An alert appears on my phone, saying that I have been selected for a job interview. This is a complete surprise, as I haven’t applied for a job in years. I mean, why tilt at windmills? The message says an automated taxi will be in front of my door in ten minutes. Now, the dole is fine and you can enjoy a modest lifestyle on the minimal income, but jobs are rare and I decide to go for it.
I probably should have worn a tie, but couldn’t find one in the few minutes allowed. I barely had time to wash my face and throw on a clean shirt. I keep checking my shoe for a ribbon of toilet paper, but there isn’t any, thankfully. Outside, sure enough, a car is waiting, and once I’m settled in, we get going.
The car alerts me that I’m on a schedule and we need to arrive within fifteen minutes. I decide to call him Robocab. There are yellow maintenance lights ahead, so Robocab cuts through the neighborhoods at sixty and we manage to arrive at the building on time.
The building looks like a prison: no windows and only one wide door in the front. I walk up to the door, where there’s a smart camera that identifies me and opens the door. I tip my hat, “Thanks, Peeper.” It all feels a bit surreal.
There is a little bot waiting just inside the door who offers to take my hat. I name him Hatbot. Hatbot leads me into a room with a chair and three video screens. I sit down when Hatbot indicates the chair, and when I look up there are three AIs looking at me. I consider calling them Larry, Moe, and Curly, but it seems too disrespectful since I’m here for a job interview and they are the bosses.
They ask if I have any defects, and I tell them no. They establish that I am capable of sitting or standing for an hour, my range of motion, as well as my hearing and eyesight, are normal. In other words, they confirm that nothing has changed since my last medical checkup.
Hatbot comes back to escort me to the second part of the interview — the practical application portion. Before I can stand up, the screens have gone dark.
We go into a storage room, and I am shown a nail sticking up out of the floor. There are grooves in the wood, bot tracks here and there, that have all narrowly avoided the nail. Hatbot produces a hammer, “Please remove or adjust the nail.”
Examining the nail, I note that somebody — or something — has tried to hammer the nail in, but the crescent dents in the dust and wood indicate they couldn’t get a proper angle to drive the nail in properly. I look at Hatbot, whose arms do not reach below my knees and narrow my eyes. He is my chief suspect in the floor damaging caper. With a firm blow, I drive the nail in, flush with the boards. I consider keeping the hammer out of possible miscreant hands but pass it over when Hatbot reaches for it. I’m not employed here yet, after all.
Next, Hatbot and I go to some sort of assembly room. Industrial bots are moving everywhere, and Hatbot cautions me to stay near him. At the edge of the room where the wall meets the floor, there is a washer barely poking above the floorboard. “Please remove the metal washer, if possible.”
I can’t get a finger or even a thumbnail to drag it out. Taking out my house key, I manage to slide it up the wall and grab it with my other hand. “Please dispose of the item properly,” says Hatbot. I pocket the washer.
We take an elevator to a higher floor where we enter another large room, an automated factory floor sitting idle. There is a bird sitting in the middle of the floor among the machines. I am instructed to remove the bird from the room without harming it in any way. I approach slowly and see that the bird is exhausted. When Hatbot follows me, the bird’s hops behind the legs of a machine, and I tell Hatbot to stay by the door. The bird calms back down, and I distract it with one hand while reaching for it with the other hand from behind. I get my hand around it and pick it up carefully. There is no container to put it in, so I tuck it under my shirt so it can’t see anything. Hatbot and I take the bird down the elevator and to the door to the outside, and I release the poor thing, watching it fly off.
We go back to the interview room, and as we enter the AIs appear on the screens again. I am congratulated on my interview and offered the job of handyman. My hours will be only as needed, and I am to come to the building only when called, perhaps three or four times a year. I am never to appear without being summoned. The salary offered is modest on a yearly basis, but phenomenal given the small time commitment.
The AIs ask if I have any questions.
“Just one. Isn’t there a bot or drone or something that can drive nails or catch birds?”
“It would require several dedicated machines to perform the unplanned tasks that arise in the factory. There is a better tool for that. A human.”
I’m happy to have the job, don’t get me wrong. But I’m not sure whether to feel proud to be able to do things the bots and AIs can’t do better or degraded that to them I’m just another tool.
Call me Meatbot.
Ed Walker is a civil engineer and writer who lives and works in the Seattle area. While much of his work is set in concrete he finds more satisfaction setting ideas on paper. He does not care for job interviews, on either side of the table.