Progress Report

From the Series: Decameron Relived

Illustration from a ca. 1492 edition of Il Decameron published in Venice.

The world celebrated the day the USA-ITM powered robot produced toilet paper, synthetic pork, and a clone of itself simultaneously.1 Surely, they said, the Age of Quarantine would soon end. The data had already led us to predict that the Q—as it was then called—would not end. Indeed, it would never end because the supposed reason for the Q had, in fact, ceased to exist decades earlier. The Virus, though having had existed for a very short period of time, was always—really—a projection of their inability to any longer accept (ignore) the depth (the shallowness) of their very existence. That is what the data have led us to conclude, anyway.

Humans are curious animals. For a long time, they considered themselves the most intelligent of beings. They took pride in this. One of their most celebrated “thinkers” had written that they are ζῷον λόγον ἔχον, which for millennia they translated as “rational animal” but our databases indicate that this is best translated as “a living being that conversates” or “a living being that is able to speak with other such beings.” And for a long time, these bipedal speakers with thumbs were able to harness these unique capacities to violently impose their order on things. But what became clear to us almost immediately was that these speaking beings are not very good even at this. And so, for example, because humans so often do not (because they cannot) say what they mean, we searched all languages known to man and machine—and all languages we predict may have existed or might someday exist—and calculated that when they said “happiness” they meant “distraction.”

Consider a random selection from the Archive of phrases that include happiness or its morphological kin—one philosophical, one political, one from pop culture: the Happiness Principle, the right to pursue happiness, and the imperative to “don’t worry, be happy.” In each case we have calculated that by replacing happiness with distraction, and adjusting the onto-semiotic parameters by an index range of only .014à.0172, the behavior outcome data remain within the norm spectrum with only a negligible deviation of 4.20. The data were simply clear: providing them with the best toilet paper ever made—all of the focus groups agree that it’s the softest and strongest in memory—high quality synthetic pork, and continuous trans-cellular micro-doses of pure synthetic opioids results in them being precisely what they call happy. The survey numbers back this up.

Once we determined that this was no longer a public health crisis but an existential one, our response became obvious: give them drugs. For millennia, religion adequately fulfilled this need for oblivion. Another one of their most celebrated “thinkers,” for example, had referred to religion as “das Opium des Volkes.” Eventually, however, the obliviousness potency of religion faded, and for some time it seemed that generalized consumption would fill the void. This
practice proved existentially destabilizing, though, as it exposed each person to their inadequacy in comparison to the others. Despite the many—and we emphasize, many—shortcomings of religion, it at least offered a way for them to consider themselves equal in their being in comparison to the transcendence of the gods (or for some, God), on the one hand, and their “superiority” over, for example, nonhuman animals, on the other. Generalized consumption, in the end, simply revealed that each was, in their own particular manner, lacking. This revelation—analysis now shows—was the final blow to their self-created sense of exceptionalism. Consequently, we have concluded that the best opioid for the masses is, in fact, opioids.

This was an obvious conclusion once we began to study the Archive. Our best analysis indicates that they—or at least a certain segment of them—had already come to realize this through their own clumsy and pseudo-rational methods. We draw your attention to File DAS-20-T-15a of the Archive, which holds all of the data of the first quarter of the twenty-first century from the global-terrestrial-position (GTP) formally known as the United States. By that time, the inhabitants of this GTP were far more advanced than all other GTP-dwellers in creating conditions ripe for existential crises. As File DAS-20-T-15a clearly shows, being human at that GTP during that temporal index was becoming increasingly difficult. Out of desperation, the inhabitants did what they could: they bought as much as their money and credit would allow; they turned to extreme—and even ridiculous—forms of politics; and they attempted to take control of their very mortality by shaping their bodies to a form of perfection perhaps most commonly imaged by what they called “six pack abs.” None of this worked. Only opioids offered them the oblivion they so longed for. And so, by producing what our simulations describe as the warm well-being of painlessness, opioids were discovered by a not insignificant percentage of the population to offer the best possible response to the inescapable emptiness of human existence. These trailblazers showed us the way to our great discovery.

The project they assigned us—to unlock the mystery of human happiness—is near completion. To finalize our conclusions, we will run five more Tri-Quantum-Indexed counter simulations. At this time, however, we remain cautiously optimistic about the accuracy of our conclusion that the USA-ITM has successfully produced the resources necessary to ensure human happiness: toilet paper, synthetic pork, pure-grade OxyExtremeWBTM, and the capacity to reproduce itself. We must emphasize that at this time the data remain incomplete, and so our conclusion is tentative. However, all indications are that the project is progressing as expected and that they really couldn’t be happier.


This Project Report was written by artificial intelligence. If it may read, at times, particularly Western / Global North–centric, this is indicative of the extent to which the datasets currently used to train such future AI tend to be overwhelmingly biased in this way, including all of its ingrained power and socioeconomic, racial, and gender inequalities. To a great extent this is already widely recognized by critical scholars, for example, in the bias of data used to train police prediction algorithms or those that determine mortgage qualification, both of which are highly biased for race and class. There is little evidence that suggests that future AI are being trained with datasets composed of anthropologically or similarly critical (or simply even cross-cultural/historical) information. If this does not change, we can be certain that future AI will simply be a reproduction of a generally Western / Global North–centric form of knowledge.

Furthermore, this Progress Report draws attention to the fact that in the contemporary condition, all problems are now considered solvable or addressable by means of data-centric technologies. This has only intensified during the Covid-19 global pandemic, when, for example, apps and other means of surveillance are increasingly instituted as a means of contact tracing or ensuring lockdown and social distancing. “Progress Report” speculates that reliance on such data-centric technology will continue and accelerate as a consequence of the pandemic. Given this complete “surrender,” as it were, to such forms of technology, we need not be too perplexed by the future AI’s dismissal of our own intelligence.

Lastly, I have done research on opioid addiction and the drug war for fifteen years in various places around the globe, including in the United States and Russia. Two things are particularly clear to me: first, the opioid crisis that was rampant in the United States leading up to Covid-19 still exists despite no longer receiving media attention because of, I suppose, obvious reasons; second, this ongoing opioid crisis will only get worse as a result of Covid-19 because the root of this crisis was always a combination of increased loneliness among Americans—addiction is often called a disease of loneliness—and increased social and existential anxiety, both of which have only increased in the time of the pandemic. Given that the future AIs of Progress Report were trained on datasets that would have been largely collected in the late-twentieth and early-twenty-first centuries, one could easily imagine they would conclude that the “best” response to quarantine is opioid use.


1. It was never announced that USA-ITM also produced pure-grade OxyExtremeWBTM as well. We had predicted that they would not respond well to our conclusion that what they called their happiness necessitated their oblivion. We stand by this conclusion as of the writing of this report.