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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Friday, May 31, 2013

The United States of Earth: A Science Fiction Story

The United States of Earth: A Science Fiction Story

Tell me about the global government that you lived under,” said young Timothy. “I mean the United States of Earth.”

I remember it all very clearly,” said Andrew, Timothy's father. “The story of how that government tried to keep control over everyone is quite a tale.”

The world was sick of all the wars, so it seemed like a great idea to form a global government,” explained Andrew. “So all the governments united into a single global government called the United States of Earth. But I think the people in charge of the government started worrying right away that there would be lots of rebellions, and that the global government would lose its power. So they started becoming control freaks right off the bat.”

In what way?” asked Timothy.

It all started with the daily check-ins,” explained Andrew. “Everyone had to log-in to a government web site three times a day. You did that on computers that were linked to GPS systems, so the government could tell where you were three times a day. When you logged in you might be asked random questions about your day's activities or who you met. And you might be asked a question about how much you liked the government. The answers were all fed into some giant government database and analytic network, which crunched the data, and churned out lists of suspicious citizens.”

But it must have been easy to fake it just by saying you loved the government, even if you hated it,” suggested Timothy.

Well, they initially had software which could help distinguish phony answers when people were asked if they liked the government,” said Andrew. “Then it got more sophisticated. The government made everyone open a web-cam session to reply to questions about their feelings about the government. So now you had to stare at a camera on your computer, and say how much you loved the government, even if you hated it.”

Couldn't people just play act?” asked Timothy.

They could,” said Andrew, “but the government started using software that could help detect when people were lying. The software would do things like detect a fake smile by checking how much your eye corners crinkled up. Then eventually the government issued everyone a device you had to wrap around your wrist while you were conducting your daily check-ins to the government web site. The device was actually a tiny lie detector that checked your pulse and skin resistance. So now if you hated the government but said you loved it during your web check-in, the government would pretty much know that you were lying.”

So what would they do to you if you got put on the list of suspicious citizens?” asked Timothy. “Would they send you to some concentration camp?”

No, they just took you out by using the food system,” answered Andrew. “One of their great methods of control were the communal food halls. Everyone would have to periodically come to some hall for a meal, and listen to government propaganda. You would have to slide your government-issued ID card over a scanner to register that you had attended. You would then get a meal manufactured layer by layer through one of those big 3D printers they use nowadays for making food. Now suppose the computer had picked you out as one of the suspicious citizens, a potential rebel. The 3D printers would automatically slip a little something in your food, designed to remove you as a threat to the government. Then maybe you'd die of cancer before long, or drop dead of a heart attack, or something like that. No one could prove that the government was involved.”

My God, they sure had everyone under their boot,” said Timothy. “How did it all fall apart?”

They got tripped up by the headbands,” said Andrew.

The headbands?” asked Timothy.

Some genius in the government decided that the perfect way to control everyone would be to require all citizens to wear electronic headbands,” explained Andrew. “Each headband had a tiny battery you could recharge in ten minutes using the electrical system. Now the headbands served multiple purposes. For one thing, they would record everything you saw, on a tiny memory unit. So if the government suspected you of doing anything wrong, they would just process the video in your headband to see what you'd been up to. But the main purpose of the headbands was to deliver electrical impulses to the pleasure and pain system of your brain.”

How did that work?” asked Timothy.

The headbands received radio signals from the government,” explained Andrew. “So if there was, say, an angry mob, the government could just broadcast a radio signal, and everyone near the mob would feel an excruciating pain. Each such person's headband would send an electrical signal to the pain center of the brain, which would make the person feel like his whole body was on fire.”

But the headbands were also built to give you pleasure,” continued Andrew. “The headbands could send electrical impulses to the pleasure center of your brain, that would give you a good feeling that was better than sex. Now the government figured: we can issue these pleasure signals while people are watching the President of the United States of Earth giving his big speeches. Then the headbands will make everyone feel all warm and fuzzy about the government's head honcho. Some genius had concluded that this was a surefire way to get lots of people to kind of fall in love with the President.”

So what went wrong?” asked Timothy.

One year the government announced that the President of the United States of Earth would give his greatest speech ever,” said Andrew. “People were told they had to watch on television while wearing their electronic headbands. The plan was that when the speech reached its climax, every headband would issue a jolt of electricity that would hit the pleasure center of the brain, giving an orgasmic surge of pleasure. The government thought the speech would then be accepted, embraced, and saluted like no speech in history. But they made one big mistake. In their enthusiasm for this plan, they neglected to test things properly. The government radio signal sent out to people's headbands requested too much of an electrical impulse. As a result, huge numbers of people around the globe ended up dying of electrocution at the very moment they were supposed to feel a jolt of pleasure.”

How many died?” asked Timothy.

About 500 million worldwide,” answered Andrew, “all at the same moment. After that, all confidence in the government was shattered. When word got around that the government had accidentally fried 500 million of its citizens, the rebellions sprang up all over the world. It didn't take long for the whole thing to fall apart. Planet Earth went back to having a hundred different countries, instead of one world government.”

And that,” finished Andrew, “was the end of the United States of Earth.”