So this one has been a while in coming. And honestly, only because a friend pushed me. This is a short story (utter crass, I say, !) I wrote for a magazine that, in the end, decided not to publish it.
Meh. Kids these days.
The man looked at the trigger in his hands. Then at the timer on his watch. Five minutes. Five minutes till the signal was strong enough. Till the plan came to fruition.
Five minutes till the world came to a grinding halt.
And they started it all over again.
It had been in the late 2020s that the first entirely autonomous organization, governed simply by a board of thirteen people, sprung up. The company ran itself, and had every operational base covered – finances, workforce, publicity, administration – every aspect, mass producing clothes and other apparel. The only humans the company employed were the thirteen that were responsible for opening doors that no amount of Artificial Neural Networks could be trained to or machines learn to do.
Politics,it seemed, was where the AI drew the line.
The Internet went crazy. The ratio of humans to machines in organizations had been going down around the world, but nothing of this stature had been planned or tried before.
After the first economic quarter the Company’s stock prices went up. The stock market oscillated violently. Numerous scams bubbled up. Fortunes were lost and made.
Rumors about the people behind it varied from a secret government organization to a collaboration of private, opulent multinationals to a group of crowd-sourced misanthropes. Explanations as to how it functioned spanned the spectrum, right from Computer Science at its peak to Aliens having made their first contact with a very naive and young human race.
Where the Internet did concur was the idea of “working for a living” coming to an end. A golden era where the machines did all the work and all you had to worry about was how well you lived.
The Arts flourished. Space exploration was being considered as the next big challenge. Nuclear fusion was on the verge of being tamed. The first comprehensive base was established on the Moon.
There was already an abundance of resources, the first asteroid having been mined in 2019; the treacherous NGNI-120C flew right between the Earth and the Moon. Earth’s kitchen had been restocked. There was a new chef. And everyone at the table was hungry.
The second Company came up in 2030. It produced machine components. The board had ten people. The third had six.
No one had the dynamics figured out. At such a tumultuous time, who could ? Who could clearly say where this was headed ? Sure, there were heretics but when did that ever stop anything, or anyone ? There was no visionary; rather, there were too many. Everybody just rolled along, in one global, passive resonance, that this was where we wanted to go all along, this was the current mankind had been waiting to catch for over six thousand years.
The first blip came in 2043. In the form of a minor workers’ strike and subsequent riot on account of rampant layoffs.
There had been growing concerns about what to do with the working middle class which no longer had work and thus no longer earned money. The notion that money was no longer needed to explain one’s wealth was regarded, initially as a practical joke, then later with doubt and confusion. And the wealth and benefits of artificially intelligent autonomous beings taking charge of the daily so and so activities of the human race could not, or rather politically, would not be passed on to sections of the society which were weak, socially or economically.
As more and more robots got work done cheaply and efficiently, an increasing number of the people lost their jobs.
Assemble car parts ? We have a robot for that. Package products at the supermarket ? We built an automated system for that. Bank clerk ? We improved upon ATM machine and removed the human factor out of your banking experience! Are you a consultant ? Our Analytics sector handles that now !
A disruptive murmur, almost a whisper initially, creeped into the global commentary. “We can’t live this way !”, it said,”we need to work !”. It seemed to say,”We need work to define ourselves ! Where do we go from here ? What do we do with all this free time ?”
That line of thought was for the privileged though. The poorer sections of the society became poorer. They could not survive in such an intelligent, labor-less world, a world where the physical labors of man were scoffed as inefficient and erratic. Machines were better in every way; and who ever cared for the human factor in a football stadium with immaculate construction ? You either learned how to deal with such technology, or died trying to.
On the other end, curiously though, the extremely wealthy also started looking for the human factor. Hedonistic splurging could only satiate the human mind so. And soon even the plutocrats started displaying a deep desire to work , if only to apply their minds in something productive.
To calculate the orbit of the next inhabitable planet on their own without using the computers; to invest in the stock market and not use an intelligent algorithm to predict stock trends; to hear the scratch of pen on paper and not mindless mechanical clicks or capacitive touchscreens.
But it was the people who ran these companies that controlled the world now – the way it developed, the people who received the benefits, the way the media reported. Any rebellion against their system was systematically crushed, being reprimanded with bad publicity thereafter to squish any such further thoughts.
This generation still remembers what it was like to work. The next generation will be different. They will never know work. They will be easier to control.
It seemed even the rebellious thought so. Thus, before it was too late, a plan was hatched. A plan to end the tyranny of the AI, and to go back to where it all started, Something that would get them back to how things were and start from scratch, doing things correctly this time.
And so, here he was, holding the trigger to a satellite that held the largest EMP gun ever built, albeit not for the purpose he had in mind. The EMP (or Electro-magnetic Pulse) would render every technological device and machine, every AI on Earth useless, disrupting electromagnetic properties of the materials that were used to manufacture them, effectively throwing back human civilization to pre-millenial times. The mid-20th Century was the closest he could fathom, if not further back.
He wondered what would happen after he pressed the button. The communications base on the moon would certainly be the only technological hub to look to. All the intelligence supplied to the base would make sure that the human race never went to being as under-developed as they were back in the 1950s.
It would just give people on Earth enough time to wrangle power from a few and give it back to the many. The closest any one could come to to restart the complex machine that was human civilization.
Kind of like a second chance really, he thought, but funny, though, how nobody will ever see –
The timer on his watch went off. Time was up. The end.
He pressed the button, firmly, keeping his finger there for a few seconds longer than necessary.
He could see the power grid failing, the power switching off, through his window. He lit a cigarette as his room went dark.
To a new beginning.