'Courier Commons' By Tomorrow Lab, From Karl Schroeder (and Bruce Sterling?)
Tomorrow Lab is collaborating with science fiction author Karl Schroeder on a software application that tries to "gamify" the ordinary trips that people take all the time.
This concept reminded me a lot of a Bruce Sterling story that I think first appeared in Wired in the 90s before cellphones were ubiquitous. In the near-future story, connected chains of people used an app that followed and coordinated their movements so that one person would be told to pick up a package at point A. They would go on their normal route and then another person on their normal route would intersect with them at a point B and the package would be handed off. And on and on across town until the package was finally delivered. Each person participating would be given a credit (which, IIRC, could then be used to have your one’s own package delivered).
Tsuyoshi finished transferring the first tape to a new crystal disk. Time for a break. He left his apartment, took the elevator and went out to the comer coffeeshop. He ordered a double iced mocha cappuccino and paid with a chargecard.
His pokkecon rang. Tsuyoshi took it from his belt and answered it. “Get one to go,” the machine told him.
“Okay,” said Tsuyoshi, and hung up. He bought a second coffee, put a lid on it and left the shop.
A man in a business suit was sitting on a park bench near the entrance of Tsuyoshi’s building. The man’s suit was good, but it looked as if he’d slept in it. He was holding his head in his hands and rocking gently back and forth. He was unshaven and his eyes were red-rimmed.
The pokkecon rang again. “The coffee’s for him?” Tsuyoshi said.
“Yes,” said the pokkecon. “He needs it.”
Tsuyoshi walked up to the lost businessman. The man looked up, flinching warily, as if he were about to be kicked. “What is it?” he said.
“Here,” Tsuyoshi said, handing him the cup. “Double iced mocha cappuccino.”
The man opened the cup, and smelled it. He looked up in disbelief. “This is my favorite kind of coffee … Who are you?”
Tsuyoshi lifted his arm and offered a hand signal, his fingers clenched like a cat’s paw. The man showed no recognition of the gesture.
Tsuyoshi shrugged, and smiled. “It doesn’t matter. Sometimes a man really needs a coffee. Now you have a coffee. That’s all.”
“Well…” The man cautiously sipped his cup, and suddenly smiled. “It’s really great. Thanks!”
“You’re welcome.” Tsuyoshi went home.
In his 2006 novel Daemon, author Daniel Suarez describes a distributed manufacturing process using the same idea.
The Voice’s feminine synthetic words came over his wireless earpiece: “Cross the street.” He obeyed and found himself moving into a crowded retail plaza ringed with national chain stores...
The Voice spoke again. “Waypoint nine attained. Stand by…stand by. Vector 271. Proceed.”
He turned in place, looking closely at a handheld GPS screen until he was facing 271 degrees. Then he proceeded at a normal walking pace as people jostled past him. “Report ready status of assembly.” The Daemon’s workshop was open for business. He slipped one hand into his E-Pouch and removed a grooved steel machine part, six inches long. He wrapped his hand around it and kept walking vector 271. “Assembly ready.”
“Prepare to tender.”
He could see the target approaching through the crowd—a twenty-something white kid in parachute pants and a sweatshirt bearing a university acronym. He had the calm, composed look of a Daemon courier. They were on a collision course as people swirled around them like random electrons. The kid extended his right hand as he came forward. They were just feet away.
“Tender assembly on phrase: ‘Hey, Luther.’ Confirm.”
The kid came right up to him, holding forward a different steel part. A cell phone headset was now visible on his close-cropped head. The kid nodded. “Hey, Luther.” Both men extended their hands and slid the steel parts together. They mated perfectly with a satisfying click.
A pleasant chime sounded over the line. “Operation complete. Twenty network credits. Demobilize.”
...As he headed back to the parking structure, the kid imagined the tactical assembly now under way; like swarming nanobots amid the mass of shoppers, the Daemon’s distributed assembly plant ran half a dozen independent lines, with no individual having knowledge of anything more than the few seconds in front of them and the mechanics of the single assembly for which they’d be responsible. The parts arrived in place at the moment they were required, The Voice vectoring them into a collision course. Assemblers came and went, passing the assembly on to the next worker in the chain after confirming completion of their step. Redundancy gave high probability that sufficient parts would arrive on station at the appropriate moment, and that waylaid assemblers could be quickly replaced. What he didn’t know was what they were building. He wondered if he’d ever know.
Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/25/2023)