Tuesday, 11 July 2017


[Media prompt] AI services in the workplace already can analyse workers’ e-mails to determine if they feel unhappy about their job.”

On Sunday morning before obligatory prayers, Jason heard a commotion at the door to Sector 8. Since his cubicle was wedged into one of the back corners, the minutiae of office life beyond his line of vision rarely concerned him. But a flurry at the door; well, that was a different matter. Raising himself to see over the maze of partitions, he discovered his view was blocked by dozens of his colleagues, standing like meerkats sniffing out danger. As he lowered himself back down into his seat, he clicked on the email from the department of human resources, which had arrived earlier that morning.

“S8-214: Neg-hap detection. S-3.”

Any email from HR was unwelcome, but this one particularly so.

The only time he had interfaced with an HR AI was at his initial interview. The aptitude test had not gone well, but there were so few capable of doing the job that he was hired despite the poor results. After that, they left him alone. So long as he kept up his end of the bargain.

The hubbub at the door had subsided, replaced by a sense of anxiety, rolling like a wave across the office. Jason half lifted himself off the chair, his thighs burning as he held himself at eye level with the top of the cubicle wall. At first, the optical sensor blurred his vision, but when it snapped into focus he sat down so quickly that his PRU took an unscheduled reading of his vital signs.

He looked at the email again. S-3. A third strike. Of course he was negatively happy. Was there a single human in the building who was not?


It was a statement, not a question.

“Prepare for foreclosure. You have forty-five seconds to initiate.”

Jason had heard of the Greenshirts, beards who enforced company policy, but he had never seen one. Not up close. The smell of rose water made him feel faint. Why did they wear that? To cover a more primeval scent? Was their sense of smell so different that they failed to note the stench?

He begun the sequence for foreclosure, the first time since he had started that his unit would be offline. Perhaps he was not as important as he thought. The company logo appeared, then faded into black.

The Greenshirt took him roughly by the arm, pulling so hard that Jason felt something tear in his shoulder. The detection of negative happiness in an email? He stood for a moment, a vision of his life flashing before him. A flash is all it took. There was almost nothing to see. A black hole more than a burst of light.

“I’m not going to ask again,” said the Greenshirt.

The beard’s breath smelled sour. The lack of personal hygiene among these people was something to wonder at. Inferior in every way. But here he was, submitting like he always had, preparing himself to be led away for the third email trace of negative happiness.

“No,” said Jason. “I don’t think you will ask me again.”

He picked up the solid glass sphere sitting on his desk, a memento presented by the company for renewing his contract. It was inscribed in Arabic with a verse from the Quran, something about infidels. He had never found a use for it, but now he smashed the object with all the strength he could muster into the beard’s face, feeling bone crunch under the force. The man fell, his legs giving out from under him. Jason knelt on him, beginning a methodical rain of blows over his face with the glass orb, until the resulting flow of blood made it impossible for him to hold it.

“Neg-hap detected,” he said. “Strike one.”

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