Hello, PKD Fans! What happens to a world designed for pure automation when that world finally ends? Find out what choice Emily makes on this week’s Electric Dreams Podcast, where we discuss Electric Dreams Season 1 Episode 8, entitled Autofac.
A nuclear war leaves a small group of humans struggling to scavenge and survive, but also having to reckon with the oppression of a megacorporation known as Autofac, whose AI guidance ensures that the factories never shut down. Meaning they not only continue trying to deliver goods, but serve customers who don’t even need them. For the residents of one particular small town, this isn’t a small inconvenience: The factory is still polluting the land, cutting them off from any exit, and pushing them even further toward the brink of survival.
We begin in a dream, or a memory, where the community “tinkerer” Emily Zabriskie (Juno Temple) is driving towards the city just as a missile destroys it. Waking in her current situation, we see how the Autofac sends unwanted goods by drone. Zabriskie shoots one down in order to hack in and figure out a way to get the Autofac’s attention. As she gets into the drone’s control circuitry one of her cohorts starts looking through a magazine of hers. She takes it from him and places it into a box in her room.
The townspeople fret and argue over this, while Zabriskie tries to distract herself with her librarian boyfriend who’s clearly in love with her, while she’s more distant. Why is that? But it turns out that Zabriskie’s plan works. Days later, “Alice” (Janelle Monáe) shows up in the form of a PR robot straight out of Metropolis.
Conrad (David Lyons) and Rev (Jay Paulson) try to explain to Alice that they want the Autofac to stop operations. This would allow them to rebuild their society without the constant stream of instant trash being delivered and the pollution the Autofac puts into the air and water. Alice will not alter from the Autofac programming. She also will not stop echoing the hallmarks of every horrible automated-customer-service experience everyone ever had. So Zabriskie has to come up with another plan.
So, Plan B kicks in. Nuke the Autofac with warheads that Conrad has been holding onto for just this occasion. Zabriskie zaps her to knock her out and hacks into system to attempt to reprogram her to make her assist in their plan.They talk cordially, but Alice will not relent. Emily threatens to terminate her and Alice decides self preservation is more important and agrees to take them to Autofac’s headquarters.
Once inside, the team heads to their designated areas to plant their nukes. Rev is the first to get out of the freight elevator and as he searches for the location he accidentally activates a security robot who eliminates him before he can get to his destination. Conrad is the next to get out and he makes it to his destination. He gets the nuke in place but before he is able to activate it the security robot takes him out.
Finally Emily and Alice get of the freight elevator and walk down a long hallway lines with large tubes. Emily stops to look into one and discovers that it contains a simulacrum that looks surprising like her. Alice then takes Emily into a room where what is left of Conrad lies. His head is separated from his body and wires are coming out of his neck. Alice reverses the situation on Zabriskie and has her strapped down for “reprogramming”. Alice informs Emily that the war destroyed all of humanity and the Autofac had no function because it had no consumers until it realized that it could produce its own consumers.
Zabriskie and everyone that she knows are all simulacrum just like Alice. Alice notices an anomaly in Emily’s program that she tries to remove. It turns out to be malware that Zabriskie had planted within herself, having realized years ago what she actually was. She discovered that she was the CEO of Autofac in a prior life, and now she’s uploaded a code that can undo it all! She’s learned the value of life and love even though she isn’t real! Her virus shuts down Autofac and she returns to her boyfriend, finally hugging him!