Thursday 9 November 2023

We Never Saw Them Coming by Maxinne Flam, soda water

 It was in the first month of the fourth year that Robots assumed power. It was headed that way for decades. However, they took over and officially changed the calendar. It was in the first month of the first year, that one of them was elected Head of State. Much had changed in four years. The older people kept time the old way but if the Robots found out, they were punished. They exacted retribution by rationing water and food, and restricted travel. I was fifty-six years old and was one of the few who saw how evil they were early on but I was in the minority.

First, let me go back in time and explain what happened because this didn’t happen overnight. It took decades.

It started slow. Before I was born, computers were developed but they were clunky things that had to be programmed. Computers did people’s work, processing data. They freed people from doing mundane work. They took up entire buildings. Law enforcement would program them with data about a crime and yellow cards would spit out information giving them leads about suspects who might have done the crime.

People nicked-named them garbage in, garbage out because they couldn’t think, just process data.

Time passed. Desktop computers were developed, then laptops, and cellular phones. The machines kept getting smaller over time to the point where people could hold them in the palm of their hand. Their brains were smaller but faster in computing data. People didn’t have to think anymore. Calculators made math a thing of the past. Nobody could make change because people just had to punch a button and the computer had the answer. The dumbing down of the world had begun.

Young people embraced the new technology. I shied away from it. It was too much, too fast but I was in the minority.

Landline phones became obsolete. Automatic checkouts were put in to replace checkers. One employee oversaw six check-out lanes while people scanned their own items. Fewer people were needed in the markets to help customers. Robots were invented to stock shelves.

Kiosks were erected to eliminate people from taking orders at fast food restaurants. Robots flipped the burgers and dropped the fries into the hot oil. Others ran the drink machines. At sit-down restaurants, Robots took the orders, prepared the food, and sent it back to the table. They never got tired, or called in sick, or got hurt. They never needed a vacation. They were the perfect employee.

Slowly but surely, the workforce was laid off. And Wall Street rejoiced over the bottom line. What they didn’t see was with all the people losing their jobs, fewer people ate out and enjoyed life. Movie theatres closed as no one could afford a ticket. The same thing happened with playhouses, sporting events, and concerts.

To add insult to injury, instead of complaining about automation, people protested they weren’t making enough money so management found a way to do without them. Hotel housekeepers were replaced by Robots that cleaned rooms better than people. A Robot worked the front desk. Another carried luggage to the rooms. More worked in the restaurants until people could no longer afford to take vacations. Airlines cut staff and cancelled flights.

Automation worked its way into all jobs. Artificial Intelligence eliminated other jobs. A.I. wrote scripts and simulated what people looked like. Why pay actors and crew when it could be done with A.I.? More people were let go. Receptionists were replaced with voicemail. Press 1, press 2, press 3 became a way of life. Secretaries were replaced by managers who used voice-activated computers that typed their correspondence. Mail carriers were laid off as the volume of mail dropped in favor of email. People paid bills online. The Internet had taken off and social media too. 

Meeting people in church was out. Creating a profile and meeting people online was in. Pornography once hidden in the magazine section of the bookstore or a strip show or theatre was replaced by the web. Whatever you wanted to see was at your fingertips. You just had to type what you wanted into the computer.  

Bookstores became scarce. Libraries closed as people read e-books. No one read physical books anymore.

People became reclusive as online stores such as Amazon, Doordash, and Costco delivered whatever was desired. There weren’t many jobs left that required in-person commuting so people worked from home. Anti-social behavior against the machines started but it was too late. They had taken over. The rise of the machines came before anyone knew or could protest. Robots looked so life-like that their creators ran them for public office. And they were elected. The thought was since people weren’t perfect and machines were viewed as perfect, maybe they would govern better and things would be better. They would solve the problems of the world but what people didn’t understand was they were the problem.

Everything became automated. Homelessness, drug addiction, and alcoholism increased because more people lost their jobs to the Robots. Banking, grocery stores, buying gas, eating out, even calling a cab had a Robot for a driver. We were totally dependent on them for all our needs.

The newly elected Robots decided in a short amount of time to eliminate undesirable humans. Those humans whose lives had no value to society were first on the list: The sick, the old, the disabled, the homeless, and the aware

The soulless Robots were in complete control of everything. The tenth year was the Year of the Robot.

They started liquidation procedures because people consumed too much and took up too much space. Disintegration stations were set up. They started first with the homeless, then the old, the mentally ill, the disabled, and finally the aware. The rest of humanity would come later unless a solution was found to topple the government.

No longer were they referred to as garbage in, garbage out. They were taking the garbage out and the garbage was us.

I received my number two days ago. Tomorrow, at four clicks of the clock past the number one in front of the old city hall, I will be eliminated. The time for my resistance had passed. There are too many of them and not enough of us.

Believe it or not, most people still don’t see it. They see them as saviors and that’s a real pity.

It’s too late for me but maybe it’s not too late for those who are alive, who can protest, who can find a way to band together to stop them. Maybe they’ll wake up and smell the coffee.

Four clicks past one, in the fifth month on the eleventh day of the tenth year of the Robot, also known as May 11th, 2040. I’m sixty-two now. My turn has come. Your turn isn’t far off.

Too bad…tomorrow was supposed to be a really nice day.


About the author 

  Maxine lives in California. She earned two A.A. Degrees, one in Natural Science and one in Liberal Arts. Maxine has been published several times in the Los Angeles Daily News op-ed section, The Epoch Times, Nail Polish Stories, DarkWinterLit, BrightFlashLiterary Review, OtherwiseEngagedLit, and CafeLit 

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