The Companion Project
For the first time in our history, human beings are now faced with the fact that we can saturate our lives with “smart objects”. Without too much thinking, we have already began ‘smartening’ everything from candles to clothes. It may be argued that we have always had “smart objects” but merely didn’t assign them much agency. However, these objects were static, influencing the world as much as we allowed them to. But what happens when these objects develop the capacity to actively influence us based on a lifeworld that has formed and shaped on it’s own accord, or someone else’s? What are the motivations of these agents? What are they trying to influence and why?
This design fiction aims to delve into this future and look at the tensions and issues we might be faced in the very near future.
It was the year 2036. Scandinavia, despite being one of the strongest economic zones, has been struggling with a social phenomenon that has just recently been medically recognised. Known as the Abyss Effect, signs include; reclusiveness; unwillingness to talk; and social isolation. The medical community estimated that 70% of the population had varying degrees of this condition. They believed that was to blame for the increasing numbers of people suffering from depression and loneliness. Such consequences if go untreated can lead to suicide. In essence, the Scandinavian light was fading to a mere flicker..
In response to this the government held emergency talks with leading psychologists to try and find a way to reverse this phenomenon. It was during these talks that the Companion project was born. The idea came from Dr Erikkson, a specialists in behavioral psychology and intelligent systems. He proposed an expansion of a trial experiment he had conducted at the university of Umeå 6 months earlier. With a 90% success rate, his proposal seemed to be the only solution worth attempting. So plans were laid down and 12 months later a group of 500 willing participants moved together to various corridors around Sweden that had been made vacant for them. Below is a recount from one of those participants.
Recount by Johan Erickson
Today the doctor confirmed my worse worries. I can now say that I am part of the 70% of the population suffering from the Abyss condition. I guess it explains why I’m slowly shutting down… Fortunately though, my doctor said that I qualified for this revolutionary new treatment that they called the “The Companion Project”. I’ll do anything to be rid of it, so I’ll be moving to a new corridor for a year with other participants in a month.
Today I moved into my new home. It’s nearly identical to my last corridor so it will be easy to adjust. Waiting for me on my bed was my companion. I was told that if I wanted to keep the rent low I’d have to keep it happy. It seems like that means interacting with it. It’s a funny little character, but I’m still not so sure about this…
It’s funny, Companion is really great. The other day I was looking for a book to read and it gave me an excellent suggestion- a book by called 28 things they don’t tell you about Capitalism by Ha-Joon Chang, Companion and I were in the kitchen talking, when the girl next door came out. She saw the book and made a strange sound of surprise. I’ve never spoken to her, so it was a bit weird. But we had a quick chat about it. Well long enough well long enough to find out she’s called Emma, and that there’s a lot of debate about the book I’m reading at the moment, then she let me be…
I’ve finally figured out Companion. It really needs to have me around to stay “healthy”. I’ve resorted to taking it with me to keep it happy. If it means I can save some money…It’s not too bad actually, I feel like I have something looking out for me. This has actually been quite nice in recent weeks. There’s been a lot tensions in recent weeks…
Today I did something out of character. This morning I received this flyer under my door for a free squash course for beginners. I’ve been wanting to play squash for sometime, the racquet I bought a year ago still lay in its packaging. Companion got really excited when I told it, so I decided to go. I was paired up with a guy called James, who turns out lives in the corridor below me. I’d forgotten the joy of moving around a court like that. We both eagerly agreed to do it again.
It’s been awhile since my last entry. Companion and I are really getting along now. In fact we’ve met others from the same corridor building who are like us. We’re all really concerned about what’s going on and want something done. It’s hard to ignore it any longer. It’s all over the news, and social media
Emma’s Companion suggested that we organize a counter movement. We thought this to be exactly what is needed and have started coordinating ourselves.
The study was considered a success, with 95% of participants being cured of the abyss condition. There were some fears that the methods used by the companions were too manipulative. But in the view of the government and Dr Erickson, were minimal and outweighed the long term consequences of leaving the condition untreated.
Companion was programed to create social networks amongst people through unifying them around common interests and beliefs. So it was no surprise that some of these groups had in fact become radical. These cases were fixed through a slight tweaking in the code of their companions.
Post Companion Project
The success of the project lead to the birth of Companion industries. Over the next few years they plan to put a Companion in every hand. The project is being hailed as Scandanavia’s answer to The Abyss.