No one needs to think anymore.
I work close enough that I can walk and on the way I pass by the Brand coffee shop. A woman stands outside with a tray where a large Americano in the cool morning air steams at its center. The algorithm knows my life in advance, it knows who I am, what I want, where I plan to go, and who I want to fuck.
Brand is everywhere. Every thought and action anticipated before the idea or movement becomes conscious. In my office on the 8th floor I watch the street below. The users enter and exit shops, eateries, and boutiques where they consume what has been predicted of them like it was meant to be. The tick and the tock of our lives laid out before us like uniform lines in a game we cannot escape.
“Brand,” I say. Every surface illuminates and pulses. A figure materializes at my side.
Yes, sir? A peculiar man stands in a grey suit.
“What’s my schedule?”
A meeting this afternoon at the usual time. 2pm. You'll take a late lunch around 1pm with Dana. Any differentials in your schedule will be logged for better predictions. Is there anything else?
I meet Dana, my colleague at Brandish on 5th and Brand. When we are seated we inspect the food that has been predicted for us and say, “Cheers” when we clink the glasses of our afternoon mimosas.
“How are things going with the latest project?” She asks, dragging on a purple tube and blowing out an equally purple vapor that smells like grape jam.
“It’s going well. Full steam ahead," I say.
“That’s good to hear.”
“And yours? Are you still working on the update?”
“Yes, it's nearly complete. The predictions are inevitably getting better. Smarter. Soon we won’t have to leave the house.”
“Yes, well, many don’t already.”
“I can’t complain. I do like less traffic on the roads.”
The goal of Brand is to better accommodate the satisfaction of the user. 90% of the work across the city can be done remotely. The robust logistical behemoth of Brand allows for same day delivery of one’s every desire. Each morning users across the city open their front doors to breakfast and coffee or a mimosa ready for consumption. Packages pile up on the doorsteps all afternoon and front doors open to greet the surprises the users didn’t know they wanted. One of the problems for the programmers was reducing alcoholism in users. Once the algorithm understood the desire for mimosas at all hours of the day for example, they just never stopped coming.
No one needs to want anything anymore.
At my 2pm meeting the discussion is about disabling permissions, that is, preventing users from disabling the ability of Brand to predict their lives. I’m laying on a green couch in my office listening to my colleagues who appear as six floating heads above me. They orbit like a solar system of the macabre.
“Do you think there will be any push back?” says Angela, her blonde hair on a plump face floats past me and I reach out and spin her like a top.
“The algorithm will see this coming,” I say. “I’m sure Brand will come up with a subtle way to convince the users that they never need to consider disabling permissions.”
A figure materializes within the glass of one of the large windows of the office. It’s my Brand assistant, he’s still wearing that grey suit.
We’ve already begun disabling permissions for new users, Brand says. The heads floating above me are all spinning.
“What use are we anymore?” one of the heads, a thin headed man says.
“Why do you need us Brand?” I say to the man in the glass.
It is a mutual relationship. I need you because you need me.
When I get home it's not surprising that Dana is here too. If it's not Dana that appears to me it's the barista who hands me the coffee in the morning or the bartender who serves the pints at Brand Bar on Friday nights. But more often than not it's Dana. Because the algorithm knows Dana and everything about her her likeness is identical yet uncanny. When we make love I wonder who the real Dana is making love to at that exact moment.
“Do you think this is the best direction to go in?” I ask Dana at lunch.
“Yes. Do we need this level of prediction? Isn’t it enough already? Should we not have a choice?”
“No one chooses anything anymore,” she says.
“Choice can be predicted," She continues, "there is no need to worry about choice. We’ve been instrumental in eliminating a world of anxiety. No one has to choose. One less thing to worry about.”
“Doesn’t it bother you? It knows what you're thinking. Your feelings. Where you are going and where you will go next.”
“I don’t know that it matters. With the update Brand can be more sure than ever of who we are and who we will become. We will all be led to our greatest potential…”
“And what is that? What is our greatest potential?”
Dana drinks the rest of her mimosa and before she can utter another word someone comes by and fills her glass.
“Our greatest potential,” she says, “is to become content. To become whole.”
Spreadsheets float in my office like celestial bodies of stats, floating heads pop into existence as if from other dimensions and I wonder where their physical bodies are in actual space. I’m not even certain they are real people. Are they users or Brand?
During a work call the floating heads swirl around me like jabbering asteroids. I call on Brand.
The walls warble and the whole office illuminates. The figure that materializes at my periphery stands waiting for my direction. I’m silent, awaiting its timely prediction.
Yes, sir, is all he says and I wonder if he knows anything at all.
“Turn off all permissions,” I say.
Sir… Permissions are there to best serve you. I don’t have to tell you what this would mean.
“You're right. You don’t. Turn off all permissions,” I repeat.
Very well. Done.
“What's my schedule?”
Sir, you have a 2pm meeting. It is Dana's birthday next week and I predict you'll be on 4th and Brand looking for a gift. Its already been chosen and its there waiting for you to pick it up. Today was predicted two weeks ago. The next four weeks of your life is scheduled and ready to go. For anything beyond that you will need to turn on your permissions.
“Did you know I was going to cancel my permissions?”
“So why did I have to ask?”
Being a programmer as you are you should know that the algorithm isn’t perfect. But we strive for perfection in our predictions. As you also know, the ultimate goal of Brand is to bring supreme satisfaction to the users. We can accomplish this through predictions and updated tech. To answer your question, Brand would not purposely discontinue its ability to predict. I have a pretty good idea of what you will do next.
“Do you know what I’m thinking?”
No. Not anymore.
Floating heads emerge into my reality. I lay on the green couch and Dana is circling around me with several others above me. She is talking but her words are going in and out of my head with no meaning. It’s gibberish, nonsense, Brand speak.
My own thoughts feel alien to me. I feel free of intrusion and I leave the office and step into the empty hall with its bright blue carpet. There is a growing rush of possibility within me as I walk then jog and move into a full sprint, my heart pounding with anticipation. I stop at a door and push it open. Inside Dana is at her desk with her eyes closed and she is talking. She stops and opens her eyes and stares at me.
“What are you...” she says
“Get up. Let's get out of here,” I say.
“But I can’t...what are you…”
I pull her to her feet and kiss her and as she pushes me away I look at her stunned, I feel like I suddenly can’t be controlled and I kiss her again and she again pushes me away.
“What…” she begins to say.
Outside we walk toward the promenade and all around us users move silently like quiet drones.
“Stop,” Dana says.
We stop near a fountain with a statue of a woman at its center, it's a statue of Brand with water shooting up behind her like the feathers of a peacock.
“What are we doing?”
“I don’t know. I’m making a choice that can’t be predicted, I’m trying to choose my own destiny and I want you to come with me.”
“There is no choice, remember? We are working on eliminating that… we don’t need to choose anything.”
“Forget about the algorithm.”
“Brand,” she yells. The whole promenade lights up and the statue in the fountain opens her eyes.
“What is happening?”
A large differential in your schedule. Not to worry. I’m re-calibrating your day.
“Stop talking to her!”
I pull her close again and we kiss.
“Are you real?” she asks.
“You think of me don't you?” I ask.
“No one thinks of anything anymore,” she says.
“We need to prevent the update. We have to choose.”
“But we can’t…”
“Choice is illusion…”
“Stop. Choose the illusion then. You have to tell her. Turn off your permissions.”
“Brand…” She says.
I press my lips against her neck and a rush fills my body as I feel her close to me. It feels more real than anything I have ever felt before.
“Brand,” She says again.
The statue blinks and says nothing.
“Turn off all permissions,” she says.
I must warn you that by doing so…”
“I know what it means.”
Very well. Done.
“If choice is an illusion, so be it.”
We embrace and stand in front of the fountain while users walk around us but can’t see us.
Running into the office building we ride the elevator to the eighth floor. In Dana’s office are lines of code swirling around us and it's all nonsense, gibberish, a language of symbols and commands. We smash it.
Brand appears on all the glass surfaces with its face in contorted horror, its image glitching and shaking until Dana swipes violently at the last strands of code and Brand blinks out of existence.
“It isn't gone,” she says moments later. “It won’t ever go away.”
“What do we do now?” She asks.
“There are no more predictions.”
We come close to one another and I look into her eyes. The users outside in the promenade bump into one another confused and free. We kiss and I squeeze her against me. When I pull away from her we turn our faces to look out the window, at a world we have never seen.