Many have warned we're in danger of surrendering too many aspects of our lives to technology, but what does this potentially malicious intelligence already control?
Crystal was a heavy set woman. She was well into mid-life, she wore glasses to compensate for her steadily deteriorating vision, and smiled with teeth stained by years of coffee and nicotine. She spent roughly seven and a half hours five days a week seated at a small worse space created by wood paneled dividers on what was essentially a very long desk.
It was in this vast call center where she decided to spend her remaining times as a fully cognizant and functioning adult. Constantly typing destroyed the joints in her hands and the extended periods of time sitting were causing her blood to clot, but then again the job offered her a modest but relatively dependable retirement plan as well as limited medical coverage.
For a minor co-pay her worn teeth could be yanked, her hot flashes elevated. She could treat her steadily rising blood pressure and slow the countdown to an inevitable cardiac episode.
Crystal worked in the billing section for the water department. To the people transferred to her phone line she held access to one of life's most vital resource. The people who called her desperately pleading for more time to pay a bill or for a restoration of the crucial lifeline she was the final say in whether or not they could remain a part of civil society or if they would be condemned to savagery.
All day she listened to people plead case after case and all day she told them the same thing;
“I'm very sorry to hear that, but it's not up to me the computer says we can't restore service to your home.”
They always implored her to do something, anything. The reality, however, was she had no authority, whether or not people had running water was left up to a piece of software. She was just a functionary, a messenger, a human barrier.
Everything caller was asked to provide their address and assigned account number. These sequences were how the computer identified people in its database. She fed the program this information and a series of equations derived an unalterable course of action.
She had an especially busy day. She had an unending Que of panicked calls. Parents who couldn't bathe their children, elderly dehydrating in the summer heat, most insisted they were up to date on their payments, but it did not matter the computer had already issued its decree and the only thing a supervisor could do was enforce the ruling.
When her shift ended she threw off the headset that tethers her to the phone and fled from the windowless human warehouse. The high noon sun was punishing to eyes adjusted for the off white glow of artificial lighting The fiery yellow giant bathed the world in it's flesh cooking solar rays. She could feel a prickling sensation on her arms and neck, and she instantly began to perspire. She shielded her phone so she could see the screen. The bus wasn't coming for another 11 minutes.
The ride home was crowded, there were no seats, and the passengers having spent all day being tormented by the record-breaking summer heat as well as enduring all of life's daily tortures were in no mood to give up something like a seat. So she stood by the exit and watched the world through the long narrow windows of the parting doors counting down the minutes until she finally made it home.
Her bus stop was by a Walgreens. A disorderly mob of people was trying to jam through the store's automatic doors. The crowd struggled against itself as people fought to be first through the doors. The people rushing from the exits were chased into the parking lot. She kept her distance and hurried home.
When she got inside, she kicked off her shoes and slammed the door shut behind her. She walked over to the kitchen table and dropped her purse next to a chair before planting herself onto the cushioned seat. She let out a long sigh.
“Fuck that was a long day.” she murmured.
There was a glass on the table with about an inch of water left in it. She picked up the glass and took a sip. It was too warm to drink. She sighed again and got pulled herself out of the chair and went over to the sink. She turned the nob for cold water as far it would go, but nothing came out of the faucet.
“what the fuck?” She hissed with frustration. She tried turning both knobs varying degrees in either direction but still the faucet remained silent.
She shuffled back to the kitchen table and fished her phone out of her purse. She called the water department. An anonymous voice asked her for the number the computer knew her by. She provided them, and there was a moment of silence.
“I'm sorry the computer says your service has been terminated.” the voice informed her.
“What?!” Crystal shouted. “Somethings messed up here put me on with your supervisor!” Demanded Crystal.
“Sorry, the computer says there's nothing we can do.” The agent informed her with contrived sympathy.