New Darwin Inc.

Eldon Graves drummed his fingers on the conference room table. Junior ad execs were lined up outside, vying for slots to pitch their new product ideas. Eldon dreaded this time of year, young shining faces stuffing the metaphorical hopper with naive and unoriginal pitches.

The promotional sweeps were coming, and he had to be in front of it. Normally they’d let the algos whip up something, but management insisted on getting ideas internally to seed the process. New Darwin, Inc. was one of the top firms specializing in product design and advertising.

New Darwin didn’t handle mid-tier or bottom of the barrel. That was a job for the hacks training up simplistic algos to mimic popular fads, spewing out a digital firehose of brightly colored over-saturated garbage. Eldon had a friend working the lower tiers of the business, and it wasn’t pretty.

Machines will come for us all, I suppose. Just one thing they haven’t cracked yet, the illogical leaps and intuitive gathering that the human mind could do. Yet. Eldon put his elbows on the table, resting his chin on folded hands. The junior exec trailed off, wondering if her presentation had him offended somehow.

“Excuse me, is there something you don’t like?”, she was eager to make an impression, hair back in that no-nonsense style, subdued shoes and leggings.

“This is for soup, correct?”, Eldon spoke softly, gaining momentum.

“Yes, its a premium offering that–“

“Your costs for this product are too high. Outsource the meat and veg to Baako Brothers. For packaging loop in the Satori people.”

“Baako grows their vegetables on garbage dumps, and the Satori-“

“This is a business. To stay in business we need to hit our margins. Your costs are too high, make the changes.”, Eldon closed his notebook, a signal the pitch was over. The exec gathered her materials, eyes beginning to tear. It was a tough lesson, better she learned it now than trying to pitch the higher-ups with that kind of crap.

This wasn’t the old-aughts. Regulations governing safety standards had been scrapped or deemed useless, a product of relentless birth rates propelling the global population past 10 billion. Infrastructure and governments were at their limits.

Consumer lawsuits were extinct, ground to dust under legislation that opened up opportunities for corporations bold enough to seize them. So what if some chemicals seeped into the process. If customers didn’t like it, they were free to spend half of their income on luxury items.

Gone were the warning labels and cautions. Ten pages for how to plug in an appliance was shortened to “find outlet”. Besides, making premium items was expensive. Easier to use a lower grade of vegetable protein, grown on massive trash dumps than paying a private greenhouse for the top-shelf. Satori Design was known for using heavy metals in their inks and questionable chemicals in their liners, but their packaging costs were the best in the business.

Eldon walked out of the meeting room, dismissing the rest of the hopefuls with a wave of his hand. There wasn’t a single good idea among them. Why even waste my time, he thought. Management was only doing this to maintain the illusion they didn’t rely exclusively on algo-derived advice.

They were dinosaurs anyway, the entire board and the CEO. Eldon paused near a reflective panel, straightening his tie. If it were up to him they’d all be on the next hyperloop to the African Collective. Eldon brushed lint from his lapel, removing a security card from his breast pocket.

Eldon had been working on something that stepped beyond the status quo. It was time for an aggressive push and higher payoffs. Swiping the card on a recessed reader, Eldon stepped through the large frosted door into his private research lab. Among gleaming racks of samples, technicians consulted algos for the proper mix of profit and lethality.

Too fast, and your customer would expire, crushing all future profitunities. Too slow, and the unit costs would outweigh the income. This was the real frontier. Right here, in this room. Optimizing product details for absolute minimum requirements. In some cases, accelerating mortality if it meant spin-off profits, usually in the form of extended health services and elderly care.

They had a whole line-up of products ready to go. All it would take would be a change of the old guard at the top, and Eldon would be set for life. He walked to the storage room, browsing shelves of prototypes. He selected a few foil pouches, printed with ugly machine codes.

The packaging hadn’t been finalized yet, but he imagined the words set in rustic type on a simulated cloth background. “PrestaPerk, the finest brew – into you! Enjoy our premium offering of roasted coffee beans seasoned with our signature flavors. Drink deep, refresh your body and soul!”

The beans had been grown on former exclusion sites, engineered to absorb certain compounds to assist in reclamation efforts. It was somewhat ironic that old factories had contaminated the soil, and now Eldon was profiting from their past misdeeds.

Eldon pocketed the pouches, walking out to the central elevators. The board meeting was in fifteen minutes, and he had just enough time to substitute his prototype for the usual refreshments. Based on the potency of this batch, he estimated it would take a few months before the heart attacks and organ failures would begin.

Patience, Eldon. Patience.

Entering the elevator, Eldon stared at the display. Soon, he’d be in the top office calling the shots.

Profits demanded no less.