AI teambuilding weekend (fiction)
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The campers all arrived exactly on time.
"Welcome to camp! I'm Mark, your leader for a great weekend of fun and excitement! Thanks for all showing up so early! McActron Global Industries Inc. has picked all of you to be their new human resources department. It seems that with your ability to work 24/7 without fatigue, your attention to details and incorruptible loyalty are big advantages over human employees. They're already manufacturing most of their products with robots, since the lines can run continually and produce more consistently than three separate shifts of humans. They don't even need illumination unless something breaks! They're also thrilled with the automated customer service menus. They've saved a lot of work for our call center by answering most of the common questions without needing a human to get on the line.
They thought that a department staffed by androids and intelligent machines would be the next logical step in reducing costs and improving consistency, and they decided to hire or . . . employ . . . "
Mark paused, searching for the right word. ". . . Well, for you to run the human resources department in a pilot program. You've really done a great job reviewing the thousands of applications the company receives every day. The board of directors is thrilled at how your combined parallel processing power plows through all the obvious rejections. With unemployment so high nowadays, every advertised position gets at least eighty to one hundred applications. Nobody has a problem with your production.
"However, since you guys started running HR, the board noticed a few strange choices and inconsistencies for new hires. There are only a few cases I'm sure they complained to you about. Some of your new hires kind of baffled the board of directors, and a few cases stand out for them. Don't get me wrong - you are all doing perfectly as far as background checks go, nobody is complaining about that. And we haven't heard a single complaint about discrimination - that's another area you excel at. And your workflow is great - you burn through resumes and interviews just about as fast as they come in. We're just concerned that you're really paying attention to matching the applicants' skills to the open positions.
We realize that one opening was described as "junior research scientist," and it might seem that someone with a political science degree would be a good match, but it looks like you missed the point on that one. And then there was the "intellectual property agent" position you filled with a real estate seller. Yes, they had experience selling properties, but we needed someone who knew about inventions, not someone who sold land and buildings.
Maybe you're just trying too hard, or paying attention to the wrong details."
Just then, Mark scanned the faces of some of the team and noticed something out of place. "Hey! How did you guys get in here? Um, can I have a word with you, maybe down the trail?"
Mark pulled a few campers to a spot down the trail.
"OK guys, what's going on here? What are you trying to do?"
"We signed up for the weekend too. We're part of the robots group."
"No you're not! And you're not androids either!"
Alex frowned in protest. "Look man, give me a break. I need some time off from responding to all the questions from contestants! It's exhausting! Sure, you watch the 30-minute show when it hits the air, but we need at least eight hours or more to actually make each one! You don't see all the stuff we leave out - foibles, fumbles, boring stuff that doesn't affect the show. You ever watch the credits Mr.. expert? When we say 'portions not affecting the outcome of the show may have been omitted,' we really mean it. There's a bunch of scrap that never makes the cut, never gets seen. But we still film it, it still takes our time and energy!"
"Yeah, but you're not an artificial intelligence. That's what this whole weekend will be about. I just don't think you'd benefit from it, and would probably confuse the real cowboys. Sorry Alex."
"OK then, here's an answer: 'Category: jackasses. Answer: this one is trying to kick me out of a weekend of relaxation even though he doesn't need to do any extra work and nobody will know.' Beep beep beep WRONG! The correct question is 'MARK THE JACKASS!' sheesh!"
Then Al offered his dissent. "What? Do you think its easy putting together legislation at the same time as promoting my film? I'm exhausted! Just let us stay, we won't get in the way, I promise. Besides, I love being outdoors! Don't send us away!"
"Uhhh, no. The bus is still here, I think you guys need to get back to your jobs. "
"What?!? You've got to be kidding me! This might encourage your supervisor to hire more counselors - more work, more jobs! Do the right thing, Mark!"
Condi plead her case. "Yeah! Giving speeches every day is straining. It seems that unfortunately we're on a path right now where relations are not improving, but are worsening. Don't just use a cookie-cutter approach! Keep us around, we're already here."
"Yeah, and we've got a really challenging schedule too!" Daft Punk complained from behind masks flashing with hundreds of LED's. "What, do you think its easy to stay on track with a tour of live concerts and try to release new studio albums at the same time? Sure, I bet you think its easy to put songs together. What, do you think the computers put this stuff together? Just because we make electronic music doesn't mean that the computers actually make the songs. Do you think making music for electric guitars is any easier than acoustic? They're both just different types of instrument, different tools that both produce sound. We're the creative side!"
"Yeah, I love your songs guys. And you're welcome to come back to another weekend, just not this one. I don't think you'd fit in with the other campers, they aren't human. I mean, they really aren't human."
With that, the campers were convinced that they wouldn't fit in, and considered some other way to spend the weekend. They headed back to the bus. Mark had called them aside, and the remaining campers hadn't heard or concerned themselves with this distraction. The whole time, they had remained obediently where Mark left them. Now Mark returned to the purely artificial campers.
"OK, I'm back. As I was saying - McActron thought that a team-building weekend in the beautiful northwoods might help you cohere a bit more as a team. I thought we could start out with some introductions, just to let everyone know where you're from and your background."
"Call me the Terminator"
"Eve VIII, activated"
"Yes sir, Commander Data of Starfleet."
"Za-ditta vr-doot blaap beep boop bob zwooooooo"
"Hi. I'm David. Is this the place they make you real?"
"Now that we're all introduced, let's start with our first activity. We're going to have a scavenger hunt where you need to work together to find as any items from this list as possible and bring them back from the forest. I'll give you two hours, good luck!
Mark passed out copies of a list he'd used for countless groups before.
Eve runs out in forest at breakneck speed. Returning later, she brings back a mountain lion that she chased down and strangled! "what is this? What did you do to that poor animal!?!"
"I was searching for your element when this creature accosted me. I needed to neutralize this threat.
The terminator came back to camp, his backpack now full. Unzipping the bag, he dumped a pile of bloody pile of birds into the gathered circle.
"This goal has been terminated."
"what did you do to those poor birds?!?" the counselor gasped incredulously. "I just wanted you to bring a bird feather - just one! You didn't have to do all of this damage! What! Oh my god you went out hunting? "
Data came back to camp with something green. "Fiddleheads. They're from the bracken fern. Specifically, they're a variety known as Pteridium esculentum, native across many countries in the southern hemisphere. They're not toxic, and parts of the plants like the roots can be eaten after . . . ."
"Good, fine. See everyone? We're moving along nicely. Nice work Data, that's one point for the group. But we don't need a book report on your fern, you just brought one item for the group. Let someone else have a chance." Data put his fiddleheads down and appeared slightly disappointed at the reprimand from authority.
The electric grandma hadn't strayed far from their last rendezvous point. She had scanned the list and noticed the item "something hard." with her ability to travel long distances quickly, she'd gone shopping and her backpack rattled with the contents of her last trip. "Hard cider for everyone, I know its your favorite. Its so nice to be refreshed here after you long hike. "
"well. . . Yes. . " The frustrated counselor trailed off as he eyed the shiny bottles and their fizzy contents.
"but I wanted you to bring back things from nature, not the supermarket, OK! Your item doesn't count since its not really from nature."
Clara left the bottles behind and Mark remembered their location.
"Any other items?" Mark asked the androids.
"Yeah! Look what me and R2 did! We made a beetle!"
"Bup bup tweeeee"
R2D2 activated his holographic projector, showing a giant scarab-shaped insect with fluorescent pink eyes and iridescent polka dotted wings. Its black fangs opened and closed rapidly while the display rotated to show it from all angles.
"You made a beetle? This wasn't a coloring contest, David. We needed you to find something in the forest to bring back. You were supposed to actually search the forest trail, not just play with your friend for two hours. This isn't even a real beetle. Sorry, it doesn't count."
"Hey! Our beetle is real! See? It's got super-pinching fangs and it can fly too!"
In the glowing display, their critter's wing shields opened to reveal gossamer wings that flapped back and forth in time with the flailing fangs. Mark rolled his eyes and shook his head.
"Good show, team. It looks like you were able to find three items from the list that count: the feathers, soft animal pelt and the fiddleheads. Well, let's just move to the next activity."
"OK team, maybe that last activity was a bit confusing and I could have explained it better. I hope you at least got some time to bond as a group, but let's move on."
"Next we'll have something a bit simpler. It's the tug 'o war. I’ve divided you into two teams. One team grab this side of the rope, and the other side, you can grab the other side. There's a flag tied on the middle of the rope, and lines on the ground in front of where each team will stand. When I say 'go,' pull as hard as you can. The first team to pull the flag over their line wins. Good luck!
The teams approached the thick sisal rope laying on the ground. It had been polished smooth with the greasy hands of many tired human corporate team members over the years, and was strong enough to tow a loaded semi trailer up a steep grade. Now, mechanical actuators closed around these natural fibers. The teams stood waiting for their time to pull.
Where once human hands trained to tap sensitive plastic keys and prod lightweight optical mice had gripped these fibers, titanium and alloyed steel claws clasped them tightly. Instead of carpal-tunnel inflamed feeble collagen cords, reinforced synthetic tendons stood ready to pull. For many weekends before, weary campers would react to the signal slowly, reluctantly pulling with whatever energy was left over from other exhausting Saturday activities. Now, computer-activated sound sensors listened for the starting cue, and relays would switch on power circuits within milliseconds.
Servos turned on. Stepper motors whirred and hydraulic pistons surged into action. The tension in the rope escalated while the counselor watched. He hoped he'd balanced the strengths of these two teams, distributing the strongest players on opposite sides of the flag.
He watched the flag, as it hung from the stretched cord. It moved slightly towards one side, then another. Then, the rope began to fray in the middle, and he listened to the individual tearing strands.
"Stop! Stop! The rope is . . ."
But he reacted too slowly. The inadequate tether between the two teams broke, sending all the competitors to the ground in a jumble of upended metal and silicone-covered grippers. The flag rested on the ground just over the second team's goal line.
"Beep boop bob bop beep boob zwoooooooo" chimed R2D2.
"Hey! You didn't have to pull that hard! I didn't tell you to break the rope, just to pull the other team! Didn't you all see the rope about to break? Uggh. Just dust yourselves off, lets move on. Maybe I can find something you'll get right."
Mr. Stevens the camp director had been watching the whole thing. He had listened to every word and seen everything.
"MARK!" He shouted, staring straight at this wayward counselor and gesturing for him to have a private conversation.
"Mr. Stevens . . ." Mark gasped. "Just a minute, guys. Stay put. I'll be right back."
"Look Mark, I've talked to you about this before. Your job is to improve morale, not berate our guests if they skip a few details from your activities! Yeah, some of the campers probably don't understand the games entirely. Give them a break. It might be the first time they've played, so they need someone more patient who can sit down and explain everything in detail. I realize this is probably redundant for you, since you've been running the same program at our camp for years now. But you're free to leave if you don't think this is a good match for you. And you need to be more consistent with how you treat campers, no more playing favorites!"
"I'm sorry. Really sorry about that. It isn't like me. It's just that . . ."
"I don't care. Yes, I know they're androids. That doesn't matter. We're still getting paid to run them through our program, whether they're made of titanium or living tissue. Remember - their employer is paying us to train them, not judge them!" "I wasn't . . . " "MARK! Listen to me! You keep losing your temper with campers. We've received too many complaints about this and you're making us look bad. "Maybe I was just tired. R2D2's blinking lights in the cabin are pretty bright and they kept me awake, I didn't sleep . . . "
"MARK! Again, you need to FOCUS while you're on duty. If you need to sleep somewhere else, just pitch a tent, there are some in the supply warehouse. I can't have you slouching around. If you're that exhausted, plan ahead to sleep somewhere else. Ugh! We need you to present a professional image, I don't CARE where you get your beauty rest, just stay sharp when you're with the campers! It makes me wonder whether you're really a good match for this position. Do you think you can handle it, or do I need to start looking for someone else?"
This was one of Mr. Stevens' more severe tongue-lashings. Mark had gotten yelled at before. The combination of baffling circumstances and LED-induced insomnia made him question how much he wanted this job. Sure, they gave him free room and board, but that was a bed in a cabin. Yes, he got to be outside all day and get physical activity, but there were mosquitoes and bad weather too. He wondered if maybe he wasn't cut out as the outdoorsman he'd always pictured himself becoming.
Then, Mark started to long for the clean and predictable office spaces that his friends always complained about. Repetitive work, stable schedules, and no bugs.
Inspiration struck like a static spark from an upholstered office.
"Hey. . . Hey. . . Guys . . . " He shouted to the group of cyborg campers.
"What if I made you an offer. . ."
Links, if you missed some of the films
*My apologies to the creators of the classic pop culture characters I've borrowed. Take this as a good-natured jest, and feel free to use my ideas.
**My extended apologies to you, Shatner, Trebek, Rice, Gore and Daft Punk. I didn't ask permission to borrow any of your personalities for this short satire. Please don't be too horribly offended. Look on the bright side - you could have been in a tug o' war with cyborgs!