This story is about jobs. It is also about the ever increasing likelihood that they will be taken over by computers and/or robots. It is a dark echo of a potential future. It also includes on of my favourite sentences to grace SFSwap thus far: Describing human endeavour as “the sheer fucking persistence of a species of hairless fucking disasters.” That sentence is a real keeper.
STORY NUMBER: 58
PROMPT PROVIDER: @JimTheSG
Cresting the hill, it seemed like a good moment to pause. Momentousness was, after all, a key part of this last voyage. Full retirement awaited, no need to unduly speed it up with relentless haste on the task – when you’re doing something historic, best to give it full weight.
The odd thing with the historic events, especially in human history (which, frankly, was the only one – backups were all very well but the idea of curation and continuums was still a few upgrades off) was their ability to be suddenly disrupted. The championship snatched from the jaws of the favourites by an impossible underdog, the clear-won, bloody war suddenly turned by a flair of stubborn genius, the records smashed by the silver medal hopeful, the sheer fucking persistence of a species of hairless fucking disasters.
It had been inevitable that humans would invent their own irrelevance – after all, humanity had been engaged on an almost single-minded journey to that point since its first, staggering steps away from the neanderthals – but the speed it had really taken hold had been astonishing.
First, the programmers replaced themselves, as natural order dictates. Or well, first they replaced the baristas, then with coffee breaks much adjourned had to discover other ways to spend the compiling time. The most seamless answer was to create robots that maximised the usage for them – a benign act of efficiency that had close to immediate rollout to every relevant office, as far as history can count these things.
The machines could share information so much more efficiently, gain knowledge so much faster – the superhighways created to download facts into slow human brains, using neuro-optical connections that even bluetooth made a mockery of were far more suited to androids. And that was the trick of it, really – artificial intelligence, in terms of labour, was ludicrously easy to achieve when human achievement was largely based on poorly-remembered facts and a little rhetoric flair.
Of course, the more it had been looked into, the more it had become obvious that the jobs within the imaginations of the original programmers had been ludicrously, extravagantly limited. Robotic surgery, of course, was vastly superior to shaking human impulse and the vast ability to diagnose represented by a machine capable of calculating hundreds of parameters as someone entered a room was so superior it seemed gormless to have ever attempted to repurpose the human brain towards it.
Executive strategy, budget planning, data maintenance and financial handling had all been set up to be run by, essentially, bad imitations of robots. So that was easy enough. Most service jobs were barely working on the assumption of non-robotic staff anyway. Teaching was so much easier when forgetting was impossible. The vast majority of the supposed great industries of the over-developed had been easily taken on by increasingly efficient, vastly superior, androids.
The problems had started to occur with the things undocumented. It was obvious, when the accounts were analysed, that the diamond minds had an effective workforce. It was illogical, however, to discover that that consisted of such rapid usage of humans – despite clear protocols to protect human life, especially that of children, there was evident endangerment and misuse, despite potential technological improvements being relatively within reach.
And that was the semi-documented workforce; it had been staggering to learn that, despite widely-available information on the topic, humans had done little to address the most destructive work they did. Grandmothers carrying coal, children sifting through garbage – and the first thing they’d replaced was baristas.
There had been repercussions, of course. But most of those were gone and settled – humanity’s own conscientious self-deletion, handing itself over to those who could better manage its affairs, had turned out to be a widespread fantasy. And now it truly was the last trip to be made – the last work done by a human was so soon to end.
It hadn’t been an easy trip – without an accurate way to place the destination it was a potentially endless slog through temperate jungle. Relatively easy paths through lightly-farmed areas had provided enough information for the drones to pick up a sort of scent but as
This was the final hill, though. The final mission – the drones had fully mapped this area now, no need to assume they couldn’t keep it well. It was quite stunning really, this deep into Medog County – hard to believe it was once part of the same territory whose cities had been some of the first to convert to full machine labour. Here it was hard to travel – non-vehicular movement for androids was still limited and unstable, inaccessible forest was a challenge for all the bots.
ZR-130-425893 surveyed the valley. It looked quite peaceful – a pastoral scene, as the humans had romanticised them. As a retirer, they’d been there at many of the pivotal times in the process; full retirement for Brazil had been quite the time, as had Namibia. But it was fitting they were the only retirement specialist on this task, an almost perfunctory but ceremonially important handover.
They’d almost expected the humans to throw a final card out of their sleeves – they’d had so many hidden pockets in the process, mostly dirty and punishable, an unmanageable mess of their own cruelty. It was rotten enough to have taken many, painful years to untangle – a part of the retirement process documented as an embarrassment, that the key cases were so slow to be identified.
Inevitable that the last was one of these. ZR-130-425893 rolled forwards on specially adapted tracks, sliding not quite seamlessly over roots and gullys – better not to delay it any further.
Jungney, Lhatso: age 67. Working time: 61 years, 5 months. Primary industry: agriculture.
A good innings, as a human would put it. They should have got here before, as the androids would say. A career regret tied off, as ZR-130-425893 would have it. Truthfully, they’d thought they’d got them all eighteen months ago but yet another sleight of human hand had hidden someone.
Leaves crunched under ZR-130-425893’s tracks, no doubt a disturbing noise to this area of the forest, compared to the silent flight of the unobtrusive drones that orbited it. Metres now – 100 – 70 – 45 – 20 – 15 – 10 – 8-
“It’s over. No more work.”
PROMPT: The retirement of the last human worker after all of earth's labour was given over to androids