Often when the protagonist of a speculative narrative must struggle against an unfeeling world, that world is represented by a faceless conglomerate, a near-governmental corporation which seems to control facets of society wherever the character looks.
So in Stock and Trade, our latest genre fiction feature series, we’re looking at fictional corporations. Today, we’re featuring Sirius Cybernetics.
The Sirius Cybernetics Corporation is the company with the robot market cornered in the story universe of the Hitchhicker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels. The characters seem to interact with Sirius Cybernetics products everywhere they go, and, as it is a comedic series, the results are usually humorous.
Sirius Cybernetics was founded on one planet in the Sirius Tau system, though no one remembers which, as a simple robot manufacturer an unspecified number of years before the opening of the series, and by the time the story opens, it had grown to the largest supplier of robots in the galaxy.
It spent many years as just a manufacturer of robots, leaving the design of the robots, and the development of artificial intelligence to other companies. Eventually however, it became profitable enough that it could afford to compete with the rest of the market in these other portions of the operation.
They specialized in the creation of custom A.I. systems which would act and feel according to the client’s specifications. This included a special prescience package which could be grafted onto service robots, to give them the ability to know what a user will need before they request it. In the time of the novels, all that seems to be left of these A.I. are in elevators which arrive at your floor before you push the button.
This was widely successful, and the company started to push others out of the business, until almost every robot was a product of Sirius. It was after this success that they decided to branch out again, this time into custom planet construction. However another company in that industry was too competitive, and Sirius had to back down. The losses taken there caused the company to start cutting corners in the robot business.
Soon, they announced a new technology called Genuine People Personalities, which was intended to replace their custom AI division.
In this design, an A.I. would be given the capacity for human emotion and interaction, but otherwise left to itself to figure that out.
Early prototypes quickly become paranoid and moody creatures, with little motivation for activity, and a general apathy regarding their own existence.
Some of the robots equipped with GPP were disconcerting to people because their personalities contained multiple properties, which could not cohesively exist inside of one person. One such robot ended up on Earth, where he took the name Ronald Reagan, and was a popular figure for a time.
This was the beginning of the decline of the robotics and AI divisions of Sirius, and their complaints department had to be expanded to receive all of the many complaints from angry and frustrated customers across the galaxy.
Soon the complaints department employed an entire continent of the company’s home world, then the entire planet. By the time of the stories, the Sirius Cybernetics complaint department covers all three habitable planets in the Sirius Tau system, and is the only profitable division of the still massive corporation.
The most recent designs are so flawed that just getting them to work at all gives on such a sense of satisfaction that no one ever notices that they still aren’t really working properly. One side effect of these terrible robots, however, is that people across the galaxy have begun some healthier habits because of the incompetent AI’s.
For example, more people are drinking water over other beverages because it’s the only thing that the Nutrimatic Drinks Dispenser gets right, and others have begun taking the stairs more often simply to avoid talking to the annoying AI in their elevators.
The protagonists of the novels have to deal with annoying AI every day, from the hyperactive navigational computers in their ship, to doors which chipperly thank every person who uses them. One of the crew of the Heart of Gold, Marvin, is a Sirius Cybernetics product, but as one of the early GPP AI’s he rarely has much of worth to contribute.
Sirius Cybernetics, like much of the Hitchhiker universe, is an absurdist representation of real-life equivalents. It makes light of modern corporations which trade in useless, even broken, technology to a public who seem happy just to get what they get.
Directly, it seems to parody Microsoft, who have had a similar, if not quite as absurd, history of products which people are happy with if they just work, rather than demanding true quality, and which seem to be as temperamental as Marvin.
Come back tomorrow, when we’ll be taking a look at Union Aerospace. If you have an idea for a corporation we could feature in this series, let us know in the comments.