You are rich, probably white. You have a great apartment in the city. You make a “decent” income. You often eat out with your friends. You travel abroad for a vacation at least 1 or 2 times a year, and as long as you don’t go too crazy, you can satisfy most of your whims.
You don’t consider yourself “wealthy,” though, because you are working all the damn time. On most days, you wake up early and come home late. You are engaged in critical projects that impact hundreds, thousands, even millions of people in authentic and tangible ways.
You spend your free time networking with other go-getters like yourself. When you aren’t trying to collaborate with colleagues on exciting projects, you are building strong relationships with your friends.
You are thankful for your life, but are also overwhelmed. The stress can consume you sometimes, and so you do your best to prioritize your mental health. You try to eat right. You work out and go for long walks. Maybe you even go to regular therapy sessions. Things are hectic, but generally under control.
The city you live in is very diverse. Almost every day, there are cultural events that you can participate in: there are beautiful museums to visit; thought-provoking art exhibits; culturally-timely plays. You love that you are coexisting with people of varying life experiences. It makes you a stronger person.
Not everything is perfect, though. Homelessness is rampant everywhere. Certain parts of the city make you nervous about being there by yourself. These areas are filled with people of color. You worry that this makes you racist, but push this to the back of your mind.
It’s not on you to fix those systemic issues by yourself, right?
Infrastructure is also not the best. Some heavily-trafficked streets have very pronounced potholes. A food delivery service company has started to use little rolling machines to deliver food, and these machines often get stuck in the holes.
Things are going well at work, but there is this intense pressure to succeed. Everyone around you is so talented, and you are worried that you don’t measure up. There is a tremendous pressure to own something you can call yours. Some of your friends have purchased property. Many others have started their own business or nonprofit. You aren’t quite ready to buy a home, and your side-hustle doesn’t make you any money — maybe in a year or two, though.
In the meantime, you’re working very hard for that promotion. Not just at work, but outside as well. You are going to so many networking events and happy hours, that you can’t recall the last time you did something “fun” for yourself.
You use ride-sharing services to go to many of these events. It dawns on you one trip that this is the only time you talk to people that don’t share your values. Some of the drivers hold views that are not as nuanced or educated as your friends. You try to push back at their points politely, but give up after the conversation goes in circles.
You start looking at your phone for most rides.
After a couple of months, you get that promotion. You are looking forward to finally getting your life back. It’s bittersweet, though, because the office admin has been let go. She was terrific, but a new application does her job for a lot cheaper permanently.
“I’m sure you’ll land on your feet,” you tell her as she packs up her things. You write her a stellar endorsement on social media.
You are drinking at a cafe with your friends. There have been a lot of attacks on tech companies recently. You lament with your friends about this new rise in Luddism. Technology may have replaced their jobs, but there’s no need for violence. New jobs are created every day. These people only need to put in the proper time to be retrained.
You all agree that the government needs to subsidize this re-education, but unspoken is the knowledge that that will never happen in this political climate.
Your workload has not gone down. If anything, it’s increased. Your company is beta testing an artificial-intelligence-powered task management suite and has installed an application on all of your work devices. You’ve been directed to take computer-based training modules to learn how to use the AI task management suite properly, and at least initially, this has resulted in a lot more work.
An adverse side effect is that your company is now more accurately monitoring non-work-related applications and sites that you use on company devices. Every week, your HR rep emails you a list of unproductive websites that you have visited. You never realized how many micro-breaks you took until they were gone.
In one of your few free weeknights, your friends drag you along to a hot new restaurant. It takes you a while to notice, but, except for the bouncer at the door, there are no human workers.
A robot on wheels comes to take your orders. It has an artificial sounding voice. The robo-waiter feels gimmicky to you, but it’s able to interact with you reasonably competently. It not being human allows your party to make requests that you wouldn’t usually make of a human waiter, such as to repeat the specials three times in a row. It has a screen on its chest that shows you HD images of any menu item you want to “preview” before ordering.
In the back of the restaurant, the kitchen is walled off with soundproof glass. You can see a series of machines working at a pace your eyes can hardly keep up with.
Your robo-waiter comes back with your meals. You try to see if you can taste the difference between this and human-made food. It’s hard to tell. Still, you don’t know if this will catch on.
That machinery has to be too expensive to scale, right?
Your commute to work has gotten better. The government has engaged in a lot of public-private partnerships to get companies to invest in infrastructure. These projects have been hugely successful; however, you have noticed more tolls on the roads, which your company has agreed to subsidize.
There are fewer homeless people on these roads. You research the issue and find out that a lot of trusts have hired security guards to prevent homeless people from sleeping on them. You are outraged and set up a recurring donation to a charity that has pledged to provide services for the homeless in your area.
You continue to see fewer and fewer of them, though.
Protests are becoming more frequent. Unemployment has risen to over 14%, and there is talk of the Federal Reserve cutting interest rates again, though they are already pretty low. The President addressed the American public last night. The most pulled quote from the speech was: “My fellow countrymen, we must persevere.”
On the blogs you read, a lot of commentators are talking about inequality and redistributive policies. The protesters have started chanting things like “Share The Wealth,” “Down With Corporatocracy,” and “Eat The Rich.” Work keeps you too busy to go to any of them, but you are there in spirit.
These protests are not allowed on private roads.
One day you learn that your favorite work friend has been fired for allegedly stealing company IP. You talk to him about it over drinks. He claims the company is trying to take credit for a project he did after-hours.
According to the news podcasts you listen to, this is a hot-button issue in Congress right now. Many companies are trying to lobby the government to expand the definition of theft for IP so that they can commoditize their employees’ side projects. Your company has not taken an official position, though the way your boss talks, they probably support it. You begin disconnecting all personal accounts from your company devices. The way things are going, you can’t be too careful.
The headquarters of a major tech company is bombed. Your CEO sends out a company-wide memo about new increases in security. They start implementing random screenings at all exits and entryways. It is annoying, but nothing more than a minute lost here or there. You’re confident this will all die down soon.
Homelessness has gotten worse on public streets. You decide to move after getting mugged. You settle on an old bottling plant that developers have turned into a planned community within an up-and-coming neighborhood. It has a series of mixed commercial and residential buildings replete with small streets and generous sidewalks. These streets are not public and are strictly monitored by a private security force.
There are no homeless people here.
You rarely walk anymore. Ride-sharing services have become your new routine. This week was the first time that you rode in an entirely self-driven car. You found it to be surprisingly enjoyable. You felt less awkward about changing the music as well as placing your feet up on the center console. After a while, these drives to and from work seem like the few moments you can honestly be by yourself.
You feel exhausted by work, and one day decide you’ve had enough. You start looking for other jobs. You are careful to do this on non-work devices. You’ve heard rumors of people being fired or demoted for such blunders.
You have drinks with your old co-worker (the one who was fired). He has started a company focused on leasing out AI-powered task management software for cyber-security. He needs someone with your skill level to manage it all.
You love your work again. You are doing something you genuinely enjoy. People pay you to rent out AI they can’t afford to buy on their own. The technical aspects of it are comfortable enough, and you have your personal AI assistant to handle the administrative tasks. Your office headquarters are in a renovated row house in a newly-gentrified neighborhood. Your company only has two employees, but you manage millions of accounts. Many of these are small businesses that cannot afford the standard business rate of larger tech companies.
Shortly after leaving your old job, you hear from a former coworker that your old department was downsized. According to her, the task-management suite that the company adopted was not only monitoring everything employees did; it was also creating a model out of the millions of microtasks it logged. After a few months, it was able to do most of the work itself, with consistent results. Some coworkers like her were moved on to more complex work, but not as many people were needed.
“That’s sad to hear,” you tell her. “But we worked with some top-notch people. They’ll be able to find something, surely.”
Your previous co-worker’s computer is still running the same task management suite.
The extra money you are making allows you to buy some property. There has been an uptick in civil unrest, so you decide to relocate to a gated community in the heart of the city. It’s larger than the semi-private community in which you last lived. The streets are bigger. The architecture is more pronounced and elaborate. Brilliant sculptures and fountains dot the grounds. An almost-invisible electric fence surrounds the perimeter. Even though you feel guilty, it makes you feel safe.
The security here is more intense even than at your old job. You are required to get an implant with an encrypted security code. This is vital for gaining entry into your building. The implant seems extreme, but, apparently, several residents had been mugged recently for their key cards. The memory of your mugging stops you from inquiring further.
Security guards patrol the private streets and grounds. You notice that little robots accompany the human guards. They walk on all four legs and look sort of like dogs. They are extremely mobile. When they dart across the grounds, it’s sometimes too fast to register. Many times, the dogs can be seen perched on ledges as well as other vantage points that are always not entirely out of sight.
Work is getting harder. There are a lot of smaller to medium-sized businesses in your company’s portfolio, and larger companies have started to target their market share more aggressively. You spend many late nights brainstorming on how to get new business, asking your administrative AI to run simulation after simulation.
None of them come back with positive solutions.
On the weekend, you take a day trip to visit a friend. They live in a similar community to yours. The architecture is marginally different, but eerily the same. There are different statues and aesthetic choices throughout; however, many of the store brands are identical to the ones you have in your community. There is the same fence wrapped around the compound, and the same security dogs darting in and out of view. You make plans to host your friend next weekend, but secretly wish they cancel. This has been so boring.
One night, you get a message from the former coworker that remained at your old company. They fired her. She doesn’t have any prospects and needs money to hold her over. You tell her that things are tight but will see what you can do. You end up providing a small loan that will hold her over for a month.
“You’ve always been so resourceful,” you assure her. “I know you will get through this.”
Your company’s financial prospects continue to deteriorate. Your larger competitors (one of them being your old company) have offered a rate lower than your current plan. It shouldn’t be economically feasible. They have so much market share, however, that it doesn’t impact them in the slightest. They can afford to take the loss.
You get hit with multiple lawsuits. Your old company claims that you stole their business model. It’s not true, of course, but you have to hire an IP lawyer to pay for a legal battle. You settle out of court, and your costs skyrocket.
You cut services further, and offer an even lower price point. This decision causes many of your customers to leave. Your old employer finally offers to buy your company out, and you and your partner jump on the opportunity.
“It’s been a fun ride,” you tell your old business partner. “Onto the next adventure!”
You made a substantial sum in the buyout, but not quite what you were hoping for. You start brainstorming next steps. Thankfully, your personal AI assistant is performing daily assessments on possible disruptions in the market. There aren’t that many companies out there anymore (maybe a thousand), so there has to be some service they are missing.
Weeks roll by. It suddenly occurs to you how much money you have been spending — food, clothes, underwear, furniture, your games, your TV — you don’t own any of it. You cancel everything, except the nonessentials.
Your neighborhood suddenly seems a lot more expensive. Maybe you should move? You ping your realtor virtual assistant and learn that your mortgage company changed the Terms of Service on your lease to increase the penalty for early termination. Legally, now, they aren’t required to inform you of such changes. You will lose money selling it. So you hold off for now.
You spend your days struggling to find that next big idea. You set up a blog. You purchase antiques. You offer to coach people with their careers. None of it works. AI can outpace all of it, and your small application can in no way compete with the processing power of larger companies.
You begin to spiral out of control. You stay up late drinking. In the afternoon, after recovering from your hangovers, you harangue old coworkers, asking if they want to go into business together. They soon stop taking your calls. You decide to contact your former coworker (the one you lent the money to). Surely, she would be interested in helping you out. A quick search on the net reveals that she has killed herself.
You wake up one morning to discover that your building has been sold. An eccentric billionaire is turning the entire compound into his second home. Your mortgage has been voided. You are given 48 hours to leave. Since you own next-to-nothing, this proves to be of no consequence.
The moment you leave the compound a security dog approaches you. It asks in an all-too-human voice if you have a place of residence, informing you that vagrancy is not permissible in the city (you don’t remember voting on that). You are mildly intoxicated and curse at the dog. It scans you, and after realizing that your implant is no longer active, tases you.
Everything goes black.
You wake up on an unfamiliar street surrounded by dilapidated buildings. You have no clothes on. Everything you own has been stripped from your body. You have bruises and scrapes all over.
You walk through what you think was once a suburb, calling out for help. You enter one of the houses. A clan of people is squatting there. They are all people of color.
They call you a corpse. Slang you’ve never heard before. One of them says that the corpses use biometrics to get past the fences. You tell them that you don’t work for anyone. That you were fired. No one cares. The clan of people surrounds you. One of them holds your hands behind your back. Another pins your face against a table.
Outside your vantage point, you hear a drilling noise. You feel a needle go into your arm, and it makes you go numb. You’re not unconscious, though. A man hovers a device near your right eye, and it goes black. You try to scream, but you are too weak from whatever drugs they pumped you with.
He does the same with your left eye, and the world fades. You can’t see anything. Everything’s so dark.
You stumble onto the ground. You touch around your eye sockets. They are warm.
Are you bleeding? You feel so incredibly weak.
As you collapse onto the carpet floor, you wonder how it got this bad?