The government of Sweden didn’t do a very good job of protecting its citizens and their property from the rampant rioting that took place in late May.
Government agents did, however, fulfill their duty of issuing parking tickets…to burned-out cars.
I’m reminded of an old SF story, “Dumb Waiter,” written by Walter Miller, who is best known for his novel A Canticle for Leibowitz. This story, which dates from 1952, lacks the philosophical depth of Canticle, but seems quite relevant to the events in Sweden.
In the story, cities have become fully automated—municipal services are provided by robots linked to a central computer system. But when war erupted–featuring radiological attacks–some of the population was killed, and the others evacuated the cities. In the city that is the focus of the story, there are no people left, but “Central” and its subunits are working fine, doing what they were programmed to do many years earlier.
The radiation levels have died down now, and the city is now habitable, from a radiological standpoint–but the behavior of the automated systems, although designed with benign intent, now makes entry to the city very dangerous.
Mitch, the protagonist, resolves to go into the city, somehow get control of Central, and reprogram it so that it will be an asset rather than a hazard for future human occupants of the city. The first thing he sees is a robot cop, giving a ticket to a robot car with no human occupants. Shortly thereafter, he himself is stopped for jaywalking by another robot cop, and given a summons to appear in traffic court. He also observes a municipal robot mailing out batches of delinquent utility-bill notices to customers who no longer exist.
Eventually Mitch establishes contact with Central and warns it that a group of men are planning to blow it up in order to have unhindered access to the city for looting…that the war is over, and Central needs to revise its behavior to compensate for the changed situation. The response is that he himself is taken away for interrogation. He hears a woman crying in an adjacent cell—she has been arrested by a robot cop for some reason or other, and her baby was separated from her and is being held in the city nursery.
“They won’t take care of him! They’ll let him die!”
“Don’t scream like that. He’ll be all right.”
“Robots don’t give milk!”
“No, but there are such things as bottles, you know,” he chuckled.
“Are there? ” Her eyes were wide with horror. “And what will they put in the bottles?”
“Why-” He paused. Central certainly wasn’t running any dairy farms.
“Wait’ll they bring you a meal,” she said. “You’ll see.” “Meal?”
“Empty tray,” she hissed. “Empty tray, empty paper cup, paper fork, clean paper napkin. No
Mitch swallowed hard. Central’s logic was sometimes hard to see. The servo-attendant
probably went through the motions of ladling stew from an empty pot and drawing coffee from
empty urn. Of course, there weren’t any truck farmers to keep the city supplied with produce.
Mitch observes that inmates in the surrounding cells have all starved to death while Central and its subunits went through the motions of feeding them.
Mitch and Marta manage to escape, as Central calls in vain for human guards–who don’t exist anymore–to assist its unarmed robots. Eventually, Mitch is able to reach the house of the former mayor, assert (via code-cracking) the mayor’s authority over Central, and gain control of the system.
The behavior of Miller’s automated city-system…feeding people with trays that contain no food, arresting people for minor offenses and putting them an environment in which a child could see that they would starve, sending out utility bills to nonexistent customers, calling for assistance from personnel who haven’t been around for years or decades…closely models the state to which bureaucracies–ie, robots made of human components–tend naturally to evolve.