The price of ignorance

– So… is any of this true?

The voice of the Corporate Extreme Orchestrator was stern but not judgemental. Everyone around the round table was looking down, exchanging occasional awkward glances. It was apparent that nobody wanted to take the floor. 

In the center, a holographic display projected the news article that had brought them all to this emergency council. Of course, they had all already read it beforehand.

In an attempt to resolve the standstill, the CEO turned towards the Lead Infrastructure Synergist:

– From a purely technical perspective, does any of it stand up to scrutiny?

The LIS looked at their notes, visibly embarrassed but well prepared.

– I actually took it upon myself to review the literature and the history of our company since its creation. At the very least, our core mission to make humans do what machines can’t is based on indisputable truth. It’s mathematically proven that humans can solve NP-hard problems. I have here a copy of the 2016 research paper about the board game Hanabi, and the following—

– What’s NP-hard? interrupted the Brand Optimization Designer.

– Oh, sorry. It means that it’s an extremely difficult problem to solve with algorithms. This is all theoretical mathematical stuff, I won’t bore you with the details. I also double checked, and the problems we feed our employees are indeed of this category.

– So there’s objectif proof that humans can do things that artificial intelligence can’t ? asked the Global Relations Planner. Then it means that the article is obviously lying!

– It’s not that simple! NP-hard means it’s very difficult, not impossible. There’s never been any evidence that a sufficiently advanced artificial intelligence can’t outperform humans at those tasks. We can’t claim with absolute certainty that our assignments couldn’t be done by an AI…

– So we cannot certify the basic guarantee we make to our employees that they’ll never be automated away? That’s our whole mission statement!

An embarrassed silence fell back on the table as everyone withdrew into their own thoughts. The CEO took back the lead of the conversation:

– What about our finances? The article claims we’re backed by the “wealthy elite to keep the masses busy so they don’t revolt”. That could be our angle. Is there any fact to counter this?

– I’m afraid not, replied the Financial Solutions Coordinator. We’re a publicly traded company, our investments come from a wide variety of sources. Some of them are rich. We can’t guess their motives.

After a quick pause for thought, the CEO came back with a different approach:

– Maybe we should focus on instrumentalisation? Can we somehow prove that the solutions that our employees come up with are actually put to use in the real world instead of some AI generated ones? That would show that we’re not… “making up fake useless tasks in a grotesque empty circus full of hot air”. Yikes, the language of that thing…

They read the last part straight from the floating article. The Senior Operations Facilitator’s response was hesitant:

– Actually, it’s pretty hard to assess anything of the sort for sure. We work for external partners, we can’t exactly audit what they do internally with our solutions. 

The CEO restrained a swear and rose their voice:

– Is there nobody in this flipping company that actually knows for sure what it is that we do? 

– We do distribute and solve NP hard problems with human employees. That much is indisputable.

The enthusiastic Human Interactions Supervisor took the chance to pile up:

– I did some analyses of my own and I can confirm that the advance of AI has rendered most careers obsolete and automated. About 60% of the pre-AI era jobs have already disappeared. Think of what this kind of massive unemployment would have done to mankind if there weren’t companies like us to counterbalance! People need meaning in their lives. Professions are at the very heart of everyone’s identity! It’s the purpose of so many lives! If it weren’t for us—

– But see, that’s exactly the point! If the problems we solve are fabricated puzzles with no real use like the article claims, what kind of self-fulfillment can you get out of that?

– Well, maybe if they don’t know…

– It’s too late for that, though. The story is out.

A wave of gloom washed over the table. The enraged CEO fumed:

– So we’re going to be destroyed by a measly article, and we’re literally unable to know if it’s even true or not?

– It’s obviously a pile of nonsense made up by a wannabe journalist!

– Does it matter when we can’t refute any of it?

Nobody dared answer. Fortunately, a buzzing from the communication system interrupted the heavy silence. The Automated Secretarial System’s perfectly optimized voice announced:

– I have the Union Liaison Delegate here to see you, they say it’s urgent.

Executives exchanged worried glances, but the CEO was resigned:

– This was bound to happen. Might as well get it over with. Let them in.

A few moments later, the ULD stormed into the meeting space. The CEO greeted them warmly:

– My dear ULD—

But the newcomer interrupted the introduction with a wave of hand.

– Let’s cut to the chase!

– I know, I know… Let me tell you how sorry we are—

The ULD cut them off again:

– That’s not what I’m here to talk about. I can guess that you’re probably in the middle of a storm, you’re trying to stay afloat, but whatever you do, don’t make any rash decisions.

– Pardon?

The ULD explained:

– You should really consider what your employees are thinking.

– I think we know pretty well how they feel…

– And I think you’re mistaken. Ever since the article came out, we’ve been getting non-stop calls from them. 

– Of course.

– But they do not go the way you might think. They all pretty much say the same thing. They’re not angry, they’re just worried about losing their jobs. They’re all begging you to keep the company open.

– Even if it does nothing?

– No matter what, replied the ULD. 

The CEO pondered the implications.

– I’m not sure we can afford it, though. Our investors are pulling out as we speak. Nobody wants to be associated with a PR disaster…

The ULD clearly had a prepared answer to this:

– There’s more. The employees also had some ideas about that.

– Oh really? Tell me more, we could use a miracle solution.

– We can pay. 

Executives exchanged inquisitive looks. 

– What do you mean?

– The employees are willing to pay themselves.

– What?

– Almost all the employees we talked to offered to contribute to keep the company afloat. They all said that there’s no other hope for them when the job market is dominated by AI. They’re ready to do whatever it takes.

– I don’t understand… Isn’t making money the whole point of a job? Why give it away?

– Apparently, it’s more than that. And it’s worth paying for.

– How would that even work? Would they be their own clients?

The executives started spitballing proposals and evaluating the details. Slowly, the dark atmosphere receded and the room came to life in effervescence. Brainstorms were where their entrepreneurial talents really shone.

– The logistics are easy, employees could purchase some of the solutions through some sort of anonymous shell corporation. 

– It would probably be best to not tell them outright who they’re working for. Maybe we can add extra steps in the loop…

– Who says it’s not already happening anyway. After all, if we can’t prove anything…

– We should create new companies ASAP!

– Wouldn’t it be more efficient to use already existing ones? We could invest.

– See! Now we’re talking! We can figure it out as we go!

– Isn’t this just hemorrhaging money? 

– I’m sure some of our investors won’t back out!

– How about a lottery? Pay to apply, winner gets a job.

– Wait, maybe we could get in contact with the government! Surely they can recognize “purpose” as an important public resource and give us state subsidies!

– They could create a “tax on meaning”!

The rush of suggestions lasted for a while, and many proposals were written down. Their world had been torn upside down, but optimism was back in an uncanny twist of fate. They would find a way out. In the end, it would only require minor tweaks to their business model.

When the tension faded, a tacit agreement had been built. They were united in unquestioning collaboration. There was a moment of silence where everyone interiorized the commitment they had implicitly taken. Finally, a timid voice broke the stillness:

– So… what now?

– Well… Business as usual.

One thought on “The price of ignorance

  1. Pingback: Index – UltimateRealFiction

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