Begin Global Shutdown Procedure? The prompt flashed upon her dimly lit computer screen. Dr. Robynson hesitated. What other choice do I have? She wondered as she cautiously typed in “Yes.” Initiating shutdown procedure. Please wait… Each second felt like an eternity until finally, after great anxiety, it displayed a signal of confirmation. This is it. It’s over now.
Amelia sighed in great relief and slowly rose from her seat. She stepped outside into the swampy Floridian air, as warm sweat beaded upon her forehead. Despite the deafening sounds of nature, all Dr. Robynson could hear was the pounding of her heart. She turned and stepped back into the A/C and into its comfort. For the first time in weeks, she wished to see the news to prove that the shutdown was successful. However, she was aware that it would take time for the public to know what only the government does. Hopefully the United States will get back to normal, even if I don’t get to see it.
In the meantime, she reflected upon what had happened. Months prior, Dr. Amelia Robynson had completed the most influential discovery of her whole career. Unfortunately, it became influential in the worst possible way. The achievement in question was a computer program that can decipher what others are thinking using their brainwave activity. Quite innovative in theory, but catastrophic in practice, as she had found. Dr. Robynson had quietly begun testing the technology on her patients. She would take a patient’s answers and if it seemed too vague, she would see what the program had to say. Often, she would steer the discussion to suit what only they knew.
She found the technology useful in clinical practice, and she thought she could offer the program to others who would benefit from its use. A government worker took notice of her tremendously improved performance, and was curious as to how she accomplished it in such a short time. Apprehensive at first, Dr. Robynson told him of the program she had developed. He then, presumably, took the information to his higher ups. A short while later, the Federal Government said they would purchase the technology for a large sum of money. The profit was just a bonus, I would have given it away for free if it would help the greater good. And so, they had access to the program, but Dr. Robynson would remain the administrator.
They had used it for good, at least initially. Now, they could tell when someone was innocent or guilty definitively. Public approval of the justice system skyrocketed, and street crime became few and far between. Gangs were afraid, no doubt. They did not understand where the information was coming from or how the judges could legally rule a guilty verdict with no physical evidence. Cities were safer, but nobody had an explanation for the eerily silent streets. The program was one of many government secrets.
On an unforgettable March 2nd, government systems were hacked by an outside force. Looking back, it was probably a rival nation or a domestic anarchist, but at the time we had no clue. Whoever they were, they somehow knew about the program, and they were not afraid to share. Every personal device, electronic billboard, and television broadcasted the ominous message: The government knows what you are thinking. Don’t believe me? How else did they scare prominent criminals into total silence? at exactly 2:14 PM. As expected, panic spread like wildfire throughout the population.
Certainly, some were suspicious of such a bold claim, but critics had no way to prove it wrong. The public was on edge, feeling like they were threatened by an invisible adversary. People began wearing “anti-mind reading devices” out of fear, which were basically anything they could find and place on their heads. Streets were filled with cowboys, football players, bike riders, and infinitely more. I thought it was downright ridiculous at first. I remember one of these people that I met. I was walking in the park when I saw a father and his two sons wearing construction helmets when clearly they were not construction workers. I spoke with them briefly, and asked why they were wearing the headgear. The father said something along the lines of “This is to keep us safe, the government cannot be trusted, especially since outsiders were able to hack the system. What if they can read our minds too?” Then I realized that they were serious about how much terror the thought of the government invading the privacy of their mind brought to them.
This is when I got the idea of shutting down the program. I called up the man who had originally taken note of my increased work performance (he had given me his number but was unclear as to why, possibly if I had any questions I imagine).
“Hello?” he answered with uncertainty.
“It’s me, Dr. Robynson. I think I should shut down the program.”
“I-hang on. Let me see what my superiors say about it.” She could hear him walking for a few moments, and then brief whispered exchanges that she could not make out.
“So I spoke with my supervisor and…well, you can’t.”
“What do you mean I can’t? Aren’t I the one in control?” she half shouted.
“Jeez, calm down. Yes, you are, it’s just that the government will take it back by any means necessary if you do. You’re playing with fire if you mess with them. I agree that shutting it down is the responsible thing to do, but I’m not the one in charge. You could be arrested, or worse.”
“Yeah, so I’d prefer it if you’d-” I hung up.
I breathed deeply as I logged onto my computer. This was necessary for the nation’s sanity. It needed to be done. Now that it is, I await the inevitable fate I brought upon myself. I’m not trying to run. I’m not trying to hide. I will face the consequences of my actions head on. But when they come, I’ll be sure that my laptop is drowned in water and smashed to bits so they cannot reactivate the program. Otherwise, my sacrifice would be for nothing. What if it’s already too late? What if the trust between people and government is permanently broken? Well, it’s better late than never I suppose. I did what I could.
As I write this final letter to anyone who happens to come upon it, remember that I do not consider myself to be the villain. The guilt I feel is not from actions that were my own, but the actions of others who had used my tools for their deeds. I wanted to change society for the better. Instead I had ruined everything and hope to atone for what I had done by shutting down this dreadful creation of mine. Now that that is out of the way, let them come. I’ll be waiting.
The chief of Tampa Police was investigating a disturbance on 339 South Oak Street. Neighbors reported what appeared to be a breaking and entering by a strange man clothed in black business attire. They could not describe his face, and he had somehow left without being detected. That should be impossible given the neighbors keeping a close eye on the house. He began by knocking lightly on the door with the intent of questioning the resident. Silence. Chief Harsey pounded the door louder. Still no response. He turned the doorknob and found it surprisingly unlocked.
Touring each room, he found no sign of anyone being home. Maybe they are out somewhere, but presumably it’s their car that’s outside? Could it be a possible kidnapping? Harsey was about to abandon the search when he spotted a piece of paper sticking out slightly from between two books on the shelf. He unfolded it and read. A note from Dr. Robynson describing imminent danger. Interesting. She wanted to shut the program down to ease the public’s fear, but the government would not allow her to do so without repercussions? It does not tell what became of Dr. Robynson, obviously. She could be dead or alive, and we have no way of knowing. Accusing the general government of a crime does not go lightly, plus it’s the government. You cannot really do much whether we find them guilty of anything or not.
Oh what to do? Harsey could close the case, and yet he felt a responsibility to share her story. He tucked away the note into a plastic bag and placed it in his briefcase. The chief took one last look throughout the house and left the scene, finding no more evidence of a struggle. He brought the letter to the station and studied it closely. There were seemingly random numbers on the bottom right corner. Harsey stared at it, puzzled. What does this mean? Wait a minute, could this be a tracking chip number? He booted up his computer and typed it in. After a minute, he was given an approximate location. Dr. Robynson, you’re a genius.
Diener, Edward; Lucas, Richard E.; and Cummings, Jordan A. “16.1 Personality Traits.” Introduction To Psychology. Pressbooks (2019). openpress.usask.ca
Goodman, Paul. “The Pros and Cons of Living in Florida.” ToughNickel. The Arena Media Brands (2023). toughnickel.com
Robertson, Adi. “How to shut down a website.” Youtube. The Verge (2019). youtu.be?YwL4Qnkv6AA