Taken from the July 26, 2031 issue of the Providence Journal. THE UPS/DDU EXPERIMENT:FIVE YEARS LATERBelieve it or not, it has been five years since the Warwick, Rhode Island hub of theUnited Parcel Service suffered what would be their worst worker strike in overthirty years (since the 1990's), a strike that would make national news when (then) BuildingOverlord Brian Zod would announce that every truck loading worker on theirpreload shift would be fired (whether they were involved with the strike ornot) and replaced with ‘detailed dispatch units’, robots that would replaceboth truck unloaders and other workers who scanned and sorted packages. “Basicallythese robots, the DDUs, would unload the trucks and they would have thescanning device in their eyes, scanning each package, so they could do the workof two people faster than the two people. We used to have one guy scanning and one guy unloading.” explained Mr.Zod as he spoke with this reporter last week. “And these robots required very little maintenance. I think they changed their coolant once everytwo weeks, so it took a leak less often than a human employee.” When theannouncement was made that the robots would be replacing the workers on theirpreload shift, the company used the preload workers’ salaries to meet thedemands of the other two nighttime loading shifts and the drivers, but with thecompany’s contract with the Teamsters Union severed, the other two unloadingshifts knew that their days were numbered. “Mr. Zod wasvery clear that, if this experiment was a success, that the Twilight shifts andthe Midnight shift workers would also be replaced with robots,” recalls ChadDescoteaux, business manager for the Teamsters Local 251 as he winksseductively at his reflection in his extremely shiny diamond rings. “But at least the guys on the other twoshifts had times to find other jobs. The guys on the preload shift got hosed more than the drivers did when we usedfirehoses to keep them out of the building during the strike.” “I was involved with the development of the DDU robots from the very beginning,” BrianZod told me proudly in between sips of coffee in his favorite mug, bearing thelogo of Superman. “The first prototype wassort of like a big metal dinosaur that would grab the package in its mouth and dropit on the conveyor belt. Not only was it more efficient to give the thing two arms so it could grip the packages morefirmly, but, well, there were other problems with the ‘raptor units’. I’m convinced that (robot builder) Don Dionwould have never abandoned the prototype if (then-Building Manager) Bob Morrison hadn’t gotten eaten by the thing.” It was the‘accidental’ death of the then-Building Manager that allowed Brian Zod to takehis place. It was during this time that Brianchanged his last name from “Moore” to “Zod”, naming himself after his favorite Superman villain and changed his job title from “Building Manager” to “BuildingOverlord”. “The big breakthrough came when we dug up the brain of (deceased UPS manager) Ed Rossand attached it to the DDU Central Computer,” Zod continues. “Yeah, his dad worked here for so many years,we try to give his son something to do.” The first day of ‘The DDU experiment’ was met with much local and national media attention, as this was the very first time that a major company would be operating with this level of automation. Robots wouldbe unloading, scanning, sorting packages as well as loading the delivery trucksfor the human drivers who would show up later. There were only a handful of human supervisors who would operate almost 100 DDUs. “It was a disaster,” admits Mr. Zod, nodding his head. “The main problem was that the robots only know what they are programmed to do. The minute one of these robots dropped a box on the floor, they had no idea what to do and would get stuck ina coding loop. They would drop a box on the floor and they would just stand there with their torso and arms moving back and forth.” “They lacked a human’s ability to figure out what to do when problems arise, which was a glitch that clearly came from the brain they stuck in the Central Computer,”Mr. Descoteaux clarified. “They were programmed to take boxes from the wall and put them on the conveyor belt. When the box fell on the floor, they hadn’t completed their task, so they couldn’t move on to the next box.” This colossal failure of this high-tech corporate experiment only lasted two days before the United Parcel Service re-entered their contract with the TeamstersUnion, hired back all the employees that they had fired at double theiroriginal hourly wage. Late night comedians had months worth of material at the expense of this company and the robots that had tarnished a centuries (plus)-long reputation for efficiency. “So, after we hired all the human preloaders back, we had another problem,” Brian Zod explains. “What would we do with all these robot employeesthat we had spent millions of dollars developing?” Mr.Descoteaux continues to explain. “They had a whole army of cold and efficientmetallic employees who couldn’t think past the orders they were given…to thepoint where they flipped out when they had to think around a problem.” “We did the only thing we could do.” Brian Zod said, summarizing a management decision that had gotten him promoted to District Overlord. “We gave the robots management positions.” That is why, after the financial setback of the initial experiment, the United Parcel Service has been able to make such a stellar contribution to the nation’s economy. Now, every UPS facility is equipped with robotic supervisors and managers who rule their respective departments with an iron fist and (like thatfamous line from ‘Superman II’) kneel before Zod. Not having to pay the ‘overlords’ has resulted in the company being able to lower their shipping prices and make more charitable donations than they ever did in the past. “Let the workers work and let robots do stressful ass jobs that give human beings grey hair and heart problems.” Mr. Descoteaux says emphatically as I walk him to his hover-Porsche at the end of our interview. “Then you can give more money to the people who do stuff.” And with managers who are able to rant and rave about time deadlines and employee performance without stripping themselves of human dignity (because they’re robots) ‘stuff’ is precisely what they will do.