12 comments

Funny Science Fiction Speculative

TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot Initial Performance Report

DATE: January 15, 2029

To Whom It May Concern:

Per your company’s request and as required by the terms of our contract in exchange for the preferential, discounted financial terms extended to our library as a governmental entity, I am hereby submitting my first periodic report regarding Archivobot’s performance. I must report that, despite being in only the late experimental phases of its development, Archivobot performed above expectations today, its first full day of operation.

For its initial task, we instructed the robot to re-shelve an entire day’s worth of returned books. Its RFID scanner appears to be calibrated correctly from the factory install: of the books it re-shelved, we found that there were only two mis-shelves (which, I calculate, is an error rate of approximately 0.17%). The device only required approximately two hours, seven minutes to complete the re-shelving process, which I acknowledge is more efficient than a human librarian.

Our library’s digital management system was also correctly updated by the robot to indicate that all of the re-shelved books had been checked-in. I’m ashamed to note that an erroneous failure to note a book as checked-in on the database has been one of our most common patron complaints. Nothing leaves a worse taste in the mouths of both the circulation desk attendant and the patron than a book that has been accruing days (or even weeks) of overdue fines despite having been returned and re-shelved. Hopefully, Archivobot will be able to reduce the frequency of such occurrences.

Over the course of the next several days, we will proceed to assess the device’s performance in a variety of other tasks, including facilitating the check-out process and providing assistance to library patrons in locating library materials.

I feel it necessary to reiterate my concerns as to the nature of social interactions between the machine and library patrons; in my thirty-five years of experience, a highly personal and intuitive understanding between a librarian and a patron is essential to assisting a patron in successfully achieving their research and reference goals. I remain dubious as to a machine’s capacity to simulate such an understanding. Further, due to the increased mechanization of our society and displacement of human labor, I fear that some patrons may harbor feelings of resentment towards robots generally. However, this is purely a personal observation.

Sincerely,

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

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TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot Periodic Performance Report

DATE: January 22, 2029

To Whom It May Concern:

Per your company’s request, I am hereby submitting my second periodic report regarding Archivobot’s performance. I am pleased to report that Archivobot continues to surpass our initial performance expectations. Further, it has not yet required any extraordinary maintenance.

From a statistical perspective, Archivobot’s performance in re-shelving books has continued at functionally the same level and has even improved slightly (likely due to the robot acclimating to the library’s geography and optimizing its travel routes). We have expanded its tasks to include re-shelving films, discs, and other multimedia materials, and have not experienced any breakage or damage of the materials. Over the entire last week, Archivobot’s error rate has averaged 0.15%. Although the amount of materials returned can vary significantly on a daily basis (particularly on the weekend), the robot completed each day’s re-shelving in a time period ranging between one hour, forty-seven minutes and two hours, twenty-nine minutes. Again, these time periods remain within the acceptable performance benchmarks established by our contract.

Unexpectedly, Archivobot has found favor with many patrons of our library. While many patrons maintain a preference for interaction with human librarians and assistants, the youth in particular have quite taken to the robot. While we understand that we are currently utilizing the basic configuration only, Archivobot has provided itself quite capable of directing patrons to specific sections of the library. It has even been able to correlate author/title information and provide Dewey Decimal numbers that allow patrons to find a specific book without needing to resort to the computerized library catalog. This has substantially reduced librarian time devoted to location tasks and enabled librarians to focus on reference and more complex patron assistance tasks.

In fact, during the times that Archivobot is working in the Youth Services wing, children have regularly made a game of following the robot and playing an improvised form of “hide and seek” by predicting its pathway. Older children also have begun experimenting with how many books they can balance on Archivobot before the books tumble off as Archivobot moves. Small children in particular seem to enjoy its voice-command responses: some have begun asking it questions solely in order to hear its synthesized responses. While I initially feared that its mechanical appearance would be intimidating to children, the rudimentary eye movements and imitative facial expressions Macroshift programmed into the robot seem to offset any such concern, as I’m sure your company’s target marketing groups indicated. I admit that it is a rather charming series of interactions between human and robot. This impromptu STEAM education, which supports the library’s mission, is an unanticipated side benefit of Archivobot.

Sincerely,

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

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TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot Performance Report/Request for Upgrade Price Quote

DATE: January 29, 2029

To Whom it May Concern:

I am hereby submitting my third periodic report regarding Archivobot’s performance. Further, I must request that a representative of Macroshift contact me by telephone at their earliest convenience to discuss a price quote for upgrading Archivobot to include the “Reference Services” module. While our library had initially concluded that this particular service was outside our budget parameters, the city government has subsequently determined that Archivobot’s re-shelving efficiency is sufficient to reduce our human staffing requirements for part-time assistants by two. As a result, a portion of the budget allocated to compensation is now available to apply towards such an upgrade.

Archivobot’s re-shelving performance continues to remain stable, if not increase slightly. While our librarians no longer have sufficient free time to track its statistical performance as precisely, the time required by Archivobot to complete re-shelving continues well within acceptable benchmarks. Error rates remain consistent and we still have not discovered any damage to multimedia materials that have been re-shelved. Finally, we have experienced no breakdowns or required any extraordinary maintenance. Frankly, its breakdown rate is better than that of our laser printers and copiers.

It also appears that library patron acceptance of Archivobot is increasing as people become accustomed to its presence. Many patrons (in particular, senior citizens) have shown themselves more willing to communicate with the machine directly; in fact, certain demographics actually prefer to engage with Archivobot over a human librarian. Preschool and elementary-age children remain fascinated with its presence in the Youth Services wing, while teenagers appear to have finally grown bored of asking it “whether its refrigerator is running” and similar pranks. Further, an informal poll suggests that, unexpectedly, many patrons consider Archivobot “cute,” “hard-working” and “personable”. While I personally fail to comprehend the application of these adjectives to a machine, public opinion regarding Archivobot’s performance is clearly favorable.

Sincerely,

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

#

TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot Reference Services Module Issues/Archivobot Periodic Performance Report

DATE: February 5, 2029

To Whom It May Concern:

I am hereby submitting my fourth periodic report regarding Archivobot’s performance. While Archivobot’s performance with regard to its original re-shelving duties remains consistent, I must raise some concerns with regard to the functionality of the newly-installed “Reference Services” module. I would appreciate if one of your service representatives could telephone me to discuss some deficiencies our library has experienced with this module.

Generally, our view of Archivobot’s performance remains favorable, although I would prefer to discuss certain details by telephone. Our library is, after all, a governmental entity that is subject to public records requests.

Sincerely,

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

#

TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot- Notice of Deficiency/Periodic Report

DATE: February 12, 2029

To Whom It May Concern:

I am hereby submitting my fifth periodic report regarding Archivobot’s performance. As I have not received the opportunity to discuss the defective “References Services” module by telephone with a Macroshift service representative that I requested in my last communication, I am now forced to formally raise my serious concerns regarding this module in writing.

Before I address those concerns, I will provide the customary summary of Archivobot’s re-shelving and check-in/check-out logistics tasks: it continues to perform acceptably. No extraordinary maintenance has been required to date.

What is not acceptable, however, is its performance of the additional duties that were allegedly supported by the “Reference Services” module. Although Archivobot is now capable of answering questions posed by children on a level of complexity similar to those of a standard cloud-based personal virtual assistant, it struggles to comprehend queries of a higher order of difficulty. I have received a number of complaints from library patrons that it is not sufficiently addressing or responding to their queries. As an unfortunate example, a high school student had been working on a research paper regarding ancient Celtic religious practices: specifically, deposition of treasure in bodies of water. When she asked Archivobot for research assistance, the robot actually directed her to books that related to sport fishing!

Similarly, when an elderly patron sought assistance from Archivobot in researching the sacred lives of Renaissance-era saints for her church’s book group, the robot suggested that she review travel guides for the Caribbean! I must note that the original Saint Vincent, beautified for his work with galley slaves and association with charitable organizations, would likely cringe at being confused with a yacht-filled tourist haven.

These incidents are merely two representative examples. My hope is that this problem stems from a simple calibration issue or defective module hardware that can be addressed with minimal disruption or expense to either Macroshift or our library. Notwithstanding the difficulties we are experiencing with the “Reference Services” module, the unit itself is performing its original duties adequately and our library continues to rely upon its efficient completion of said duties following our dismissal of part-time staff members. Again, I request that one of your support representatives contact me to discuss a resolution of this issue.

Sincerely,

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

#

TO: reports@macroshift.com

FROM: smreed@metropol.lib.gov

RE: Archivobot- Notice of Indemnification Demand/Notice of Material Non-conformance

DATE: February 17, 2029

Attention: Random, Ineffective Spambots:

As I have not yet received the courtesy of a reply from a human being to my prior two electronic mail communications, I am forced to advise you that the city’s legal counsel will be contacting Macroshift’s (hopefully human) general counsel shortly under separate cover with a demand for indemnification pursuant to Section 12(a)(3)(ii) of our contract. For the record, Macroshift’s attempt to outsource its customer dispute resolution functions to artificial intelligence is a dismal failure (you may consider that a response to your automated electronic survey).

That being said, as our contract apparently requires that the library continue to provide Macroshift with periodic reports notwithstanding the existence of a contractual dispute, I am hereby providing you with my sixth periodic report, although I no longer believe that it is actually being read.

In summary, Archivobot can shelve books and facilitate check-in and check-out services exceptionally well. Archivobot makes an adequate substitute for a library GPS. Archivobot’s “Reference Services” module “upgrade” is a defective, liability-spewing disaster.

Our first inkling of serious trouble came when a married couple visited the library together. When the female patron made a simple request for recommendations for romance novels, Archivobot proceeded to (loudly) recommend “Anna Karenina,” “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” and “Madame Bovary”. Then it added an unsolicited reminder that her checked-out copy of “A Guide to Expeditious Matrimonial Mediation Matters” was overdue. It is abundantly clear that Archivobot inappropriately accessed the female patron’s check-out history in making its recommendations in direct contravention of all regulations.

Not surprisingly, the male patron recognized a certain similarity of subject matters and began (even more loudly) demanding an explanation from his wife, who promptly dissolved into tears. Hasty and indignant words were exchanged, including references to sinful conduct. Apparently believing that the male patron was speaking to it directly, Archivobot helpfully quoted Matthew 5:27-30 (in the words of the public domain World English Bible, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery; but I tell you that everyone who gazes at a woman to lust after her has committed adultery with her already in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna. If your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off, and throw it away from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Gehenna’”).

In retrospect, I believe that this may be the first divorce proceeding commenced ever due to Archivobot. A subpoena for the library database’s history of books checked-out by the female patron for the past five years has already been received from the male patron’s divorce attorney. Similarly, the female patron’s attorney has served a demand letter on the library that included the ominous words “infliction of emotional distress.” Not that this wasn’t a serious enough event, but what if the female patron had been a domestic violence victim?

Another incident involved Archivobot’s inadvertent disclosure of protected personal health information. While I personally do not wish to share details in writing, as I am a librarian rather than a health-care lawyer, let us simply say that a patron apparently suffered an affliction of an intimate nature. When Archivobot repeated a reference query in its usual loud tone (have I mentioned yet that your company needs to provide a voice-volume adjustment mechanism?), our patron was sufficiently mortified that they fled the library altogether. Of course, this took place late Saturday morning, during the library’s busiest hours, and a substantial crowd of patrons witnessed the event. As the incident occurred only two days ago, I have not yet heard from that patron’s lawyer, but expect to shortly.

Last, but certainly not least, I am forced to mention the occurrence of a hostile interaction between Archivobot and a number of teenagers during library “quiet hours” yesterday. While I am grateful that the robot’s bar-code laser reader is not particularly powerful, I have still received copies of several doctors’ bills for eye injuries from the teenagers at issue, as well as from the assistant reference librarian who had been moving to intervene (and who intends to file a worker’s compensation claim). I truly question the mental health of the Macroshift employee who programmed that particular response into Archivobot!

A response to this report from a human representative of Macroshift that substantively addresses the now well-documented defects in the “Reference Services” module is required within three business days. Alternatively, in the absence of such a response, I will personally deactivate Archivobot by any means required to avoid any further liability being incurred by the library. If necessary, I’ll re-shelve the goddamned books myself: no level of “efficiency” is worth this. I’m a public servant and my salary is included within the library budget! On an additional note: I will never buy a Macroshift product for personal use again for the rest of my life.

Please be guided accordingly.

Sophia M. Reed

Head Librarian

April 22, 2022 15:18

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12 comments

Alex Wheatley
03:10 Apr 28, 2022

I thoroughly enjoyed this story— what a creative approach to the prompt! Thank you for sharing. I liked that some components of the story weren’t fully spelled out (e.g., choosing to use some legal jargon, choosing to keep things vague re the hostile bar code laser incident)— it kept me curious and felt very real.

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L.M. Lydon
14:20 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you for your thoughts. It was a fun story to write! I envisioned poor Sophia as a very proper, intelligent older lady who was careful to follow all of the rules exactly and to not spell out too much indiscreetly, who was driven absolutely mad by the chaos unleashed by the robot!

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J.C. Lovero
01:54 Apr 28, 2022

Hi L.M., What a fun story. I am obsessed with stories written in epistolary format, so you had me at TO: 😁 😆 😅 😂 🤣 The story was a nice glimpse into where we are moving with technology. In a darker setting, this could have gone "Black Mirror" if this was in a horror/suspense genre. Glad you kept it light though - I don't like scary stories before bedtime!

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L.M. Lydon
14:16 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you so much for your comments. I've always wanted to try an epistolary story and this seemed like an entertaining place to try it. The ban of technology is always a fun subject, and when better than to write about it than by fake email? :)

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Lisa Naughton
22:57 Apr 27, 2022

Interesting story. I also was guessing the final letter might be from the robot. I liked the e-mail format. I thought, at first, that the initial 3 letters were long and was unsure where you were going, but I can appreciate that sometimes technolgy can seem to be working out for a period without the shortcoming becoming evident. The problem being that once things go wrong, they may go VERY WRONG.

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L.M. Lydon
14:12 Apr 28, 2022

Thank you for your comments. Yes, I agree completely: there is a sort of lulling effect in the beginning where thing seem to be working out and then when situations and tasks become more complex, everything goes very south very quickly!

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Zack Powell
00:27 Apr 27, 2022

Great story, L.M.! Love the voice that you wrote this in, and that the whole piece was told entirely through email correspondence. Very original way to do a story, and I think you used that framework effectively. Other thoughts: I appreciate you setting this in 2029, less than a decade away - this definitely seems like it could happen in the very near future. I like how the story took its time for shit to hit the fan, but when it happened, it happened big time, and it worked because you established the library's norms so well early on. It's ...

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L.M. Lydon
01:08 Apr 27, 2022

Thanks so much for your kind comments. It was a lot of fun to brainstorm the various ways in which the robot's performance could go south. As I wrote, I felt rather bad for poor Sophia myself- she was just so offended by the robot at first, then came to accept it, and then... well...

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Chris Campbell
00:13 Apr 27, 2022

A fun read. Possibly an ominous sign for the future of librarians :) I half expected the Archivobot to run amok and kill the patrons, prompting a final email of contract cancellation and denial. The series of emails to Macroshift remind me of whenever I have to text chat with support services for my online server. Robot-driven (AI) customer support chats are all too common now, so when the support chat lacks fluidity, I sometimes ask the question, "Am I speaking to a human?" I don't always get the answer I want. Your past life as a lawyer...

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L.M. Lydon
01:14 Apr 27, 2022

Thank you for your comments. Well, if Sophia fails to deactivate it, we never know what will happen next. Or even worse, when she tries to deactivate it... Perhaps someday soon robots and chat-bots will function more effectively in human interaction roles but their day is not yet here in my opinion!

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Riel Rosehill
15:55 Apr 26, 2022

Hi! This was so fun to read... I was kind of expecting the last email to be from the robot whilst it was all going well, expecting head librarian to be replaced with all the rest of the staff with just Archivobot! So, when it all went askew it was a good twist for me. Also, that Bible quote... if that's actually in the bible (I wouldn't know), wow, that is insane!

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L.M. Lydon
16:11 Apr 26, 2022

Thank you for reading. I love this idea for an ending- so much fun! Yes, I did actually pull the quote from one of the public domain bibles (it was actually even worse than I had thought it might be).

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