Switching Out One Robot for Another: Billionaire CEO Looks Forward to Lame Future
I won’t tell you which private security firm the man with a limp was from, as I am not one to inflict unnecessary harm on any undeserving entity. It doesn’t matter. Pick your favorite one.
It was just another warm Los Angeles afternoon I was enjoying while walking along the sidewalk in an upper-scale neighborhood not far from my prison cell apartment in the slums. I’d been lost deep in thought: about how slowly eating a fresh fig felt provocative when there were women around, and how to still relish eating figs without feeling that way.
From out of an expensive home came hobbling a large black man. He wore a dark blue uniform and had a gun on his side. He favored his right leg like it was a lump of clay. With each step he winced, and each step he took was in haste. Parked on the street was a white van belonging to a 24/7 private security company.
Dear Lord, I thought, what kind of terrible scuffle has gone on in that house? Is that limping man trying to escape with his life? Had he checked on an alarm and confronted a robbery in progress? Maybe he’d narrowly escaped. His only hope would be to get to his vehicle and either drive away or use it as a shield from which to fire a shot.
I watched him limp across the freshly watered lawn. He was breathing heavily. I jumped behind the nearest tree to avoid what I thought might become a Wild West shootout. “Finally, some action around here!” I said to myself. I could almost see my first viral YouTube video in the making.
The security guard worked his way to the white company SUV and leaned against it. He didn’t appear to be hiding or taking an aggressive stance. I peeked out from behind the tree. For a moment or two I watched. The sense of danger faded. “Is everything secure around here?” I asked him.
“Excuse me?” he said. His forehead was wet. He wiped away the sweat with his hat and pulled it back on his head.
I asked why he was limping. “I thought you took a good whooping in there,” I told him, and pointed at the house.
“No sir, just a routine check.”
Why was he sweating then? And in such disparaging shape? I thought about if that were my home. Would I want a limping security guard to be my first line of defense if my family suffered a home invasion?
“You know,” I told him, “if Google’s CEO Larry Page gets his dream vision to become reality, in a few years there’s going to be a robot doing your job.”
He straightened up at that sentiment. “There ain’t no robot that could make the split second decisions of being a private security guard. That takes skill and precision. Can’t just use force without discrimination,” he said.
I couldn’t imagine him doing anything in a split second.
“Get with the times, man!” I told him.
“You think I’m talking about some clumsy robot here? In fact, in five to ten years, with the exponential advancement in technology, a robot will be a thousand times safer than you or any security guard. Can you store in your head the facial profiles of every family member of every home you serve? Can your security company program into you the ability to only shoot an intruder and be absolutely incapable of firing upon one of the family?”
He squinted and removed his cap, but he didn’t say anything.
“I wouldn’t worry about it yet, though,” I assured him. “Robots are not quite to that level. But they will be soon. You should have it in the back of your mind, like all of us who value our roles in this society. It seems we’ve outdone ourselves in becoming obsolete. The billionaires are moving in to replace us. Those who are most influential in our society have declared there is very little room for humans in their future global society. And those caught limping, figuratively or literally, will be the first to be cast aside.”
The security guard shifted his weight. “You know, after that black kid in Florida was blasted by the Mexican, there was a joke going around about putting up a cardboard cutout of him holding a gun to cut down on home break-ins.”
“I started that joke,” I told him, “except it was not a cardboard cutout. It was the George Zimmerman neighborhood watch hologram. The idea was to use the advanced laser technology that brings dead pop stars back to life to make it appear the Mexican, as you say, look like he’s patrolling your neighborhood with his 9mm in his shorts.”
“Ah-hoo-hoo,” the security guard laughed. “Ah-hoo-hoo-hoo.” When he calmed down, he told me the Zimmerman hologram idea was silly. “The criminals would catch on quick that it was nothing but an illusion.”
“That’s true,” I said, “but they’ll also catch on quickly that the local security guy has a severe limp and moves across a lawn a hair faster than a banana slug on a chlorophyll high.”
“Well that ain’t very nice,” he said.
I shrugged. “It’s not like the banana slug can help it. But cheer up. You could always get a more stationary security position, like standing in front of an apartment building, like the one I live in. It’s more about the illusion there, too, so potential muggers know there’s a guard around at any given time.”
“That don’t sound like much fun. Standing around all night.”
“It would give you a good chance to catch up on your literature,” I said. “Maybe read Moby Dick, or something of substance.”
The man expressed concern about any security guard reading on the job. “Seems like a distraction to me.”
“I think you could handle it. Reading is important, you know. It’s a skill that’s being lost. Kurt Vonnegut nailed it in his book Timequake, where one of his minor characters who is paralyzed and spends his life confined to a wheelchair keeps ranting to his wife about how nobody has the skills to read anymore. Even hundreds of years ago, most people couldn’t read, but the ones who could specialized in it. They mastered the skill and the books they had access to. But now that we all know how to read, at least at a sixth grade level, most people choose not to.”
I’d lost the man. I could tell by his disinterested gaze.
“But nobody listens to the guy in the wheelchair,” I told the security guard, “because not only is he disabled, Vonnegut also mentions more than once that the man’s ding-dong no longer works.”
“Ah-hoo-hoo-hoo,” the security guard laughed.
“You knew there’d be a dick joke coming along sooner than later,” I said.
“That’s a pretty good one,” he said. “Poor guy in the wheelchair.”
“But listen,” I told him, “you’re not the only one who can’t pay attention any more. Almost everybody has been infantalized. So much so that when some fool plants hundred dollar bills around Los Angeles, thousands and thousands of people search for the money like they’ve got nothing better to accomplish on earth. These people give credence to what Bertrand Russell disdainfully called the ‘useless eaters of society’.
“It’s the death of civilization, but slowly, slowly. Limping toward a future of education through Power Point presentations and presidential debates barely able to hit third grade rhetoric. On the news, they call these things ‘progress’. We’ve gained so much in our modern age. Like being able to take a shit while using our iPhones. Imagine the world at your fingertips, while you’re seated on the toilet. In the time it takes to unpack your bowels, you can easily brush up on the main tenets of being a Libertarian.
“But in reality it ‘s a reversion to all things trivial, like TV, sports worship, and getting your rocks off to the same dramatic movie plots…again and again and again. Soon every sitcom will have a porn segment. Constant lower energy titillation.
“And you know what?” I said to the beleaguered security guard. I leaned in close to really get his attention. His breath smelled like onions. “If we keep heading in this direction as a Facebook society, we’ll justify the aims of people like the Google executives who view us as worthless, and not valuable enough to keep around.
“They will not be blamed for switching out us, the less efficient, less intelligent robots, with the higher grade brand made of finely crafted metal and plastics. We’re human drones on autopilot.”
“A friend of mine’s son found one of them money balls,” the guard said, “down in Hermosa Beach. Kind of exciting, actually. Two hundred and fifty bucks.”
“Well, I hid money in the Los Angeles Public Library, and I even revealed which books it was hidden in, but nobody flocked to that. I just can’t read people anymore.”
The security guard straightened his hat on his head and stumbled around to the driver’s side of the SUV. “Got to patrol now,” he said. “Been nice chatting with you.”
I opened the passenger’s side and hopped in. When he closed his door, he was surprised to see me in the vehicle. “You can’t be in here,” he said, a little worried. “I’m not allowed to have passengers.”
“I’d like to go on a patrol,” I said. “I imagine it’s exciting sometimes.”
“Hardly ever,” he said.
I turned in my seat and rummaged through a pile of extra clothes and loose papers in the backseat. “If you’ve got an extra firearm handy, I’ll provide cover from your flank.”
He was sweating again. “You need to get out, now.”
But I didn’t. So we sat there in silence a long while as he decided on how best to manage the situation.