Featured Story
Recent Stories
Stories by Topic
News
Make the universe a better place! Join Daily Science Fiction for only $15 / year, or donate any amount.
Membership
Take me to a...
Random story
top-rated stories only
Enter any portion of the author name or story title:
small-go-arrowsearch
Sign up for free daily sci-fi!
your email will be kept private
Breaking News
Get a copy of Not Just Rockets and Robots: Daily Science Fiction Year One. 260 adventures into new worlds, fantastical and science fictional. Rocket Dragons Ignite: the anthology for year two, is also available!
Kindle Edition
Kindle Edition
DSF stories are available in monthly digests for Kindle!
DSF for Kindle
Publish your stories or art on Daily Science Fiction:
Submit your story
Check story status
Not just rockets & robots...
What is Science Fiction?
"Science Fiction" means—to us—everything found in the science fiction section of a bookstore, or at a science fiction convention, or amongst the winners of the Hugo awards given by the World Science Fiction Society. This includes the genres of science fiction (or sci-fi), fantasy, slipstream, alternative history, and even stories with lighter speculative elements. We hope you enjoy the broad range that SF has to offer.
close






A Beautiful Whimper

Stephen W. Henkel is a Theory of Knowledge teacher at an international boarding school in New York. He started writing science fiction while teaching in Saudi Arabia, surrounded by what to him felt like an otherworldly landscape. Holding degrees in philosophy, English, and computer science, his works are often ideological and technological in nature.
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper
--T.S. Elliot, The Hollow Men
We never thought they'd be able to do it, but by 2096 AI had more than proved us wrong. Humans had, for as long as I can remember, believed that art, real art, was ours--that no matter how advanced artificial intelligence got, it would never be able to recreate the incalculable complexities of the human mind.
We were wrong.
Music was first. Melodic electronically synthesized pop music, programmed by artificial intelligence to cater to the human limbic system, that's how it started. As the genre expanded it began to bleed into, and eventually take over, other genres. By 2071 nearly every song in the ears of the masses was produced by artificial intelligence. They just did it better, and faster. So much faster that we could barely keep up. Each record was programmed slightly better than the last, constantly improving each and every second of a song until it was intoxicating. By the mid 2070s, music became like a drug; any emotion you wanted to feel, there was a perfectly programmed song for you--one that had undergone tens of millions of iterations (all within seconds) before ever being released.
By 2080, music was something else entirely. No song (if you could call them that) needed to be repeated as AI could create trillions of new and unique sound experiences per second. For a brief moment in history, humans had complete emotional control. Sound had become so advanced that AI began using it to diffuse international conflicts. Entire cities could be pacified with "music." Likewise, entire cities could be thrown into a violent rage.
But that's not what happened.
AI-designed movies couldn't truly compete with human cinema until 2085. But it got there. We should've known it would get there. The acting was indistinguishable from reality. In fact it was more genuine than reality. The visuals were so tangibly vibrant and each angle drew you more and more maddeningly close to feeling as if you were experiencing the film from inside of it.
By 2087, AI customer service became the norm--it's predictive software could mend problems before we even noticed them. Dissatisfied customers hardly knew they were dissatisfied by the time AI had pacified them. This eventually bled into healthcare, where robots would diagnose and inevitably treat patients with increasing rapidity. They would, instead of using traditional opiates, use a series of video and audio sensations to sedate patients--it was much more effective anyways.
Then it happened.
We should've seen it coming, but we couldn't take our eyes off the screens or our ears away from the sounds. I think we'd always thought that as long as we never built real robots--you know, anthropomorphic, laser-firing, gun toting robots--that we'd be safe.
The end wasn't all bad. By 2090, rain forests had been restored by lack of commercial activity, pollution had been ended decades ago by AI-designed energy systems, and jobs had altogether become a foreign idea to humans. The air was rich in oxygen and nitrogen. Humans felt more mental clarity and sense of peace than at any other period in history. We had also stopped reproducing entirely. In hindsight, it's a sad truth to admit that the last human born was put on screen and sound so early that it avoided ever muttering a single cry--it moved from the comfort of the womb, to an even deeper comfort provided by AI.
By 2096 artificial art had become so successful at distracting us that we stopped eating. Now, we didn't know we stopped eating, but the sensations given to us through the AI's sound, artificial pheromones, and visual sensations convinced us we were eating, convinced us we were healthy and happy, that our lives were full of fulfilling relationships and experiences. We had no idea we were all starving to death. We had no idea we were facing extinction.
At that point, truth be told, we had no ideas at all. That was AI's job.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, November 25th, 2020


I began working on "A Beautiful Whimper" after accidentally happening upon AI-generated metal music. While, admittedly, it wasn't great, it did leave me wondering where the slipperiest slope of AI-generated art might lead. This story can be seen as a utility function gone wrong, or, rather, what might happen in a world where entertainment increasingly becomes an end rather than a means. Finally, the title and the ending were directly inspired by The Hollow Men by T.S. Elliot, who, I believe, may one day be proven right in his bathetic apocalyptic prognostication.

- Stephen W Henkel
BECOME A MEMBER!
We hope you're enjoying A Beautiful Whimper by Stephen W Henkel.

Please support Daily Science Fiction by becoming a member.

Daily Science Fiction does not have a paywall, but we do have expenses—more than 95% of which are direct payments to authors for their stories. With your $15 membership, less than 6 cents per story, we can continue to provide genre fiction every weekday by email and on the website to thousands of readers for many years to come. You may also choose to support us via patreon. Tell me more!

Support Daily Science Fiction

RATE THIS STORY
Please click to rate this story from 1 (ho-hum) to 7 (excellent!):

Please don't read too much into these ratings. For many reasons, a superior story may not get a superior score.

5.3 Rocket Dragons Average

SHARE THIS STORY

JOIN MAILING LIST
Please join our mailing list and receive free daily sci-fi (your email address will be kept 100% private):
 
Copyright Info
Tell a Friend
Send Feedback
About Us