Reg and Syd: Productivism

Reg: “So, Syd, how are your investments in artificial intelligence coming along?”

Syd: “Not as well as I’d like. We’re not close to being able to replace our human employees with machines, never mind the super-smart and wise ones that were initially promised. And the project’s lead scientists keep telling me …”

Reg:Sydney! Why oh why do you keep bothering with those losers? No one else is! No one else who matters, anyway.”

Syd: “You’d prefer I play rocket man games with Jeff and Richard and Elon? Sorry, space is already too crowded. Consider this my moon shot.”

Reg: “I just hope you don’t get mooned over it.”

Syd: “Too late to worry about that, Reginald, and you know this as well as I do. I swear, half my workforce is at home playing video games and chasing toddlers and flipping HR the bird if anyone dares to mention that this is not what I’m paying them for! It’s as if a job is theirs by divine right, and any insistence that they actually work is met with screams of discrimination!

Reg: “Like the sixty-year-old codger who has done nothing to better himself over forty years of working, screaming ageism! because the employer promoted a 25-year old instead of him? A 25-year old whose productivity is already twice that of the old guy because he’s embraced tools that the 60-year-old either refuses to learn or can’t master, and who doesn’t spend a quarter of his working hours on PTO getting treatment for arthritis, further diminishing his productivity and driving annual increases in insurance costs that are at least double the rate of inflation?”

Syd: “Or the actor who screams ageism! because she’s 50 and can’t get roles, blaming the studio which is struggling to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, somehow, anyhow, instead of the audience who won’t watch, or pay for, movies that star old women! You and I both know that actions have consequences. I’m trying to ensure that the consequences are paid for by the actors, and not by their employers! Who are already, most of them, too damned close to Chapter 11 or Chapter 7 for comfort.”

Reg: “To say nothing of the government. And how it’s trained people to expect to be paid for not working.”

Syd: “Are you trying to make me sick??”

Reg: “Only because you’re trying, just at present. You were telling me about those scientists you persist in employing. Speaking of lack of productivity.”

Syd: “Yeah, well, the lead scientists on the AI project have been warning me that, by the time they’ve built and trained a machine workforce to do what humans can do, the energy to run it won’t be available because climate concerns will shut down fossil fuels, the anti-nuke crowd will prevent any reactors from being built, and the so-called “green energy” options will fail for lack of sufficient materials on Earth to construct them, computer chip shortage fans. But – before you start tuning up – they have made substantive progress on something that does matter.”

Reg: “I’ll believe it when I see it. But OK, you may as well tell me what it is.”

Syd: “An accurate personal productivity assessment. Everybody who’s screaming discrimination is claiming that businesses are missing out on productivity because their group doesn’t get everything it wants, every time it asks. Fine. We’ll monitor a person’s productivity constantly. The tool predicts productivity based on the education, training, and experience of all those who have held and performed satisfactorily in the job, and compares the actual productivity of the employee being monitored with the expectation. Those who measure up, and who either keep off social media or keep their yaps shut on it, and otherwise behave themselves and refrain from letting their stupidity affect the company’s bottom line, the company keeps, and possibly even rewards, as the appropriate metrics indicate. After all, the next generation of CEOs has to come from somewhere. And that’s not going to be your daughter or my son.”

Reg: “[sigh]”

Syd: “And those who do not measure up are let go. And their complaints about being let go are revealed as special pleading, as much a form of discrimination! as the ones that they accuse us of! You are productive, who or what or wherever you are, an asset to the company and an engine of its profitability, or you’re working – maybe – somewhere else. What could be more fair? What could be more to the point?”

Reg: “Seems perfectly logical, and based on the cogent facts. If it works as promised, it will be an appropriate and informative system. But I will not be able to congratulate you on it, if achieved.”

Syd: “Oh?”

Reg: “Because you won’t be able to apply it. The last thing anyone bases decisions on any more is facts. What matters are the opinions of your constituency. No one wants fair, everyone wants advantage! To be number 1, preferably without working for it! Surely you remember when we were teenagers, and we screamed that anybody who dressed like our parents was a conformist, and thereby to be utterly scorned and destroyed. We, of course, were non-conformists, and therefore good and holy. You know, of course, who really got destroyed?”

Syd: “Anybody who didn’t conform to us, in our blue-jeans-and-tie-dyed-T-shirts uniforms.”

Reg: “Precisely. But it was “A or B” then, with the Vietnam War, for or against, the divider. Now, there are several groups, each fighting to rule the world. It’s a nice question whether any one of them can win the fight – and it’s win or die, just ask the loony left Democrats in the House – and set what’s left of this country to rights before the whole thing falls over. The USA is a colossal Champlain Towers, and the foundations are spalling ominously. Ask Biden. As if we didn’t know what was going to happen to him before he started.”

Syd: “And you wonder about my efforts to build a human-free workforce.”

Reg: “Can you train such a workforce to make wine?

Syd: “Don’t know about you, Reg, but I don’t expect to work my way through my cellar before I’m released from all cares. So, who knows? What does it matter? Want to try to prove me wrong?”

Reg: “Summon a bottle, and let’s start finding out.”

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