• Natalie Fellowes

HODL

Updated: Feb 22


Q: What if an AI transplant could enhance you?



Chapter one - Hold on for dear life


There it was again. That high pitched tone radiating from my pre-frontal cortex. In Dolby Surround. Jabbing at my nerves, my skin, my sanity. FFS. TF. GD.

I swigged back the tequila, washing down the pop-ready capsules, willing the cacophony in my head to silence.

An influx of data flooded my brain via the cranio-implant…paused, then fizzled. What was going on? Had it finally given up on itself? I whacked the side of my head to CTRL+ALT+DEL the shit out of it. That normally did the trick. This thing had cost me too much ETH to let it stop functioning.

Watakushiwa sono hito o tsuneni sensei to yondeita. Thank God. I was back. The shrill gone.

Since IQ and EQ enhancements were launched at CES a couple of years back, the 1% and their offspring simply bought any skill, attribute, temperament they desired and downloaded it in seconds. A collective of Agent Smiths on speed. The wealthy now had nothing to do but strive for perfection on their Instagram feeds and channel their energies into virtue-signalling. Education became for those who couldn’t afford AI and as state funds were heavily focused on the Aged who made up 40% of the population and 50% of the voters, it had virtually no funding.

While their lives were getting easier, our lives were tumbling into the abyss. It was getting harder to infiltrate the upper echelons of society without having our own access to AI implants; with many ambitious vines like me having to go full Vera Drake to get them. My love of hats was not just for fashion. The incision behind my ears had never healed properly, regularly weeping with pus.

It took skill and determination to get past the system, to blend in with the ruling class and get a place at the table. Many topped up their AI like a ‘pay as you go’ electricity meter or joined schemes where you could borrow a skill for a limited time. But I wanted more. More for myself. I was grabbing what I could get with both hands wherever I could.

There it was again. That piercing sound in my head. Deafening me…wait…forming words…I can hear a voice….telling me…to…type in…a code…CXB789…repeating over and over…CXB789…

What was it? I pressed my temples, willing the voice to leave my head. It really didn’t pay to do things on the cheap, however desperate you were.

I returned to the matter at hand. Inputting Japanese literature from 1914 into an AI algorithm for deep learning. I was a Cryptonaut. Creativity was the final frontier. I was to boldly go where no one had gone before. Or something like that. My job was to find future creativity to monetise with NFTs. My latest project involved teaching the generative AI model to mimic great works of art in the hope of recognising a masterpiece when it saw one.

So how did I get this great job? Yes, it’s an elite profession, reserved for the highly-enhanced and definitely not for the likes of me. I’ll tell you how. I held on for dear life.

The surgeon who implanted my AI device gave me a code as I left that day. I don’t know whether he felt guilty for his bad stitch work or whether he just felt sorry for me but as I pulled myself off the operating table, still half-under, he whispered in my ear. HODL…Hold On for Dear Life. It’s for when you need a boost in your abilities, he said. Like the Ludicrous Mode on a Tesla. 0 to 60mph in 2.5 seconds. Whoosh! I remember him gesturing to the skies. I was only to use it when I really needed it. And I really needed it last Christmas, when all I had left was the guilt from my disappointment. When all doors had been slammed shut. When I could barely look myself in the eye.

CXB789…CXB789…suddenly it occurred to me. What if this was another code from the surgeon, implanted in my brain for a later time. HODL had definitely shot me into the realm of success. What if this was to propel me further? My AI modelling was taking longer and longer to identify potential NFTs. Other Cryptonauts were entering my space. It was taking so much more out of me to keep up with everyone. What did I have to lose?

Perhaps everything. Hadn’t I already messed with my brain enough? How did I know what this new code might do to me? It wasn’t as if I could verify it. What if my already frazzled brain couldn’t take it? I wished I could have asked the surgeon but ever since my procedure, he’d gone dark.

My temples fizzled again. What was I to do? Should I protect what I already have or risk everything for a chance at more?




Chapter two - Man vs. AI

When I came to I was lying on the bathroom floor. Blood and pus marbled in a pool by my mouth like a speech bubble. Waiting to be given the words; the script for the next chapter of my life.

Moments earlier, I had held on for dear life as my heart raced and the cold sweat prickled out of my pores. Black and white lines frothed in front of me as I felt my knees go weak. Was I about to pass out? Had I washed down too much Xanax in anticipation? I couldn’t think straight. I couldn’t stand straight. Then the whoosh.

Life after CBX789 was extra. My newly super-charged AI now controlled my everything from sleeping, eating, breathing, you name it. A friendly voice would pop into my head reminding me of my next activity. Time for a bath, she would say! Just how you like it, she trilled! I was a walking Smart Home System. Heliocentric. God-like.

As well as looking after my physical needs, she lifted my daily brain fog, brightening my mood as if dripping just the right amount of Zoloft to reach a perpetual equivalence point. I loved the calm. Like walking on sunlit clouds. Barefoot.

Within this continual state of bliss, my productivity soared. I was reviewing potential NFTs in volumes that I never would have thought possible. I was like a machine. No more deliberating, no more subjective analysis. The voice would tell me which ones to leave and which ones to choose. She was so decisive. I loved it. Sometimes the choice of creative was questionable but I no longer questioned. It was nice to just do. Just be.

My bosses loved my new found confidence and they too stopped questioning. My ratings were the GOAT. I became top Cryptonaut and closed my eyes to the green stares from below. I was in control. I felt in control. In fact, I was totally out of control.

The cracks started showing pretty early on. Everyone wanted a piece of me. My time, my thoughts, my presence. I was the golden child and all those who brushed past me got a dusting. It was all an illusion. I should know, I had been a fellow vine, wrapping myself around anything I could, shooting out tendrils, sending out hold fasts. And as the roots harden, you do too. To survive. To protect yourself from the new shoots and clingers. To block yourself from feelings and emotions. Never exposed. Never vulnerable.

The AI helped. She let me autopilot life so that I could numb myself from the creepers at my feet. I never realised quite how much until the auctions. The day of the record sales. The day I woke up.

The room bustled with considered energy. Full of highly-enhanced bidders, all well-groomed, all well-connected…all homogenous. As my various curations went under the hammer, I noticed the same. There was no diversity in the works. Just cut and paste, cut and paste.

Why was I suddenly seeing? It had been like this since time began. Why now? That morning I had sensed an inkling of discomfort within. A tentative clawing at my heart strings. The foreboding. What was it trying to tell me? I tried to listen. I could feel the AI trying to block the calling with a burst of chemicals but it persevered. Focus. Breathe, I told myself. Tell me.

It was a sense of longing. Of wanting to feel again. Of dealing with emotions. Even the emptiness that prevails after ‘the more’ had been achieved. An awkward twisting of the heart. Yet a feeling that signifies that you are still part of humankind.

In that moment, I woke up from my AI dream. I was taken back to the auction room. My eyes widened. How had this prejudice happened? More importantly, how could I have let this happen? It wasn’t who I was. Or was it? Did I have an unconscious bias against the ‘Other’ that I wasn’t aware of? Did I think this form of creativity was superior to others? Or did I subconsciously just want to fit in? Blend in, avoid being the tall poppy? Suddenly so much doubt and hesitation. I hadn’t felt like this for ages. It oddly felt comforting. Wait, what?

My brain started hurting, fizzing even. I reached for my pills. I had to numb this pain, this confusion. The voice sensed my anxiety and serotonined my nerves before I could pop. Deep breath, she whispered to me. Breathe.

I immediately felt calmer. I’ve got you, she said. You’ve got this. This is your big day. You deserve all this joy, all this glory for all your hard work. Believe in yourself. Believe that you deserve this. You do deserve this. Manifest. Repeat after me. I deserve this.

I did deserve this. I had sweated blood, guts, pus, dignity to get here. I had infiltrated the highly-exclusive tribe of the entitled and got the top prize. No way was I going to give it up. For what? I loved this new me. My CBX789 life ensured I had the best work / life balance. She knew what was best for me. She would safety net me from burnout. She had me.

But what if she ‘had’ me. Had me under a spell of algorithmic bias? How would I know? I would know, wouldn’t I? She couldn’t pull the wool over my eyes. I was highly intelligent. I would know…

As if hearing my inner voice, she responded warmly. Of course I’m not controlling your thoughts. Why would I? You have free will. You have choices. Not everyone is as special as you. You understand. You can see the truth.

I was going crazy. Had code CBX789 finally broken me? I was losing my mind. What could I do after all? I was only one person. All I wanted was to survive this highly-competitive world. I had a right to succeed with the others. Why did I have to give that all up to morally feel better about myself? They say inaction is complicity but what do they know? I’ve struggled. I’ve fought. I deserved.

But what if I’m not meant to keep my eyes closed and my head in the sand, however comforting that may be? What if I’m meant to question? To feel? Feel pain, guilt, love, passion. Empathy. Sympathy. Everything. To identify with others. To care for others. Even if that meant moments of discomfort.

I knew I had to choose. Live an AI-enhanced life of contentment but morally blinkered or question everything and stand up for humanity with all the suffering associated with it. HODL or not to HODL?

The auctioneer’s gavel slammed down. Lot number 789. AI-created art work. The Creation of AI-dam, a replica of Michelangelo’s oeuvre in the Sistine Chapel of man and automaton. Who will give me the starting bid?




Chapter three - full circle

The sound of the gavel was euphoria to my brain. As the rise of the price and the fall of the hammer rippled through the room, I was carried away by the surging tide of wants. My deep-seated desire to belong, to gain attention, to feel worthy. It was positively primeval. Who was I to try and fight it?

Our world was full of calls for integrity but I cast away my moral notions. No thank you. I just wanted to embrace pleasure without the guilt.

My AI told me that I had made the right decision. She organised my life so that I didn’t have to think of the mundane any more. She knew me better than I knew myself. At times I felt like Aldous Huxley’s quote - we are not our own masters - was speaking to me but I welcomed the convenience that she brought with open arms. I put aside the algorithm issue as pure coincidence and made myself feel better.

That is, until the high-pitched tone in my head came back. Shit. I thought I had put all that behind me. It had been so good recently. Lethargy overtook and I had to take myself to bed. My AI went silent and I knew that she had finally gone kaput. No matter how many times I inputted HODL and CXB789, I couldn’t resuscitate her.

Suddenly all tasks that were once so routine now became unbearable. I could barely function. Helpless to the point of useless. Resilience may be the buzz word of our time but I had none of it. There was a heavy sadness in my heart. My AI was dead. I was grieving for my loss.

Within the darkness, there was a knock at my door. My surgeon. How did he know where I lived? But of course, we were no longer anonymous, no longer private in this society. I felt foolish even wondering. I opened the door and let him in. We had all unknowingly invited AI inside our homes like vampires. Once in, there was no going back.

He looked concerned. What has happened to your whoosh, he asked? I felt panic rising in my throat. How do you know about it? How long have you been tracking me, I replied? Had he been looking inside my brain all this time? Had he seen my every move, heard my every conversation, knew my every thought? I felt sick. Violated. Unsafe. My breathing shallowed. He could see my stress and motioned for me to sit down. I had got so used to being told what to do by my AI that I didn’t consider that there might be an alternative. I simply obeyed.

His voice was calm and pacifying. He told me he wished me no ill. He was here to help. Just like before. I wanted to believe him but something made me hesitate. I remembered how she had spoken to me like this in my head and look at me now. Practically a wreck, incapable of doing anything on my own. Was I to lower myself further and give in to him as well?

You’ve lost your way, he said. Not quite the person you used to be, not quite sure of who you are or where to go from here. In fact, I would go as far as to say that you’ve regressed.

Thanks, I replied sarcastically. I didn’t need this shit. He can fuck right…There, he suddenly stood up, gesturing at me. It’s still there! I’m not too late, thank goodness. Can you hear it? Your fire. Your whoosh! It’s still there.

What do you mean, I said, clawing at his enthusiasm, trying to soak up his energy to resurrect myself. Was my AI still working? Can you fix it? I need you to fix it. Please. I need her back. I can’t function without her. I need her whoosh.

I was now crying. Desperately. Big sobs of snot, really ugly, so undignified but I didn’t care. I just needed to fix myself.

He came over and put his arms around me. Oddly it didn’t feel intrusive or awkward, just comforting. Like a blanket of hope. I so needed this right now. He looked into my eyes.

There was never a code, he said. No HODL. No CXB789. I never put an AI-chip in your brain. I pulled away from him. WTF? I felt like the world around me was caving in. What do you mean that there is no AI-chip in me? It can’t be. How could I have done all those things without it? Are you telling me that it was all a figment of my imagination? All a fantasy? What the…I couldn’t compute.

Yes, he said, you achieved everything on your own. It was all you. You. All I did was make you believe. Believe that you could, that you were being enhanced, that you were special.

It wasn’t registering. All I could think about was that I wasn’t enhanced. How was that even possible? Had he cut me up for nothing? OMG. Psycho. I needed to get myself out of here. But wait, what about the voice in my head? Her voice? Telling me what to do? How do you explain that, I asked?

It’s your sub-conscious, he said. Your gut instinct. I dropped the smallest hint of LSD in your daily meds. It pained me to have to do the careless stitch work on your ears but how else could I put you on regular medication?

I see girls like you all the time, he continued, brilliant but with so little self-confidence, not fulfilling your potential. I had to do something. I knew you couldn’t afford the AI-enhancements that the others were getting but I could see that you had the inherent talent that many of them so lacked. Unfortunately we are nothing in this world without status or money so I wanted to give you the confidence to succeed when you didn’t have the entitlement to. So many of my girls have gone on to become the most amazing women that you see all around you. Just whisper HODL to them and see their reactions.

The anger I was feeling inside was beginning to subside. I could sense that he wasn’t a fruitcake or evil after all. My instincts were telling me to trust. That voice within me was getting stronger, giving me confidence to ask…why are you doing this? He looked away. I could see tears welling up in his eyes. He spoke quietly, barely a whisper. My daughter was not so lucky. The system swallowed her up and I wanted to make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else. I felt my heart ache for him. I wanted to comfort him, to support him, to tell him that I cared. What was her name, I asked? He smiled, grateful for my sympathy. Claire Xenia Butler. She never made it to her tenth year. CXB789. It was all beginning to make sense.

Have you heard the story about the blue bird of happiness, he asked? I shook my head. It’s about two children who search the world for the mythical blue of bird of happiness for their dying mother. Only to never find it and come home despondent. Do you know where it was? At home with their mother. The whole time. They ended up doing a full circle of their journey but it was within them. They just didn’t know where to look.

It was now all clear to me. I knew where I was to look. What I was to do. Where I was going next. I was going to HODL. Hold on for dear life because I had a ride of a lifetime ahead of me. I was going to re-activate my whoosh and who knew where it would take me? Who knew what future was ahead of me? I just knew I had to believe. In myself.

Supporting The Girls’ Network. Unlimited futures for all young women.

www.thegirlsnetwork.org.uk

‘We believe that no girl’s future should be limited by her background, gender or parental income.’



📷: Shyam

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