My computer locked up and flashed to a bright gold color. “Gold Screen of Death?” I asked the computer screen.
Then this message appeared on my screen.
Seconds later my door was kicked in and I was dragged out to a helicopter that was sitting in the middle of my suburban street. I didn’t even have time to put on pants.
The helicopter took off immediately, flying high enough that my house seemed a tiny speck on the ground. I was blindfolded and the guards would not speak to me.
After a few hours we finally landed. They removed my blindfold and I saw number of other helicopters were landing at the same time. We were standing near the front of a gigantic facility. The guards coaxed us towards an elaborate entrance door. As we waited for the greeting committee, I looked around. There were 8 other people standing around, looking as confused as me. While everything was pretty frightening, I felt safe inside of the 10 rows of razor wire fence keeping us clearly separated from the scant few protestors in the distance, weakly waiving their fists at the facility. The guards also looked friendly.
Suddenly we heard the electronic door swoop open and felt a slug of cold air roll out from the facility. An important looking man slowly walked out of the door, grasping a cane. He was walking really slow and had a strange limp on both legs. It wasn’t until he go closer that we could hear the servo motors whirring in his legs. The man actually wasn’t a man; at least most of him wasn’t. He had two robot legs, one robot arm and one pale human arm. His face was covered with a mask, but he weakly held on to his humanity and sense of humor by wearing a top hat.
A gassy deep breath passed through his helmet and a booming voice welcomed us to the facility.
Then we followed the loping cyborg into a great hall. We were given augmented reality glasses and haptic gloves which we put on immediately. Once we had our gear on, the cyborg started to talk.
“You lucky 9 humans have been given special access as members of the NSA Surveillance Review Panel at the Utah Data Center! Your feedback is needed to prove that there is no harm in our wholesale collection of everything that happens on the internet.” He boomed. “Upon successful completion of this tour and positive feedback on your personal blog sites, you will be given unlimited free internet for life!” We all looked at each other, trying to hold back our smiles. “I am Robo-Wonka and I am charged with the upkeep of this facility. But before we start the tour, you must first agree to the Terms and Conditions.”
Each of our glasses’ screens filled with long paragraphs of legalese. We all scrolled down with our gloved hands and quickly hit “I AGREE” so we could get on with the tour.
All of us, that is, except for one person. This guy was actually reading the Terms and Conditions! Who did he think he was, a lawyer? He started muttering the rules out loud.
“…refusal to meet these terms… never see your family again… forced amputation… What the hell is this!” He said pleading with the cyborg.
Robo-Wonka’s legs whined into high speed as he stomped over to the man. “SIGN THE AGREEMENT” he boomed! The man protested. “SIGN THE AGREEMENT!” The man ran to front door trying to open it.
“Come on dude, just sign the agreement so we can see the cool stuff!” said another panelist.
Without warning, Robo-Wonka’s cyborg top hat glowed a bright cherry red and a klaxon alarm sounded. The man continued to protest yelling about all of his “rights” and junk. The cyborg pressed a button on his chest and several race car looking robots sped into the great hall. They lassoed the guy’s feet and dragged him out of the room.
Robo-Wonka smiled a cyborg’s smile could. With that guy out of the way we pressed on to our first event! This was exciting!
We entered a room with thousands of work stations, perfectly arranged in large square clusters. There were several people at each cluster, grinding away at the computers.
“This is the Aggregation Center” Boomed Robo-Wonka. “These employees are verifying that each individual piece of information is being assigned to the correct individual. We have information about every person alive!” We all nodded.
One of the guys from our group raised his hand. He looked to be just out of college. “You can’t have everything? What do you have on me?”
The cyborg gestured and we approached a work station. The college guy told the operator his name and date of birth. The operator tapped at the keyboard and the college guy’s picture appeared on a big screen that filled the front wall. Beneath his picture was his name, address, phone number, income level, family members, several account names, passwords, political leanings, frequented businesses, photo sites, and a list of his worst fears and enemies.
The college guy beamed. “Check it out! Even got my salary right to the penny!”
The operator said, “Now lets look at your internet search history.”
“Oh that’s OK.” The college guy said trying to wave him off.
But it was too late and a list of all of his searches started scrolling on the screen. Frequent searches appeared larger and stuck to the right side of the screen in a tag cloud. All of us panelists chuckled at some of his search terms. That guy sure did like to look at pictures of feet!
“STOP IT RIGHT NOW!” College guy grabbed the computer monitor and threw it on the ground. But the big screen continued to scroll search terms. “MAKE IT STOP!” he screamed.
The Cyborg’s Top Hat flashed red and sounded a klaxon. Thousands of tiny robots flew into the room and devoured college guy’s body leaving no trace of him. Not even any blood! The big screen stopped scrolling.
“Shall we move on?” Robo-Wonka winked.
Wow, what a pain that guy was, getting in the way of progress.
After a short ride through a tube, we found ourselves in the water cooling center. Robo-Wonka explained that the desert was the perfect location for the data collection facility because computers generate a lot of heat so it wouldn’t make a difference to climate change computers. Also, I was surprised to find out that the desert actually has a lot of water that is perfect for cooling down computers! This tour was interesting and educational! It was very comforting to find that the data collection center was just like its own ecosystem.
But of course another panelist opened her big mouth. “The desert doesn’t have water!” she said incredulously. “This is the biggest line of bull-“
Robo-Wonka’s top hat flashed red and the klaxon sounded. He handed the woman a canteen and showed her the back door. The wind whipped into the facility and sand was getting on computer stuff! I tried to cover some computer stuff up. She got shoved out the door by the cyborg’s robot arm and he slammed it shut. He brushed himself off with his human hand and gestured to our next destination.
At the Cybernetics Division the rest of the group went on to look at some sweet “augs” while I started playing with a machine. I heard a click and became alarmed to find my arm stuck in the machine! Some motors whirred and suddenly the machine surgically sliced my arm off at the elbow with a steel blade and some lasers. My arm was promptly replaced with a robot arm! It was scary but it felt really neat! Mostly I was really scared that Robo-Wonka would find out and make me give back the arm so I kept it hid behind my back for the rest of the tour.
And so it continued. We visited the International Listening and Center, Facial and Biometric Recognition Department, The Merit Points Idea Labs, The Nanobot Distribution Center, and The Puppy Grinder. Along the way all the remaining panelists kept asking bonehead questions that got them kicked out. But I was smart and kept an open mind and a shut mouth. I was the only one left.
We finally ended up on the Rooftop of the facility and loaded into what looked like a flying saucer. Robo-Wonka sat down with a heavy sigh. “I just want to help people,” he boomed, softly through his mouth cover. “People just don’t understand how much data needs to be collected to make them safe.” He put his masked face in his hands and began a raspy sob. I put my human hand on his shoulder to comfort him, but I doubt he could feel his body felt cold and metal.
“I understand.” I told Robo-Wonka. In an act of true courage, I pulled off my robot arm, put it on the flying saucer’s control panel, and moved to walk out.
“Wait!” Cried Robo-Wonka. His exuberance sounded almost human. “Come back here. I have something to show you!” He shoved my robot arm back into my elbow. It hurt bad for a second. The flying saucer beamed straight up into the air. For the second time that day I was looking down at the world. This time we were much higher, able to see the curvature of the Earth. I could see both coastlines. It was breathtaking. For a second I almost felt alive.
After we had our fill of looking out at the world from above, I noticed a large red button on the control panel. I asked Robo-Wonka what it did.
“No one’s ever pressed it.” he said. “Why don’t you give it a try.”
I lit up with excitement. “For real? No foolin’?” I asked. I smashed the glass with my robot hand and pressed the button.
The world outside of the window suddenly turned black. I was afraid that the button had vaporized the sun or something! But then the light faded back in as trillions of nano-bugs rained down onto the world. Robo-Wonka explained to me that the nano-bugs would spread throughout the world and ultimately observe every single human being on the planet and upload their data to their local collection center to be tracked, aggregated, and mined in perpetuity. It was for everyone’s safety.
“We are helping every person on the planet!” I exclaimed.
Our robot hands clanged together as we celebrated with a high five!