Charlotte Looks into the Future
Congratulations to Year 6 student Charlotte Yeo who is the Junior National Champion in the Scenario Writing section of the Future Problem Solving Program competition (FPSP). Charlotte was selected to attend the National Finals last week in Melbourne after submitting her 1500-word story earlier this year.
The Scenario Writing section is an individual competition where students develop short stories related to one of FPSP’s annual topics. The story is set 20 – 30 years in the future and is an imagined but logical outcome of actions or events taking place in the world.
Charlotte was selected as one of the top four within Australia for her age group, which meant selection into the finals.
“It took several months of preparation because you have to submit a draft, then re-write it based on feedback from the judges”, said Charlotte. “I did my first draft in the Term 1 holidays. I had five topics to choose from, Mining, Insects, Neurotechnology, Green Building and Water Supply. I chose Neurotechnology. After choosing my topic, I started researching. Based on your research, you come up with a character, story and other ideas. You write the story and send it in for the draft round. In June, I got my feedback and rewrote the story to make the school more futuristic. It was resubmitted in August for the final round.”
When asked why she entered this competition, Charlotte said, “I love writing fictional stories, and I thought it would be fun and interesting to write something that was very scientific and that I did a lot of research on. Neurotechnology was a very interesting topic, and I loved learning about what the future might be like if we really looked into having technology in our brains. I entered to have some fun, and I achieved that goal.”
Charlotte explains the inspiration behind her story Edit. “I was thinking about how, on devices and video games, there are often parental controls, and I wondered what the impact would be if kids had parental control in their brains.”
Charlotte’s favourite part throughout the whole process was writing the story. “I really enjoyed describing my character Ellie’s virtual world. I loved creating a whole world set in the future and imagining what that future would be like.”, she said.
During the finals, Charlotte’s also participated in the Onsite Group Scenario Writing. For this section, students were teamed together with other junior competitors they didn’t know from other schools or states. They were given a selection of future scenes about mining and had to write a three-part story. Charlotte and her team connected each of their stories by featuring mines that had collapsed into sinkholes, which had the same corrupt mine manager across the three stories. The group won Best Group for their story.
Charlotte has now been invited to the International Championships in June 2023, which will be held at the University of Massachusetts.
Future Problem Solving (FPS) is an academic program teaching students of all ages problem-solving strategies, collaboration, critical and creative thinking, and effective communication skills.
You can read Charlotte’s winning story Edit, below.
Okay – just make the gun, shoot the dragon, and you win, Ellie told herself.
She crafted the gun and shot. It was an intense second as it flew through the air and then… flick…
Shoot, the firewall!
The vibrant green grass faded, and the brilliant blue sky turned to grey. The sun dimmed, the crisp clean lines of the castle began to blur, melting into the field as the flowers crumbled. She felt seasick as the ground wobbled, the grey walls and the teacher’s sour face leaking into her brain like a static-filled television from the olden days.
In case you’re wondering, Ellie was in virtual school, and yes, there was a firewall stopping her BCI from playing this awesome new game she had found.
Mr Kettle was giving a boring talk about mental health. Every day she would log in to school and he would start giving boring lectures. He wasn’t supposed to. His job was to assist students, but thanks to his old, invasive Brain Computer Interface he had lots of scar tissue building up, so he had reduced connectivity and couldn’t keep up. Why did teachers keep their old BCIs? All the kids had a neural dust BCI with microscopic particles inhaled like pollen, lodging in the brain’s grey matter to create a much more efficient neural network. Mr Kettle had to go get surgery, about a million years ago, back when teachers were allowed to lecture kids.
Mr Kettle’s lecture concluded. He began assigning personalised project-based learning tasks. Ellie didn’t see the point when you could just hack the online platform and make the auto-grading give you an A. No matter how complex the units were, the assessments were factual and easily graded by the automated systems.
“YES!” Ellie jumped out of her seat. “The end of the day!”
“No, Miss Fryer – for everyone else it is the end of the day, but for you, it will be detention for playing games on your BCI during class,” said Mr Kettle.
Ellie was notorious for detentions (she forgot that teachers are notified when a student in their class gets blocked by the firewall). Ellie was so mad she almost flipped Mr Kettle’s desk over, but she didn’t. She needed to hack the platform and make that a feature.
She liked online school better than real school, but Ellie still wanted school to change. Why can’t the world (especially school) be more like a game where no one gets tired, and you can kick whomever you like? (Even pesty teachers). Why bother to get ‘real world’ skills when you could just live inside your head, in whatever game you chose?
In detention, she met up with her friend Hannah, who was an artist. Instead of going to her online gaming house after school, sometimes Ellie hooked up her BCI to Hannah’s and walked through her digital art, a glowing, pulsing world of scenes from her favourite games. But in the boring real world, Hannah was flunking art. She was all fingers and thumbs and smudged stick figures. You were supposed to create art by hand and upload photos, but honestly, why bother? Why paint when you could just think?
The virtual door slammed, and Claire walked in. Claire made games during class. She had what teachers called Gaming Deficit Disorder, when a person is twitchy and fidgety and can’t focus. Their mood goes up and down and they snap because they’re so wired, looking for the same thrill they get in the game. Ellie was starting to think that she had it too. Her eyes twitched, her leg shook, and she had to steady her neurons with a deep breathing exercise. Just as she was about to talk, the detention avatar creaked in.
In case you’re wondering, yes, teachers hate supervising detention so much (even online) that they get an avatar to do it for them.
Like most school-tech, the robot avatar was cheap, some Jetsons remake that was out of copyright, and it was easy for Claire to write some simple code and put him into sleep mode.
It took about thirty minutes before the bot flickered back on and let them leave.
Ellie went back to her game. The shot missed. Darn. Ellie knocked her bag off her bed, making a loud thud. She just kept playing. It’s not like anyone would notice. Her parents both worked late, and her older brother was also gaming on his BCI.
Ellie didn’t answer. She was fighting a wizard.
“Ellie, LET ME IN!” It was Dave, her brother.
Ellie snapped out of her world and opened the door.
“Took you long enough! Have you edited my world, Ellie?”
Dave had been diagnosed with GDP. He snapped so easily that no one dared to mess with him.
“Have you?” Dave said as he strode into her room.
“FOR THE LAST TIME, NO, I HAVEN’T EDITED YOUR SILLY WORLD, DAVE! WHY CAN’T YOU JUST BELIEVE ME!!!!”
Dave pushed Ellie, so she pushed him back. She thought it would just be a light shove, but he fell, then a window smashed…
The world was a blur. She called her parents on her BCI. Dave was lying in the berry bush outside, motionless. Ellie wasn’t sure if he was still breathing. As her mum rushed in, she sat there sobbing in a pool of blood, anger and tears.
When the ambulance arrived, her heart was pounding. She was shaking so hard, her sandy blonde hair stained from the pool of blood surrounding her, and her favourite striped shirt was ruined. The paramedics hoisted Dave onto the stretcher. Another paramedic turned to Ellie.
“You will have to come, too. It seems like you have been hurt as well.”
Ellie managed to stammer a weak okay before the other paramedic came over and gestured for them to get in the ambulance. As they drove at top speed around the city Ellie couldn’t help but look at her weak, pale brother on the stretcher and her parents looking back and forth between the two of them.
Then the blonde paramedic turned up the radio. The sound of pop music filled the car. As they drove along, she couldn’t help but notice that he was playing games on his BCI. The way he was super smiley and just said ‘yes’ to everything was a big indicator.
When they arrived, Dave was rushed off to emergency while Ellie had shards of glass pulled out of her arm. BCIs weren’t allowed to operate in hospitals due to data security concerns. She felt sick. Her low-res human eyes made everything blurry, but at least Mr Kettle’s sour face was missing.
She tried not to think of Dave lying there, so different to when they used to run around outside playing real games. When Dave was 8, he got a BCI for home schooling because he’d aged out of the early childhood education centre, so he had to go into the virtual platforms. He would sit there playing games in his head. At first, he would still try to include Ellie, but it didn’t feel the same. After a while, she stopped asking him to play games with her, and by the time she caught up and got her own neural dust BCI, she barely knew him.
Her mum walked in, grabbed her by her uninjured elbow and marched her out into the hospital corridor.
“Given your outburst today, I’m seeing a pattern of bad behaviour – it has to be Gaming Deficit Disorder, just like your brother! I found this amazing new app for your BCI, it’s called Mood-Flicks and will give me some control -”
Rage and sadness swirled inside her like a dark storm. She wanted to shout at her mother, maybe throw something at her, but as they crossed the threshold of the hospital, her BCI clicked on, and Ellie felt relief roll through her.
When my son comes home from the hospital, wobbling on crutches, guess what he does first.
Go on, guess.
He hobbles straight to his room and goes right back to playing his game, muttering under his breath about it being edited again.
If only he knew.
And as for Ellie, she sits on the hover-couch 5000 like a zombie, hunched over, staring at nothing, her face blank without even a hello for me.
Is that any way to treat your mother?
I take out my phone and swipe up. I don’t need the game hacks today, so I push that app aside – I already got rid of the violence and blood and nasty things in Dave’s mind. Hmm, now for Ellie. I open up the Mood-Flicks app and dial down the calm and boost up the manners and cheerfulness.
A girl who looks like Ellie sits up straight, her blue eyes sparkling like the super-clean house around her.
“Elisabeth, will you do the chores?”
“Yes, Mummy. I love chores.”
Ah, much better.