What I do now that robots do everything.
I’m not late for work. I’m never late for work, really, because I can work from anywhere. But it’s not easy work. I have to think all day. About why things are the way they are, how they were, and how they might be someday.
It’s a coveted job, being a philosopher. It’s easier doing this than some of the other jobs out there, like playing sports or dancing ballet. And it’s way easier than having a government job. But it’s harder than doing what most of the population does, I guess, which is nothing. It’s been like that for as long as I remember. After all, the robots took over most of the jobs in the 60s.
It’s hard to believe that humans used to prepare food. Heck, it’s amazing that we used to grow it ourselves! And we used to be practicing doctors, too. I’ll tell you what — I’d never trust my surgeries to a human. Are you kidding me? People used to die at hospitals all the time, they say. And that’s even when they were able to tell you what was wrong with you. The doctors didn’t figure out that my great-grandfather had cancer until it was Stage 2. Can you believe it? That’s the kind of thing you can test for before you’re even born.
Cancer. That used to be a big problem in my grandparents’ generation, and the generation before them. There used to be lots of forms of cancer, but now there’s only one. Lung cancer. Because people just love their cigarettes. In special cigarette clubs, of course, so that the rest of us can be spared — but now that new lungs can be grown by robots in sterile labs, they can just get them replaced. Good for them, I suppose, but my friend Hypatia’s mother has already had 6, because the policy is to replace your lung at the first sign of damage. You know, so nothing spreads. Because even though our parts can be replaced, we’re not impervious to disease, like robots. I don’t smoke because I don’t like the idea of having so many surgeries.
The doorbell is ringing. It must be my delivery; it comes at precisely this time every day, depending on what I’m missing. I open the door and spot the floating oval pod, which opens to reveal a pint of soybean milk and fresh, cold-pressed juice. It’s just enough for today; after all, why would I want to drink milk that was prepared yesterday? Fresh is best, that’s what the nutrition researchers in the government tell us. Since robots are producing all of our meals and drinks, it’s easy and cheap to get fresh food every day.
I promptly swig the cold juice, fortified with extra vitamins, and put the milk into my refrigerator, which sits conveniently on my kitchen countertop. I’ve become used to the refrigerator automatically ordering food for me based on my habits. I used to have to choose what I wanted from a screen on the door. I still can, if I want something new.
Mine is smaller than an average refrigerator, just about double the size of the pod that delivered my milk. I’m a single guy, so I don’t need much space. Some families have slightly larger refrigerators that fit underneath the countertop. In the old days, refrigerators used to be larger than a person! I can’t imagine such a thing taking up so much space. Since I get a food delivery every day, I don’t need to be stocking up for weeks, which I guess is what people used to do. What I want to know is — how did they eat all their condiments, which came in huge jars? Why would anyone want to use mayonnaise after a week? Why do people use mayonnaise, anyway?
The screen on my refrigerator flashes: Aris.
“I’ll take it,” I say to the air.
Aris’s tri-dimensional image appears in front of me, on the other side of my kitchen island, the top of which is made of a dark stone and diamond composite. Fabricated diamonds, of course, but no one cares about such things anymore. It’s very durable.
“How are ya, Pyth?” he asks me. Aris and I are friends from university. His name is actually Aristotle — philosopher names from the Classical Greek tradition became all the rage in the 90s — and I’m so grateful that my parents didn’t choose to name me that, too. I probably know 30 Aristotles; my buddy Aris chose that nickname to set himself apart. Though Aris is probably as common a nickname as Jimmy was at the turn of the 21st century.
“Good, yeah. What are you doing today?” I respond.
“No writing?” I probe. Mostly because I haven’t.
“A little. Not much. Still working on my chef d’oeuvre.” Aris has been working on that thing for 3 years. Doesn’t matter — there’s no rush. He’d get the same base paycheck that everyone else does anyway. The university would just pay extra for short poems, if he ever produced them. He’s a poet. I could never do that, either.
“Wanna go shopping?” I like looking at the boutiques. Now that everyone orders whatever they need via pod, boutique shopping is more of a novelty than anything else. It’s funny to think about how inefficient shopping used to be. My great-grandparents used to go into stores as big as apartment buildings and buy lots of things that they didn’t even go there for. It doesn’t make any sense to me. But I admit that I don’t mind boutique shopping because it’s quaint that people actually make things.
Aris is as eager to leave his apartment as I am, evidently, and we agree to meet up in Old Town. Every city has an Old Town, a city center, which is nice for walking around, especially in autumn.
“What’s the weather today?” I ask the air before I leave the house.
“80 degrees. You will not need your jacket today,” my house assistant pronounces in the Queen’s perfect English. I am a sucker for an English accent. Everything just sounds smarter, you know? Aris programmed his house assistant to speak to him in Chinese. I find that entertaining, because everyone speaks Chinese, so it’s not like he doesn’t get to practice. I don’t know why he would need that.
My house assistant, having heard my conversation with Aris, has already ordered me a vehicle. Normally, I would shoot down to the street level and take a Flōt, but since I’m going down to the Old Town, I’d rather go more directly and take a Zūm. Flōt’s great for zipping down to the university or going to see my sometimes-girlfriend Aspasia across the bay. It uses magnetic hover technology, so it stays lower to the ground or water.
When I’m feeling fancy, like today, I take a Zūm. It’s a little more expensive, because it requires more energy to fly. The engineers have done a lot to maximize the solar charge of the windows, though, which has cut down on the costs over the past couple of years. I also like Zūm because it picks me up outside my door on the 42nd floor. I see it pull up to my docking station through the grove of trees in my front yard.
I step into the glass-and-copper oval bubble. This Zūm fits four people, and I take the last spot. As I step in, two white pods, same as the one that visited me a few minutes ago, approach and attach to the back of the vehicle. There is a lot less air traffic now that these pods connect to the vehicles, both Flōts and Zūms. The pods catch a ride to their next destination and pop off when they get close, only flying a short distance on their own — and recharge while mounted on the vehicle.
“Hello,” I greet the three other travelers, who nod and smile. I can tell that one is scrolling through her messages, since she’s moving her finger up and down in front of her, as if she were tickling the air. It’s nice that our contact lenses enable us to read our mail; we used to have to wear glasses for that.
The Zūm stops at the 30th floor of one of the subsidized housing buildings on the east side of Old Town before descending to the street level and allowing me to disembark. I notice that the delivery pods that had attached to our vehicle have already gone.
Aris had wanted to meet at one of the 50 coffeebars in Old Town. It’s amazing that we get any sleep, given how much coffee we all drink! But it’s a good way for everyone to pass time, especially the majority of people who don’t have work. And different coffeeshops have attracted different clientele. We humans love identities and groups, and the coffeeshops have catered to that desire.
I frequent four different coffeebars, depending on my mood and who I wish to see. Aris wanted to go to Universitas, which is the coffeebar for people who went to our university. Not that others can’t enter, but why would you want to? I would find it awkward to be surrounded by people who all have something in common that you don’t.
The door opens, and among those lounging on the mahogany leather couches in the airy wood-and-brass café is Aris. In the corner, a group of twenty is gathered around one woman sitting on a stool. She is discussing robot-human love, a popular topic. I myself have written on it several times, but have no interest in arguing the merits of recognizing marriages. If we move past the biological argument, it all comes down to Person Rights, however we define “person,” electronic or human.
Aris smiles at me as a greeting, and I wave back, but walk past him to the coffee bar, where my drink is waiting. The sensors know now that when I come into Universitas in the afternoon, I want an almond spiced persimmon latte, no whip. If I come in the morning, I want a straight Ethiopian Red Eye.
Aris gets up with his drink and we both walk out. We chat about the weather — it’s getting warmer every year, but thankfully, the government and private infrastructure have been able to ensure continued crop growth. And it seems like every day, researchers and their robots are developing new genetically modified crops that can handle the temperature and climate fluctuations. They’re also growing new high-protein meats in the laboratory which apparently taste like bison. Bison! Imagine. Aris and I agree that we’re excited to try this new creation, since bison went extinct 80 years ago. It’s marvelous, this idea of trying extinct meats. Perhaps someday, we shall try pterodactyl.
We wander into a homewares store. It’s not large — maybe the size of my apartment — because most people order virtually, anyway. There are many of them, but they’re only in Old Town. All of the places where there used to be sprawling strip malls and storefronts have been torn down to build more apartments, restaurants, cafés, and storage units for all of the stuff that people have no room for in their homes.
There’s no need for brick-and-mortar stores when you can easily order whatever you want from the comfort of home. But urban planners wanted Old Towns across the United States to be cute, homey places where communities could gather and see each other despite the independence that technology has afforded us. And these Old Towns feature boutiques, blocks of them, all selling human-made handicrafts.
It’s funny, the backlash. Back in the tumultuous 60s, robots really took over. Manufacturing jobs petered out in the 40s, as robots were able to make things faster, better, and more reliably. Conventional car manufacturing vanished in the 50s, as conventional cars phased out entirely. And by the 60s, everything, it seemed, was made by robots. At the same time, there was rampant human-on-robot violence. Protests in the streets and fires in the factories. People were angry that these semi-thinking, unfeeling metal-and -plastic creatures were taking over jobs that helped people feed their families. Those jobs gave them dignity, I think. We used to define dignity by the work we did. But that was when there was a lot of work to be done. Now, there’s dignity in not working.
The 60s also saw a major movement for human-made goods. “Proudly made by a human,” tags read. Or better yet, “Proudly designed by a human,” which, frankly, meant that a robot probably made it. Some people bought the human-made goods, ignoring the flaws and defects in an effort to preserve jobs. But the fact is — cheaper, better-made goods won the day. Factories converted from places needing to accommodate humans — you know, with air conditioning and bathrooms — to places that could accommodate robots, which was more economical. Robots don’t use 2 paper towels to dry their hands, nor do they need to flush a toilet, saving water.
But the “human-made” movement did have a long-term impact. We all want to be unique, and like many others of my generation, I like having some human-made items in my house. Nothing big, like a couch, but art and home décor, certainly. A little imperfection is a good reminder that we are only human. I like having mismatched ceramic mugs and coasters made of upcycled phone cords.
“I have to have this,” Aris announces to me, picking up a bronze piggybank with a slot in the top. It’s quite cheeky, since we removed coins from our currency more than fifty years ago. “You never see these anymore. It will be a great conversation piece when friends come to call.”
“Maybe you can have each of your friends write a sentence on a piece of paper and put it in the slot. When you empty it, you can make a poem.”
Aris is delighted at this idea, and carefully places the pig in his macramé shoulder bag. As we walk out, the door beeps, an affirmation that his bank account has been charged for the purchase.
I bid farewell to Aris and his new bronze pig, and make my way to Le Philosophe, another of my favorite cafés, where another robot automatically pours a sweet vermouth on the rocks as I enter. After all, it’s now cocktail hour. I take a seat on the plush couch as a small pod floats to me with my drink. I contemplate the crowd. Contemplation is what I am paid to do, after all. And in the clinging and clanging of cups on saucers and the din of laughing patrons, I find it hard to imagine what life was like when we all had other things to do.
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