I could see the blue of the ocean to my right. The car sped up along the highway, turning at the bends sharply. But I wasn’t afraid. I knew I’d be at peace finally. I took a swig of whiskey from my flask. I thought back to all the conversations and the numerous phone calls that I had to take while driving. My wife never understood the importance of being idle.
“You’re a useless, lazy bastard!”, she would scream.
Always calling me when I was driving. Because that was the safest time to call. The software made sure of that. It was also the safest place for me to drink. And I revelled in that. Being driven in the car was my nightmare and my solace.
“So, you’re ready Travis?”
“Yes. I think this is for the best. It will bring me peace finally.”
I smiled and closed my eyes as the Ted took another sharp swerve.
Lauren opened her eyes to the foggy sunlight streaming in her room. She didn’t even have to check the clock anymore. Her alarm was different now. The software made sure that she kept her schedule. No more morning rushes, no more being stuck in the traffic, no more spilled coffee, no more forgotten clothes that needed to be washed, no more worrying about getting the car fuelled up to reach work.
She stepped out of her bed, ruffling her short pixie cut hair, and headed to the bathroom. The television turned on to her favorite news channel as she brushed.
“TODAY MARKS TEN YEARS OF LESTA’s LAUNCH OF PREDICTIVE SOFTWARE THAT MARKED THE BEGINNING OF A SAFER ERA FOR HUMANS”, the news ticker flashed on the screen.
It had been ten years since the ‘pre-empath’ software had been brought into their lives. Ten years of living like a bloody robot. Lauren absolutely hated it.
The software was so good that she might as well have retired from the police force ten years back. Suicides, murders, accidents - everything could be predicted now. Everyone was being saved, whether they liked it or not. Her job had been reduced to feeding information to her own computer, which would in turn generate more data to feed the pre-empath.
Oh well, ten years of living like a robot can turn you into one, she thought, as she finished her breakfast and walked towards her car.
“Good morning Lauren. Had a good sleep?”
“Oh shut up and drive. You’re a software, not my best friend.”, she grumbled as she entered the back seat of the car. Her seat belt fastened itself and her car drove.
“Bloody self driving car”, she muttered again. Driving her car had been her only way to unwind. It was her connection to her father’s memories, of his teaching her how to drive the stick. Of them going on impromptu long drives, speeding up, slowing down. But now, you couldn’t do anything on a whim. Everything was pre-determined. Your destination and the journey as well.
But as soon as she reached her office and stepped in, she tensed. Something was wrong. She felt the tingling sensation of having the need to act. What was it?
“Lauren! Thank goodness you’re here! The pre-empath informed us that you were already on your way, but you’ve got to see this! We have a red alert!”
“A red alert??!!”, Lauren blurted out and stopped in her tracks.
“Yes ..you heard it right. Let me take you to the viewing room, so you can see for yourself. Everyone is in a fix. This hasn’t happened in ten freaking years, Lauren. I’m oscillating between finally feeling like I will get to do my job and save some people, and being shit scared that I won’t be able to save them because the software didn’t predict this!”
“Calm down Jeff. Take me to the viewing room and get me somebody from Lesta’s tech team. Tell them their miraculous software is finally fucking up”, Lauren almost smiled to herself as she passed on the instructions to her team and walked into the viewing room.
On the screen she saw, a white Sedan speeding up along the highway and swerving as if it was completely out of control. That was in itself unusual, since the auto driven cars never lost control. But what was even more terrifying was that at the end of the road there were two choices and both would lead to possible deaths. One led to a plunge into the roaring ocean below and the other led straight into a marathon event flag off point. And somehow, with all the swerving the car was doing, the pre-empath software wasn’t able to generate a confident choice of whether the vehicle would crash or jump? And that is what had triggered the red alarm.
“Lauren, the tech guy from Lesta are on the call”
“Put them on speaker.”
“Hello? Yes, I’m Detective Lauren from the State Police of Pre-emptive death patrol. We have a red alert and we need someone to sort this out urgently.”, Lauren tried her most calm and authoritative tone.
“Hi Lauren. A red alert you say? But that’s impossible! This has never happened in the last ten years. Let me check..”
Lauren cut off the woman or probably the teenager on the other side of the line and almost barked, “Listen, talk to your superiors or whoever you need to. But I am literally watching this car drive into the ocean or into other people as we talk and waste time. We have thirty minutes before the car decides its fate and we need your software to predict which option its going to take so we can take a course of action, before anyone sues your company. Am I clear?”
“Yes Ma’am”, the girl stuttered.
In ten seconds, few other bee-bops announced the entry of more people on the teleconference call.
“Detective, I have the senior tech support from both the auto drive and pre-empath software teams”, the teenager announced.
“Good. Guys, we have ten minutes to sort this out. Because my team will need twenty minutes to decide whether to tow the car from the ocean or to build a barricade before it reaches the marathon flag off point. Sadly, even my manpower is restricted, since we never expected something like this to happen, especially during the festival season.”, Lauren drilled in again.
“Detective, Mark here from the auto drive software team. We have run a diagnostics on the software installed in that car and we’re utterly confounded since it is working perfectly fine. We could not detect any over ride or virus on the software and the driver is fully attuned to the owner and rider of the vehicle.”
“Shouldn’t the pre-empath software be able to predict which way the car will turn?”, Jeff asked.
“Unfortunately no. The pre-empath software only works on humans based on the data that we receive from their daily decisions. But since robots or AI or software like the self driven car are already programmed to follow only a particular instruction, the pre-empath software doesn’t apply to other softwares”, spoke a very dejected sounding man on the other end.
“Ok, what do we know about the owner of the vehicle? Is there any way to reach to him from the auto drive car?”, Lauren asked.
“We did carry out a background check on the owner. His name is Travis and he doesn’t seem to have any past record that would flag him off for a suicide case or for a terrorist. We tried to reach him on his phone, but there is no signal.”
“What about using the self driving car’s comm-sat app?”, the teenager chipped in on the call.
“Oh yes, let’s try that”, responded the Mark.
“Hello, you have reached Ted, Travis’ driver. How can I be of assistance today?”, responded a mechanical voice on the other end.
“Hello Ted. We need to speak to Travis. Can you inform him of this call?”, asked Mark.
“I am extremely sorry, but Travis is not available at the minute”, automated Ted responded with a calm that was unnerving.
“Ted, we need you to initiate safety protocol and manual override option, so that we can take control of the vehicle. There seems to be some glitch in your vehicle and your driver is unsafe and at high risk to others”, Mark instructed.
Lauren watched the conversation play out and realised that it might just become another mundane day. These robots were utterly submissive. Well, at least they would be able to save the man. This just seemed so easy. She felt upset that the credit would most probably go to Lesta’s tech team for saving the day. So much for good police work. She signed inwardly.
But just then, everything turned on its head and took a turn no one in the room or on the phone expected. Ted, the utterly submissive, auto drive software, disconnected the call, after speaking what everyone in the room heard for the first time in their lives from a software..
“I’m sorry, but I need to do this for me. For Travis. Goodbye.”
And with that, the car swerved to the right and plunged into the ocean.
Two days later, when the forensics team found parts of the car and Travis’s bloated body washed up on the shore, they found that Travis had extremely high content of alcohol in his system. He had probably passed out drunk when the car plunged into the water.
Lesta’s stocks had plummeted and no one had any clue why and how the auto drive software could make a decision that was opposite to the instructions that it was built on. No one could understand why the pre-empath software hadn’t been able to predict that Travis might be drunk and could have been a closet alcoholic, putting himself at risk when he entered the car that day.
A week later, one night, Lauren finally had her breakthrough.
MURDER COMMITTED BY SOFTWARE.
That’s the headline that ran in all the leading news channels the next week, now that Lauren had cracked this impossible case. It struck her the week before, as she dug through Travis’s life. A perfect man on paper. But a closet alcoholic.
A man who had an estranged partner who always called and abused him when he was in the car. The auto drive software made it the best place to have arguments, get stressed or have a drink in, for the owner. Travis kept his drinking to a point where it wouldn’t be picked up by the pre-empath software. The pre-empath software could only predict suicidal tendencies based on medical records or past suicide attempts.
But it wasn’t Travis who was suicidal. It was Ted.
Ted, Travis’s auto drive software, which was programmed to be completely in tune with their owner’s feelings and routines. Ted, who listened in to all the vile things Travis’s partner yelled at him. Ted, who heard Travis cry every day in the car, saying to himself, “I wish this would all end. I wish this would all go away.”
Ted, who decided, that Travis could do with some peace, finally. Ted, the software who was depressed and jumped.