Designing Destiny

~ a short story

“So I just downloaded it, now what?”

“Navigate through sign up. Make a username. Choose your interests. You know the drill by now.”

“Well yeah… I was just expecting-”

“What? That our onboarding would be different? Nah, it’s the same. Keep it simple stupid. Standard hits. The user experience is another social network. But streamlined. Somewhere they can offload their days’ toils, try to form companionships – without any of the bloat. Live, laugh, love, simply, satisfyingly, digitally. All that shit. Just less of the snags and missteps of previous models and platforms. No ads. No blatant or annoying ideological bents. No agenda. Just images and words, and the sharing of them with friends. The difference is in the back-end.”

“The ‘back-end’?”

“Our end. The devs.”

“Ah, so the app is just another-”

“Don’t. Fucking. Say it.”

“Tracking device.”

“NO! It’s different. It’s-”

Destiny!”

“Shut up…”

“Okay, so enlighten me. What is so special about… Destiny™.”

“It’s simple, really-”

“You know that is how every super villain begins their monologue, right?”

“And? I’m not going to lie. It IS simple. ”

“Go on.”

“..As I was saying, the back-end data gives us access to all sorts of things. Namely, the choices our precious users are making.”

“Choices?”

“Yeah, what is more human than those? It is our choices that make up our destiny after all”

“Yeah, I guess… And I thought you said you weren’t trying to sell them anything with the app. No ads. No influence.”

“No influence! Never. I would hate to do that. It would ruin everything.”

“Ruin your devious plan, then. So you are a supervillain after all.”

“I am of the opinion that MOST supervillains are, in fact, misunderstood. Usually just misguided.”

“Man, you gotta not say stuff like that out loud.”

“Anyway, so the idea is to chart out their choices onto our network, interface them into metadata sets that can talk to one another, and finally package all of that into an answer to an unasked question, one we can use.”

“…What the fuck? Could you do me a favor and refrain from spiraling into such raging, violent brandishes of nerdspeak-”

“What do you expect when you ask me about this shit?! Try to break down the words and their roots, simpleton. Try to understand-”

“Jesus dude, just explain it to me like I am five.”

“So you’re a Redditor, eh? So you are a degenerate.”

“I’m like five seconds away from walking the fuck out of here…”

“Jesus. Okay, okay. So yeah, we got some marketing material that puts it this way-”

“What about zero ads, man!”

“INTERNAL marketing material. We have to have a way to explain our vision to people like you!”

“You know you really talk with your hands a lot. It’s distracting. And what do you mean-”

“I am about five seconds away from smacking the living shit out of you.”

“That’s no way to get your unmarred user data. You’d be irreconcilably dictating my next choice after such a blow came to pass. Do you know what that would be?”

“… Will you let me finish?”

“Sure. Just be ready for me to laugh. Or kick you.”

“Think of Destiny™ as a mapmaker. A chart of the constellations, drawing together the disparate positions of the stars in the night sky above into stories and characters and rational paths to understanding our place in the cosmos.”

“Okay. I am with you on the metaphor. Poetic. But what does that really mean?”

“It means that by using the data we capture from our users — each a little star in the sea of humanity — we can formulate more and more accurate decisions, from our locus at the center. The data compounds and centralizes with us, the devs, taking the full benefit of the networking effect to its maximal state, each conjoining star further influencing — and further refining — the answer we will receive in the end when all the stars have been viewed in their totality. In the case of humans, their behaviors in this world.”

“Behaviors?”

“Yeah, like where they are going. What they are doing, who they are doing it with. What they like, what they dislike…”

“So it is just a tracking device… Same as all the others.”

“No. It’s more. So much more. It is a … destiny device.”

“HAHAHA. Mate, you really shouldn’t be saying that internal marketing stuff out loud… I was kidding and now you are shooting that bullshit back at me.”

“I’m serious. It’s already working. We can see so much with just our beta users.”

“So for you, the back-end knowers and users of that data. How do you intend to use it? Inevitably, you are going to sell it to the government right? Take some fat contracts, use it to surveil both our mass of domestic, docile hyper-consumers as well as hotbeds of international unrest, all under the benign guide of the first completely ad-free social network, ‘where you can just be YOU, free from the totality of our modern hellscape of corporatocracy…’ Right? Tell me where my riff and your marketing mats begin to misalign in any way at all…”

“We are going to use it to take over governments, mate.”

“Pfft. Heh, yeah. Okay. Good one.”

“You don’t get it. The knowledge we gain from only a week of user-data — in beta, mind you, and with small population groups — gives us real-time predictive materia equal to that of the best kinds of experimentation in physics or biology, the most exacting sciences. We are talking perfect predictions. Things we can act on.”

“Perfect… I don’t even understand what you could mean by that. How is that possible?”

“We don’t even know ourselves. We only know what we have seen so far in the data. The test runs have been more successful than we could’ve ever imagined. Like we are talking a straight-up extermination of chaos theory.”

“Extermination… You don’t know yourself what your code is doing?? Are we talking emergent intelligence, general A.I. shit?”

“Heh, who knows. It’s a distinct possibility.”

“…”

“Pretty cool, huh?”

“What? No! That’s some Skynet shit. I don’t even think I believe you… But no, this is…”

“Wouldn’t you want to grasp the wheel of the world in your hands and turn it!”

“You can’t! No one can. Everything runs out of control. That’s the whole point!”

“Relax. It’s just in beta! We’ve got a long way before we go global and start predicting the weather, the stock market boom and bust, the winner of the next world war, what type of weapons and equipment they’ll be using-”

“You are saying some wild shit, my guy. Making it impossible for me to relax. Or take you seriously.”

“Take a look at my screen in God Mode. We can tell what users will do, when they will do it, and to some extent — after interrogations — why they did it.”

“Interrogations? Christ man, did the CIA let you rent out one of their blacksites to develop your app after all? Are those contracts pre-loaded…”

“Oh please, they talk to their phones freely. We just listen. Given how predictable so many of our users have been… how predictable most people are, in fact — we can start to understand why people will do the things they haven’t even done yet.”

“And…?”

“And… we are going to be able to tell the future. Accounting for these networks of users and their coming behaviors, we can chart out a finite set of material realities that may come to pass. One of them being certain to come to pass. And the funny thing is — for the vast majority of our users there are usually only one to two realities that appear here in our feed. Most of their futures are set. The key thing is that we know them, and we as the devs can act from there with confidence. With our investments of time, energy and money!”

“Ah, yes. Of course. And then… take over governments? Perhaps combining them all into one world government, where with your perfectly predicting interpersonal info-gathering device in every global citizen’s hands, you will be able to create the perfect world for us all, complete with the end of war, hunger, and strife, infinite energy sources, space diplomacy, and… free puppies and kitties and perfect human flourishing for all.”

“Yes. Exactly. Well, some of that maybe. Eventually, for sure. ‘Human flourishing’ is one of our top themes at roundtable. I’ve been doing some reading on ethics and stuff. Pretty boring, honestly… But yeah, all that will come in time. First, we gotta get ours. Recoup R&D, pay the bills. You know, secure the bags-”

“You are dangerously delusional, my friend.”

“That’s why I keep you around. To temper my ambitions. To help me see the pitfalls of my path.”

That’s why you keep me around? Not because… I don’t know, we are friends. And have been for years. Man! This ALL one big pit-”

“Look. I don’t normally do this… I don’t know if I should. But I’ll let you peek behind your own curtain.”

“…”

“There’s your destiny, my friend. Ha! Wow…”

“I just downloaded it… like five seconds ago. I haven’t even filled out my profile yet… How could it know… How in the hell… I don’t even want to know any of this…”

“Well I do! I care about you buddy. Keep scrolling.”

“This… this can’t be right.”

“Oh shit… So you really won’t get along with the team. Heh, well aren’t you glad-”

“No…”

“We’ll figure it out man. It won’t be the first time I’ve had to help a bud bury a body. Hehe.”

“No!”

“Yes! Welcome to the network, mate. Welcome to your Destiny! Trust me, ha-ha, there is no escaping it now…”

*panicked sobbing*

“We’ll embrace it together! Just hurry up and finish your user profile.” ~