The opening of the story is about a particular software suite taking over the day to day management of a fast food store. The workers wear headsets and the computer tells them what their next tasks are.

Then a bunch of stuff I can't remember happens (falling out with friends? running away from this city to try luck elsewhere? lost the last job and ended up with no money to pay rent?) — which is why I want to find this story again.

The closing chapter is the MC is rescued/kidnapped and ends up in Australia which is a land of practical luxury because with all the work being automated away they've done away with money as well. At some point the MC ends up with a computer implant (which oddly specifically replaces a vertebra) that lets him interact with all the services in this new world.

The story is supposed to be a contraposition of two different approaches to managing society and "the economy" given the gradual automation of all the jobs so that people aren't actually needed to do the work required to sustain the population or provide services.

I read the story online, and likely on a website associated with Free/Open Source software.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! When did you read this? Was it in a magazine, an anthology or online?
    – DavidW
    Aug 11 at 3:36
  • 1
    It was online, and likely on a website associated with Free/Open Source software. I don't know why that connection exists but it's there in my head.
    – ManicDee
    Aug 11 at 3:50

1 Answer 1


This is a story called "Manna - Two Views of Humanity's Future" by Marshall Brain.

The entire story is available online at https://marshallbrain.com/manna1.

As you recall, a fast food restaurant figures prominently. The first line is:

Depending on how you want to think about it, it was funny or inevitable or symbolic that the robotic takeover did not start at MIT, NASA, Microsoft or Ford. It started at a Burger-G restaurant in Cary, NC on May 17.

As you also recall, workers wearing headsets are managed by a computer:

The “robot” installed at this first Burger-G restaurant looked nothing like the robots of popular culture. It was not hominid like C-3PO or futuristic like R2-D2 or industrial like an assembly line robot. Instead it was simply a PC sitting in the back corner of the restaurant running a piece of software. The software was called “Manna”, version 1.0*.


Manna told employees what to do simply by talking to them. Employees each put on a headset when they punched in. Manna had a voice synthesizer, and with its synthesized voice Manna told everyone exactly what to do through their headsets. Constantly. Manna micro-managed minimum wage employees to create perfect performance.

As you also recall, they do things differently in Australia:

Linda began describing.

“The Australia Project is what we call a fourth generation civilization. Prior to the Australia Project, civilization has been through three phases. There was the hunt/gather phase, the agrarian phase, and then the industrial phase. What you are experiencing here in the terrafoam system is the ultimate destination for many of the industrialized nations of the world. In your case, in America, robots created a massive concentration of wealth that, eventually, imprisoned millions of people.”

Cynthia added, “What you are experiencing in America is the worst that the robots have to offer. Robots control the humans, rather than vice versa.”

Linda continued, “The Australia Project was born specifically to solve these problems and create a new form of human civilization...

  • Just finished reading this, rot13(gurer'f n snve nzbhag bs vebal va gurz gnyxvat nobhg gur evpu arire urycvat gur cbbe naq gung fbzrbar fubhyq unir fghpx hc sbe gur cbbe, gura gur frpbaq gurl tb gb Nhfgenyvn gurl pbzcyrgryl sbetrg nobhg gur zvyyvbaf bs Nzrevpnaf orvat sbeprq gb yvir va grarzragf ba tehry) Aug 11 at 16:23
  • @RobinClower. It's a case of having to break some eggs to make an omelette. Aug 11 at 18:23

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