The Button (part 2)


Part 2 of 3

He sat on a minimalistic yet comfortable chair in a sparsely decorated office. After a minute of waiting, Mr. Snell – a tall, thin, man in his sixties wearing a suit and modern angular glasses – briskly strode in to the office and sat behind the desk. He opened the file and scanned the single sheet of paper in it with a few subtle nods.

“Why are you here?”

“Uh, the lady told me to wait –“

“No, I mean why are you here?” he repeated in a curious but not unfriendly manner before he began to answer his own question. “You see, Mr. Perkins (this surprised Scott as he had not told anyone there his last name), there were events going back to the beginning of time that led us to where we are now; from your walk from the coffee shop to your conception on your parent’s honeymoon in New Orleans, even all the way back to when a fish dragged itself from a primordial tide pool.”

“How do you know –“

“We experience time with directionality; we can reflect back on a fixed past or speculate on a malleable future. But this directionality is a human invention. The basic laws of physics are what I describe as time symmetrical. For instance, if one filmed the planets of our solar system from a great distance and played that film in reverse, the laws of physics would appear correct. Nothing, apart from our acquired knowledge of how the planets should move, would seem amiss. Now, what if I told you that we can apply that principle to our own lives, and that by mapping out the paths to how we got here we can predict where we are going?”

“I’d say…go on?” he said sounding intrigued.

“People have been flooding the world with,” Snell paused, his eyes brightened with enthusiasm and hands splayed open “massive amounts of data! And quite voluntarily I should add,” he said, sounding slightly defensive. “In its infancy, data mining was used for such pedestrian things as whom to target advertisements for say, eyeglasses. People began to build more complex algorithms  for everything from public health research to government espionage. But the level of sophistication today is unmatched. My team has created a neural network; the system is always learning, constantly stacking and layering. No, there was no eureka moment, it was just a matter of time before the data built up and technology caught up, that hidden patterns revealed themselves. The cities we move to, the cars we drive, the people we fall in love with…that was an easy one actually” he said with a slight laugh. “We deduce your “type” as they say from where your eyes linger on an online photo, from your social media contacts, from your family history. We know where you live, where you spend time, whom you’re likely to run into. The accuracy of our forecasts is remarkable. Quite remarkable,” he restated with a squint for emphasis. “You’re a bright fellow; you can see what I’m getting at.”

“Oh yeah,” he said even though he wasn’t sure about either statement.

“We at Alhazen Corporation are offering you a glimpse into your future. For a nominal fee, and by invite only,“ Mr. Snell smiled, chin slightly raised with self-satisfaction.

“Ok. But why not sell it, you could make a killing if you can do what you claim.”

“Excellent question! The wealthy already have every advantage: top pick of the gene pool, access to the best medical care, advantages in education, list goes on and on. I simply want to level the playing field. Predictive knowledge can be extremely helpful to have in your back pocket. I want to help balance the scales so to speak, which have gotten rather askew as I’m sure a man of your…station has noticed. To be quite frank,” Snell’s voice became quiet, “yes, it is true that I have found success and financial reward later in life. But this was not always the case. I come from quite humble means. We are an aggregate of our experiences, and mine have certainly shaped me. And that is not just an important life lesson, it is a core concept of our work here: Ex praeterito, futuro: From the past, the future!”

“Now,” pulling a stack of papers out of a drawer and sliding it over the desk “first you must sign these releases, non-disclosure forms, and so forth. This is Ms. Thea, she will be your personal guide.”

Right on cue, the office door opened to the sound of heels softly clacking. A young woman around Scott’s age walked and stood next to Mr. Snell. She was wearing a short-sleeved blouse and black knee-length skirt, her chestnut hair sleekly pulled into a ponytail.

“I must point out that one thing we cannot foresee is how you will react to the images you will be shown.” added Snell. “That is where Thea comes in. She will guide you through the process and help deal with any…aftermath of what you learn about your future. This is not for everyone. Please take a minute to consider if you really want to do this.”

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