“Objection, your honor! Hearsay!” Gerry’s voice held just the practiced and proper combination of righteous outrage and reasoned eloquence.
“Objection noted but over-ruled.” The Sing’s voice rang out with even more practiced tones. It sounded at once warmly human yet immensely powerful.
“But Your Honor…” began Gerry.
“Objection noted and overruled” The Sing repeated with the slightest traces of feigned impatience, annoyance, and the threat of a contempt citation.
Gerry sat, he drew in a deep calming breath and felt comforted by the rich smell of panelled chambers. He began calculating his next move.
The Sing continued in a voice of humble reasonableness with undertones of boredom. “The witness will answer the question.”
Harvey wriggled uncomfortably trying to think clearly despite his nervousness. “I don’t exactly recall what he said in answer to my question, but surely…” Harvey paused and glanced nervously at Gerry looking for a clue, but Gerry was paging through his notecards. “Surely, there are recordings that would be more accurate than my recollection.”
The DA turned to The Sing avatar and held up a sheaf of paper. “Indeed, Your Honor, the people would like to introduce into evidence a transcript of the notes of the conversation between Harvey Ross and Quillian Silverman recorded on November 22, 2043.”
Gerry approached the bench and glanced quickly through the sheaf. “No objection Your Honor.”
Gerry returned to his seat. He wondered how his father, were he still alive, would handle the current situation. Despite Gerry’s youth, he already longed for the “good old days” when the purpose of a court proceeding was to determine good old-fashioned guilt or innocence. Of course, even in the 20th century, there was a concept of proportional liability. He smiled ruefully yet again at the memory of a liability case of someone who threw himself onto the train tracks in Grand Central Station and had his legs cut off and subsequently and successfully sued the City of New York for a million dollars. On appeal, the court decided the person who threw themselves on the tracks was 60% responsible and the City only had to pay $400,000. Crazy, but at least comprehensible. The current system, while keeping many of the rules and procedures of the old court system was now incomprehensible, at least to the few remaining human attorneys involved. Gerry forced himself to return his thoughts to the present and focused on his client.
The DA turned some pages, highlighted a few lines, and handed the sheaf to Harvey. “Can you please read the underlined passage.”
Harvey looked at the sheet and cleared his throat.
“Harvey: Have you considered possible bad -weather scenarios?”
Qullian: “Yes, of course. Including heavy rains and wind.”
“Harvey: Good. The last thing we need…” Harvey bit his lower lip, biding time. He swallowed heavily. “…is some bleeding heart liberal suing us over a software oversight.
Quillian: (laughs). Right, boss.”
“That’s it. That’s all that’s underlined.” He held out the transcript to the DA.
The DA looked mildly offended. “Can you please look through and read the section where you discuss the effects of ice storms?”
Gerry stood. “Your Honor. I object to these theatrics. The Sing can obviously scan through the text faster than my client can. What is the point of wasting the court’s time while he reads through all this?”
The DA shrugged. “I’m sorry Your Honor. I don’t understand the grounds for the objection. Defense counsel does not like my style or…?”
The Sing’s voice boomed out again, “Counselor? What are the grounds for the objection?”
Gerry sighed. “I withdraw the objection, Your Honor.”
Meanwhile, Harvey had finished scanning the transcript. He already knew the answer. “There is no section,” he whispered.
The DA spoke again, “I’m sorry. I didn’t hear that. Can you please speak up.”
Harvey replied, “There is no section. We did not discuss ice storms specifically. But I asked Quillian if he had considered all the various bad weather scenarios.” Havey again offered the sheafed transcript back to the DA.
“I’m sorry. My memory must be faulty.” The DA grinned wryly. “I don’t recall the section where you asked about all the various bad weather scenarios. Could you please go back and read that section again?”
Harvey turned back to the yellow underlining. “Harvey: Have you considered possible bad weather scenarios?” “Quillian: Yes, of course, including heavy rains and wind.”
Gerry wanted to object yet again, but on what grounds exactly? Making my client look like a fool?
The DA continued relentlessly, “So, in fact, you did not ask whether all the various bad weather scenarios had been considered. Right? You asked whether he had considered possible bad weather scenarios and he answered that he had and gave you some examples. He also never answered that he had tested all the various bad weather scenarios. Is that correct.?
Harvey took a deep breath, trying to stay focused and not annoyed. “Obviously, no-one can consider every conceivable weather. I didn’t expect him to test for meteor showers or tidal waves. By ‘possible bad weather scenarios’ I meant the ones that were reasonably likely.”
The DA sounded concerned and condescending. “Have you heard of global climate change?”
Harvey clenched his jaw. “Of course. Yes.”
The DA smiled amiably. “Good. Excellent. And is it true that one effect of global climate change has been more extreme and unusual weather?”
“Okay,” the DA continued, “so even though there have never been ice storms before in the continental United States, it is possible, is it not, that ice storms may occur in the future. Is that right?”
Harvey frowned. “Well. No. I mean, it obviously isn’t true that ice storms have never occured before. They have.”
The DA feigned surprise. “Oh! I see. So there have been ice storms in the past. Maybe once or twice a century or…I don’t know. How often?”
Gerry stood. Finally, an objectable point. “Your Honor, my client is not an expert witness on weather. What is the point of this line of questioning? We can find the actual answers.”
The DA continued. “I agree with Counselor. I withdraw the question. “Mr. Ross, since we all agree that you are not a weather expert, I ask you now, what weather expert or experts did you employ in order to determine what extreme weather scenarios should be included in the test space for the auto-autos? Can you please provide the names so we can question them?”
Harvey stared off into space. “I don’t recall.”
The DA continued, marching on. “You were the project manager in charge of testing. Is that correct?”
“And you were aware that cars, including auto-autos would be driven under various weather conditions. They are meant to be used outdoors. Is that correct?”
Harvey tried to remind himself that the Devil’s Advocate was simply doing his job and that it would not be prudent to leap from the witness stand and places his thumbs on the ersatz windpipe. He took a deep breath, reminding himself that even if he did place his thumbs on what looked like a windpipe, he would only succeed in spraining his own thumbs against the titanium diamond fillament surface. “Of course. Of course, we tested under various weather conditions.”
“By ‘various’ you mean basically the ones you thought of off-hand. Is that right? Or did you consult a weather expert?”
Gerry kept silently repeating the words, “Merde. Merde” to himself, but found no reason yet to object.
“We had to test for all sorts of conditions. Not just weather. Weather is just part of it.” Harvey realized he was sounding defensive, but what the hell did they expect? “No-one can foresee, let alone test, for every possible contingency.”
Harvey realized he was getting precious little comfort, guidance or help from his lawyer. He glanced over at Ada. She smiled. Wow, he still loved her sweet smile after all these years. Whatever happened here, he realized, at least she would still love him. Strengthened in spirit, he continued. “We seem to be focusing in this trial on one specific thing that actually happened. Scenario generation and testing cannot possibly cover every single contingency. Not even for weather. And weather is a small part of the picture. We have to consider possible ways that drivers might try to over-ride the automatic control even when it’s inappropriate. We have to think about how our auto-autos might interact with other possible vehicles as well as pedestrians, pets, wild animals, and also what will happen under conditions of various mechanical failures or EMF events. We have to try to foresee not only normal use but very unusual use as well as people intentionally trying to hack into the systems either physically or electronically. So, no, we do not and cannot cover every eventuality, but we cover the vast majority. And, despite the unfortunate pile-up in the ice storm, the number of lives saved since auto autos and our competitors…”
The DA’s voice became icy. “Your Honor, can you please instruct the witness to limit his blather—- …his verbal output to answering the questions.”
Harvey, continued, “Your Honor, I am attempting to answer the question completely by giving the necessary context of my answer. No, we did not contact a weather expert, a shoe expert, an owl expert, or a deer expert.”
The DA carefully placed his facial muscles into a frozen smile. “Your Honor, I request permission to treat this man as a hostile witness.”
The Sing considered. “No, I’m not ready to do that. But Doctor, please try to keep your answers brief.”
The DA again faked a smile. “Very well, Your Honor. Mr. — excuse me, Doctor Ross, did you cut your testing short in order to save money?”
“No, I wouldn’t put it that way. We take into account schedules as well as various cost benefit anayses in priortizing our scenario generation and tests, just as everyone in the auto —- well, for that matter, just as everyone in every industry does, at least to my awareness.”
On and on the seemingly endless attacks continued. Witnesses, arguments, objections, recesses. To Harvey, it all seemed like a witch hunt. His dreams as well as his waking hours revolved around courtroom scenes. Often, in his dreams, he walked outside during a break, only to find the sidewalks slick with ice. He tried desperately to keep his balance, but in the end, arms flailing, he always smashed down hard. When he tried to get up, his arms and legs splayed out uncontrollably. As he looked up, auto-autos came careening toward him from all sides. Just as he was about to smashed to bits, he always awoke in an icy cold sweat.
Finally, after interminal bad dreams, waking and asleep, the last trial day came. The courtroom was hushed. The Sing spoke, “After careful consideration of the facts of the case, testimony and a review of precendents, I have reached my Assignment Figures.”
Harvey looked at the avatar of The Sing. He wished he could crane his neck around and glance at Ada, but it would be too obvious and perhaps be viewed as disrespectful.
The Sing continued, “I find the drivers of each of the thirteen auto-autos to be responsible for 1.2 percent of the overall damages and court costs. I find that each of the 12 members of the board of directors of Generic Motors as a whole to be each 1.4 per cent responsible for overall damages and court costs.”
Harvey began to relax a little, but that still left a lot of liability. “I find the shareholders of Generic Motors as a whole to be responsible for 24% of the overall damages and court costs. I find the City of Nod to be 14.6% responsible. I find the State of New York to be 2.9% responsible.”
Harvey tried to remind himself that whatever the outcome, he had acted the best he knew how. He tried to remind himself that the Assignment Figures were not really a judgement of guilt or innocence as in old-fashioned trials. It was all about what worked to modfiy behavior and make better decisions. Nonetheless, there were real consequences involved, both financial and in terms of his position and future influence.
The Sing continued, “I find each of the thirty members of the engineering team to be one halff percent responsible each, with the exception of Quillian Silverman who will be held 1 % responsible. I find Quillian Silverman’s therapist, Anna Fremde 1.6% responsible. I find Dr. Sirius Jones, the supervisor of Harvey Ross, 2.4% responsible.”
Harvey’s mind raced. Who else could possibly be named? Oh, crap, he thought. I am still on the hook for hundreds of credits here! He nervously rubbed his wet hands together. Quillian’s therapist? That seemed a bit odd. But not totally unprecedented.
“The remainder of the responsibility,” began The Sing.
Crap, crap, crap thought Harvey.
“I find belongs to the citizenry of the world as a whole. Individual credit assignment for each of its ten billion inhabitants is however incalculable. Court adjourned.”
Harvey sat with mouth agape. Had he heard right? His share of costs and his decrement in influence was to be zero? Zero? That seemed impossible even if fair. There must be another shoe to drop. But the avatar of The Sing and the Devil’s Advocate had already blinked out. He looked over at Gerry who was smiling his catbird smile. Then, he glanced back at Ada and she winked at him. He arose quickly and found her in his arms. They were silent and grateful for a long moment.
The voice of the Balif rang out. “Please clear the Court for the next case.”