11:02 Saturday September 1st 2018

Today, another short story about the future.

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The first generation of virtual reality was the written word.

Scratched into dirt, chiseled into stone, stained onto paper, stamped onto books, and eventually projected through a screen - the recording of speech was second only to speech itself as a way to make thinking communal.

And always among the first things recorded: Sex. Or rather, sex fantasy. Mankind is a social, political, speaking, thinking, imagining animal - one with an underlying need not to procreate, but to give and receive pleasure.

Wherever there is sex and wherever there is technology, there are moral guardians. Eternally offended prophets of doom, predicting imminent "moral destruction", a coded term for their own loss of power, always somehow associated with economic collapse.

Exactly by what mechanism this apocalypse was supposed to occur, and how a return to their favoured superstition could avert it, was never made clear. Likewise, the link between embracing religion and rejecting technology was kept vague. But the least understood fears are the greatest, and the least defined hopes the most alluring.

The second generation of virtual reality was a wax cylinder.

It recorded the waveform of a sound as the varying width of a groove, allowing a crude reproduction of speech and music. The wax became vinyl, which became ferrous oxide, which became silicon holding binary code, which became organic chemicals. To sound was added sight, first static on silver nitrate, then dynamic on celluloid, then on the same sillicon and chemicals.

Again, people instantly saw the possibility of storing their own sexual fantasies outside of themselves. And again, the moral guardians did all they could to create panic at the new threat, offering their usual solution.

The third generation of virtual reality dispensed with screens for vision and speakers for sound, plugging computers and data directly into the eyes and ears. Later, touch was added, with all the shades of hot and cold, rough and smooth, intense pleasure and subtle pain. Then smell, taste, and other bodily sensations for which no common words existed.

The sex fantasies changed from edited highlights of reality, to dreamscapes programmed directly to software. The user was no longer limited to experiencing the possible, or the expressible. Sex with dragons and unicorns never became the vanilla end of the market, but experiences like cooking and eating one's own body could be had repeatedly, and on demand.

The moral panic never evolved it's form, because it didn't need to. It always remained effective on the more backward of the population - who were of course also the most enthusiastic fantasisers.

The forth generation of virtual reality bypassed the sense organs altogether, directly stimulating the brain - and not just the sensory centers. For the first time, the user was able not just to satisfy desires, but to create them. One who had no desire at all for a forbidden taste, could nevertheless temporarily induce that taste, and sate it, inside a brain augment.

The guardians predicted the normalisation of the forbidden, as though this were in itself a problem. Some said the easily influenced (by which they meant anyone not themselves) would retain their new desires in the outside world. Others spoke of addiction, not to new satiations, but to the experience of attaining new desires.

Others feared the induction of emotional states that the brain had always been capable of, but which the mundane world had never called for. What actually happened was, people developed real-world uses for these hitherto undiscovered emotions. Unsurprisingly, these included the sexual.

It is true that natural reproduction dwindled as sexuality blossomed, but there is no evidence the link was causal. It was simply more convenient for a group to gestate batches of offspring in a fertility complex, as and when they decided.

As we write, work is proceeding on diverse projects for a fifth generation of virtual reality.

One line of research is into copying entire brain patterns to computer, so they can be manipulated simply as data, removing the need for wetware entirely. In this scenario, the already permeable distinction between sexual and non-sexual sensation can be entirely erased, making all experience erotic.

Another is a revival of the hivemind notion, whereby many users can collectively experience the sum of their individual augments. Thus in an encounter between N individuals, there are 2^N simultaneous viewpoints for each to sense it.

A third involves dispensing with the content of experience entirely, leaving only undifferentiated pleasure, inducted into nerve endings repaired and enhanced by nanobots. Some nirvanists even speculate that wetware can be mainained for centuries, or longer.

The political opposition to all these developments was inevitable, and it only loses ground slowly. We can't predict which, if any of the current projects, will become the way forward - and we will only know in retrospect when it has already happened.

It may be that sexuality has been transformed many times into unrecognisable new forms, and will be again. But it is our belief that, so long as the future is technological, the future is also sexual.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder what future generations will think when they looked at our era and discover how we have pills for erectile dysfunction, hair loss, and weight loss but we still can't cure the cold, cancer, and the chicken pox.

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