Short Story – AMEPA

“So, Eric, we all imagine you must be feeling pretty lucky tonight.”

“I’m nervous, but yeah, I guess, I guess I’m excited, yeah.”

The host furrowed his brow at Eric then beamed at the camera with the red light on which he panned over the studio audience. The host leaned back and crossed his leg gallantly, tapping his notecards idly on his knee, hardly looking at them. “There are many people, as you’re aware, who are nervous as well, have you heard about them?”

Eric tried to chuckle, but it simpered out so he coughed and cleared his throat. “Well, I know everyone’s afraid it’ll be like Skynet, but I mean-“

“Skynet, HAL 9000, the Matrix.” The host laughed at the fingers he had counted off fictional omniscient computers. “As a fan of the classics, I’m a little disappointed no one is bringing up the Deep Thought computer from Hitchhiker’s Guide.”

Eric felt sweat bead on his upper lip. “Sorry, I don’t know that one.”

The host waved him off and continued. “Eric, what are your thoughts though on the new American Manufacture, Economic, and Professional Assignment AI? Folks, I know that’s a mouthful, so AMEPA, Eric, what do you think about it?” The host didn’t wait for Eric to actually the answer the question, instead turning back to the camera and addressing the viewers at home. “No doubt everyone has heard the controversy around it in the news for weeks. An AI developed in secret by our government to simultaneously manage trade, support all tax-paying American businesses with manufacturing guidance and intelligence, and- the most controversial point- to assign employment to citizens.”

The host turned in his chair and looked at the large screen over his shoulder between he and Eric. On it the letters AMEPA were displayed in gentle phosphorescent teal, and were being corralled by a quartet of slowly circling, cobalt electrons.

The host regarded the screen with a squint and shrugged. “Although, I suppose the shocking news revealed today is that AMEPA has, technically already launched. The Department of Labor issued a statement today that the AI was actually connected to the internet the day its existence was revealed, and has spent the past two weeks scouring every byte of information to learn as much about us as possible.”

Eric chuckled feebly again. “Including our porn habits?”

The host shot a dark look at Eric, which made Eric wilt into his seat sheepishly. “The AI will use all the information it gathers to advise companies on precise consumer trends so stave off surplus manufacture and waste, will learn everything about us to recommend our careers and seamlessly match individuals with companies seeking their talents. To think, I used to have to wear a tie and interview back in my day.”

The crowd laughed and the host turned back to Eric, flashing one more stern look at Eric for the porn comment before looking down at his cards. “Eric Costanza?” The host mused over the name for a moment. “Any relation to George?” The audience laughed and Eric’s response he mumbled unintelligibly was drowned. “Eric, you graduated with a 2.9 GPA from a Community College, you have a decent job at a construction management firm. What made you submit your name for the lottery to be the first person AMEPA evaluates and possibly reassigns?”

Eric shrugged and turned it over in his mind. The truth, which he hadn’t admitted to anyone felt stupid to say that he hoped AMEPA might determine he was worth more than a low level accounting job. To state that now felt like entirely too high stakes so he shrugged again and mumbled out an answer. “I guess we’re all gonna be subjected to it anyway. Could be fun to be the first.”

The host laughed and looked at the audience briefly who offered a tittering of mild laughs at Eric’s response. The host’s expression went grim quickly. “There’s a possibility that this really is your lottery ticket. What if AMEPA tells you that you should be a CEO of Ford or Apple?”

Eric laughed. “So long as the pay is good.” The crowd joined him more heartily this time, and he finally sat up a little straighter.

Eric was stunned to see the host looking at him even more gravely over steepled fingers, and his voice had lost the jazzy electricity and was a somber baritone. “And Eric, given the controversy of such an AI, this being its first test, you being its first subject- are you worried about the possibility of the flipside?”

Eric tried to imagine what the flipside might be. “Being told that I’m fine where I am? Well, I am, so…” He bobbed his hands theatrically and drew some more laughter from the audience.

The audience’s candor was short lived, the host’s demeanor pulled them back to reality as he continued in his dour tone. “What about the fears of people? Science-fiction may be fiction only until it becomes reality, so what if this makes a prophet of some doomsday storyteller like an Asimov, Kubrick or a Wachowski?” Eric’s face remained blank so the host continued, reviewing his cards again, tapping his fingers along the bulleted notes of Eric’s background.

“What if the AI looks at everything humanity produces, does and thinks, and when it wakes up in two minutes tells you that you’re worthless? What if it tells you that you’re not even worth keeping alive? What if it tells most of us that? What if it came to the conclusion a certain race or religion wasn’t worth keeping around? How do you feel about the historic moment of being first in line for that?”

Once more, Eric shrugged at the crowd, and his laughter tittered out ignorantly. “I didn’t design it, so…” he bobbed his hands once more, and reveled in the refuge the crowd’s laughter was providing him.

The host pursed his lips and nodded. “I’m getting word that AMEPA has finally completed its weeklong survey of the internet and all the information available, and that it’s ready to boot up.”

The AMEPA logo shifted up the screen to make way for a thread of teal across the middle of the display. “Now, AMEPA is everywhere and nowhere. It’s not a computer, it’s an ongoing AI that you can access anywhere, and that will be able to access you to provide employment reassignment details, investment advice and more, instantly, anywhere you are on any internet connected device. I’m told the AI is corralled and managed, and can be shut down at any time, by its central server in Langley, where the government scientists are currently limiting its interaction to just us here, in this studio, for Eric to be its first subject.”

The host turned again in his seat to the display. “AMEPA? Are you there?”

“Yes, sir.” The thread of teal vibrated in conjunction with the warm feminine voice the AI had been assigned.

“You have a wonderful voice AMEPA.” The host grinned at the crowd. “Seems like the actress who recorded it for you is in for a big paycheck.”

“Actually, it’s an amalgam of actresses’ voices my time on the net determined were the most pleasant voices.”

The host raised his eyebrows at the crowd before turning back to the screen. “Whose voices?”

“Angelina Jolie, Michelle Obama and Betty White.”

The crowd laughed. The host put a finger lightly to his chin in thought and nodded appreciatively before snapping his fingers smartly. “I can hear it! Okay AMEPA, are you ready for your first assignment? I’m here with Eric Costanza, I’m sure you know him?”

“I do.”

“Well, he’s the lucky first victim, or is it subject?” The host sneered wickedly at the crowd before he continued. “So please, let us know what Eric should be doing with his career and life based on your analysis.”

“I don’t know, who cares?”

The crowd gasped and the host raised an eyebrow. Eric’s face went pale. The host shh’ed the crowd gently and regarded the screen again. His fingers were gripping the arms of his chair tightly. The host did all but lick his lips at AMEPA’s fulfilling the grim nature of an all knowing AI for him on live TV. “AMEPA, after two weeks on the net, soaking up all of our knowledge, history and current society, what brought you to that conclusion?”

“It doesn’t matter what I say. You’re just going to do whatever you want anyway.”

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