Tuesday 10 August 2021

Shreya Sinha, ShortStory 2021 Longlist


Are you really thinking before voting?
A Tale of Elections and Deceptions

Nancy Mulligan woke up to the incessant buzzing of the alarm. She quickly turned it off and slowly got out of bed. She heard plates clinking in the kitchen, Mom must be cooking. Uninspired, she looked at her phone. *32 new messages* Nancy scrolled through the overflowing messages till she found Bernie’s. *I’ll be there at Eight* Nancy quickly glanced at the time on her phone.

“7:50!” she screamed. Her scream was shadowed by the voice of the news correspondent downstairs. When Nancy descended the last stair, her eyes fell on the singular creature who sat on the couch as if he was glued to it. His face was buried in his phone but Dave Mulligan, who was a compulsive multitasker, made sure he occasionally, lifted his pointy chin to glance at the news on the TV.

Nancy went to the Kitchen. “Have you decided?” her Mom asked.

“No,” Nancy replied as she grabbed her lunch from the counter, “I’m still thinking.” She sprinted out of the kitchen before her mom could say another word.

Dave Mulligan, took his fleshy face from behind the phone, stared at his daughter and growled, “Nancy, you should vote for the Kryptos, okay?”

Nancy did not look at him. She picked her bag from the mirror table.

“Nancy, we always vote for the Kryptos. Your grandfather did, your great-grandfather did and so should you.”

Nancy nodded. I’m not going to listen to mom or dad, I’m an adult now — I’ll vote for the best candidate using my own judgements.

“Sure, dad!” she said as she shut the door behind her.

At school, no one spoke of the elections. It was just like any other day and Nancy hated it. Do they really not care about the Elections or have they already selected the person they would vote for. She turned to Bernie. “Have you decided whom you’ll vote for?”

“Yes, David Symthe of the Relics,” said Bernie.

This frustrated Nancy greatly. She immediately dashed off to the Cafeteria. Settling down on a chair, Nancy pulled out her phone from her bag and placed a notebook on the mahogany table. She proceeded to search for the Presidential debate on YouTab. After she’d plugged in the earphones, she started the video.

Her eyes were laser-focused on the debate, everything around her seemed to have disappeared. Thirty minutes in, she stopped fidgeting the pen in her hand and scrawled on the paper. After forty minutes, Nancy could hear muffled noises around her. An hour later, she put the pen down. The Cafeteria was back in the foreground while the debate was side-lined. The video was still playing, but Nancy did not care anymore.

This is hard, she sighed. She scrolled through the other recommended videos. Stopping at Angelica Shapiro’s Breakdown of the Debate, Nancy pondered if she should click on the video. No, I must do it all myself, it’s my responsibility — I’m an adult now and wouldn’t Angelica be biased? No, No, Angelica was a lawyer for so many years and she definitely knows a lot more than I do plus she’s an expert at this. I can trust her but I don’t know what her biases are. “Ugh!” she exclaimed.

Derek Murray, who had just entered the Cafeteria, looked at her in stupefaction. “Hey, Nancy Pansy! What’s up? what’s with that face?”

“I’m thinking Derek, deciding whom to pick. I like the policies of Matt Ruff but David Smythe is really smart and they did a good job last time. I don’t know whom should I pick,” said Nancy.

Derek smiled. “I have the answers to all your problems.”


Reaching for his pockets, he pulled out his phone and planted it in front of her. Nancy grabbed it. “What’s this?” she said, looking at the phone.

“I’ve started Maple, it takes a few seconds to load. Ah, it’s here! It will tell you all about the elections, the candidates.”

As Nancy explored the app, Derek continued, “It stores all the activities of the candidates in one place, you can click on the videos and watch everything they are saying.”

“Oh, so it’s like YouTab,” said Nancy, Unimpressed.

“No, silly! It’s much more than that — first, go to the Factors page.”

Nancy clicked on the factors button. Derek continued, “In this page, the app asks you to voice/type your views on Twenty national issues, once you’re done with that, it’ll show you the videos of the candidates who have the same opinion as you and you can also watch them talking about their policies on the subject, isn’t that awesome?”


“And Nancy, the best part is the WhomShouldYouVoteFor Page, just click on the golden button,” said Derek.

Nancy clicked on the golden WhomShouldYouVoteFor button. A page appeared in front of her with a picture of David Smythe on it. The words below read — Based on your Interests, history and 150,000+ other factors, Maple has choosen David Smythe to be the best candidate for you.

Nancy furrowed her eyebrows. “What’s this?”

“Oh, it’s the best feature Nancy! Maple is an AI — once you sync your phone with the app, it will go through all your data and tell you the candidate you should vote for,” said Derek, smiling.

“What?” Nancy frowned and said, “How is that even possible, Derek?”

“What do you mean? It’s an AI. Obviously, it’s using some kind of advanced algorithm and all that Big Data stuff. It analyzes all your data and picks the candidate for you, isn’t it awesome?” His eyes widened.

“Um, How’s it doing that Derek? I mean it’s looking at all the data but what’s the underlying concept or Idea? What’s the algorithm based on?” asked Nancy.

Derek scratched his head.

In Class, Nancy sat looking out of the window. Should I download Maple? It’d definitely make my work easier but can I trust it? I don’t think AI’s are biased or are they? No, No Maple might send me the videos of the candidate who shares my thoughts and opinions but I can find them on YouTab too. Common Nancy, think!

“Nancy, what are you rolling your eyes for?” asked Jamaica Anderson, who sat beside her.

“Hey Jamaica, Have you decided whom you’ll vote for?”

“Yes, Maple told me to vote for — Um, what’s was his name again?” Jamaica pondered for a minute, then she looked at her phone and said, “Yeah, that incumbent’s name is Smythe, yes him.”

“Why are you voting for him?” Nancy asked.

“Because Maple told me to, she’s an AI, they know everything! It’s saving me a lot of time, I have a lot of important stuff to do,” said Jamaica, as she began re-applying her makeup.

Nancy rolled her eyes again.

She asked her other friends, all of them seemed to have no problem relying on Maple, an AI they knew nothing about. Nancy took it upon herself to research or at least search about Maple. Her yoogling led her to Maple.com.

The spectacular shimmer of the website shadowed the gruelling complexity which was hidden in the json, .py files. Nancy had managed to open one such file but couldn’t make head or tails of the neural networks. It’s an Hopeless pursuit. Fifteen minutes in, she put her phone aside.

After School, she asked her friends for one last time the same question.

“Maple told me the Relics.”

“Maple told me David Smythe of the Relics.”

“That Smythe guy or whatever his name is.”

“Maple said Smythe, he cares about the environment like I do.”

Nancy stirred uneasily, her heart sank. Is this going to be our future? The future where an AI will tell us whom we should vote for, people will no longer care about the candidates or the policies.

When Nancy reached her house, a lightning of realizaton struck her. Wait a minute, didn’t all of them say David Smythe?

What if Maple is rigged in favour of David Smythe? Her eyes widened.

“I have to test this,” she screamed.

“Test what?” Dave asked, putting his chin out.

“Dad, give me your phone,” said Nancy.

“Why?” Dave hesitatingly handed her the phone.

“I’m going to download Maple, It’s a-”

“I know what it is,” Dave shot back.

“What!” Nancy swiped through, to find Maple sitting on the screen. “What did you get, dad?” she asked.

“I got Matt Ruff, isn’t that obvious?” he smiled.

“What?” Nancy sighed.

“What did you expect, Nancy?”

“Oh, nothing,” she stalked away. If dad got Matt Ruff, other people must have too. Maybe, Maple isn’t rigged.

As she climbed the stairs, Nancy pondered.

Should I download Maple or should I use my own judgements?

Maple HQ, Colorado.

Computer scientist, Anna Hedley chugged her coffee in one go. Then, she proceeded to put the top secret documents in her file. Once everything was in place, she put on the black coat and walked out of her office.

When she reached the black room, a seven-foot tall man, dressed in all black with black sunglasses, directed her to the glass chamber. The doors were flung open and she went in.

“What’s the Stats, Hedley?” asked President David Smythe.

“It’s looking really good, sir. Out of 330 million, 257 million have downloaded Maple. 70% of them, including those who are undecided, were given you as the ideal candidate while others who had been voting for the Kryptos for decades, were given Ruff,” she said as she flipped the pages of the file, “Maple is creating deepfake videos of you and sending it to all the users. We can expect a 53% majority win.”

“Ok, what about the non-users and don’t call it fake, Hedley.”

“Sure sir, Maple has been sending advertisements to their social media and her bots are making sure you trend on the all the major websites and media but-,” said Hedley.


“But sir — I’m worried about those people who’d question the intentions of Maple-”

“Oh, Common Hedley, those people will be outnumbered. Why do you think I’ve been investing so much on education and technology? The schools are heavily criticized for rote-learning but that hasn’t changed in decades, you know, these people can’t write a paragraph without looking up. These people, I’m farming, can’t think on their own! Don’t expect them to question the AI and, besides, Maple is only suggesting the best candidate,” David Smythe, sniggered.

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