The sun still rose over the glimmering towers of Manhattan. The light threw itself across the city with a calm passiveness, in stark contrast to the angry honking and frantic crush of the city streets below. Passersby, in true Big Apple style, pushed by each other without acknowledgement. The newly terraformed Chrysler building suddenly seemed to glow with life, as the frost melted from the plants adorning the windows of CEO offices and winter buds opened their petals. It was any other day in New New York, as those who remembered the last century called it. No one out of the past would have known it was an election day.
The polarization of previous decades seemed to have disappeared with the frost. One or two windows sported signs with campaign slogans, but overall it was a very private affair. People on their way to work did not argue politics with their taxi drivers or coworkers; no one haggled over Senator Alan Bushnell’s recent affair or Speaker Eloise McKinley’s face lift. For how would they know, when no media was broadcasting such things anymore?
America of 2118 was a far different place than a century previously. On the surface, things hadn’t changed much; one would still see all the major cities, the sea levels were remaining stable, and the clothing was very similar to the 1980’s. Electric cars were commonplace (though electricity was paling to fuel-cell technology), and the Hyperloop was the travel medium of the day. But what would astound the 2018 New Yorker was the media. There were no magazines; People no longer graced store shelves, USA Today no longer updated shallow minds. No newspaper stands peppered the sidewalks. Most eerie of all, it was not humans manning the government-controlled anchor desks on Television; androids now held that distinction.
It was under this new leadership that Bot 47 now operated. It soared over those New York streets, metal wings fluttering in the chilly autumn breeze. It had been designed specifically for the Breaking News Division. Small and bullet shaped, its chasse was made of the the very lightest carbon fiber; the wings, which were used for fine adjustment and hovering, were manufactured from aluminum and more carbon fiber. Tiny, recessed grooves in its body were made for folding the wings, in the event of a quick dive or storage. Bot 47’s flat, 360-degree camera system was nearly incorruptible, and all data that it recorded was stored in short sentences, facts and slim details. Most importantly, its software contained an algorithm for detecting and eliminating bias.
Hundreds of Bots scoured New York every morning for news. They had been enlisted, along with the androids and all the algorithms, to stamp out bias. Human journalism had become so polarizing that by 2090, the government was essentially deadlocked at every level. The nation’s leaders had underestimated the power of the media, and the citizens had not; talks of revolution or secession bubbled. Finally, when a major news outlet urged its viewers to take up arms and storm the capitol on every broadcast, people gathered their weapons and provisions and marched. The Capitol building surrendered. The White House was under siege for almost a month.
Finally, exhausted politicians and rebels agreed on a compromise; the president would be ousted, and the media outlets would be scoured for fake news. In true political fashion, this completely satisfied no one, but it was enough. As the campaign began, Congress appointed the new Media and Journalism Regulation Department; this was the crowning achievement of that particular governing body in that decade. After months of surveillance and evidence, the drastic recommendation was made; there would be no more human presence in journalism. The bias and opinion inherent in people, MJRD reasoned, would never serve the public best. Thus, the government replaced private news sources with American News Today, similar to the BBC. Androids replaced editors and anchors, and bots replaced beat reporters and writers.
None of this history concerned Bot 47. It was purely a research unit, delivering information already formulated into a news brief via secure connection to its partner Android, Editor 24. After 24 reviewed the brief for relevance and any missed trace of bias. As there never was any, this process was very quick. The whole process took only 5 minutes, from Bot 47’s initial recording to anchor C70’s reading on the 6:00 news hour. Anchors were the most sophisticated of the chain; they had to have a charming personality matrix, without giving an impression or opinion. The C in their call number stood for “Cronkite.”
Bot 47, if it had been equipped with an emotional generator matrix, would have been fairly content that morning. It had found a few stories, nothing groundbreaking but of some importance. It was nearly 7:00, and the morning newshour would be over. ANT would then switch over to witty, intellectual shows common to British and American media today. Bot 47 could return to its docking station and recharge. It cued a systems check into its future processes and turned the corner onto 15th Avenue. It fluttered along, whirring to itself. Its chasse was being warmed by the sun; humans would find this sensation “comforting.” Bot 47 was aware that its systems would run at full capacity in the sunlight and adjusted its height to maximize this advantage. As it did so, it passed a balcony adorned with a rather magnificent glass door. This would not have been significant, if the door hadn’t shattered from the bullet fired into it.
Bot 47 narrowly avoided the projectile and leapt into action. The camera clicked on, giving a clear view of the shooter. The balcony connected to a dining room, where three people stood frozen; An older man in a suit, his back to the camera; a young woman, with what Bot 47 cataloged as “emotional distress” tightening her face as she held a shaking pistol at his head, and a little girl, hiding behind the woman’s legs. Bot 47’s facial analytics estimated the woman’s age in her early 30’s, the girl’s at 7 or 8. The man was obviously well-to-do, and in a position of power over the other two, as they kept backing away even with the weapon.
“You bastard!” The woman kept screaming. “You’re a monster!”
The safety analytics in Bot 47’s operating software estimated that it could move approximately 5.76 feet closer before being noticed. The wings tilted, and as the camera moved in, the microphone picked up the children’s sobs and the man’s quiet urging. As it reached its proximity limit, Editor 24 began processing the story and delivering breaking information to C70.
“Come now, Darlene, who will believe you?” The man was reasoning, his hands up but not shaking. “You know none of this will affect anything, and even if you were to shoot me, you would never hear my side, or ever go to trial.”
“I don’t want a trial!” Darlene shrieked. “I want you to pay!”Her face contorted, anger now shifting into her primary emotion.
“Darlene, you are acting like a fool. Who would believe that Ozzy Backster would ever harm a child?” Bot 47 quickly accessed the records on Ozwald Backster; senator, many distinctions for moral conduct, several combat medals, and various awards for community works with children. He had campaigned on behalf of several women’s rights expansions in the 2080’s, and had drafted the first government-subsidized national child-care program. Bot 47 sent all this to 24, and rotated slowly to the other side of the balcony for another angle. A few streets over, sirens began blaring. Darlene’s face paled. Backster took a step forward.
“That’s the police,” he said calmly, “they’ll be here in minutes, my dear. What are you going to tell them?”
Bot 47 suddenly became aware of a falcon a few feet above. It began a background tracker in the bird’s movements; hawks occasionally tried to hunt Bots, mistaking them for smaller birds.
“I’ll tell them what Jessie told me,” Darlene hissed. “How you…you…you raped my baby girl and threatened to kill her!”
This last statement gave incredible consequence to this story. The government had long since been forced to deal with domestic and sexual abuse infestations in its ranks; the idea that a senator would engage in such behavior and keep it hidden was career-ending. Though by Bot 47’s analysis, the Senator was correct; media no longer sensationalized these crimes. Where the senator was wrong was the claim that this would have no effect. If proved correct, it would destroy his career, and apparently, Darlene wasn’t finished.
“You think I would be in this fucked up situation if I didn’t have proof?” She laughed, high pitched and quavering. “You idiot. As soon as Jessie told me I installed cameras. The very latest and best. Isn’t that what you’re always telling me, Ozzy? Only the best?”
Backster’s body froze. There was a sudden strangled yelp, as though the senator’s toe had just been trodden on. Bot 47 was about to move to another angle when the tracker it had placed suddenly began frantically beeping. The falcon was diving.
Bot 47’s safety protocol overrode his general operations and the evasive maneuvers kicked in. It launched into the air, whizzing around the falcon and then folding its glittering wings into the grooves and plummeting. The falcon had no time to blink. It was suddenly hit square on the head by a large projectile. The bird screeched, fell a few feet and then swooped away. Bot 47 descended back to the balcony, but the security matrix did not register the alarm caused by its presence in the apartment. Darlene, startled by the appearance of a news unit, finally used her championship skeet-shooting skills and fired directly into Bot 47’s chasse. An SOS signal was deployed before the unit began containing and quarantining damage. Bot 47 went offline at 7:00 exactly.
The damage done to the Bot 47, it was later determined, was not severe enough to warrant cancellation. The emergency containment operations had been successful, and thus only a few systems had been corrupted. The bot was given to a newly-designed repair team to fix. These were the only humans of the whole operation. This particular group had just passed their clearance, and immediately set to work. Security and General Operations were intact; so were cleaning and analytics. The only system damaged severely was the Bias Elimination system. This repair was delegated to the least popular member of the repairs team. The rest already had evening plans that he was, of course, not involved in.
The repair specialist sighed as the lab door swung shut behind his team. He had wanted to have a nice evening in with his girlfriend, but this bot was his responsibility now. Adjusting his optical enhancement gear, he set to work. He hummed as he rewired, coded, replaced, and connected. He hadn’t gotten much sleep the last few days, and his hands were shaky and sluggish. Still, he reasoned, he could get this job done by 9:00 and pick up some flowers on his way home. As he reasoned out his evening, he failed to notice a slight adjustment in the Bias Elimination system. Only one letter out of place, it was insignificant to his work. He clicked the freshly cleaned chasse into place at 8:55, hung his coat, and left. He wondered who had won the election.
The sun rose again over the New York landscape. Bot 47 was back in action, whirring along the busy streets. The Democratic candidate had won, continuing the string of female liberal presidents the country was seeing. “I voted!” stickers passed on the lapels of commuters, and there was a feeling of realignment. The government would go on as before. The new president elect had promised to continue the government’s research into fuel-cell technology, as well as a plan to repay the last of America’s foreign debts. She was progressive and energetic, pushing liberal policy. On Bot 47’s route, there were many signs of congratulation about her, and people to be interviewed. However, many people were disappointed and frustrated with her campaign.
Bot 47 avoided these people.
There was no significant difference at first. It send story after story, morning after morning, but suddenly Editor 24 noticed a change. Bot 47’s sentence, in the middle of Paragraph two, used the word “very.” It was almost too trite to notice, and yet, Editor 24 would have been afraid if it had a emotional matrix. “Very” meant much, a lot, great; as in, the Media and Journalism Regulation Department had a very big problem. There was a bot out there, with cameras and microphones, and it had developed a bias.
The sun still rose over the glimmering towers of Manhattan. Bot 47 fluttered up 15th Ave, where a senator’s career had ended, and the light warmed its chasse.
It was comforting.