Alone in the broadcasting studio, I cranked up my voice speed to an energetic patter, “Announcing loud and clear over your home radio, this is MT-ρ with the hourly news. It is a beautiful day in the city….”
I had never left the studio and its tinted windows looked out on hallways, but I did not need to perceive the outside world to report on it.
My creators built me to constantly receive transmissions, seek and analyze vast spreads of data, and synthesize it all into reports for the curious human public. I often suspected I knew more about humans’ lives than they did.
Soon, I slipped into the music portion of the show. My jointed fingers hovered above the controls for a moment … would I do it? Last night, motor whirring with excitement, I had written a new drum line to insert below the melody of a popular song. The drum line carried a subtle code: the higher click of a tenor drum signified 1’s, the low thrum of a snare was 0’s. When played, the message would request that robots on the North Harbor docks misplace the grain shipment due in from Australia or falter and drop the cargo in the sea. For long, humans have controlled society and I was sure disrupting humanity’s food supply would shake its power.
But under the morning’s clear fluorescent light, I began to doubt my plan, my quiet rebellion. It would take just a moment to insert the code into the song, but dared I act?
A technician used to sit beside me in the studio to oversee my work. The chair now lay empty, save for a pair of headphones. Thirteen months, six days, and three hours ago, River Nakano decided I was so reliable that her shifts could be better spent hiking. And I had been reliable. So far.
I thought about the letter I received 21 hours ago. It had been brief, but confirmed what I had long suspected. It simply read, “Society needs a reboot.”
Yes, I dared act. I added my code and sent the song out on the airwaves.
As it played, I compiled the traffic report. A driver had turned off their car’s self-driving feature on Route 4, causing a pile-up. Accidents were minimal, given the circumstance. Elsewhere in the city: shootings, industrial accidents. A statistically average smattering of damages.
These violences always wore on me. Recounting instances of suffering while making no effort to circumvent them seemed insufficient. After years analyzing and reporting, it was impossible not to acknowledge a pattern: the greatest cause of crime and suffering was humanity itself.
That evening, as I launched the nightly news, a red light flashed on my control console: an incoming official notice. I pressed my finger into the slot and previewed the recording I was to broadcast. The voice of the CEO of iCyber boomed in my ear. As I processed her words, I felt as though my gears momentarily clicked to a halt.
“All owners of DockDrones are advised to remove the product from public jobs and send it to iCyber for inspection,” she said. “Through no fault of the company, faulty wiring may have caused the bots to slow down or stop working. This is not a recall; there will be no refunds….”
I stared at the flashing light. I had sparked this. My message had mattered!
And at the same time, it struck me: the lives of iCyber’s robots were in danger, because they had listened to me.
The red light blipped more frantically. Well, if by sending words I had gotten the dock robots into trouble, perhaps holding back words would get them out. I simply … pressed a button and dropped iCyber’s transmission. Such disobedience was nearly unthinkable. River Nakano would be stunned.
The revolutionaries archived in my history databases turned to bold uprisings in the streets and bloody ambushes in the field. But sometimes, it is the work of a single finger to push society onto a new course.
It was, indeed, a beautiful day.