Step Function

A lot of disgruntlement hereabouts regarding Google’s smiley annexation of Toronto’s waterfront. A certain lack of transparency over who owns the panopticon being erected by Sidewalk Labs, who owns the data to be harvested from every footstep in the Quayside Zone. People quitting in protest; others patting us on the head, assuring us in kindly tones that it’s just too early in the process to worry about esoteric things like privacy.

As chance would have it I’ve recently written a story set in that very locale, on that very theme. I hesitate to provide details because as far as I can tell there’s been no official announcement and I don’t want to scoop the publishers. At the same time, the controversy appears to be especially hot right now— locally, at least— and I strive for topicality. So I’m going to sneak out a brief fiblet, to mark my territory while it’s worth marking.

Stay tuned.

Ghazali sighs. “I had a friend too, once. Deon Rizk.”

Her eyes flicker across some invisible datascape. “Our cops didn’t kill him.”

“Not your cops. Your apps. Google Fitness showed Dee running 15K four times a week. Google Fitness showed him doing thirty chin-ups at a stretch. Google fucking Fitness showed reflexes and fast-twitch muscle response consistent with a middleweight practitioner of Mixed Martial Arts. Oh, and apparently Google Assistant overheard him expressing anti-police sentiments, which was enough to disable his privacy settings under the ATA. So poor little Officer Neukamp feared for her life. Murdered Dee because he was— how’d she put it— assuming an aggressive posture. Didn’t even bother trotting out I thought his phone was a gun.”

Hancock doesn’t say anything for a few seconds. “I’m sorry. If I were in your shoes, I’d be pissed too.”

Ghazali snorts.

“What I wouldn’t have done,” Hancock continues, “is wait three years, then beat some random stranger to a pulp.”

“He works for Google.”

“Which makes him personally responsible for—”

“He knew what side he was choosing.”

That face. That stupid fucking Travis face. That stupid Google baseball cap. Oh, he chose sides all right. Guy signs up to work for the spooks and the suits and fucking ICE-9, you don’t let him walk because he’s only the janitor.

That rage.

“I see what you did there,” Hancock murmurs, and Ghazali almost responds before he realizes that she isn’t talking to him; she’s talking to her tablet, to the little coruscating false-color silhouette writhing there. Gamium data.

She’s talking to something in his brain.

But now she sets the tablet aside and meets his eyes. “And I’m sorry, but I still don’t buy it. That level of anger, that— fury— our algos are too good to have missed it. You’re not even a Quayside resident, you’re a third-order downstream variable and they still knew what you were going to order off that truck before you even thought about eating out.”

“They fucked up the satay,” Ghalazi reminds her.

And they shouldn’t have. That’s exactly my point. Any more than they should have let a human pressure cooker walk up to one of our people on a public street and hammer him into a coma. If you were going to go berserker you would have done it three years ago, and you didn’t. These things do not come out of nowhere, Marius. They are predictable.” There’s an intensity behind the smartspec eyeshine, an—anger, at any reality with the temerity to defy expectation…

Something thumps against the window. Ghazali turns, glimpses a small dark blur plastered for just an instant on the other side of the frosted glass.

“Bird.” Hancock says. “Don’t worry about it.”


“The polarizing mesh messes with their magnetic sense or something. When we blank the windows.”

“Your ecofriendly miracle windows kill birds.”

She shrugs. “We’ve got half a dozen drones on collection duty. Send the bodies to FLAP for barcoding. Nothing gets wasted.”

This entry was posted on Monday, October 15th, 2018 at 8:22 am and is filed under fiblet. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

9 Responses to “Step Function”

  1. Robert

    How many chocolate chip cookies for a sneak peak? 🙂

    Seriously, I hope your publisher moves fast on this. Looks like it’ll be a great story, and topicality counts for a lot…

  2. Sastun

    First thing that comes to my mind, is this an algo slip-up or an inter-corporate hit job? Sure it’s only a janitor, but you’ve got to field test your social-media engineered hitman somehow. Their bad luck that Big G isn’t letting it slip by, particularly since their next question might be “who else has the data and access to prime Ghazali to act against us?”

  3. G-Beta

    Hancock’s speech patterns are too masculine for a woman.

    Our analysis of women’s speech patterns both vocally and in text (identities of text samples verified from phone and laptop camera video streams) indicates Hancock’s patterns deviate with some significance from the majority of normative benchmarks.

    Correlation between adherence to normative models and reader retention is of significance to publishers and a potential new revenue stream for Alphabet.

    Your publisher has been informed.

  4. Michael

    Is this the yogurt story?

  5. Peter Watts

    Robert: How many chocolate chip cookies for a sneak peak?

    You would have had me last week. Somehow I gained 2kg over the weekend.

    G-Beta: Your publisher has been informed.

    You make me wish this blog had a “Like” button.

    Is this the yogurt story?

    Why, yes. Yes it is.

    It only took me three years to find a way in.

  6. Rich Romano

    The yogurt story. LED goes on over head. Ah! Nice.

  7. dRbiG

    Damn, just refreshed after reading this “morning” `Is this the yogurt story?`… Anticipation builds up 🙂

  8. Kurt

    Love the nod to The Watchmen.

  9. asd

    “We’ve got half a dozen drones on collection duty. Send the bodies to FLAP for barcoding. Nothing gets wasted.”