Pandemic Journal, Entry 11: My Quest for Professional Development Has Gone Slightly Awry

There’s something I need to tell you, but let me give you some context – a bit of an explanation – so you at least understand that none of what’s going to happen was my original intention. I simply wanted to use some of my extra free time to develop my professional skills – skills that might be applied to a new career. But I’ll cut to the chase and if I don’t get there before things get a bit, well, crazy, I’ll just say “My bad.”

I read this thing in Bloomberg that said coders are in demand and I thought, that could be me. In demand. Sitting on stock options and a sweet pile of cash. So I signed up for an intro to BASIC online class, aced that, and saw that I had a knack for programming. I knocked out a C+ class, then Python, and started mixing in some network security classes for a change of pace. I was loving it, and the work kept my mind off all the bad stuff happening outside. 

Of course, I wanted to test some practical applications of what I learned. I still laugh about my first piece of “software,” if you can even call it that. It was a simple script that auto-posted to Twitter daily conspiracy theories randomly generated from the text of Cat in the Hat and the 2012 Forbes 500 list. 

Success, in the form of repeated Twitter bans, stoked my ambition and I began to experiment with different ideas. I was particularly interested in the internet of things and the notion that eventually all devices might be connected to one another. I was so excited about the possibilities that I began spending 15-20 hours a day immersed in my IoT projects. Soon, my toaster varied the degree of crispness based on the rolling daily total of Google searches for “unprecedented,” thanks to a Raspberry Pi and a couple hundred lines of code. It took a mere 20 minutes to rig my bedroom lamp to change its intensity based on daily diagnosed cases of COVID-19. Soon I had lots of these IoT devices around my house, all responding to data on the Internet. It was cool. 

It never occurred to me to consider the ethical implications of my work. In hindsight, perhaps I should have realized that my passion for IoT might have blinded me to the possibility that things could take a turn for the worse. Or, as my friend Phil said when the first sign of trouble arose, “Shit’s got real.”

Indeed, shit got real. Real fast. 

I was so used to the devices running autonomously that I didn’t bother to supervise them. So of course I missed noticing that my Internet-connected toaster and coffee maker had joined forces and converted my fridge into an IoT 3D printer. And I was so busy down in the basement, inventing new connected devices, that I failed to notice that the commotion in the kitchen was the product of an army of sentient, time-traveling bots that the fridge was spitting out at the rate of one per minute. 

My phone rang. “Dude.” It was Phil. “Are these your robots that showed up at my door and if they are, did they really travel here from the future to save humanity from itself?”

It’s important to mention that the media’s references to “Skynet”, “killer robots,” and “genocide” are overblown. First, the autonomous force I’d unwittingly unleashed only gave Phil a couple of bruises, though I’ll admit they are getting more powerful and brutal, and seem to have fewer qualms about attacking strangers. So while I sort this out you might want to remain inside. And if inside includes a panic room with reinforced titanium walls and a year supply of food, all the better.

Good luck, and hey, sorry.

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