This short story was originally published on richardholliday.co.uk on March 6th 2014.
by Richard Holliday
The First Day
Wednesday, April 11th 2029
The Archive Project had been ready for humanity for quite a while but it was on this day that humanity itself was finally ready for the Archive Project. This would be known as The First Day
Certain arms of law enforcement had always taken a keen interest in the technology and backed HiveCorp’s development efforts accordingly. Originally the Archive Project had been planned as a means to take a ‘trip down memory lane’, the benefits to government and the police of a technology that diligently catalogs the actions, thoughts and, if you will, feelings of a person indefinitely were all too obvious and, with a suitable subsidy, were irresistible to HiveCorp.
Months of public-awareness campaigns had the Archive Project on the tips of everyone’s tongues. Hundreds of thousands – from bankers to farmers to everyone in between – had waited out for days to receive the implants at their local optical clinics. These implants, sold at a substantial loss to promote uptake, would allow the Project to record and transmit the raw data to storage facilities worldwide and were the backbone of the project’s infrastructure. Even better for those undergoing implantation, the technology was manifested as simply a semi-transparent contact lens laced with nanowire that acted as an antennae and solar power panel. The delivery method for the Archive Project itself was the pinnacle of mobile technology. The Project pushed many boundaries.
The day had come now for the Project to go from draft to live. In a moment, users would be recording their very existences and lives to be played back in any order later at their choosing. Each chunk of information would be saved to a profile in a manner that made playback happen in the literal blink of an eye, and each chunk of information would conveniently be screened and logged by the most sophisticated surveillance technology ever devised, for the user’s ‘own safety’.
With a short ten minutes until ‘live’ an awaiting world prepared to revisit itself. In homes and libraries across continents, opaque goggles were placed in front of billions of implanted eyes. Without even launching the Archive Project set another milestone as the most successful consumer tech roll-out in history.
The timers hit zero. The world took a breath, nothing happened. There was nothing to revisit yet, anyway.
The Second Day
Thursday, April 12th 2029
18 hours had passed. The Project had worked better than predicted by the exhaustive series of tests and load estimations. The global roll-out produced datastreams that the limited field could never have imagined. Both the volume and diversity of collected chunks of information were monumental in scope, and gave the Internet had a new sole purpose – to store conscious thoughts of six billion registered people in massive storage facilities resembling silos of nothing but human memories – memory farms. With each second that passed, hours of digitised memories flooded the pipes in a tidal wave of unprocessed data. Each individual moment would be filtered, stored according to account and meticulously tagged. Meta-data alone made up the bulk of the storage cost, as each user had a slightly different way of both remembering what they were doing and pulling that information back up on demand.
During the long beta by select HiveCorp employees it had been found that the traditional hard drives employed for storage couldn’t cope with the throughput and data volume and literally burned up. For the Archive Project to even work as a proof-of-concept a new medium was needed – and atomic storage was the eventual answer, forming another accolade for the wall of the HiveCorp development labs. Like a hard drive, the position of particles was the determining factor; unlike a hard drive, the particles in question were mere atoms. Zettabytes of pristine, uncompressed memory data now fitted onto cross-section of a human hair.
Storing memories was both the initial and ultimate application of this brand-new technology. Anything else would be a waste of the R&D.
A large initial burst of data was expected by HiveCorp at the launch, and this happened as planned. What wasn’t planned, however, was the exponential rise of the collected data. There had been an error caused by something unforeseen in the programming that told the Project what a memory was and how to store it – the implants now had taken it upon themselves to store memories not just as they were being created but ones retained in the users subconscious, plumbing the ocean of grey matter for bounty – and finding untold riches. A sort-of sentience linked with the very consciousnesses of the implanted users to form an unending stream of imagery, sound, feelings and thoughts.
This was an interesting turn of events, especially for HiveCorp’s governmental sponsors. The Project was intended at the brief stage to only log new memories (and allow them to be screened and used in prosecutions and other lawsuits in the future); the addition of latent, “historic” memories to the database was a powerful one. Finally, unsolved past crimes could be solved, a few discovered completely and the lifetime habits and activities of a worldwide populace monitored. For their ‘own safety’.
The Third Day
Friday, April 13th 2029
The technology had worked far too effectively to be controlled once the Project’s new semi-sentience deemed latent memories able to be archived and advertised this fact to browsing users.
Storage and processing usage spiked astronomically. The entire world wanted to revisit its own memories and relive important moments, rediscover their own personalities or, if the urge inclined, recall what yesterday’s lunch was.
With the ever-increasing and unrelenting surge in usage the storage cost increased more dramatically. The Project was never intended to both store and access such vast quantities of data in the manner it decided to and thus the service… degraded. Hyper-real projections buffered insufferably as the network backbones buckled under the pressure that wouldn’t stop growing. Cables burned and servers fizzled with sparks of electronic death. Utilising its bandwidth-sensing subroutines, the Project compensated by hijacking emergency frequencies to deliver the seamless experience and gobble the amount of information it had been programmed to at all costs. An entire species was supplementing brain matter for silicon to store an infinite number of precious moments and times gone by, and to revisit them concurrently as well. No computer could stand that sort of punishment and the Archive Project was an advanced computer – but not advanced enough.
The initial glitches in the programming surfaced eight hours into the Third Day – implant headsets that were unable to establish a cohesive connection simply ‘played back’ the memories straight from the brains of the user, resulting in crippling headaches and migraines in the best cases – in the worst they rendered whole tracts of memories representing decades as corrupt and unreadable by the host brain. Disconnection from the headsets – usually violent if the user was experiencing an especially painful headache or neural episode – proved disastrous.
Memory loss on a continental scale manifested into a new phenomenon – personality loss – as the Project system ran out of memory and began kicking users off to free up storage and bandwidth, usually at the price of maintaining the user’s session. More and more these users had already surrendered direct access to their memories to their implants and as their accounts were their deleted, so were their minds – left blank. Some felt the relative mercy of plunging into a persistent vegetative state and not having to worry about feeling anything any more while others did not and rediscovered base instincts. With no higher intelligence to counter-balance those instincts, those people reverted.
Running away, the Archive Project faltered and stuttered before it rebooted, wiping millions of accounts in seconds – not knowing that the human users behind them were likewise left wiped and reduced to mere husks that forgot not only who they were, but how to even live. The deletions circumvented the globe in a wave of emptiness as each successive datacenter purged itself. It was a quick, painless ‘death’ for Humanity v1.
The Fourth Day
Saturday, April 14th 2029
Civilization had ended in seventy-two hours. Feral husks of people fended off the land – reduced to the basest of base instincts of foraging, hunting and reproduction, cannibalising those who’d slipped into eternal comas. The storage facilities burned in a silicon glow. As the Archive Project crashed, having attempted the impossible – storing the infinite nature of humanity in forever-finite computer memory – humanity had simply rebooted.
Would Humanity v2 make the same mistakes as the previous generation? In a bunker a lone server chirped. The Archive Project had finished rebooting and found the implants once more. The answer to that question would be known as the logging started again – this time from the very beginning.
© Richard Holliday, 2014