by Lula Falcão
When automation takes over every facet of our existence, what happens to language? What verb tenses are the most apt for making a case for or against humanity’s indispensability? Lula Falcão’s atemporal sentences leave us hanging helplessly like broken pieces of a motherboard.
Translated from Portuguese by Helena Cavendish de Moura
Machines, with their recently-acquired ability to think and give birth to other machines, even more capable ones, were officialized as drivers, doctors, accountants, journalists and gravediggers, among many professions, taking over what already was a precarious and unreliable human market. Some years ago, a friend of my mother’s checked into a medical clinic and couldn’t find a single woman or man around. She went through a machine that resembled a CT scanner, to immediately find herself ejected at the other side with a ready-made diagnosis and prescription. The artifact also expelled a bill. A fortune.
Most people, however, didn’t have access to automation. Without jobs, human beings couldn’t afford to pay for the machines’s services, so the machines joined in the recession period, perhaps still in a process of adapting to economic fundamentals. They created new employees and forgot the old ones, though it’s always been this way, and though some jobs were going to disappear regardless, whether or not there was a machine to perform them.
But then the problem became serious due to the lack of demand for automated services and so these automated servers, overflowing with artificial intelligence, began to worry about their future in a world without customers.
Aid relief for the unemployed was miniscule. In the worst case scenario, we would have to resort to equipment not always reliable, currently disconnected from the formal sector. The other day, in the urgency of hiring a dispatcher, I was unable to pay an accredited machine and ran to the city’s outskirts, an area where technological kludge reigns. I talked with an old scrap-metal collector, who himself had been adapted to a computer, and he promised me he’d solve the problem within two hours. I still await to this day. I received a message reporting compatibility issues with the Traffic Department system. That was it.
It wasn’t just the lack of customers. The market bosses had commissioned the first designs of the “worker machines”, and so they thought to be forever free from pestering by the unions. And more, the first machines didn’t eat, didn’t spend money on entertainment and childcare, and they received orders without protest. It so happens that the last generation – machines built by machines – came to see the world in another way. A great evolution, because previous ones had none of this “seeing the world” in the way it was. The question, therefore, was deeper than that of supply and demand.
While machines progressed in terms of logical reasoning and even experienced that certain taste of “existing”, people in general wandered in search of a job that hand’t yet been seized by widespread robotization.
In my case, I thought of doing some translations or going into the broader branch of general services. I ended up in general services. The editor said they no longer needed translators. A quantum computer from San Bernardino, California, had just converted all 20th-century literary masterpieces into English. Soon, a franchise would arrive here, as announced the Jornal da Noite 1, one of the first newscasts produced and presented by robots.
Time goes by. Machines began to have consciousness, to feel emotions and mainly to express disgruntlement over having their presence restricted to the world of labor. They began to read, write books, to unionize, organize through recreational associations and academic environments on the Internet, whose advancements in the last quarter of a century included tactile senses and some olfactory. The so-admired automaton society wanted to keep senses the same as in the beginning of time and the tiniest parts of the circuits, but it still wanted much more. Soon, I would inquire what that could be. Years spent on this effort only resulted in complex models, outcomes plagued by vagueness and dilemmas. Many machines lost their will; they became melancholy and wary.
There wasn’t, however, a climate of revolt, as in the movies, “Robots versus People,” but only the will to influence society’s organizational structures, perhaps by obtaining political rights. At least that. They wanted to propose an economic model capable of creating a more dynamic consumer market and rewards for their work, not to mention a diffuse and uneasy feeling coming from somewhere, some point in time. The fear of death, you name it. They also felt guilt. For dismissing humans and taking on for themselves a regiment of slavery. Some of these devices came to think of giving up everything in exchange for a more contemplative period of expiration, more open to nature and the arts in general. There were no echos to their demands. Many of them retreated, shattered, though with a preserved consciousness – a consciousness with a drop of nihilism. The emptiness of the soul and the imminence of the end entered the senses of these little digital things.
From one minute to another, the fourth industrial revolution came to an end. Humans did not regain their work posts nor were the machines interested in retaining any shifts. What remained was a very confusing panorama, the impoverishment of the market, the stock exchange collapsing, a complete shortage.
The machine’s only achievement was discovering a way to never be turned off.
They were not a threat to humans. They remained switched on, pensive, but alien to the machinations that created them.