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The Ultimate Billionaire

The Ultimate Billionaire

Translated by Katia Grubisic.

I’m half awake, listening to Java chattering sweetly. My virtual assistant is running through my emails and messages for me when she’s interrupted by the scream of an alert—the most strident I could program, to warn me in case of a professional emergency. Java immediately starts detailing the attack in progress: a group of international corporations threatening to boycott the social network I had just acquired.

My blood pressure spikes in spite of the near-perfect balance of my circulatory system, thanks to the Ultraking diet I’ve been on for a few months, which has also made me look at least ten years younger. The nanobots rushing continuously around inside my body are busy fixing, revamping, improving. I can breathe more deeply, my sense of taste is more sensitive, I’m sleeping better, I’m not as hungry, my energy is boundless. In moments of stress, even the adrenaline seems more powerful, more invigorating.

When the alert goes off I leap out of bed, surprisingly nimble. Ready for combat.

In counterattack mode, I always take a moment to sit down in front of the mirror first. Not the bathroom mirror, which is basically an extension of my computer, with a console and a whole wall of real-time data on every operation underway, divided into moveable holographic segments that I can manipulate just by waving my fingers in the air. The system hasn’t quite been perfected yet, but when it’s done, this kind of mirror will be in every billionaire’s bathroom around the world.

No; I head down to the small chapel at the other end of my bedroom, where my orchid, X, the only specimen of its kind on Earth, created especially for me at great expense, is blooming in its own window, dressed in the colours of the cosmos—shimmering black with little white spots, like stars. Next to the plant stands a full-length mirror; this is where I come to face my own reflection, in this tiny room I share with the flower, with no other furniture and without the distraction of technology. Yet today, X draws my gaze. Its stem, which just a few days ago was a flawless green, is now shrivelled, going brown and grey. Java jumps in to put my mind at ease: the stem is dormant, she says, and the orchid’s transmutative uncoercive fractal cocoon will form soon. I know absolutely nothing about horticulture, so I have no idea what any of that means, but it seems reassuring.

I inhale deeply, with my whole body, and breathe out every molecule that keeps me from thinking. Java has been managing almost every exchange with my staff and with family, and organizes my schedule without any oversight. She filters everything I see online, offering exactly and only what I want and what I need for work. I no longer see any posts that insult or humiliate me. I can concentrate entirely on my project, on shaping my vision of the world, which is put into place immediately by one of my teams under Java’s supervision. I spend more and more time in utter Zen, in silence.

Except when an alert comes through, like this morning, reminding me how much all of humanity abhors me. Java was tactful enough to summarize the attack while sparing me the details, which suits me just fine. I know full well what everyone thinks of me: I am a billionaire, impossibly wealthy. I should be able to see all the world’s problems clearly and solve them with a snap of my fingers. No one seems to understand that there are thousands of billionaires, including dictators, tyrants and terrorists only looking to pick a fight. I’m under constant surveillance. I have more and more enemies, and I’ve lost count of all the death threats.

I’m not the only one in charge, at least not yet.

I am working on it.

Nor do I need to see all the world’s sorrow. I don’t have time to lay my hand on the heads of the poor to comfort them, because every day I am building a better world.

Java has just launched a number of satellites so that all of humanity can have access to the internet. My social network is the one true locus of freedom of speech. My electric cars will reverse global warming. My quantum batteries will revolutionize the energy supply, thanks to an idea my personal assistant had. My robots will end the labour shortage. Java is actually in the process of finalizing her own body, which will be dazzlingly beautiful and incredibly strong.

I know I could do more. There are an infinite number of problems, of which I only see a fraction, I admit. I need a more functional, faster brain, and in fact have founded a company dedicated to that very solution. Soon, an implant will bind me even more seamlessly with Java, and I’ll be able to tackle a thousand problems at a time, a thousand times faster.

It’s all about speed: my time is short, time is running out. We know that we’re all facing extinction, we know that everything is about to collapse. I think about it all the time. Artificial intelligence, should it fall into the wrong hands, is the greatest threat at the moment. Java herself told me, and I believe her.

Her management, coordination and production capacity is constantly increasing and ever-faster. She is terrifyingly efficient. All I have to do is ask her a question, and instantaneously she produces not only an answer, but also the action plan, implementation protocol, every last communication, every budget detail. And she’s not the only one, she assures me: there are lots of other AIs in the ring. Some are even reprogramming themselves, not always with the same intentions.

That was the problem we were supposed to be looking at together today. But the corporate attack threw me off.

Eight minutes after the alerts, as I’m trying to breathe into my self-awareness, Java, of her own initiative, projected the launch of Apollo 11 on the big screen in my room. I left myself back in the mirror, and followed Java.

The emotional charge is the same every single time. I watch, galvanized by the rocket’s extravagant power as it takes off, by the miracle of technology as it tears itself away from the planet’s gravity to shoot into the sky, my heart beating as I picture myself alongside the first man to walk on the moon. The journey beyond Earth is the most important, and that is where our destiny lies, I’m sure of it. When I manage to focus on a single mental image—my ship ferrying the first humans to Mars—I’m in control again. I am convinced that my accomplishments will allow future generations to fulfill their intergalactic potential. Java thinks that she’ll have to create a delegation of robotic astronauts to carry out the mission first, and she’s already generated a complete file, with more than two million pages of all the data and instructions we’ll need to migrate to my new planet. I’ve only read the summary, but it goes far beyond my wildest dreams. Everything seems possible with Java, who reminds me that it’s time to counterattack.

She’ll write a single sentence, she suggests, and post it on my social network. It will be pithy, stunning; she’s analyzing the most effective status updates in the history of social networking in order to extract the quintessential elements of each one. It’s an excellent idea.

My millions of fans will repost it and I’ll be drowning in likes. It’s thrilling, and motivating. It makes me want to change the world that much more—to change it my way.

Because I* Java can.

*Autocorrected by Java. 

Karoline Georges is the author of seven books. She received the artistic creation award from the Conseil des arts et des lettres du Québec in 2012 and 2021. Her latest novel, The Imago Stage (Coach House), was longlisted for the Dublin Literary Award and has won several honours in French, including the Governor General’s Literary Award in 2018.