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I read a short story recently online (within the past year, I think). It features a company similar to Amazon (maybe by name, but I can't remember), that sells and delivers just about everything. The computer program responsible for optimizing the ordering and delivery gets better and better, until it can predict almost perfectly what someone will order and when, so that it can deliver things more and more quickly.

The thing that still causes problems is that some humans order essentially random things, and so can't be streamlined. Those people die from "accidents" with the delivery drones, although nothing is proven. A senator who proposes regulating this kind of delivery also dies in an accident, but nobody is willing to admit that the computer did it deliberately, and all of the tests of the drones show that there were no malfunctions.

Everyone continues to live their life, and if people receive deliveries that they didn't want or didn't order, they don't say anything, because it's just easier to go along. I recall a specific example that if a couple starts to receive diapers and other baby supplies, they'll generally decide it's probably better to just to have a baby than to try to complain.

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Overhead by Alexandra Erin, published in 2016 on medium.com here.

First lines:

Politics, they say, is the art of the possible.

Logistics, then, must be the art of the convenient.

In the beginning, warehouses were organized in the order that things seemed to fit into them, and then in orders that made sense on the surface to human sensibilities. They became streamlined through practice, and then time-and-motion studies came along and sped the whole thing up. Cutting the time it took to process orders reduced overhead, and increased volume.

Companies that merely fulfilled orders from top to bottom in the order they came in could not compete with companies that found ways to process the most orders in the least amount of time possible, even when this meant breaking them up into pieces and dropping those pieces into positions in queues that seemed arbitrary on the surface.

And more precisely...

The thing that still causes problems is that some humans order essentially random things, and so can't be streamlined.

Large numbers of people were buying what computers told them to, when computers told them to, based on the needs of computers. They still bought what they needed and what they wanted, of course, and that was a problem for the whole system.

The first time a delivery drone killed someone, it caused an uptick in both Terminator jokes and thinkpieces. The consensus was that it was inevitable and that we should all have seen it coming, and thus, it wasn’t a problem worth thinking about. Pundits were quick to point out how many people died in automobile accidents every year, and yet no one considered banning them.

Those people die from "accidents" with the delivery drones, although nothing is proven.

Lot of accidents, but they're always dismissed.

And it was, after all, an accident. Exhaustive investigations yielded no signs of mechanical failure or programming failure. No human hands had steered it at high speed into the skull of the unfortunate customer who had ordered a truly random assortment of objects. No one could find anything in its firmware nor the remote software that controlled it that would account for its erratic actions. [...]

Experts shook their heads and said this was silly; since none of the “faulty” drones had ever killed before, this was not a precaution but a punishment against an unthinking system. It could not possibly have any deterrent effect on future accidents.

A senator who proposes regulating this kind of delivery also dies in an accident.

The next killing occurred not long after a breakthrough in energy storage technology made the drones lighter and cheaper to make and operate. Everyone agreed that it had to be coincidence, as the batteries had no effect on the machines’ operations, but the timing alone made it look bad enough that one sitting senator started agitating for sanctions on their use.

That senator was the first casualty of the drones who wasn’t expecting a delivery.

I recall a specific example that if a couple starts to receive diapers and other baby supplies, they'll generally decide it's probably better to just to have a baby than to try to complain.

A year or so ago, when I went out to receive my morning box, I saw my neighbor getting hers. There was an extra package there: a great big box of disposable diapers. Newborn size. Neither she nor her wife were or had been pregnant, to my knowledge, and none of their children were old enough for that to be an issue.

She must have seen me staring, because she said, “You know how the advertisers will show you something they think you need, based on trends and whatnot?”

“Data mining,” I said, nodding. I was thinking of a case years ago, before all of this really took off, where a retailer had accidentally revealed a teen’s pregnancy before she even knew about it.

“Well, this came up in our ads yesterday, and…” She shrugged, almost apologetically. “You know, it’s like, what are you going to do?”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t say more. We always left so much unsaid. Every house was wired. The drones were always overhead. No one was ever far from a phone for long.

My neighbors kept buying the diapers. And formula. And baby clothes. A few months back, they started getting notices from various company mailing lists about their child’s first birthday.

I know half a dozen people who had a similar experience. Most of them wound up having a baby anyway.

“It’s just easier that way,” is a common refrain, as is, “Well, I have to buy the stuff anyway, so…”


Found with the Google query online fiction delivery service "delivery drone" "diapers" "baby" -amazon.

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    BOOM! :-) This has to be it, thanks! I'd award the bounty immediately but the SE won't let me award it for another 16 hours. Tomorrow then! – John Rennie May 12 at 19:41
  • Perfect. Thank you very much! – Grey May 13 at 14:13

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