Not content with taking our jobs, the machines have already started firing people.

A California software developer has revealed how he was sacked from his job by a "machine out for blood", and even his managers were powerless to stop it.

In a cautionary tale about the dangers of automation — and possibly of the future that awaits us all — Ibrahim Diallo recounted the bizarre sequence of events that started with an early-morning voicemail and ended in him being escorted from the building by two security guards.

"I was fired," the Egyptian-born programmer recalled in a viral blog post. "There was nothing my manager could do about it. There was nothing the director could do about it. They stood powerless as I packed my stuff and left the building."

Advertisement

Diallo had been working at the company for just eight months of his three-year contract when one day his key card stopped working. Earlier that morning, he had missed a phone call from his recruiter, who left him a strange message saying, "Oh my God, are you OK!"

"It wasn't the first time my key card failed, I assumed it was time to replace it," Diallo said. "As soon as I got to my floor, I went to see my manager to let her know. She promised to order me a new one right away."

Over the next few days he continued to work, using a temporary badge or buzzed in by the security guard Jose, but Diallo was progressively locked out of his various computer accounts and unable to log back in.

Eventually his recruiter got back to him to say she had received an email saying he had been terminated.

"I told my manager right away, and she was surprised because she received no such information," he said.

"The next day, I took Uber to work, I didn't want to deal with the parking again. Jose couldn't print a temporary badge for me because my name appeared in RED and flagged in the system.

"My manager had to come down to escort me into the building. The recruiter sent me a message telling me not to go to work. She had just received a message that my badge had been used while I had been terminated. I was already in the building. We got the director involved.

"'What the hell is happening? Am I fired or not?'"

Diallo said his director laughed and said everything would be all right. She picked up the phone and ordered the support team to restore everything.

"She gave me the green light to come to work the next day," he said.

"The next day, I had been locked out of every single system except my Linux machine. After lunch, two people appeared at my desk. One was a familiar long face that seemed to avoid making direct eye contact. It was Jose and his fellow security guard. He cordially informed me that he was to escort me out of the building.

"The director was furious. They had received a very threatening email to escort me out of the building and were just doing their job. 'Who the hell is sending those emails!?'"

For the next three weeks, unable to come to work, Diallo was copied into emails about his case, escalated higher and higher up the food chain, "yet no one could do anything about it".

"From time to time, they would attach a system email," he said.

"It was soulless and written in red as it gave orders that dictated my fate. Disable this, disable that, revoke access here, revoke access there, escort out of premises, etc.

"The system was out for blood and I was its very first victim."

Finally after three weeks, he was able to come back to work. It turned out, his previous manager had been sacked during a transition period, and was ordered to serve out the remainder of his duties as a contractor from home.

"I imagine due to the shock and frustration, he decided not to do much work after that," he said. "Some of that work included renewing my contract in the new system."

The problem was, once the order for employee termination went through, "the system takes over".

"All the necessary orders are sent automatically and each order completion triggers another order," he said.

"For example, when the order for disabling my key card is sent, there is no way of it to be re-enabled. Once it is disabled, an email is sent to security about recently dismissed employees. Scanning the key card is a red flag.

"The order to disable my Windows account is also sent. There is also one for my Jira account. And on and on. There is no way to stop the multi-day long process. I had to be rehired as a new employee. Meaning I had to fill up paperwork, set up direct deposit, wait for FedEx to ship a new key card."

Diallo said things weren't the same with his co-workers after his absence, and he eventually moved on to the next opportunity.

"A simple automation mistake (feature) caused everything to collapse," he said.

"I missed three weeks of pay because no one could stop the machine."

The story went viral after being picked up by a number of tech websites, with readers describing it as like something from a dystopian future or an episode of Black Mirror.

"This reads like a techno-thriller and I want more," one commenter wrote.

"The first rule of automation should be, 'There must be a Big Red Button that, when pressed, aborts the entire sequence of events.' The second rule of automation should be, 'When aborted, prior to completion, the sequence must be able to roll back all actions taken.'"