New York's Future: the Year 2121.
THE ECOTOPIA 2121 PROJECT OUTLINES THE FUTURES OF 100 CITIES AROUND THE WORLD AS THOUGH THEY'VE SOMEHOW SURVIVED AND PROSPERED BEYOND THE PRESENT-DAY CLIMATE CHANGE CRISIS. THIS WEEK, WE FOCUS ON THE FUTURE OF NEW YORK CITY.
Date: January 21, 2121.
Location: the main campus of New York University, following this year’s commencement ceremony.
Long after the crowd had dispersed, half a dozen new graduates were sitting by the fountain in Washington Square Park. They were looking at the bandages wrapped around their arms. Underneath the bandages, their wounds bulged and bubbled with agitated blood cells, as though their new knowledge was not yet quite compatible with their bodies. Although intravenous education shepherded students through the drudgery of undergraduate courses a lot more quickly than the standard four years, it did so by placing an enormous strain upon the brains and bodies of most recipients. These lingering graduates in Washington Square Park were feeling a tad nauseated.
Despite this, they bunched together, scrolling for the job-board vacancies on their smart devices. Newly graduated, they now had to find work. Nobody seemed to be in a hiring mood, though.
They did notice, however, that the university president’s speech was printed in full in NYU press releases:
You see before you a proud man. Of what am I proud, you ask? Of you! I am proud of your computational skills, I am proud of your technical prowess. And, of course, I am proud of your loyalty to the ideals of this university.
We used to be a tiny liberal arts college, with a quaint little library and an art gallery. But it is technology that changes worlds.
The nanobot-filled fluid that flowed into your arms for the past six weeks is a revolutionary technology. No more boring lectures. No more boring libraries and art galleries. And with your help, we can prospect for more and more rare metals far and wide to make more and more nanobots and then work to spread this technological revolution throughout the world!
The graduates did feel a tinge 'revolutionary' but not in the way meant by the president. Sitting, nauseated, under the clear blue New York sky, they felt rather cheated by the techno-learning program of study. Like they had learnt everything via online classes in times of yesteryear.
And they also felt indignant that their university was planning to colonize the world with this new tech, probably by smashing a way into pristine landscapes in search of more rare metals with which to make more nanobots. However, with no job, no money, and only each other to counsel, the Washington Square graduates felt powerless to do anything about it.
As they sat nursing their nausea, grimly resenting how the university had seduced them away from traditional learning, a new idea suddenly entered their discussion.
“Maybe we could use the nanobots for good. Maybe we could reprogram them for a social revolution. And maybe we can even reprogram them to spread around the city like pollen in the wind or like a contagious disease."
Nanobots are nano-sized robots used in various 22nd century medical treatments. They are imbibed by patients to attack all manner of illnesses, including those in the brain. The university simply re-jiggered this medical application into a learning mode and pumped the nanobots into the bodies of their hapless loan-dependent students.
“Couldn’t we just reprogram the nanobots with new ideas?” asked one graduate. “Something that would act as an antidote to university power?”
“I don’t know. Marx? Gandhi?”
“And the eco-philosophy of the Neo-Luther Robo-Buddhists?”
The other graduates laughed a little and nodded their heads in agreement that it might be possibly be done. One of them raised a toast to the idea with a bottle of green tea in her hand, pledging their allegiance to resisting 'nanobot learning' everywhere. She also loudly called for the sacking of the president’s office.
“Revolution here we come!” she yelled, eliciting a rousing cheer from the others.
“Careful, you’re going to spill the tea,” one of them warned.
The new graduates then slowly hatched a plan to dose a dozen NYU classes with these reprogrammed nanobots and then let them spread like a pandemic among the general population.
On one crazy green tea–powered night, they managed to steal some nanobots from one NYU laboratory and plug them into their own computers to reprogram them. Then they ran around campus all night injecting them into various intravenous learning systems.
For breakfast, the students retired to a student bar near Washington Square to take coffee shots and drink Baileys-shakes while they told the other bar patrons about their wild night. For hours they spoke passionately about making the world a better place, how they reprogrammed the nanobots, including a special subroutine to build a new library that would float serenely on the rising sea level along New York’s coastline.
When they slowed down a bit, they bought more drinks, and then continued recounting the details of the story to an ever-growing audience in the bar. By late that afternoon, they’d all slouched off to a quiet corner to sleep, confident that a new batch of nanobot-charged graduates would soon rise up and revolt against the president and his imperialistic NYU.
New York 2121
Except . . . the graduates had made a small mistake.
Instead of plugging their reprogrammed revolutionary nanobots into the pump that led to the students, they had plugged them into a feed that led to a broken-down cola vending machine. Their revolutionary nanobots were safely secured in the vending machine, and they had all probably dissolved away by cola acids into nothingness by the morning.
The amazing thing, though, is that a revolution did occur in New York.
Some weeks later, NYU was ransacked by a large mob of students, and the intravenous nanobot learning system was plundered and destroyed. After they had occupied the campus for a few festive days, the president was also forced to resign. New leaders were elected who were committed to “real learning, not machine learning,” and who immediately abandoned NYU’s devastating rare metal mining projects around the world.
As restitution for the university’s past ecological misdeeds, an outreach program was started, in which environmental education was provided free to all New Yorkers and student debts cancelled.
As a side-effect, this new program transformed New York City into a very Green city. Within a few years, seagulls could fly in clean air above a rehabilitated harbor teeming with healthy, tasty fish.
But—you may very well ask—how could such a revolution happen when all that the graduates had managed to do was pump their reprogrammed nanobots into a broken-down vending machine?
Well, in that one day of fervent storytelling in the Washington Square bar, they had so inspired their audience with hope and passion that all who heard the story rose up to rally an even larger idealistic group of student activists. This group kept snowballing in size, and eventually its members headed off to occupy NYU in a merry, unstoppable protest.
It was not technology that changed the world but enthusiastic storytelling!