Is technology your tool or decision maker? Are you sure?
A Short Story by Remontz
Patrons bounced to and fro, along the bustling city street, bounding their ways, directing themselves maniacally to fill their temporary roles of buyers or sellers. In Francis Marvin’s world that’s all anyone ever was; a buyer or a seller. The world had lost its analogous beauty to him a long time ago and he now perceived it as the digital tease it really was. After a twelve-hour, international trip on a private jet and now being shuttled like a movie star in the most regal of limousines that money could buy — Marvin was so used to the luxurious life, his contemplation of entertainment between business phone calls was to simply people-watch. The idea of watching the bobbing heads had begun as a floating beacon of humor — fluttering about — hopelessly trying to breath back life into the now steely cold demeanor he forever maintained. But just as fervently, the realization that no matter where on Earth they could be found, all of them were all the same. People were buyers or sellers. The lot of them. Numbers on a screen. Ones and zeros. On their way off — or off to be turned on.
Everything inside the limo shuffled about from the sudden impact.
“Shi–, Dammit!!!”, Marvin yelped out as the spilt coffee stained his newest Saint Laurent top and seared his inner thigh. “Will you watch the road!?!”.
The driver spoke only partial bits of English — enough to successfully ignore English speakers without appearing to be rude. In likewise fashion of his speaking ability, he offered a trivial hand gesture as an apology about the curb he’d just ran over.
As if things needed to become more inconvenient Marvin’s phone began to buzz. A call from his former, long time business partner — Yuri Mensah, a brilliant technical advisor who’d been programming software since his teenage years. Yuri had attended and subsequently graduated from MIT at the ripe age of sixteen. One of the best minds Marvin knew. Even so, their longtime partnership had come to an abrupt end a few weeks ago when Marvin would not relent from his decision. He was sure this division of ideologies was the reason for the call.
“Please, don’t tell me you’re really doing it?”, Yuri’s voice pleaded through Franc’s Bluetooth ear piece. “You have to be—“
“What ethical?!”, Franc scoffed. “Don’t tie up my line with that crap speech of yours again Yuri!! Listen I‘ll be eth—“
“Save it.”, Yuri cut him off. “You see, ethics is what keeps us human in the tech industry….”. He began.
“What?”, sensing an issue Franc sat up in the back of the Double-R branded limo. “Who are you talking to?” He broke into Yuri’s monologue.
“Oh, quite glad you asked!”
Franc rapidly answered the video call that Yuri sent.
“Welcome to the news conference, set up by me, to oust you as the man responsible for ruining the American Workforce as we know it.” Yuri’s sly grin made its way back into view after he panned the collection of major news reporters and a flurry of bystanders. Some of the latter held signs with the WFA (Working Force Alliance) logo — a graphic and oil splattering image of a group of humans standing over a toppling pile of robots, computers and cell phones, wielding a flag marked with the groups logo. Others brandished signs displaying words of equal adversity to Francis Marvin’s “One man — world ending business practices.”. A small nearly invisible group of two anti-protestors huddled near each other planning their retreat.
“You Fu–!!!”, Franc aggressively collected himself and cursed Yuri from the innermost depths of his diaphragm. “Stop the damn car!!!!”
“Looks like we caught the terminator at a bad time…”, Yuri remarked to the complete jubilation of his gathered crowd.
“Stop the car!!!!”, Franc shouted, growing red in the face as he in a fluster searched for the button to raise the window nearest his face. People-watching was over. It was time for people watching him rip a hole into Yuri’s arrogance. “Listen to m–”.
“Before you say a thing…”, Yuri panned his cell phone once more, “I have with me a few gentlemen who’d like to ask you a question or two…”
“Listen I haven’t agreed to this…”, at this point in time, it occurred to Marvin how negative the PR would be if he hung up now. He had let it get too far to carry out his plan of tearing Mensah a new one and then terminated the call. Now he was trapped, Yuri had executed his plan well.
“My name’s Oli Burgess. I work in one of your warehouses!”, the man still wearing the blue jumpsuit — emblazoned with the emblem Franc had envisioned during his sophomore year of college to be the symbol of his future brand. That future was here and it was not as he had planned it would be. “Are you telling me when you leave…”, the man peered at the phone closely, clearly trying to ascertain Marvin’s location. “…wherever you are…that I won’t have a job?!?! That some robot will be working in my place?!”
Marvin cursed under his breath, and snarled internally as Yuri panned the now roaring crowd. “Oli was it?”, Franc interjected when the fervor waned. “What do you do, sir?”
“I’m a machine operator…been at your warehouse for eight years!”, he continued to emphasize the ‘you’ in his speech.
“Well you’ve got good news Oli! Your job is safe. You’re a vital piece to our success. It’s important for you, and everyone to understand the actual nature of this progr–”
“Here we go guys…”, Yuri began. “Now he’s going to use his crafty speech points to tell you that his ‘software is merely the decision maker, not the decision actor.’. A load of crap! It’s the start of the end. What’s next? Isn’t your slogan ‘beat yesterday’? Where will Oli be after this software becomes yesterday?”
The crowd burst into a fury of “Yeah”’s, “Crash the A.I.”’s and thrusting their WFA signs into the air.
Franc’s anger was beginning to show in his demeanor as he moved awkwardly in the leather coated seat, trying to catch some air while also keeping the coffee stain out of view. Who knew what memes would follow this cursed interaction.
“Mr. Marvin, ” another protestor stepped into view of Yuri’s feed. “What gives? I’m a supervisor at Alchurious — have been for eighteen years! I know this will limit my ability to do my job and maybe cost half my workforce!!”
Marvin cleared his throat, frustration was coating it to a choking sensation. “Y’see that’s where you’re wrong sir. May I have your name? I don’t believe I caught it…”, he waited to unleash this bomb of information across the airwaves.
“You can call me Jerry.”
Franc laughed at the probably false admission. “Okay Jerry, the truth of the matter is you need not worry about your employee’s jobs. They’re safe…”
“Now see…that’s whe–”
“No. You’re gonna hold on and let me explain the situation to you Jerry.”, Franc interjected sternly, fed up with the circus. “Alchurious is a platform that relies on the efforts of your employees to create an environmental work space that is as efficient as possible. So as I said, they’re jobs are safe and sound. They may even receive a bump in pay! But you sir, you and all supervisors like you are the ones in jeopardy! Explain to me Jerry, what is it that you do?”
“I oversee the production and ensure efficiency of a multi-mi–”
“You do not. What you actually do is sit in an office, read digitally created reports and make decisions from the data you’ve in front of your face. Alchurious replaces you without the unnecessary human emotions that not only cost my company’s tremendous amounts of money but also has led to the constant trickle of ‘shit rolling down hill’. Well, Alchurious is where the shit stops rolling!” With that Franc closed the call and launched his phone into the floorboard before him. He paused for contemplation over what had just occurred and how it was quite possibly sending the PR department back in Silicon Valley screaming like a pack of overbearing mothers at a youth football referee.
“Are you prepared for travel, sir?”, The driver spoke up from the front of the vehicle.
“Yes…go.”, Franc answered somberly.
About twenty minutes later they pulled up to the parking garage, emblazoned with his Alchurios logo and the local symbol language, which he assumed was their method of writing the company name. He was a half-hour late for the meeting, but in the grand scheme of things it wouldn’t matter if the project was a go.
As CEO, once Franc completed the retinal scanner the elevator glowed to life permitting full access to the building. He gave a nonchalant wave to the driver as the doors closed. “Welcome Mr. Marvin.”, the friendly A.I. responded. “What floor would you like to visit today?”
“Take me to Bak’s office.” Franc replied, before adding, “Please.”
Without another word, the elevator jolted smoothly and he was headed to the highest floor of the forty-story building. With full awareness of how the buildings A.I. operated he knew and expected that the second his retinal scan was registered that the entire buildings’ occupants would be aware of his arrival. He hadn’t met a single one of his South Korean employees, save for Bak Min-jun — the wizard behind the golden egg program that had Yuri and all the protestors at a tipping point back home. He had met Min-jun during his first visit to the country, the latter was a mere software engineer at the time. But Francis saw a potential that his former superiors overlooked. That day Franc had made the bold move of undercutting the man he was supposed to be partnering with — the first move of many that had soured he and Yuri’s relationship — and instead hired the young, talented Min-jun, to head what was now the project entitled Alchurios. As the elevator doors slid open he was met vigorously by the incessant smell of Suk Hyang. No question in it being a planned welcome, he and Min-jun had first hatched the Alchurion brain child during a company nature hike on the island Ullong-do, where the rare incense wood is procured. The uncommon tree was the first and only Korean word he maintained in his business oriented mind.
“Mr. Marvin…Sajangnim…”, the receptionist greeted him with a slight nod and presented him with a large folder branded with his name. “…Welcome. You have been expected, Bak Min-jun will see you now…”. She led him towards the glass pane door marked with Bak Min-jun’s title and politely stepped aside, holding the door for him to make his entrance.
“You are too kind. Thank you.”
She nodded as if to say of course and swiftly paced away as the door shut behind him.
The office was empty.
Franc looked back towards the door to make sure he wasn’t missing something. After a moment’s pause he made his way around the office, admiring the collection of plants that gave the space a very calm, steadying aesthetic. The plants coupled nicely with the round, nearly ten-foot diameter carpet that really made the office what it was. The rug he stood on was as immersive as the software they intended to convey to the world in just under twenty-four hours. It was branded with two lions. Or maybe they were dragons…he wasn’t fully sure of the antiquated design’s intention, but the two creatures were overly intriguing nonetheless. The way they circled one another in what seemed to be a consummate cycle of support and cyclical energy. The two focal points of the rug needed one another to make the entire rug what it was, without the other, the one on its own would not have half the aesthetic effect. They were Yin and Yang, encompassed in the form of two beings. Necessary opposites. Unlikely identical. They seemed to be moving although the parapet they were etched into was indeed as stationary as any continent could claim to be. The outer designs that filled the remainder of the rug were abstract, geometrically similar and ‘eye grabbing’ would be an understatement. The enormous, beautiful floor piece was as comfortable to the step as it was fascinating; Franc’s, Louboutin-wrapped feet sank into the rug as if it were a fresh beach, just laid down by the hands of god. How sweet the space felt to his soul. How inviting and relaxing — how on earth could Min-jun ever get any work done in such an area of calmness?
“Quite remarkable isn’t it?”, Bak’s voice entered the room without his presence.
“Where are you?” Franc smirked, amused by Bak’s tactics.
“I’m in the next room, Franc…”, Bak stated calmly.
Franc’s smile grew with his curiosity, “…well…okay…what’s happening here?”. Franc circled the room looking up for the camera, “We gonna have a chat or what?”. A chuckle escaped with his breath.
“Well that’s just it Franc…”, Bak began. “We were going to have a chat, unleash Alchurios onto the world and become the pioneers to the next age of industry…”
Franc’s laugh faltered but the smile hung onto a thread as he rubbed the back of his neck in confusion. “Okay…Okay…enough with the games. What’s the deal man?”
“It heard you Franc….”
“The system. It heard…well listened to your press conference ….”
“What are you getting at Bak?”, through the gritted smile, Franc’s frustration could be interred. “Get in here, let’s get to it…”
Bak exhaled sharply. “I am sorry my friend but it has been decided…”
“What’s been decided Bak?!”, the frustration now barked out of the CEO’s lips.
“The system Franc…”, Bak barked back, “You told me to turn it on last night…”
“Yeah and…”, he started. “It’s been debugged and is one-hundred percent ready for operation. We’re just waiting to upload it to all of our servers worldwide….that’s why I’m here Bak! Let’s wrap this up and pop the champagne man. We did it…”
“We did Franc….we did it…we created a monster.”
Franc threw the thick folder over his shoulder and stepped determinantly towards the door. “Why’s this locked?!?!”
“Franc….”, Back exhaled slowly once again, preparing his superior for a heavy admission. “The system has been online for over nine hours now. In that time it has been collecting data throughout our entire network. And then….you had the online chat with the protestors.” Bak, breathed in and out slowly.
“That was only twenty minutes ago, Bak!!!”, Franc was fully red in the face mad now as he pulled maniacally at the locked door handle.
“…..Numbers on a screen. Ones and zeros. On their way off — or off to be turned on……”
“Ones and zeros Franc. Like you always told me….”, Bak started. “We designed this system to make the most efficient moves when it comes to the business, to have full automated control over personnel, logistics and long-term planning. It has excelled at just that. It deemed your consciousness as a flight risk to the success of the company. As of now, your mind is the only missing piece for Alchurios to reach the ultimate goal we programmed it for. To be an extension of yourself….”
“What are you saying, Bak?!?!?!”
“It has decided Franc.”
A loud pneumatic hissing erupted from walls. The data chords were lodged into Franc’s skull and spine before he had a chance to react.
“…..Numbers on a screen. Ones and zeros. On their way off — or off to be turned on……”