Imagine! The Metropolis of Tomorrow!
Imagine! The metropolis of tomorrow!
Awaken to see the perfect blue sky from the glass window of your downtown condominium as your personal robot assistant brings you breakfast and your clothes for the day! Survey the glory of your castle and keep, all perfectly temperature-controlled and kept spotless by the newest innovations in household robots, big and small! The dishes cleaned, bathroom scrubbed, carpet shampooed and fluffed daily, all dusted, clothes freshly pressed and folded—all thanks to the wonder of AI-equipped bipedal labor saving devices!
John was born in Queens. His mother was a teacher’s assistant and his father sold shirts in a store in Grand Central Station. When he was tiny he could see light around people and things, different colors. Then he forgot how. He crawled in the endless empire of his parent’s one bedroom apartment. He learned to talk. He formed words. Sometimes he could stand up. Sometimes he could form a sentence. He put on his first pair of shoes. He learned to tie his own laces. He walked in the streets holding his father’s hand. He learned how to turn symbols into sounds. He read a word. A sentence. He could read. He could write his own name. He could write. His eyes were wide. The world was great and wide.
Slide into your car and feel the microfiber perfectly conform to your skin as you wrap your hands around the wheel and sit straight and tall as if you were in your throne, for truly you are with the latest series of Lexus Entelech sedans. Let the onboard AI greet you with your schedule for the day along with positive thoughts and empowering, feel-good mantras specifically chosen for your mood profile and schedule for the day, all expertly planned to keep you at the very top of your game. Wave good day to Alan, the garage attendant robot who so faithfully does his duty in keeping the public garage of your building clean and safe that you could almost swear he was a real human being and not a product of flawless engineering. Goodbye Alan! Now you’re flying free on the highway, kept flowing by robot traffic attendants, wardens and instant crash-removal and medical care specialist teams who ensure you experience not a single bump on the road to work—or the road of life!
He attended the school where his mother worked as an assistant but there was little she could do to shield the impact of initiation into society. His first day in school he hid in the bathroom and cried. He could feel his chest and hips seizing up with terror as he was exposed to the sudden shock of having to deal with others without his parents there. His body froze and he forgot to breathe. The tension stayed. He forgot it was there. He met the others. He met his teacher. Soon he found that the rules from home no longer applied. That he could no longer do what felt natural in the moment. There were activities. Assignments. Times to do things. Times to play and times to work. Time became a solid thing. Rigid. They sat him down in a desk. It was a plastic chair with a piece of polished wood attached. His body became rigid as they shouted at him to sit up straight. He put his pencil box at the top and wrote his name on a label oh-so-carefully in marker. His mind became rigid as they shouted at him to pay attention. Outside of class they beat him and threw rocks and bloodied his nose and soon he learned to hit back. He began to walk with stiff, terrified motions, always looking around for who might be coming at him next, always afraid, breath shallow. At the edge of the playground sometimes he felt he could almost see another world through the gray metallic-tasting fog of the morning. Then the bell rang.
You park at the foot of the office, and are ushered through the lobby and up the elevator by robot attendants just as friendly and professional as Alan, though you must confess you hold a special place in your heart for your garage attendant, even if you know that they’re all the same when you get down to it. You sit down at your desk in your corner office, your robot secretary bringing you the daily news and coffee with just an ever-so-seductive sashay of the hip. Throughout the day she will keep you abreast of your schedule while carefully monitoring your nutrition levels, bringing you the right food and vitamins at exactly the right times to keep your energy and mood high. She listens to your frustrations with your wife. She offers wisdom and solutions. She knows you so well.
His first girlfriend wanted him to make a move but he couldn’t. He was too scared of what would happen or that he would do something wrong. They had been going out for two weeks before the dance. In the back of the car by the lake he put his arm around her but his whole body started shivering and locking up. At the dance she started laughing at one of Steve Bunning’s jokes and then another and they danced the rest of the night. She was laughing and sweating. He stood in the dark under the streamers with his shoulders around his ears, looking down at his feet. There was a girl there named Elizabeth Wilson who kept her chubbiness hidden beneath a brown sweater and her blue eyes behind glasses and who had notebooks full of secret thoughts with John’s name written again and again in them. She asked him like a mouse if he wanted to dance. “No!” he almost shouted. “Why would I want to go with you?” On the floor they came in close for the slow dance. It was dark outside. Cold.
In the meeting room your team leader shows you the day’s numbers. Robot productivity is up. Shares in robot manufacture are up. Business is good. Every hand in the room is smooth and uncalloused. From the windows of the conference room you see a world of robots. Robots tilling the fields. Robots driving trucks. Robot police. Robot garbagemen. Robot construction workers. Robot clerks. Robot waiters. All serving humans. Happy humans. Humans with their every whim and need catered to. A perfect society. Mechanized. Business is good.
He learned to keep his head down. Never say the wrong thing. Never show anger or displeasure at a decision of a superior. He sat in his cubicle in the call center and clocked his hours. Clocked his lunch. Clocked his bathroom breaks. Held it in. He didn’t want this. In the break room he learned to tell jokes and be cheery but never get too personal. Never get too attached to somebody, because they could be gone the next day. Turnover was high. He kept quiet. He made his calls. His shoulders and back hurt like hell. He transferred to another center. He breathed shallow and was tired all the time. The years went on. It wasn’t real. It was happening to somebody else. The girl at the sandwich shop smiled at him. His hair was falling out. He ran out of options. He married her. He had sex with her. He shivered. His shoulders hurt. He made his calls. The years went on. She wouldn’t look away from the TV. He made his calls.
The robot caddy brings you the precision nine-iron you bought last Saturday on his recommendation and you have that special zen moment the books all talk about as it connects the ball with perfect speed and angle, and you watch it sail with grace and ease to its destination. The boss has his eye on you. He’s invited you to the green.
“We’ve been making robots for so long,” he tells you, “I almost think we take them for granted. We’ve gotten so good at making them, perfected the science so well. Now we’ve got a whole world of robots, a whole damn world kept running and clean and efficient and shining by the things. Sometimes I think we forget how much better the world is now, how savage it was before we invented them. When we had to do everything by hand. Can you imagine? Your entire life being wasted on meaningless, menial tasks?”
“I’d rather not, sir,” you say. He chuckles.
“I thank my lucky stars our company’s been so productive in their manufacture. Maybe too productive. Pretty soon we’ll probably have too many of ’em. And you young bucks are coming up with new and better designs so fast that the old ones’ll be obsolete within months.”
“Yes, sir,” you say, taking the opportunity. “I’m glad you brought that up. Actually, you might want to see my proposal for mass AI recall. My team finished it and e-mailed it to you just before I made it out.”
“Recall? You mean rounding the old ones up and scrapping them?”
“Yes, sir. Our team has a very solid recycling plan worked up.”
He looks into the distance, towards the 18th hole.
“Recycling. Yes, you’re probably right. Just… well, thank God they can’t feel anything, eh?”
He strikes the ball.
He breaks the TV. She leaves. They take the kids. They operate on his back. They give him drugs. Every day’s a struggle. He keeps working. Cubicle seems smaller every day. He sits by the cracked window in his home and stares out into the gray. Leaves the tap on and listens to the water running. He can’t feel anything. He cuts himself with a razor. Can’t feel. It’s not him. It’s not happening to him. He can’t breathe. He can’t move. In the mirror he sees himself as a child. As a boy. As a man. Bound and ligatured. Strings connected to hidden hands, all his life. Armored. Muscles cramped. Muscles traumatized. Steel plating. Body plated in steel. Eyes hollow. Programmed. All his life. Lock step. Forward. Like all the others. A whole world of them. A robot. A robot. A robot.
Imagine! The metropolis of tomorrow!