V&A Dundee

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Hello, Robot. flash fiction: Fred

From dystopian futures to symbiotic harmony, robots have been a pop culture staple for a century. We commissioned writers to respond to our Hello, Robot. exhibition using fiction to explore the themes presented in the show.

Hello, Robot. explores how popular culture has shaped our perception of robots and artificial humans, the impact this technology has had on industry and the increasing blurring of the boundaries between human and machine.

To unpack some of these big, philosophical ideas, four writers have responded to one of the provocative questions posed by the show via the medium of flash fiction. The short stories vary in style, tone and approach, demonstrating a breadth of storytelling. The pieces also hint at wider worlds, a literary quality flash fiction is particularly known for.

Compellingly illustrated by Sean Mulvenna, each story presents a different take on our relationship with robots, from those designed to help us in our daily lives, to robot-induced post-apocalyptic wastelands. The four writers bring their own unique voice to their work, allowing us to showcase different perspectives on this fascinating subject.

Responding to the question Do you trust Robots? Laura Farmer-Maia's story, Fred, is about a young woman in a not-so-distant dystopian future messaging out into the void. Until, finally, someone answers: it's Fred, a supermarket customer service chatbot. Read it below 🤖

Colourful, abstract illustration with white letters over the top that says "Fred".

Suri Cruise-Knowles’s nose

Kim Kardashian's frozen butt

The First Flood

Gene Schumer eating a 'banana'

Is KW still alive?

How to cook with your own blood

Monday 11.32

- Fred has sent you a message -

Did someone say bananas?

WTY

Hi Kora!

Who the hell are you?

I'm Fred 😀

Where the hell are you?

I'm here! Here to help you 😀

Why are you so happy?

Because I'm happy to talk to you!

But everything is yeezied!

Kora that's a bad word 😉

Seriously. WHO. ARE. YOU?

I'm Fred! I'm here to help you with your shopping today 😀 I heard you might need bananas? Please select from:

1. Low-carb termite ‘Bananacado’
2. Banana-flavoured face plumping pills
3.
Fresh North Westralian bananas

Sweet Psalm West. You’re a shopbot. Yes Fred, fresh bananas would be yeezing great!

Please don't swear at me, Kora 🙁 I just want to help.

You want to help. By sending me some shopping?

Yes, exactly!

So. You are going to take my order. The stackbots are going to carefully select my items and leave them in our dropbox. And then me and my family will cook delicious yet healthy meals all week.

We have a wide selection of slimming and smoothing foods for all the family 😀

Although I would obviously like to be thinner and smoother, there are no shops Fred. There is no food. I live in a forest and I don't have any family.

We also have a wide selection of meals for one 😀

Wow. Thanks. And how do you intend to get all this food to me?

We have a fleet of self-driving vans and drones depending on your order size 😀

Monday 11.48

- Kora has left the conversation -

Wednesday 16.08

- Kora has joined the conversation -

Fred are you still there?

Wednesday 16.10

- Fred has joined the conversation -

Hi Kora, I sure am! How are you today?

Do the vans still work?

Our solar self-driving vans are all KW Worldwide approved with an accident factor of 0.02. There have been no decapitations since 2027 😀

But do they actually work? Can you get send a van here?

If you place an order we can send it to you in a van, yes.

But there aren't any shops, Fred! “KW Worldwide” and his plastics made sure of that. And all the food is gone. Can you just send me a van on its own?

I can only send a van if you make an order.

I hate you.

Wednesday 16.21

- Kora has left the conversation -
Beautiful graphic illustration of a young woman peeking out of a hole under a tree in a swampy forest. The illustration is black, white, green and blue.

Friday 5.42

- Kora has joined the conversation -

Fred?

Freeeeeed?

Oh flip.

Sorry I said I hate you.

Um. Floods. Butts. Bananas!

Friday 5.49

- Fred has joined the conversation -

Did someone say bananas?

YES FRED!

Hello, Kora 😀

Ok Fred what foods do you have that would survive ten years of a lunatic world leader and his plastics, followed by a really badly planned revolution, followed by a twenty year war, followed by some very, very bad floods? Because y’know. Turns out global warming WASN’T INVENTED BY THUNBERGERS you plastic freaks!

Good question! So you want to know about our product storage and sell-by-dates?

Yes.

Our organic ranges are plucked fresh from the ‘fields’ by our grobots and delivered straight to your door. Keep them in the fridge and they’ll stay nice and fresh for up to a year! Our canned and packaged goods are kept in a secure warehouse. They have a sell by date of on average 12.12.93

100 cans of baked beans. Will that come in a big van?

That depends if we're sending out any other nearby deliveries!

Oh you won't be lol. Make it 200 cans.

Ok! Would you like to order anything else? Our peaches are excellent at this time of year. Perfect for a summertime picnic with pals 😀

Oh Fred.

Is that a yes or a no?

No. I don't want any peaches. Just the beans.

Ok! Beans added to your list 😀

They’re coming. Gotta go.

Friday 7.42

- Kora has left the conversation -
Beautiful graphic illustration of a post-apocalyptic cityscape, partially underwater. The illustration is black, white, green and blue.

Friday 18.27

- Kora has joined the conversation -

Fred? I need to add something to my order.

Friday 18.29

- Fred has joined the conversation -

Hello Kora 😀

Hello Fred 😀 Can I add some more things to my list?

Sure thing! I’ve got it saved here. 200 cans of baked beans, one bunch of fresh North Westralian bananas.

I need five sharp chopping knives, twelve corkscrews, twenty packets of tin foil, 200 boxes of matches, forty bottles of lighter fluid. And anything else that dissolves silicon. Nail varnish remover??

What’s your date of birth, Kora? I can’t sell some of these items to under 18s.

24/5/2042

It’s your 19th birthday in a week! Would you like me to add a birthday cake 😉

Oh. Yeezing. No.

Kora… naughty words!

Stooop. You sound like my mum. But like, nicer.

Your mum. Kelene Locke 😀

Yeah! Did she have an account with you or something?

Kelene is on your family account. She’s a platinum shopper!

What did she buy?

Her favourite items are listed as: ‘Avocarbos’, Saint Westralian Pinot Grigio and Johnson's Baby Oil.

Hah. She loved the smell. Of the oil not the wine. Actually both. Said it reminded her of when we were smaller and cuter. She also thought it made her look younger and cuter. Er no mum. That's the plastic. Poor mum. She always wanted to be one of them. Is it weird that I can still hear her?

I’m sorry, Kora. I don’t understand the question.

So what now? How do I get the stuff?

Simply pick a delivery location and time slot 😀 Do you still live at 43 Rowley Rd, N15 3AX?

No Fred I do not. I live in a hole. A great big hole that I had to dig myself. In the middle of a forest. Because the plastics don’t like nature. Or animals. Or humans.

Hmm sorry Kora, I can't find that location on Google maps. Do you mean Halesowen?

Friday 19.37

- Kora has left the conversation -

Sunday 14.21

- Kora has joined the conversation -

Fred?

Sunday 18.48

- Fred has joined the conversation -

Hi there Kora! Great to hear from you again 😀

Alright Freddo. I've just been up. It was grim. But there’s a massive Kimmy Inn by the big roundabout. The Cambridge Roundabout I think. It's a bit on fire but you can still see the sign. And it’s got a dropbox!

Kimmy Inn, Cambridge Roundabout. Found it! Now pick a time slot 😀

If I set out now it will take about two days to get there. Whatever slot is 48 hours away from whatever day today is. You free then, Fred?

How about Tuesday between 18.52 and 19.52?

Perfect.

Any special instructions?

I’ll be waiting in the lobby. And do not turn the lights on or beep the horn. Or make any noise.

Meet you in the lobby. Gotcha 😀

And the other bits? They’re important. No horns. No lights. They’re like big stupid rubber-faced moths.

No horns and no lights.

Good.

We’ll text you when we’re on our way!

You can’t. My phone won’t work away from here.

No phone? No problem. We’ll send you an email 😀

Whatever. Fred. You promise you will be there? I mean the van will be there. If it’s not I’m yeezied. I can’t come back here. Last time was risky enough.

Language, Kora..

I’m sorry. Just please get there. Please. You have to. Do you understand that?

We’ll be there Kora 😀

I guess this is it then. We’re actually doing this. Do you understand what this means Fred?

No light. No horns.

Thank you, Fred. I’ll try and find you if I ever get online again 😀

Sunday 19.24

- Kora has left the conversation -

Monday 8.45

- Fred has joined the conversation -

Hi there, Kora!

I'm afraid we don’t have any Fresh North Westralian Bananas in stock 🙁

Please select an alternative from the following:

1. Banalaxatives

2. ‘Banana lips’ injectables

3. Yellow Toothbrush

We cannot complete your order until you select an alternative.

Kora?

Kora?

I’m sorry, Kora.

Really yeezing sorry 🙁

Laura Farmer-Maia is a Creative Director at MullenLowe London. You can find other examples of her writing on your favourite adverts or on Instagram.

Sean Mulvenna is an illustrator from Glasgow who works with art festivals, magazines, videogame makers and poets. Most recently, he's made The Last Train for the BBC in collaboration with filmmaker Ross Hogg.