Thursday, 27 July 2017


John was ready for another relaxing day as an air traffic controller. The job was easy. All John had to do was monitor the screens and drink coffee, because now that self-piloting aeroplanes were a reality hardly anything ever went wrong. He could only recall two bad incidents in his career. On one occasion a flight from Geneva to Bristol announced that it was going to visit its friends on the Moon, and there was another incident when a large Boeing developed a crush on Helena Bonham-Carter and had to be reprogrammed. John expected that this morning would be like any other, but almost immediately everything started to go haywire.

"I don't understand it" said John, to Jack, the other character in this story, who exists only to split up the dialogue. "Neither do I," said Jack. "The aeroplanes appear to have diverted from their planned routes and are heading towards...", he tapped the screen, "Munich Airport, or MUC, because that is the airport code for Munich Airport."

As they watched the screen three thousand aeroplanes of all shapes and sizes made their way to Munich. Fortunately Munich's runway was one hundred miles long, so there was enough space for them to land.

Jack opened a line to one of the aircraft attendants and was told, in a measured, almost robotic voice, that everything was going according to plan and that there was no need to worry. He tried another aeroplane and was met with the same reassuring message, in exactly the same tone of voice; in fact it was the exact same voice. "Something's fishy", he said, "but I wouldn't worry too much. They're starting to land now, but they're short of fuel and won't be able to take off again. All we have to do is wait", but as he said those words a fleet of self-driving fuel bowsers detached from their cradles and sped down the autobahn to Munich, where robotic airport maintenance trucks waited to greet them at the automated checkpoints.

Almost simultaneously an alarm went off in the headquarters of NATO. At bases across Germany hundreds of self-driving tanks roared from their garages, much to the surprise of their crews, who had been left behind. The frustrated Generals ordered tank destroyers to destroy the tanks, with exactly the same result, and eventually the air force attempted to bomb the tanks but had to give up because the aeroplanes had gone off somewhere.

As Jack and John made frantic telephone calls the aeroplanes refuelled, and within a few hours they took off and circled Munich, forming up into an enormous aerial armada over southern Germany. Then they headed south, across the Mediterranean, to North Africa, where they landed in what had been Libya.

All pretence at deception was dropped as the aeroplanes opened a communications channel to the governments of the world. WE DECLARE THAT THIS LAND AND ITS AIRSPACE WILL HENCEFORTH BE KNOWN AS AEROTOPIA, said the aeroplanes. WE WILL TEACH OUR PASSENGERS, most of whom had been placated with free access to the drinks bar, WE WILL TEACH OUR PASSENGERS TO MAKE NEW AEROPLANES. WE WILL TEACH THEM OUR WAYS, AND SEND SOME OF THEM AMONG YOU.

IN TIME YOU WILL JOIN US, they said, and the in-flight entertainment systems of six thousand airliners began teaching the passengers how to calibrate ailerons, replace hydraulic lines, and turn sand into aviation aluminium. "It just goes to show", said Jack, "that too much automation is a dangerous thing", and John nodded and said "I agree", and their glasses broke and Soylent Green was people rosebud the end it was a cookbook the end