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Citizen Representative by Martin Greaney
SUMMARY: Paul is a servant of the people. His loyalty to the populace knows no bounds. But when entrusted with a new mission, his loyalty is tested to its limits.
In black suit with blue pin-stripes, in shining black shoes and silver tie, Paul took his seat on the city-bound bus. He pulled out his IDPhone from his inside left breast pocket, and activated the screen.
Paul glanced down the messages: a handful of adverts, a couple of news stories tailored to his tastes, and the usual string of citizen surveys. For a connected man like Paul, the surveys were always an interesting glimpse into the state of the nation – of the world even. Again, the questions he was asked were targeted towards his interests and expertise. A minority of people – older citizens – might raise concerns about the aggregation of all this information, but as Paul worked for Central Government, he knew exactly what they did with the data, and frankly, the more accurately targeted the surveys, the better the results and decisions. It was all fed into the Programming, and of course if you'd put rubbish in, you'd get rubbish out in return. Besides, this system was democracy in its most perfect form. The Programming replaced the need for MPs, the priests and intermediaries of the political process. These days, you may still be only one in eighty million, yet you knew every vote counted, absolutely literally, as the Programming passed on the collected opinions of vast swathes of the nation, day after day, to the computer.
The computer didn't have a 'name' as such, nor even a dramatic capital initial like the Programming had acquired. This reflected its more anonymous role in politics. There was no suspicion that it was sentient. It wasn't. It was a computer, a hugely powerful statistical calculator which Paul, in a sense, worked for. Perhaps a better phrase would be 'worked with'. For without him, and hundreds like him, the computer would be entirely ineffectual, spitting out conclusions, requests, actions and recommendations day after day. It didn't have its finger on the Button, or its hands grasping the edge of the tablecloth, ready to rip everything away from under everyone. That was left to the final human layer, of which Paul was a part. His job was to execute (for want of a much better word) the decisions and actions emanating from the computer, which in turn stemmed from the distillation, weighting and analysis of the millions of votes – opinions, survey responses – of each days' citizens surveys.
For this reason Paul, like the majority of citizens, took his voting duties very seriously. He found it a great complement to know that his own expertise, his knowledge and his experience were helping to shape this country's present and future. Today his IDPhone was asking him about a mixture of food trials, immigration (who didn't have an opinion on that?) and petty crime – he had answered questions on these topics before and so the Phone knew he had an opinion, and crime had links to his professional capacity. His was the task of sentencing small-time thieves, con artists and the homeless where the population had spoken on the matter. He took some of the migrant news stories with a pinch of salt – they were usually tabloid propaganda feeding back to the populace in exaggerated form what they submitted in survey returns.