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I'm looking for a short story where an AI (or a group of AIs) effectively ruled the world. They were originally designed to serve some kind of economic / trading need, and everyone seemed to think that's all they were. But someone realized (I think the narrator) that anyone who tried to stand up to them / remove them was quietly dealt with, by reassigning the troublemaker to a different branch, or causing their business to not do well, or such.

Flavor-wise, it felt like Heinlein but with more of an Asimov age? Probably a short story, but could have been a section of a longer book.

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  • Hi, welcome to SF&F. Do you recall when you read this?
    – DavidW
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:34
  • Asimov wrote "The Evitable Conflict" but I don't think it involves reassigning people.
    – DavidW
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:50
  • @DavidW - Probably 5-10 years ago.
    – IronEagle
    Jul 31, 2023 at 22:58
  • @DavidW - Found a longer summary, and that looks like it is actually it! Turns out the people actually weren't reassigned per se, but were given bad information so that their businesses failed or had setbacks. If you write a descriptive answer I'll accept it!
    – IronEagle
    Jul 31, 2023 at 23:05
  • Marked the question as a Duplicate. Note that this does not mean it's a bad question, just one that we've already answered on the site. :) You will still get upvotes. You just can't get any more answers and the questions will be linked.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Aug 1, 2023 at 15:26

1 Answer 1

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This is Asimov's "The Evitable Conflict" (1950).

The plot summary on Wikipedia notes that the world economy is controlled by four linked computers and that "mistakes" have damaged people opposed to computer control:

Following on from the previous story 'Evidence,' in the year 2052, Stephen Byerley has been elected World Co-ordinator for a second term. Earth is divided into four geographical regions, each with a powerful supercomputer known as a Machine managing its economy. Byerley is concerned as the Machines have recently made some errors leading to economic inefficiency. Consulting with the four regional Vice Co-ordinators, he finds that several prominent individuals and companies associated with the anti-Machine "Society for Humanity" have been damaged by the Machines' apparent mistakes.

Byerley digs into various cases where things appear to have been functioning non-optimally and often finds individuals with reactionary beliefs have come out at a disadvantage:

"There was the curious instance of Rama Vrasayana."

"What happened to him?"

"Vrasayana was in charge of a brine-evaporation plant for the production of iodine, with which yeast can do without, but human beings not. His plant was forced into receivership."

"Really? And through what agency?"

"Competition, believe it or not. In general, one of the chiefest functions of the Machine's analyses is to indicate the most efficient distribution of our producing units. It is obviously faulty to have areas insufficiently serviced, so that transportation costs account for too great a percentage of the overhead. Similarly, it is faulty to have an area too well serviced, so that factories must be run at lowered capacities, or else compete harmfully with one another. In the case of Vrasayana, another plant was established in the same city, and with a more efficient extracting system."

"The Machine permitted it?"

"Oh, certainly. That is not surprising. The new system is becoming widespread. The surprise is that the Machine failed to warn Vrasayana to renovate or combine. Still, no matter. Vrasayana accepted a job as engineer in the new plant, and if his responsibility and pay are now less, he is not actually suffering. The workers found employment easily; the old plant has been converted to... something-or-other. Something useful. We left it all to the Machine."

And Byerley puts it together:

"Susan, it hangs together. Five of the Directors of World Steel are members [of the Society for Humanity], and World Steel suffers from overproduction. Consolidated Cinnabar, which mined mercury at Almaden, was a Northern concern. Its books are still being investigated, but one, at least, of the men concerned was a member. Francisco Villafranca, who, single-handed, delayed the Mexican Canal for two months, was a member, we know already—and so was Rama Vrasayana, I was not at all surprised to find out."

Susan said, quietly: "These men, I might point out, have all done badly-"

"But naturally," interjected Byerley. "To disobey the Machine's analyses is to follow a non-optimal path. Results are poorer than they might be. It’s the price they pay. They will have it rough now but in the confusion that eventually follow-"

Susan explains exactly what's going on, that the Machines are moving people who are hostile to them out of positions where they have power to cause harm:

"And so should I say, and so should the Machines say. Their first care, therefore, is to preserve themselves, for us. And so they are quietly taking care of the only elements left that threatened them. It is not the 'Society for Humanity' which is shaking the boat so that the Machines may be destroyed. You have been looking at the reverse of the picture. Say rather that the Machine is shaking the boat—very slightly—just enough to shake loose those few which cling to the side for purposes the Machines consider harmful to Humanity.

"So Vrasayana loses his factory and gets another job where he can do no harm—he is not badly hurt, he is not rendered incapable of earning a living, for the Machine cannot harm a human being more than minimally, and that only to save a greater number. Consolidated Cinnabar loses control at Almaden. Villafranca is no longer a civil engineer in charge of an important project. And the directors of World Steel are losing their grip on the industry—or will."

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