A perfect world where work isn’t necessary. Robot butlers to tend our every need. Leisure as the only human occupation. This is the world put forth today by the Council of Automators at their Showcase today. The Council is made up of various groups; including the Eternal Fraternity of The Designer, the Second Autonomous Collective and The Pohlatiné Discipleship; who come together to show off their latest prototypes, which they claim could theoretically change the very fabric of human society.
The Showcase takes place in the Carol Sebney Gallery, the regular exhibits from which are, for one day only, stored in the tunnels beneath. The building was chosen because it is deemed to a suitably ‘futuristic’ location at which to display the various mechanical creations that the Council of Automators has been working on for the past year. Most of Buentoille is formed of stone and brick, so buildings like the Gallery, which is all angular metal and glass, stand out starkly. The Council, more so than other groups, are concerned with ushering in this future, and the visual statement that the Gallery gives is therefore very important to them.
In the grand scheme of Buentoilliçan festivals, this futuristic festival is also very young. It began in 1950, a way of commemorating the half-century, of looking forward to what could be. The day was chosen to coincide with the birthday of Withee Sahn, the inventor of the mechanical loom, itself a bold statement given that at one time she was a very controversial figure due to the job losses incurred by her invention, but has since become well loved for the prosperity she brought Buentoille. It was originally intended to be a one-off show, but afterwards the organisers got together, discussed the Showcase’s success, and the exposure that it afforded their ideas, and decided to run it as a regular festival.
So what is on show this year? The billing advertises some old favourites, no doubt improved somewhat since last year, such as the ‘Automatic Chef’ and accompanying ‘Robowaiters’, the ‘Autonomous Chimney Sweeper’ and the scale model of an entirely automated Buentoilliçan rail network. As always, viewers are led around the exhibition space by robotic guides, programmed to follow a set route, and say set things. There have been experiments with making these guides look human in the past, but this has been met with significant discomfort and backlash from the Buentoilliçan public, and the guides today, whilst having pre-recorded human voices, look more like steel cubes on wheels.
Indeed, the Council’s relationship with the public at large is what this show is all about, really. The building and dissemination of automated devices is a tightly controlled industry as it is seen as a threat to the Buentoilliçan way of life. This is, after all, a city where automatic streetlamps have been banned due to historical precedent and the power of labour unions; instead lamplighters wind through the streets each day, manually keying in codes that turn them on and off. The City is dependant on full employment to ensure social stability, and the rhetoric around labour has always been concerned with pride and fulfilment, at least since the Revolution. The Council’s creations directly challenge this and many Buentoilliçan traditions, proposing a world where menial tasks are a thing of the past, but truly satisfying work remains, for those who want it. ‘ROBOTS CAN DO THE WORK’ reads the banner hung above the main entrance.
Where once this ‘second Revolution’ once seemed a far off pipe-dream, as the technology simply wasn’t there to support it, it is now starting to seem much more possible, and the Showcase today has become a steadily more popular nexus for debate. There are machines for refuse collection, methods via which robots would communicate with each other, enabling supply chains and other such complex structures to function well. There are all manner of methods of manufacture for which new processes have been developed that require no human intervention whatsoever. And socially the City seems more ready; there is a well-functioning welfare system for those between work, which could, the Council claims, be modified to pay everyone whose job was taken over by robots.
And yet, this is a City deeply in touch with its past, a past which could be lost if these plans were to come to pass. Critics posit that surely people would miss working, or become lazy? And what of those who genuinely enjoy their work? Will they be able to continue, or will they see no point when nobody has need for the product of their labour? Without work, will life seem hollowed out, empty? What will happen to the skills of humanity? What happens if something breaks? These are all valid questions which are difficult to answer without the change simply happening, and once it has happened, it will be impossible to go back. They are also questions that the Showcase today is less interested in answering; the Council is primarily interested in showing that it is possible.
Indeed, the Council has been criticised for callousness in the past, such as when it created a small group of robotic protestors to replace those who gather outside the Showcase each year, a motley mix of traditionalists, religious fanatics, labour advocates and robot emancipationists. There is a well-worn joke that usually shows up in at least one of the daily papers each year, that the Council will make a robotic audience this year, or the next. Yet, unlike in Litancha, there are few anxieties about out-of-control robots, or a robot uprising, for two major reasons; firstly, the controls are very tight in Buentoille, and there is not an uncontrolled upper class who force ‘progress’ on the rest of society. Secondly is the matter of the Buentoilliçan power source, which is currently working near capacity. In order to realise the robotic future, either utopian or dystopian, the City would have to first make massive investments in new sources of electricity, a prospect that seems far off in itself.
Other festivals happening today:
- The Festival of the Brutalist Platform
- The Festival of the Synthetic Note
- The Wake Festival