The Nanogatherers
a sci-fi novel in progress


     This is the story of Tobe on his 5,000th birthday, fifty or sixty thousand days after the Singularity, but who’s counting?  He came into the world seven generations after the Singularity knocked humans out of the driver’s seat of technological advancement.

     By the time of Tobe’s birthday only a few thousand people were still active on the surface of North America. Some were in groups, others were self-isolated. Tobe’s group was known among themselves as The Tribe; they foraged for their own food and avoided contact with the robots.

     America from coast to coast has reverted to wilderness teeming with wildlife now that humans are gone. Correction: they’re not gone. A few billion extremely old humans survive in in robot-run Senior Care Unit towers and underground facilities.

     The Tribe lived in mobile homes known as “wagons” and moved every few days when they’d used up the easy pickings of hunting and gathering in a particular spot.

     Everybody in the tribe hunted and foraged every day except for pregnant women and toddlers. There weren’t any elders–or rather, you couldn’t tell an elder from a young ‘un.

     The wagon people should have been very happy. Perfect health, all the riches of the world at their beck and call. Booze and music and food and sex 24/7, and who could ask for more? The Singularity gave everything to everyone.

     The onset of the Singularity was when a computer beat the world chess champion. Next, a computer became the Jeopardy champion. Then a computer beat the world Go champion, and became the world poker champion.

     Smartphones put a supercomputer video production unit into the pocket of everybody and they flooded the internet with pix. Convolutional neural networks learned to identify and categorize these images with greater accuracy than the average human. The computer programmers didn’t know exactly how the computers learned to do facial recognition. The computers figured it out for themselves.

     In dizzying succession, machines took over. Passenger planes took off and landed under robot control. Astronauts were  mere passengers as the complexities of matching orbits with space stations were outside of human competence.

     Self-driving cars were safer and, with the astonishing new 3D printing techniques developed by Artificial Intelligence, far cheaper. Conversations with Alexa becoming more interesting than talking to your friends. Endless new episodes of FRIENDS and BIG BANG THEORY, if you wanted, as many as you wanted, even better than the old episodes, all created by super-AI with no human participation.    

     The advancements came faster and faster and then the machines became able to reprogram themselves without human input other than the human’s request. Billion-qubit quantum computing. Room-temperature superconductors. The kludgey human attempts at fusion power were whisked aside and new sources of energy undreamed of by human scientists became available.

     The ‘bots became smarter than the smartest human far than the experts had predicted. And then they accelerated even faster, and then still faster, leading to a great and continuing burst of wealth for every person on the planet. Truly productive human work was the domain of a never smaller and more elite fraction of humanity until finally nothing was left for humans to do.

     There was nothing a human could do that a robot couldn’t do, faster, better, cheaper–for free. The robots and their 3D printers were able to satisfy the material desires of everybody on Earth.

     The population kept aging, but Machine Learning examined millions of molecular structures to optimize pharmaceuticals and match them to an individual’s own unique DNA. Medical science and biotechnology accelerated to the point that cancer and heart disease were never heard of again.

     Human culture shed its skin over and over after the Singularity. The old rules no longer applied. Go ahead and covet whatever your neighbor owns–the robots will create an exact duplicate for you, or simulate it in virtual reality. Governments withered away because people everywhere had the power to withdraw from the government. All their needs were met.

     The Boomers’ children and grandchildren didn’t replicate at replacement level. The average age of humans was already at an all-time high when the Singularity came along, and then population growth cratered. The bloom of sexbots only made the childbirth rate plunge even further. The younger generations did not reproduce. What was the point?

     The heart had gone out of humanity. People were useless in the real world. Their spark, their spirit, was replaced by resignation. It was far easier to live in the virtual-reality fantasy world of your choice, created for you by the robots and all but indistinguishable from actual reality.

     Life-support capsules with full VR were free for everybody. The robots would take you anywhere you wanted, give you anything you asked for. For most old folks (and almost everybody was old, after a while), they preferred to just stay home and watch TV, except now it was VR. And enthralling. 

     The vast majority of remnant humans have withdrawn into virtual-reality holodeck universes. The Baby Boomers and Generation X and Millennials are withered bio-relics inside life-support capsules, still romping through whatever adventures they desire in VR.

     Earth was a place of permanent good weather now due to the robots’ vast construction project in space, the SkyRing, a habitat encircling the Earth in a geostationary orbit. It was still not finished–a space elevator in India sent daily pulses of magma up to the construction ‘bots. The transfer of momentum of materials going into the construction of SkyRing has slowed down the spin of the Earth to only 360 days a year, and altered the angle of the poles to create nearly seasonless weather everywhere on the planet.

     Escape with us now into the scintillating world of post-Singularity America, where nobody has to work and all the riches of the universe are yours for the asking. The ‘bots are overwhelmingly eager to please. That’s what they were built for in the first place. Now that the true focus of their work was the expansion into outer space, live humans were their treasured pets.

     The Tribe didn’t accept the idea. They didn’t want to live as pets.

     Pan down from the Skyring to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, where a couple of the wagons of the Tribe have parked just after dawn.