Potential Realities. Chapter 1: The Pill

[Potential Realities is a fictionalised view of technology's (possible) impact on our future lives. Each chapter introduces a new technology and weaves it into the story.]

Lucas peeled back the seal on his second pill in two days. He chased it down with a half dozen smaller tablets his body needed to process it. In one of these was a sleeping agent that would kick into action in a few minutes and knock him out for the next 10 hours. He lay back, and waited for the sleep to come, anxious of the information overload his brain was about to take.

Early that morning he’d woken up after dosing on a BM-LJ4 pill. This linked a pathway of neurons and axons in his brain to form those of a fluent Japanese speaker. At midday, after his headache subsided, he was keen to try out his new language skills and ventured out for sushi. The plates of uni, tako, chūtoro, shirako, and ebi prompted his declaration of “Oishii!” to the itamae behind the counter. Rising from his stool, he nodded at the chef, “Arigato gozaimasu, sayōnara” before leaving the tiny restaurant. He was happy for his new abilities, but they hadn’t done anything to increase his appreciation of Japanese food. Sea eggs and fish sperm had never been high on his list of things to eat. Knowing the English translation wasn’t necessarily a good thing. And so for his last dinner at home he ordered a takeaway cheeseburger and fries. ‘Now that’s Oishii!’ he muttered to himself.

Today’s dose was highly specialised. It contained technical information for his upcoming business trip. He had ingested all of the wearable technology research his company had been doing for the last 15 years. Everything from micro quantum computer theory to the construction of a microchip injector — in both English and Japanese — was contained in the bulky pill. Climbing into bed he knew that next day he’d wake up with a thumping headache, so in preparation he placed a glass of water and some painkillers beside his bed.

Lucas’ alarm pierced his brain, ringing in his ears like a dozen microchip injectors. It startled him that he even knew what a microchip injector sounded like. After a few moments he regained his bearings mumbling, “Alarm off, reset two hours”. He reached for the painkillers, knocked them back and crawled under the comfort of his pillow, hoping for more sleep.

In the airport lounge later that morning his boss, Harrison bellowed, “Here he is! The million dollar man. How’s the head?”
“Morning Harry, fine, kind of. Nothing that some stodgy airport food won’t fix. Is that really how much those things are worth?” replied Lucas.
“Well, if we ever decide to sell them that’s roughly how much they’ll cost. The L-pills might be less now that we know we’re not the only ones developing them. But the I-pills are proprietary to us, so they’re kind of priceless.”
“I guess that makes me quite valuable. Hope the plane doesn’t crash. It would be an expensive company trip.”
“Nah, the company is insured. You’re expendable,” replied Harry with a wink.
“Really, what’s your knowledge of wearable sensor transducers like?”
“Yeah, limited. Good point Lucas, don’t die. I need your brain for the next week.”
“Speaking of brains, where’s Sarah?”
“She’s flying out later. She’ll be there in enough time to attend the first session. I need her brain for the next week as well.”
“How much do the Japanese guys know about the BM tech?” asked Lucas
“Very little, and don’t let on either.”
“Ok, but you don’t worry that they might think something is up when a sales guy starts talking detailed tech specs?”
“Oh don’t sell yourself short, Lucas. They’ll just see you for the very knowledgeable and smart guy that you are!” chuckled Harry. “Relax, they won’t suspect a thing. This deal isn’t big enough to get much attention. It’s a good trial for the pills and if it gives us an edge in this little project, then that’s a side bonus. Just relax and do your thing. Sarah will notice if they start to get suspicious.”

Arriving in Japan, Lucas and Harry headed to the taxi pick up zone. Their names were lit up on the side of a waiting car. Its door opened for them. Lucas jumped in first, “Kon’nichiwa.”
“Kon’nichiwa Harrison-san, Kon’nichiwa Lucus-san. Intercontinental Hotel desu ka?”
“Hai, tadashīdesu. Arigatōgozaimashita.”
“Listen to you Lucas, perfect!”
“How would you know Harry, I still can’t believe you won’t even take an L-pill.
“You know those things don’t work on me. My brain is too old.”
“As old as this car? What is this thing anyway?” replied Lucas looking somewhat bewildered at the square box he was seated in.
“This, my boy, is a retro fitted Toyota Crown Comfort. They’ve been driving these things around the streets of Tokyo since well before you were born.”
“They don’t think it’s time for something more modern?”
“Japan isn’t the sort of country that goes for change for the sake of change. They like tradition and reliability.”
Lucas moved his gaze toward the countryside. “Well, I’ll take modern European styling over Japanese reliability any day.”
Several golf courses passed by and Harry turned to Lucas. “What’s your golf game like Lucas?”
“I’m pleased you bring that up Harry.  It’s terrible. When can I get a G-pill?”
“Let’s hope that never happens. Luckily sport involves more than just neural pathways. It’s a bleak future if sport just becomes tech. Then we may as well have bots like our driver here competing against each other.”
“I didn’t know you were such traditionalist, Harry.”
Harry gave a small shrug and turned back to his window.

Lucas sat buckled over his knees. He was not used to sitting on the floor of a tatami mat and his legs started to cramp up. He was not sure if he was drunk, tired after three days of meetings, or a combination of the two. But the sake and beer seemed to help the discomfort in his legs. Mr Nakamori reached over the table to pour another sake into Lucas’ glass. The two of them had been seated opposite all night but the din of the restaurant made conversation hard. Lucas was somewhat nervous occupying the prime seat across from such a senior person, and Harry was a little put out that he’d been placed at the end of the table.
Mr Yakamori leaned to Lucas. “You know Lucas, you have a great knowledge of what we do. I think this will be a great partnership.” Lucas raised his heavy head and smiled at Mr Nakamori with a little bow of his head.
“Tell me Mr Lucas, how did you get such technical knowledge? You seem to know a lot for a young man in sales. Did you study engineering?”
“No, Nakamori-sama, I just work very hard, I study and I learn.”
Mr Nakamori gave Lucas a broad smile and raised his glass toward him, “Combi Lucas!” He  knocked back his glass and continued. “You work hard young man. We respect hard work. Hard work and dedication. I think you and I will get along well, Lucas-kun”.
“It’s all part of the job Nakamori-sama.”
“Now eat Lucas, it’s been a busy few days. You need to eat.” He passed several plates of grilled yakatori towards Lucas’ side of the table.
“In Japan part of the job is also whiskey.” Mr Nakamori reached across the table and picked up an unopened bottle. “This is special whiskey Lucas. Our company has a distillery. This is our special company whiskey, for special events.” He opened the bottle and poured out two glasses, raising his own and toasting, “To new friends!”
He then leaned in a little closer, “Lucas, young man”. He leaned in further. “You know Japan produces the best products in the world. Our distillery was voted best whiskey in the world!”
“Is that so! I’m looking forward to building some products together Nakamori-sama, but I’m not looking forward to tomorrow morning. I have a feeling I might have a headache after the sake.”
“Ha! It will be worth it, for all of us. You’ve done a very good job for your company this week. And besides, this is the best whiskey. Trust me, no hangover!”

Lucas arrived at the home to find his BMW missing from its parking spot. A char mark on the concrete was evidence someone had fried the electronics and wheeled it away. He cursed for a minute but was too tired to care and headed in to get some sleep. The following morning he called the police and his insurance company.
“Mr Rand, we can replace your car today. You can go out and buy whatever you want. Will it be another BMW?” the insurance rep asked.
“You know, I’ve always wanted a Japanese car. I’m thinking maybe a Toyota, something efficient and reliable,” replied Lucas.
On the way home the car speaker buzzed, “Carl calling Lucas-sama.”
“Lucas, welcome back! How was the land of the rising sun?”
“Hey Carl, great my man! Mission accomplished, and I’m sitting in a piece of it now.”
“I’ll show you later. I bought a new car, a Lexus.”
“Buying Japanese Lucas, I thought you were all European?”
“Carl-kun, Japan produces some of the best products in the world.”
“Ok, whatever man. Still keen to watch the game?”
“Absolutely! I’ll grab some beer and come over”.
That evening on his way to Carl’s Lucas stopped his new car at a local sushi shop for sushi and sake. He also stopped at a liquor store where he instinctively reached into the fridge for a six-pack of Asahi beer.

The Premise:
I first heard of the idea of a language pill from a talk Nicholas Negroponte gave at the MIT Media Lab. He covers the idea in a TED talk. The idea of enhanced learning has been explored by several research groups, this for example, although this has related mostly to hardware. But I wanted to explore a little further the idea that if knowledge could be ingested deliberately then maybe it could also be ingested without one’s knowledge. Creating a pill to learn an entirely new skill like a language would probably be easier (relatively speaking) than changing existing pathways, or forming competing pathways. But could our opinions and knowledge be influenced without our be aware of it happening. Food for thought, so to speak ;-).