Golem City

The rumors are true–the robots are coming to Gotham. And apparently I’m rolling out the welcome mat for them. Of course, I wasn’t told this when I was hired, but it’s two months into this 6-month contract, and it’s fairly obvious what my role is shaping up to be at this behemoth of an investment bank. These robots don’t look the way you might imagine. They don’t have any physical features; there’s nothing to grasp in a visual sense. Rather, these robots are software that churn on a computer’s hard drive. Silently, and with great celerity, they’re ushering in the next revolution in labor economics. Once developed, they can be replicated in an instant and distributed overnight on computer networks globally, transforming the employer-laborer dynamic in two shakes of lamb’s tail. This will be, of course, a far cry from the shift experienced when machines brought humanity into the Industrial Age, ergo displacing innumerable factory workers. At least back then it would’ve taken some time to physically build all the machines that would replace all the humans. Things will be much different this time around; in the next 4-5 years, there are going to be a whole lot of people getting blind-sided by a blitz of invisible automatons.

I just so happen to be one of the few employees here at the bank who’s keyed into this new plan to eventually replace up to 70% of staff with custom Robotic Process Automation (“RPA”) software. Basically it’s programmed software that managers can architect to perform pretty much any kind of low-decision-making, repetitive human task, e.g. log into these servers, fetch these reports, open a spreadsheet, compare values, run a custom script, identify anomalies, escalate alerts/threats to management and limitlessly more. RPA, the mother-of-all-job-killers, is soon going to make corner-cutting India-outsourcing strategies a thing of the past. Infinitely scalable and costing pennies on the dollar, robots don’t sleep, they don’t get head colds or headaches and most importantly they don’t lie, cheat or steal (at least these won’t). A great deal of a financial institution’s organization (and overhead) is structured on security, segregation of duties, four-eyes principles (guidance for actions requiring the agreeance of at least two security personnel) and the likes of them, all in the name of preventing theft and collusion, mitigating the risk of data loss/breaches and myriad other human-prone risks. With conscience-less robots, you can almost immediately relieve half the staff required to keep an honest ledger and a secure network.

A couple of weeks ago I was sitting through the latest RPA vendor demo and it dawned on me–why they hired me here, why they’re paying me all this money on a short-term contract, what kind of tool I could possibly be for them. That’s it–I’m supposed to be the usher of the coming RPA convoy. Yes, it makes sense now. This work I’m tasked with is to pave the way for RPA; I’m smoothing out all the wrinkles so that the robots can be onboarded and effectively take over. Come to think of it, “wrinkles” is a massive understatement. What humans have sewn together here is unmistakably a messy patchwork of IT Band-Aids, quick and dirty remediation of audit findings and attempts at a scalable network design, all with a high degree of human circumstance weaved in*. Unwrapping this tangled mess has been 60-hour weeks to compartmentalize existing procedures and controls–breaking them down, one by one, into parts where humans are needed and where humans aren’t–so that one day, probably in the very near future, the firm can move to automate as much of the process flows as possible.

Not surprisingly, most of those working around me have no idea what’s coming. The marketing team here has done a bang-up job by vaguely coining the whole initiative, Corporate Banking of Tomorrow, which to me sounds surreptitiously innocuous. I tried to explain to a few officemates over lunch last Friday what tomorrow’s banking is really going to look like, and how it means that most of us, if we have jobs to report to, will be relegated to QA’ing the work of robots. In other words, thankless, unrewarding, mind-numbing jobs, devoid of life, that kill the human spirit; because if programmed correctly, the robots’ output will be exception-less 99.9% of the time leaving nothing on the plate for the human imagination to feed on.

Now, if you ask me, it’s all a blessing in disguise and this work cannot be done fast enough. Technology, the great equalizer, will finally be able to flex all of its might and muscle in spectacular fashion. Mother Earth beckons such a consciousness-raising enterprise because without an impetus like this, we’ll remain disparate groups subjugated by our own continued detachment from each other, the very thing that defines us as social beings. Indeed, this is the stuff of technologists’ wet dreams: robots allaying us from our suffering, toil and corruption from Corporate America to Capitol Hill. These are the stories we were warned of for decades and finally here we are, edging closer and closer to the cusp of the coming revolution that can finally spell the end of modern-day debt slavery and the advent of substantial social safety nets. We need this so humans can refocus our collective resources in a return to a productive, socially-conscious citizenship of the planet.

The truth is, the RPA movement is going to happen with or without me and I can’t be teaching robots to fly for long, nor do I particularly want to. Many millions of us consigned to cubicle serfdom were never meant to do any of this; it’s not healthy and it’s a bad use of the human spirit. This is modern-day peasant farming but without the benefits of aerobic exercise and natural vitamin D synthesis.  I’d much rather be farming; from my desk, I sometimes dream of the future day that I’m working with robots to construct my first skyscraper farm–100 floors of vertically stacked greenhouses teeming with organic produce, right smack in the middle of my hometown or even in Earth’s orbit or deep space, in cities where no one goes hungry, ever.

But between now and then, what I really should be doing is putting all my time and energy into my craft of acting so that I play a meaningful part in the progressive cultural movement which will help to shape future socializing public policies, i.e. Universal Basic Incomes (UBI), blockchain monetary reform (i.e. Bitcoin), education reform and more. I have tremendous confidence in saying that this is what I was born to do.

Eventually, robotics will help us all get to where we need to be. But it’s not going to be easy. There’s much work to be done and we need a lot of good storytellers to help us get there.

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