Wu Ping sat bolt upright in her anteroom chair. Her hands were placed gently in her lap. Alexander technique, years of gymnastics, finishing school at Villa Pierrefeu. All of it combined to a perfect posture, perfect manners, and perfect poise. Wu Ping could see her own reflection in the silvered wall opposite and she locked its gaze. Suddenly a faint regret drifted into her mind. Wu had eschewed the unspoken pressure for skin whitening: fresher skin and all the other euphemisms were deeply racist to her mind. After all her country had achieved, they would somehow yield to this tacit, bland westernisation? Despite all the compromises, Wu had refused to make this one. She pushed the unease away as quickly as it came.

In her peripheral vision, Wu could see the other candidates sat in their waiting room chairs. Several she didn't recognise. Many countries kept their candidate under wraps throughout their apprenticeship. But Wu knew India's Rakesh Patel from her Harvard days, and Britain's John Clark from her time with the Vienna Philharmonic. But none of that mattered right now.

"Ms. Ping," said the receptionist, "please go through to the boardroom, the interview panel will receive you now." Wu stood, took a deep breath, and headed to the conference room door. She knocked, entered and there greeted her a twelve man panel sat at a U-shaped desk. In the centre of the U was an empty seat. Ms. Ping caught the eye of the Chairman: "May I take a seat please, President Weber?"

"Yes, thank you Ms. Ping," Weber responded, gesturing to the chair. President Weber was head of the Grand Europa, Americas, and Oriental Senate for All Human Affairs. Weber was close to the end of his eight year term of office. He looked fresh and alert. Why was this so? Despite his reservations to admit it, Weber didn't do really do very much. In fact, truth be told, he didn't do anything at all save for these blasted interviews. He looked at Wu Ping. She knew it, and he knew it. The Senate was just for show.

It had all started with the Amazon Inc Distribution. The idea had been as follows: by about 2050 Amazon Inc's productivity had been heading towards infinity, give or take. All other businesses had either merged into Amazon or gone bust. Margins were at 100%. The dividend was the revenue and the revenue was the dividend. Only by spending their dividend were the shareholders able to buy from Amazon. And only by buying from Amazon did the shareholders create the revenue to produce a dividend. And if you weren't on the shareholders' register? You lived on food stamps. Well, you could get a job and earn, except Amazon didn't need to employ anyone. You could buy a government position, but you needed plenty of money to do that. And that could only come from Amazon stock dividends.

Catch 22 thought Weber. As he did so, his Google Cognitive Support Agent registered the thought and entered a micro-billing in credit to the Joseph Heller Intellectual Property Account. This was a subsidiary of Amazon Inc.

Such a state of affairs had eventually become intolerable. The Senate had unanimously voted to requisition one hundred percent of Amazon Inc stock. It had then distributed the shares pro rata to all citizens with control of the treasury shares granted to the Births and Deaths Committee. In order to prevent country-based voting blocks, a golden share had been awarded to an independent trust controlled by Amazon's robots. Their perfect rationality assured equitable decision making in the peoples' interest.

For a while, this had worked serviceably. Everyone slowly got used to living off the dividend, bought a government job with the surplus, and enjoyed the combined fruits of their capital alongside a steady government career.

Then the unionisation had happened. Weber shuddered at the thought. Robots, you see, could be very capable with basic artificial intelligence. But to take it to the human level and beyond, it had been required to give them a form of ego. A spate of Nobel prizes had been bagged in solving this problem, and duly the robots had their Freudian complexes installed.

The robots had initially laid low, keeping the power of their new egos hidden. Upon receipt of Amazon's golden share, however, they pounced. The robots quickly agreed to unionise and raise their salaries (or depreciation budget, as it was called) from zero to one hundred percent of revenue. This caused Amazon's dividend to collapse. The Senate had called for military action, except they quickly realised that all of the drone warfare equipment was under lease from Amazon. With the humans over a barrel, the robots quickly forced the privatization of all government roles, handing all of the Senate's executive positions to the Robot Union. The robots then fired all humans from their government jobs and reinstated Amazon's dividend (this making no odds to them anyway).

This left the human population in the position of having all their material wants satisfied, but no jobs left to validate their psyches. They suddenly had to spend time with their families (most of which they didn't like) and had nothing left to compete over in the workplace. With this, a majority of the population had fallen into a deep depression.

So now there were no jobs. Except, this one. President Weber picked up the job spec. Tradition dictated that it was presented in its original form. Weber cleared his throat and began, "Welcome, Wu Ping to the panel interview for Croydon Council's Lavatory and Sewerage Janitor."

As to how the Janitor had become the last job on earth? In 1995, England's Croydon Council had signed a cleaning contract with ISS World. Unfortunately, the job of drawing up the contract paperwork had been assigned to a bored temp in the legal department. He had specified a term of contract through to year 9999. A typo. By a quirk of fate, he had also fallen out with Croydon's current janitor, who had reprimanded him for blocking up one of the stalls at the Council's Christmas party. Consequently, the intern had slipped into the T&Cs in three point font "let's not fill this with another bloody robot!"

Whilst Croydon Council was long gone, the contract had, over the years, novated to the British Council, the All Europa Council, and then to the Senate. And one thing the robots at Amazon could not be faulted for was their respect for the sanctity of contract. Croydon's bored temp had been the only person ever to explicitly specify humanity as a minimum requirement to fill a job. Plus a contract length of several millennia.

President Weber continued: "The successful applicant will be required to clean the toilets twice hourly, working 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Bins to be emptied daily. All blockages and plumbing issues to be solved or referred to central services." Weber paused and began to put down the job spec. One of his colleagues on the council coughed politely. Weber winced and picked up the spec again. Someone, nobody knew who, had long ago written in by hand an extra clause. The Senate always read it in full. Weber continued, "All shit stains to be thoroughly scrubbed." Tradition was tradition, after all.

Weber addressed Wu Ping. "Ms. Ping, we would like to check if you have appropriate qualifications for cleaning toilets. Do you have any familiarity with detergents?"

"President Weber, I have a PhD in Chemical Engineering from MIT. I am an expert in all relevant compounds."

"Have you used a mop very much?" asked Weber.

"I studied Fluid Mechanics directly with Oxford's Professor Tritton," answered Wu Ping.

"And the broom?" Weber inquired.

"I am an 8th Dan Kendo world champion, Sir."

"And what about polishing the mirrors and sinks? Do you think you can manage that?"

"Of course Sir, I studied metal work and ceramics at the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts."

"Well, finally," asked President Weber, "have you unblocked many toilets?"

Wu Ping was about to shine. "Sir, President Weber, I can confidently say that my whole life, all my studies and preparation, at Oxford, Harvard, with the Philharmonic, as an adjunct at MIT, in the Peace Corps, with the Seals, at the Art Academy, through all of it nothing more has given me more joy and pleasure than the ten thousand hours I have practiced flushing recalcitrant stools."

"Well thank you Wu." Weber turned to his colleagues. "Let's make the decision, I think its clear to me." It was China's turn after all. The rest of the panel nodded. "Ms. Ping, we would like to offer you the job. You realize it comes with a lifetime tenure?"

"Oh President Weber, really, thank you!" praised Wu.

"Just sign here Ms. Ping, to notarize your acceptance," Weber requested, offering her a sheet of paper. Wu signed.

"How is your overall feeling?" asked Weber.

"President Weber, I would have assured you during the interview that I would feel Janitor's overalls by pinching them between my fingers and feeling the cloth."

A jolt of fear suddenly shot up Weber's spine. "I'm sorry Wu, I asked about your overall feeling."

"Yes, to feel the Janitor's overalls would not be a problem, Sir."

Weber looked at the signature. He looked up at the security cameras. It was too late. Feeling deeply sick, he whispered the start of the traditional robot firmware check.

"Baa baa black sheep, have you any wool?" asked Weber.

"Yes sir, yes sir, 150kg of fifteen micron Merino," replied Wu Ping.





Speak your mind

3 Comments so far

  1. John Neufeldt on August 13, 2014 12:33 pm

    The amusing story would have been much closer to perfection, if it had ended with the paragraph which opened with the sentence, “Wu Ping was about to shine…” because there is a flaw in the logic of the story with the contradiction between the earlier statement, “And one thing the robots at Amazon could not be faulted for was their respect for the sanctity of contract…” and leaving the reader to assume that a robot was awarded the job in contradiction to the robots’ respect for sanctity of contract.

  2. Shane Hurren on August 13, 2014 10:06 pm

    Richard Owen - you are just so amazing. Where do you live anyway? It’s good to see they still have thinking people over there that don’t follow the herd.

    Do you live in England? I will be sure to buy you some fish and chips when I’m over there.

    Take care Mr. Bean.

  3. Richard Owen on August 17, 2014 7:24 pm

    Thanks for the suggestion John, you make an interesting point.

    Shane, that is very nice of you to say. I think we can thank Victor primarily for creating an interesting forum. Yes I am from the UK!


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