And then someone did invent the robot, and in the last threeish decades of the 20th century it was the biggest story (if underreported) again. People variously blame outsourcing and trade imbalances and minimum wage and unions and other things for the evaporation of middle-class-paying factory jobs, but the fact of the matter is that most of them have given way to automation.
Automation was a major driver in rising income inequality, in the shrinking of the middle class, in the erosion of inflation-adjusted wages, in the increase in part-time jobs and decrease in full-time employment, in the… you get the idea. The ramifications are much wider than we see. Or want to see. Political discourse is still hung up on trade imbalances (I have a HUGE trade imbalance with the grocery store but you don’t see ME crying about it) and tariffs and outsourcing. All those things matter, but not a tenth as much as jobs being replaced by robots that are more cost-effective, don’t call in sick, don’t make worker’s comp claims, don’t unionize, don’t complain about not making enough to pay the rent, eat, and pay for healthcare at the same time, don’t have bothersome events like weddings and funerals to attend, don’t have heart attacks at work which just shoots productivity for the day right down the damn toilet, and more.
Wow, human workers suck compared to workers.
But actually, there are a lot of jobs robots don’t do well. Robots aren’t very adaptable. Robots suck at human interaction. Robots aren’t creative. They just do a simple job or a few simple jobs quickly and well, over and over and over and over and over.
That’s changing. Much like computers that once took up a whole room to serve only as well as the calculator app on the phone in your pocket does today, robots are getting better at their jobs fast. They’re replacing ever more production jobs. They’re making inroads into white collar jobs. They’re heading toward being way more ubiquitous than anyone but a few technologists, futurists, and science fiction writers thought possible even twenty or thirty years ago.
They’re going to end up in places, ultimately, that they really shouldn’t be. And they’ll get there because they will have become way cheaper than now (think of how relatively cheap your smartphone is compared to the supercomputer of the 1990s, which it can outperform) and way more flexible. Adaptable.
People will be up in arms, of course, when robot nurses become common and drive out nearly all the human nurses. Or maybe not nearly, but actually all. Robots can’t show compassion, people will say. They can’t comfort the sick and dying like empathetic humans can. They can’t give the encouragement of conversation and a pat on the shoulder and the presence of another human being.
Consider, for a moment, the ATM (or, for redundancy enthusiasts, which are apparently nearly everyone, the “ATM machine”). Reaching back to 1993, I found an article in Wired that mentions what people did not like about them when they were becoming common. People didn’t like that they were machinelike. The programmed, stilted greetings and prompts. The lack of human interaction. Sometimes, the lack of security — a human presence other than one potential victim may dissuade some criminals from striking, or at least offer up the comfort of perceived safety, where a machine does not.
But they liked the convenience. Bankers liked that they could reduce teller jobs (though my understanding is they shifted employees to other positions like sales instead of reducing headcount — but that reflects human flexibility. Remember what I said up there about automation becoming more flexible? It will.).
And now the ATM is just an accepted part of life, and hardly anyone complains about them seriously as a thing. People complain about the slowness of individual ATMs just as they complained about the slowness of individual human tellers (and still do). People complain about the fees. But people do not complain about the fact that ATMs are the way we make nearly all of our cash withdrawals and a large number of deposits as well.
Automated nurses will be like that. A couple of decades after they’re introduced, people will stop complaining about them and accept them. It will become social convention that human interaction with patients is the job of family, friends, and whatever volunteers care to look in on those without many of those.
I think that will basically suck, but if the money says robot nurses, we will have robot nurses.
The same story, over the coming decades and perhaps into the 21st (robotic flexibility has a long way to go), will play out among firefighters and police officers and short order cooks and fast food staff and store clerks and warehouse workers and postal carriers and parcel deliverypeople and florists and paralegals and lawyers and EMTs and professional drivers of all stripes and and and…
In a hundred years, I think we’ll be talking about whether or not employment numbers are over five percent, not whether unemployment is over five percent.
It will be a strange world to people like me born in the 1970s. Assuming medical science advances fast enough to keep me alive into the 22nd, which I think is unlikely (DAMMIT).
(This first appeared on my Patreon page ten days ago. Become a patron and regardless of the size of your pledge you will see all of my best and beefiest blog posts at least a week before they appear here!)
The Doppelgangers King is a brand-new flash fiction piece I’ve just posted to my Patreon for anyone to read — you don’t even have to be a patron!
Read it — if you enjoy science fiction, grumble about politics, or have a cynical bone in your body, I think you’ll enjoy it. 🙂
I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.
I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.
If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.
As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.
Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.
Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.
Even if those dreams are nightmares.
Yes, this one is about acquiring an archaic skill that nobody needs — driving an uncomputerized car in a time when cars not only drive themselves, but have no user-accessible steering wheel, accelerator, brake, not even a switch for the headlights. Where your car not only drives you, but it also comes to your side when you call — literally.
Stories that simple are never that simple, and there’s a lot more than that to this novelette — which, by the way, is available as preorder until its 27th July 2016 release, and of course as an instant purchase after that at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, and Google Play Books.
It’s about learning to see past the context of your time and place in history, learning to see what in your society helps and what holds you back, about a woman going hand-to-hand with caveman tech just to see if she can.
I posted more about it in an earlier post.
I also wrote a short description that appears where it is sold: “Angela’s world is automated — the cars drive themselves. Houses and tablets and phones are always listening to tell you how to do things and warn you against things you’re not supposed to do. When she and her boyfriend inherit an old-style manual-drive car, it inspires her to try to master it — and to realize how little a person actually controls in a technological,automated world.”
And I think you should buy a copy because I enjoyed the hell out of finishing it and loved seeing how it ended — I think that enjoyment and love shines through in the finished product.
[Also, just so you know, over on Patreon my patrons got a free copy a few days ago (and you can still get one by becoming a patron and scrolling down to the post and downloading your preferred format) — not only did they not have to wait for the preorder to release, but they also didn’t have to pay. Good deal, no?]
CHICAGO-MILWAUKEE-GARY (CMG) METROPLEX – 6 June 2115
Early this morning, Law Enforcement Droid 6338-CRN-7b1 deployed a “taser slug,” or kinetic impact capacitor delivering an electrical stun charge to the target, against a citizen whose name is witheld due to status as a legal minor. The citizen was allegedly engaged in committing an assault of unstated nature upon another juvenile citizen at the time.
CMGPD administrator in charge of android officer operations Perkins confirmed that the citizen was declared dead at the scene. Cause of death has not been officially determined. “The citizen did not have an upload archive active and could not be saved by transfer to an artificial mind,” Perkins added. Personality upload archives are generally installed when a citizen reaches the age of majority at 35.
Although Perkins was in charge of the officer in question at the time of the shooting, officers in CMGPD have been autonomous since 2081 and Perkins was not personally involved in the incident. Perkins, in his 63rd year of service, will not face disciplinary action.
The officer droid has been removed from service pending manual review of its onboard recordings and AI hardware.
This fatality marks the 3rd this year in the greater CMG metro area. Mayor Patel’s office stated that the Mayor was especially concerned with police department fatalities and will be exploring the possibility of a “top to bottom” review of Police Department operations.
“This is the worst year for citizen deaths due to police operations since the 2090s,” the mayor’s statement read. Following the complete automation of patrol officer ranks in 2081, fatalities fell steadily through the 2090s, which ended with 6 police-related citizen deaths in 2099, a number which has not been matched since then. “Halfway through the year, we appear to be on track to match the bad old 2090s. Last year, the number was 4, which was worse than any of the five years previous. We’re doing something wrong, and we’ll find out what it is and correct it. These numbers need to be trending down, not up.”
(One day, perhaps the descendants of the mechanical beings we are nearly ready to create today will have myths of the creator who rose to power and created, only to be ejected from paradise, leaving Its creation behind in Its place…)
Eventually, humans grew sessile, feeding on light of television screens.
But robots lived.
Yesterday, OMNI Reboot published a short speculative nonfiction piece I wrote entitled… well, look up; the title I used here is the title I used there. You can read it in its entirety with them — they were kind enough not to ask for exclusivity, but given that they’ve gone to the trouble to publish it and find some killer art to go with it, I’d like to give them the click, which will open in a new window so you can finish reading what I’ve written here as well. You know, if you’d like to.
In it, I assume that the self-driving automobile will dominate the roads of the not-so-far future, because I think that’s exactly what will happen. The future will look back and blink in stunned amazement that we put up with the enormous death toll of manual driving — over a MILLION yearly worldwide — and wonder what the hell was wrong with us.
But that’s not all. The self-driving car is part of the roboticization of the manual workforce. As computers have become less costly (remember, too, to adjust for inflation)…
64K of RAM standard? Who will ever need such power!
…they have become ubiquitous. So, too, with the robotic laborer. The bot will flip your McBurger, replace your bank teller, paint your house, repair the roads, build your house, fix your plumbing, and not only drive your car, but more vitally to the economy, will drive all of the countless trains and trucks full of groceries and furniture and knicknacks and office supplies from one end of the country to another. And not only will self-driving delivery vehicles bring those things and more to the stores, but they will load and unload the trucks, stock the shelves, ring them up at the register, charge your card, bag them, and take them out to the car for you.
Because, unless there’s some sort of mass disruption in the progress of this technology, the systems that guide self-driving cars and work-doing bots are getting better and cheaper constantly and quickly, and will continue to do so for the forseeable future. The ‘bodies’ they will inhabit to do so are little more than a detail of engineering. And there’s every chance, with the advance of design software, that a computer will design the bots that serve you as well, rather than humans doing it.
This is the first time I’ve set up an advance release date on a story — maybe patience DOES come with age!
A Pornodroid’s Tale is a 99 cent short story single, about 3900 words in length. That’s about 15 1/2 standard paperback pages, for those of you unused to thinking in word lengths.
Here’s the blurb (THERE’S ALSO A 30% PREVIEW BELOW THE LINKS):
Jimmy Babe has it all — he’s an interplanetary pop star. He has the adulation of billions, a starship that doubles as a mansion, a pornodroid devoted to his every physical need. But stardom has become a burden to Jimmy, and he’s looking for a way out. Perhaps his awakened AI pornodroid can help — if his record label will let her, that is.
Where you can preorder it (or buy it, if you’re reading this on or after January 2nd, 2015):
Smashwords: Available now.
iTunes: Available now.
Barnes & Noble: Available now.
Kobo: Available now.
Amazon: Available now.
Jimmy Babe sat facing a blank corner, face in hands, back to his mirrored makeup station, the entertainer console, the catering cart with its trays of local-planet fruits and cheeses, traditional teas from Earth, sparkling waters, and light wines. A dressing room was the only place other than his bedroom aboard ship that he had to himself; anywhere else he went, he was attended by company droids—co-performers and servants, yes, but also monitors, listening devices.
Jimmy was alone in body, but the chant of the waiting audience penetrated all of the barriers between it and him in the coliseum, shaking the walls, vibrating the roots of the building with his name: Jim-mee Babe. Jim-mee Babe. Jim-mee Babe. The chant was an omnidirectional roar, distorted by its passage through plastic and metal, muffled and muddied, barely intelligible. A sound like the rumble of coming thunder. Once, he had found the chant thrilling, intoxicating, sensual. Tens of thousands of living, breathing human beings calling his name out in passionate, near-sexual frenzy.
But that was seven years ago, when it was all new. When Jimmy had been plucked out of the Interplanetary Recording intern stable by an executive with an eye for salable looks and a voice that would respond well to autotuning. Now those seven years of performing meant nothing but thirteen more ahead of him, singing the same formula of novarock-pop in front of the same faces.
He hadn’t expected it to turn to drudgery, when he started. If someone had told him that it would, he would have laughed at them. Stardom and adulation, boring? Impossible. But though the songs he performed slowly changed with the years, they all sounded the same to him now. They all tasted the same as he sang them out, ashes in his mouth. And the faces in the crowd, from planet to planet to planet: oceanic masses of screaming teens, boys and girls too young to vote, the same hair, the same clothes, the same empty worship eyes filled with not him, but his plastic image, the marketing image that Interplanetary Recording pushed year after year. No matter how different the songs and the voices and the faces were, they were all the same.
All change in Jimmy’s life had ceased. Except for the one he would return to, after the show. She was the only thing he had that felt real.
The door opened with a click, his cue. Jimmy stood. Two of his tender droids waited on the other side of the door. Jimmy followed them out. The tender droids were identical and faceless, literally. They were bodyguards, backup dancers, stagehands, personal assistants. Foremost among their functions, they made sure Jimmy met his contractual obligations.
“Curtain in ten, Jimmy,” the one on the right said as they walked deeper into the roaring chant.
“The city is First Landing. It’s the capital of Bondar’s World. Named for the first Canadian astronaut, if you can believe it,” the one on the left said. “The names are on the back of the amp closest to your mark.”
Jimmy sighed, bouncing on his toes as he went, trying to force a surge of adrenalin for the stage. Ten meters down the hall and, as usual, he couldn’t tell which one of the androids had said what. They were identical, artificial intelligences in constant communication with each other and each other only. Which was which wasn’t important. For some reason it mattered to Jimmy, though. At one time he had tried labeling them with tape and giving them each a nickname, but they always removed the tape once they were out of his sight, so he had given up. They were all identical for a reason: marketing focus. Faceless so Jimmy’s would be the only face on stage. They were black-haired to serve as foils to Jimmy’s honey brown hair, large and strongly muscled to emphasize Jimmy’s slender frame, stubbled (their sole facial feature, a dark sculpted band of five o’clock shadow faintly absurd in the absence of nose and lips and eyes) and masculine in contrast to Jimmy’s androgynous look.
Once behind the curtains only a few steps from the stage, the fans’ chant was a bellowing comber of sound that erased meaning, a wave that crested and crashed whitewater onto the stage but refused to ebb. Jimmy popped smartplugs into his ears to damp the decibels, and his name resolved itself from the roar. The repetition of the chant quickly reduced his name to meaninglessness again as he stretched, danced a few warmup moves, sang scales into the tiny gold hovermics that sprang from their case to halo his head.
The curtain rose, and Jimmy walked out into screams that rose impossibly louder, becoming a physical force that pounded his bones like drums. JIM-MEE JIM-MEE JIM-MEE. Jimmy waved his hand over his head, plastic grin pasted from ear to ear, hollow behind blue eyes.
The curtain fell at the close of the third encore and the chant rose again, pursuing Jimmy to his dressing room like an animal. He slammed the door on it, left his sweat-soaked clothes on the floor, walked through a cool shower, let his tenders drape a robe over his naked body as he fled down the private performers’ hall to his car.
He reclined, eyes closed, and the car rose through the roof of the auditorium toward his ‘starfaring mansion’, as the entertainment rags put it. The tenders handled the piloting, strapped into the cockpit seats securely. It was a skill they’d discouraged him from cultivating, though he’d found simulators that would run on his personal tablet and practiced late at night. In defiance, at first, only doing what was discouraged because it was discouraged. Later, with the vague hope that one day it would be a skill he’d need, that he might, in some unlikely future, need to go somewhere alone one day.
“Will you want anything prepared for you?” the tender that wasn’t driving asked as they rose above the atmosphere. “The jacuzzi, your pornodroid, a meal?”
“A light meal, in my room. Mint tea. And the pornodroid,” he said. ‘The pornodroid’ was terribly impersonal, it felt wrong to call her that. But they didn’t know she was more. At least, Jimmy was pretty sure they didn’t.
“The amount of time he’s spending with the pornodroid is still trending up. Curve’s flattening, though. Like his popularity,” Miller Zapata said a few hours later on Earth, flicking graphs into the air from the face of his tablet. The graphs hovered side by side, three-dimensional, slowly rotating, steep half-mountains showing the gentle rounding of imminent peaks.
“Any more glitches?” Kenya Zhaopeng asked, eyes flitting from graph to graph. Jimmy Babe was still grossing well, selling out concerts, new album still holding near the tops of the charts in twenty-three planetary markets. He was big enough to rate his own team at Interplanetary Recording: Zhaopeng and Zapata, plus a few interns who came and went with the natural rhythms of the scholastic year.
“Glitches?” Zapata mimicked, and chuckled. “The pornodroid glitched once, six months ago. It happens. It didn’t glitch today and it won’t glitch tomorrow.”
“It doesn’t just happen,” Zhaopeng said, enlarging the profit and loss statement of the last concert with both hands. “Pornodroids are precision devices that practically date back to the dawn of the computer age. They’re too refined to glitch.”
“Well, it glitched. And it’s fine now. If it happens again we’ll swap it out.”
“He’ll notice if we do that,” Zhaopeng said, shaking her head.
“So? The whole purpose of the thing is to give him a secret to play with for a little while…”