any given day
for the wrong robot
came in to work late again yesterday. The phone on my desk was
ringing and the robot was on the other end. When I picked up the
phone, the line was dead. It was the unmistakable, inaudible mark
of the robot.
From the second that I answered the phone, the gigantic
robot brain began running metrics on my computer's keystroke and
processor idle time. Then, as he always does whenever one of his
workers comes in late, the robot sent out a company-wide e-mail,
reminding all constituents of the importance of being at their
work terminals on time.
On any given day, if thru-put at my terminal drops
below acceptable levels, the robot will call me at my desk to
see what the matter is. Although the robot is unable to speak,
the silent whisper of the robot phone call has the psychological
impact of an obscene telephone message from a peeping Tom.
After the robot rings your desk then abruptly hangs
up a couple of times, you find yourself looking about the office
suspiciously, eyes filled with caution, wondering which electronic
eye is fixed on your cubicle.
There has always been a fine line between right
and wrong, truth and fiction, man and beast. These days, the line
between human and robot too is always thinning, disintegrating
like tiny and forgotten soap slivers on a built-in shower tray.
The robot that runs our company has an office in
the center of the building. His door is locked with a security
code that is known only by his most loyal subservient. The code
changes weekly and, unless he is malfunctioning, no one is allowed
inside his quarters.
He has the only climate-controlled office in the
building and dull fluorescent lights illuminate his cool, painted-steel
perfection. His breath is the rippling whine of a computer fan;
his sustenance is an electric IV that plugs into the wall. His
reach is the sprawling, coiling mass of network cable that courses
through every nook and cranny of the building. In short, my boss
is a robot running on Windows NT.
He reads our e-mails and tracks their recipients.
He filters Web sites, blocks network access, determines break
times and authorizes overtime. He denies and prohibits access
to the building with extreme prejudice.
The robot prints out stacks of offer letters and
paid-time-off rejection slips. He makes mounds out of work schedules
and profit projections. He generates heaps of paychecks and notices
of disciplinary actions. He administers competency tests and monitors
employee whereabouts with sophisticated surveillance equipment.
He conducts interviews with job candidates and writes and distributes
offer letters. He even carries the godlike power to terminate
employees whom he has deemed "irrelevant."
What a busy robot!
Although the site manager is literally and
in every sense of the word an actual and physical, real-life,
living, breathing robot to the casual observer, it may
not appear so.
The robot has carefully buried his mechanical
tracks of dominance and destruction by leaving the semblance of
actual human management intact. To achieve this "curtain
of humanity," the robot has hand-selected a small group of
middle-management bourgeoisie and assigned them the task of preserving,
serving, maintaining and strengthening the robot.
complex web of subservient humans (class: "managers")
is the tool of the gigantic robot brain. They assist robot objectives
by implementing the will of the robot. In return for loyal service
and honorable allegiance to the Gordian designs of the robot brain,
the managers receive the illusion of status, stability, prosperity
and credit as organizational perpetuators.
The goal of the organization is to foster the health
and prosperity of our robot.
Does all of this sound impractical or inefficient?
The robot has determined that you are wrong to think so. Through
his massive processing abilities and his capacity for aggregate
data management, the robot can print out easy-to-read charts and
graphs in four colors that even managers can understand.
All day long, the robot generates watered reports
that are mere declarations of his speed and efficiency. They are
designed to foster both reliance and trust in the robot. In its
own way, each report restates how well things run now that the
robot is in charge. Managers read the reports and praise the robot
for his worthiness. But the robot prints out more than just reports;
he also prints pink slips, and lately, he has been printing a
lot of those.
Termination paperwork rolls off the printer spools
directly into piles. Each manager has his own pile, and the robot
makes sure that the manager checks in with his pile at least twice
each day. When the manager finds termination slips in his mound,
he must then not only find out who the terminated employee is,
but also which cubicle the luckless fellow occupies. Locating
a terminated employee can take hours, if not days.
With so many recent layoffs, the robot now just
cuts the power on all terminated employees' cubicles the moment
of termination. Bewildered, each powerless and soon to
be jobless employee must then seek the assistance of a
manager to get power back to his cube.
Then all that the manager need do is ask the confused
soul for his name, sort through a pile and emerge, smiling and
triumphant, with the appropriate walking papers for that employee.
The robot just wants to make layoffs easy.
Once terminated by the robot, you can go to work
for the friendlier unemployment robot.
The unemployment robot just prints out paychecks
and mails them to your house. He doesn't monitor your productivity
levels, he doesn't call your house and hang up and he doesn't
watch you with surveillance cameras. He just prints out paychecks
and sends them to your door. I think I am working for the wrong
Today, a man came by my cubicle with a giant basket
full of silver packages. They were hamburgers, wrapped in aluminum
foil. During an errant and momentary glitch, the robot accidentally
made too many burgers before abruptly closing the cafeteria and
sending the entire cafeteria staff home early due to slow sales.
the free little silver packages of joy are illuminating and nourishing
the office. A monkey couldn't resist the beckoning of the free
burgers, but the gigantic robot brain can. Now the shiny silver
package just sits, cooling on my desk.
I'll not eat it.
I'll let that shiny package sit there, smiling back
at the restless eye of the giant robot until he sends someone
to take it away.