A dystopian projection of current events
"Collaboration Day," Kelcie mouths silently. She exaggerates the syllables to make sure I can read her lips, but she also stands close enough that my head blocks the webcam built into the Tri-V panel in the fridge door. I try not to let the fear show as I give her an almost imperceptible smile. We usually face our smartphones away from the kitchen, and this spot isn’t covered by any other cams. At least, I hope not.
"Don't," I mouth back, trying to keep my face impassive. I touch her hand and apply pressure with my index finger to signal sarcasm. I have to be sure she knows I’m amused rather than angry. Kelcie is a good actress. She can smile with just her eyes. I don't think the government AI can read our eyes without having other cues. At least, I hope not. We do know it's very good at reading lips. The artificial intelligence software uses facial recognition to look for any sign of dissatisfaction. It watches closely for expressions that betray strong emotion. I'm more of an open book and I have little hope of concealing my thoughts. Mostly, I try not to think at all.
The placement of our smartphones has to seem random, because seeking to evade surveillance is itself a sign of dissatisfaction. We have to be creative about finding ways to talk openly, like taking a shower together. Rushing water covers the sound of murmuring voices, and the closeness of shared passion provides an excuse for putting my mouth next to Kelcie's ear. There are also special touches and squeezes to convey thoughts and emotions that we don’t want to share with the AI.
In the long-ago days of the cold war, it took too many watchers for large scale surveillance to be really effective. Old-fashioned telephones had to be ‘off the hook’ before a wiretapper could listen in. And they didn’t include a hi-res surveillance camera as a standard feature. Back then, a slow and fallible human being had to process data and guess at what a person might be thinking. And a resistance group could gather unnoticed in a private location.
Supercomputers and advanced AI software changed all that. Today, everyone and everything is monitored continuously. Our phones can listen and watch even when they appear to be off. The webcams and microphones in our digital assistants are augmented by those in the ‘internet of things’. Security cams cover every street and byway. More than four hundred million citizens are under constant surveillance. And the AI is quick to flag any sign of dissatisfaction so that it can be dealt with appropriately.
Kelcie wouldn't normally take such an open risk, but today is special. Patriots Day is the official designation. It's the national holiday that everyone observes, a day when all Americans come together and celebrate. It's entirely voluntary, of course, but no one ever opts out. That's because everyone is a patriot now, without exception, by order of the state. Even the grateful citizens of the Canadian Protectorate join in the festivities.
There aren't any dissidents anymore, not since Greater America was unified back in the 2020's. And there aren't any political parties, either. There's no need of party affiliation when there's only one state. No need to remind people that dissent ever existed or was ever even possible. Today, the worst form of dissent is merely dissatisfaction. Kelcie's playful mocking of Patriots Day would certainly qualify.
Even the labor camps are filled with patriotic citizens. We know that's true because the Tri-V tells us so. We're often shown scenes of healthy sun-browned volunteers as they bring in the always-bountiful harvest. And the news-actors assure us that their Tri-V programs are factual and accurate, without exception, by order of the state. "Truth is the Law," they tell us. It's both a slogan and a warning.
There's always a need for labor. Picking fruit and tending livestock haven't yet been fully automated. So, instead of being subverted by dissent, we're inspired by the patriotic volunteers who joyfully enhance our quality of life. They do the dirty, difficult tasks that were once performed by migrant workers. Long hours of back-breaking labor under the hot sun are a wonder drug for dissatisfaction. Those who return from the camps rarely volunteer again.
Sealing the border with AI-based security seemed harsh at first, but it's been tremendously effective. The purity of American culture is protected 24/7 by ever-vigilant robotic sentinels. Those deemed unsuitable due to race, religion, or creed are kept out, but animals now cross unrestricted where walls once stood. It's only human life that activates the laser turrets and gunship drones.
The kids look great again this year in their red, white, and blue outfits. At least I hope they do. Appearances are important to the state and enthusiasm is monitored. We're openly proud of their blond-haired, blue-eyed uniformity. Anything else might trigger an alert. We can't be sure, so it's best to smile a lot. I hope that Kelcie's small act of defiance will pass unnoticed. She may be just an assigned breeder, but I've grown to love her, and I don't want to be a single parent.
Kelcie loves them all, of course, even though eight are a lot of work. Our parents might have chosen to stop at two, but contraception is unpatriotic now. Every citizen is responsible for perpetuating the state, and our night-time enthusiasm is closely monitored by the AI. Love is optional, but procreation is required.
The kids don't remember what it used to be like. They don't remember things like political parties, freedom of speech, or voting. They've never seen an inappropriate Tri-V show, read a subversive book, or gleefully misbehaved without immediate detection. They've never known life without facial recognition and AI monitoring. And we aren't allowed to teach them. So, Collaboration Day will remain a private joke between Kelcie and me. We don't want to put them at risk, and they wouldn't understand anyway.
Children learn quickly, though. They already know the importance of being a patriot, that they have to be good for the AI, and that truth is the law. Kids accept things the way they are. The way they'll always be.