Section 1: Living Data Chapter 2: Casual Algorithms
April 20xx Rolling Hills Ohio
Showering after her long travel from DellVille, Casey was ready to party. Her Whisperer had charged on the room’s desktop, preparing to guide its wearer through her weekend’s social challenges. She quickly dressed and presented herself with her Whisperer badge animating.
The two widowed roommates were sharing family photos with a half dozen other women Casey recognized as their sorority sisters. Greek-lettered mugs and pennants commemorated their bonding. Casey and 2 others tuned up their Whisperer introduction connectivity and caught up on their retirement locales and former professions.
Remembering Casey as the ‘computer girl’, they applauded her Whisperer portrait resembling the hallway window view of the futuristic academic computing center. The card reader elicited groans as they recalled the requirement to turn in cards punched with their names as proof of chapel attendance. Academic automation was their first exposure to computing, and fifty years later they were figuring out Whisperers.
Casey felt exactly how she’d expected, as the tongue-tied geek without a vacation home or family photos. Her erratic consulting career hadn’t brought her the riches of their inheritances, corporate marriage careers, good real estate investments, and sorority connections. She felt a crackle of cynicism and resentment at the abundance her profession had brought her classmates.
“It’s drink time! Come on down.” texted her long-time friends Alice and Patrick. Texting back their private emoji, she donned her Whisperer and waved to the widows as she exited the suite.
Party sounds drifted up a broad marble stairway as she followed the arrows to the reception. She had the elevator to herself. With a jolt and a ding the elevator door opened to view The modern ugly carpet that had replaced earlier ugly carpet outside the dining room.
A boisterous greeter projected a video of Casey’s decorated Whisperer for entry into the design contest. These two acquaintances waved and silently compared each other’s aging features. Casey felt the benefits of her open-air twice daily walks.
Their Whisperers interlocked. Casey listened to the greeter’s alumni magazine article about a recent Panama Canal cruise while her own profile listed her recent peer learning courses. CumuLinker asserted the two had taken art together from the sexy sculptor professor. She didn’t recall that class and suspected a CumuLinker attempt to trigger a distracting reflection. Casey remembered disliking the greeter but not the reason for that feeling. She muttered something about the sculpture professor’s wavy hair and escaped from her first awkward exchange.
Glancing nervously around with a geek’s disdain for clothing fashion, Casey felt relieved she’d hit the dress theme with scoop-necked blouse, flowing slacks, and SAS sandals. Not that it mattered, but she knew she had the Whisperer Design competition in the bag.
Soon into the evening her Whisperer had caught her up on many classmates’ lives. CumuLinker felt like a comfortable conversation guide, while filling out its Universal Social Graph, as Casey had predicted. A CumuLinker cloud bulletin pointed out the surviving math and science majors she might want to catch up with over the evening. Donation opportunities played the role of advertising during lulls in Whisperer conversations. High-ranking donors received effusive introductions. The Whisperer appeared to be a dream communicator for both introverts and fund raisers.
Her Alice-Patrick-Casey trio snagged a corner table. She’d clasped shoulders with Alice and poked Patrick’s muscular arms from senior softball pitching. The couple’s Whisperer patches were black. CumuLinker skipped their mutual introductions. For these old friends, a little professional gossip about the demise of their former government science programs brought them together again.
The walls were alive. Across the room, a timeline of dates and campus improvements flowed from their college days into a bright blue sky over the chapel spire icon. They watched the early 1900s stand-alone classroom buildings disappear to be replaced by a multi-tiered donated campus center linked to athletics courts and a shopping mall. Sheltered pathways reminded them of decisions between facing blizzards or skipping a class. The campus chapel now housed the President’s office and adjoining conference center. Applause rose as each improvement displayed its $ cost and class donors.
Another wall flickered with a 5 year marked timeline from graduation to the present day. Its events re-played the class president’s career with emphasis on his 1990s government office and post-government entrepreneurial activities. The timeline topped off with the message: “Your Happiest Moment, your new bride and step-children!”.
Casey nudged Alice, “This is CumuLinker’s extravaganza, dubbed ‘Life Replayed’!. Everyone gets a timeline video to take home to replay from their Whisperer. I hope yours turns out well.”
Each classmate’s timelines seemed friendly, affirming, and factually correct. “Well, duh,” Casey thought, “CumuLinker had our college yearbooks and annual updates. These combined with all national newspaper and corporate news libraries, every social media post, glimpses of our email, genetic histories, publications, and, soon, , conversations recorded right here through Whisperers.”
Florida homes lost to hurricanes were pictured in their original, happier conditions. Employment stints often showed logos of defunct corporations. Most replayed lives included sound tracks of favorite rock artists and folk singers, often bringing out tears. Each timeline peaked with CumuLinker’s choice for the featured person’s best moment of the past year.
The trio’s turns arrived. A spotlight swept over their table then onto the wall screen. Patrick’s life replayed through his clowning stage, business enterprises, well into senior baseball. Alice’s face and title appeared under periods corresponding to international sabbaticals, their Antarctica sojourn, and her federal government appointments.
Casey clutched her drink while Alice and Patrick exchanged wary glances. As with other timelines, up came the message: “the most momentous event of your past year!!!”.
“Oh, no”, all three muttered, as the room brightened with the birthday party video featuring grandchild, eight-year-old Joshua, playing with his cousins, wearing a turban around his cancer-stricken brain. A word cloud of good wishes from Facebook messages surrounded the happy photo.
At that moment, Casey realized she’d never discussed ‘living data’ in her adjunct teaching roles. Her programming students learned data structuring tricks by counting ‘links’ and ‘likes’ in ‘friends’ news feeds. Her homework exercises ignored the unpleasant , un measurable realities of life.
Casey hid her face on her arms on the table. They’d just witnessed a legendary social media faux pas. How could CumuLinker technologists have no ethical framework for performing this monumental act of “Algorithmic Cruelty”? Hadn’t CumuLinker learned from Facebook’s 2014 debacle?
Nobody spoke. Casey reached over to path Joshua’s grandparents’ clenched hands. Alice and Patrick rose from the table as groans broke from classmates who understood the moment. Leaving the room, the grandparents looked back at Casey, who knew and loved algorithms, who taught and practiced the principles of software engineering, who rarely mentioned ethics in her courses.
Young, deceased, beloved Joshua smiled down at the room of packets of data formerly known as people.