Robo-Wonka and the Utah Data Center

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.

Golden Ticket

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!

 

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Things our Kids Should Know (Before College 2030)

My friend, Shane, posted an article about things your kids should know before they brave it alone in college. His list is quite good for general life skills and interpersonal relationships, however, Shane failed to assess how technology is going to change our kids’ college experience. As a new dad I think about this constantly; to the point of my wife saying, “I get it! Robots are going to take over everything! We heard you!”

Our college experience is going to look like the Old West compared to what our kids are going to interact with.  Did you go spittoon or horse shopping with your parents at Bed Bath and Beyond before heading to the dorms? No? Well they did. It’s up to parents to prepare their kids for the upcoming changes in technology while they are still allowed to raise them.

Here’s a supplemental list of what your kids should know before going to college in 2030:

Take off your Augmented Reality Glasses when you Meet New People

It may seem advantageous to see someone’s name floating over their head or be able to quickly browse a list of their worst fears, but just because everyone’s doing it doesn’t make it cool. Impress people by remembering their names with your brain.  Ask people questions and actually listen for the answer instead of checking your feeds while the vocal processor does the work. It may take a lot of mental gymnastics but after some practice you’ll be able to carry the conversation without the need to select from a list of popular questions or answers.

Have a conversation without recording it

Remember to sometimes have a conversation off the record. It’s nice to know your speaking skill level and vocabulary statistics and compare them with friends, but take the time to enjoy the freedom to say things that won’t be analyzed. You’ll be surprised at what you can come up with! Bring your friends to a place well away from Listening Stations like in an abandoned building or a in the sewer. Keep your AR Glasses close by in case of robot attack.

Avoid foods with Nanoparticles

It may seem fun to have all of your calories automatically tracked and your food and drinks categorized for optimal ingestion everyday, but be bold and eat an apple off of a wild tree or a fish from a pond that hasn’t been incorporated by Google Wildlife Tracker. The nanoparticles can stay in your body for years and may come back to haunt you.  And I understand that you’ll eventually try alcohol, but be different and drink Pabst Blue Ribbon (the only beer not yet laden with nanoparticles).

Exercise without your Tracking Bug

Certainly you’ll want to maintain your mandated daily exercise quota (in order to earn your food rations), but once and awhile, get out and have fun without the nagging need to constantly be filling your Energy Meter. Run up a hill, bike to class, or climb up the side of a building (just to feel alive again) – and don’t worry about tracking it! Just be sure to do to look out for Google Compliance Drones before braving such an adventure.

Learn how to Build Something with your Hands

Sure, 3D printing is an important part of our daily lives. What would we do without the ability to print our a picnic table or a set of ninja stars in a few minutes? Where would we go when a murderous robot demands parts in exchange for your life? There are things we need at the press of a button, but take some time to make something on your own from wood, metal, or paper (if legal in your area). Your friends will make fun of you but just remember you can always print out a life size replica of them and humiliate them by leaving it in the college commons, as long as your robot doesn’t tell on you.

Go out without your RFID

It’s impossible to get a fake ID anymore but when you’re of age, try going to a townie bar where they will check your ID manually. Sure it’s a hassle to carry physical identification around but they won’t check to see if you have enough surplus food rations so you might be able to have a good time. Some bars will still take cash (if you’re able to barter for some) so your transactions won’t go into your Google Wallet Permanent History. Also, professors won’t be able to see what you were up to last night unless you were drinking something other than PBR.

Your Personal Defense Drone is for Defense ONLY

It’s not for spying on your girlfriend / boyfriend! It’s not to be used to remotely view your lessons or to prove your suspicions that “Kendra is a whore” (that’s what Facebook is for now). It is only to be used to record your every movement in case the authorities need to corroborate your actions/location for an alibi.

Go Sans Robot

Robots are a great invention but you don’t always have to let them read your lessons to you or get your groceries. If you’re able to overpower your robot, reach inside of its brain and switch it off. This may end in your death but if you’re victorious can end with a few moments of peace so you can study or relax. Either way your Defense Drone will record the entire encounter and play it back for the robot so it will be more prepared next time.

Be able to Read a Compass

Always know the direction of Mountain View. Remember to Praise our Great Leader 3 times a day. Praise Google!

Target Robot Machine

Here is a letter I wrote to the Target Robot Machine:

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The Target Robot Machine generated an automated response:

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Interesting that they give names to different sectors of their servers.  I’m glad the Robot Machine wasn’t able to crack the captcha code, which would indicate that had become self aware.  Score one for the humans!  This time…

The Day the Internet Went Down

The IT guy burst into my office!

“Do you have a router or switch somewhere in here that you just hooked up!” He exclaimed, stopped short to catch his breath.  I showed him the only router to my knowledge, but it had been there for years and shot me a crossed look for pointing out something so obvious.

He explained to me that someone had hooked up a wireless router somewhere in the building, and it was bringing down the entire network.  Somehow the router was redirecting all IP addresses to a dead end local IP and no one could get any outside network access.  I had actually been having trouble getting online today, but I managed to find other work to do while it got sorted out.  I’m usually more productive when technology isn’t working so I didn’t waste time reporting it.

Knowing the risks of an open WIFI connection, I was on board and entirely concerned about this problem.  Was it a rouge agency trying to steal our secrets or was it a quiet secretary who wanted to hook up to a wireless router and enter time cards outside in the mild spring weather?  Either way, an illegal unsecured line was out there, opening the door for a security breach to any common passer-by.  It’s the equivalent of a bank putting their safe in the parking lot and leaving the door open all day and night!  The perpetrator would meet an end with extreme prejudice.

I pulled out my company issued Blackberry just as the IT guy was doing the same.  A glimmer of realization overcame us both as we turned on our smartphone wifi to follow to signal strength bars to the source.  We split up, a trick we learned from Scooby Doo, and began to search the building for the rogue router.

I passed through cubicles waving my phone back and forth through the aisles.  I was whispering, “Here Linksys…  Here Linksys Linksys Linksys! Come here boy!”  I could only guess that the IT guy had a similar mantra.

My awareness of the drone of office conversations, the occasional shout of “can you get online?” and phones ringing went by the wayside as I focused in on finding the source of that signal.  I wanted to be the one to find it and become the office hero.  Office acts of vigilante/heroism often end in a promotion, a lapel pin, or some kind of special keys.  I saw a wifi bar jump so I dropped to the ground to maintain stealth.  I began to crawl.  My crawl was a bit hobbled and I had to use my right elbow since I was still regarding my phone as I searched the office.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain in my back!  Had the corporate spy sensed we were on to his plan and shot me in the back?  In seconds I had gone from office hero to office martyr?  Or was the woman’s scream indicative of the fact that the secretary had just tripped over me, pressing her knee sharply in my back, and falling on the floor next to me.  She picked her self and her papers up and started to ask “what the hell I was doing {crawling on the floor}” I pulled her to the ground and silenced her by putting my finger to my lips.

I pointed to my phone and the wifi signal bars. She acted as if she had no idea what that meant and started to ask questions.  I again shushed her with a finger and pointed forward down the aisle.

We began to crawl.

Being low paid off.  I saw the signal bar on my phone jump to full strength and looked into the opening of the nearby cubicle.  Down on the floor I saw it!  A brand new black and blue Linsys router flashing it’s menacing green lights at me.  I looked up to the name plate on the cubicle opening.  “Roscoe!”  I cursed under my breath.

I moved to grab and remove the rouge router but the secretary caught my shoulder.  She shook her head, a reminder that nobody goes into Roscoe’s cubicle.  I had not anticipated that Roscoe would be present, either, as he should have been out on a sales call.  I looked up and saw Roscoe with his wild red hair jamming out with a pair of headphones, silently mouthing the words to his favorite 80’s hairband music.

We tried to devise a way to unplug Roscoe’s illegal equipment.  I did not have the authority to simply charge in and begin demanding answers.  I wasn’t in my department anymore, so stealth and subterfuge were critical.  We tried waving a half opened Snickers bar (famously his favorite) in his office to lure him out, but to no avail.  I looked for a place to unplug his power, but it was protected under the desk.

We tried hooking the router with a coat hanger but Roscoe rolled his chair over the hanger.  He noticed the bump that his wheels rolled over and looked down.  We hid behind the wall and I saw my end of the coat hanger disappear into his office.

I heard Roscoe throw his headphones to his desk as he cursed.  He rounded the cubicle wall and found the secretary and I on our knees, looking up sheepishly.  I stood up and got ready to get tough with Roscoe when a *CRACK* broke the silence.

All eyes looked up behind me. I joined to see the IT guy holding a pellet gun, leveled at Roscoe’s computer. “Next one goes through the Visio Roscoe!” Exclaimed the IT guy.

I noticed the menacing lights on the router had been snuffed out and router parts were scattered under Roscoe’s desk. There was a shout from across the office. “Oh my lord! I can read my email again.” Then from the other way, “I can see the internet again! Everyone let’s thank the IT guy!”

I tried to tell everyone that I had found the problem first but my voice was drowned out by cheers and huzzahs for the IT guy. Everyone hoisted him on their shoulders and began to carry him out of the office, still cheering for getting the internet back on.

When they carried the IT guy through a low doorway he fell off the shoulders and broke his neck. The he died.

Roscoe laughed in triumph and jumped out the window. We thought he was doomed as well, but soon he was shooting upwards in the opposite direction, flying to the clouds with his jet pack.

“Roscoe!” I cursed and shook my fist.