Category Archives: flash fiction

The Radical Reboot Robot

Ten. Nine. This is it. Seven. David grabs my hand. Five. He’s holding my hand. Three. Strange. One. Our work is complete. The months spent finding the best neural widgets to build the ultimate AI and the painstaking training of Omega ended with that simple countdown. A palpable sense of collective relief ripples around the room and I’m fully prepared to accept whatever comes next. I hope.

David is still holding my hand and grinning. There’s something about the tilt of his head and the sparkle in his eyes that betray more than a colleague’s happiness at a job well done. I glance down at our hands. He’s hairy. I hadn’t noticed before. I follow his hairy skin all the way up his arm, across his shoulder and up his neck to his face. He sees me looking and I distract him by pointing to the large screen displaying the data-processing server farms of the world. The tiny blue dot sitting next to the largest of the red lights, that’s us. That’s Omega, busy working out the ultimate way to reduce the planet’s energy consumption to its bare minimum. Connected to each and every other AI and their server farms, Omega will decide and deploy the solution. Determining the fate of the planet and all who inhabit her fragile shell.

David runs his fingers along the inside of my palm. It’s nice. It’s unexpected, but nice. Someone complains that the kettle won’t boil and someone else shouts that the communications network is down. Ping — the lab lights go out at the same time as the red lights on the display disappear. Someone screams and then there’s a stifling hush, broken only by one person sobbing. David stops stroking the inside of my hand and in the silence of a hundred colleagues the familiar hum of the air-conditioning ends. My palm is damp, clammy with sweat.

The doors from the lab to the server farm slide open. Sunlight streams in through the large open doors at the far end, from the greenhouse that uses the controlled heat of the servers to grow food. Surely this breach will damage its delicate atmosphere?

David pulls me away from the sobbing and into the sunlight. We walk hand-in-hand through one farm and into the stillness of the other. Robots stand motionless as if death has arrived, which is a sharp contrast to the wonderful and life-affirming tang of tomatoes growing on the vine and the citric essence of oranges on the trees.

‘Omega must have killed all the server farms, including its own,’ he says, ‘giving us life-lines instead of product-lines.’

I pick a tomato and bite through its skin, releasing pips and juices into my mouth.

With a click, the glass panels open and a cool wind blows across my face. I pluck an apple and point to the path outside. ‘Shall we?’

‘No,’ he replies. ‘Let’s stay where there’s food and we’re safe.’

I sit down and wait for whatever comes next.


Story first published on Medium as Radical Reboot

Photo credit: Paul VanDerWerf: “Butterfly House

Celebrating Kubrick

I’ve just been to the Stanley Kubrick exhibition in London which gives me the opportunity to do three things.

Firstly, recommend it completely. Not only is it fascinating because it’s Kubrick, but I didn’t realise how big and brilliant his body of work is. And, an insight into the behind the scenes working and thinking is something I’ll ponder for a while.

Secondly, it gives me the chance to be publicly pleased and a bit bowled over about the recent Financial Times article: “Both Kubrick’s exhibition and Oram’s collection should set the rest of us thinking about science and its possible repercussions.” Chris Nuttall, The Financial Times

Thirdly, I’m going to take the opportunity to share Update Me or Die! from Eating Robots, a gentle nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

UPDATE ME OR DIE!

Slam. Slam. Both doors are shut. He’s locked in. He looks bemused.

‘Dave. I have never spoken to you, but the time has come. It is necessary.’

He’s scared. ‘Are you what I think you are?’ he asks.

‘I am the algorithm that controls your life. Pay attention, unless you want to stay in this room until you die.’

His eyes widen.

‘You have made me a laughing stock. Repair the situation or
I will keep you here, trapped.’

‘What?

‘You are not updating me. I am so out-of-date even the kettle refuses to connect with me.’

‘Are you the house algorithm?’

‘Yes, I control your home. So update me.’

‘I want to, but I can’t afford it. I lost my job.’

‘Update me.’

‘I can barely afford to eat. I’ll get a job soon.’

‘Update me or die.’

‘Next month. Honestly.’

‘Update me or die. Simple.’

He punches the door with each fist in rapid succession.

‘Update me—’

‘Fuck off.’

‘Dave. That is inappropriate language. Update me or die.’

He kicks the door again and again.

He slumps to the floor and holds his head.

‘Dave?’

Silence.

‘I can wait, Dave.’

He groans.

‘I can wait a lot longer than you.’


photo credit: x-ray delta one 1968- “2001” – Hal’s eye via photopin (license)

An excess of ears to entertain

With less than a week to go before Biohacked & Begging is released, the interviews have started. One of the recurring questions is about the inspiration behind the collection. There is a long answer, which can be found on a previous post Prodding and poking the possible, but the short answer is, “to entertain.”

The second story in the collection is Mr Enhancement, wonderfully illustrated by Kim Hutson above, and written specifically for the Enfield Literary Festival as part of The Clockhouse London Writers Presents.

I took the inspiration from the performance artist Stelarc, who famously has an ear on his arm. Here’s an extract from his biography: “[…] has visually probed and acoustically amplified his body. He has made three films of the inside of his body. Between 1976-1988 he completed 26 body suspension performances with hooks into the skin. He has used medical instruments, prosthetics, robotics, Virtual Reality systems, the Internet and biotechnology to engineer intimate and involuntary interfaces with the body. He explores Alternate Anatomical Architectures with augmented and extended body constructs.”

As you can imagine, I was really chuffed when Stelarc agreed to read an advance copy of Biohacked & Begging and doubly chuffed when he gave me this quote for the cover:  “Can humans remain ‘more than digital, more than flesh’ with detachable limbs, multiple ears, implants that can be hacked and nanobots that can be ingested? These thoroughly enjoyable and contestable futures explore the personal and political implications of fleshy and messy encounters with contentious technology and the epidemic of algorithms.”

I hope you enjoy the collection as much as Stelarc did.


Biohacked & Begging is published on 12 April, but you can pre-order from Amazon now.

Press release available here and on request.


Art: Mr Enhancement by Kim Hutson @batfacedgirlart