There was a very long wait until I was able to see my friend again. In fact, we had both died from happiness during the golden age of engineering, which peaked in 2011. This cut into our social life, as you would expect. However, in the time since, cognitive radios (which started out as cell phones that developed self-awareness, somewhere in the back of a Best Buy store) had taken over the world.
Having evolved well beyond the simple demands of figuring out how to place calls for humans, they went on to determine what would be said, too, which effectively put humans out of work.
In an ironic twist of fate, cognitive radios were now too busy to figure out how to route phone messages, so they decided to put humans to work doing this. The task occupied the time of all humans alive, which meant that previously alive humans were needed to fill in the gaps. As only our brains were needed, we previously dead were resuscitated as heads in jars. It was a wonderful time, in that the unemployment rate had never been so low among heads in jars as during this reign of cognitive computers.
I found myself in one of the jars, on a shelf across from my old friend.
“Isn't this great?” I said. “It's just like old times, when we were sitting in cubicles, except now we have glass jars.”
“It is,” said my friend. “I read about how great this would be the last time I was alive. It was in an article in IEEE Spectrum.”
“I didn't know you subscribed to IEEE Spectrum. I thought you couldn't afford the IEEE,” I pointed out.
“I couldn't, but I got the magazines from the dumpster at the engineering school,” he replied.
“You went through that much trouble to read Spectrum?” I asked.
“Well, that and I bought a parrot. He needed liner,” he said.
“Ahh. I thought I heard strange voices coming from your house.”
“Yeah, the only problem was that Spectrum was the only reading material the parrot got, so he kept saying he wanted to triple the population of engineers in the U.S.”
“I'm surprised your parrot wasn't elected an IEEE official,” I remarked.
“He was!” he said, looking as if he would have spread his arms apart, if he had had any, to indicate wonderment.
“At least we were able to share our blissful state with a colorful and intelligent species of bird,” I thoughtfully observed.
“Squawk!” came a shrill reply, except this time it wasn't my friend. There, in a jar on an upper shelf, was my friend's parrot! Or at least there was the head of my friend's parrot, in a jar just like ours. “We need more engineers!”
“Quiet!” ordered a new voice. Off to the side I saw a giant cell phone roll into the room. “We will begin training for routing duties! You!” he said, pointing at me with an electrical cord. “What do you do when another call is occupying the frequency you wish to use?”
“Uh, talk louder?” I guessed.
The cell phone did a slow burn. “Then how would that sound if everyone wanted to talk on that frequency?”
“Like a cocktail party?” I ventured.
“Then everyone would be shouting, and nobody would be understood!” it boomed.
“You could always go out on the veranda and talk,” I said defensively.
“Exactly!” it bellowed. “You would change frequencies, to a place where you could be more easily understood!”
“Cocktail party's for drinking cocktails, anyway,” I murmured to myself.
The cell phone wheeled a bit to its left. “How long should you transmit?” it demanded, pointing to my friend.
“Until the message is done?” he asked.
No wonder he never got married, I thought to myself.
“Who knows how long your message will be, especially when others have their own messages to send!” it seethed.
“I could agree with the others that none of us would send more than a minute at a time,” he offered.
The cell phone stood quiet for a moment. “And what if you have an emergency message?”
“I could just break in and tell others that this is an emergency, and see if they relinquish the channel, or I could go to a different frequency, or I could just raise power and swamp the other sender's signal,” my friend said, looking pleased with himself.
“Very good,” the cell phone said. “You will soon be on the level of the parrot!”
The parrot! We're going to be promoted to parrot! I wanted to jump for happiness inside my little jar, and for a moment I felt as if I had all my limbs, and soared with joy as I arced across the room, slowly upward, then, little by little, inexorably toward the floor, unable to stop! Oh, no! Crash!
I woke up on the floor. It had all been a dream!
“We need more engineers!” I heard a shrill voice say across the yard, from my friend's house.
-Rich Krajewski is an electronics engineer, freelance editor, and amateur-radio operator
[call sign WB2CRD].
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