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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Sky Filled With Drones: A Science Fiction Story

A Sky Filled With Drones: A Science Fiction Story
Long before the General Robots Corporation introduced models that would cause the unemployment of more than 40 million US workers, it introduced version 1.0 of its General Purpose Robot. Few people noticed. It was rather like the release of version 1.0 of Microsoft Windows, which attracted almost no attention.

By the time the General Robots Corporation released version 2.0 of its General Purpose Robot, it began to attract a small amount of press notice. And just as version 3.0 was the release number that caused Microsoft Windows to become a household word, it was version 3.0 of the General Purpose Robot that made the product a household word across the country. Some 15 million workers found themselves out of work, replaced by the General Purpose Robot.

Not long after the General Robots Corporation released version 4.0 of its General Purpose Robot, which had some very powerful self-learning capabilities, experts estimated that more than 30 million US workers had been displaced by the robot. After the release of version 5.0 of the General Purpose Robot, which was dubbed the “Einstein in a box,” the unemployment rate in the United States climbed to more than 25%. Companies kept buying more and more of the General Purpose Robots, and kept firing more and more workers.

In the city of Washington D.C a group of social activists got together to plan a strategy to counter the huge spike in unemployment.

“We have to do something, or half the country will be unemployed before long,” said George Taylor.

“Well, the one resource we have is bodies,” said Frank Jones. “Millions of them. Let's start using them. We'll start organizing mass protests. Maybe someone in Congress will notice if we plant two million feet on the Washington Mall.”

Using all the techniques of social media, a huge event was organized to protest the huge increase in unemployment caused by the use of robots. The plan was to bus in people from thirty different states.

But having made countless billions selling its robots, the General Robots Corporation had anticipated that there would be mass protests, and had begun buying up congressmen like a person would buy cherries at a supermarket. Using its army of congressional lobbyists, the huge corporation obtained the passage of the Robotic Progress Act, which included the following outrageous provision:

The General Robots Corporation shall have the right to defend its corporate business interests against any threat, and shall not be guilty of any criminal wrongdoing for violating any national, state, or local law while pursuing a defense of its corporate business interests. When defending its business interests, the General Robots Corporation shall be held harmless against any lawsuits that may be filed by parties affected by its actions.

On the day of the mass protest on the Washington Mall, the crowd grew larger and larger, eventually reaching a size of more than one million. The crowd listened to speakers denounce the loss of human jobs caused by robots taking so many jobs. Several of the speakers angrily denounced the General Robots Corporation.

Then suddenly a horde of flying robot drones began to appear in the western sky. The crowd looked at the robot drones, and assumed the worst.

“They're drones, just like they used in Afghanistan!” said one protester. “They're here to mow us all down with machine gun fire!”

The crowd began to run away towards the East. But then from exactly that direction there appeared another huge horde of flying robot drones in the sky. The crowd also tried running to the North, but another huge cloud of robot drones appeared in the northern sky. There was one direction left to flee, to the South. But that direction was also blocked by a huge group of flying robot drones in the sky.

Most of the massive crowd stayed where it was. Many said prayers, fearing the worst, thinking a gigantic massacre was about to begin. Thousands thought that the green grass of the Washington Mall was about to run red with the blood of the protesters.

Then all at once the drones started approaching the crowd from all directions, flying back and forth over the crowd. The drones swooped very low, to a height of only about 20 feet.

But the flying robot drones did not fire on the crowd. They just kept flying back and forth over the crowd.

Once it was clear that the flying robot drones were not going to fire on the crowd, the terrified crowd dispersed.

“I guess their whole purpose was just to scare the hell out of us,” said George Taylor. “It pretty much worked. I almost had a heart attack.”

But the flying drone robots had been sent to do more than just scare the protesters. The flying robots had flown over the protesters again and again for the purpose of photographing them. The photographs taken by the flying robot drones were processed by powerful facial recognition software which used a database of faces obtained from online social network pictures. The General Robots Corporation was thereby able to make a list of the names of a large fraction of the protesters. It then used this list to do various types of computerized harm to the protesters. The General Robots Corporation had not used bullets against the protesters, but it did use against them a barrage of bits and bytes that was almost as destructive as bullets.

“I've got reports from very many of our protesters that they've had all kinds of trouble,” said George Taylor, speaking a few weeks after the big protest in Washington D.C. “Some are reporting that people opened credit cards in their names, and charged lots of money. Other people are reporting that their credit records have been messed with, and contain all kinds of outrageous errors, such as false records of missed payments and bankruptcies. Others are reporting that the police computers list them with arrest records or conviction records, even though they've never been arrested. Many people have had their computers wiped out by viruses. We have thousands of cases of identity theft, and innumerable cases of online mischief. For example, my online history now says that I am a convicted arsonist, which is completely false.”

“It's the work of the General Robots Corporation,” said Frank Jones. “They've waged electronic war against us, creating all kinds of hell for the people who attended our protest. But how could they have found out who attended the protest?”

“All those times the flying drones passed over the protesters – the drones were probably taking pictures,” deduced George Taylor correctly. “Then they probably dumped the pictures into a face recognition database to get the names of the attendees.”

“Do you know what happened to me?” said Frank. “They erased my college transcript. The Social Security Administration now says they have no record of my social security number. My bank says I don't even have an account. It's like I've been excommunicated from the human race. And I've heard from many other protesters with the same problem.”

“Next week in Chicago we have another big protest against all the job losses caused by the robots,” said George. “We've got to make sure this doesn't happen again. What can we do?”

“I've got it!” said Frank. “We can call one of the big theatrical supply companies. We'll order a huge number of fake beards, a ton of cheap sunglasses, and a thousand containers of nose putty. Everyone can disguise themselves so they won't be recognized from the photographs taken by the flying drones.”

“Do you have any idea how much that would cost?” complained George. “And do you realize how ridiculous everyone at the big protest would look, wearing fake beards and fake noses? No, Frank, there is actually an existing technology we can use that is very effective at preventing flying drone robots from taking a photograph of your face. And the great thing is, everybody already has this technology.”

“What is it?” asked Frank.

“It's called an umbrella,” said George.