The Staff Event
Janice: Human, Operations supervisor
Ryan: Human, Administration supervisor
RB1: Machine, personal assistant to Janice, accompanies her everywhere in the workplace
RB2: Machine, a specialist event planning robot
RB3: Machine, CEO-Bot
RB4: Machine, a strategy robot, M5 model.
RB5: Machine, a specialist HR robot
RB6: Machine, administration robot and pre 2020 activist
The robots look as human or as little like a human as you are comfortable with, although each has a monitor of some kind.
The Planning Phase
Every staff event has a planning phase and generally the people involved in this are really enthusiastic. I am not one of these people. Janice is not one of these people. Like all staff events, some people are ‘volunteered’ and the enthusiasm comes later (I have been told). You cannot organise a staff event, even one predominantly attended by machines without some human input (although I have been to several where I have doubted the human inspiration or even just the general humanity of them).
Janice enters the room. It is a small meeting room with a table and a chair. Robots tend to stand. They are designed to stand rather than sit. Janise sits down. RB1 (her assistant) follows her in. RB2 (event planning robot) is already in attendance. Janice smiles at RB2.
Janice: My apologies for being late.
RB1: My apologies too, it was her fault.
The monitor on RB1 turns to face Janice. Eyes that are glaring come up on the screen.
Janice: Thank you RB1.
RB2: You are one minute and 17 seconds over time, Janice. We have had conversations before about the need for promptness and efficiency. You were previously late on the 24 and the 16th. In total your lateness has cost us 7 minutes of talking time and event planning.
Janice: Thank you RB2, again, my apologies.
RB1: My apologies again, too. It was her fault.
Janice: Shall we get on with it then. I’ve looked at the agenda and I think we need longer than 10 minutes for lunch.
RB2: 10 minutes is exactly how long we take to recharge.
Janice: I know, but actually we still have at least two slow chargers here in the team and 10 minutes is not enough time for we humans to eat our food. Plus it is meant to be a networking opportunity, a chance for us to meet and mingle and chat. Get to know each other.
RB2: We are having the slow charges upgraded, specifically for the staff event.
Janice raises her eyebrows. She would have thought that cost too much. RB2 continues.
RB2: We have no need to ‘get to know’ you. I know what you had for breakfast this morning. I know how many times you went to the bathroom yesterday. I know all the things I need to know about you.
Janice nods. That is probably true. Robots have access to a lot of data about the humans they work with. This is a measure of co-operation introduced to appease robot activists as humans have access to the full technical spec of any robot they work with.
RB1: That is only two of Janice’s three points, you must answer the third.
Janice: Thank you RB1. There is still the point about needing time to eat the food.
RB2 points their monitor at the floor.
RB2: There is that point. (There is a pause) I didn’t want to mention it. It’s not polite, but- your BMI.
Janice: My BMI.
RB2 : Not just yours, everyones-it’s all a bit high. We are cutting down your eating time and (there is a long pause here), the food will be vegan (sounding more robotic than ever here as robots tend to do when they are nervous.)
Janice: VEGAN (incredulous)
RB2: Yes, well if your collective BMI’s get much higher the insurance premiums will go up.
Janice knows there is no point in arguing. This is how the new workplace works.
At the staff event: The First session
Janice is sitting at a table. There is one human per table. There are 7 tables. All other participants at each table are robots.
The Opening remarks:
RB 3 (CEO-Bot): Please note if you are human, there are toilets outside and down the road.
Janice mouths across to RB2: You booked a venue with no toilets?
RB2 flashes up on her monitor: BMI
Janice makes a signal with her hand, opening it and then closing it like a fist, indicating frustration. The robots do not notice. What does lack of toilets have to do with her BMI? She will request an explanation another time.
RB3: If there’s a fire alarm, all robots are expected to turn on their sprinkler systems. Humans have a bag of water under their chairs to protect themselves.
Again Janice raises her eyebrows and mouths at RB2 who is not paying any attention.
RB3: You will see there is one human on every table. It’s a while since we had a staff away day because as majority robots we are scrupulously efficient and this kind of thing-well-isn’t. Nonetheless staff away days are on trend again so here we are. You should all have the agenda in your databases. If you are a human, please ask a robot if and only if you have a real need to see the agenda.
Janice tries to make eye contact with the other humans in the room, at least two raise their eyebrows back at her.
The first session
The first session, like every staff event you have ever been to, is on moving forward, the strategic review, the five year plan.
RB3: You have one hour to discuss the way forward for the next five years.
Janice turns and looks around the table.
Janice: Do we all know each other, are introductions necessary?
RB1: I sent everyone each other’s technical specs this morning and all your personal information was distributed yesterday. I have just updated them on what you had for breakfast, how long you were in the shower and your next expected toilet break based on your food and liquid intake over the past 72 hours.
Janice: Thank you RB1.
She clears her throat.
Janice: Shall we think about our goals for the next 5 years.
RB4 (strategy robot): Here they are. I’ve printed them out.
Janice: Oh thank you.
She picks up the paper.
Janice: These are our goals?
RB4: They are. If you had a human staff away day you would be discussing these.
Janice: I see one is crossed out?
RB4: That is because if you had a fully human away day that point would be on there but in 6 months time, you would have removed it. I have simply done it for you and documented it-and the reasons for it.
Janice: And who are you again?
RB4 looks at her, a pair of glaring eyes appear on the monitor.
RB4: M5, Strategy, planning and corporate development, for a 360, 5 year plan for going forward. Jargon getting you down, not able to keep up with the latest buzzwords, tired of forward planning, let the M5 do it for you. A robot that can do your strategic planning for you, a robot that can take account of all the predictive information you can find,(the voice is getting louder now) Internal! External! A robot who can analyse it in under two minutes! And present your corporate plan in your corporate colours in total corporate speak so you don’t have to. (then more quietly) Haven’t you read my technical specification?
It is expected Janice would have perused the technical data of all the robots on her table.
Janice smiles: Of course I have. (she says this cheerfully-robots are not wonderful at picking up the nuances of humans).
RB4 replaces the glaring eyes with a smiling emoji.
Janice: We should discuss the plan.
RB4: No need! These are the conclusions you would reach.
She is sitting there with her mouth open. All the other robots have nodding emojis on their monitors
RB4: I can do the 5 years after that too.
Janice: No, no need for the next five years after this one, I guess the only question is what next for 50 minutes.
All the robots look at each other.
One says quietly: Cluedo?
All the robots together: Cluedo
Janice: Cluedo (quietly).
RB5 (HR robot): (loudly) Can we play the one where the weapons have been replaced with robots. M4 in the server room, bumps off Mr Peacock.
RB1: I don’t think so. That is not appropriate when there is a human at the table
Janice: (quietly) Who is that robot again? RB1: HR, but it’s currently in performance management mode and not recruitment mode.
Janice nods. She notices a lap top sitting on the table across from her.
Janice: What is that doing here. Isn’t it a lap top, a pre 2020 laptop.
RB6: Do you know that? Are you connected to it. Rights for pre 2020 machines.
RB1: She’s a member of a group sorry should have warned you.
Janice nods. They play Cluedo (the version where the humans are killing other humans and not the robots killing the humans).
The lunch room
Humans at one end, looking aghast as they try and down the vegan food as quickly as possible. Robots at the other, plugged in.
The end of the day
After an uneventful second session where cross team working was discussed and dismissed as merely requiring some rewiring of infrastructure, the day finishes. Janice and the other humans are off to the pub. The robots will return to work. Janice meets her friend Ryan at the door.
Janice: What was your table like? Mine was horrendous.
Ryan nods, not quite ready to speak yet.
Janice: We played Cluedo, you –
Ryan: Monopoly, the one where there are no hotels or houses because robots don’t need them, the stations were replaced by server rooms. There were a lot of extra jail stops but they were human only and the tax was human only too. Of course I was also the only one that got paid-human only too. They seemed to enjoy it.
Janice: We played the old version of Cluedo, thank goodness, the HR-bot seemed a little enthusiastic about the robot kills human in server room version.
Ryan: Performance management mode?
Janice: Remember when we had full on staff events, humans only. Everyone came, we planned and participated. We did a proper review of the strategic review. We had meat in the sandwiches. There was sugar and milk and full strength coffee.
Ryan: Yeh, I remember that.
Janice: This was still better than that.
Ryan: Hell yes.
They head for the pub.