BY CARL PERRIN
As the Buick speeded up, I tromped down on the brakes — hard, but the car kept moving even faster. I turned the wheel, but the automobile continued toward a thin man who was crossing the street. I pressed on the horn and saw the pedestrian look at me in horror as the Buick sped toward him. He jumped to the sidewalk as the vehicle continued on past him. The horn kept on blaring as the car rolled down the street.
I turned off the ignition and stopped the auto with the emergency brake. I left the monster car not quite on the edge of the road and called an Uber to take me to the Savoy. At the hotel, I rushed to the room where the board of trustees of MyHealth was meeting.
At the meeting room I said, “Sorry I’m late. My car broke down on the way over.”
The chairman of the board, Jake Silberman, nodded at me and continued his remarks:
“MyHealth has had a very successful year. Our sales have increased every quarter. We are projecting annual revenue this year of $1 billion. And yet we’re cutting expenses dramatically. I’ll let our CEO, Dan Worthington, tell you about the new distribution system.” Then he nodded at me.
“Our warehouse is completely automated,” I began. “We have just one person per shift to program the robots. The robots pick the merchandise, pack it, slap on an automatically generated shipping label, and bring it to the loading dock for the UPS truck to pick up. We had a few glitches at first, but they’ve been worked out. Everything has worked without a problem for over a month.”
“Thanks, Dan,” Jake said. “We have a wonderful product. It’s more than a smart watch and more than a Fitbit. It automatically measures everything from blood pressure to caloric intake. It reminds people to take their pills or get up from their chairs and move around a little. Some insurance companies are offering a discount on their health insurance if they wear a MyHealth watch.
“Everyone wants one, and Monolith wants them all. Monolith wants to take over MyHealth. We don’t want that to happen. We have built MyHealth into a successful, ethical company. We are proud of MyHealth. Monolith would raise the prices, gouge every penny they could from out company and destroy the reputation we have developed and cherished. That’s why I asked Brad Thomaston to talk to us today. Brad is a consultant who can help keep Monolith’s greedy hands off our company.”
A stout, balding man, who had been sitting to Jake’s left, began to talk. “Unfortunately, Monolith is not above playing dirty tricks to get what it wants. We don’t know how it plans to take over MyHealth, but they have bought up about fifteen percent of the outstanding shares, and they’re looking to buy more. If they get enough shares, they’ll demand a seat or a couple of seats on the board.
“I will be working closely with you, Dan, so that we can get a good picture of any vulnerabilities the company might have. We need to strengthen those vulnerabilities before Monolith can use them against us.”
When I got back to MyHealth headquarters, I called Felix Hamilton, the head of IT, to my office. I was pretty sure the problems with the Buick were software problems, and it was a company car. Felix was one of those guys who is a little rough around the edges, but a genius when it came to computer problems. He fixed several potential disasters before they happened when we set up the automatic warehouse.
When Felix showed up in my office, he was wearing the IT “uniform,” jeans and a T-shirt advertising some band that I had never heard of.
I told him where I had left the Buick and asked him to have it towed and try to find out what had gone wrong with it.
“Okay,” he said, “but there’s a good chance I won’t find anything wrong with it. Like almost everything else these days, the Buick is connected. And anything that is connected can be hacked and leave no trace.
“Just find out what you can.”
“Okay, but before I do that, I should tell you what happened while you were gone. One of the birds went crazy.”
The birds were the warehouse robots. We called them birds because they looked like giant birds. The bodies were about four feet long. They rolled around on wheels. They had one long arm project from the front of the body with a gripper on the end. The arm looked like a long neck, and the gripper like a head. They could move boxes from a pile and roll over to a conveyor belt when they placed the box. It was strange to watch.
“One of the birds went crazy?” I asked.
“Yeah, instead of putting the boxes on the conveyer belt, it started throwing them around. Then it started crashing into the conveyer belt until that turned on its side.”
“How did you stop it?”
“It stopped itself. It ran out of juice and just stopped. We’re taking a look at it in the shop now.”
“Do you have any idea what caused it to act like that?”
“Felix shrugged. “Like I said about the Buick, anything that is connected to the internet can be hacked.”
The next day brought a new crisis. In mid-morning, I got a call to go to the warehouse. Two of the birds had got into a fight. They were running and crashing into each other. Then they started taking pokes at each other and anything within reach with their robotic arms.
Felix was standing there, shaking his head.
“Can you do anything to stop them?” I asked.
He shook his head again. “We’ve tried everything we know.”
In the meantime, someone had called the police. I turned to the officers and said, “Shoot them.”
One of them looked at me, puzzled.
“Shoot them,” I insisted, “before they hurt someone.”
I went home early that afternoon and had a couple of martinis with my wife, Joanie.
The next day another big surprise greeted me. Shortly after I got to work, Gretchen, my administrative assistant, told me that the police had been there and had arrested Felix.
“I don’t know. They wouldn’t tell me.”
A couple of hours later I got my answer. Jake Silberman called me.
“Well, we don’t have to worry about being taken over by Monolith,” he said.
“I just heard from Brad Thomaston. Robert Krug, the CEO of Monolith, has been arrested.”
“Our head of IT has been arrested also,” I told him.
“Yes, it’s all connected. Monolith has been charged with all kinds of dirty tricks in their efforts to gobble up smaller companies. Krug and several of the Monolith company officers have been charged with several crimes, including wire fraud, tax fraud, and making false statements to a financial institution.
“What Krug did was create some bad publicity for the companies he wanted to take over. When the stock price went down, Monolith bought more stock until they had enough to get their people on the board. Then they would run the company in the sleazy way they did everything.”
“What about my IT guy?”
“Monolith bribed him big time. He was deliberately sabotaging your robots and even your company car. Get a new IT guy and you’ll be able to put the robots back to work in your distribution centre.”