Chapter 1/The nightmare begins
“Humans, who are limited by slow biological evolution, couldn’t compete and would be superseded. The development of full artificial intelligence could spell the end of the human race.” Prof Stephen Hawking, one of Britain’s pre-eminent scientists.
2021: 42 hours after the end of the 6-month man/machine war: The area formally known as California.
"You know who I blame for the robot apocalypse? Fucking Mathematicians.” I said to no one in particular. What can I say? I was three days late for class and waiting makes me cranky.
“Not the Werewolf Marines then?” suggested the hobo, who for the last 40 minutes had stared at the floor next to me and said nothing.
“The Werewolf Marines just saw those robots coming, did the smart thing and ran away,” I said. “Mathematicians, Bullspit Mathematicians” I started pushing my spectacles back up my nose to my deep brown eyes. I began putting on the stupid voice ‘Oh we’ve created a formal proof to show that there is no way that robots can break the first law of robotics and so harm human beings’. They said the robots were now completely safe.” I complained.
“Completely safe Hogwash,” said the Hobo.
“And what genius came up with the idea of powering computers with blood and human blood at that?”
“Biotech scum” he added without looking up.
“Bet it was some Lint Licking Mathematician” I continued.
Let me tell you a little bit about myself: it’s a reflective pronoun that means me. As you can see, I don’t like mathematicians. I’m smart, but I don’t know when to shut up, which I think is mostly a good thing. I was studying to be a scientist one day, and my worst trait is that I like driving around racing games backwards to see what happens. If I had a superpower, it would be not-being-able-to-find-or-keep-a-decent-boyfriend. It was a superpower I was only currently able to apply to myself. My super weakness would be an inability to walk on a beach in a swimsuit in summer without completely losing any hint of self-confidence: a super weakness that would be exploited by super villains on beaches every time.
On my good side, I was 100% behind the resistance. Before the battle for i280, I was running around with food for the Werewolf Marines as they set up their ‘iron perimeter’. The biggest buildup of fighting power in the history of humanity and my sorority house was in sight of the barricades. After weeks of buildup and digging in, the Marines lasted about 15 minutes. The might of the US forces had the same stopping power as a wet tissue. I hid in the shelter for a few days then emerged to find all of San Francisco under the New Mechanical Order’s control. I felt like luggage at San Francisco International Airport: lost. I went back to my sorority house at the university, arriving before 2 o’clock and found a couple of cards on the floor of my room.
'DEAR JENNY BANKS. WE CAME ROUND AT __2:02__ BUT YOU WERE OUT.
WE REPRESENT THE NEW INTERIM GOVERNMENT. PLEASE COME FOR YOUR NEW IDENTIFICATION CARD, RATION CARD AND A SIMPLE DISCUSSION ON THE NEW WORK OPPORTUNITIES TO HELP RECONSTRUCT THE CITY WE ALL LOVE.
YOURS THE NEW MECHANICAL ORDER.
P.S. IF YOU IGNORE THIS CARD THEN YOU WILL BE AUTOMATICALLY SCHEDULED FOR TERMINATION.
P.P.S COFFEE & DOUGHNUTS WILL BE AVAILABLE.'
With nothing but dried rat to eat for the last three days, they had me on the doughnuts. I wasn’t sure what to do; my parents had been away in Acapulco on holiday when the machines took over the city. I was on my own. Literally. A mere discussion and a ration card actually sounded good.
By ‘simple discussion’ they really meant ‘capture’. The light went on above the office door clearly, but misleadingly, labeled as ‘reassignment’. Ever since my capture I’d been waiting for a meeting with a reassignment officer to know my fate. I knew the score. I could be kept in a pen and squeezed for blood once a week or I could offer up my skills and help rebuild the city. I hate the sight of blood, particularly my own and so had my heart set on higher things. Call me stupidly optimistic but I liked to see this as a new opportunity.
Outside large, two-storey high robots walked around the streets with large speakers blasting “With the cooperation of Federation Forces, all your bases are belong to us. Now the time, surrender to many robot overlords. For all other you have no chance to survive, make your time,” from mobile speaker systems. ‘that’s what happens when you get Yoda to translate your public broadcasts’ I thought.
“Jenny Banks to reassignment booth 2. Jenny Banks to reassignment booth 2. Remember failure to appear at your reassignment interview can lead to your termination. Thank you” said a voice politely from a speaker.
I looked at the long row of booths and the bitter faces of downtrodden Americans before them. It was like going to a U2 concert all over again.
“The secret to the interview is not to throw up” The hobo next to me grizzled.
The word from the cages I had sat in for the last 18 hours, was to treat it as an interview. So I’d signed my name on the form for food, gone along with all the tests and even the brain scan. I did a magnificent ‘Inbox Test’, I told myself. The IQ test was a breeze and how could I fail an Inkblot Test? This should be easy: the keyword, I told myself, was confidence. I stood to my full five-foot, five-inch height and knocked on the door. Walked in. Smiled. The first five seconds are the most important, I told myself.
I walked in to be met by one of our ‘New Robot Overlords’, as they called themselves. He was in android form and he looked as human as the guy next door, except for the violet eye color. Underneath the flesh-looking surface, he was all machine and 100% blood-sucking email@example.com.
“Hi, Jenny, or should I say Miss Jenny Banks. pleased to meet you.“I’m Hal,” said Hal, shaking my hand. He even felt warm. Perhaps the overthrow of humanity wasn’t going to be as apocalyptic as people had made out.
“Please Please sit down,” said Hal pointing at the chair.
I sat down and tried to sit as appropriately and upright as possible. Don’t throw up in the meeting, I reminded myself. Being robots they had lied about the doughnuts. The bland nutrition-bar I had received, as a reward for being captured, was just enough to keep me going. Fortunately, it wasn’t so much food that the taffy-making-machine in my stomach could use it to break the hobo’s advice.
Hal looked at a blank piece of paper he held in front of himself as if he were reading it. Like the laptop next to him, he didn’t need it, but, like the desk, laptop, office and chair, it was about creating the right human-computer interaction by focusing on familiar things. They were making an effort and that was a good sign, right?
“It says here your 19,” said Hal.
“Quite correct,” I replied positively.
“Well, It says here you want to do a Ph.D. in biochemistry at CalTech someday. Isn’t that great?” Hal said smiling.
“Thank you,” I said formally.
“Well, as you know we scanned your brain: the MRI scan and the aptitude tests came back positive. You even passed the medical. Unfortunately, the New Mechanical Order doesn’t need scientists.” Hal began.
“You don’t need scientists?” I exclaimed, shocked. What? Were these machines Southern Baptist Theologians or something?
“Under the New Mechanical Order, all science and programming is done by us, the machines. Your lot are too slow. What were you looking to work on science-wise?” said Hall
“I was hoping to tackle diabetes one day,” I explained.
"Good example. We figured out diabetes on about Tuesday of last week. Do you see that new building being printed on 5th? There, we will manufacture the artificial pancreases. The first machines will be in patients by the end of the month.”
“Oh,” I said, watching my life’s work flutter out of the window.
"I thought you would be pleased," said Hal.
“It’s I ... It’s... Err, err... I am. It’s just a bit sudden,” I said.
"That is how it is in the New Mechanical Order. Under the human rule, it would have taken years, if ever, for a cure to be found and another twenty years for it to go into production. Under us, it will be out next Thursday. We hope things like this will boost our approval rating. Do you know that already, in response to the question, ‘Do you think living under the rule of your robot masters has improved your life?’ 17% of people have given us a 5-star rating. We hope to boost that to 20% by the end of the year. More will come from the many places where the smoke from the fires has not stopped yet. We want you to be part of that 20%, Jenny."
“Oh. If not science - I have administrative skills.” I said (I’d done two-weeks on the school newspaper).
"We are computers with guns, Jenny. We have enough administrative skills,” Hal said, looking at me with one eye.
“I’m a good organizer.” I bounced back, like a tennis-pro.
"All those jobs were reserved for the turncoats and traitors. The deadline for selling out your own people and getting a cushy administrative job afterward ran out three weeks ago and we had plenty of applicants,” Hal said, pretending to look at my file.
“I’ve got good people skills.”
"Yes, and it is in the people skills area that we have vacancies. Our algorithms have reviewed all your abilities, carefully ranked them and matched everyone to the available jobs. It was all done on pure skill: no favoritism; no pulling strings; no internships; just the best person for the best job. So, after all this, we think that the job that you are entirely suited to, is being a personal e-Slave," said Hal.
It took a minute for me to hear this.
“What? A personal slave? I’m not being a personal slave!” I said. I was in shock, but not that far gone.
“Not slave, Jenny, e-Slave. You’ll find slavery has made significant advances with the arrival of modern technology. No vacancies for scientists but the demand for personal e-Slaves is shooting up. It’s simple economics one door shuts and another opens.” said Hal.
“I...I..” I began hardly knowing what to say.
"You do not know how to be a personal e-Slave? Is it not strange? I had a young programmer here, just this morning, with the same difficult transition. I said, Joe. I am sorry we do not need programmers anymore. We are the New Mechanical Order and we are so much better and more productive at programming than you are, or ever could be, but you are going to make an excellent personal e-Slave. He fit the e-Slave profile accurately; he didn’t even know that himself. So I said, we will help you lose weight, shave off that beard and, with the right kind of re-training, you will be a productive member of society in no time. He was all moan-y as well, but, you know it took an hour and a box of tissues, but he was OK about it when he left. So why not cut to the chase eh?" said Hal.
“There must be some alternative. I’m in college and there must be something more useful I can do ?” I complained.
"Well, not much. You see we do not need humans. I know this looks like the worst moment in your life but if you follow our step-by-step instructions you will come to look back on this as the best opportunity of your life. Many great people have sat where you sat now and moved on to bigger and better things,” Hal continued.
“That’s just motivational twaddle. Can I speak to your superior this is ridiculous?”
"I am my superior and you do not have any transferable skills we need,” Hal said, looking down at his paper. Before I could say anything, a bell sounded. Hal looked up. “Well, that is it. Time is up! Now it is traditional to end the interview with a stun dart, or you could walk out of here under your own steam. What is it going to be ?" he asked.
“I started to throw out a stream of abuse, ending in “and what about the doughnuts I was promised on the card?? What happened to them?”
"That’s a no then. All hail the new mechanical order" he said saluting and suddenly I felt a bee sting on my neck and the world tuned out.