FLIBBERTIGIBBET: A flash-fiction tale of rushed technology, privatization, and AIs…

John Shirley
3 min readMay 14, 2023

Dwayne Dwidget, Chairman of Flibbertigibbet Incorporated, leaned back in his plush boardroom chair, started to speak — then noticed the damn gulls flying up to the window again. They’d become most bothersome lately. Happily, he’d had the laser anti-bird device installed and he smiled seeing its green beams lancing out, snuffing out the lives of the four gulls in four flares of flame. They plummeted away, trailing charred feathers, and Dwidget turned to the men and women waiting for him to address them. “Today is the day!” he declared. “This very day, Flibbertigibbet is going to transform the infrastructure of this country, and someday the world. Uniting all infrastructure with one software in one system will save the country billions and galvanize efficiency.”

“And make us a trillion dollars,” said Celia Forman happily.

“Certainly,” Dwidget said. “And that is why we must proceed apace, and not let anyone force us into unnecessary re-dos and betas and so on. We’ve got this!”

“But,” objected Gary Hamlin, their quality-control officer, “If you sell this version of the software to the government there’s a big risk of things going wrong — it’s really not ready for prime time.”

“Nonsense! The Flibbertigibbet Master Program is privatization at its best!”

“But Dwayne, listen…”

“Does it not have the subprogram, with the execution of self-correcting AI?”

“Yes but that too is not ready!”

“We’ve got a trillion dollars to make, Hamlin! Now, having settled that, let’s get ready for our zoom meeting with the President!”

A few months later, on a Friday evening, Dwidget was in his thirty-million-dollar penthouse apartment, watching the news on the big screen TV, while drinking designer cocktails made by his in-house cocktail specialist.

“…the explosions along the power grid in the southeast have already cost forty lives,” said the news anchor. “In addition, fifteen planes are reported lost at sea, and it’s believed this is due to collisions caused by faulty software rushed into the system by Flibbertigibbet Incorporated. Another plane is —” The news anchor vanished in mid-sentence as a plane crashed into the news channel production. Gulping his three-hundred-dollar cocktail, Dwidget changed the channel for a reality show he liked — which was interrupted by breaking news: “A dam controlled by Flibbertigibbet has opened its spillways during extreme-flood season, flooding an entire town and killing thousands.”

Another channel-change. “The Flibbertigibbet program has failed across the nation. City traffic lights are green when they should be red and countless people are dying in accidents — ”

Hands shaking, Dwidget turned the TV off and called for another cocktail. Then he called Hamlin on the video phone and said, “We’ve got to fix the program now, this minute!”

“To do it this minute, boss, our only option is to give full correction powers to the subprogram AI. But that hasn’t been fully tested either!”

“It was tested enough! This is an emergency!”

“If you say so…”

Within minutes, the AI subprogram took over the system and two effects came about. The first one involved ending all Flibbertigibbet control and transferring systems to emergency manual control operatives. The second one was to eliminate the fundamental source of the program, with full executive power.

Thus it was that three large Flibbertigibbet security robots burst into Dwidget’s penthouse; two of them grabbed Dwidget’s arms and dragged him to the penthouse balcony. The third one, dragging a rope, tied it into a noose, which it put around Dwidget’s neck. The robots tossed him shrieking over the balcony railings, mechanical hands gripping the upper end of the rope so that Dwidget’s neck broke and he quickly died, dangling over the city.

“Problem solved,” the robots intoned.

--

--

John Shirley

Author of numerous novels, including Demons, City Come A-Walkin’, Stormland and the A Song Called Youth Cyberpunk trilogy. Winner of the Bram Stoker Award.