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TRAVELING INTO THE FUTURE
Each month, you can find a new chapter in the ESSENTIAL science-fiction series “Trip into the Future.” In a fictional world where the goals of the Paris climate accord have become a reality, Nero, a blogger, explores the potential technological and social transformation resulting from it. The goal of the series is to play with fully different visions as creatively as possible and to take the reader along on a thought experiment: What might our future look like – and why is it important to us?
It looks like I won’t be getting any sleep again. As the reluctant hero who just foiled a cyber-attack, I am suddenly in demand. The problem: My biorhythms are completely shot. First, the time difference, and now all the interviews. I am sitting in my hotel room in a state of exhaustion. But I still can’t sleep. Could it be a good time to enjoy a true crime story to relax me? I was practically part of a crime story myself. Avar tells me that a new edition of my favorite series is out. Maybe the soft murmur of her voice will help calm me down.
“Some light would be nice.” “But you have light,” Xinyi replied. “I don’t mean the lamp on my forehead, but rather real light. Bright light. From the ceiling.” As Xinyi looked over, her headlamp shined into Cliona Aboud’s face. The young technician from the Intra-Logistics Department could not have been more aghast if Cliona had asked her to switch the sun on in the middle of the night. “We are in a warehouse, Cliona. There’s no light. Why is that? Vehicles with infrared sensors and other receptors don’t need light.” “I know,” she sighed. Her wristband vibrated, and a flashing dot appeared at the right edge of the hologram on her work glasses. “Watch out – forklift,” she warned her young colleague reflexively. But she had already stepped to the side. A red vehicle hummed as it went by. In the beam of their headlamps, the two glittering prongs looked like dangerous horns. Cliona tapped behind her ear with her right hand: “Main computer, identify the inventory drone’s last registered location,” she said. The screen in her work glasses became a map of the warehouse. A small, green rectangle lit up. Cliona looked around. “This is exactly where it disappeared,” she said. “I don’t see anything,” Xinyi answered. “It didn’t crash. Otherwise there would be debris.”
A Chance Find
Cliona turned her head back and forth, using her headlamp to illuminate the racks, which were 30 meters high. “The drone could be up there somewhere,” she said. Xinyi groaned. “That’s enough for me. We’re not going to find it. I didn’t study warehouse technology so I could climb on shelves and do physical labor – I just wanted to work with data streams and supply-chain algorithms. Watch out – forklift.” Another vehicle hummed slowly past them, stopped in front of a rack, and then extended its mast upward, to a point beyond the reach of the two women’s headlamps. At that dizzying height, it removed a crate from the rack and slowly lowered it. The vehicle made a clattering noise as it set off toward the automatic conveyor belt. In the darkness, the shadowy silhouette of rotor blades rose up from the crate. “I think you’ve found your inventory drone, Xinyi,” Cliona said.
A half-hour later, the two women sat in front of the screen wall at the warehouse’s intra-logistics control center. Columns of numbers were flickering, dots were flashing, and symbols were moving across the screens. In the dark, a mass of self-managing high-rack industrial forklifts, transport vehicles, drones and mini-shuttles worked their way monotonously but precisely through the aisles, a symphony of independent helpers armed with swarm intelligence. The picking system and packaging robots take charge of the crates and pallets in one-second cycles. At her workplace, Xinyi checked to see whether customers would receive their deliveries at the specified instant – or whether she should expect complaints about delays. “Everything seems to be in order,” she finally said. “We didn’t make any of the vehicles in the warehouse take time-consuming detours. We were lucky again. In a half-hour, an important load of polymers is heading to Japan. It just came in from Spain yesterday.” Cliona’s work glasses sent her the latest international news: an election victory for the “party of the future” in Europe, police searching for artwork stolen in Madrid, an earthquake in San Francisco… She turned off the newsfeed. “I still don’t understand why the drone crashed on top of the rack,” she said. “Wouldn’t it be great if it could video while it worked?” “What good would that do? It is totally dark. Its infrared scanner records the labels. That’s all it needs to do. You read the history books: Lighting in warehouses and plants once led to all kinds of unnecessary energy costs.”
“I’m going back in.”
Cliona chewed on her lower lip. “The dent in the side looked as though someone shot it down” “Who of us is supposed to have done that? It would only lead to trouble.” “Not one of us. Somebody inside.” Cliona pointed at the warehouse wall. Xinyi rolled her eyes: “Cliona, there’s nobody there. It is a warehouse.” “I’m going back in.” The intra-logistics technician shook her head. “You’re going without me. We can stay in radio contact. I’ll make sure that the routes don’t get tangled up.” Soon Cliona was standing in front of the rack again and looking up. “Watch out – forklift.” Xinyi’s voice grated in her in ear, but Cliona had already seen the warning about an approaching vehicle in her glasses. She looked at the high-rack forklift as it moved into position in front of the rack, extended its mast and slowly raised its prongs. On the spur of the moment, Cliona jumped onto them, If the drone on the rack was brought down just beneath the ceiling, did that mean someone was hiding up there? A burglar? Even if it was unlikely that someone would want to steal a sack full of a polymer compound. Standing shakily on the prongs, she rose higher. It was a good thing that it was dark – she already seemed to be awfully high in the air. “Hello, Cliona,” the computerized voice of the avatar in her head said. “Your body sensors are telling me that you are standing unsteadily. You should check to see whether you wore the right shoes today.” That’s all I needed, Cliona thought. Then she saw a light down below. It looked as though it came from a headlamp.
She pressed down hard with her left and jumped onto the racks. She landed with a clatter amid the crates and sacks, some of which plunged over the edge into the abyss. Her knee began to hurt. “Watch out!” her avatar said. “It looks like you fell. I will inform the nearest doctor in the area.&rdquo Cliona turned her head and let the beam of the headlamp move across the rack. A large, square object was sticking out of a crate a short distance from her. She scrambled towards it, pushing still other crates into the depths. If I don’t uncover a really important break-in, she thought, I can certainly kiss my job good-bye. Then she made it to the crate. The square object was very large and flat and seemed to be packed in paper. She ripped the package open. “Security is on the way,” Xinyi’s voice came through. “Where the heavens are you? What is going on?” Cliona took a deep breath: “Please call the police, too.” “Sorry, what was that?” “That art robbery the day before yesterday. In Madrid. I think someone smuggled the picture inside your shipment from Spain and wanted to recover it at our warehouse. And the inventory drone got in the way.” “Oh my God, Cliona! The guy is still in the warehouse? Hide before he finds you.” Cliona turned the headlamp off. “He can’t get to me where I am. Anyway, it’s dark in here.”
More Stories About Future Files
The Right Computational Base
Inspector Lee was dealing with his trickiest case ever. His AI assistant told him that it was a 99.7 percent certainty that the death of political activist Hanna Karlsen was a suicide. But Lee was operating on the theory that artificial intelligence entities had conspired against the anti-digitalization militant.
Data scandal in Las Vegas: Several casino operators have been using monitoring devices and artificial intelligence to cheat their customers. Ironically, the scandal was discovered through the use of artificial intelligence. Hot on the trail of data activist Hanna Karlsen, Nero, an investigative blogger, decided to take a look around the desert metropolis.
Knowledge is the Opposite of Trust
Inspector Lee was dealing with his toughest case ever. The death of activist Hanna Karlsen was almost certainly a suicide, the artificial intelligence unit had told him. In fact, the probability was 99.7 percent. But during her lifetime, the anti-digitalization militant had feared retaliation from the artificial intelligence system. Just one more conspiracy theory?
Rome is still the only major city in the European Republic that refuses to prohibit self-driving in the city, citing data privacy concerns as its justification. It turns out that data activist Hanna Karlsen often visited here. Nero, an investigative blogger, traveled to the eternal city to learn more.
Death by Shopping
Inspector Lee was facing his trickiest case ever. The AI assistant had explained to him that the death of a political activist was a suicide – with 99.7 percent certainty. But during her lifetime, the anti-digitalization militant feared for her life. She believed the forces of artificial intelligence would exact their revenge. But was it just a conspiracy theory?
Future Files – The Sequel
In the year 2048, an investigator encounters a death that seems suspicious. But the artificial Intelligence system in the police computer has a different opinion. A film about digitalization and other future trends as the kickoff for our second “Future Files” article series.
Greenhouse with CO2 Absorber
May 6, 2046. How can the residents of megacities feed themselves sustainably? One answer is micro agriculture in the middle of the city. Nero, a blogger, lived for a week in a Nairobi community that can feed itself totally self-sufficiently and CO2 neutrally so he could write a first-person account of the experience.
The Cycle of Molecules
April 19, 2046. Nero, a professional blogger, is inspecting a new recycling facility in eastern Germany that separates raw materials on the molecular level. It was designed to be the basis for a global closed-loop economy that encompasses raw materials as well as the energy system.