In the year 2032 A.D., the American people, fed up with their incompetent and corrupt government, voted to abolish it in favor of establishing an A.I. to decide and implement national policy. The A.I. draws from a dataset and set of algorithms that are programmed manually, by a 25-year-old genius by the name of Jake Pullman. Mr. Pullman sits at a computer in his house and guides the A.I. to shape and control everything that happens in America. This system operates much like playing a very large world-building game. You can probably see where this is going.
“It’s not supposed to do that. I ran the simulation this morning and all the possibilities checked out positive.”
“How many did you analyze?”
“I didn’t analyze any, Doug; that’s what it’s bloody there for! And there were over thirteen million!”
“Well Jake, people are getting really pissed off now. Did you really think putting in queues in the timber trade routes would be a good idea?”
“People are always pissed off with me. I’ve learned to let it roll off my back. Deforestation is a big issue right now and I had to put a bottleneck in there somewhere.”
“Yeah, sure you did.”
“How was I supposed to know it would cause thousands of lumberjacks to lose their jobs and go into male prostitution to make ends meet? That didn’t come up in any of the simulations!”
“The dataset obviously didn’t account for the expertise those men have in handling hard wood. You should have thought of that. This is a bigger debacle than when you tried to saturate the Nevada desert with Gatorade.”
Jake stared at his computer in silence as he shuddered at the memory of the electrolytes seeding the desert with amounts of electricity so great it created a race of mutated extremely fast scorpions and powerfully deadly sandstorms. “I’m doing the best I can with the data I have.”
“It’s not about data. It’s about common sense.”
“Just shut up, okay? I’m the one in charge of programming, remember?”
“You won’t be much longer if you don’t stop those teachers from striking everywhere.”
“The unions are hammering out a new collective bargaining agreement as we speak. It wouldn’t even be happening if the school districts would stop being such sticks in the mud about guaranteeing every teacher paid leave for nervous breakdowns as well as free bulletproof vests.”
“You gotta own that one, man. You’re the one who promulgated the slogan ‘A Vest on Every Chest.’”
“Again, that wasn’t me – that was the A.I.! I think I had a decimal point wrong when I wrote that algorithm.”
“Does a misplaced decimal point explain your mistake in boosting the national space program which got everyone all excited about moving to Mars, so they decided to stop worrying about climate change and now we’ve got oranges growing in North Dakota? Does it explain why you decided to ban all teenagers from driving so now instead of having sex in their cars they’re having sex in fast food dumpsters? And don’t get me started on that ‘universal basic income’ nonsense you started last year!”
“Excuse me? That was the A.I.’s greatest achievement!”
“The hell it was. Guaranteeing everyone more money to spend led to people only buying quality merchandise, which put Wal-Mart out of business. Unemployment went up four percent, and the abandoned stores all got turned into drug dens, so now everyone’s addicted and whatever extra income they have they’re all spending it on smack and blow!”
Right now I’m about to smack and blow, Jake fumed silently. “You’re right, I do need to make some changes. If the A.I. always does things the wrong way, I need to program it to do things the right way. That was the first thing they taught us in Artificial Intelligence 101.”
“What are you gonna do?”
“Oh you’ll see, my friend. This will be the greatest revolution in machine learning.” Jake was about to begin furiously typing when he heard rummaging in the dumpster outside. He looked out his window. “Hey!” He yelled, “You kids get out of there!”
At first Jake pondered whether the problem lay within the algorithms the program used to churn out solutions from the data points it was fed. This required him to switch to the backend coding application that consisted of lines of numbers much less sexy than the usual graphical display he vastly preferred. He also found it to be a much bigger pain in the ass – one single wrong character could throw off an entire command. Painstakingly, he examined the code to determine where the A.I. was yielding the wrong solutions to America’s problems.
Hours later, his search ended in vain. The commands and formulas were all satisfactory, and doing what they were supposed to. It wasn’t the algorithms that were making him Public Enemy #1.
So it has to be the dataset, he thought as he switched over to the banks of data that compiled information about every aspect of American life and society, from census records to consumer prices to college entrance exam scores to television ratings. Even weather patterns and geologic data were included. He even had Zodiac signs included in the mix, just to cover every possible variable in human existence. If somebody checked their phone in the middle of the night, it was information that entered his database. It was what ultimately led to his predecessor’s sudden dismissal from the job, and the reason why Jake had to undergo an extensive background check to prove he wasn’t on a sex offender registry.
Hours and hours of poring over numbers on the screen, combined with excessive consumption of Red Bull and a pinched sciatic nerve, nearly drove Jake into a frenzy. It nearly caused him to miss having the “Eureka!” moment that instantly sent him from panic into euphoria.
“I’ve got it!” He screamed into his phone as Doug was waking up. “It is the data after all!”
“I told you.”
“Yes, the master dataset! What the A.I. draws from when it makes decisions!” Jake couldn’t contain himself as his hands excitedly pounded keystrokes in the hundreds. “Every piece of information in it trains the A.I., right? They all teach the A.I. about how American society operates. The A.I. has to go by that when it decides how to govern America; it literally can’t decide any other way. That’s why the solutions it spits out always suck!”
“I don’t follow.”
“So I got to wondering, what if I tinkered with the dataset a bit? It would never know the difference. I make changes to the data so that instead of representing American society, it represents a society that is well-run, competent and just! The A.I. would govern according to the ideal American society, not what it actually is! And that should make its solutions work a lot better!”
“Uh…” Doug’s voice trailed off as he realized that while what he was hearing was literally earth-shattering, it still interested him less than the naked woman lying next to him on the bed looking impatiently at him. “I’m not sure that’s a good idea. In fact, it sounds like a worse plan than your attempt at getting the Bloods and the Crips to make peace.”
“Trust me, this is not going to involve making every gang member in L.A. colorblind. I know what I’m doing here.”
“But you’re making the machine think America is something that it isn’t.”
“No, I’m training the A.I. to see America as what it could be. I’m a revolutionary, Doug. I am the stitcher of the cocoon inside which this soon-to-be-great country will make its metamorphosis into a butterfly.” Jake hung up to resume his keyboard pounding while Doug shrugged and resumed a different form of pounding with his lady friend.
The woman standing in line at the post office looked at the clerk in complete befuddlement. “You’re telling me the price of stamps actually went down this week?”
“That’s correct, ma’am. And if you purchased any stamps before the rate reduction, you can get a rebate for the difference in price right here.”
“But, that doesn’t make any sense! The price of stamps always goes up; it never goes down!”
“It does now, ever since all these new reform measures to the USPS were implemented. Now that we actually provide customers with efficient and competent service, people actually use the mail and we’ve been able to cut costs and bring down rates for everybody.”
“Wow! I was just gonna mail this package through Registered Mail, but now I think I will also purchase a big book of stamps – the ones with lilies on them, please!”
Down the street, the young man exiting the Central Valley Credit Union was equally ebullient. He was cashing another fat paycheck for the third week in a row since his promotion.
“Business has been booming at the microprocessor plant I work at! The new trade policies have been amazing at keeping our jobs in America and paying us stellar wages and benefits!”
“I love the new banking laws too!” The teller beamed. “All of the customers are so much happier since we stopped being allowed to screw them on fees and high interest rates! Nobody’s threatened to shoot me in weeks!”
The man deposited his check happily and had a spring in his step as he walked out of the bank and onto the pristine sidewalk, crossing the street while marveling at the newly paved asphalt that came courtesy of new laws requiring all roads to be maintained regularly. He breathed in heavily to savor the fresh clean air that was the product of the nation’s newly revamped environmental regulations and enforcement agencies.
The businessman who walked past him down the street wasn’t any less joyful. “Can I call you back later honey? This new cell phone coverage is amazing – I don’t know how that A.I. in the White House got every carrier to improve their service at once! I simply must take advantage of it out here on this gorgeous day!”
He hung up after bidding his wife goodbye, waving his briefcase about in a comically happy manner as the bright sun began to set on the community.
“The latest set of bombings in New York has claimed a large and growing number of casualties; responders are still removing rubble from the scene and authorities are silent about what the next steps in the reprisal may be.”
Jake threw a sharp glare at the TV before picking up the remote to change the channel to ESPN. Expecting to hear the hockey scores, he instead was in for another rude surprise.
“We interrupt this roundtable to go live to the scene of the violence that is breaking out at Capitol One Arena, where our sports riot correspondent Andrea Van Horn has an urgent update. Andrea?”
“Thank you Phil, it appears that a major brawl has broken out at a Washington Wizards game; police are already on the scene and they don’t know how it started but it appears they’re already calling in for reinforcements from the National Guard, or at least the few elements of the Guard that aren’t already occupied right now with all the other carnage going on across the country – “
The TV immediately switched off, as Jake looked aghast at the flaring disasters populating his computer screen that he was hopeless to defuse.
“I wish I had said something,” Doug intoned over the phone. “I did have a bad feeling about this idea of yours, but I was kind of preoccupied at the moment.”
“Why? WHY?!” Jake lashed out at his monitor, tears and perspiration raining onto his desk. “Everything was going so swimmingly! The A.I. was making things better for everyone and everyone in America was happy!”
“Not everyone,” Doug cleared his throat. “The technology may be new, but old habits never die. You made the mistake every politician has made. You made promises to help out ordinary people, and you lost sight of who really is in charge of this country.”
“I am in charge! Me! The people voted to make my A.I. the ruler of the land!”
“No ruler goes completed unruled. Your A.I.’s vision for a utopian America didn’t sit too well with some very powerful and active folks out there.”
Jake slumped back into his seat, not sure he wanted to hear the lecture but was resigned to it anyway.
“Making things better for most people hit some other people pretty hard. Thanks to the A.I.’s policies making people happier and less stressed out, alcohol sales have plummeted. Hundreds of breweries have gone belly-up or reduced to producing cattle feed. Gun sales have plunged sharply because fewer people are angry and marital infidelity is at an all-time low. The purveyors of trash TV are freaking out over the increase in the quality of public education. People are living longer and that’s putting the funeral industry in some pretty dire straits. Everyone is eating healthier too, and that’s bad for the state of Wisconsin. You see where I’m going with all this?”
“So what – you’re telling me that a bunch of capitalist bastards decided to come together to just gin up all this rage and violence to turn everyone against me?”
“It would appear that way. The gun manufacturers do know a lot of nasty folks.”
“I was trying to make America into a society that’s well-run, competent and just!”
“But that’s not what people want! They want a government that looks after their own interests! That’s why they wanted an A.I. to be in charge – so it would be competent and efficient at making sure they were taken care of, not everyone else!”
Jake walked up to get a bottle of old gin, not thinking of the ill fate of its distiller that was thanks to the monstrosity he was in charge of shaping. He took a quick swig, thinking instead of his own fate. He sauntered back to his computer, his eyes fixating on the colorful violence on the screen and getting lost in the carnage displayed in pixel form.
“Doug, I gotta go – I’ve got a lot of fires to put out. At the end of the day, there’s always a human mind behind the artificial one. And I’m gonna do it not because I’m good at it, but because it’s my job.”
As he began clicking madly on the keyboard, he heard familiar sounds coming from outside his window. He turned to it and shouted out into the open air.
“Hey you kids, get outta that dumpster!” He paused briefly. “Wait, I’m sorry, go ahead and continue. I deserve to see that, I guess.”