A PRODUCT OF TREESEARCH INDUSTRIES, INC.
PROGRAMMED BY NEIL M. PAIK
This application has been designed and tailored specifically for you, <enter user name here> and for your exclusive use ONLY. Once opened, it will operate on a customized algorithm suited to your specific physicality, personality, and life experiences beginning on the date <enter date of birth here>. Any copying of this program or sharing of its appearance will result in the application’s immediate self-destruction and signal to its parent company (TREESEARCH INDUSTRIES, INC.) your attempts to illegally violate its copyright, which is punishable by a minimum fine of $2,500,000.00 and 11 years in federal prison.
PLEASE DO NOT SHARE the existence or contents of this application WITH ANYONE WHOMSOEVER.
TREESEARCH INDUSTRIES, Inc. is not liable for any circumstances (seen or unforeseen) that may result from the use of this product including (but not limited to) motion sickness, severe anxiety, clinical depression, loss of humor, nausea, loss of appetite, death, personality disorders, irreparable guilt, financial losses, suicide, or a broken heart.
If you agree with the above terms, please click OK to proceed (Additional Terms and Conditions apply). Otherwise, click CANCEL to resume your regularly scheduled life.
Eddie Jackson Jr. stumbled up the steps of his driveway some time after 4:30 A.M. on February 15, 2022. It was one of those nights when drinking had become something to do until the sun said it was time to stop. A dreary night brought on by thoughts of the one person whose absence routinely inspired lengthy tabs at the bar — Eddie’s father.
Since his wife had given him an ultimatum that Valentine’s Day morning, Eddie had been in a daze — a daze that had spiraled into a dozen rounds of whiskey at the sticky dive he promised never to re-enter after turning 30. It was almost daylight now. All the booze joints had closed, and he was too tired to walk to the corner liquor store to refill. The list of self-destructive activities undertaken to avoid the reality brewing at home had reached its end. So Eddie shuffled up the creaky steps of his old apartment building quietly, hoping Sophia was fast asleep and would stay that way when he entered.
The trouble began with a question — a very special question, in fact. The type of question that would bring a smile to any loving husband’s face. But Eddie didn’t smile when Sophia asked him the question on Christmas morning, just eight short weeks ago. He didn’t give an answer then but promised he would think of one.
Two months of thinking later, Sophia’s patience had worn thin. That morning, she rejected his bouquet of perfectly-manicured roses and his box of heart-shaped chocolates, instead demanding his answer and threatening to leave if he didn’t give one. He quickly ran out of the door, citing urgent work required on the novel he had been finishing for six years. But instead of writing, Eddie sat on a barstool imagining how his hero Hemingway would have answered the question. Over the years, his idealization of the Lost Generation’s drinking habits had gradually stripped away Eddie’s burgeoning creativity and replaced it with a proficiency for emptying bottles.
He washed his tired, sweaty face now as Sophia slept in the adjacent room, her chocolates untouched, the roses sadly wilting. Eddie had always regarded her snores with adoration, but tonight they echoed angrily through the tiny studio apartment, taunting him for his cowardice. His mind raced, imagining what would happen if he answered yes. They would need to move to a bigger place. They would need more furniture, more food, more clothes, more of everything they could scarcely afford as it was.
The splashes of cold water wouldn’t clear the redness from Eddie’s eyes. It was hard to believe the unshaven, whiskey-wrinkled man staring back at him in the mirror wasn’t somebody else. It was harder yet to believe that this man could be a father to anyone. When he couldn’t sleep, Eddie decided to go for a walk to sober up. But outside the front door, there was something waiting for him: a small, cardboard box.
Who delivers a package at 4 AM? he wondered.
He must have been too drunk to notice it when he walked in. The box was almost blank. No delivery address. No return address. Only an emblem resembling a lopsided tree.
At the sight of the image, Eddie instantly sobered. He knew exactly what this was; he had been waiting for it for weeks. He tore the box open and inside found a pair of goggles and a small sheet of instructions with a download code. Atop the sheet were the words:
Congratulations! We are pleased to have you on board.
– Your friends at Treesearch Industries
He scrambled to find his phone and entered the code. It had been two months since he had submitted himself for this opportunity. So much time had passed that he assumed his application had unceremoniously found its way into the rejection pile, just as most applications from his life had done. But this time, on the day he needed it most, an acceptance had arrived.
He put on the goggles, which tightened around his head, sending a jolt down his spine. The phone flashed a Warning! screen with a long list of terms and conditions. Too excited to read through them, he instantly clicked OK. The lenses of his goggles turned a mesmerizing shade of blue as Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries filled his ears, the smell of sand entered his nostrils, and the salt of sea breeze peppered his tongue.
Eddie had been transported to a tropical beach while standing in his own kitchen. In the middle of the panoramic ocean sunset that now filled his view, words appeared:
Welcome to windowshopper™, Edward Jackson, Jr.
We wish you great fortune in the many paths ahead.
SAN FRANCISCO LIBRARY OF SCIENTIFIC RESEARCH / ARCHIVES
SEARCH QUERY: “treesearch industries”
NAME OF PUBLICATION: TECHWIZARD JOURNAL
ORIGINAL DATE OF PUBLICATION: 03.19.2022
A/B TESTING YOUR LIFE: An Interview with Billionaire Entrepreneur Arturo “Artie” Salazar
By Priya Vaswani
Fresh off of a three-hour morning bike ride that began in the heart of Oakland where he lives, Arturo Salazar, 43, walks into his Menlo Park offices drenched in sweat and apologizes for keeping me waiting. His assistant hands me a short survey of questions to fill out while Mr. Salazar pops into the private steam shower in his office. He comes out five minutes later in a perfectly pressed suit.
Unlike many tech startups in the area, Salazar’s Treesearch Industries doesn’t subscribe to hoodies and bean bags. Until recently, his company wasn’t even on the public’s radar. That all changed when a former associate blogged about a secret app being developed by the budding enterprise.
windowshopper™ promises to change the world by allowing users to “window shop” how their lives would unfold before making important choices. It feels like an unlikely promise to most, who believe this is simply Silicon Valley’s newest toy aimed at investors willing to buy into hype.
Mr. Salazar is perhaps best known for being the tech wunderkind who made billions founding and heading the data mining giant Ganymede Infometrics. But after several lawsuits, growing inquiries by the U.S. government, and a personal tragedy, “Artie” – as his friends in the industry lovingly call him – decided to step down as CEO of Ganymede and reallocate his time and resources to this new startup, Treesearch Industries.
I sat down with the tech mogul to see if we could peel back the layers of mystery around his nascent company and the product it promises will change our lives:
PV: Mr. Salazar, you might have just set the speed record for changing into a suit. I like the blue tie.
AS: Thank you. I’ve had a lot of practice over the years. But do me a favor – please call me Artie.
PV: Do you start every day with a long bike ride through the bay?
AS: You know when I was young, we couldn’t afford a car. I would get up before sunrise to deliver papers every day on an old bicycle. And when I got home, I’d hand off the bike to my mother so she could get to work. Something about riding through the city every morning makes me feel grounded in that history.
PV: Sounds like you faced some real challenges growing up.
AS: When we first came to this country, my mother settled us in Timberidge County. My family was 50 percent Jamaican, 50 percent Ecuadorian – which in our new suburban neighborhood during that time meant we were 100 percent unwelcome. We didn’t have a lot in the way of choices growing up. I remember my mother trying to interview for teaching positions at 10 different schools and being turned away from every single one before she even got through the door. In third grade during the career fair, I told the teacher I wanted to be a rocket scientist one day, and she laughed at me in front of the entire class. As if that wasn’t a choice I could ever make.
PV: Choice seems to have been a running theme in your childhood. Or lack thereof.
AS: I don’t think any parent should have to limit the scope of their child’s success based on what box the world wants to put them in. The consequences of not having a choice is what drove my older brothers into stealing and drugs. My mother would always tell me – Never become the villain in your own story. There’s always a right path. You just have to choose it.
PV: Is that why you developed this new app?
AS: The truth is, after my mom died three years ago from cancer, I realized I never spent time with her. I was 23 when Forbes put me on their list and crowned me the next Steve Jobs.
PV: Must have been a lot of pressure.
AS: It was easy to get caught up in. To skip going home for holidays because we had upcoming deals and a potential merger to manage. And then one day I got the call – she was gone. I remember thinking when I heard the news that I’d have to reshuffle my schedule to make room for the funeral. I had become so apathetic. At every juncture, I had chosen work over the person who had sacrificed everything so I could work in the first place.
PV: The windowshopper™ app promises to allow users to preview what their life would be like before they make a choice. Did the idea stem from wishing you had spent more time with your mother?
AS: I wished I had an app like this when she was alive. To help put things in perspective.
PV: How does it work?
AS: Well we’re still in beta testing, so there isn’t much I can disclose.
PV: Artie, I drove all the way down from North Beach. Give me the sales pitch.
AS: We live in a world where there are computer programs that can determine what moves a chess player should make 10 steps ahead. So we thought: what if the chessboard was your life?
PV: What if it was?
AS: Optimization has become the key to living in the 21st Century. We optimize our entertainment experiences by queuing up shows on Netflix. We optimize our public image by curating photos and filtering them on social media. We even optimize our romantic partners by swiping right or left. If we can optimize our entertainment and our social lives, why not optimize every other decision we make?
PV: What types of decisions are you talking about?
AS: Well I’m probably saying more than I should here, but we’ve seen inquiries from our beta testers spanning a broad spectrum. Some are as simple as: Should I order French fries or onion rings with my burger? On the more dramatic end, you have questions like: Should I live with my mom or dad? Should I go to college in Boston or Los Angeles? Should I leave my wife?
PV: And your app tells the users which decision to make.
AS: No, not at all. windowshopper™ doesn’t make any suggestions. It merely uses the data you provide about yourself and customizes an algorithm to your tastes, personality, and life experiences to illustrate what your life would be like if you chose path A versus path B.
PV: You’re talking about A/B testing a person’s life.
AS: Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…only this time you can travel both. Or at least see where each would take you.
PV: Sounds a little too good to be true. What’s your recipe for this alchemy?
AS: It’s really a merger of quantum physics and personal data.
PV: Personal data. You mean the type of information being collected at data mining companies like your alma mater Ganymede?
AS: Partly. That coupled with user data from a survey of 300 questions that pinpoints certain behavioral patterns, life events that shaped your childhood, adulthood, etc.
PV: Sounds a little invasive.
AS: Our servers are completely secure and using the app is voluntary. You have to realize that in order to project what reality would be like if you chose French fries over onion rings, we’d have to replicate your experience eating French fries. If you’re allergic to potatoes, your experience using the app will be different from mine. In order for each user’s algorithm to be specific, we need to know as much as we can about that user’s experiences.
PV: You’ve said before that this technology isn’t virtual reality.
AS: No, it’s extrasensory reality.
PV: The only device you provide with the app is a pair of goggles. What exactly does the user see when they open the app?
AS: The goggles engage the nervous system, informing the user’s senses. You don’t simply see what reality would be – you taste, touch, hear, and smell everything around you.
PV: So I’d be able to taste the fries with these goggles?
AS: They’re not ordinary goggles. In addition to the sensory functions, the device also engages the hippocampus, neocortex, and amygdala – allowing entry into the user’s memory. French fries may taste better to you than onion rings because they remind you of after school trips to McDonald’s with your friends when you were a teenager. It’s an emotional experience.
PV: How did you choose your beta testers?
AS: We had an application that was selectively posted to certain forums online. We combed through thousands of applicants and handpicked a small number of folks who we thought would elicit a diverse array of results.
PV: You’ve managed to keep the identities of these beta testers a secret. What keeps them from speaking publicly about their experiences with windowshopper™?
AS: During this early stage of development, the app is designed to self-destruct if the user discloses any information about it to a third party. That, and we had everybody digitally sign a confidentiality agreement with some serious punitive consequences.
PV: You’re really keeping this one close to the vest. Do you use the app yourself?
AS: Of course. I use it multiple times a day. It helped me choose this blue tie that you complimented earlier.
PV: Sure it did. So we’re supposed to believe that this app which has only been used by a small group of beta testers who nobody knows about is going to change the world?
AS: I’m sensing some cynicism in your voice. Would you like a demonstration?
PV: More than anything.
AS: Here. Try on these goggles. My colleague will bring you a phone.
At this point, Artie’s colleague – a young, bespectacled woman named Dr. Angela Chen – brings me over a smartphone and two cartons of ice cream. One strawberry, one chocolate.
PV: I gotta tell you, Artie – I’m more of a pistachio girl. Oh these goggles are snug. Is it me or are they getting tighter?
AS: That’s the viewing device connecting to your brain and engaging your neural pathways. When you’re ready, ask the app your question.
At this point, the goggles turn on like a VR simulator, and they take me to a beach. I can see the waves crashing. I can feel the wind on my skin. I can even hear seagulls. Welcome to windowshopper™ appears onscreen and Wagner fills my ears. Artie tells me this is the HOME screen. His mother was a fan of opera, and Ride of the Valkyries makes him feel like a new adventure is brewing.
Which paths would you like to explore? the app asks me.
PV: Should I take the chocolate ice cream or the strawberry?
The beach fades away and two doors appear before me. The left one is labeled “Chocolate”; the right, “Strawberry”.
I walk to Door A and open it. My senses are overwhelmed. I see myself eating the ice cream. I can taste the chocolate. I feel the cold texture against my tongue. I see Artie smiling back at me.
Then, I’m back in front of the doorways. I take Door B this time. I feel the taste of the strawberry, but I’m not eating it in the Treesearch offices. I’m on my couch, snuggled in my boyfriend’s arms. We share the carton. I feel warm.
And in a flash, it’s over. I’m back at the beach. I take off the goggles.
AS: Good choice.
PV: I don’t understand. Door A had me eating the ice cream here and Door B had me eating it at home with my boyfriend.
AS: Does your partner like strawberry?
PV: Not particularly. But he is allergic to chocolate.
AS: So you chose strawberry because you prefer the experience of sharing dessert with him to eating it yourself here.
PV: It felt so real. Like it was happening as I was sitting here…
AS: That’s extrasensory reality.
PV: So I’m going to have this pint with my boyfriend tonight?
AS: That’s up to you.
PV: But I just saw it. It’s going to happen. That’s how the app works, right?
AS: Not quite. windowshopper™ can’t predict the future, and it can’t make decisions for you. It simply lays out your options by interpreting the probability of your fulfillment behind each door. In this case, what you saw was based on data gathered from the short survey you completed before this interview, and from the device’s engagement with your brain. In all likelihood, you’ll share this pint of strawberry with your boyfriend tonight. But it’s also possible you’ll get home and he won’t be in the mood for sweets. Or maybe the ice cream melts on the drive back. The app can’t control the world around us. It can only show you the probable paths forward.
PV: I have a question. Is there a world where I chose Door A? The chocolate.
AS: Of course. Every new choice you make in life builds upon the ones you made previously, like branches on a tree. In this world, you chose strawberry. In another world, maybe you chose chocolate.
PV: As important as ice cream is to humanity, this was a rather inconsequential decision. If, say, my boyfriend had proposed to me and I asked the app if I should accept or not, what would windowshopper™ show me?
AS: Well I can’t answer that with exact precision because it would be based on your specific data and experiences, but I’d imagine you’d see a glimpse of what your life would be like with him behind one door and without him behind the other. Which door you choose would be up to you.
PV: Okay let’s give it a shot. Should Javier and I get hitched–
AS: —actually, I’d wait on that one. The app currently has limited information about you and wouldn’t elicit an accurate response.
PV: It did fine with ice cream.
AS: The app learns more about you over time. For each new windowshop you perform, the app’s algorithm more precisely tunes to your decision-making habits. Choosing a dessert flavor based on your limited time wearing the headset is possible, but you might want to give the app a chance to know you better before asking the big questions.
PV: I guess I’ll wait until Javi actually asks me the big question. Switching gears for a moment, we’ve heard rumors your company is looking to buy up an old army base. Is that in preparation for windowshopper™ to publicly launch?
At this point, Dr. Angela Chen slips Artie a note, and he quickly gets up.
AS: Afraid I need to run, Priya. It’s been a pleasure. You can give Dr. Chen the goggles on your way out. Don’t forget your ice cream.
For the record, my boyfriend and I enjoyed the strawberry. Marriage proposal still pending. Stay tuned for more updates on Treesearch Industries and windowshopper™ as the app approaches its release.
CALIFORNIA CHRONICLE | Archives | Obituaries
On the afternoon of Christmas 2022, beloved author Edward P. Jackson Jr., 33, died unexpectedly of what appeared to have been a sudden stroke that left him completely braindead. Jackson, who came from humble beginnings, was an award-winning writer whose debut novel GUNS AND RAZORS shot to success this year, selling more than 20 million copies. He is survived by his loving wife Rachel and his stepson Taiko. A note was found in his study, written to his stepson just hours before his untimely death, which read:
“Life is beautiful. Love yourself and each other.”
Dear Dr. Chen,
I am writing to you to apply to be a beta tester in your new program that allows users to window shop their life choices. I found out about your application on a reddit forum the other night called r/relationshipadvice. I have to admit, reading about your new app was a little surreal. I’m sure it’s too good to be true, but at this moment I’m willing to go out on a limb because I am truly desperate. You see, my wife Sophia asked me the other day – Christmas Day in fact – if I wanted to conceive a child with her. She didn’t say it in those words exactly; her phrasing was less clinical. But to be honest, the question really sent me spiraling. Anyway, attached is the essay component of my application entitled Choices Made by Chance, which further explains why I believe I am a strong candidate. I have also filled out the 300 question survey and included the submission fee that was requested.
I hope to hear from you soon. Thank you for your consideration.
Choices Made by Chance
by Edward Jackson Jr.
In the Year 2000, JD Corporation and Micro Mobility Systems released what would become the most sought after toy to usher in the new millennium: The Razor Scooter. A foldable, compact aluminum two-wheeled kick scooter catered to kids ages 8-68. Within the first six months of launch, JD Corp would sell over 5 million units in the United State alone.
Surveillance footage from department stores across the nation captured people fighting over the scooters that holiday season. During its peak, the sporting good/toy crossover was priced at more than $300 in some markets. Today, a Razor can be found for less than $40 retail.
The Ruger 3 Screw Blackhawk is a single action revolver that began production in the 1950’s amidst the rising popularity of TV westerns. The older model, which my grandfather bought in a pawn shop, was a respectable gun if not for one slight fault in its construction. The hammer, when lowered, rested on the gun’s firing pin. This meant if something hit the hammer forcefully – or if the gun was dropped – the weapon would accidentally discharge. To avoid this issue, it was recommended that only 5 rounds be carried in the Blackhawk’s cylinder.
So what do 2000’s Toy of the Year and an outdated revolver have in common? On December 25 – the first Christmas of the millennium – these two items would determine the course of Edward Jackson, Sr.’s life. That is, my father’s life.
He and my mother had been at it for weeks. They never had what people might call a “happy” marriage, but they generally made things work. That summer, my father had lost his job and subsequently spent months at the local whiskey bar getting loaded. By Thanksgiving, my mother was ready to move out and to take me with her. On Christmas Eve, they really got into it. He ran out of booze, and she ran out of patience.
Just because you can’t see reality in front of you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, she yelled at him, right before he slammed her head against the kitchen counter. Her ear bled all night. I took care of her; God knows we couldn’t afford a hospital bill.
I wouldn’t meet my father’s eyes the next morning. He knew he had gone too far this time. The guilt ate away at him. He thought he had to make a grand gesture to win back our affection. He knew I’d been wanting a Razor like the kids in the neighborhood had, but there was no way we could afford one. In a booze-laden burst of inspiration, he opened the chest in his closet and dusted off grandpa’s Blackhawk. My dad had never shot anyone, and he wasn’t intending to that day.
Somewhere in the recesses of the internet, you can probably find the grainy surveillance footage of Edward Jackson, Sr. waving his gun around while fighting over the last scooter at a family-owned toy store. In his drunken fury, he had loaded up the cylinder with six rounds, and as chance would have it, an overzealous cashier knocked the gun right out of his hand. The revolver fell on its hammer, releasing a bullet straight into fellow toy shopper Richard Brown’s heart.
Richard Brown was a father of six. Richard Brown’s death became a national news story. Richard Brown’s murder landed my father in prison for life, without the possibility of parole.
At the trial, the district attorney convinced the jury that nothing was left to chance. Richard Brown’s wife was now a widow and his children fatherless because of all of the choices my father had made that Christmas.
He chose to get drunk. He chose to bring a weapon to the toy store. He chose to steal a scooter. And he chose to pull his loaded gun out in the presence of children. With each utterance of the word chose, my mother’s face sank deeper into her chest. What would her family back home think? Her parents had crossed oceans to give her a better life, and now every failing of that life was being read out publicly and on the record.
All this for a hunk of aluminum that I can purchase today for 40 bucks. I made a promise to myself that I would never repeat my father’s bad choices, even if it meant not making choices at all.
I spent four years of high school absolutely infatuated with Rachel Esposito. Four years of my life writing love notes, making mixtapes, and tripping over myself at school dances. When it came time to move away to college, she was willing to be long distance. The ball was in my court. All I had to do was tell her I choose you. But I couldn’t do it. Every time I thought of saying those words, the image of my father slamming my mother’s head against the kitchen counter scorched through me.
I didn’t want to turn into him. I chose to be different.
I refreshed Rachel’s Facebook page and sadly watched the evolution of her profile picture: our prom photo became her graduation photo, became her sorority photo, became her college graduation photo, became her residency photo, became her engagement photo.
The chapter of Eddie and Rachel had closed for good.
I met my wife Sophia five years ago at a bookstore. She chose to ask me out. She chose to stay with me, to marry me, to put up with my indecisions and my inability to commit …until two days ago, when she asked if I wanted to make a baby with her.
That is why I’m submitting this application. I don’t know the right answer. I can’t let her down, but I refuse to bring a baby into this world knowing full well that one day I might make his mother cry. Or that I might mess up and burden him with a lifetime of guilt for something that won’t remotely be his fault. I’ve read that your new app lets users window shop their choices and I’ve got a big one to make.
So tell me – if we choose to do this thing, what are the chances my kid’s going to be okay?
I can’t stop thinking about windowshopper. The experience is burned into my brain. Is there any chance I can get a beta copy? Happy to fill out your 300 questions if you need me to.
There’s one thing that’s been nagging at me. You mentioned there was a world where I’d choose chocolate over strawberry. But the app clearly wanted me to choose strawberry. I mean it was undeniable. The more I think about it, the more I wonder – what if I actually wanted chocolate but the app made me want strawberry.
Probably overthinking but would love your take.
Hello Ms. Vaswani,
This is Dr. Chen from Treesearch. I believe we met during your interview of Mr. Salazar. We are pleased to hear about your ongoing interest in windowshopper™. Unfortunately, our beta testing is at capacity, though we feel confident about moving towards a launch date imminently.
As for your question, Mr. Salazar asked that I pass this response along:
“windowshopper™ can’t make you want anything. It can only show you the doors and the probable possibilities behind them. The decision-making is ultimately up to the user. My take – if you enjoyed the ice cream you ended up choosing, then what difference does it make? -Artie”
December 25, 2021
I asked Eddie the question this morning. I was nervous about doing it. I knew he’d be nervous, too. But I never expected him to react the way he did. The prospect of bringing life into this world with your wife should be a beautiful thing to look forward to, not something that sends a grown man on a bender. Maybe it was a mistake to bring this up on Christmas. I know he has issues with his dad that he’s been trying to work out over the years, but his behavior today is making me seriously consider our options. I know when he tells me he’s leaving the house to write, he’s really leaving the house to drink. I worry that one of these days he won’t come back. I will try to be patient, but neither of us is getting any younger. We’ve been married three years. My parents keep asking when they’ll get to play with their grandkids, and as much as that question used to annoy me, I’d like to see it become a reality.
February 14, 2022
It’s been two months since I asked Eddie the question, and he’s managed to skirt around giving me an answer. So this morning I gave him an ultimatum: he can make a family with me, or he can figure out his life without me. I’m tired of the drinking, the lying, the inability to commit. It used to be charming when we first started dating. I thought he was this creative free spirit who wanted to live in the moment. But we’re older now, and I don’t just want to be thinking about the present. I want us to plan a future.
February 15, 2022
I got woken up early this morning by the sound of Eddie’s voice shouting “Wow! Amazing!” He was sitting at the dinner table glued to his phone, wearing a pair of funky-looking glasses, listening to that song from Apocalypse Now on repeat. I asked what he was doing. He said he couldn’t tell me about it, but that he was figuring out our future. He better figure it out fast.
February 18, 2022
I’ve never seen Eddie this excited. It’s like he’s a different person. He’s been adamant about what shows we should watch, where we order takeout from, what to wear, where we should vacation. It’s like he can see into the future and tell us which choices we should be making, without a shadow of doubt. This from the guy who normally takes 5 minutes to pick a seat at a restaurant.
I asked him if he’s figured out his answer. I told him I want a family but that I need a committed partner and that our kid is going to need a committed father. He needs to decide whether he’s in or out. I hate to shatter his newfound confidence, but this conversation has been delayed enough.
He says he’s working on it but “the algorithm needs more time to process my data before it can give an accurate result.” I have no idea what that means, but I’ve lost patience. I thought having a baby would bring us closer. I saw a path forward for us, but now it feels like that door is closing.
February 20, 2022
Eddie wakes me before the sun is up and tells me he’s seen our future.
“I’m in,” he says and kisses my stomach. “I’m all the way in. I choose you, Sophia. I choose us. I choose our family. Let’s make a baby.” He thinks we’re going to have a boy. He’s says he’s seen a vision of the three of us in a big house. In it, I’m holding our son and singing him a lullaby.
It all sounds lovely and I’m happy he has the clarity he needed, but I can’t say the last few months haven’t seriously tested my confidence in him and in this marriage. Still, I want the door to our future together to stay open. So I will choose Eddie, too.
Dear Dr. Chen,
Thank you thank you thank you!! windowshopper is amazing! It has saved my life (or at the very least, my marriage). Sophia and I have never been better. In fact, we’re pregnant! Her belly is getting BIG and the kid is starting to kick on the regular. We’re in the second trimester, and the doc says the next ultrasound might tell us if we’re getting a girl or a boy. I have a strong hunch that it’s going to be a boy 😉
November 15 is the little man’s arrival date. Mark your calendar!
I’ve also stopped drinking. I want to be strong and healthy for this kid when he gets here. I won’t be like my old man. This kid is going to have a real father who loves him and is there for him. I’ve also started a new book. The old one wasn’t getting anywhere and I suppose I knew that. All I needed was the confidence to think that I could make the right choices. Thank you and Mr. Salazar for helping me find it.
dr. chen, something has happened. our baby was supposed to be due yesterday but he isn’t here. and he won’t be coming. last week, i was so excited for the big day, I met up with some friends for lunch and had a celebratory round. one last drink to celebrate before the baby got here. I was supposed to go look at cribs with Sophia that afternoon. i picked her up and she could smell the whiskey on my breath, but I told her I was fine. It was one little drink. we got into a fight in the car. I lost focus for a second and I ran a stop sign. a pickup truck was going the other way and didn’t see us. It slammed into the passenger side of our car. Sophia was bleeding. Oh god she was bleeding so much. The ambulance came and they rushed her to the hospital. She’s still here, but she’s stable now. But dr chen we lost the baby. We LOST OUR BABY!!!! I don’t understand how this could happen. You told me to do this. Your stupid fucking app told me to say yes and have this baby with her. You said we’d be happy. I SAW IT. I saw our house.
I saw our SON. WHERE IS HE???? I need answers NOW.
WHY WON’T YOU PEOPLE REPLY TO ME?!?!
NOBODY’S ANWESRING THERE PHONES. I’M GOING TO GO TO THE PRESS AND TELL THEM EVERYTHUNGGGG FUCK ALL OF YOU YOU. FUCKKING. RUINED. MY LIFE!!!!!!!!#(@*#!$@!!
This is an automatically generated message. Please refer to the Terms and Conditions of your agreement with Treesearch Industries, Inc.
Any copying of this program or sharing of its appearance will result in the application’s immediate self-destruction and signal to its parent company (TREESEARCH INDUSTRIES, INC.) your attempts to illegally violate its copyright, which is punishable by a minimum fine of $2,500,000.00 and 11 years in federal prison.
Thank you and have a nice day.
Dr. Chen, I really need your help. Please read this. I was digging through the internet for any contact information about your company so that I could talk to somebody, and I came across an interview Mr. Salazar did with TechWizard. It was with a reporter named Priya Vaswani. In it, he says this:
“Every new choice you make in life builds upon the ones you made previously, like branches on a tree. In this world, you chose strawberry. In another world, maybe you chose chocolate.”
What does he mean by “another world”? Is there a world where our baby isn’t gone? When Sophia asked if I wanted to have a baby, I asked windowshopper if I should say yes. The app showed me a happy future of the three of us together, so I did it. I said YES.
But if I had said NO, she would never have gotten pregnant. She would have left me, which means I would never have driven her to the store that day. I would never have run the stop sign. And that truck would never have crashed into us.
Is there another world where I said NO and this terrible accident never happened??
I’m sorry for my e-mails earlier. I was drunk and angry. I won’t go to the press. I haven’t talked to anybody. But please I’m begging you to help me. I can’t stand seeing Sophia like this. She won’t eat, she can’t sleep. She won’t look at me. Today was the first time she said anything since the accident. She told me to pack my things and get out of her life. I don’t know what to do.
Please help me. Please.
Just because you can’t see reality in front of you, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.
The Many Worlds of Dr. Angela Chen
I never should have replied.
Even if it was from my personal e-mail, this was a mistake. Salazar’s probably tracking all of my online activities. It’s only a matter of time before he finds out I’ve made unauthorized contact with a beta test subject.
It’s too late to back out now. He asked to meet at a sleazy dive bar, and I reluctantly agreed. I figured this place would be far enough under the radar to keep our secret rendezvous a secret. Five steps into the place and I’m instantly reminded of why I hated college. He’s already four whiskeys deep when I find him. This is going to be a long night. We skip the pleasantries.
Dr. Chen, I want a simple answer. Is there a world where this accident never happened?
There are no simple answers to such complex questions.
You said reality could exist even if I couldn’t see it. What does that mean?
I was quoting your essay.
You were quoting my mother. You must have meant something by it.
Before you get your hopes up, I need to make one thing clear: windowshopper™ doesn’t manufacture new worlds. That’s impossible.
But he said it. Salazar said there was a world where you picked strawberry and a world you picked chocolate.
Yes, but only one of those worlds exists in physical reality.
And where does the other one exist?
Inside of your mind.
He’s clearly having a hard time processing this. I convince him to come outside and join me for a smoke, hoping the fresh air will sober his senses. I grab a napkin and illustrate.
windowshopper™ functions on an interpretation of quantum mechanics that says all possible outcomes of a choice can exist, each in a separate world. Here’s your choice. Door A: say yes to having a baby with your wife. Door B: say no because you can’t commit.
That’s very judgmental word choice.
I’m not here to make judgments. It’s your life. When you chose Door A, Door B didn’t stop existing. In another world, you went through Door B and ended up building the rest of your life on that branch of the tree. But that universe doesn’t exist in our physical reality.
Right. You said it only exists inside of my mind. But what does that mean?
A section of Treesearch’s servers — a very big section in fact — is populated by data streamed from your brain into the company’s hard drives. Meaning when you chose Door A, the version of you that chose Door B continued existing on our server.
You’re saying there’s a version of me that lives in your computers?
Thousands of versions of you, actually.
Okay now you’re losing me a little.
In the last 11 months, you have windowshopped more than 1200 choices. Each time you enter a new inquiry into the app, two new branches form on the tree of your life. You follow one path in real life, and the digital version of you follows the other. When you ordered a pizza on February 7 in this reality, the digital version of you ordered Chinese. One digital version of that digital version of you chose to use chopsticks and the other used a fork. You follow?
Just barely. I have a question. Does Sophia exist in these digital realities?
Yes, technically. Your windowshopper™ profile is composed of your biological data and your memories. Sophia is a big part of your life in the real world, so naturally an impression of her exists in every digital manifestation of your life.
What about me? Do I exist in other people’s windowshopper™ servers?
Yes. You would exist in my windowshopper™ server, just like I exist in yours. All things and people in digital realities are impressions based on things and people in the real world. Any gaps in a user’s knowledge or awareness are filled by information from the world’s largest data mining company.
You mean Salazar’s other company? That Ganymede Infometrics.
Bingo. You’ve never been to the Taj Mahal, but Ganymede’s comprehensive data of the location reconstructs it in your server, making its existence feel completely real for your digital counterparts.
What happens to these other realities if I delete the app?
Well, the digital branches of your tree that have been saved on our servers would start collapsing. The computer versions of you would cease to exist.
So if a computer version of me is married, but I delete the app in reality, what happens to the computer version of my wife?
If you’ve managed to maintain a good relationship in that reality, she’ll likely mourn your death.
So I just disappear? My wife comes home from work and poof I’m gone?
No. Your body wouldn’t disappear, just your mind. It would be as if you collapsed from a sudden stroke and became instantly braindead.
These aren’t real realities, Mr. Jackson. They’re simply constructed ones. Your wife in a digitally conceived world that only exists on a server is not your real wife. Her mourning your digital death, while tragic, is not real. Besides, shortly after each branch of your digital tree is deleted, the hard drive in which that tree existed would be reformatted. Meaning after she mourned digital you, digital Sophia and the rest of her digital world would quake, crumble, and evaporate into oblivion.
How do you know all of this?
Because I invented all of it.
Artie Salazar invented windowshopper™.
Like Steve Jobs invented the Apple computer.
Okay Wozniak, I’m buying you a round. But I need something from you. I want to know what my life would be like if I chose Door B instead of Door A. What if I said no to having the baby?
Did you not comprehend anything I said? It’s not a simple A or B decision. Even if I could show you what the digital version of your life would be like if you said no to your wife, that version of you has since made multitudes of other choices. There are hundreds of versions of you that said no to having a baby and each of them exists in a different reality.
I want to see all of them. Every version. Every possible outcome.
That’s impossible. You would need several lifetimes to see every possible outcome.
Well then show me the best one.
CALIFORNIA CHRONICLE | Archives | Obituaries
On the afternoon of Christmas 2022, an inebriated man stumbled out of a bar and died on the sidewalk. The cause of death appeared to be a sudden stroke that left him completely braindead, although doctors have not ruled out the possibility of severe alcohol poisoning. The man was later identified by his former classmate as Edward Jackson Jr., 33, a failed writer whose early prose once caught the attention of the literary community. Unfortunately, a subsequent descent into alcoholism coupled with a traumatic divorce left Jackson alone and penniless in the end. The bartender serving Jackson on the day of his death identified a napkin on which Jackson scribbled what are thought to be his final words:
“Life is meaningless. Kill yourself and each other.”
The Many Lives of Eddie Jackson
This time there’s only one door and it has my name on it. Literally.
In the middle of what used to be an army base, Treesearch Industries has covertly set up the largest server hub in the world. I open the door and inside are rows and rows of hard drives housing thousands of versions of me, each living in his respective version of reality.
Dr. Chen is on edge. I get the feeling she’s breaking more than a few rules by bringing me here.
Thanks for doing this. I know it’s Christmas Eve and you probably had plans—
If I had plans, I wouldn’t be here. We need to be quick about this.
Okay sure. So how do we know which version of me has the best life?
We don’t. You’re going to have to choose one.
How am I supposed to do that? There’s hundreds of drives in here.
Spin around in a circle really fast with your finger out and whichever one you’re pointing to when you stop is the one.
Your sarcasm isn’t helping my decision-making process.
Decision-making hasn’t historically been your strength.
Touché. Let’s start by narrowing down to the realities where I said no to having the baby.
That’s everything two rows to the right down.
Wow that’s a lot of options.
Tick tock, Eddie.
I know, I know but… I don’t know. Okay— let’s try that one.
I point at the closest drive to us. Dr. Chen hands me a pair of goggles that tighten around my head. She inserts a cable into the headset and connects it to the drive.
I can upload you in for 10 seconds. You’ll see glimpses of your life in the reality you’re linking into but nothing more.
Why only 10 seconds?
If your mind spends too much time linked into another reality, it will lose its connection to this one. You could get stranded in there permanently. Ten seconds should be enough to give you a sense of who you are.
Before I can object again, Dr. Chen powers on the goggles and in a flash—I’m transported:
I say no to having a baby with Sophia. I pack up my bags and leave, as we both cry. Flash. I’m single again, sitting in front of Notre Dame in Paris with a half-liter of red wine, writing like a young Hemingway. Flash. I’m walking down Pigalle looking for some evening companionship. Flash. I’m limping around in jail, being verbally harassed in French by my cellmates. One of them punches me across the face and in a flash, I land—
—back at the warehouse, drenched in sweat. My heart is beating rapidly, adrenaline pumping through my veins. It felt so…real.
Okay that was not a good one. Can we try another?
Dr. Chen is reluctant, though I can tell she’s fascinated by this experiment. I pick another reality, then another, and another. Flash by flash, I see and feel what my life could have been like if I had said no to having the baby. While standing in the middle of this warehouse, I experience other versions of me digitally eating, sleeping, having sex, committing crimes, writing books, falling in love, and maybe even… the thought strikes me like lightning—
Is there a world where I still have my wife and my son?
Dr. Chen directs me to a small row of drives. I study them carefully, take a breath, and pick one:
I say no to Sophia. I pack my bags and leave. Then, I’m smiling at a wedding: my wedding. I’m dancing with my bride. She feels familiar, but it’s not Sophia. It’s Rachel Esposito, my high school sweetheart. And she is more beautiful than I remember. Flash. We’re moving into a house together. She brings her son with her. His name is Taiko. Flash. I’m at a book signing. My novel has sold millions of copies. The three of us prepare for Christmas the way a family should. No fighting, no drinking. Lots of presents under a huge tree. My heart feels like it’s going to burst. I didn’t know this kind of happy was possible. And in a flash, it’s over.
I’m back in the warehouse. I can barely stand as euphoria washes over me. I can’t believe it.
I end up with Rachel Esposito. How is that possible? She’s married to someone else.
So were you. The branches of possibility can make even the most unlikely scenario a reality.
What about Sophia? What happens to her in that reality?
Did you see her?
Not after I said no and packed my bags.
Then she’s not a part of your world anymore.
This information sinks into my chest like a sharp needle.
Can you plug me into that one again?
No. Ten seconds is the limit this system can safely handle without disrupting your mind’s connection to the physical world. If we linked you to the same digital reality twice, you could get stuck there forever.
What if I wanted to be?
It’s out of the question.
Listen, Dr. Chen. In that reality, I actually have a chance to become somebody. Somebody who’s not a complete fuckup. I’ve never felt hope like that before — not once in my entire life. Please. I’ll pay whatever I have to.
It’s not a matter of money. If you were to permanently upload into another reality, it would mean that your life in this world — the real world — would cease to exist. Your mind would be irreversibly linked to the server, and your body would terminate its neurological functions. The real you would essentially be deceased.
No. The real me would be in the server. Look, I may be standing in front of you in the flesh, but I have not lived in reality for a long, long time. I won’t miss this world, and I promise you that it won’t miss me.
The ethics of conducting a procedure like that would be deeply problematic.
Ethics? I wouldn’t be asking you to do this if the program you created didn’t destroy my life and bring me here in the first place. Please.
My argument is more slippery than the Swiss Alps during summer, but I can see the guilt wash over Dr. Chen’s face. She tells me such decisions can’t be made impulsively and that I need to sleep on it. If I feel as strongly as I do now tomorrow, she’ll consider accommodating my request.
Before I leave, I get the question that’s been bothering me all day off my chest:
You could lose your job. Why did you reply to my e-mail?
Because I created windowshopper™ to help people like you. Not to do what it’s inevitably going to be used for.
Dr. Chen departs without a response, but not before I glimpse the slightest teardrop running down her face. Her sadness haunts me like an unfriendly shadow the entire drive home.
I get back to the apartment after midnight, which means it’s officially Christmas morning. I pour a double shot of whiskey, but I can’t bring the glass to my mouth. Thoughts of Rachel and Taiko make me smile. I float in the fantasy of their reality until Sophia’s snores drag me back down to ours.
I sit by the bed and watch her sleep, knowing that when day breaks, it’ll be the last time I see her and the last time she sees me. I consider sneaking out before she wakes, but the sun’s rays lift her brown eyes open before I can make a move. She reaches out her hand and touches my knee. It’s the first time we’ve had physical contact in weeks. A rush of emotion overcomes me. I can’t believe the words that come out of my mouth:
Do you want to try again?
She turns her back to me without a word and lets out a long sigh that tells me her answer. She’s not ready because I’m not ready. For years, she has been the one holding us together, trying to build a family, while I’ve been absent. And she’s right. This never would have worked.
I can’t figure out the proper way to say goodbye, so I grab a piece of paper and scribble what comes to mind. I can’t tell if the words are coherent, but for the first time in years, I feel like a real writer again — fueled by raw emotion, and not by the need to drown it.
I leave our apartment for what will be the last time and drive up the highway to Treesearch’s server facility. As I’m about to exit, a motorcycle cuts me off and I slam on the brakes, swerving onto the forking dirt path by the off-ramp.
I take a breath and pull out my phone. I open windowshopper™ and consider asking the app which road to take, when something catches my eye. To my left, I notice the motorcyclist and realize he’s not riding a motorcycle at all. He’s an elderly man, likely homeless but certainly drunk, pedaling a Razor scooter down the edge of the highway with a Santa hat on and his thumb in the air.
I look at my phone and for the first time in my adult life, I make a real choice.
Are you sure you want to DELETE windowshopper™?
All data associated with your account will be erased.
sorry i didn’t show up. i was about to, but something happened on the way over and long story short, i deleted the app.
so… i guess Paris jailbird Eddie and bestselling author Eddie have been wiped from the servers. which means i’m stuck here in the real world.
for what it’s worth, your app did help me. maybe it wasn’t in the way you intended, but because of what you showed me, i chose what i think is the right path for me.
i hope you choose yours, too.
EXCLUSIVE: Arturo Salazar Steps Down from Treesearch Industries Amid New Allegations
By Priya Vaswani
Senior Staff Writer
Billionaire entrepreneur Artie Salazar, whom TechWizard previously interviewed about the upcoming windowshopper™ has stepped down from his post at Treesearch Industries following an investigation into the company that revealed the new app was being programmed to control consumer behavior. While the app promised to showcase the outcomes of users’ life choices, Salazar and his associates planned to utilize the device not only to project but to manipulate users’ decision-making patterns, setting a dangerous precedent for corporate control and directly violating federal privacy laws.
Trying to decide between two TV sets? windowshopper™ would suggest you choose the one manufactured by the highest bidder, in what would have been a paradigm-shifting, deeply intrusive, multi-billion-dollar scheme. Can you imagine if a tech company made you marry the wrong person because it boosted their revenue? (I knew I preferred chocolate ice cream.)
The initial investigation was brought on by an internal leak that disclosed the existence of thousands of hard drives illegally storing personal data on the company’s servers.
Dr. Angela Chen, whom our source identified as the lead programmer of windowshopper™ before Salazar acquired it, will take over as CEO of Treesearch Industries. She has promised to cut ties with Ganymede Infometrics, stating that her program will henceforth only be used to help those seeking guidance in their personal lives — as it was originally intended.
Eddie Jackson Jr. stumbled up the steps of San Quentin State Prison for the first time in more than 20 years on Christmas Day. When his father was brought out to meet him, the two men sat in silence for several minutes. Words weren’t necessary. It meant enough to Edward Sr. that his son had shown up after all this time. As a corrections officer gave warning that time was almost up, the elder Eddie decided to break the silence.
I know you probably charge for this sort of thing, but figured I’d ask if you could cut your old man a break.
He pulled out a copy of Eddie Jr.’s newly published debut novel entitled Choices Made by Chance. Eddie autographed the cover, holding back the powder keg of emotion that he knew could explode at any moment. He slid his father over a photograph of a newborn baby in its mother’s arms.
Her name is Gabrielle. I’ll bring her through when she’s a little older. Merry Christmas.
As soon as he got back in the car, the dam burst. Burning hot tears two decades in the making streamed down Eddie Jr.’s face, incinerating his cheeks with the white heat of catharsis the entire drive home.
Eddie arrived back at his new house at the exact moment Sophia had managed to put Gabrielle to bed. Boxes from their recent move were scattered everywhere, but a small Christmas tree in the baby’s room made the place feel like home. Eddie and Sophia stood over their daughter’s crib and held each other warmly the way only a couple who have weathered a harsh winter together can do.
Later, as they lay in bed and Eddie recounted the reunion with his father, screams could be heard from outside the window. A news notification popped up on Eddie’s phone.
EXCLUSIVE: Disgraced Billionaire Artie Salazar Dies of Sudden Stroke that Left Tech Mogul Completely Braindead
Gabrielle was startled awake by the raucous noise outside and began to cry. Sophia rushed over to her. The floors began to quake. On the street, cars floated up from the surface of the earth and evaporated into thin air. Screaming carolers were sucked into the ground as the sidewalks crumbled.
Realizing what was happening, Eddie made his way to his daughter’s room, where Sophia was calming Gabrielle with a lullaby. He knew that they would all be gone soon. The hard drive which housed their reality was being reformatted.
In the real world, Artie Salazar had made a choice. While reminiscing about his mother on Christmas, he decided he didn’t want to be the villain in his own story. Artie had deleted his windowshopper™ app, and now all of the digital realities that existed on his server were collapsing into oblivion. Including this one. Eddie looked at the framed paper hanging above his daughter’s crib and smiled at the reflection of his family in the shaking glass. His wrinkles were fading. He closed his eyes and listened intently to his wife’s singing and his daughter’s crying and hoped that another version of himself in another world — the real one — was also standing in a house like this, smiling at the songs and cries of his beautiful family.
CALIFORNIA CHRONICLE | Archives | Obituaries
On the evening of Christmas 2023, Eddie Jackson Jr., a budding writer whose first novel achieved commercial success, died alongside his beloved wife Sophia and their newborn daughter Gabrielle as the world around them quaked, crumbled, and evaporated. In the moments preceding their untimely demise, Sophia was said to be singing a lullaby inspired by the poem Eddie had written her a year prior. The piece was hastily scribbled on a scrap of paper that hung framed above little Gabrielle’s crib when the world ended:
“I would live a thousand different lives,
Die a thousand different deaths,
And walk a thousand different paths,
To find one that leads back to you.”