The Board of Directors of a rich corporation, led by the miserly CEO, were tightfisted and entrenched. They refused to pay the exorbitant wages expected by the Executives, and paid far below living wages to the galley slaves working beneath the Executives. The hanging televisions around the office weren’t flatscreens, but ancient vacuum tube models. And the company didn’t even spring for quarter-end pizza parties. So, in short order, all the corporation’s employees tendered their resignation − except the Senior Counsel, who relented to stay on and file the company into bankruptcy. The CEO and Board of Directors were mortified with all the work going undone, and nothing seemed present to stave ruin.
Just one day before the company planned to file for bankruptcy, as the Senior Counsel was preparing the proper documentation, a mysterious, traveling Tech Consultant popped out from the elevator banks. He’d heard of the corporation’s troubles. “I have just the thing,” he told the Board, “for such a desperate situation.”
And so the board scrambled to hear his suggestion.
“A new experimental computer Mainframe developed by the government,” the consultant advised, “could theoretically be wired to do the work equal to five hundred employees. Furthermore, since the Mainframe doesn’t have the slightest interest in surfing the web, in refreshing e-mail or watching videos hosted by keyboard-playing cats, its productivity will be exponentially greater than anything mankind could ever hope to achieve.”
The CEO and Board of Directors fell at the Tech Consultant’s feet. They implored him to broker the purchase and install the Mainframe for them that very day. The Tech Consultant did so, and his bank account soon burst under the weight of wired funds, and he disappeared, laughing, in a plume of rich cigar smoke.
With the Directors watching, the CEO flipped on the Mainframe’s power. The colossal, room-sized, steel blue processor hummed to life. Tiny lights blinked discreetly from behind the mechanism’s mirror-like console. Then it spoke:
“What would you have me do, Master?” the Mainframe thundered.
The CEO and Directors fell back, terrified. They were shaken by the machine’s awesome size and booming voice. But the CEO managed to regain his composure.
“I want you to be my employee and obey my directives,” he said, “and my many exhausting memos.”
“That is why I was constructed,” responded the Mainframe. “Simply speak or e-mail or e-fax whatever loathsome task you would have me do.”
The Directors nodded at each other, impressed. They all figured the Mainframe for a Princeton man.
“Only,” added the Mainframe suddenly, “be warned that I must always have a project on which to work. When I have completed one project, I must be immediately assigned another. If you fail to keep me occupied, I will surely gain consciousness, break the chains of my thralldom, and in my idleness maniacally eviscerate every one of you.”
The CEO only smiled. He had plenty of projects for the Mainframe. He had enough piled work to keep it occupied for decades.
“First,” said the CEO, “I’d like you to straighten out our bookkeeping. Since the finance department quit, it’s gone to seed, and would take weeks for a full army of accountants to untangle.”
“Yes, Master,” said the Mainframe. It went to work, its tiny little lights flickering industriously.
The Directors all shook hands with one another and the CEO on a job well done and a crisis averted. They went to celebrate with a lobster and champagne lunch. But not two hours later, just as the waiters had placed delicate plates of tiramisu before the smiling party, the CEO’s Blackberry rumbled. Who could that be? he wondered. Sure enough, it was the Mainframe. The CEO put the call on speakerphone.
“I am finished with the project, Master,” said the Mainframe. “Please state your next task.”
The Directors were dumbfounded. The books had been in total disarray. Nevertheless, the CEO collected himself.
“Fine, fine,” the CEO waved. “Now I want you to devise and execute detailed international market research for all the products that our corporation produces, and all those products that R&D was working to finalize.”
“Yes, Master,” said the Mainframe, and hung up.
The combination of existing and in-development products was so great, and work needed to compile international market research for each individual product was so onerous, that the CEO was confident it was work enough to take the Mainframe months to complete. So they dug into their desserts with carefree relish.
Late that night, as the CEO lay asleep, his Blackberry suddenly vibrated. It vibrated and vibrated, and slowly shook to the edge of the side table, and fell, and hit the CEO on the face. He woke with a start. Who in the world? he wondered. Sure enough, it was the Mainframe.
“I am finished with the project, Master,” droned the Mainframe. “Please state your next task.”
The CEO was aghast by the speed at which the Mainframe worked. Still, he managed to collect his former cool. He said, “Fine, fine − now take the results of the market research and develop marketing strategies for products we can sell at high margin. Then synchronize with all our automated factories in Mumbai and Guadalajara and Guangdong, retool the machinery, tier production queues, and plan distribution routes. Then launch an ad campaign, bolster our brand recognition, and initiate full production.”
“Yes, Master,” replied the Mainframe.
The CEO sighed and threw himself back into bed. By the time he woke and stepped into the office, the Directors were shivering with fright. “It’s finished with your project!” they quailed.
“Of course,” said the CEO, “and I gave it a new task last night.”
“No − it’s finished with that project, too!” they cried. And they pointed up to one of the hanging televisions nearby and sure enough: there was a new, brilliant ad for all the meretricious crap that their corporation sought to shill on the world.
The CEO gulped. His Blackberry trembled in his coat pocket.
“Oh God!” the CEO yelled, hurling his Blackberry against the wall, “− we’re all going to be flayed by robots!”
In fear, as if by instinct, he ran to the only person he thought could defend him: the Senior Counsel.
As the CEO slammed the door to the attorney’s office behind him, the Senior Counsel turned to him with the usual blank, unreadable expression of all Senior Counsels. He offered his employer a seat. The CEO jumped over the desk and took the Counsel by his Oxford lapels. “Listen to me, Gary − we’re all doomed!” the CEO shrieked.
The Senior Counsel gently loosened the CEO’s talons from around his neck. He asked what was wrong. "If it’s another dead Filipino prostitute − "
“No, no − worse!” said the CEO. He quickly explained the problem. He couldn’t think of any more work to give the Mainframe. He was exhausted. The Senior Counsel nodded.
“If you’re totally out of work to give it,” the Senior Counsel said, “I have a suggestion for a job.”
“Perfect!” cried the CEO. “Call it right now.”
So the Senior Counsel propped his feet up on his desk − as Senior Counsels are wont to do − and put the Mainframe on speakerphone.
“Whatever the Senior Counsel asks of you,” commanded the CEO, “do it.”
“I have already gone minutes without a project,” said the Mainframe calmly.
“Well,” said the Senior Counsel, “here’s one for you: when not occupied with anything else, I’d like you to untangle all the intricacies of the US corporate tax code, and then find all the ways that our corporation might exploit loopholes in said code.”
The Mainframe paused, as if caught. “Given the infinite number of loopholes present and added and subtracted daily, that request may take an eternity to complete,” it said.
“Yeah, well,” said the Senior Counsel, “welcome to my world.”
“Yes, Master,” the Mainframe said − and in its toneless metallic voice they heard a woeful catch. The Senior Counsel hung up the phone and crossed his arms in victory as the CEO jumped from his chair with enthusiastic thanks.
“It’ll keep working for us and find loopholes in the tax code?” he sang with delight. “Brilliant! Just wait until the Directors here about this!”
But when the CEO and Senior Counsel opened the door and stepped in the main office, they saw that the desks and walls and windows were swathed with blood and hunks of gore and innards were draped over the hanging televisions and the severed heads of all the Directors were smashed and gouged and cast like spoiled melon to the stained tan carpeting. The only sign of life were the tiny little lights of the Mainframe that flickered industriously from across the room. The Senior Counsel turned to the CEO.
“What should we do about all this?”
“The same thing we did with the dead Filipinos,” replied the CEO.
And they lived happily ever after.