BOFH: Good news, everyone – we're in the sausage business
Contracts. Do you read them?
Episode 11 "Just after your thoughts on office automation?" the Boss says, having recently returned from a "Think Tank for the Future" meeting between him and the Director.
The two of them.
No one else.
A meeting of the Brains Trust – a team whose "future vision" extends from now till dinnertime.
"Great stuff," the PFY says, nodding. "Paperless office, streamlined work processes, redundancies and ultimately a smaller workforce?"
"Uh no," the Boss backpedals.
"Right, so scope change to current workplace methodology, advanced workplace devices like printers that collate, staple, label and dispatch, resulting in, uh, redundancies and a smaller workforce?"
"Well, that just leaves AI, advanced robotics, Rise of the Machines, and uh … smaller workforce."
"Then you've lost me."
"We don't want to reduce the workforce; we want to make better use of them."
"In that case I'd suggest opening a sausage factory," the PFY responds.
"Can you talk to him?" the Boss asks, turning to me.
"Of course I can," I blurt. "I do it all the time. Though in his case I'd have led with the whole 'Rise of the Machines' theme."
"We just want to make better use of people," the Boss says.
"So the 'sausage factory' idea's definitely a no-go then?" the PFY asks.
"We want a way of cutting the monotony out of people's lives so that they can focus on other things," the Boss says, ignoring the PFY once more.
"This meeting would seem like a great place to start," the PFY chips in.
"What are you suggesting?" I ask.
"OK, what about lighting? Do you know how much time people waste every day just turning lights on and off?"
"Ballpark? Say maybe 100 separate office spaces, maybe two seconds per switch, 200 seconds."
"And that's just turning them on!" the Boss says excitedly.
"So … we're talking about … rounded up, seven minutes a day?" the PFY asks.
"Yes, but EVERY DAY!" the Boss blurts.
"What's that … less than 30 hours a year?" I ask.
"You could save more people-time by just getting the cleaners to unstick the ends of new toilet rolls," the PFY says.
"We're looking for things that AI can do," the Boss says.
"This conversation for a start."
"No, because it wouldn't have come up with the lighting idea!" the Boss counters.
"It certainly wouldn't – because of the I in AI. Though I'm pretty sure it could have held up my side of this conversation, though."
"Look, we need to find some things for AI to do."
"Why?" I ask. "You've not gone and bought something have you?"
"I … we … signed up for a large amount of AI," the Boss says, suggesting that AI arrives in boxes off the back of a lorry. "It's the future."
"What are we talking – several thousand gigaspandrels?" I ask.
"Probably," the Boss says, having no idea what I'm talking about.
"Well," the PFY jumps in, "if we've got thousands of gigaspandrels, I hope you've at least signed up for a couple of tetrabytes of Mu-RAM, because we've got nothing remotely that fast on any of our servers – we're just using traditional hardware, and none of that emerging technology."
"I didn't go into the details," the Boss says, "but it's all outlined here – maybe you can suggest some ways we might be able to make it help the company out?"
- BOFH: Get me a new data file or your manager finds out exactly what you think of him
- BOFH: Ah. Company-branded merch. So much better than a bonus
- BOFH takes a visit to retro computing land
- BOFH: We send a user to visit Kelvin – Keeper of the Batteries
Sure enough, the Boss has authorized a "subscription" to a nebulously defined SaaS AI platform which probably doesn't exist. The contract has more holes than a mechanic's underpants so I call the least larcenous of the Company's legal people and suggest he contact the AI company concerned and use the legal version of words like gigaspandrels and Mu-RAM while implying there's a new law about AI hate crime and targeting the mentally deficient. Within half an hour he calls back to inform me that the whole contract is just a misunderstanding and a thing of the past.
"Yes, but how we will use AI?" the Boss asks.
"We don't need to use any AI. We only needed it because you paid for it."
"Yes, but could we use it?"
"TO MAKE PEOPLE'S LIVES BETTER."
"You'll need to clarify what you mean by better. If we're talking about the day-to-day monotony of endless conversations about how AI is going to replace us all with more intelligent versions of ourselves then that sausage factory idea is getting my vote."
"AI will likely replace us with better versions of ourselves."
"Yes, but in some cases the 'intelligence bar' is set Olympics-Limbo level low," the PFY counters, "and the people concerned were probably already locked in a battle for intellectual supremacy with the office house plants."
"Yes, but we need to show we're a company of the future!" the Boss insists. "We can't afford to be left behind while the rest of the world advances!"
"And this is a company policy?" I ask.
"It's come direct from the Board!"
"We could just contract a small company that has some strong links with AI," the PFY suggests. "Then we could say we're heavily into AI without having to actually do anything too drastic."
"Is it possible?"
"I'll check and get back to you."
… TWO DAYS LATER …
"How's that contract with the AI company coming along?" the Boss asks excitedly.
"They've countersigned and couriered it back," the PFY says, with a similar level of excitement, tearing open the courier pouch on his desk. "We're now in the sausage business!"
"What?" the Boss asks.
"AI. Artificial Intestine – the casings for sausages. Surely you read the contract. They're market leaders – and all developed not five miles from here."
"It's a sausage factory. Like we discussed."
"I didn't bloody discuss a sausage factory!"
"Sure we did. You paid for 20,000 conversion sessions."
"I paid for 20,000 CONVERSATION sessions. What the hell's a conversion session?"
"You know, when the animal goes in the back and sausages come out the front."
"WHAT!? I didn't sign up for that."
"You did," I reply.
"We need to cancel that contract!" the Boss says.
"I think I'll leave that to you. One pointer, though …"
"When you go to see them, don't use the back door."