Henrik Scharfe, a professor at Aalborg University, has created a robot in his image that was used to fire people in an experiment.-CBSNews.com
Whenever I get a call from Robot Resources, I know it’s not going to be good news. The first time I went down there they wrote me up for excessive Eydie Gorme searching during work hours. I’d forgotten to erase my search history, and Hank, the overweight guy who runs the IT department, reported me.
They put a memo in my personnel file and I was careful for awhile, but then on the Team-Building Outing my hand slipped down Mary Lou Pfenstrunk’s bodice when we did that trust-building exercise where you fall backwards into your co-workers’ arms, and all of a sudden I’m sitting there with two strikes and a foul tip, if you know what I mean. I was told if there were any more screw-ups I could clean out my cubicle.
Then–I swear–I took Claudia Boul’s strawberry-banana yogurt from the 8th floor refrigerator by mistake. All right, I figured she would never notice that I’d given her the nondescript wildberry flavor my wife bought me. What the hell is a wildberry, anyway?
So when I saw Cyborg 3Rn’s name on my phone screen, I gulped involuntarily. Time to face the music and dance, I thought. I took the long walk down to the 5th floor, where the walls are lousy with motivational posters that make people question whether there’s something wrong with them because they don’t love their jobs.
I knock lightly on 3Rn’s open door, and he looks up from his Sudoku. As usual, he’s showing off by doing it behind his head, the way T-Bone Walker used to play his guitar.
“come in come in come in,” he says in that flat, uninflected tone you get from automated phonemail operators. “have a seat sit anywhere.” Since there are only two chairs, one for the employee and one for the witness that the legal department says must be present whenever someone is fired, I don’t have much choice.
“how’s the wife how’re the kids how ’bout those red sox,” 3Rn says after I’ve sat down, as if he cares.
“In reverse order, the Red Sox were just eliminated–ask for a software upgrade. My kids are fine, but Christmas is coming and they’ll wonder why they’re getting shoes instead of scooters. As for my wife–you don’t even remember her name.”
“sure i do sure i do,” 3Rn says, but he hesitates for a moment as he searches through his database. “it’s linda right?”
“That’s right, but it’s not like you had it on the tip of your little plastic tongue.”
“no need to be bitter,” 3Rn says just as 4Zxi walks in to join us.
“hi there how ya doin’” 4Zxi says, all bubbly. He’s usually slotted for campus interviews, and I guess they forgot to turn down his enthusiasm control to the “morose” setting.
Once the pleasantries are over 3Rn gets down to business. “i regret to inform you that your services will no longer be needed.”
“Why?” I ask, although I know the answer. My numbers have slipped steadily over the past three years, the by-product of a mid-life crisis that these guys could never understand. I’ve been depressed, and when you’re depressed you couldn’t sell a life preserver to a drowning man.
The question calls for a higher-order logical response than 3Rn is prepared for, so he has to search his memory for a bit before replying.
“well, this place isn’t for everyone,” he begins. “we’re an up-or-out type of organization, and you’ve essentially plateaued.” I’m a little taken aback; I didn’t know 3Rn, with his robotic personality, was capable of such a nuanced assessment of my situation.
“you might be happier someplace else,” 4Zxi adds in a genial tone, playing good cop to the hatchet man’s bad cop.
“Look, I need time to find a new job,” I say, trying not to sound too desperate.
“like how much?” 3Rn jabs right back.
“I don’t think ninety days is unreasonable.”
“ninety days!” I have to say, I’ve never seen an exclamation point come out of 3Rn’s grim little visage before.
“now three,” 4Zxi says, “that’s not unreasonable for a high-level professional job.”
“excuse us for a moment, would you?” 3Rn says, and I get up and go out in the hall, closing the door behind me. The next few minutes are the longest in my life, longer even than my first time up on the ten-meter springboard at the town pool, with all the 13-year-olds behind me yelling “Jump!”
When the door opens it’s 4Zxi who beckons to come in.
“i don’t like long good-byes,” 3Rn says. “so we’re going to give you three months’ severance, but you have to work from home.”
“That’s going to crimp my style,” I say. “I’d rather be able to come into the office and pretend I’m gainfully employed while I look to make a lateral move.”
“you can do that from home,” 4Zxi says.
“It’s not the same–I won’t have an office, I won’t have a title.”
“i don’t know,” 4Zxi says. “you’ll just be calling people on the phone.”
“I won’t have much self-confidence calling in my pajamas.”
“why not?” 3Rn asks. “you’ll be better dressed than you are now.”
By Con Chapman
Con Chapman is a Boston-area writer, author of two novels and a history of the ’78 Red Sox-Yankees pennant race, The Year of the Gerbil. He is currently writing a biography of Johnny Hodges, Duke Ellington’s long-time alto sax player, for Oxford University Press.