Cheer-bots-I didn’t see it coming

I read a lot about robots taking our jobs, but of all the jobs I saw mentioned-and I read the OECD report-every page-I never saw anyone say ‘cheerleader’. No clear solid statement ever that cheer leaders would be replaced by robots in my lifetime…read more

I read a lot about robots taking our jobs, but of all the jobs I saw mentioned-and I read the OECD report-every page-I never saw anyone say ‘cheerleader’. No clear solid statement ever that cheer leaders would be replaced by robots in my lifetime. Perhaps you are thinking that is because lots of people don’t think of cheer leading as a ‘proper’ job. I didn’t either until it was taken over by ‘robots’. These are not robots that look human, they’re not your fake looking female variety of the human like bot. These ‘cheer-bots’ look like robots, like any number of robots you have seen on the telly. Not a ponytail in sight here.

I had to come to an American football game to believe it. And now I have seen it. But- I still don’t believe it. Even having watched it, I don’t quite believe it. I understood nothing of the game itself and having watched it, think I might actually understand even less. It went on for a very long time. But the robots-the ‘cheer-bots’ were-fascinating-I think. I mean there are whole channels devoted to ‘cheer-bots’ on the internet. They are immensely popular. Just how did that happen? I mean cheer leaders replaced by robots. I just didn’t see it coming.

Some people blame the cheer leaders themselves, and frankly having read a lot about cheer leading recently, they seem to have a long history of having to take responsibility for the behaviour of others. It seems quite typical. Before this happened, it turns out cheer leaders were paid a pittance but were largely responsible (and when I mean responsible I don’t mean actually responsible so much as an expectation that they would accept responsibility in the way women often have to) for a lot of bad behaviour by other people (I think you know who I mean) whilst at the same time having their own rather innocuous behaviour policed quite a lot. I mean how dare they choose their own outfits and take a picture wearing that outfit and then put that photo online-scandalous. I mean that is just gob-smackingly bad behaviour-apparently.

I mean a photo-in an outfit they chose- on line- the audacity. I mean it’s the kind of behaviour that’s right up there with-ooh I don’t know, eating the last biscuit but leaving the packet in the cupboard, or finishing the milk and putting the empty container back in the fridge. Actually it really isn’t quite as bad as that because that is really annoying. Why can’t bots just sort that out? A milk-bot-now that would be useful. It would sort of look like a cow-maybe smaller because it has to fit in my kitchen and it would just dispense milk on request. It should also do yoghurt and cream I think, maybe a really sophisticated model could do cheese or butter. Way off topic now. But I do want one. It could ‘moo’ gently in the morning to get me out of bed-better than an alarm. It could waft the smell of freshly cut grass through the kitchen but no other cow related smells will be required-let’s be clear on that. No other smells.

It was only 5 years ago that the Dallas Cowboys cheer leading squad performed with the first robot as part of the routine. It was funny. It was cute. I am sure at the time they had no idea it was the beginning of the end. I can’t remember what came next, but within a year, they all had a kind of performing robot as part of the line up. Each one looked slightly different. Then one team just out of the blue- maxed out on bots. No more women, just robots Then everyone did it. And cheerleaders were gone-replaced. Within a season, just gone. Now we have cheer-bots. Its hard to say if it’s a step forward. Football itself is dying, was dying ( I mean the game and not just the players) but this whole cheer-bot thing is  bringing in a whole new audience.

I feel for the cheer leaders, years of training. They are literally professional athletes in America and their behaviour was ridiculously policed which was always contentious. But it just seems a bit surreal. I mean cheer-bots, surely robots could just be put to a more useful use and the cheer leaders could just keep cheering if they wanted to. It’s not what they promised with the whole robot thing. If you can produce a robot that can cheer lead (is that the phrase) why not one that can wash my car. I guess bots give less trouble than cheer leaders. They never object to work conditions. Robots probably don’t worry if no one gives them any respect. They certainly don’t post pictures in their clothing of choice on line-did I mention scandalous? I guess they keep the bots in the cupboard when they aren’t using them. I don’t think they did that with cheer leaders although having read some of their work conditions, I am not ruling it out. They probably use up more electricity than cheer leaders, but then they can be transported in the cargo hold so there are plusses and minuses. Its just not a debate I thought I’d be having-ever. Cheer –bots versus cheer leaders, it makes no sense.

Of course  there are still rumours about certain players-which is  weird because these things don’t look human at all. They look like robots. They aren’t covered in human-like skin. They are very definitely machines. They are very effective, if slightly mechanical sounding. I think the sound has improved a lot since they began. I admit, they can do things cheer leaders can’t-well not just cheer leaders, other humans as well-one team has ‘hover cheer-bots’ They levitate and perform. Its very clever. Of course they aren’t constricted to just four limbs either so the octo-bots have proven very popular.

Its just that idea of all the jobs that could go to a robot, I just thought cheer leading was safe. I mean I wasn’t bringing up my son or daughter to be one. It just makes you think. I saw one of them interviewed, she thinks its temporary but it shows no sign of dissipating in popularity. Even the NFL thingy came out –the governing body –whatever its called came out and said it was time to move on from human cheer leaders to robots. The system was arcane, they were stepping into the next century early-no they actually said that last bit. Apparently they want to be there before everybody else or something. Its only 2024 so perhaps they are not aware of just how early that is or perhaps it’s a reference to the previous century and they are a tad behind. Its best not to argue with blokes who’ve worn helmets for most of their lives-that is not a rule that is specific to a football code, that is just a general rule of thumb that I live by. Just take the words at face value and try not to laugh.

I just don’t get it. I mean I thought I’d understand it when I saw it but I just don’t get it. Cheerleaders-replaced by robots-its surreal.

Midnight in the car park

I think it’s because I grew up around manual cars. A car with no one in it should be quiet and still. It is inanimate. These things, with their hum and their lights that can flash at any moment seem oddly awake and alive. And not in a good way…read more

My stomach sinks as I get off the train. I saw it from the train window as we were pulling into the station. There are only two cars in the car park. Mine and one other. This never used to bother me. It does now. I’m not sure what they were thinking. It’s a black car. They often are. Its parked under the lights. They always are. I get me keys out of my bag before I even get close to it.

My car is a manual-that means –it’s not what it used to mean. It means I have to drive my car physically. I have to concentrate and steer and indicate and all sorts of physical things. It doesn’t drive itself. It can assist in parking but not much else. I like it that way even though I have to clean it myself. Remember those car washes, all gone now. Most cars have a self cleaning system. I’ve no idea how it works, plus they are all ‘dirt resistant’- Oh and did I mention you can choose the smell of the soap it uses when it washes itself. You can have the sweet smell of rubber tyres on tarmac overlaid with forest glen soap suds. It’s all a bit silly. My car is not clean. I can’t remember the last time I washed it. I don’t care. The other car in the car park, the black one, parked under the lights, is shiny and clean. Too clean if you want my opinion. Suspiciously clean- if that is a thing. It probably isn’t anymore.

Alone in a car park at night with a self driving car is a whole other ball game no one has thought through. It is parked nearer to the station than my car so I have no choice but to go past it. That’s typical too. It’s for its safety, not mine. No one else got off the train. The motor of this self driving thing is running-well- not running, but there is a constant low level humming like a computer but not quite like that. It is waiting for a command. Constantly. Just a low hum like your computer when its just waiting for you to type something in. Its weird. They do have a sleep mode but often in car parks, they are perpetually ready to move. Like a dog sitting waiting, head forward, ears up,  waiting to be called by its owners. That can be unnerving.

I think it’s because I grew up around manual cars. A car with no one in it should be quiet and still. It is inanimate. These things, with their hum and their lights that can flash at any moment seem oddly awake and alive. And not in a good way. You can be walking past them and suddenly they are on. Silently gliding off onto the road beside you. Its unnerving and of course now there are a lot of trips made with no one in the car. Forget going to pick someone up, just send the car. There are just lots of cars on the road with no one in them. It never feels right or safe. It makes sense that there would be wholly empty journeys but nothing prepared us for the reality of it. How it feels to have a completely empty car slide past you on the road? It’s kind of weird, At first it wasn’t permitted, because people kept watching and crashing, but now it’s everywhere.

The car is parked in such a way that I have to walk past it. That’s deliberate. It has probably moved around the car park to be near my car for safety reasons. Its safety as I said, not mine.  The sensors on it are broad and wide. I take a moment and look at it. There is no way I can get to the driver’s side of my car without it sensing me. I could conceivably try the passenger side but even then I will need to walk around and wide to avoid being ‘sensed’. My car is forward facing and so is it, just one space to the right and closer to the station. Its lights will shine on the vacant parking space next to my car. It is unavoidable. It feels ominous. It already knows I will come and now I am here.

I swallow hard. I never used to be worried about cars parked in car parks in the night. They used to be just cars.  I walk on towards my car and try and pretend not to care, but there have been stories, lots of stories. What is to stop the car sidling up to me and trapping me against my car. What then? I am at the owner’s mercy. The owner could be watching me as I walk, from somewhere else. I walk across in front of it. I have to. I walk. Deliberately. Bravely. It senses me. How much data is it collecting about me. Its lights come on. They light the parking space where I am standing by my car door. It knows I’m here. That is meant to be helpful but it only scares me more. I jump when the lights first come on. The lights would be blinding if I turned toward them, but then it dips them down. How does it know. I don’t know how it knows. But the lights dip anyway. I hold my keys firmly. It’s humming. Still humming. Always humming. It is not meant to be menacing but somehow in the darkness when it’s just me and it and my car- it is.

I put my key in my car door and turn it. It makes a noise, a comforting noise. It can only be seconds that my person is within the range of the sensors but it will know what I look like, that I am female, maybe it has tapped into my phone to register who I am in case I steal it or scratch it or drive into it. It knows who I am. Its owner can know who I am. The police can know who I am. The manufacturer can know who I am. The list of people who can know I was getting into my car in a car park in Suffolk in the middle of the night is endless. All of it, from just a few seconds in front of the sensor of someone else’s car. Is anyone interested? I hope not but I can never know. There have been people charged with collecting these images, distorting them, using them. There was even an art show, that was weird. It’s private, this act of getting into my car. I am privately getting into my car in a train station at midnight in Suffolk but now it is public. I have no choice. I parked my car here. That car is parked there and it is done. It is public. I have no right to get into my car in a car park in Suffolk in the middle of the night privately anymore.  

I ease into the seat of my car. I switch on the ignition and my lights. It’s lights are still on. I look in the side mirror. I can still see it. It’s just sitting there, waiting, ominous. Where is the owner? I’ve no idea. There’s that story, maybe he’s in my car? I check the mirror. There is no one in the back seat. I want to check the boot. I don’t. I am being silly.

I turn on the motor. What if it follows me? It can do that. It can just follow me and there is nothing I can do. Just an empty car following me home. Is it going to follow me? It wouldn’t be the first time? The thing is to keep driving in circles around the block until it figures out you have figured it out. It’s costly in terms of petrol but it does work.

It’s a new kind of stalking, empty cars following people places. Driverless cars, it gives you a sense of not being responsible but they still found a way to make them do things they shouldn’t. There’s the model they had to recall when several owners used it to follow home school girls flashing the car lights and hooting the horn all the way-that one was a disaster some tech head hadn’t thought through. Then there’s the whole locking system, once you’re in, you’re in and there is no way out and even the emergency alarm hasn’t managed to save anyone. Had to be modified following the odd murder where the victim simply couldn’t escape. That was after the insurance claim of course. It’s like no one applied their brain to it. Self driving cars it turns out are much more popular with certain men than others. Most women like me, like a bit of parking assistance but not much else.

I drive away, out of the car park. I look in the mirror. It is still sitting there, alone now-can a car be alone? Its lights still shining on the vacant spot. Its probably still humming and I am overcome with compassion for it. It’s still inanimate I tell myself. But now it’s like a lost dog at the dogs home where someone else has adopted every other dog. I feel bad. I feel terrible. I have left it alone in the car park. These cars, these driverless cars, they are a minefield, an emotional minefield. It’s a car not a dog I say out loud. But I still feel bad, as I change gears and steer towards home. My car is loved.

Tech -tills: The Supermarket

Only I wasn’t really sure this was where the shop was either. I hit the wrong button and the car started to self clean at the traffic lights. That’s always embarrassing and I think you can be fined for it. more. 

I can’t believe I’m here. It’s a supermarket of all places. I am the only human here. I didn’t even know this was still possible. I have walked around the place and collected my own groceries. Mostly I have just felt in the way. This trolley has a duff wheel-astonishing. With all this tech, no one has figured out how to make supermarket trolleys with wheels that work.

This trolley has a little digital display on it. Every time I put something into the trolley it tells me how much I have spent. In theory I should be able to just walk through the checkout at the end and the transaction will be done, but that part of the store isn’t working. I saw it on the paper sign as I came in. Who the hell puts up paper signs-where did they even get the paper? It was over the digital display which was also broken.

I suspect that so few people do their transactions this way anymore that it broke at some point and wasn’t worth fixing. This place is like a museum. You can trace the different ways supermarket technology has changed by the left over tech. Its telling me I have spent £10,000  now. It is clearly faulty. There are only a handful of things in my trolley. I need more but everything in this shop is either moving so fast I can only just dodge it, so slow I lose patience or is now perfectly still.

I am in the way. Some of these machines were clearly not designed for human interaction. Every so often I have to leap to one side out of the way of an overzealous bot looking for the vegan sugar-I thought all sugar was vegan but maybe not. The baked bean tins I want are blocked by a broken down robot and whilst a machine is able to find a means of getting around it, I couldn’t. My human arms just weren’t flexible enough. I will be going without baked beans this week.

I am only here because the connection between my house and the supermarket has somehow been lost. That is not even supposed to be possible. It was a total shock to me and to my devices. I have no idea how or why but in the meantime, the machine told me, I would need to do a manual shop. It told the car, but the car got the shop location wrong so I had to override it on the way here. Only I wasn’t really sure this was where the shop was either. I hit the wrong button and the car started to self clean at the traffic lights. That’s always embarrassing and I think you can be fined for it. I arrived here with the car nice and clean and a trail of water and detergent behind us. Needless to say I had a choice of car parking spaces. I am surprised they have not built on them but maybe no one wants to live near a supermarket. Maybe they have just forgotten the space is here.

There was a robot to guide us to a parking space but I think that was overkill. It wanted me to park quite a distance from the entrance, apparently you are still not allowed in the parent child spots even though yours is the only car there. My car refused to over ride the robots order so my car is a mere speck in the distance from inside the shop.

The whole place hums with the low level buss of a machine. It feels as if you are walking into a computer. The inside is quite dark. Not all the lights are working and they don’t bother to fix them. The tech doesn’t need light the way humans do. As a matter of fact I think the lighting only flicked on as I came in. it detected a ‘human entry’ as I am known. The whole thing is a little confusing and out of control. I am here anyway. I wasn’t even sure if I could get in. But the doors opened when I approached. It beeped in recognition of my organic nature. It all feels a little odd, I am quite nervous. I don’t want to be as they are probably using some tech to track my moods and nervous will attract the attention of security. Supermarkets didn’t have the best reputation when it came to robot security. I know that was a while ago but I don’t want to tempt fate.

The shelves are well stocked if a little chaotic. There isn’t much need for order, the robots here identify things by scanning for tiny coded chips. You can put stuff anywhere and they can find it. The semblance of order is only for the odd human who comes here. It is pretty obvious people don’t come here often. At the very end of the store is a robot sitting at an old style till and I think that is where I will have to go to pay. Meanwhile I dodge everything around and about me.

When I get to the till, I have to switch the robot on. Thank goodness there is just a big green button in the middle-this is lowest common denominator tech.  It whirrs into life and speaks slightly mechanically. Asks me how I am? How are my children? I have none. Surely it should have registered that from my allocated parking space. I think this is very old tech.

I put things on the counter and it begins to slide and scan them. And it smiles ridiculously at me. I smile back. I am paying with my device I think. I have no idea if it will work. I pack the stuff back into the trolley. There are no bags, of course there are no bags, why would we need bags. Mostly my groceries are delivered to the side door and put directly into the fridge and the cupboards-I think. This usually happens when I am out or in the shower or some other time. I have no idea where most of this stuff goes or I guess if I even need this stuff. I am just shopping because the device said I needed to shop. It was going to send me a list but it hasn’t arrived. I guess there is no connection. That was clever, perhaps the house sent it to the car and the car didn’t bother passing it on to my device in my bag. In any event I am just buying random stuff.

I am guessing. The machine at the till is beeping and the beep is getting longer. Then it just stops. Typically, absolutely the machine just stops. I look around me. There is no one here to help. What do I do? There isn’t another human on site. I look around for an alarm button, anything. Actually I don’t really want supermarket robot security. I do the obvious thing. I just reach over, hold the button down and switch the robot off. Some things never change. Then I switch it on again. Reboot. It then tells me I will need to start again, so I put it all back on the other end of the counter and it starts processing it again. I keep watching it. I don’t want to do this a third time. I try to remain calm but I am edgy, I know that.

Suddenly a second robot is there looking over my shoulder. It has security written on it. It starts reading its protocol. This is just a random check that they do on humans who enter the store to check that they are not stealing. I have been selected for checking etc etc. I am the only human in the store so it makes sense that I would be selected although it’s all a bit creepy. I try to maintain calm, these robots are not the best programmed machines. I am meticulous, methodical and calm. Somewhere I can hear two robots crashing into each other.

Really I just want to be out of here and never do this again. Both robots are smiling at me now and there is panic in the pit of my stomach. I can’t explain it. They are making me uncomfortable. The lights are flickering. I keep putting my groceries into my trolley. Really!  Could this robot get much slower. My smile is literally plastered on now. I am sure they know. Know what! There is nothing to know. I haven’t done anything wrong. The connection between my house and the supermarket is lost. I am not stealing anything. I am just doing a manual shop.

My palms are sweaty. I think my breathing is getting faster. I need to stay calm. These security robots can be a bit, well eccentric. It is watching me. I am trying not to rush. I am putting things that I am not sure that I need into my trolley in a measured way with a smile on my face. Plastered, glued, stuck onto my face. I want to run but I must shop. I must stay calm. They are both looking at me. The till robot is finished and I have to pay. It rings up the total. I don’t even look at it. I rummage in my bag for the device. I am making a mess of it. Where is it? Why is it not at my finger tips. Was I too over eager on an item? Did I put something in before it scanned.

I have no idea. I am so hot and so worried. I keep smiling. I want to say something but what. I pass me device over the machine and payment is accepted. I want to run. I seriously just want to run. They are both staring at me, smiling. I hate this place.

‘Have a nice day’ they say in unison. I am creeped out and I leg it for the door. Before I am even in the car, I am being asked about ‘my experience’ so ‘we can make it better for everybody’. I hit the go button on my car. OMG why does the ‘go button’ look exactly like the self clean button. I look for cancel. I can’t find it. I do the survey whilst the car cleans itself. I am leaving more water and detergent in the car park as I finally head for home. I never want to do that again.

The Supplement

I tell the machine what I am thinking. I think for it. I am it. It is me. I don’t know who is in control. It’s all so fast and yet the shift seems to go on forever…read more

I look in the mirror. Mostly at my hair. My scalp.  At the bald patches. The ones that look red and slightly burned. If I was good enough, better,  I could move on.  They always promise you can move on, but who ever moved on. No one I knew, not ever. No one was ever better or good enough. I think they might be lying.  Most of them-us- move on, but only to the burns unit not anywhere else, or their minds suddenly fail. They get slack jaw. They start drooling. Their body stops responding to their commands. They get carried out.

I bounce on the balls of my feet. Tell my legs they must keep working. I look carefully in the mirror for signs that my mouth might be drooping. Does it look lopsided, more lopsided than yesterday. They keep saying it’s getting better, they are learning to manage the heat being generated, it is not as bad as it use to be. It’s not like before- when they had to make incisions into people’s skulls and put the electrodes on the actual brain. There were infections. It was unhygienic. People died at their desks back then. Infection spread from person to person. They don’t do that anymore. Now there are just burns and burn out.

They hook up the wires -electrodes-to our scalps. They have to have good skin contact, hence the bald patches. And they are truly bald patches. I have no hair follicle left there. It is all gone. It was not an entirely pain free procedure. I will look like this forever. If people move on how come I have never seen someone out there who has bald patches? Maybe they can replace it. After all look at everything else ‘they’ can do.

They tell us it is noble work, for the good of humanity. That humanity is being improved, the lives of human beings being improved by what we do. They are not specific though. How exactly does what I do, do that? There are never any clear answers

I am a supplement. That’s what they call it. The computer needs some of my neurons, my electrons. There are things it can do but there are also questions it can’t answer and to answer those questions the quickest and most efficient thing to do is to plug in a human brain. There are offices full of them – us-we-supplements- everywhere. You can always tell a supplement by the hair cut and the bits where they put the electrodes – the hair around it is often slightly singed. There’s also the slightly difficult position in which they-we-us-I- hold my head. For most of the day when I am ‘hooked up’ my head is held in a cradle so my neck muscles have slackened. It is not an attractive look, but there is still a fetish website. Some people like them-us-supplements- nearly completely gone, just before our minds actually give up.

The truth is, well you know what the truth is. It is not getting better. It is not going to get better. I don’t even know what the machine that I am being plugged into does. I can think through the questions it asks me, make human value judgements for it but I cannot, in the time frame that I have, understand what it does. The decisions have no context. Sometimes it is like it’s feeding off me. It is sucking all of the ‘me’ out of me. It works so much faster than I do. It calculates, pulls together data, calculates even more, and I answer the more difficult questions. Mostly I can’t even remember what they are. There is no camaraderie, no atmosphere, we are all afraid. We cannot talk to each other. We are like a hive of collective thinkers. We are like ants or bees or something. All our energy for the day goes into the machine, into the analysis for which we exist. I am sure though, bees and ants must chat, must like each other. We don’t even know each other.

I remember all the empty promises. In the future, you will be able to upgrade your mind, you will be able to function at a higher level. That is not what happened. I remember it is not meant to be this way, the machines are going to supplement the humans and not the other way around. It did not happen that way. The machines got better, but they reached a limit. And then with the flick of a switch we were supplementing them and not the other way around. Our neurons increasing their capacity and not vice versa. I was alive for it and I don’t even know how it happened.

What’s it really like, I will tell you. I get up and I put ice –if I can get ice- on the bald patches. The theory being that if I can cool them first they won’t get so hot. It is just a theory. It jolts me first thing. Wakes me up, gets my brain working. Then I have a caffeine fix, usually via an injection. I am entitled to caffeine although its monitored because they want my brain to be stimulated but only to a certain point. I have regular tests for caffeine and lots of other chemical levels whilst working. They want to keep my brain at maximum capacity for the 10 hour shift. They will top me up intravenously if they need to.

I work out because I will be sitting all day. All day. They care nothing for my physical health unless it affects my mental health. They can and sometimes do ‘inject’ me with a ‘workout’. It lets my brain get all the benefits of a workout without actually doing the workout. It’s another trick they have. I like to occasionally do the workout.

I go to work. In theory I am supposed to put the drip that will feed me into my arm. I am supposed to willingly put my head in the cradle. That is not quite how it works. No one is willing. It is all very ‘assisted.’ The electrodes that I plug into seem to have a mind of their own. I watch them every morning snake out from the console towards me. I want to stop them, to move my head, to turn and run. But the cradle that is holding my head- is actually holding my head. Someone roughly or gently depending on their mood will have hooked me up to the intravenous drip that will feed me. No one will toilet me or its unlikely they will and by the end of the day the smell will make me want to be ill. At least it did at first, now I am used to it and I simply go and shower at the end and wash all the shit and pee away.

I sit there for 10 hours and I answer the questions I am asked. I supplement the machine and all the time it is getting hotter and hotter. I can hear the fan whirring trying to keep everything cool but it doesn’t work. It never works. I can feel my skin starting to redden. My face is red. If I could see my arms they would be red. But my head is held in one position all day and I can only look at the dead screen ahead of me. There is nothing on that screen, all day, everyday. There is nothing there. I just stare. And something else uses my brain, fires questions at me. I have to answer them. Quickly. I never feel like I am in control. I don’t know if I am willingly answering the questions or being forced to use my brain to answer them. I am physically trapped but I don’t know if my brain belongs to me or not. It is no wonder our minds go.

It starts to feel like my blood is boiling about half way through. I will be sweating. I will have wet myself. I will still be working despite the physical discomfort. I have not got the time to be thinking about the physical discomfort. I supplement the machine. It does not supplement me. I don’t know if I am doing it myself or it the thoughts are just being taken from me. I don’t know if I am in control. I am imprisoned physically but I don’t know who owns my mind in that time. I can’t think about it at the time. It is only afterwards that I know what has really happened. All the time, hour after hour. Neurons firing, electrodes prompting. I don’t know if I am in control. I don’t know whether it is controlling me or if I am being controlled. Hour after hour. I will become so hot. My skin will itch but I won’t notice it. The stench is probably overwhelming but still I take decisions. I tell the machine what I am thinking. I think for it. I am it. It is me. I don’t know who is in control. It’s all so fast and yet the shift seems to go on forever.

I will do this for hour on hour. I will smell my hair becoming singed. Sometimes you can hear someone groaning but mostly we are quiet and still. No one ever finishes a shift at the same time, that way we can never talk. At the end I will struggle to stand. My body will be in a kind of torpor from 10 hours of just sitting. I will have had all my nutritional needs met intravenously but I will still be hungry. My trousers will be filthy. I will wash them in the shower and dry them overnight and wear them tomorrow again. There is no point in doing anything else. I don’t know if my mind is mine. I can’t even be sure I am real.

They tell us that when we are good enough, fast enough, when we have helped the machines to understand the human mind, when that has happened, we can move on, all of us can move on. Sometimes my burned hair falls out of my head. Where are we moving on to? I examine my mouth, perhaps it is beginning to droop. Perhaps that is just the sadness. I know, I am plugged into the machine, that giant organical, mechanical hive, I know. I know. There is no moving on. I don’t know. I won’t ever know. That is probably the truth.



Rome: A Manual holiday

Bedsores and pixelated fish, I did not enjoy the virtual Maldives…read more 

In my defence, I did look online and it did say in the small print-they do manual holidays.

It’s weird how technology changes things. It’s so inconsistent. It’s hard to know what drives it. Why do some things become completely different and some don’t. Only one thing stays the same, somehow the masses always get the off cuts.

I am sitting in a travel agency – looking across a desk at someone who may or may not be human-I can’t tell. Certainly there will be a human supervisor in here somewhere and it could be her.

She smiles. I smile-it’s a holiday shop-she’s happy, I’m going to be happy, it’s how it works.

I always preferred holiday shop to travel agent and now it’s more accurate.

She starts, ‘Where would you like to go?’

‘Rome,’ I say, sounding more nervous than I should.

‘Ooh, its really popular, which century?’, she says enthusiastically. I am wearing my best clothes so I look respectable and believable.

‘Real time,’ and I pause because here is where it gets difficult. Then I just think- no don’t be intimidated- keep going! The words just come out,  ‘I want to physically go to Rome.’

She looks at me oddly.

‘Of course.’ she says but I can tell she doesn’t understand me.

I say it again, ‘Actually physically go to Rome.’

This time she gets it. She leans back in her chair and looks at me.

‘You mean actually go to Rome! Physically, in person, as in- taking your body to Rome?’

I nod. She’s a robot, I can tell because it occurs to her that her body and the rest of her aren’t one cohesive unit. She can be re-programmed, or re-souled as they now call it. I always think the obvious-we’ve been able to do that with shoes for a long time, lets not overhype the fact that we can do it with a robot. I should point out that I am in a minority on this point.  

‘Rome-Is that even possible?’ She realises she probably shouldn’t have said that-customer service and all.

‘Yes.’ I say. She looks flustered, in what I now see is a slightly mechanical way, an inhuman twist of the mouth I only just manage to catch.

‘I’ll see if it’s still actually there.’ She is back on track now, ‘some of these European cities, they’re just in virtual reality now. They don’t really exist.’ She is talking to me like I am five years old but she gets the idea.

‘Its ok,’ I say, ‘I checked and it is still there.’ I nod my head again.

‘Right,’ she says looking more flustered, ‘so a bus then?’  She looks down at the screen.

‘I think I’d need a plane- there’s some water in the way.’

She leans back in her chair and looks at me again.

‘A plane as in- a plane-like a flying thing type plane.’ There is just a hint of panic in this statement now.

I nod.

‘I don’t think we have them anymore. I mean-can you fly one?’

‘No ideally there’d be a pilot.’

She looks at me even more oddly. ‘How about Bath?’ I am beginning to worry about her programming, whether I am undermining it a bit. I’m sure there’s an offence about that, vexatious confusion of a near sentient being or something. I’ve no desire to be fined for something unintentional.

I keep at it, ‘No really my heart is set on Rome, in real time, actually going there.’

‘You mean manual travel, as in taking your actual body to Rome?’ Clearly I have not quite got through to her yet.


At this point I am worried her chair is going to tip over, she is leaning so far back.

‘We had someone take a bus to Bath last year.’ she says

‘Not Bath, Rome-plane, not bus.’

‘You know that you can go virtually to Rome, any time period at all?’

I sit back now, ‘I know but I physically want to go there. In person, me.’

Now she is sitting back and I am sitting back. An impasse

The woman in the chair next to me is booking her virtual holiday and the agent is asking her all the usual questions, How do you want to appear to other people on holiday? Do you want to appear taller on holiday, do you want to be thinner, do you want to be tanned, have a day of sunburn, eat etc etc. Do you want us to handle your social media in virtual reality or do you have a provider? Because virtual holidays are not like you think. Its not some waltz through a different reality, it’s more of a half way house. You get a chair and a headset and an avatar-well an avatar that everyone else can see on your holiday. Its controlled by some kind of high tech link to your brain and a lot of twitching, but basically you are sitting still and it is moving around and you have the sensation of moving but actually you are largely still. Its not quite how virtual reality was promised to us because that is hugely expensive, this way is cheap and efficient and much better for the environment.

The options for a virtual holiday are endless. You can appear as someone else, you can even be someone famous. You can have a great time or alternatively you can be robbed at knife point, you can be sun burned or tanned, you can eat what you want and never put on an ounce because you are actually fed intravenously the whole time. All of it, almost event can be pre planned, everything -except you can opt for a surprise box-which is a random event that will occur in your holiday, most people don’t. You can change options midway through, you simply find a virtual kiosk and change your plans. Depending on what that change is, it will either be free or cost more.

I did a virtual holiday to the Maldives last year. It was a group tour. I was the only one who didn’t choose the taller and thinner option. I also thought the whole virtual reality thing looked a bit cartoonish around the edges. I went snorkelling and some of the fish were pixelated. Plus there were issues around water temperature. I should have asked for a refund

It was only 5 days but 5 days too long. Plus after sitting in a chair for 5 days despite the best efforts of being fed intravenously and the physio-bots (and you need that because you don’t really move at all), I had bedsores. I should have sued. Bedsores and pixelated fish, I did not enjoy the virtual Maldives.

It’s hard to explain what these ‘package’ virtual tours are like, aside from telling you they are not like holidays at all. Basically at some point airports and planes got fitted with row upon row of chairs each with a ‘virtual reality headset’, its like economy class on a long haul flight only worse. You sit there on your package holiday and it happens to you and they feed you and massage your muscles so you can stand up at the end. It’s meant to be amazing but its horrendous. The smell of the place when you first walk in, oh  did I forget to mention the irrigation required to remove the waste-lets not forget that. Use your imagination.

Anyway some people love it because you can go anywhere and look like anything. Mostly holidays are populated with very thin, very tall, very annoying people who can’t afford their own platform to actually move about in a proper virtual reality.

I can see the travel agent still staring at me. She gets up and goes over to another woman. They are looking at me and conferring-I wonder if they are going to call the police-they might think I really am some kind of nuisance time waster type person on some kind of vexatious programming mission. I try not to panic. I just want to go to Rome.

The other woman comes over to me. ‘Hi I’m Jenna.’ she says, very slowly,  ‘And you are?’

I try and figure out whether to give a fake name, I don’t, ‘Tuesday I say-after the day of the week.’

‘Well Tuesday’ and now she is talking at me like I’m a five year old, even slower than before,  ‘We specialise in virtual tours, we don’t do man-u-al holidays.’ She spells out each syllable.

‘But your website,’ I start.

‘Wrong’ she says loudly and crisply and looks down at me.

They both just stand there, staring at me. I start to redden. I feel uncomfortable. I reach down and grab my bag, push the chair back, pick up my coat. I stumble out a ‘Thank you’, followed by a mumbled ‘Sorry’ and leave.  

I wonder what would happen if I just started walking, kept walking, found the water, a boat, kept going, just went to Rome. Can you even do that anymore. Maybe not. I’ve no idea. I can see them looking out of the window to make sure I have gone. They don’t want me back. I will go home, find a virtual tour. Was it so bad- after a few weeks the bed sores healed and really the only fish left in this world are pixelated and I should count myself lucky that I even know what a real one looks  like.

The dentist

 Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare….read more

I look at the door. I have no idea why I’ve come here. It doesn’t look promising. This is where you end up if you don’t use proper dental equipment. If I’d thought about it I would have cancelled, it can be difficult but there’s always a way. I could have uploaded data from someone else’s toothbrush and said mine was temporarily not working or something.

Here -is the dentist, only not how I remember it. Not one of those cheap dental x-ray booths in the shopping mall either. I don’t think they work anyway, they are backed by private dentists I’m sure. This place, this is an NHS dentist.

It’s been 6 years now since dentistry was made free on the NHS, only the NHS has robodents-that’s what they call them-stupid name and not clever. If you fail to brush properly and they are watching, well not watching but collecting data from your toothbrush, you have to attend a centre like this one-a robodent-like I said stupid name.

This place looks very low key, squeezed between a charity shop and the high street bookies-how is  it when even my tooth brushing is checked, the bookies is still here.  I struggled to even find the entrance, there was a vaguely human looking model on the front door with white teeth but the name of the place had long since been removed and the number half scratched away. It looks deserted, probably everyone else brushes their teeth. I brush mine but – I went manual awhile ago. My toothbrush can’t even connect to any device. I found it in an online antique store-slightly used but still usable.

When I push open the door, there’s a pile of dust at the bottom step that someone hasn’t moved. It otherwise looks clean and clinical. I guess no one pays much attention to the place, there’s no need, my device will tell me the way and also when I’ve arrived, except-well I often switch off location-something for which I can be fined-for a moments privacy I live with the odd fine.

I go up the stairs. The place feels empty. There are still human dentists but you have to pay for them. They are expensive. I can’t afford it-probably too many ‘You have switched off your location, you will now be fined’  fines. This place is eerie.

I approach the reception desk. The receptionist doesn’t notice me. She is not human, noticeably not human. I think it’s the skin, well the silicon or whatever it is. You can see it has the wrong lustre even from a distance. She is dressed in her neat clinical uniform. I clear my throat to draw attention to myself but I know it won’t work. She has eyes, glass ones that can’t see. I can see that one of her eyes has fallen out and is resting on her cheek. I can see the wires and it makes my stomach churn. I hate the sight of failing tech. She will only sense my device and not me.

She needs some maintenance. I can see now there is a stain on her uniform and the hem of it is down. The place smells a bit, like its been cleaned of germs but somehow the stains of dirt have remained. That’s often the case when a machine cleans somewhere. All the germs are dead but the dirt remains. This is not a good sign, perhaps it’s awhile since anyone has been here. I take out my phone and switch on location and wait a minute. The machine in front of me-the one with only one eye, picks up my location, who I am, where I am. She turns and smiles. She does have perfect teeth. I try to avoid looking at the eye perched on her cheek out of politeness, not that she would notice.  

‘Hello’ she says in what is meant to be a calm soothing voice, but is actually just slightly too mechanical. ‘The dentist will see you now.’

I wasn’t expecting it to be quite so prompt but I guess because of how it works, it is just very efficient. I smile back but she does not react. The eyes don’t see anything. It is quite spooky.

She points at a door, ‘Through there’ she says and this time rather than smile, I send an emoji and I can see she gets it and she understands.

I walk to the door, take a breath and go in. I hear the door lock behind me, an electronic lock. I cannot escape until it is finished.

A voice says, ‘Please put your bag on the floor and hang your coat on the hook.’ It waits for me to do that but I have no coat. I put my bag on the floor and ping the hook as if my coat is on it.

‘Oops’ it says sensing something but not the weight of my coat,’ I think you’re coat fell on the floor’ There is no way around this, I once had to hang my trousers on a hook. I am better at it now. I know how these sensory coat hooks work, I grab it again and pull it down and hold it for a few seconds. It senses the weight of me and thinks it’s my coat and is satisfied it is hanging.

The whole room smells slightly odd again.

The voice continues. ‘Can you see the chair in front of you?’

‘Yes’ I say.

‘Take a seat’.

I slide onto it gingerly. Its not that I don’t like the idea of a robotic dentist, its just that I feel more comfortable with humans. I’m the same with my hair, I have it cut by a human when I can. Being honest robotic hairdressers aren’t that good which you’d know if you could see my current cut.

‘Lean back’ it says.

I do.

 ‘Don’t be nervous’ it says.

How can you avoid being nervous. There isn’t a single human in the place. If something goes wrong, there is only me against a bunch of machines. Imagine terminator in a dental chair and tell me that isn’t your worst nightmare.

It’s just so eerie. There must have been human dentists here once. In fact as I look around there is a lot of dust on surfaces that are no longer used and there is even a disused old coffee cup on the floor in the corner. Probably left by the last person who did maintenance here-this was a human dentists room once. Some woman plied her trade with wide mouthed individuals. They talked, they laughed-maybe not that-but the conversation was pleasant, ordinary. This is clinical, mechanical, terrifying. I want a soothing voice but it sounds like a machine. I am alone here. No dentist, no nurse, just me and the chair and a machine.

‘Open you mouth’-it’s a command not a request. It could as easily be talking to a dog.

I open my mouth. I don’t even know how it knows I have opened my mouth. I wished I knew that, how does it know my mouth is open because frankly that is critical to what happens next.

Suddenly the light is on above me and its blinding. I want to ask them to make it less bright but I can’t because I can’t possibly close my mouth, plus there is no one to ask.

I can hear something moving towards me but I can’t see it. I clutch the edge of the chair and look away from the light. It knows! How does it know. I wished I’d research this.

‘You have to stay still now, shall we try again’. Is it me or is that a more menacing voice, slightly threatening.

Before we try again, strange padded pad things come up the side of my face holding it in place. They are not pushing against me but they are firm. I feel like an animal, trapped. I can see the light but nothing else. I can’t move my head. My mouth is still open. My mouth is trapped open. How does it know  exactly where my mouth is. What it if takes out my eye, I read that somewhere, I am sure I read that somewhere. I should have paid for a human dentist. I should have shoved a thousand deadening pills into myself before I came.

I can hear the machine-whatever it is –it’s coming closer. The light is still blinding. I want to scream but if it doesn’t examine my teeth now what will the next step be. How menacing does it get?

It’s in my mouth now, I know that. It’s louder than I thought, moving from tooth to tooth. I can hear it buzzing and still the light is so bright. I want to be ill but who knows what chaos that would cause. Then I know that is what the faint smell was when I walked in, human vomit, cleaned up by a machine. I bet if I examined the floor, the germs would be gone but the residue would remain. I hate this. I am terrified. There is nothing I can do but lay there with my mouth open, eyes wide with terror. Be still.

It taps each tooth, it’s taking an x-ray as it goes.

It is slow and a little more brutal than I’d like. When it goes to the back of my mouth it stretches the side of my lips and there is no way to say it hurts or to tell it to stop. All the time it is saying nothing but silently whirring. Recording information. I hate this. I try and focus. I will get through this.

I sit there paralysed in terror. Maybe for 10 minutes whilst it examines every tooth. At one point the whirring stuttered and I wonder if I will end up stuck here, unable to extract myself from this chair with the machine broken and inserted in my mouth. I wonder if every other dental surgery in this place is full of patients that got stuck here when the machinery broke. I wonder how often a real human ever turns up to check that everything is working. I wonder if this is a second rate machine because that’s all the NHS can afford. I wonder whether all those location fines are worth this.

I can hear its endless whirring as it moves slowly in my mouth. It says nothing.

Not relax your tongue or anything. It is clinical, mechanical and terrifying.

It is up to me to keep my tongue in check. I sit still. I focus. I will get through this. I swear after this I will save money and keep the location on my phone on. I will never let a machine do this again.

It is taking a long time.

I wonder what happens if the power shuts down and I am just stuck here. I wished I’d put a supply of food in my pocket- I will be trapped, or at least my head is trapped in this chair. I even wished I brought a coat to keep warm. These doors never unlock in a power failure. I could be here for days, weeks, I could die in here with this stupid thing in my mouth all for some sentimental idea about how I’d like to clean my teeth the way I used to, without the state checking I am doing it properly.

Finally the light goes off and I can see the instrument on the mechanical arm that has been in my mouth, being retracted back into wherever it came from. Over on the desk, which is just some kind of overhang because no human ever sits there anymore, something else starts to whirr away.

The pads that were holding my head begin to retract as well, the chair comes back to the upright position. I sit up. I have made it. I wait for what seems like a long time. Too long but I know I can’t leave until it says.

‘Your teeth are healthy but you have some gum trauma.’

If there was a real dentist here, I would ask what that was.

‘You have been over-brushing, over-brushing leads to gum trauma.’

Thanks I say out loud to a room that doesn’t hear me.

‘To prevent gum trauma’ The voice stops momentarily. I wait. It starts again.

‘we have rewritten the program for your’ the next word takes awhile as well.


‘We have sent the program to your device’

I go to my bag and there is my device with an emoji with huge teeth on it.

‘Just click on the emoji when you get home,’ and again there is a wait.

‘and the program will be transmitted to your toothbrush.’

‘Thank you’ I say, but no one hears.

The door unlocks behind me and that is it.

I put my back over my shoulder and ping the coat hook as if I have removed my coat.

I go out past reception without acknowledging the receptionist who can’t see me anyway.

This is how it is now. I had to go to the dentist because my records show I haven’t used my toothbrush in a year. But the truth is I have a manual one, a real one, an unconnected one. I brush my teeth myself without any data download. I just hide in the bathroom and brush my teeth, but I have done that for the last time. I do not want to come here again.

I know I will click on the emoji when I get home. I know from now on I will need to use the electric toothbrush or risk a fine. They will know by now that I have wasted resources on a dental visit when in fact I have brushed my teeth just not with a state sanctioned electric brush. They are probably tracing the purchase as I leave. Another fine. I need to accept, I need to change. I have used a manual toothbrush. I have knowingly used a manual toothbrush. I have drained the state of resources which were not mine to use. I feel guilty even as I leave. That is how they do it though isn’t it. There will be an email when I get home, maybe even a shaming on social media. I don’t think about it. I think about how nice it felt to hold my own toothbrush in my hand, to brush my teeth myself, to control it. I won’t do it again.


The Chip

A thought that did not exist. A piece of data not collected. Knowledge that belongs to no one but me.. read more

I have to focus. Without focussing. Its here in my head. Sometimes I find myself looking over my shoulder. I am looking at something that is not there. Because it’s in my head. Its implanted in my head. I know it is.

It knows I know it is. The thing is –they say there is no way around it-but there is. You have to focus your mind on the task at hand and then out of the corner of your mind-like out of the corner of your eye-do something else. It can know you’re thinking about doing this but it can’t actually tell if you are doing it.

There are heavy penalties for thinking this way. I will appear on a report somewhere. I will be monitored, watched, but if I can just keep them out of my head for long enough. If I can just do one action that is not being watched, downloaded. If I can do that, then all things are possible. Even if its just one thought.

Its like walking along a dark street and catching just a glimpse of your attacker. Just enough to know he’s there, to take the edge off the surprise, because if I can make this work before they get me I can do anything. I can react in a way they won’t expect. I can be ready without anyone knowing I am ready. I can think things independently of the machine. I can be independent of the organism that is humanity, all those minds interconnected by technology, all that data in all those machines. If I can think a thought that they can’t see I will be free, more free than anyone has been for 100’s of years.

It is of course not a new idea, its just that no one knows if anyone has done it before. Maybe lots of people can do it and no one knows about it. Maybe free thinking out of the corner of your mind, free of the data analysis, the downloading, the up loading, all the technology, maybe it is possible. Like once you could switch off your phone.

I wished they’d put a switch on this chip. Sometimes I can feel it. I swear I can feel the actual thing whirring in my head. I have a little hot spot that burns away. I know then it is stealing my thoughts, recording them, checking them. There must be a cycle to it, timings, but no one knows. The chip is just inside my head, talking to all the other machines for me. Telling the world who I am, what I want, as if I could be described in a series of numbers, as if all I am is a set of pictures and some lame words. It edits, it edits what it tells the world about me, but somewhere I know it stores it all.

I am what the chip wants me to be. Even inside my own head, I am what the chip wants me to be. The chip is controlled by the company and the company controls the profile and the bits of me they don’t want. The obscene bits, the dirty bits, the bits that are too sensitive, the odd habits, the humanity of me-all of everything that is me, goes somewhere else. In case they need to use it against me? They don’t say that? Do they do that? Am I that interesting. Is it all just so I keep consuming, believing. 

I am not alone, never alone. No one is alone. That is how the world is. How I long to live in a world where the device that recorded me, watched me was separate from me, was outside of me-like CCTV once was-where I was in control of it and not it in control of me.

I look behind me again, but there is nothing there. There is nothing there. Just a little chip whirring away in my head that I could never see. They say it is the first sign of a problem, constantly looking behind you to see if you can see the chip implanted in the back of your head. It is illogical. You can’t see it. You can’t feel it –except you can because you know it’s there.  It could be increasing my paranoia for all I know. It could be doing so many things. Am I in control? Is it in control? I CAN feel it. I know where it is. I know exactly where it is. I dream of hacking it out. Of taking a knife and hacking it out. But its my neck. Who hacks at their neck. No one. Isn’t that the genius of its placement. Is that my dream? Did I dream that? Or does it desire to be as free of me as I do of it? How can I ever know? In my dream I wake up and can feel the blood draining down the back of my neck as if it were gone. I dream of a bloodied little chip that sprouts legs, that runs across the carpet and out the door. I dream of that. But in the morning when I wake up, there is no blood, just a burning sensation and I know it is still there. Collecting my thoughts, storing my emotions, data, they call it data, but its knowledge, they know everything about me.

I must stop having these thoughts. I must confine these thoughts somehow to the corner of my mind. A part that the chip can’t reach. An electrical pulse so small that it cannot be detected. I must focus my thoughts on big things, on gigantic ideas so that the small twitch that is my very own thought goes missed unrecorded, unheard. A thought that did not exist. A piece of data not collected. Knowledge that belongs to no one but me. I must find that corner in my mind and set it free.

I want to keep my knees

My mother went 75% as soon as she could, knees, arms, some vital organ upgrades and a black belt in karate all in one day at the salon…read more

I had the idea and then it floated away from me. Like it wasn’t here at all. Why does this happen? How does this happen?

The idea has simply slipped out of my head and I cannot get it back. This is what it’s like when you’re human. I sometimes wished I wasn’t. I should at least have a back up file installed-that makes you slightly less human. Why do I cling to the 100% idea? A little bit of extra memory here, some back up there, it becomes a slippery slope and before you know it your knees aren’t yours anymore.

That’s the thing, I should get me knees done. Its just -I like being fully human, I like being 100%. It’s weird I know. Who is 100% these days, why would you be? Think of the diseases I don’t have yet but could avoid. Of course, the ingestion of too much plastic will probably be the end of me if I don’t do some kind of restructure soon.

It is a slippery slope. I know it is. My friend Tessa, she was 100% until well into her 20s and then she hit 30 and now she’s only 40%. Forty per cent! She looks great but she’s hardly the bubbly person we all knew. She decided to get her emotions ‘toned down’, some sort of rational upgrade and now it’s just work, work, work all the time and sure she’s making money and the social media pics are great but she doesn’t enjoy it. Well its not that she doesn’t enjoy it, she doesn’t hate it either. She has no emotion attached to it whatsoever. Nice legs though, that’s what 40% does to you.

Nonetheless I am sitting here at a machine trying to write something and I can’t remember what that idea was. It was only half good anyway. Maybe just a small install, so I could play back memories on my computer. No it’s my knees, my knees!  I know I should get mechanical knees. I could get the ones that move your legs for you-they have a series of settings under the skin at the back and they can pace your running-just via your knees, it’s very clever, It monitors your heart rate and everything, it even sends positive messages to your brain as your running. It can play music too, well sort of, you hear it in your head as if it was playing. I have heard however that its playlist is very limited but I like the idea of just hearing the music in your head. It even has a karaoke setting that uses your actual voice based on hearing you speak. Its clever, but new knees and hi-tech ones at that, would take me down to about –well probably 96%. And then there’s the memory upgrade and that in itself- if you get enough can take you down to 85%. It might be worth it though, I mean you can’t post your whole life on social media. And it makes thinks like credit checks and job interviews easier as they can just download data.

Still I am reluctant. There are instances where people have dipped below say 65% and then the whole thing hasn’t worked and the software hasn’t interacted, interfaced, inter-whatever and it’s all gone terribly wrong. They then have to have the full upgrade or downgrade, depending on your point of view. -really the whole numbers thing is very confusing. When the full upgrade/downgrade happens, those people end up below 10% human. They are technically dead and they have to give up their name and they just become a number. All their photos and data is deleted as well and they technically stop existing for social media purposes. It’s awful.  Anything below 65% is more risky which is why Tessa at 40% is weird but brave. She is no longer in a position where she can make further decisions about her software. She needs specialist assistance to do it so that everyone is sure that it’s safe. She has no feelings about that either. It’s all very expensive.

I like the idea of my whole life, every second being preserved in a data chip but then I think, does anyone need to know how often I go to the toilet. Can it actually be done? Can everything I feel actually be recorded, everything I think? Can I lie to it? Can I get it to record something that I don’t feel?  Does it see what I see out of the corner of my eye or just what I see? I don’t know. Still I would like the knees.

I could get something really banal installed, like the ability to play piano, or to speak French. I am not at all sure where my reluctance comes from. My mother went 75% as soon as she could, knees, arms, some vital organ upgrades and a black belt in karate all in one day at the salon. She had all the memories of our childhood put onto a chip and gave it to us for Christmas. It was touching in a digital way. My sister then had those memories implanted in her head for safe keeping. My data chip from my Mum sits in a box by my bed. My mother doesn’t understand it. My sister sort of understands. She says I should join a support group. She worries there is something wrong with me. I want to tell her that 100% is normal. We are all born 100%. She says not anymore, 100% is optional even at birth.

I don’t know. I look at my knees. I love my knees. Sure they don’t work very well and they don’t put music in my head but their mine and I have had them for awhile. I’m not sure. I don’t know what to do.


You have been identified as a BOT

‘You have been identified as a bot.’ I will just be – in an organic way. I’m scared…read more

‘You have been identified as a bot.’

I look at the words again.

Me, a bot. I am real. Human. The whole thing is so ridiculous.

My head is reeling from this. My palms are sweaty. I am not a bot. I am a real person. How else would my palms be sweaty?

I have heard of this happening before. I know how it works, everyone does. What I can’t get my head around is that is happening to me. Usually someone has used a filter badly or overdone the photo shopping on some holiday pics. It all gets sorted doesn’t it?  In the meantime their whole life is suspended. Their pics go into Trash although they aren’t actually deleted. Conspiracy theorist say its done because the internet is full and they need to manage the space. I don’t think that’s true.

This is just the first notice. The rest comes afterwards. It’s meant to give me time to prepare myself. I just sit and stare at the words in disbelief. ‘You have been identified as a bot.’ How? This is just the warning. I say it aloud-just the warning. The full notice will give me the reason for my identification as a bot. I rack my brain trying to think.

Have I overdone the photo shopping recently? I haven’t uploaded any photo and claimed its someone else have I?  Plus they must consider everyone is shaving off the extra pounds at the mo-how else do you get into negative size clothes? I am meant to be a size minus six-which incidentally is not that small because the sizes are all screwed up now. The smallest you can be-according to the internet is minus 22-no one is a plus size anymore-at least not on the web. I’m not sure how we got into negative sizing.

 Maybe I uploaded too many pictures of scenery or objects. I think again, how long since I put up photos of an actual meal. There was that meal out last week? Did I post that? Did everyone else post that and not me? Did I comment on how good it looked? Did I comment on how it tasted-comments on taste are a sure sign of a bot -no one, even me very drunk would be foolish enough to comment on how a meal tastes. It’s all about the look and the location. Taste is secondary-or whatever is lower than secondary.

How can they think I’m a bot? I am sure I posted a picture of that meal and it looked great.

The notice will give me a time and a place and I will have to turn up and prove I am human. It’s difficult. I know that. Lots of people fail.  It’s a horrible procedure.

They are terminating bots you see. The bots are taking up a lot of internet space as it turns out. Its not a conspiracy though. Its just people write them, release them and they just keep going. Like locusts-whatever they are. Do people release locusts? I no longer have internet so I will never know. What even is internet space is-MB, GB, GGBs-are they a thing? I can’t even ask a simple question like that.

I need to look at my social media history. I need to and soon, so I can handle whatever questions they ask me, but every account is frozen. It’s like I don’t exist anymore. How will anyone know how good my life is if they can’t see it in pictures. Is my life good, if it’s not actually properly documented on social media? I have no idea how that works. OMG I won’t be invited anywhere now. I might have to start again. ON some kind ‘I have no friends, please like me site’. My worst nightmare. My life is fab, I know my life is fab. Only last week I could prove it and today I can’t.

Today I am not real. Even the step-counter on my phone has stopped working. If I am walking and no device is counting my steps, am I even walking at all? Have I walked? I have no idea.

What could have caused this? How could I have been identified as a bot? Did I use an odd password? Have I used the same password too often? Have I set up one too many email accounts? Maybe I over ordered concert tickets. That must be it, I bought 4 tickets because 4 of us are going. Raven said it would be safer to buy two lots of two, but I insisted it would be ok to buy 4. Could that be it? Maybe it’s a combination of things. I will have to go to her house, -without sending a text first. Fuck, how will I even do that? How will I even know how many steps I have taken to get to her house. The only thing that works on my machine now is the thing that will down load the full notice. I will need her help to remember stuff. What if I am a bot? Now even I am not sure, she will know. I need to go and see her, she will know, for sure.

What did I order at dinner last week? Did I like the sauce or not? Did I drink a cocktail at the wine bar three weeks ago? Do I have old school photos on my web page? How many friends do I have online? What pictures did I post from my last holiday? What meal have I liked the most this year? What emoji do I use the most? Who’s pictures do I like the most? What date did I start following person x on platform y? I have no idea. These are the kind of questions I will need to answer to prove I am not a bot.

Why can’t they just test me for organic material-the trouble is that’s not enough. Its bots testing for bots, and they know that the same organic human has turned up to pose as a bot before. No -they test your knowledge of your own life based on your social media activity. They have an infinite archive of your data and you have to remember it. It’s an impossible task. Most people who are identified as bots are –there isn’t even a word for it.

I wished I’d made notes or something-how would you even do that. I have a friend who does that-she has an app for it-as if that would help right now. It’s all frozen. I can’t even catch a bus.

If you are judged a bot-that’s it-your entire social media identity, every account, every email address, every photo, everything just deleted. You no longer exist. And if you don’t exist on digital, do you exist at all?

What would I do? How would I meet friends? God my whole life – just deleted. As if I never existed. Perhaps I don’t. I have no idea what to do. I should have kept some kind of copy or something.  I should have backed up or something.

I will just stop existing. I will be deleted. I will just be- in an organic way. I’m scared.

If Robots could paint

Aren’t they a little pale-I mean that is meant to be a Gauguin isn’t it, his Tahitian period?’

‘It is- well spotted.’

She doesn’t even try and hide her enthusiasm. I am trying to hide my disdain.

She goes on, ‘You see Ma,’

I hate that word and I don’t want to see but still she goes on. I think I would like my eyes gauged out but I try not to show it.

‘How this works is-they kind of look at the internet and do a sort of ‘sample’ and then they modernise the picture, and the internet is slightly-well some would say very-but anyway-its pale. Pale. Pale. Pale, so they’ve modernised Gauguin.’

At this point I can only nod. I only just managed to overlook the slimming down of the Renoir -I think it was meant to be The Large Bathers. But they were slimmed down into some kind of gym body, complete with Red bull can and bright towels.

The woman beside me, my daughter, had a no expenses spared education and I confess I am totally frustrated that this is how she spends her time-bastardising perfectly fine art.

The idea is that, with AI, robots can now make art. And what’s more they can improve some of the botch jobs our previous ‘masters’ have created. This ‘art’ show is her first. She is immensely proud. I am embarrassed. Its mostly art from about 1850 onwards, apparently everybody in pictures before then was so fat she can’t bear to look at it and neither can anyone else-apparently the whole internet no longer has any pre 1850 art. This seems improbable at first but then knowing my daughters generation-still possible. Apparently the other issue with a lot of pre 1850 art is-and here I include women and men -crime of the century-some of them are unshaved. The internet has apparently shaved all post 1850 pictures-what a relief. I can barely contain my excitement.

Tonight is opening night but I am here early as –well-she doesn’t want my disappointment to ruin the evening. This is a child I dragged to every art gallery I could find. A child who still after all that wanted to be an engineer. A child who now claims to have combined her two great loves, coding and art.

On my way in there is a replica of the statue of David-you know the one- the naked one –only the one created by the robot-lets just say its larger in some ways. Apparently the robot involved surveyed a lot of pictures on the internet and deduced an average size based on that-only that is unlikely to give you an average size. I didn’t know what to say. It was bigger than I even thought anatomically possible but what do I know. I don’t do virtual sex, just the real thing much to her horror.

She can’t wait to show me the Van Gogh-one of his self portraits. I am gobsmacked when I see it.

‘It’s a watercolour.’ is all I manage to stammer out. Van Gogh did do water colours, I know but not quite like the one I am looking at.

‘Yes’ she says.  ‘Van Gogh is so emotive, all those weird brush strokes, going every which way. It’s all a bit scruffy. He lacked focus.’

There’s the ‘f’ word again-focus, how many times has she told me I lack focus.

She goes on, ‘ I mean Van Gogh, he had an energy but he didn’t focus it properly. In watercolour Van Gogh is more soothing, more serene. This picture now has a yogic calm to it. You could do pilates with this on the wall and isn’t that part of the point of art. To add to your inner life, so you really feel that protein shake.’

I want to shove a protein shake down her neck. She is truly nauseating and she’s mine.

I am standing there thinking, seriously, how much money did I waste educating her. She thinks Van Gogh needs calming so it can have a yogic influence. So we can all do pilates in front of it. I want to shove some sunflowers up her nose at the thought of it.

We move on to the Seurat-where again I am lost for words. She looks at me. I can tell she knows I am not getting it.

I manage to say only one sentence, ‘You’ve joined the dots?’

She smiles, like an idiot I think. My daughter is an idiot.

‘Yes the robot joined the dots. Its logical when you see it isn’t it-I mean you would join the dots wouldn’t you.’

Would you? I want to scream, no-you have missed the point.

We move on swiftly, past a rendition of Munch’s ‘The Scream’, which is redone in pastels and called the Smile. I won’t describe it. Past Hokiusai’s The Wave, described more fittingly now as ‘The Ebbing Shore’

This is the first art show of its kind. This is the future I am told.

In the corner I see a a tin of Campbell soup. Even Warhol isn’t safe. She is still talking, babbling. I am blotting her out as I walk towards them, trying to show interest instead of horror.

‘We used a 3d printer.’ she says

Next to them is a well made and tidy bed that screams healthy living.

‘Tracey Emin,’ I say.

‘Yes’ she says, but healthier than that-I mean all those cigarettes and empty bottles-no one lives like that anymore.

‘I do’, I want to scream. But I don’t actually smoke or drink much but if I did I’d make sure I left a right mess behind. Because I don’t do those things she probably doesn’t which might be the only thing I got right. Although somehow when I look around at this ‘art’ show I feel a deep sense of responsibility. Perhaps a bit of hard living on my part would have seen this never happen. I sigh. And realise it was too loud. I cover my mouth and yawn and comment on how late its getting. I can’t wait to leave.

There’s  the Giacometti sculpture which is stick thin-even thinner than they actually often are-because on the internet everyone is thinner than they actually are-even I am.

There’s a rendition of Dali’s Persistence of Memory where the clocks are all perfectly formed and fixed and there is a dolphin in the water in the background like a picture you’d find in a shop that sold scented candles and mood music.

She is still talking, walking me through how logic and order has improved human art beyond measure.

I don’ even know what to say. I yawn again and feign interest. She tells me next they are going to tackle literature. Maybe Dickens first-one of the shorter ones- perhaps A Tale of Two Cities, modernising it, making it suitable for a wider audience, maybe making it about two rival digital start-ups. I don’t think she has read it.

‘Plus’ she says, ‘Shakespeare-wouldn’t Hamlet work just as well if it was set in a gym, imagine the whole Ophelia thing in a spa or an indoor pool. Or perhaps Macbeth but based around a coffee shop franchise instead of a kingdom. These concepts, Ma, they are so old.’

I hate that word, ‘Ma’ but I nod. I smile. I think, I am so old. Thank goodness I saw the world before this. I am so old and so glad of it.

Her guests are starting to arrive and I know it is time for me to leave. I tell her I am proud of her but I think she knows I am not. There isn’t much I can do.

The point of art is not logic and order, but to remind us that there is life beyond those two things. I want to yell this out to the whole room. It is not meant merely to hang in your pilates class and decorate your coffee shop.

I wrap my coat around me and step out onto the street. She offers to ‘app me a ride’ home but I’d rather walk.

‘Its dangerous’ she says.

I laugh. Ah yes danger, are we the last to remember it and not to run from it. I wander home.