588 – Da Boss • 03


Science is going to kill us.

One of these days, some brainiac is going to create exactly the wrong invention, and we’re all going to be doomed. I’m not talking about an anti-matter bomb, or a super virus… but something innocuous looking like a box that lets you see three seconds into the past or a stapler that makes martinis out of cold cream and chewing gum.

Imagine it, Dr. Smartipants invents the three-second machine. It’s expensive and largely useless, so it becomes something of a novelty, and is quickly forgotten. Then, ten years later the Japanese discover a way to push the window back to an hour. (They do it by accident, while looking for the solution to maximally absorbent toilet paper that’s safe to eat.) The Germans combine the breakthrough with their new sauerkraut processing technology, and now we can look almost 48 hours into the past.

Suddenly there are a million uses for Dr. Smartipants’ box, (the good doctor himself was cut out of the profits of the project early on by Cal Tech, who claimed the rights to it because the doctor got the idea while watching a Cal Tech football game) from diagnostic medical scans to solving crimes. Because the device becomes so useful and commonplace no one really notices when private companies continue to push back the window, and begin using it to scan backwards along an employees’ entire history, retroactively firing people six years earlier when it is revealed that it was that employee who vomited in the fern at the company Christmas party.

As the box sees further and further into the past first anthropologists, the archeologists begin using it to advance their fields a millionfold overnight. We see ancient man, we see the missing link, we see the first mammals… we see dinosaurs.

And then some dumbass fucks it all up and the party is over. We see the beginning of all life on Earth. The best thing that could possibly happen is that we see an old man in a white toga zipping around on his supercharged vespa trying to create all the little animals on the whole friggin’ planet in time for last call at 11:00 Saturday night.

But we won’t.

No… we’ll see some drunk, redneck alien crash-land his spaceship into the Middle East, and his pet bacteria will get out and before you know it… BANG! Swimming pools and movie stars. And what do you think is gonna happen then? How do you think the whole world of religious fruitcakes is gonna handle visible proof that all of their books are wrong, and that god is a three-eyed green hillbilly who smells of knock-off Wild Turkey?

Maybe I’m worrying over nothing. The truly and devoutly religious among us have displayed an incredible aptitude for ignoring the parts of the world they do not wish to see, even when it is right in front of their face. Perhaps they would simply ignore this as well. In truth I rather hope so.

I’m waiting for my patent approval on that martini-stapler and I don’t want to have to feel guilty about it.

46 Responses to 588 – Da Boss • 03

  1. Were you watching a Cal Tech game when you came up with this theory of time boxes and martini staplers? On the topic of world doom, I always liked the quote, I don’t recall who said it, but it went “I know not with what weapons world war three will be fought, but world war four will be fought with sticks and stones.”

  2. Um, I read this story when I was a kid.
    The History Viewer only went back a few years. It was a closely guarded government secret. All of the historians and anthropologist were awaiting their turn to use it, but the “waiting list” was long, because the big bosses didn’t want it known that you couldn’t look back further than a few years. Then some hotshots figure out how to build the home version and post the How-to on the Internet (called something else, i read this back in the late 70’s, I think). Making everyone’s life on earth the ultimate Reality Entertainment, since everyone could view their neighbors, or whatever, the minute anyone’s actions became “history”.

    Those sci-fi guys are scary precognitive . At least on the whole, posting to the internet and Reality TV, thing.

    • I read this story when I thought like a kid.

      A couple of months ago 😉

      My problem with looking back all that time, isn’t that you can’t do it, but if you have this machine which can look into the past, how can you see anything other than what was at the spot you are in the past.

      So, for an employer to look to see who vomited in the plant six years ago, the device would have to be over the plant, scanning it back in that spot.

      So, it could not be used to look other the other side of the world, because of the distances involved.

      That is assuming that the deviceisn’t affected by the rotation of the earth and solar system.

      • Never read that Fletcher, but the fact that someone else wrote it before I did only proves that it’s cemented in the public consciousness, and is eventually going to happen.

        @Alan: My time viewer doesn’t work that way, Alan. If it did, you’d only ever see blank space, since the Earth is in constant motion around the sun, the solar system is in constant motion around the Milky Way, and our galaxy is flying at insane speeds through the universe. No, you just tell my time viewer what you want to see, and it shows you. Your time viewer is obviously inferior.

        • I feel a bit stupid that I had to actually look this up. The story I vaguely remembered was by Dr. Isaac Asimov, “The Dead Past”. Being a reader of the “Big Three” (Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein) I should have remembered. Pursuant to nothing, I also loved Bradbury as a kid.

          From the VisWiki:

          “The Dead Past” is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov, first published in the April 1956 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. It was later collected in Earth Is Room Enough (1957) and The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973), and adapted into an episode of the science-fiction television series Out of the Unknown. Its pattern is that of dystopian fiction, but of a subtly nuanced flavour.

          Here is the link with the synopsis: http://www.viswiki.com/en/The_Dead_Past

  3. That’s very deep, although I think we’re safe from temporal peeping toms (I don’t believe time functions that way). I’m sure we’ll “good idea” ourselves into extinction. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and scientists rarely seem to look at things very far into the future or look at things as a whole. They’ll probably create some personally tailored gene-therapy drug to cure what ails ya, and wind up turning everyone into mutants- or sterilizing everyone. Or, “hey guys, check it out! I created antimatter!” and BOOOOOOOOM!

    But when you drink the martini, how do you keep from stapling your lips together?

  4. I’m not really worried about the devout in your scenario, Kevin. There are real people now who believe that the earth is only a few thousand years old, people who still believe the earth is flat, and people who insist that the moon landing was filmed in Hollywood.

    The zealots would simply refute the time-peeking technology as an elaborate CGI-powered ruse, much like they tend to ignore or re-interpret the fossil record now (creation museum anyone?).

  5. I imagine people of all eras fear The Apocalypse (for lack of a better term) triggered by some human action or another (see Global Warming, etc.). I think people are a wee bit arrogant. I believe we’ll be destroyed by some unexpected big rock hitting the planet. Whether it was launched by God, the Devil, Buddha, happenstance, human error, human intention, or construction-happy Vogons is a separate issue, I suppose.

    • I imagine people of all eras fear The Apocalypse

      And at the same time are fascinated by it. It suffice to look at the success of “2012”… This guy took people for morons by essentially thinking “I’ll make a shitty movie with lots of CGI about the end of the world in 2012, and I’ll call it 2012 to further drive the dumbasses to see it” and… Well, he was right. These guys so love their armaggeddon that they can’t even understand that, once a year ends, another one begins

  6. I have nothing against science as such but I do have a problem with the attitude scientists have while doing research and development. Especially while they are trying to weaponise something like chemicals or biologicals. It’s like they don’t even consider the question “should we be doing this?” If mankind is going to self destruct, it’s that attitude that will do it. It’s important to understand how things work but I do believe that there are some things we are not ready for. I have been a reader of science fiction for over three decades and have seen things that were fiction in the past become real. These are writers who look at what is theory now and explore the ramifications of what would happen if theory became reality. The origional Star Trek is an excellent example. Look at all the everyday things from the show that we see now; personal computers, automatic doors and even Uhura’s ear communicater. The one theme I have observed that is almost universal is that no matter how benign a technology may be in the beginning, there is always going to be some idiot who will put it to bad use. If someone does get any farther than unstable subatomic anti-matter and succeeds in greating a solid block of the stuff, I REALLY hope that they do so in space as I don’t want to even be on the same planet with the stuff. Oh, I don’t think you’ll need to fear the Martini Stapler as it will only be the apocalypse of efficient time managment in office work.

    • Once upon a time, a man came up with an idea to improve the handling of explosives. He believed this would make conflict so destructive that war would become unthinkable. Since we still have wars, you can safely assume that the idea was no good, the idea got lost, or it didn’t make war unthinkable.
      The invention worked quite well, and he made a fortune from it. Still obsessed with ending war he used that fortune to establish rewards for advancements that, he thought, would collectively end war. The Nobel Prizes have proven no more successful at that than dynamite did.

    • @Don B.: This is why I fear the zombie apocalypse.

      @Gary: We have no way of knowing how many wars dynamite stopped. They didn’t happen, so you can’t really count them. We should make ANOTHER planet of humans and not give them any dynamite. I bet you’d be embarrassed then!

  7. A lot of people worry about global warming, climate change they call it now. As I see it we really need a good heat up, not too much of course. The warmer we make the Earth, the slower our core will solidify. While many think the Earth will be fine until the sun goes kablooie in 5 billion years or so, the fact is we will become a lifeless waterless ball much sooner without a molten core (much as what happened to Mars.) This is of course if those idiots with the super collider don’t manage to make some black holes (first it was they would be very tiny, like they wouldn’t grow, and then that they would rapidly leave the area of the Earth.) I don’t know, but creating items that can suck in EVERYTHING seems like the ultimate in stupid scientists. The machine broke down on its first run. You don’t think a bunch of escaping tiny black holes putting small holes in it could have done that do you?

    • “The machine broke down on its first run. You don’t think a bunch of escaping tiny black holes putting small holes in it could have done that do you?”

      I’m not a scientist but I’m pretty damn sure black holes don’t work that way. If you have a really complex machine with really fast moving parts, where all the many parts need to be calibrated precisely, I don’t think you need to introduce “tiny black holes” to explain why it broke.

      Also, black holes “suck things in” because they’re microscopic bodies with star-like mass. It’s the insane gravitational pull over a small area that does the crushing. If a black hole didn’t have such an extreme mass, it wouldn’t make a small hole, it’d just be a really small object. How would the LHC make enough mass for a black hole anyway? Black holes aren’t actually “holes,” they’re made of really dense matter. Where would all that matter come from? Law of conservation of matter, after all.

      Lastly, *much sooner* than 5 billion years is still a long time. Humans have been around for, what, 500000 years? I’m sure even a billion years of technological advancement will either give our *distant* offspring some means of escaping the earth… or obliterating itself.

  8. Mankind is great at prophesising his own doom. But we are a pretty hardy species, we survived hundreds of thousands of years with pretty much no technology at all, our current techno-bender is a mere 10,000 years, a blink of the eye in the history of our species. And our planet, our solar system, our galaxy and our universe are all pretty stable and predictable places to live, they follow physical laws and by and large remain as they are, minute after hour after month after year after aeon.

    Someday, some natural catastrophe will happen to the planet, as has happened many times before. It will most likely be hundreds of thousands of years in the future, if not millions. It is unlikely that we won’t have colonised other worlds at the time this happens, we’ve already been to the moon and have the technology to build habitats there, and indeed on Mars, if we really wanted it enough. We have developed the technology to do this in a mere 200 or so years, who knows how far technology will advance in the future? Perhaps there are ways to protect Earth from external threats that will be within our grasp by then. Regardless, humanity is safe for at least the natural life-cycle of a species; and probably our successors too, unless we are really unlucky with the timing.

    Will we create the technology to destroy ourselves? One terrorist, with one nuclear bomb could take out a city, and perhaps it is just a question of time until this happens, but the whole planet? No-one is interested in designing weapons more devastating than the most powerful hydrogen bomb these days, and it takes technologically advanced states even to utilise current knowledge to create reliable nukes. I suspect the nuclear weapon will remain the most destructive we humans can deliberately get. To be any more destructive is to be self-destructive, no-one wants to be victor over a charred rock. While there will always be elements in society with self-destructive tendency, they will always be overwhelmed by the majority, and the majority are the only ones who can form states and exercise mass control over the natural and technological resources necessary to create wholesale destruction.

    Our negligence towards our environment may or may not be having an effect on global temperatures, and may inconvenience us in the future, but not in a way that threatens our existence. The Cern collider, or other crazy physics experiments with things we barely understand, may, it has been speculated, create a black hole which will suck the whole Earth into oblivion, other fanciful speculation involves creating tears in the fabric of space-time reality that could destroy the universe. It’s all poppycock of course. We don’t understand much about quantum physics, but we do know that the universe is pretty stable and when you try and poke it and prod it in ways that are unnatural, it very quickly reverts back to it’s normal state. Very little of anything the guys at Cern create lasts more than a nanosecond. The universe is like an elephant, only much, much bigger, and the experimental physicists are like tiny little quantum mosquitos.

    So whatever end-of-the-world scenario you can come up with, it’s either extremely unlikely or so far into the future as to not be worth worrying about.

    • Which is a perfect time to announce that the scientists over at Second Coming Labs have invented a device that will turn the skies black as sackcloth, boil the seas, rain blood, torture the unfaithful for eternity, and levitate the penitent and the righteous into outer space, where, without the proper protective equipment they will all pop like little over-filled Christ balloons.

    • While I agree there isn’t a need for more destructive weaponry right now, once we colonize other planets there will be a demand to blow up the other guy’s entire planet while you sit safely on yours not having to worry about nuclear fallout. Still, it would probably have the same restrictions on who can use it as a nuke does now, thus be unlikely to have all humans wiped out.

      However I foresee a much sooner apocalypse based on good intentions like Kevin. More along the lines of Asamov’s 3 rules for robots. When following them exactly to the letter the opposite of their intention comes about. Or the nanotechnology grey goo scenario where we create tiny robots that self-replicate converting ANYTHING into more of them quickly converting the entire earth. Those seem way too easy to mess up considering how many bugs most computer programs have.

        • My people don’t blow up planets. We drop terra-forming drones that slowly bring the climate to the nice, 150 degree temperature that suits us, killing off the indigenous– Um, nevermind. We don’t do that. really. Wow, let’s go read the new comic!

  9. I agree one hundred percent. Except that I believe the theory that the beginning of Genesis was taken from the older Sumerian texts, which state that the gods came to Earth to mine gold(dunno why), got tired of it, created the Adamu (meaning of the Earth/clay) by combining their godliness with a monkey, so he could do it for them. Then they got tired of growing Adamus in tanks and gave them the ability to reproduce, warning them that it would hurt. In summary, the rednecks made people on purpose. Then again that doesn’t really clash with the original source of life redneck theory. Also I’m pretty sure the end will be those same rednecks showing up with bibs and forks.

  10. I read a story about this that was transferred to graphic novel form.
    It was about a time viewer that allowed researchers to view the past. They couldn’t do anything but look. One researchers was looking in on the life of Edgar Allen Poe and then was horrified to find that while Poe couldn’t not see them, he always felt someone was watching him. When the researcher checked with his colleagues, he found that all their people they were watching also expressed the same idea and feelings. They end up killing the project because of they were altering the time-line just from watching people.

    I have read a short story where some bloke goes back to Rome with advanced medicine bu forgets to bring anything else. I.E. advanced food making tech and farming, advanced philisophies, advanced science… he just gives them a miracle cure.

    So by the time the future rolls around, the entire world is crammed with people who eat each other for survival. they send one man back to kill the bloke so their future wouldn’t occur. The only problem I had was if their future was so radically different from the bloke’s future, how did the bloke get to Rome in the altered future?

    I do think your right. Politics, science and religion will be the death of us all.