses. If you can’t afford a tablet or the cost of reading online, you can buy a physical copy of a book. Amazon sells them in the gift shops of spaceports all over the world. They disintegrate after one day, so you’ll either buy another copy, or you’ll read the rest of it online.
He invented artificial intelligence that can those write books, including novels. He called it STAN. It won him the Nobel Prize, which he had given to himself. STAN can take all the words of a Hemingway novel, stir them in its algorithm, and dish out a new story.
Leon has used the same technology for an AI music group called ROXANNE. ROXANNE sings sharper and more dynamically than any human pop singer or opera singer ever could, but it delivers with the emotional depth of a bike seat. It has pressed eighteen compilations online, not music albums. Since the death of music albums in 2000 A.D., only songs remain. You can purchase them for twenty American dollars on Amazon.
AI’s such as STAN and ROXANNE have taken over all other industries. Journalists like myself can no longer work in their field. Why hire me when something like STAN can write for you? My son read novels—if you can believe it—and comic books, and poetry anthologies, and self-help books. And even trashy memoirs. Guess for yourself how STAN can write one about its sordid past. It finishes an average of 103 novels in a week alone. The key word is average. The prose doesn’t levitate. Quality has withered to dust now in a world of overwhelming quantity.
Has this discouraged you enough? If not, keep reading.
I wrote editorials for the sports column in USA Today. I interviewed Leon Skum at the time when he owned the Portland Condors—one of the 104 teams in the National Football League. He created the first artificially-intelligent quarterback: STEVE.
Now, STEVE threw seventy-eight touchdowns and no interceptions in its rookie season. It earned the award for season MVP, above all humans, and threw eight touchdowns and no interceptions against the Berlin Packers in the Super Bowl. The Condors blew them out, 63-10. They won every Super Bowl for the next ten years.
Sometimes STEVE’s hard drive would fail. Or Sometimes it’s battery died suddenly from some annoying glitch. A geek squad would drive STAN to a repair room inside the tunnel, hook it up to a charger and restart it. The coach would replace it with a backup–a human being (or as Leon called him, “a thumb drive”).
As the century-old cliché goes, the NFL is a copycat league. The owners of all the other 103 teams lost more and more fans, so they invested in their own AI’s. They told the software companies what kind of models they wanted for development. A six-foot-four wideout would cost millions more than a five-foot-eight wideout with less speed but superior hands. By 2070, artificial intelligence replaced every human on every 52-man roster in the league. STEVE would hand off to FRED, the halfback, or STEVE would throw to CHUCK, the Condors’ tallest wideout….
In the process, fandom disappeared. One out of 1,000 people still roots for a team. The overwhelming majority that uses the games for Fantasy Football has no emotional interest in teams nor players. Why should they? The spectators no longer wear team jerseys, either. Neither the Amazon app nor the gift shops in the stadiums sell them. You can find them in antique stores online. Sometimes I’ll see some oddball wearing one, like the time I saw a middle-aged guy in a Brett Favre jersey. He looked insane. He may as well have dressed as a swashbuckler.
As far as gambling goes, the federal government has shut down the state lotteries and banned the use of horses in horseracing. Leon Skum developed artificially-intelligent horses for events such as the Kentucky Derby. Thousands of greedy or desperate people show up and watch them gallop around the tracks.
In case you’re wondering artificial intelligence matches with humanity, picture a robot like STEVE. It looks human on the field, with its legs, its arms, its hips, and how its joints move. In postgame interviews, it blinks now and again for realism; it laughs at inappropriate times in a machine-gun effect, and it answers the reporters’ questions from a script of over a thousand sports platitudes. Lawyers overemphasize to both Apple and Microsoft that an AI must speak in a passive voice. It cannot blame a human coach or any other AI or human teammates. It must say it wasn’t prepared for the game, not that the manufacturer didn’t prepare it well enough for the game.
Anyway, STEVE was blinking too slowly. Its eyebrows would fall out of cadence with its speech. Its eyes still had the dead look of a forty-year-old. Software experts said technology hadn’t come far enough and that STEVE was too old of a model. The Apple team worked on enhancements towards more dynamic emotions. But what did that matter to Leon Skum? He made millions off STEVE alone. He could’ve ridden STEVE to his grave.
In its eighteenth season on the Condors, though, STEVE was sacked devastatingly by ERNIE, the all-pro linebacker for the Omaha Saints. STEVE’s head popped right off. Everybody in Steve Jobs Arena booed from the stands; many of which threw their smartphones and punched other people. It became a melee. Security guards prodded and tasered a lot of them and carried them out of the stadium. Their Fantasy teams were destroyed, just like STEVE, all because of ERNIE. I was trapped among it.
“Kill ERNIE,” one of them shouted.
“He fucked me out of $30,000.”
A geek squad rolled onto the field in an iCar. They placed STEVE’s body in the backseat, along with its head. They drove it back through the tunnel and into a repair room. That’s how it goes for injuries.
As for ERNIE, because it had decapitated the greatest quarterback in NFL history, it was sentenced to death by the league commissioner, Jessica Goodell. With hammers, a crew of technicians pounded it apart like it were a six-foot-seven coconut. Once they got to the hard drive, they smashed it to pieces.
Apple replaced STEVE’s body with a new one. STEVE’s hard drive had always been in its head, and it showed limited damages—at first. Apple replaced STEVE’s body with a new one. It still showed heavy signs of deterioration by its twentieth season.
One snowy afternoon in Chicago, it stood under center at the fifty-yard-line, and it remained frozen and silent through the play clock. The refs called a delay-of-game on the Condors. It baffled the coaches, the officiating team, and the rest of the people in the stadium. The geek squad blamed it on the moistness of the snow, so they carried its body to the repair room and covered it in a ton of white rice, but that didn’t work.
The geek squad couldn’t solve hardware issues, so Leon flew STEVE to a small repair shop in Los Angeles. A repair man in Koreatown fixed hardware issues. He showed Leon the corrosion of STEVE’s hardware. STEVE lost both its memory and its information. He couldn’t bring it back to life. The Apple Team buried it in the Apple factory here in Portland.
The Condors retired STEVE’s jersey. Leon hung it in the stadium: its crimson home jersey with its gold numbers: A3XO5. The crowd booed at it. STEVE had slowed down so significantly in its last few years that it disappointed too many Fantasy owners. It cost them too much money. Leon took it down.
The bettors, the owners, and the media all speculated whether Apple had killed STEVE on purpose. They released a batch of new models on the same week as its death. What a coincidence. Jessica Goodell replaced human referees with those newest models. The new legion of refs made objective calls. It angered Vegas oddsmakers. They needed humans back.
After STEVE’s death, too many other Condors players caught too much malware and too many viruses. They didn’t perform as swiftly at the end of the nineteen-year dynasty. Some he quarantined, others he put on viral reserve. So Leon cut many other AI’s from the team. He needed a new quarterback with the 184,372.0 software. How else could Leon replace a future hall-of-famer like STEVE? But he wouldn’t commit to Apple. He blamed them for corrupting his players.
I interviewed him about the future of the NFL, and he expressed his shame about what he had created. He blamed himself for what he had done to literature, for what he had done to pop culture, and for what he had done to professional sports, He also implored to all mothers and fathers in the country:
“Don’t put them through Little League or Varsity football or any other competitive sport. You’re fooling yourselves.”
Most parents listened.
These days, a child competes in virtual reality. The lucky ones become professional gamers after college. And these days, a typical pubescent child weighs near 250 pounds. Most children are too slow and doughy for any athletics. They wear oxygen masks when they walk, with oxygen packs hitched to their backs.
(Please excuse my discouraging examples, but I must include them in this letter.)
One kid, though, Max Montana, made the Varsity football team in his Freshman year. He broke every football record at Obama High School in Cleveland, Ohio. His parents pushed him towards a scholarship. Most universities in the United States had shut down their sports programs, except for the prestigious ones such as Notre Dame or Alabama or USC. Those colleges still drafted talented or sufficient-enough athletes from high schools. The NCAA prohibits the use of AI’s in athletics and therefore gambling. AI’s do populate the campuses, though. They work in the administration buildings; they make up the whole janitorial staff and teaching faculty. Artificially-intelligent professors teach their lectures over Google webcasts.
Most collegiate athletes play for the sake of pride in themselves and in the schools that believed in them. A human NFL player would make as much as $100,000 a year, which would afford him a studio apartment in San Francisco (where the Bills play), and he would need a roommate unless his parents were wealthy. Nowadays the real money is in telemarketing. I made six figures a year; it brought me classy women and other social gifts….
Anyway, Max accepted a scholarship to USC. It got him national fame and great pussy. The kid had played nothing else but humans since his Jack Frost days up to his senior year as a USC Trojan, having never encountered an AI on a football field. Montana threw for a school record of seventy-five touchdowns in his senior year. Leon said that he saw the marketing potential in Max. He called a Vegas oddsmaker about him. Montana attracted his interest, too. If he interested the oddsmakers, he interested Jessica Goddell.
USA Today boasted Max as the greatest quarterback in NCAA history. The other owners said Max had little to no chance in the NFL, where artificial intelligence can outplay humans in every facet.
Leon swallowed the sentiments he had given USA Today about a human having no chance against AI’s. One owner said Leon was unscrupulous for the sake of unscrupulousness. After all, an AI has many more capabilities and much more stability, both physically and emotionally, all for better market value. So why draft a human? But Leon Skum was Leon Skum. Love him or hate him, he innovated in that way. He began, others followed.
ESPN19 still televises the NFL Draft every year. The owners select nothing but Artificial Intelligence, so the draft is bereft of any human interest stories. Only Fantasy owners and other bettors watch it. It goes for twelve rounds and covers all 104 teams. Each owner must pick a new player within ten seconds. The AI steps to the podium, looking neither joyful nor excited, and shakes hands with Commissioner Goodell. The committee moves onto the next pick. The whole process lasts a few hours, not a few days.
Max and his agent drown to Irvine, California for the draft. Commissioner Goodell held it in a banquet room at the Radisson Hotel across the street from the Irvine Spectrum (which was once a shopping mall; now it’s a manufacturing plant for new AI models). No other owners besides Leon showed up. They boycotted it. The Portland Condors had lost all 32 games that past season, so the Condors had the first overall pick.
Leon and his lawyers sat near the front seats. It felt more like a theater audition than a football draft. He selected Max, and Max joined Goodell at the podium. His face was acne red. He smiled like a clueless farmboy. Leon stood and applauded with his lawyers, and the Montana family cheered from the back row. Max held his Condors jersey in front of himself and smiled for the cameras.
“You’re the first human quarterback for the Condors in twenty years,” Jessica said. “How does it feel?”
“It’s an honor,” he said. “I would like to thank Pops in the back row for teaching me to believe in myself. Ma, sister, and of course Mr. Skum for believing in me, too.”
Well, Max started for the Condors in the first preseason game. He stepped back for his first pass, a deep one it looked like, and JAMES, the all-pro linebacker for the Uruguay Forty-Niners, blindsided him for a sack.
Max blew out his knee.
The geek squad rolled him out of the stadium to an ambulance team. They drove him to the nearest hospital in Portland for X-rays. A Swiss doctor flew in for the surgery. He could fix the knee, but he said Max would miss the rest of the season.
Leon desperately and reluctantly replaced him with SHANE, a former backup for 74 other teams. At least it had the latest version of the Apple software. And by midseason, Leon cut Max. It was during a run for the playoffs. Max ended up in the open market, but no one wanted a human quarterback with balls, a bum knee, and a sense of entitlement.
Max tweeted his frustrations at Leon Skum every day on Twitter:
HOW COULD LEON CUT THE GREATEST QUARTERBAKK EVERR,,,,,HUMAN OR ROBOT???????
MY KNEE IS GOOD I DISERVE MY JOB BACK DAMNITTTTT!!!!!??!???!
I HATE YOU LEON.
He battled an opiate addiction through a year of rehab. Once he left the program, Max applied for a telemarketing job at AT&T (where I worked). He couldn’t handle people over the phone, he had anger issues, but he had broken all of the records at USC.
“I was better than those machines,” he said in the break room. “I had what they didn’t have, and that was a heart.” Whenever he brought it up, the other co-workers would leave the table with their food.
Max also chewed with his mouth open. He ate three-pound burritos. He drank grape soda and belched it back up. In a few months, Max had inflated to the standard size of most American men: close to 300 lbs. Life bored him. He resented it. Only his addictions pulled him through it. Now that he had conquered his opiate addiction, he spent most of his salary on Fantasy Football, Fantasy Baseball, Fantasy Hockey, Fantasy Soccer; even Fantasy Golf. Everything except chicken-fighting. Some weeks, he won $250; other weeks he lost over $500.
Artificial intelligence plays every position in every sport nowadays. Everything about those games seems random but also fixed. Perhaps Las Vegas has randomly rigged them as if they were slot machines. Who knows? Computers coincidentally break down before the newest updates.
Max needed at least ten hours a day for research on every machine in every respectful sport. Only a Vegas oddsmaker has that sort of time. An oddsmaker studies the habits of each owner of each team as well. How updated is each model? How often does each one freeze or buffer? How many restarts does it need per average in a match or a game?
So, Max quit his comfortable job at AT&T for the dicey world of sports betting. The wrong people could hack his system at any time. He moved to Las Vegas, and I never heard from him again. Nor did anyone else at the office.
Artificial intelligence has taken over both Apple and Microsoft. They have disposed of all human services. It seized every sports team as well. The Portugal Steelers is still the Portugal Steelers, but now it’s run by Apple. The Singapore Chargers is still the Singapore Chargers, but now it’s run by Microsoft. Leon kept fighting, though, for his Condors.
STAN now writes all the articles for USA Today. It exposed Leon for sexual misconduct with sex robots in his office. Each one of them spoke up in the same week about their incidents. Human rights groups accused STAN and Apple of colluding against Leon for full control of the Condors. Due process against those robots’ claims didn’t matter. The NFL strongly rejects any mentioning of sexual advances towards coworkers, whether they’re human or robotic. The league must keep its wholesome image for the children. So Leon lost his franchise.
So this is how it is. Enjoy art while it’s still humanmade, and fandom while it’s still relevant. I can travel back in time, but Google has inserted a chip under my skin. I can’t cut it out either. If I do, I will forget my entire history. And if I travel back, I will die in a week’s time.