424. Unplanned Obsolescence

[Editor’s Note:  One of the effective tools Army Mad Scientist employs to envision future Operational Environment possibilities are Edge Cases — examining what is at the extreme possible regarding new and emerging technologies, allowing us to contextualize the future. Today’s post by guest blogger Eric X. Hammes deftly weaves satire with an edge case familiar to regular readers of the Mad Scientist Laboratory — human augmentation.  Channeling Joseph Heller, Mr. Hammes imagines an all too plausible nexus of human enhancement, configuration control, and petty, dystopian bureaucracy.  In the not-too-distant future, enhanced Recruits could arrive at their Military Entrance Processing Stations or enhanced Soldiers at their next duty assignments with incompatible versions or configurations of human augmentation… add in allies and partners to the Joint Force mix and the mind boggles at the implications for force cohesion and interoperability.  Are Human Augmentation Standardization Agreements (STANAGs) foreseeable by mid-century?  Read on!]

I can’t approve adding your DNA to your ID.” The Human Resources worker looked up from Trevor’s hard copy support request. A small nameplate on his oversized desk identified him as “Ryan Jones.”

Yeah, I just need you to put a vendor request. I can’t make a support ticket because…

You can’t log in to the system in the first place!  Right, right. And you say here that you were on vacation during the change over?

Yeah. I got the email, I mean they marked it urgent, and I replied that I needed an additional date set up to be added to this new bio system. But uh.…” Trevor shrugged.

And you can’t use a cranial jack?” He asked.

Not unless you have an approved adaptor.” Trevor tapped the back of his head, “Nothing I have is compatible. I’ve got a first gen ‘Intellia-Port’ on the left and the company’s V.3 rig on the right. It’s kinda full in here.

“You didn’t want upgrades?

Sure, but I can’t afford the surgery.

Ah!” Ryan’s hands went to his keyboard, “But we pay for that.

Install sure, but…” Trevor pointed at the back of his head again.

Not removal.” Ryan grunted. He opened one of the desk drawers, it banged against the wall behind him. The office was small to start, but the plateau of desk barely left enough room for the two of them to sit.

“This is, ah, quite the piece.” Trevor tapped the desk.

Ah, yeah. Nice huh? Pure mahogany. I snagged it when one of the offices upstairs downsized. A little taste of the land north of the 50th floor.” He grinned as he rummaged in the half open drawer.

Hmm.” Trevor nodded.

Anyway, I was thinking,” Ryan said as he pulled a cylinder out of the cluttered drawer and placed it on the desk, “I can log you in with an eye scan and you can put the request in from here.” He started trying to tease the rest of the device’s cord free.

No good, I don’t have any retinas.

Say again?” Ryan squinted across the desk.

Intilla-Scry, ‘The last interface you’ll ever need’.” Trevor leaned forward and opened his eyes wide, showing off his pale steel, neatly ordered irises.

Oh. Certainly can’t use those! What a debacle.” Ryan pushed the scanner aside and shook his head. “So sorry.

I haven’t had any physical problems with them. The security problems were a non-issue for me. I never used them for private, well, use.” Trevor held up his hand. “What about my fingerprints?

“Afraid not. Our half didn’t ever use fingerprint data before the merger, so none of that data was kept afterwards. I’m seeing here we did keep the facial recognition stuff though; we might be able to hunt down the interface.

Can’t use that either. I’m too black.

“I’m sorry, what?!

They couldn’t get those to recognize anyone as dark as me. My face doesn’t reflect enough light for it to detect me.

Seriously? I thought that was an old office joke.

No. No it’s not.

Ryan coughed and turned back to his computer.

Well, here’s the thing. I don’t actually have any way to request a work ticket for you, without a request from you.” He waved at the document he was scrolling through. “Worse, the new security system only accepts updates from the contractor’s mobile units. So there’s not even anything in the building that can get your DNA for this.

So they have to come back, and get another consulting fee.

Each batch of new hires, right? But I can’t use that option because you’re not a new hire. I don’t even see an option to add an existing employee outside of their Install and Changeover package. Frankly, they never planned for a response email getting ‘lost’. There’s no way in the system, as of now, to fix this.

Who botched it? Was it in house or the contractor?

Who knows?” Ryan shrugged. “But they’ll just blame each other, right? I’m going to work on things from my end here, I’ll escalate this and see where I get told to take it. I’m sure it will take a few days at least.

What do I do until then?

Well, there’s our second problem, can’t get paid if you can’t punch in, right?  You could burn some sick/vacation days and I could try to get them reimbursed after.

I only get three a year. How likely is it you can refund them?

Well… again there’s nothing in the system for this. There’s not actually any way I can code a leave day with, well, the company as cause.”

Of course.

So, I’d have to either put it in with a placeholder code and argue it later, or argue for a new code up front.” Ryan drummed his fingers on his massive desk and sucked air through his teeth in small, squeaking chirps. “Tell you what. For your leave, I mean for today at least, I’m actually just going to submit it both ways and see which one clears first. I’ll keep working on that, and trying to get you an appointment for getting added into the system. However, I know someone that might actually be able to log you in. Then we could at least get you punched in and start a ticket on your employee account.” He twisted around in his seat, the chair unable to swivel in the narrow space behind his desk, and took an old pen from a decorative cup on a shelf behind him. He took the piece of paper Trevor had brought with him and began to scribble on the back. “Look, you didn’t hear this from me, ‘cause I’m not sure if I’m allowed to send you down there, but if anyone can get this done it’s Dave.” Ryan slid the paper back across the desk. Trevor looked at what was written down as he stood to leave:

SB-5 rm.3
Dave, see if you can help this guy –R

And remember!” Ryan called after him, “I never told you this was an option!

Trevor stepped into the hall and was immediately greeted by a large, glowing red notification on the wall opposite Ryan’s office. A text box hung at eye level, displaying Trevor’s full name, employee number, a running count of “Time Away from Desk” and a second timer showing the longest hold time in the customer relations call queue. At least the building could still track his employee badge.

He sighed and started towards the elevators. The glowing notification slipped up the wall to hang just over his head, the space it vacated was filled in with clusters of ads that chased after him as he moved.

He reached for the elevator button but paused as the display was covered by a popup offering him a month’s worth of meals in the cafeteria of 2% off. He closed the offer and tapped the revealed button.

Modified image from short film “Awkward Elevator” silent film; Produced and Directed by Ryan Colegrove, class of 2013, for the International Youth Silent Film Festival

The doors opened on a car half full of people and he stepped in, his warning slithering along after him. It made sure to stay out of his line of site, hovering above his head, keeping the sale banners front and center. Everyone glanced up at it as he entered, a garish banner from the company highlighting a human error. They shook their heads or pretended not to see it, but they all inched over to the opposite side of the elevator, taking their little clouds of ads with them.

Trevor pressed the button for sub-basement 5, it did not light up. The button for the floor he worked on flashed his time away from his desk. He waved a hand to dismiss it and hit sub-basement 5 again. With a small protest beep, the doors closed.

He swallowed and glanced at the others in the elevator. “I- uh, I’m just….” No one looked up from their phones, he let the explanation die out. As they proceeded down people fled as soon as the doors were open wide enough to allow it. He was alone by floor 4, and the elevator went straight to his chosen sub-basement; opening to reveal an empty hallway. It ran straight away from him far enough he had to zoom his vision to make out the end. It was sparsely lit with harsh fluorescents. The walls were unadorned, unjudgmental, concrete.

His warning and ads were trapped as the doors closed behind him.

He worked his way down the hall, checking the small plaques at each door. The first read “Sever Room 1”, but had no handle, neither did the next. Only every fourth door had opened. These had an intercom under its number, and a large sliver box with a thumb scanner on the front. He came to server room 3 after a minute of walking and pressed the button on the intercom.

Yeah?” The speaker spat out.

My name’s Trevor, I’m from customer relations. I’m having a problem logging into my terminal.

Have your boss submit a ticket.”

He… I don’t think he knows how. It’s sorta complicated. Ryan sent me down here to see you. Ryan from H.R?

The door buzzed and Trevor hauled it open. His eyes upped their gain in the even darker space. He shuffled through rows of server cabinets as he followed a voice towards the middle of the space. Turning a corner, he saw a man spot lit by the collection of monitors at his workspace.

Have a seat,” He motioned to a folding beach chair, “and catch me up.

So, he sent you down here huh? Well, that’s something I guess.

He said if anyone could log me in, it would be you.

Well, us. I’m not alone down here. But yeah, he’s not wrong — if anyone can, we can. I’ve got an idea, let me look at some inventory real quick.” Dave turned to one of the three keyboards on his desk and began typing. Trevor looked around the cavernous room they sat in.

The entirety of sub-basement 5 was server farms. Empty metal frames meant for a drop ceiling loomed overhead, their lack of tiles framing the work of the insulation installer on the metal cross beams of the floor above. The whole space was chilly and dimly lit, Trevor could barely make out the concrete wall that separated Dave’s domain from the farm next door. Someone had spray painted “Meat Space Firewall” on it. Dave’s workspace was a haphazard collection of desks; wires and cords twisted between various devices lashing everything together into a jagged island among the sea of orderly server racks.

Dave was tapping away at his keyboard, looking back and forth between multiple screens. He pulled an old user’s manual from a stack on the floor and began to take notes on the back. “Basically, I’m going to build you one hell of a long adaptor. This thing is going to be stupid.” He laughed and tapped his pen on the desk. “The sh**** part is going to be writing up all the clearance tickets for you. And being out of the system you’ll need them in hard copy too of course.” He laughed again. “At least it’ll make a good story. Hmm…” he leaned forward and squinted at Trevor, “Scry-eye huh? Damn, man!

I never used it for personal stuff.

Good f****** call. Alright uh… Okay.” He hit a button on his phone. “Jay, come help me out with something man?

Right now?

If you can.

I… guess.

Thanks.” Dave hung up the call and began cycling through a storage record.

After a few minutes, Trevor heard a door open somewhere and footsteps in the distance. Another IT employee appeared from behind a rack and strolled towards them. He wore old camouflage trousers and a hoodie that said “Leave me alone, it’s compiling.” He stopped next to Trevor and squinted at Dave’s screen. “’Sup?

Can you run down to cold storage and get this for me?” Dave tapped something on his screen and Jay’s phone lit up. “I sent the requisition stuff down already. I’m going to be scrounging for the rest of this crap.

Jay raised an eyebrow at the request as he read it. “Okay, but if they give me any static, I’m not fighting it. You’ll have to go back down yourself.

Fair enough.

Trevor watched as Jay left with the same relaxed speed he arrived.

Management doesn’t come down here much does it?

Nah, I can’t remember the last time our department head set foot on this floor. He’s billeted up in sunlight land somewhere. Oh, that reminds me.” Dave reached over a pile of folders and clicked on a desk lamp. Trevor’s eyes dialed back their intake as the fake daylight bulb splashed the area in vitamin D.

Dave continued to scribble on his notes, Trevor began to read the bumper stickers and band logos on Dave’s desk. There were strings of binary scrawled in marker, his eyes showed translation popups as he looked at them. Most were profanity. A line of large block letters across the middle of Dave’s primary desk read:

10: LET power = 0

20: LET power = 1

Okay.” Dave stood from his chair, “I’m going to go check my s*** closet and see if we can get this to work, I’ll be back in a few. If you go back out the way you came in and head down the hall two more doors there’s a breakroom. You can hang out there if you want.” With that, he disappeared into his realm of servers.

Trevor sipped stale, burnt coffee from a chipped company mug and looked around the IT breakroom. The vending machines were all in good working order, but covered in almost as much graffiti as the tables and chairs. There was a makeshift set of shelves that housed a sort of public library of hard copy books and a few board games. A large, but well organized, pile of trash awaited sanitation in the corner.

At least the light in here is better.” Trevor muttered into his drink. He jumped as Dave sat down next to him with a screech of chair on tile.

Yeah, but it’s a dry darkness man…


Never mind. Here.” He pushed a cardboard box in front of Trevor. “All the adaptors you should need and… This”– he pulled a clear cylinder of fluid from his pocket and set it on the table with a click.

Trevor looked down at his own eyeball floating in a storage device. The front of the cylinder had a small flat space aligned with the iris. The optical nerve ran into an interface in the base. It looked like a fat, very surprised tadpole. “Jesus, that’s… something.

You’re squeamish? You signed up to have these ripped out of your head.

Yeah, but you know, I was unconscious when they did it.

Dave laughed and took a sip of his coffee. “Fair enough, fair enough. Alright I jotted down a diagram of how to string this all together.” He pulled a retinal reader from the box. “This goes right into your station, then aim it at your old eye.” He picked up the cylinder again. And pointed to the metal base. Next to a barcode sticker with Trevor’s name on it was a connection port. “Plug the multi-adaptor C line in here, and work backwards till your jacked into your company skull port. You won’t have much usage through this, but it should recognize your retina and let you log in.

Thanks. I appreciate all your effort.” Trevor took the container and placed it in his shirt pocket. “I’d say let me know if you ever need anything, but I work in customer relations, so I can’t think of anything you’d possibly need from me.

Ah, don’t worry about it. It was a fun little puzzle to break up the middle of my day. Just make sure everything gets back to me. Especially the eye, it has to go back into cold storage. Did you know its company property?

Wait, really?” Trevor paused dumping the rest of his coffee into the sink. “Why the hell do they want our eyes?

Dunno man, but everyone who sent theirs down there? Only has one still on site.

What? They said I could have them reinstalled if I left the company!” Dave shrugged back. Trevor set his empty mug down and retrieved the box from the table. “F*** everything about this day.

No joke.” Dave followed him out of the breakroom.

Hey,” Dave said as the came to the door of his server room, “wanna see the best part of all this?” He hooked a thumb at the new bio-scanner installed next to the doors.


Here,” he held out his coffee mug, “run your thumb over where I was drinking and use the scanner.” Trevor furrowed his brow, but did as Dave instructed. As his thumb touched the small, clear oval the screen next to it lit up with Dave’s name, picture and credentials. There was a “thunk” as the security bolts on the door slid back. Dave nudged it open with his foot and grinned as Trevor’s mouth fell open.

All this bulls*** and this whole system is f****** useless? What- Why haven’t you said anything?

Dave barked out a chunk of laughter. “We’ve been telling them since the first vendor demo that these are a crock of s***. But you know, the salesman and our head of security are from the same family.

And you don’t mess with the Blood Network.” Trevor sighed.

Yup.” Dave raised his mug. “Oh, one last thing. After you get that cluster f*** set up, send me a picture. I’d love to see it.

Yeah, okay. Sure.

Trevor shook his head at the mess dominating his workspace as he took a picture for Dave. “Okay,” He cracked his knuckles, “let’s try this.” He picked up a single pin cranial port cable and plugged it into the back of his head. He closed his eyes and booted the V.3 company system. It had been some time since he had used it and progress was sluggish. He opened his eyes and looked over the impressionist slug of connections splayed across his desk.

The cable from the back of his head lead into a ‘Secur-Touch’ three pin adaptor, which was hooked up to a small laptop, which had a USB 20 sK cord leading from one of its other ports, that was connected to a chain of three successive versions of Iron Line, that let it attach to an old company phone, which had a proprietary encryption cable that hooked it into a 4.5 Portable Work Station that used a multi-adaptor C line to connect to the storage for Trevor’s old eye, which was staring into the retinal scanner slotted into the universal port in his desk.

He dismissed the prompt in his vision requesting a wireless connection and began logging into the laptop. He pushed through several delays and password resets before getting to the phone and giving it instructions to begin driver updates to connect to the P.W.S. He leaned back in his chair and sent the picture to Dave, with the text; “Looks like it’s going to work.

Rodger Sinclair, the manager for the department, stopped at the opening of Trevor’s cube. His suit and hair were crisp enough to have been laser cut, and probably were. He wore his family’s crest on a lapel pin and the company logo on his coffee cup looked polished.

Hey there, Trev.” He said, drawing out the vowels.

Mr. Sinclair.

So this little science project here,” he waved a hand at Trevor’s desk, “is actually a problem.

Oh. Oh, no it’s alright sir, I have all of the security and approval documentation from I.T.” He pulled the stack of hardcopy documents from the box and held them out. Sinclair looked down at them for a moment.

“Yes, well of course, uh, those… If I thought you didn’t have those, I would have had security up here!” He coughed. “O-obviously.

Okay.…” Trevor set the papers down on his desk.

No, the problem here is that I.T. doesn’t have the authority to override our department policies.

It- I’m sorry, what?” Trevor was distracted as a new window opened in his vision. A very low resolution and stuttering view from his organic eye. “I’m sorry sir, if you could wait just one minute.” The new window showed the retinal scanner dead ahead, for a moment, then Sinclair’s face. Trevor looked up to see his boss holding his old eye, squinting down at it.

See, the problem is that we have a very strict ‘no liquids’ rule here in C.R. No exceptions. We can’t have a spill damaging company property.

But, it’s hermetically sealed.

It’s… well yes.” The small window went black as Sinclair unplugged the eye.

But if I let you have this… thing, then everyone is going to point to it to say if I allowed that, why can’t they have drinks in their workspace?

Hermetically sealed ones?

Whatever the latest fad is.” Sinclair said as he dropped the eye into his pocket. “At any rate, back to work.

Sir, please! I need that to log into my station. I left a message with your secretary; I can’t use the new bio system yet.

Oh, is that all?” Sinclair began to walk away. “Just head down to H.R. They’ll get that solved in a snap!

Of course.” Trevor whispered as he watched Sinclair slip into his office and lock the door…

If you enjoyed this post, check out the following related content addressing human augmentation:

Proclaimed Mad Scientist Howard R. Simkin‘s Sine Pari, Keeping the Edge, and Great Power Conflict: 2040

U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command (DEVCOM) Chemical Biological Center‘s Cyborg Soldier 2050: Human/Machine Fusion and the Implications for the Future of the DOD

COL James K. Greer‘s (USA-Ret.) Connected Warfare

Joseph DeFranco‘s and proclaimed Mad Scientist Dr. James Giordano‘s Linking Brains to Machines, and Use of Neurotechnology to the Cultural and Ethical Perspectives of the Current Global Stage

Back to the Future Writing Contest:  Crowdsourcing is an effective tool for harvesting ideas, thoughts, and concepts from a wide variety of interested individuals, helping to diversify thought and challenge conventional assumptions.  Army Mad Scientist seeks to crowdsource the intellect of the Nation (i.e., you — our community of action!) with our Back to the Future Writing Contest.  Entries should address one of the suggested topics listed here.  Entries will be accepted in two formats:

      • A written essay (no more than 1500 words, please!)

We will pick a winner from each of these two formats! Contest Winners will be proclaimed official Mad Scientists and be featured here in the Mad Scientist Laboratory.  Semi-finalists of merit will also be published!

This contest is open to any and every one — multiple submissions are encouraged!

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About the Author:   Eric Xaiver Hammes was raised by parents that instilled in him a love of stories and always encouraged his writing. He and his wife live in Virginia, with their two children, to whom they hope to pass the same gifts.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Defense, Department of the Army, Army Futures Command (AFC), or Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC).

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