David Kaufmann sat at his desk, feet up, looking from his corner office out over the panorama of Palo Alto. It was May 17, 2031, three days before his 40th birthday.
What had he accomplished in life? He'd founded Facetwit, which had brought him fame at a tender age. He'd steered it through the inevitable trials of the information age. It had flourished as the giants had fallen away -- Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Apple. There were earlier dominant players that had fallen before his day, such as IBM, but those were the big five he had slain. As he considered that from the 'What have I accomplished with my life?' perspective, that didn't seem like anything to write on your tombstone. But the destruction wasn't the thing, it was what he had created at Facetwit. It met everyone's needs, and that was why it succeeded. Or, he thought with a tremor of uneasiness, it met the needs of the huge corporations and certain notable nations such as China. With them on his side, Facetwit's position looked unassailable. He had been just a kid with an idea that had blindsided Google, Facebook and Twitter all in one fell swoop. The pundits agreed there wasn't room for that sort of thing any more. No other kid would be coming along to knock him off his pedestal. He had certainly made his mark in the world. He had fame.
He also had money. $1.7 trillion net worth. He looked at the words on the paper, and said them in his mind. $1.7 billion looked almost the same. If you flopped the 'r' upside down and glued it to the 't', you'd get a 'b'. What about $1.7 million? Very similar-looking. Yet of course those initial consonants made a big difference. Inflation had remained low throughout his lifetime -- rich people really don't like inflation. $1.7 million was still a respectable fortune. And he had a million of them. You could take a fair-sized city full of millionaires, and he was worth more than all of them put together.
He had fame. He had money. What about happiness? He had briefly played an old game called "Careers". He'd found it in the attic, a 1950s game his parents had saved from their youth. You started the game by creating a secret formula for success. You chose some combination of hearts (happiness), stars (fame) and wealth (money) that added up to 60, and if you got that combination first, you won. He had the equivalent of, oh, 900 fame points and 1,700,000,000 money points (they had been measured in $1,000 units). But you needed to meet all three of your goals to win -- excess in one could not make up for deficiency in another.
What about happiness? There had been Stephanie, of course. The thought of her still filled him with yearning -- and rage -- 15 years after their divorce. He'd dated other women, but there was a big problem. He'd met Stephanie before he was famous, but no one he met since could see David Kaufmann. They saw a mega-superstar. Women who liked his fame swarmed about him like mosquitoes, but they didn't see him for who he was, a guy who needed love like anyone else just for being who he was, not for being rich and famous. The women who didn't care about his status were harder to find -- he had to seek them out. And in getting to know them, their perspective on a future together came up early. If one of them married him, she would be famous too, attracting her own swarm of mosquitoes for the rest of her life. His conclusion was that women who didn't care about his status didn't want to deal with fame either. He supposed in theory he could give up the company. By keeping a mere $10,000,000 in the bank, he could live a simple life in the country -- or in any country. But if he was honest with himself, he realized that he couldn't stand that. Having wielded power for so long, he couldn't give it up without losing himself.
So he figured he'd be single for the rest of his days. Masturbation under the influence of ordinary, "wholesome" porn was about as sexually satisfying as sex had ever been with Priscilla or anyone else.
But what else made people happy?
Religion. Forget about it -- a total nonstarter.
Philanthropy? He'd joined Bill Gates and Warren Buffet and a couple others in his pledge to give away half his money. And when he'd been worth $200 billion, that's what he'd done. Gotten rid of a full $100 billion. He had felt amazingly virtuous, and people were so terribly grateful. Their gratitude earned him some more fame points. But his remaining fortune had continued to grow. How often was he supposed to get rid of half his money? If he got rid of half of his fortune each day, then he'd be under a dollar in something like four months.
The bigger problem was that the world was going to hell in a handbasket. No matter how much money you threw at problems, it seemed they got worse. The Gates Foundation had made great strides in controlling AIDS in Africa, which had led to even more population growth, slamming the sub-Saharan nations harder than ever against the wall of limited resources. Some of his money had gone to supporting the Bangladeshi refugees, driven from their homes by rising sea levels. But they seemed to live such a miserable existence, and even he couldn't support them forever. His entire fortune wouldn't do that.
Here's how it worked these days: The Third World starved. The First World's working and middle classes got by OK, but with less each year. (The seldom-discussed Second World had split with the fall of communism, half joining the First and half the Third). But the rich? The rich did great. He served the rich. He wasn't exactly proud of that, but if he didn't do it, someone else would. He had always figured that anyone else in his shoes at the top of Facetwit would pay even less attention to social welfare than he did -- he had given away that $100 billion, right?
He was the wealthiest man in the world, but he was powerless to make the world better.
A more subtle problem was that these days, "making the world better" referred to healing it, alleviating ills, and restoring an equilibrium. The ideal was a stable ecosystem, with everyone free from the fear of war, famine or pestilence. But the price for everyone getting along was a lack of shared positive goals. In the ideal world as imagined today, there was no shared sense of what they were striving for. There wasn't even any mass funding for space exploration, scientific discovery, or the construction of great art. In the past, individual societies had taken pride in subduing the wilderness, converting the world to the one true faith, and building great works to the glory of a God they believed in fervently. But equal opportunity for all, limiting growth to the sustainable, and letting everybody choose their own goals just didn't fit well with the human psyche. We had evolved to compete and prevail.
He foresaw a collapse of society. It might be sudden, for instance if a highly contagious microbe mutated to a lethal form. Or it might be gradual, lasting centuries. Something new and inspiring might arise -- it would arise, he could feel it -- but no one could tell what it might be, and no one could tell how to hasten its arrival or plan for it.
But he was aware of his history. His Jewish ancestors had struggled in the shtetls of Eastern Europe for centuries, working hard, never giving up. Disease, famine and waves of invaders took their toll on everyone. Jews were constantly nipped by pogroms, and then over half had been wiped out in the Holocaust. But some had made it to America, where a great many had been successful and helped disproportionately to their numbers in achieving what greatness the modern world had created. His ancestors in the shtetl could never have foreseen that -- their hopes were pinned to the coming of the Messiah. What they had actually accomplished was to be fruitful and multiply, and while most of their progeny had perished, some had lived to blossom in America and Israel.
Kaufmann knew he wouldn't be around for the next inspiring chapter of human greatness. But his offspring could. Like his ancestors before him, he could be fruitful and multiply, spreading his genes. And what about his genes?
He was smart, confident, and hard-working. He had no illusions that his hereditary endowment was the reason for his phenomenal success -- he didn't have some special one-in-a-billion gene combination -- but his genes were good. Whatever new chapter in humanity awaited, it could certainly use some more Kaufmann genes. And then there was still the Holocaust to make up for; Jews were due some extra representation in the future gene pool.
He didn't actually want to raise any kids. As far as he could tell the parents around him reaped more sorrow than joy from their own children. The standard pattern for having them involved a relationship with a woman, which he had already decided was more problematic than it was worth. Besides, a woman could only have a few children -- as many as a dozen would be shocking in this day and age. Another standard pattern for the rich was adopting kids, but that didn't fit his goals at all. They wouldn't have his genes, and what's more would tend to have problems arising from whatever circumstances made them candidates for adoption.
He had already been secretly living out his emerging dream on a modest scale for six years: he had been an anonymous sperm donor. Some women had chosen him as the father of their children based on his anonymous profile. He had fathered perhaps ten children already, though even he with his great power and wealth couldn't find out for certain -- not without twisting arms more tightly than he wanted to.
But so far he had attracted women to bear his children based on an anonymous profile. He had another possible enticement: money.
.... There is more of this story ...