“You’re a Basileus, right?”
“Yes. I am Basileus B334 Eva. I am employed at present as a history teacher for this class.”
“Since when have children been taught by robots instead of real people?”
“At the moment it is only a test period. Children going through puberty are particularly exhausting for teachers. Many prefer to teach either younger or considerably older pupils.”***
Welcome to 2052 in the federal republic of Europe, consisting of the three richer countries Germany, Norway and Poland, to the ‘Optimal Well-being Economy. We see the story through the eyes of Samson Freitag (TGIF?), a Life Consultant, employed by the state, as the story begins Samson is married to Melanie and is fully convinced of the importance of his work to society. Samson is a meticulous worker seeking to help the people who choose to consult him (choice of course is not necessarily free), The first woman who consults him is Martina Fischer who as he later explains to Melanie:
“I had a relatively unhappy customer today”, said Samson finally. “She even wanted to seduce me so that I’d give her a better result.”
“Aha” said Melanie, taking a sip of wine.
“Of course I told her to stop that. At the end she needed to go into Contemplation. But she really wasn’t happy about it.”
“What’s there to laugh about?”
“Nothing at all. Absolutely nothing. Poor woman.”
“What do you mean poor woman?”
Well, because you shipped her off to Contemplation. Is there anything worse?”
“What do you mean worse? It’s the best place for her.”
“Yes. exactly. She’s good for nothing right?”
“The way you say it makes it sound terrible. I see it realistically. She is most useful for the state when she does nothing. Any robot can fulfill any task better than her.”
“And What happens when the day comes that a robot can do your job better than you?” She filled her empty glass.
“That’ll never happen.”***
What is then this Optimal well-being economy? Initially life seems not to be too far further forward than today, data collection is rife as it would seem to be today, this goes a little further than in The Circle, but with the means of the time. Do you remember what life was like before the Internet? Could you have imagined what it would bring? Could you imagine living without it today? Well here they have contact lenses feeding them information in real time about events or about the people around them and recording whatever they see. The same questions as today are more pointed, to what end is all of this information collected?
Samson, early in his career, had been consulted by the new up and coming politician Ercan Böser and had been in two minds about whether he should be an actor or a politician, as he re-visions the recording of their interview he realises Böser had been quoting from Georg Buchner’s “Death of Danton” and takes it in his mind to correct his initial erroneous assessment. From this moment on everything goes wrong for Samson, Martina Fischer commits suicide and his wife leaves him causing his number of “social points” to plummet, we realise that through the contact lenses everyone immediately is aware of the number of social points of the people they see, avoiding people with lower numbers. Samson’s account goes into free fall as he begins to understand for the first time that all may not be well in the Optimal well being economy.
This book then takes this, so far dystopian but possible, story to a new level as Samson gets delivered a Basileus robot, such as described in the opening quote, but with all of the thoughts and experiences of and looking exactly like the recently suicided Martina Fischer. Who is using all of this data and to what end? Well Samson ends up finding out in a way he was not expecting!
First published in German as ‘Die Optimierer’ by Bastei Lübbe AG in 2017
*** My translation