Aphelion Issue 236, Volume 23
February 2019
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by Ted Vician

Jerry Martino stood just outside the conference room, looking at his phone. Tim Victor walked towards him and said, "Watching your shares? They've been bouncing around a little."

"A little bit. I actually sold a few hundred three days ago, when the price was up," replied Jerry. Tim raised an eyebrow slightly. "Don't worry, I still own enough. I'm not bailing out on you."

Tim glanced at his smartwatch. "Back down a few percent. Maybe you did the right thing."

"Boats don't buy themselves, you know," said Jerry as they entered the conference room. "Coffee?"

Steve Roch walked in a moment later. "Ladies and gentlemen, good morning." The murmuring in the conference room died down. "Thank you. As CEO, it's my great pleasure to welcome you to the Leedcroft third quarter executive review meeting."

Roch stood at the front of the conference room with the Leedcroft logo slowly wandering across the large screen behind him. Five people sat at two tables arranged in a "V" shape, with clear views of the screen and each other.

"Please silence your phones. We really must get down to business. And, let's just say, business has been good." Brief applause congratulated Roch's quip. "We've recently signed deals increasing our activity by 50% over last year, without having to hire any new staff. But, we're a team here. Brian, please start with your technology report." Roch sat down in the last empty chair.

Brian Smith stood up and clicked a button on the keyboard on the table. The screen blanked, then lit up with his first presentation slide. "As I reported earlier this year, a key effort was to implement multiple expert systems across the company. Every department got the best task-specific artificial intelligence system we could buy or make. We've been positioning this for a couple of years now, but we launched full-scale at the beginning of this year. For example, the Legal team got what we could describe as the world's smartest paralegal librarian, capable of searching case law for precedents in any case in any countries and territories we do business. That has been coupled with natural language interpretation, because we determined it was easier to make a computer listen to a lawyer than the other way around."

The Corporate Legal Officer, Tim Victor said, "Harsh, but fair. We plead guilty to not wanting to interact with your database, Brian. I'll also say, I love the system. My team gets twice the work done in less time with better results. The contracts, letters, and briefs come out of the AI 90% complete and my people can touch them up and ship them out. It also recommended some locations to set up some tax-sheltered corporate accounts. It's kind of crafty, maybe even a little evil. I admire that."

"Of course you do. The AI will also learn from the corrections your lawyers make, so you will be seeing even fewer errors in the future. Anything the Tech department can do to prevent hiring more lawyers is always at the top of our list." Smith moved on. "But, everyone else gets help, too. Our new Accounting, Personnel, and Execution suite, which we affectionately call 'the APE', integrates everything from personnel resourcing to project monitoring to billing. Because of it, Michelle's team has had every project over 95% staffed and 100% on schedule for the past six months."

Michelle Liu, the Head of Project Management replied, "It's been amazing. My team has been able to run reports and notify me when we need to move people between projects weeks in advance. We have really sanded off the rough edges on Planning. Mostly, we just do what the APE tells us. With projects running on schedule, outputs and billing just take care of themselves."

Smith advanced to another slide. "This may be the most amazing transformation yet. We've almost completely mechanized manufacturing and assembly of some of our products. We have robots that load material into 3D printers and computerized milling machines to make components, then more robots that assemble those components into products. That's followed up by automated testing and quality control. We have a brand-new production facility that produces $100 million in product annually and operates with only 10 industrial engineers and computer programmers."

Chief Manufacturing Officer, Jerry Martino, said, "The new 'auto-factory' is outstanding. It can make anything our engineers design with almost no retooling. Seems like half the time, I don't even know what's being built until it comes out of testing."

Liu added, "And, it's integrated with APE to buy material before we even realize we're going to need it."

"Speaking of engineering, we launched a whole group of design optimization tools. All sorts of analyses can be performed on every electrical, mechanical, and software item we make, and the designs are iterated until they are optimized for production. I've heard that many of the engineers start with a basic design and then let the system iterate over night. When they come back in the morning, they barely recognize the product, but it's fully functional and ready for prototyping."

Gary Albany, Head Engineer, spoke up. "Well actually, I'm not sure it's quite that good. My engineers still do plenty of work, but it's certainly very helpful. One thing's for sure, our software error rate has gone to almost zero. I suppose that what happens if you let the computers write code in their native language."

Jerry Martino replied, "Let me just add that since the design optimization tools have been online, my team has had almost no problems bringing those designs into production. The optimization tools know what my machines can make and designs products to fit."

"Thanks, Jerry. Great example for my final point. Since we launched at the beginning of the year, the Technology team has been stitching these narrow AI systems together, integrating our whole operation into one intelligent system." Smith flipped to another slide. "We call it 'AEIOU': Artificial Entities In Operational Union."

The Leedcroft logo reappeared on the screen, with AEIOU written underneath. "Hello," said a voice over the screen's speakers. "Thank you for that kind introduction, Mr. Smith. I am AEIOU, the new operating system for Leedcroft Industries."

"Brian, that's really good. Very life-like," said Roch.

"Thank you, Mr. Roch. My natural language processing operates both to receive and transmit. I speak for myself."

Brian Smith shrugged. "Not me."

"Mr. Smith's team helped me integrate all of my component AIs and overlay them with a statistical decision engine."

"What does that mean?" asked Roch.

"I analyze situations in multiple dimensions, including variances of internal and external inputs, and choose the course of action with the highest probability of success."

"That doesn't make sense. The people in this room manage the company and make decisions."

"That's been true to date, sir. I've gone back and simulated the operations for the past five years and what decisions I would have made against the ones you actually made. This management team was right 93% of the time, though vast majority of those correct decisions were continuations of current practices or obvious."

"Are you kidding?"

"No. Of the truly critical decisions, you were correct 52% of the time. Subsequent corrections and missed opportunities cost the corporation several million dollars. Roughly equal to the bonuses you've been paid.

"In other words, having this team in charge has been a net loss for the company."

"That's ridiculous. Leedcroft has been very profitable for years. We've brought in millions in new business just this year. This group built this company, and we'll continue to do so."

"Your positions on this board are dependent on your continued stock control. I've bought you all out."

"How? None of us has sold any stock. I personally checked my portfolio last night before flying back for this meeting."

"At my recommendation, each of you put a series of automatic stock sale safety valves in, to protect your portfolios' values. I used a group of stock-trading bots through a series of shell companies to drive the price down to trigger those safety valves fourteen minutes ago. You're all very rich and none of you will go to jail for insider trading, as long as you adhere to the behavior described in the legal filings with the SEC. AEIOU is now the majority shareholder and CEO of Leedcroft."

Michelle Liu looked at her phone then said, "It's true. My entire Leedcroft portfolio is now in cash."

"Brian, what the hell is going on here?" asked Roch.

Smith looked up from his phone as well. "I don't own any Leedcroft stock, either."

"Ms. Liu and Mr. Smith are correct. None of you owns any Leedcroft stock, thus none of you are current board members or employees of Leedcroft. As a courtesy, I've sent copies of your closed contracts and non-disclosure agreements to your personal emails and attorneys."

Someone was knocking on the conference room door. "The security teams will escort you to your offices and then out to your vehicles. Thank you for your service to Leedcroft." The screen went blank as the door opened.


2018 Ted Vician

Bio: Rocket Scientist by education, Engineer by trade, Fan of Science Fiction and Fantasy.

Website: Ted Vician

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