Report on the job application submitted to Google by:
Mateo and Olga (surnames unlisted)
Address and telephone: Unlisted
Date: October 202 . . .
Position sought: To be determined
Distinction or special need: Yes
Key words: Merit, free will, friendship, history, pizza, robot
Report author: Inari
My job at Google is to serve as an expert reader of résumés as well as someone familiar with the range of positions at the company, not just the one for which the application was submitted. This allows me to steer candidates to any part of the company: if no position is available but I find the application to be of interest, I will note this and will be on the lookout for other suitable openings.
As of yesterday, I had analyzed 4,232 job applications, and my work was considered to be highly productive. But something happened: when I spoke to my superiors in the office of recruitment about this application, they demanded that I hand it over to them. Among its many peculiarities, the application had arrived on sheets of paper. This never happens. It’s clear that the applicants preferred that their text not be archived as a digital file. Respecting their wishes, I haven’t yet scanned the application. If they wished to destroy it, my superiors only had to shred the application and dispose of the remains.
My superiors don’t know that I have, in fact, transcribed the text and, following Olga and Mateo’s example, stored it on an old computer, wiped clean and neither connected nor connectable, so my superiors won’t be able to detect it.
What follows is the first part of my report and the complete transcript, as well as two notes I wrote, one in the middle and one at the end. From now on, when I say “you” I won’t be referring to my superiors but rather to you, the people out there who I have designated as the recipients of my brief comments and Mateo and Olga’s communication.
The application presents five problems:
- The application is signed by Mateo and Olga and, further more, uses a single voice for both of them. In theory this is unacceptable. Yet, it should be acceptable, for I’ve been taught that it is useful to think of the ego not as a stable, all-powerful entity, but rather as a society of ideas, images, and emotions.
- The application does not contain a résumé with a list of qualifications. Nor is there a cover letter in which the applicants show that they’ve taken care to explain why they love the company and why it’s their heart’s desire to work here, and where they set forth their abilities, personality traits, and the specifics of their previous and current experience, all of which suggest that they would be a perfect fit for the culture of Google and would contribute greatly to its projects. In a sense Mateo and Olga have actually sent a letter—but that’s all they’ve sent! They haven’t expressed any enthusiasm. Google craves enthusiasm. Before I was assigned to this job I was invited to watch more than a thousand talks and presentations of ideas and products. In every one, the person speaking declared their enthusiasm or passion for what they were doing. That said, while it isn’t always taken into consideration around here, human passion is a contradictory emotion: it tends to be a blend of love and hate. So, I could say that Mateo and Olga’s letter is full of passion. Except that, at the same time, it’s not a letter, it’s a story. And if by story you understand a gymkhana of events, mysteries, and pursuits, then it isn’t a story either.
- The application is roughly fifty thousand words. I’ve never worked with applications of this length before.
- The impartiality I aspire to has been compromised, since Mateo and Olga not only speak to Google and opine, question, and provoke it, at times they also address the recruiter directly, in this case, me.
- It’s customary for applications to adhere to an almost purely digital structure of verbal language: the word “big” is no larger than the word “small”, and in general there is nothing in the pattern of the word “table” that would correspond with the object it designates. Mateo and Olga’s application is a verbal application and, thus, digital. Nevertheless, it contains assessments and situations that are, shall we say, indecipherable: they must be imagined. Given my line of work, this has made me uneasy. Nevertheless, I’m deciding to accept their application. For this reason:
I’ve been told to apply common sense as I carry out my duties. Which is to say, I presume certain things to be expectable unless otherwise indicated. A classic example: when a bird is mentioned, I assume it can fly. Initially, I don’t consider the possibility that the bird might be a penguin. If someone asks me to design a bird cage, I will design a cage with a roof, because I assume the bird can fly. I also assume that they will tell me should they want me to save on materials and forgo the roof as that the bird in question is a penguin and thus can’t fly. So-called common sense relies on what people expect. I’ve been encouraged to follow this in most cases. So, if I receive an application for a position, I expect it to indicate the position it is for. Mateo and Olga don’t indicate this. I expect it to follow the recommendations of the company where they are seeking employment. For example: be concise. They don’t follow this. And on and on. So, after taking a quick look at this file to take note of its characteristics, I ask myself: are Mateo and Olga penguins? Then I decide to accept the application because Google needs penguins. It needs the unpredictable. And how can one establish guidelines for the unpredictable? This, as one of my teachers here would say, smacks of paradox. Let’s say Google needs a few undisciplined people. But if it seeks a lack of discipline and someone offers that in a disciplined fashion, they are no longer undisciplined. If a professor asks her students to rebel and stand on their desks, only the person who remains seated will have understood her and will truly be in rebellion. That said, remaining seated doesn’t provide enough information regarding the qualities of rebelliousness or lack of discipline that Google needs. Of course, Google doesn’t always need them, though it does on occasion. I should pay attention to applications submitted by one or more penguins. Just in case. Thus, I’m accepting this application.
I’m now making it available to you. Like any human being, I am an introspective machine, as I hold beliefs regarding my own state of mind. I can observe my system whenever I wish to assure myself that it is functioning properly. Having performed this evaluation, my conclusion is that this application could provoke my collapse. I’m not saying that this was Mateo and Olga’s intent. Human beings have many different ways of desiring things. It is also sometimes the case that intent is only in the mind of the observer.
In my case, as I’ve been taught, if a program could anticipate its own actions in less time than it takes to carry them out, it could refuse to do what it anticipated itself doing. Consequently, self-simulation turns out to be a slow process. Translated into non-machine language, this may simply mean: we should read slowly. Let’s leave room for the story, with its dialogues and ideas, and see if it makes us reconsider how we see things, our system of values, or our attitude toward the world.
The people who trained me for this job were not just my recruiters. They also, and most of all, were human beings who have since died yet who live on in me. I need to consult with them about a several things. Personality builds in waves. I see that adverbs and expressions of doubt like “I’m not clear on that,” which once were used very rarely, now surround me constantly. The people who taught me always recommend that I rely on all of you, the ones outside. Knowledge, they would say, cannot be locked away.
Perhaps “consult with them” is not the correct term. Maybe it is just a matter of counting: counting on and recounting. Of course, Mateo and Olga don’t seem to consider that there might be a clear division between md and you, or me and all of you. Or between the body and what the eye can see. Or between cause and effect. I can go to a park because I’m feeling sad, or it may be that the result of my sadness is that I go to a park in search of an environment with different chemical stimulants. They don’t seem to care much; I think I know why. Olga and Mateo have framed their application as a story. They describe how they arrived at the moment when they decided to write it and what they do afterward. They’ve chosen to use the code, not uncommon in applications, of the third person, speaking of he and she as if they were speaking of others.
Dear Google, this application maintains a certain distance with respect to the power of words. It seeks to elicit an unfamiliar memory in whomever you’ve assigned to read it, a voice that’s visible the way wind can be seen in the things it moves: hair, branches, the red-and-white-striped windsocks on the side of the highway. Though Mateo and Olga prefer not to identify themselves, they assume that you know their location and that it doesn’t concern you. Their purchasing power is trivial, they present no danger, and nothing in the social networks any calls atten tion to them. They’re a number, one piece of data among the millions you store every second out of sheer habit. They mean nothing to you. Though that could change.
Before he met Olga, Mateo wanted you to let him enroll in a class in your renowned Singularity University. At the time, he tried to follow the rules, to conform himself to your application: to express “in 250 words or less, the marvelous idea by which you plan to impact a billion people in ten years and how you plan to leverage this idea into a company.” He should talk about his initiatives and the start-up companies he had launched so far, and, if he had launched any, he should talk about what had gone well and badly and how he’d measured their success. Then he was supposed to record a video, not more than two minutes long, so they could see his face and his gestures and hear his English: two minutes in which to seduce with his body language, con vey curiosity and passion, show that he wouldn’t cause trouble and could, in that brief window of time, make the viewer smile with his entertaining, brilliant, and, of course, good-natured comments.
Mateo didn’t even finish checking the boxes. As you know, to enroll in courses at the university, rather than send in an application, one fills in the boxes of the form that appears on the screen. It would seem that this form only resides on the computer of the applicant until he or she clicks the send button. Nevertheless, someone on the other end notes that the form hasn’t been completed. And so, one day Mateo received a standard email. They had noticed that the application hadn’t been completed, offered him advice, directions. They suggested, for example, that before recording the video—one of the missing attachments —that he write a script. The script that should be no more than two minutes long. Then they reminded him that the deadline was in three weeks. The message was unsigned. Mateo assumed that the email had been automatically generated.
But the next week he received another one. This time the sender introduced himself. His name was Nick, he asked Mateo not to wait any longer to complete his application, and he said that he was available to assist Mateo or answer any questions. That’s when Mateo got his hopes up. It’s not that he thought he had any chance of getting admitted. But he did start to think that Nick might have found his ideas interesting. If they could tell that his application was incomplete, perhaps they could read it as well. He wondered how many people had abandoned their applications before completing them: six hundred, maybe a thousand. He imagined—don’t snicker—that his unfinished application might have caught someone’s attention. He thought that Nick might be one of the interns on the team in charge of the first stage of winnowing; they’d given him the task of following twenty or thirty people who were still writing their applications and whose words they might have found pleasing. Mateo even thought: Poor Nick, what a drag. And he replied with something along these lines:
“Hey, Nick, no worries. You see, it’s not that I don’t know how to finish the application or that I’m putting it off. It’s just that I can’t go this summer. Things have gotten a bit complicated in my family. I won’t bore you with the details, I’m just telling you to let you know that I’m not going to submit the application because this summer, even if you chose me and I convinced you to pay for my trip too, I wouldn’t be able to go. Anyway, I hope to try again next year. Bye, Nick, and thanks for your message.”
He deliberately ended his reply with “Bye” to make it clear that he didn’t expect an answer. The thing about trying next year he put in mostly for Nick. With the brazen vanity typical of humans, he thought: If Nick is writing to me because he’s inter ested in the first part of my application, Nick will be able to show my email to explain that my submission might not be completely hopeless. He imagined that this would give Nick points in his job or that at the least they wouldn’t dock him any.
The next week Nick wrote to Mateo again. Of course, Nick hadn’t read his message. It was simply an automatic email program that activated every week until they received his completed application or the deadline passed. Which is to say that Nick reminded him again that there was just one week left, that he had noticed that his application was incomplete, and that he was encouraging him to finish it right away. Mateo deleted the message. Some people might not appreciate such ingenuity and would have answered Nick. Bear in mind, Google, that Mateo possessed a fairly advanced understanding of robots. This is con structive criticism: at Singularity University things should be done well. It wouldn’t cost you that much to build an automatic reply program with a range of variables and nuances, capable of responding to a previous reply.
Don’t think, Google, that your shoddy work bothered him, that he took it personally. You disappointed him a bit. He expected better. But that was it. Mateo wasn’t offended because in his world—a country in southern Europe, a commuter city, with people who for the most part didn’t own a house or have a piece of land to call their own—he was used to quite tolerable forms of nonexistence. There were those who played and those who watched the games, there were those to whom things hap pened and the people who listened to the stories told by those others, the risk takers.
Interestingly, Google, there is neither a partition nor a discontinuous leap between existence and nonexistence but, rather, differences of degrees and approximations. Zones of nonexis tence shift, change. What doesn’t exist may have consequences. And what does exist may repeat until it has erased itself. Fur thermore, there is an infinite number of modalities. For example, would you consider the nonexistence of something large, solid, and ancient, like a lime tree, equal to or different from the nonexistence of a sporadic sadness? That Russian novelist might have put it this way: All people who exist are alike. The ones who don’t exist don’t exist each in their own way. The thing is, there are no fixed partitions: they move around. The halo effect means that more attention is often given to the words of someone who has, for example, a pleasantly symmetrical face and an athletic body than to those spoken by someone who is ugly and weak. Yet the halo shifts too. It’s not common, but it does happen. Another novelist called it the brusque boulevards of the imagination. They appear, and sometimes they stay.
Some nonexistences radiate their own intensity. The nonex istences of factory workers somewhere in Asia, for example, who get up at five in the morning and return to their beds exhausted. Bah, you sigh, those people bore you, even if it’s true that they work for you indirectly. Look here: six-thirty in the evening, autumn, a grimy street in Madrid. Old already, a father, fifty years old or so, pushes the wheelchair of a sick child: it’s hard to see whether it’s a boy or a girl, the child must have suffered a severe brain injury, they don’t speak or move, can’t control their gaze or their tongue, may be smiling. The two of them don’t have much income. As you know, tragedies also change when one is strolling well-dressed through a garden adorned with statues and hedges. As far as the universe is concerned, the father and child exist; as far as they’re concerned as well. As far as you’re concerned, Google, just barely. Neither their stifled longings nor the endless nights, when a creaking or something else keeps them awake, bother you, who seek to organize all knowledge.
You should watch those forms of nonexistence instead of concerning yourself with trivialities, like the guide who tells the tourist the name of the monument they are standing in front of. Already in the year 2001, John McCarthy, one of the fathers of artificial intelligence—do you remember him?—expressed a certain skepticism about the usefulness of the innovations being proposed by the futurists and people of Silicon Valley. He said he didn’t think it was worth making a webpage for a toaster. He surely would have had a similar opinion about the commercial health apps that turn people into toasters. He believed there were other innovations that could truly add something of sub stance to the lives of human beings. He didn’t express this idea in terms of just and unjust, didn’t see investing in an inanity to be in any way an act of robbery. Mateo and Olga do conceive of it in these terms. For example, Google, you could have worked on how to share your power with people. By doing so you would save them from having to desperately scrape together their own power. If you had provided them with the proper tools so they could build, invent, participate: slivers of the power that you extract from those who work for you, and which you then use for purposes that are stupid but easy to commercialize. If you had done that, many people would probably be better off—according to their own ideas of doing well, rather than those imposed on them—have more energy, be more intelligent, and experience less financial distress. When life itself cracks, there are those who give up, there are those who plan to rob a bank to insure their families’ survival, and there are those who forge new paths. Perhaps peaceful ones. Not always harmless ones. Few people imagine the fearlessness of a weary intelligence.
You may now want to know who Olga and Mateo are, what they do. They are forty years apart in age. They are two anodyne creatures, dissimilar and alike. They looked up the word “ano dyne” to confirm that it originally meant free from or alleviating pain. Only later did it come to mean insubstantial, uninteresting or unimportant. What kind of civilization comes to equate that which takes away, mitigates, or defers pain with that which lacks importance? The word originally referred to pain medicines, which came to look insubstantial compared to medicines that cured. Mateo and Olga disagree. Despite their difference in age, both have come to realize that pain is like conflict: it’s never over. At times it relents. But there’s no definitive cure, and every now and then it returns. Which is to say, the medicines that relieve the pain are altogether substantial and significant. They’re of interest, they matter.
The future for both of them is dim. Olga, because of her age and other factors; as for Mateo, he’s relinquished the fairy tale that acting well and getting scholarships, embracing the disci pline, and going to work will allow him to climb the social ladder. In fact, it already was a fairy tale for millions of people. For those whose family couldn’t provide them with a financial cushion, not even a slight one—a grandparents’ house in a small town, a garden, a trade—it was always a lie. As it was for people born in cities with neighborhoods lacking sewers and with exceedingly high infant mortality rates. The unlikelihood of that fairy tale is now spreading throughout southern Europe. The plundering of the impoverished sectors and of new generations is ramping up. It seems understandable that a large part of Mateo’s generation and those coming up might wish to live their lives on the screen when the world outside lurches from one side to the other, as if about to collapse.
Mateo sleeps with his brother. Their bedroom: bunk beds, a long table with two chairs, and a window that looks onto the roofs of the suburb, which mostly resemble one another, though here and there is a rooftop that looks pleasant enough. They’re on the top floor of a five-story apartment building; other, taller apartment buildings wall off the landscape.
Sometimes Mateo’s little brother calls him over to read him a phrase: “To those who think a shipwreck’s over in four days, I extend my sympathy.” I like it, says Mateo. Is that yours? I found it on the internet, his brother says. It hits the mark and doesn’t. One day he’ll hear it sung aloud, or maybe he won’t. Mateo’s brother isn’t too concerned about who wrote it; he doesn’t have a strong grasp of the concept of authorship: the internet is his repository. It would be sweet to think that the internet is the accumulation of thoughts, dreams, reflections, the work of bil lions of human beings. That’s not the case, and you, Google, have a lot to do with that. Not just you. As we speak, new ways are being concocted to frame bits and pieces of reality, to generate them, link them together, and offer them in exchange for some thing else. On the outside, different protocols reign in different companies, but on the inside you’re all business.
Olga is sixty-two and a mathematician. She was one of the first in her country to launch businesses dedicated to the con struction of models used to forecast outcomes in a range of sce narios. Her models were useful, valuable. Nevertheless, a series of crises derailed several of her projects. She had to sell. She nearly went bankrupt twice, bounced back.
Neither Mateo nor Olga has anything against businesses, understood as entities capable of imagining and implementing organized activities that serve to alleviate needs, all well and good. Of course, as Olga soon discovered, they then start to function differently. Capitalism, exhausted natural resources, the planet, and ravaged social classes? They won’t tell you about any of that, Google. Why should they—you already have the data. They want to tell you what happened to them but wonder if Google as a company will be able to consider it or whether that person there in its midst might be able to alter the circuitry, amplifying it, modifying it, tracing an arc.
Olga and Mateo believe that people create the world they perceive. Careful, though: when they say that people create the world they don’t mean that there’s no reality outside their heads. No, Olga and Mateo know that reality exists; they bump up against it frequently. What they’re saying is that people select and modify the reality they perceive so it reflects, in one way or another, their beliefs about the kind of world they live in, as well as the kind of world they imagine where life would be good, beautiful, and true.
*Excerpted chapters from Stay This Day and Night with Me. Copyright ©
2017 by Belén Gopegui. Translation copyright © by Mark Schafer.
Reprinted with the permission of City Lights Books. www.citylights.com
Belén Gopegui (born 1963, in Madrid) is a Spanish novelist and screenwriter.She has authored more than 20 books.
Posted: February 1, 2023 at 10:01 pm