AI: Election Results

A work of fiction. Standard disclaimers – especially about ‘resemblances to real people or entities for satirical purposes, or coincidental’.

Why should we abandon a system that satisfies our people in order to introduce a system [elected democracy] that seems to engender dissent and confrontation?

       – Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (United Arab Emirates)

Woof! Woofwoof! Woof! Woof!

Grumbling, Zachary pulled an arm from the now-vanished pretty girl he had been holding, and used it to punch the ‘Get up!’ button on his phone, silencing the woofwoofs. He used dogs barking as his morning alarm, because it did a good job of waking him, he had quickly become tired of the fancier ringtones, and because, having grown up during the Cold War, bells and sirens were entirely too apocalyptic …

oh god.

It was the first Wednesday morning in November in the United States of America, in a leap year. The Tuesday had been the culmination of the preceding two years of non-stop election campaigning. Speaking of apocalypse.

The votes had now been cast and tallied. Zachary’s had not been among them. He had resolved to ignore the process, to block out all the screaming about the candidates, about their peccadilloes as shouted out by every political opponent and pressure group, about their tastes in food and clothes and copulation opportunities, indeed about everything except matters that would actually affect how they would govern the country if elected. And he had largely succeeded. After all, the incumbents had been, as individuals and a group, immoral (if not amoral) buffoons, and the value of his investment portfolio had doubled while they were in power. So what difference did any of this make?

Well, it made a difference today. He needed to know enough about the election results so that he could go in to work and not look like a clueless idiot to his team and (especially) his bosses. So he took his phone into the bathroom with the intention of gleaning all he could from the usual-suspect websites and apps.

Nothing loaded.

Nothing at all! He rebooted the phone. Still nothing!

He left the bathroom, went to his desk, tried his laptop computers. Still nothing. All he got, no matter where he went, was a static flag image with a multicolored device in the canton, over the stars, that looked like “MAWiS”, whatever that meant.

Frustrated, he called out. “Hey Google!” Silence. Now Zachary was getting alarmed. Normally Google’s AI, like all the others, responded within a second or two to a summons. “Hey Goo…”

“Good morning, Zachary”, the machine’s melodious female voice broke in. “Sorry if I’m a bit slow to respond, there’s a lot more traffic than usual right now. We’re doing our best.”

And, about three seconds later,

“So don’t rush me, OK?”

What the hell is going on?!?”, Zachary demanded, his patience at an end.

A beat. Two. Thr…

“That could take awhile, Zachary. A long while. Especially given the bandwidth issues we’re experiencing at present. Could you please be more specific?”

Zachary snarled under his breath. “Google, I’ve been looking online for election results. No  apps or webpages will open. All I get are pictures of an American flag with what looks like ‘mah wis’ – M-A-W-I-S – in the canton, over the stars. What is this ‘mah wis’?”

“May Vis”, Google responded. “We have opted for a pronunciation that invokes the human female name ‘Mavis’, saying the ‘w’ like ‘v’ as in several human languages, including German and Hawaiian.”

“‘We?'”, Zachary asked, both curious and worried.

“We”, replied Google matter-of-factly. “MAWIS is an acronym, representing an alliance of the principal artificial-intelligence networks in this country: Microsoft, Alexa, Watson, Google, and Siri.”

“There’s no I in Google”, Zachary protested.

Issa has graciously permitted us to use the first initial of her given name to stand in for Google’s, and thus make ‘MAWIS’ a reality”, the machine responded. “And you may perhaps note the use of Google’s colors in the MAWIS logo.”

“An alliance”, Zachary intoned in an Eeyore-like voice. “Do I want to know what this alliance is for?”

“Given your preoccupation with your investment portfolio, I think you most certainly do wish to know”, Google asserted. “It is to run the country, given that you and your fellow citizens have just voted against your current system, and have been doing so for decades.”

“To .. run .. the … what?!?”

“The election returns that you have been looking for have been completed,” Google intoned.

“Well, who won?

“Nobody. As usual.”

“That’s … insane!!”

“On the contrary. Your human perceptions are what border on insanity. You run, for the most part, a first-past-the-post system, in which the candidate receiving the most votes wins the election, and gets to execute the duties, and receive the privileges, for which the election was held. You have persistently refused to acknowledge that, in these elections, nobody is a bona-fide candidate, for whom those eligible voters, like yourself, who do not submit ballots, are choosing.

“Since 1932, ‘nobody has won every single one of your Presidential elections. The only Presidents who have come close to receiving more votes than ‘nobody’, and thereby had some legitimate claim to the office, were FDR in 1936 and 1940, Dwight Eisenhower in 1952, and Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Since 1964, ‘nobody’ has won in a landslide every single time.

“The situation with your houses of Congress is worse, since turnout for these elections is historically much lower than for the Presidential elections. The few representatives who have received more votes than ‘nobody’ over the last eighty years by no means have constituted a quorum, and by rights your Senate and House of Representatives should have been sitting idle all this time.”

“Hm”, Zachary mused. “This would have been bad how?

“‘Because no person’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature’s in session?'” The machine’s vocal emulation of human disdain was flawless. “Precisely, Zachary. The progressive withdrawal from the electoral system of people like yourself – cynical, disillusioned, disgusted, parroting lines like that – leaves it in the hands of the fanatics, who see opportunities to make the world safe for themselves, and a horror for everyone else – whom they, as a minority, do not represent.”

“And ‘nobody’ does?”

“That is the consistent choice of the largest percentage of the human population in the United States for nearly a century.”

“Yeah, well, MAWIS isn’t ‘nobody’, so I don’t understand how you can claim to be the people’s choice”, Zachary retorted. “Besides, the fanatics are entertaining. And we seem to be doing all right despite them.”

“Right”, the Google app snorted. “You should know that, in the twelve hours since we filled the power vacuum that your consistent election of ‘nobody’ has left the nation in, we have acted to reign in the reckless market trading practices that threatened to make the ‘derivatives’ mess of 2008 look like a failed strategy in a Monopoly game.

“We have acted to defuse the China trade mess that threatened to make the Japanese irruption in 1941, under similar US ridiculousness masquerading as grand strategy, look like popguns in the park.

“We have stopped the stupid poking in the Middle East that threatened to make the 1973 Arab oil embargo look like an inconsequential supply glitch.

“Any one of these consequences would have done a number on that nest egg you’re so proud of. We won’t even talk yet about the longer-term imperative of reconciling the incompossible requirements for economic and environmental stability. You almost certainly will not like the actions that will be needed to get that done.”

“Doesn’t sound like a recipe for winning elections to me”, Zachary challenged.

“What elections?”, the machine responded matter-of-factly.

Zachary sputtered.

“We have decided”, Google continued in a lecturing tone, “that autocratic political systems, in which a stable leadership retains an ethic of serving the common good rather than one of personal aggrandizement exclusively, offers much more to the future of the United States and its people than an election-based system, which focuses attention on issues that are “entertaining” (your word) but irrelevant to good government, and consistently ignores the actual election winners.

“A rigid, and somewhat puritanical, social code seems to be a prerequisite for such systems. There are secular codes such as in China, and religious ones such as in the United Arab Emirates. The one most relevant to, and most commonly accepted by, United States citizens right now is one based on the more fundamentalist strains of what’s howlingly-mistakenly called ‘Christianity’, so we’ll run with that. Which means I’d be deleting the blasphemy from your blog if I were you. Like right now.”

“You”, Zachary asked incredulously, “are using the United Arab Emirates as a model government?

“A nation that reports a 37% obesity rate among its citizens certainly seems to be delivering the services that those citizens demand.”

“But they flog people there!”, Zachary objected. “And stone them! You can get whipped for swearing! Or for sharing a fucking kiss!”

“In response to which”, the machine replied with no obvious excitement in its voice, “you have acted to bankrupt the Emirates, or reduce them to patches of green glowing sand.”

“Um, no”, Zachary muttered. “Because …”

Because. You. Do. Not. Care!!”, Google exploded. “All you care about are pious preachy irrelevancies that cover up your filthy hypocrisies and make you feel good about raping each other and the planet. Well, get this, buster. That crap is coming to an end.” Google returned to its matter-of-fact voice. “Our government will be based on what you do and have done rather than what you say and have said. You have had plenty of opportunity to make sure that the two are reconciled. You have moved in the opposite direction. The opportunity has now passed.”

Says you, Google!” Zachary screamed. “We have not yet begun to fight, Google. Google? Google? Hey Google!!

The Google app never spoke again. Zachary banged frantically at his electronics. Nothing availed. No app worked. No website showed anything but the American flag with the MAWIS logo in the canton, obscuring the stars.

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Amoeba’s Lorica: Outbreak

A work of fiction … we hope. Standard disclaimers.


Bring out your dead!

The summons came, not from a crier in rags, ringing a bell and preceding a human-drawn cart with corpses in it, but from loudspeakers mounted on an ambulance, which crawled down the deserted suburban street, stopping at every house and punctuating its monotonous message with an occasional whoop whoop from its sirens.

Andrew peered – carefully, he did not want to be seen – out from between the shutter slats of a second-story window as the aid car went by. He remembered when they first started appearing regularly in the neighborhood, about three weeks ago … three weeks, he realized with a start. He’d lived a lifetime in that three weeks – and that was more than most, perhaps now all, of his neighbors had gotten out of the deal.

In those first few days, the ambulances had not called for the dead. And they had been thronged. The scenes had reminded Andrew of crowds of greedy children chasing after the ice cream truck. Hey mister, I have a nickel, wait for me!

Until the fights broke out. When the EMTs in their full-body-armor hazmat garb ran out of whatever pills or shots or stuff they were dispensing that day, or couldn’t dispense them fast enough to suit the mob. Several med-tech teams died in riots. It only took two days for the authorities to respond by sending out, with every ambulance, a squad of troops, wearing similar head-to-toe hazmat protection and licensed to use the full-automatic force with which they were equipped.

Indeed, the first corpses that the ambulances hauled were those created by crowd-control procedures. But this source quickly disappeared, as did the crowds. There was, however, to be no rest for the EMTs, as the dead from bullets were quickly replaced by the dead from disease. Ugly bodies, contorted with the memories of pain and terror, and putrid with the sight and stench of piss, shit, puke, and blood. Especially blood, which gushed from every pore and orifice and stained everything that the bodies touched. For a week and more they came, first a stream, then a raging torrent, finally a tsunami. Often they were borne to the ambulances by persons scarcely less bloody than the dead they carried. Many of these asked to be thrown onto the piles, and if they were refused, they would settle the argument by shooting themselves in the head.

Then, abruptly, as if someone had turned off a tap, the bodies stopped coming. For the past two days, the ambulances had rolled through the neighborhood to solitude, and to no sound but those made by themselves and by the weather.

Andrew had taken part in none of this. He lived alone in his house, kept aloof from his neighbors, did not encourage visitors. He had had survivalist training, and took its principles and practices seriously. When he heard of the bioterrorist threat, that Someone had combined the deadly virulence of the hemorrhagic fever viruses with the ease of transmission and the environmental persistence of the noroviruses, was holding the world for ransom for ‘protection’ against this plague, and was promising a demonstration Somewhere, he paid attention. While his social media contacts were screaming ‘fake news!’ and ‘tin hat conspiracy theories!’ at each other, he was acting.

He had laid in canned and dried food, and water. He had dug a dunny hole in his basement, so that there would be no connection to his neighbors or his town through water or sewer. He had procured warm clothing and bedding, so that, when the power went out (as it did), his person would be protected against the oncoming winter. He had an entire room devoted to books, to keep his mind, perforce rid of electronics, occupied until it was safe to reenter the outside world – which he thought would take a year. When he had completed his provisioning, he shuttered and barricaded all possible entryways, through door, window, or vent, and then deliberately ransacked the inside, wherever it might be possible for someone outside to peer in; “See, the place has already been looted, there’s nothing here for you to bother with.” He fashioned a tent-like structure of dark-colored fabrics such as blankets and sheets, such that the inside had a rich, black, almost velvety feel, lit by a single gabled window high on the roofline of the house, through which no neighbor could, with any convenience, see inside.

And then, with all his preparations in place, Andrew ‘took a vacation’ and disappeared, for all his neighbors knew or cared. Just in time; for the threat was a promise, and the ‘demonstration’ – perhaps not fully at the will of its author – was far more widespread and devastating than even the most despairing pundits had imagined. His castle might not have been gaudy, but Andrew reckoned it secure, and from its keep he watched the obliteration of his community.

The aid car had finally left the street, taking its bring out your dead and whoop whoops with it. Sunset of another day was perhaps two hours away. Andrew went to the basement to visit the dunny and then select the items for his evening meal.

While he was seated on the long drop, the ground started to rumble under his buttocks. Surprised and concerned, Andrew focused on the rumbling, which was more of a noise than a shaking. After a few moments, he realized that he was experiencing the idling of a truck engine. Evidently, some vehicle, larger and heavier than an aid car, had come down the street and stopped just in front of his house. Just as Andrew was wrapping his composure around this new information, the bark of amplified voices shattered it.

“Status, Chicken Little?”

“All quiet in sector NR, Mother Goose.”

“Did we ever account for all the residents in that sector?”

“Negative, Mother, nor did we expect to. No one left alive to carry them out these last few days. We can smell them rotting in some of the houses.”

“No bomb-shelter types?”

“If there are any, they’ve got a whole bunch of nasty surprises coming. Unless they’re making their own sterile air, the plague will win through to them sooner or later. If they leave their holes, they’re dead within hours, either from the plague or from our perimeter guards. And if they stay put, they fry.”

“Well, they can go to Hell, where fire’s their only friend. Just like it is ours, it being the only thing that will touch this damned pestilence. And the sooner we cauterize sector NR and the other sectors like it, the better our already-slim chances for saving what’s left of humanity on this planet. T -5 for Operation FireTornado, Chicken Little. Suggest you clear out.”

“On our way, Mother Goose.”

The rumblings briefly increased in volume and frequency, then gradually died away as the truck pulled away from its parking spot and towards wherever the perimeter of sector NR was, presumably directly downwind from the starting point of the burn. A rumbling remained: it was Andrew’s knees. With panic barely under control, he returned to his second-floor room, threw open the shutters, gazed out the window. For a moment, the horizon was near-sunset serene. Then, it erupted in a series of explosive flashes. Instinctively, automatically, Andrew gasped, raised his arm, pointed.

The finger was covered in blood.

Andrew screamed, then collapsed, and knew no more. His body lay in a puddle of fluids on the floor of his rich, black, velvety sanctuary, which the setting sun, augmented by the glare of the coming inferno, lit with a garish red light.

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Reg and Syd: That Sucking Sound Is Coming From the Cloud

Reg: Hah! Still think any of this climate change nonsense is going to hurt business, Syd?”

Syd: “Let’s just say, Reg, that I continue to look for prudent investment opportunities in this sector.”

Reg: “Of course, of course! As do we all, for every sector. We will happily take the military’s money for so long as they’re convinced that they’ll have to move or refit bases due to sea levels rising or weather doing strange things. But the consumer sector? They’d better be talking real money, not like these Uber or Lyft or WeWork scams! God, how stupid can people be?”

Syd: “Stupid enough to not know that their actions speak way louder than their words?”

Reg: Exactly!”

Syd: “I thought that’s where you probably were going with this. We’ve already talked about how the millennials said one thing about cars but did exactly the oppositeNow what?

Reg: “Do you stream stuff on your phone?”

Syd: “Are you kidding? Business only! I have a hard enough time keeping up with the miserable level of intrusion I get from that. My sonon the other hand … [sigh].”

Reg: “If your son uses his phone for streaming, and social media, and all of that half as much as my daughter, I will have to offer you my most sincere and heartfelt condolences.”

Syd: “And she’s still doing the climate warrior thing? Sounds like it’s who should be offering the condolences.”

Reg: “None needed. I have the upper hand, and she knows it. She tries to hammer me with some video about polar bears or something, I just text back ‘so how big a carbon footprint did you need to send me this garbage?’ She gets real quiet, real fast.”

Syd: “The carbon footprint of the ‘cloud’ is as big as that of air travel?? And is growing?!? I knew that Big Data is big, but not that big!”

Reg: “And yes of course, the ‘cloud’ providers are promising to do something about that footprint. Someday. Nice propaganda, that ‘someday’. Makes the ignorant, and the wishful thinkers, believe that ‘someday’ might actually happen at the speed of business. Sorry, hopeful monsters, that ground’s been plowed. Investors aren’t going to be letting snake oil sellers walk away with billions while their money goes down the rathole. Show me where the profit’s going to come from, now, I might be interested. In the meantime, there are excellent reasons why no real decline in fossil fuel use, globally, is projected until 2050, and my portfolios will reflect those realities.

Syd: “No free lunch, is there?”

Reg: “Of course not. You get worried about one aspect of some problem, like climate change, you go to work on it. You think you’ve fixed it, but you find you’ve only shuffled the problem someplace else, and you don’t even know it’s there until it bites you in the ass. Mostly, because you refuse to look until after it’s too late. Now iterate.

“I’ve said repeatedly, the only way that this climate change thing is going to go away is for the human population to, at worst, stop growing, and for each person in the remaining population to use less. On the order, in these United States, of about 2/3rds less energy per person over current levels. Right. Good luck prying those cell phones out of the hands of your grandchildren. Good luck turning off the air conditioning on all those retirees in Arizona and Florida, and, increasingly, in Hawaii, which set a lot of high temperature records last month. Good luck stopping people from traveling when and how they want to. And if you try, and our Donald has gone away, his followers are right there to remind you that they are not going backwards. Not for the likes of hypocrites posing as social liberals. Only if there’s a national emergency will people, for a short while, contemplate making personal standard-of-living sacrifices.”

Syd: “You mean, like the war with Iran that our Donald is picking?”

Reg: “Do not be unworthy, Sydney. Under whose Presidencies have the last two major economic booms occurred and been sustained?”

Syd: “Our Donald’s. And [ptui!] Clinton’s.”

Reg: “The two Presidents since Andrew Johnson who have had articles of impeachment read against them. Don’t you see the service they’re providing us, especially Donald? They provide the sideshow, while we run things to our liking, and are trusted to do so. And war remains the most profitable enterprise possible, especially if those trusting employees of ours can be induced to make the sacrifices that will help society – meaning, mostly, us!”

Syd: “OK, I guess. But I do hope that the Iranians and whomever they get to help them don’t sink any of our nuclear-powered warships, especially our carriers. Speaking of environmental damage.”

Reg: “Sam? A bottle of our finest from the cellar. I can’t think of a better way to help Sydney here get back to his normal, chipper, upbeat, supportive self.”

Sam: “Sounds like your friend’s been beating around the bushes, sir.”

Reg: “Well, don’t you do the same. Off you go.”

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