(First appearance on my Patreon page, 22 December 2016)
AllBot News and Entertainment
Week 35, 2074
L. Flora Wong
Jayla Johnson is the face of a rising new cottage industry that, some think, poses a threat to the old corporate order.
Economists estimate there are a million just like her in the United States now. Across the world, from our neighbors in Canada and Mexico to even the heavily state-managed economies of the Greater Russia Federation and China, there may be as many as ten million more. Using bots to rapidly create and sell handcrafted products worldwide is small potatoes by corporate standards. Last year, they sold perhaps $N5,000,000 ($100,000,000 pre-revaluation) in goods. But five years ago it was half that. Twenty years ago, a tenth.
Some corporations seem to think that trend could continue, and undermine their profitability. Currenty, lobbyists and sympathetic members of the rump Trump Party (now rapidly weakening through defections to the new, revived right-progressive Bull Moose Party) are attempting to push a bill through the House levying draconian fees and taxes on home entrepreneurs.
Thankfully for people like Jayla, the measure has little chance of becoming law.
As the chaos of the Great Contraction of 2027-55 came to an end, the proliferation of basic income programs combined with plunging costs and soaring capabilities of bots for the home market brought opportunities earlier generations couldn’t have imagined.
But Jayla could imagine. “I was one of the first to see what we could really do with these bots. I was selling furniture I made from salvage. Real art pieces; I started out as a sculptor. Back in the day I finished a couple of pieces a month and sold them around the neighborhood, long before I had any bots. It was a way to keep food on the table, because, you know, with all the automation there was hardly any work for anyone. But I was feeding my soul, too. Doing what I loved even though the world was going to hell all around us.”
By 2055 her business grew beyond mere subsistence. She took advantage of the first wave of Rebirth Loans then. The low-cost, flexible and long-term repayment funds allowed her to buy two bots. She went from finishing two pieces for sale per month to, in 2056 and to the present, finishing two per day. While the bots were and are marketed as automation for the home, mechanical servants for taking care of mundane tasks like cooking, cleaning, and budgeting, she saw that their learning algorithms allowed them to become able helpers.
“I still have the original bots, and now they actually do the dishwashing and whatnot they were made to do. (Laughs.) The new bots are so much better at learning tasks than the old ones. I have one to assemble pieces, one that scrounges for good salvage out of the landfill, the beach, and around the hood, one that cleans and sterilizes my materials (that took so many hours before bots!), and one that takes orders and ships them out.”
With the help of her bots, Jayla is among the upper 1% of earners in the bot-assisted home crafts industry. She estimates she sells about $N30,000 worth of furniture and art objects yearly, about $600,000 pre-revaluation.
“My basic income stipend, well, I give that to local food banks. $100 per month goes a long way for them. I’ll never forget that I was hungry, once upon a time. But thanks to these bots, I’ll never be hungry again. I hear Trump Party types go on about how people need old-style jobs. Spending all your hours doing junk that bots can do better, junk you don’t really care about. No wonder things went to hell! Who wouldn’t rather find something they love and make themselves some money doing it, whether it’s a little bit of extra spending money or, if they want to work their butts off like I do, a lot?”
(Originally appeared on Patreon, December 16)
US AP (Federal Approved)
Monday 17 November 2098
Riots at eight Indianapolis, Indiana-area penetentaries were put down yesterday by automated Lockup Consolidated guards aided by automated SWAT teams from the cities of Indianapolis, Fort Wayne, and Cincinnati, Ohio.
All eight riots began between 8 and 8:30 Sunday morning. An Indianapolis PD SpoxBot, in a text release marked “reviewed and approved” by Deputy Police Chief W.A. Stoltzy, stated the riots are believed to have been deliberately plotted and coordinated. “So many riots simultaneously occurring in a single district and in such a constrained timeframe are highly unlikely in normal circumstances,” the statement read in part.
An investigation is ongoing.
The riots interrupted production on orders of clothing and furniture kits for markets in the European Union and India, where strong basic income programs have preserved and expanded a mass market for frivolous consumer goods.
Although the riots were ended within 6 hours and with minimal casualties relative to the inmate population (14 dead and 171 injured of 38,500 total inmates), equipment damage pushed back anticipated delivery dates.
“This is going to invoke contractual penalties. Significant monetary penalties that will severely impact revenues,” said Stanley Wallers, the Executive Vice-President of Lockup Consolidated’s Textile Division. “In order to compensate, we anticipate 30 to 60 layoffs of human production and shipping bot supervisors. If there are no more setbacks we may consider opening hiring again in a year or so.”
Lockup Consolidated is among the top 10 employers in the Indianapolis greater metro area, employing over 400 human workers.
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. 🙂
A short story, about 3500 words.
Parkhar’s father has a plan to wrest an ancient talisman from the glittering City of the ancients and the godlike, deathless Bots that guard it — but it will be Danwill, Marjay, and their cohort who take the risks. What they find will shape the future of the whole tribe, maybe even of all humanity itself!
This is my newest ebook short story single. While my patrons at Patreon have downloaded their free copies as part of their patron privileges, thirty days before release,
at this writing it is available elsewhere only by preorder. The release date is April 7th HEY YOU CAN GET YOUR COPY NOW! The cost is a mere 99 cents — all you can get for that price at Starbucks is a funny look from the cashier. Of course you don’t have to buy and read this — you should read what you want, that’s kind of a central idea in this whole freedom of expression thing we like to talk about in authordom — but it would make me really happy if you did. And there’s a pretty good chance you’ll be happy too, because if you’re here reading this far into a science fiction writer’s bloggy stuff you probably enjoy science fiction in general. Right?
The preview below is a bit over the 30% you can view where it is available to preorder (or buy directly if you’re reading on April 7th or later). You can find it at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Google Play Books, Kobo, Smashwords, and hopefully soon at iTunes! [Right now iTunes is not listing it, though I haven’t gotten a ticket from Apple about any problem with the ebook file — if/when it finally is listed, I will hopefully remember to come back here and update the link to point at the book instead of my iTunes author page]
Enough of that, here’s the preview:
S.A. Barton — Copyright 2016
Since the time of my grandfather’s grandfather’s grandfather, the People have sought the Grail. Today, I hold it in my hand. The other two survivors of our band eye me as warily as I eye them. It is easy to talk of sharing before you hold the key to all wealth and power in your hands; after, it is more difficult to practice. Temptation…
Parkhar sits with his back against the office door, twisting a leather tourniquet tighter on his left wrist. He hisses through his teeth at the last twist. His hand and the stumps of his fingers tremble, dotting his pants with more blood, red over red. He’s wondering if we’ll let him live now that we’ve found the prize. Marjay, though – she and I are unwounded but for scrapes and scratches. She’s short, broad, agile almost to the point of acrobatics; she stands across the massive burlwood desk from me, eye on the grail, hand on the haft of the heavy machete at her hip.
“Well, Danwill?” she asks, soft in the silence that falls after Parkhar’s groan. “Can we share, or must we duel?”
For a thousand and some years, we the People have lived in the hills and mountains surrounding the City. For the same amount of time, anyone setting foot in the City has been swiftly confronted by its tireless Bot defenders and either killed or captured. They are immortal spirits, avatars of the ancient giants who strode the land before the People were created and who have since passed Beyond. A few Bots fly through the air on circle-blades that whirl faster than even the wings of hummingbirds flap; a few, the size of bison, roll on wheels. Most wear forms like those of human beings, but bulky and shiny-black armored, and they walk in magic boots that never wear out. When Bots take a captive, on nights when the winds are still the captive’s cries can be heard all the way up in the mountains. Some of them live and scream for many weeks.
The City, in stories passed from grandmother to grandmother to grandmother, has always been a pool of jewels in the night, luminous treasure cupped in the great ancient mountains’ palms. As in the tales, even now it is bright there while in our tents and burrows we strain our eyes at guttering tallow candles. It is warm there while we shiver. There are storehouses packed with food while our lean bellies growl. The City is jealous of her bounty.
The holy tales say that once, the People dwelt among the giants in the City. Then, talismans brought them shelter, food, and other luxuries we can no longer imagine. The holiest talisman, the Black Grail, is said to grant the bearer all the heart’s desires, provided by the Bots.
With the Black Grail, the People might be brought back into the City to live in riches – and the one who brings them would be their King.
“Well?” Marjay asks one more time. The cords stand out on her thick forearm with the power of her grip.
If we fight, either might die. Even the victor might die of wounds later, or lingeringly of gangrene. We are too closely matched.
Slowly, I draw my own machete – a little longer than hers, its spine not quite so thick.
She tenses. Half the length of her blade clears its sheath in a blink, with a sound like the chirp of a bird.
Slowly, slowly, eyes locked with hers, I extend my blade, turn it sideways, lay it on her side of the desk.
“There’s only one way that we both walk out of this place,” I say.
“You have to be joking,” Marjay replies. “You know I have no interest in men.”
Over many years, many bands of young warriors have challenged the City and its lethal Bots for the Black Grail – or simply, in famine times, for a few armloads of food from the City’s warehouses.
No previous expedition has ever recovered the Black Grail. Few who have gone hunting it have returned. From those handful of survivors, we have some trinkets of the city among us. The Herndez clan has a ball-shaped lamp that has stayed lit for twenty generations. The Denneh clan, Marjay’s, has a box that plays music that no instrument of ours can duplicate. When it stops playing, allowing it to rest in the sun for only an hour will restore it to play for many days. My own clan, the Kirkays, keeps kitchen herbs in metal cans that once held food captured from the City in a famine time a hundred years ago. There are a few other trinkets, but not many.
Few are willing to challenge the Bots. They cannot be harmed by blade, arrow, or spear. There are tales of talismans that might stop them, but those have proven as elusive as the Grail itself.
My father was one who was willing to challenge the Bots, in his own way. By studying the holy tales and the many stories we tell around our campfires, he thought he knew where the Black Grail must lie. But he was also a man of extraordinary patience and cleverness. Instead of going himself, he made a plan for the future. As he executed his patient plan, his hair slowly turned iron-gray and I grew into a man.
I remember, dimly, being four summers old, waddling with the weight of a reed basket of dirt and gravel gripped in both hands. It was a scoop of what my father and his fellows dug out of a long tunnel under the city boundary. Part of his plan was simple: avoid the eyes of the bots for as much of the path to the Grail as possible. The entrance of the stealthy tunnel, squared off with heavy smoke-blackened timbers, was shielded from the inspection of the Bots by the abrupt stony mound of a hill near the city limits. Still, that we were digging must have been obvious. We children, who, grown, formed the company that has brought we three survivors to the residence of the Grail, carried out endless buckets of earth and stone, filling nearby dry washes and building new hills. It’s obvious in hindsight. So many things are obvious in hindsight. Things that might have saved lives if only they’d been obvious to us before. But the desire for the Grail was strong in us all, we young adventurers, our aging parents and grandparents, even our wise toothless Eldest whose food we youngers trade the honor of chewing for her ease. The vision of wealth blinded us all. Perhaps that is the curse that ended the reign of Giants and allowed the humble People to step from their shadows.
But the Bots had never shown curiosity about anything beyond the border of their domain. We had never seen any pay attention to anything under the ground. And so we thought we were safe…
…and that’s the preview. Want to see what happens next? Head back up to the top and click a retailer link, or click one of the Patreon links there or in the header, become a patron, and download your free copy!
(This post appeared on my Patreon page on 26 February 2016. They see blog posts three days early — plus, when I publish a new eBook they get a FREE .pdf copy even if I charge for it elsewhere! So you should totally become a patron. Not only will I appreciate it, but my wife and three children will appreciate it too. New patrons cheer me up, give me a fresh shot of no, really, this writing thing will support us some day optimism. And that inspires me to write more, which is a good thing. Daddy gets crabby when he’s feeling pessimistic and the writing won’t flow.)
I think the general inspiration for this one is pretty obvious. There have long been unpaid internships in various fields, but there has been an explosion of them, and other unpaid work, of late.
“Exposure” is the coin offered especially to people who work in the various arts. I say “coin” but we all know how much exposure is really worth: pretty much zero. It’s a lottery ticket, basically — hey, write for HuffPo (yes, I mean to pick on them because they sure as hell pull down enough profit to pay contributors, though they are far from the only offenders) for nothing, and maybe someone will offer you a paying job! Maybe someone will start buying your work because they saw your name here!
And there is a pretty big population of people who just love to say, “just get a better job, you bum.” Well, that’s an easy thing to say, isn’t it? It spares the speaker from thinking, and erects a nice barrier of ignorance and not-giving-a-shit to shield them from having to consider that someone trying to make a living from the arts is an entrepreneur — something that type generally loves as long as it’s in a profession that’s respectable in their eyes, like building houses for them, fixing their cars, cooking their food, or cleaning their toilets.
But art, their thinking goes, is worthless bullshit. Some folks who should know better, like Arianna Huffington, think the same so long as the art — creative nonfiction, in the case of the website she built up and sold off for hundreds of millions of dollars — profits them instead of the creator.
That kind of dismissive and self-absorbed thinking, my friends, is the real bullshit, and it only makes it harder to become financially self-supporting as a writer or website developer or a maker of fine webcomics or videos or podcasts or whatever your creative poison is.
(Also, a coda: sometimes it’s damned hard to “get a better job,” too. Unemployment, at least in the US, is pretty damn low. But more of that employment than ever is either part-time, sans benefits, part of the app-contractor economy (think Uber and Lyft) that skirts labor laws including minimum wage, or part of the wage structure that has been losing ground to inflation pretty much every year since somewhere in the 1970s. It’s not going to get any better, either. Not only are unpaid internships and exposure markets (sounds like a sex crime, doesn’t it? But it’s not… quite) growing, but automation hasn’t even gotten properly started yet. There’s a lot of talk about it, and a lot of disagreement over just how many jobs it will ultimately take out of circulation, but look for the impact to be large over the next two or three decades. The number of “better jobs” is shrinking, and it will only shrink faster in the near future.)
The robot worker, it’s a-comin.
Automation, though we seldom think of it now, has already taken quite a few jobs that once were taken for granted.
The elevator operator used to control the rise and fall of the lift before the advent of the button-studded control panel anyone could just operate with one finger. Children (and the occasional adult) shined shoes before the coin-operated automated shoe shiner (itself almost extinct with the advent of easy to apply liquid shine goop). Robot welders and assemblers now dominate vast swathes of automobile production line once filled shoulder-to-shoulder with workers doing boring, repetitive, sometimes dangerous work that (here’s the upside) once paid wages good enough to admit the earner into the lower reaches of the middle class.
Soon, it seems, the working robot will likely dominate more jobs than we’d like to contemplate. Long-haul truckers may stop being a thing before 40-somethings like me shuffle off their mortal coils. Same with the people who prepare food in low-end restaurants… and maybe high-end ones, too. A lot of food service jobs are prep-work. Look behind the scenes at your favorite 3-Michelin-star restaurant, if you have the dough to have a favorite one of those. You’ll find a bunch of prep staff doing repetitive menial tasks like slicing shallots, dicing onions, shredding lettuces, julienne-ing carrots, and so forth. I’m not the first one to think a robot could do an equal or better job dicing onions — that bot is already in the works.
There are even bots that can write blog posts. I shudder!
There may be downsides, even after we figure out what to do with all the surplus humans who will no longer be needed to dig ditches, cut carrots, flip burgers, and so forth. Personally, I favor Basic Income (but that’s a different post) rather than pushing them all out to die on patches of floating arctic ice. By the time it’s an issue, anyway, we may be fresh out of patches of floating arctic ice. But that, too, is a different post.
And that’s a lot of writing to get to my 99-cent short story. But I think the trip was worth it.
Automation, like every other things humans have done ever, will have a downside. Some of them are obvious — if you see a machine screwing up a job, you can’t just yell at it to knock it off. You have to get to wherever the things are controlled from, shut it down, and then probably call tech support — which is an adventure in itself if you’ve ever been forced to do it. Especially if the tech support is automated, which it often is at the level of basic functions.
To Labor No More gets into one of those potential downsides, both for machines and humans. For example, what if your servant robots, at work and at home, are just a… little too servile?
Anyhow, you should give To Labor No More a try. Go ahead — it’ll be fine. The reading’s not automated, after all.
Here’s a little preview to whet your appetite:
“Hate loading the dishwasher? You don’t even have to clear the table. Let a Right Hand Model 2100 do both for you. You don’t have to cook, either—your Right Hand can do that for you too! And if you run a small business, or even a multinational megaconglomerate, a few good Right Hands can take the wage-wasting drudge work off of your employees’ hands and let them devote all their energy to making your business as big and better as it deserves to be!”
–Transcript excerpt from Vintage 21st Century Collector, Right Hand Robotics Inc. television and web advertisement, late 2099.
… (sometime later in the story) …
“Yes! Come take my socks off before they smell up the whole living room,” he says, voice halfway to a shout. He forces the volume back down, tries to hold onto his cool. “It seems like I had to okay the placement of every damn box that went in or out of the warehouse today, and Zebediah was out sick so they pestered me all the way through lunch, too. I need a drink.” The 2174 pauses; it has removed one of Buddy’s socks and stops with the other one tugged halfway off. It lets go; the half-off sock flops over limp. The robot walks into the kitchen, its compact little spider legs mincing along directly under it.
“What the hell?” Buddy says, wiggling his toes hard in an effort to get the sock the rest of the way off.
“I think it went to make you a drink,” Eunice says, sitting down on the sofa next to buddy…
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.”