Author: Jennifer Breslin

He awoke on the pavement, lifted his head, and felt warm liquid pool in his eye. Must be blood. Six months of chemo and six months of radiotherapy had taken their toll. The blood-clots in his legs meant it was a slow, tortuous walk to the shop to get essentials. But he couldn’t live without his rum. This time the pain got the better of him and he had blacked out.

A car drove by. The car’s sensors scanned him. It gathered his exact GPS coordinates. It assessed whether he was a hazard. It deducted that he was stationary. In that second it was maximum 245mm above the ground and 150mm from the edge of the curb. It was not a hazard – the car drove on.
A bus approached along the quiet street. It scanned him. It assessed if he was a potential passenger. It gathered his exact GPS coordinates. He was 2500mm from the bus-stop and stationary. He was a not passenger – the bus drove on.

A slim woman with buds in her ears jogged passed him and didn’t register the fragile heap on the ground, as she focused on beating her friend’s distance record. Her Fitbit logged her exact GPS coordinates. It logged her heart rate, how many steps it took her to pass him, the time it took to pass him, and how many calories she lost.

As he leaned on his bloodied hands to push himself upright, a wave of nausea ran over him. A digital billboard nearby scanned him for age and gender. Its facial recognition malfunctioned because of the blood dripping from his forehead. Its algorithm suggested an advertisement for life insurance.
Five CCTV cameras had picked him up. Their microphones captured his language as he agonisingly stood upright. The wifi tracking attempted to connect to a smartphone but didn’t connect because he was a “luddite” – so his friends said. They recorded the precise time and exact GPS coordinates. They continuously pinged information from the street to six satellites whizzing around the globe, feeding them data on the weather, wind speed, wind direction, humidity, temperature, number of passers-by, and number of cars on the street. They couldn’t detect his face or gait. They were confused by blood. They sent an alert of a status yellow threat to the nearest police car.
He threw up. An alert was sent to council street cleaners that wastewater was on the street with the exact GPS coordinates.

A police car edged past. The cameras mapped his face and instantaneously collected all photographs of him that had been uploaded online. They cross-referenced them with their databases and found his address, national insurance number, and criminal record. They located his court case from ten years ago for speeding. He was not speeding now, so the police took the view that he was not a threat. They drove on.

At least his bottle of rum was intact. He made his way slowly, gingerly home.

If a tree falls in a forest of algorithms, they will hear it, but will they care?