We created a dream. We made our hopes real. The machine that we built would never save us - that's what they said. Looking back through the swirling clouds of events that followed the completion of Paradise the naivety of our enthusiasm seems kind of funny. Almost...
The most ambitious simulation ever conceived was what drove us. I'll try to tell you something about what was (fairly unimaginatively) called "Paradise". It was around the time that directly wired neural implants really made the move from clunky, low resolution images to smooth-as-silk, 360 degree sensory surround panorama. By tapping into pre-existing memories to provide personalised information such as preferred skin textures and difficult to simulate experiences like the smell of a loved one the systems really made the quantum leap from games to environments.
I won't go into the schematics of the technology, you've probably heard about it anyway. Suffice to say that our contribution to the development of the field of self-controlled simulation was to wire the cortex together into a kind of feedback loop. Wet implants released neurotransmitters produced by glands cultured in small tanks of cerebrospinal fluid. Making ourselves the architects of our own consciousness gave us the ability to achieve mental states which were real in at least five senses of the word.
After a few years of tweaking the settings to take into account the idiosyncrasies of localisation of mental function in different users, the system which hit the market was lapped up by consumers like a bucket ofwarm blood by a pack of hungry dogs. To the top tier of the first world who already enjoyed all of the comforts the material world was capable of providing, the existence of a machine offering delights which had previously been unattainable opened the back door to heaven. They paid through the nose to get in, but as creators of a machine capable of producing any experience imaginable, what did we need money for?
There were doubters, of course. The most considered criticisms came from plainly-robed, shaven headed ascetics who spoke calmly about the dangers and limits of desire. Joy requires the contrast of pain to exist, they cautioned. Their gentle appreciation of the middle path made about as much impact on the buying public as a pair of warm brown eyes does on a falling bomb filled with radioactive waste. Pearls of wisdom lost in the shimmering lights of Maya's ocean.
The promise of an instantaneous instantiation of any whim met with a very receptive market. The trouble began when people started to realise that in most cases their wildest dreams weren't so wild after all. After a few months of frolicking with fawn-like nymphs in aquamarine oceans of gently pulsing ecstasy or gorging on never-ending smorgasboards most people started developing some kind of tolerance for perfection. Some of the conventional surfers who tried the system never came back to this world, but they were the exceptions. We upped the concentration of particular enzymes but succeeded only in pushing back the threshold for another few months. There were reports of people interfacing to share their interpretations of Nirvana, but as with organised religions, most were dissatisfied with other people's versions of ultimate bliss.
By eliminating the risk of failure, we had overlooked the human need for challenge. In a world where all things were achievable it soon became apparent that only the chance that something couldn't be experienced made it truly worthy of desire. By making our dreams real, we lost the ability to dream.
The collapse of our revolution in home entertainment led to quite a few suicides and a resurgence in popularity of the belief in a paradise furnished by a higher intelligence. The bottom didn't drop out of the market completely and there are still a number of establishments which will provide any experience you may care to partake in for a fee. But the failure of the system to provide complete satisfaction led to a lot of pain in the team that believed the machine that we built could save us. Limits to imagination? Perhaps. Some people are yet to grow tired of twentieth century entertainment forms like video and computerised games.
The soul searching it led to on my part has dragged me through a few spiritual wastelands. Sometimes, though, I'm tempted to think that the pools of joy-filled light which have on occasion illuminated the path from the past to the present have made the whole experience worthwhile