You're fired -- literally: Ten evil tech companies we'd invest in

We've seen some staggering corporate irresponsibility lately, but RBS can't hold a candle to the evil tech companies of fiction. We've run ten of our favourites up the flagpole to see who salutes

In a world where withholding water from an impoverished nation is a business decision and billion-dollar fines are just another entry on a balance sheet, a company has to do something pretty spectacular to be considered truly evil. We've leveraged some of the most nefarious schemes and rapacious business plans to find out which companies are best at moving forward when it comes to being bad.

Frankly, the likes of Sony with its rootkits and Apple with its secret headphone chips look like rank amateurs. Companies that operate in moral grey areas, such as the arms trade or tobacco or oil, just won't cut it. We're talking about evil schemes, underground lairs, and yes, sharks with frickin' laser beams attached to their heads. We've consulted a legion of Evil Stockbrokers -- is there any other kind? Arf -- to talk us through the Evil Share Prices on the Evil Stock Exchange (the EvilSE) and prepared an end-of-year report that would have the Financial Services Authority gibbering under a blanket.

After all this blue-sky thinking we've got all our ducks in a row with a selection of companies -- in no particular order -- that qualify as truly evil. Feel free to touch base in the comments section to suggest other low-hanging fruit, question whether we should receive a bonus this year, and demand to know why we've left out Cyberdyne.*

Weyland-Yutani Corporation (Alien saga)

Business model: Like so many other sci-fi megacorps, Weyland-Yutani is a ubiquitous corporate monolith with disturbingly blurred ties to the military. The operators of the mining ship Nostromo in the first film, the company spends most of the Alien series attempting to secure a sample of the titular killing machine. The Nostromo's inscrutable science officer Ash is revealed to be an android, a literal personification of the moral-free corporate drone.

EvilSE share price: Not so great. As oily Carter Burke off My Two Dads quickly discovers, the problem with unstoppable killing machines is that they're good at two things: killing and being unstoppable. If the Earth's population is wiped out, the consensus will probably be that Weyland-Yutani should have stuck to digging up rocks.

Dolmansaxlil Shoe Corporation (Hitch-Hikers' Guide to the Galaxy)

Business model: It was Douglas Adams who suggested that when people are depressed and their heads drop, their eyes alight upon their shoes, causing them to buy a new pair to cheer themselves up. So in an economic climate like the one in which we're currently labouring -- or not, if you're a Woolworths shelf-stacker or Lehman Brothers money-grubber -- demand for shoes will rise. When demand outstrips the ability to make decent shoes, people will be forced to buy shoddy shoes that wear out faster, catching society in a vicious circle of decreasing shoe integrity and increasing shoe demand. The point at which it is no longer economically viable to do anything but make shoes is known as the Shoe Event Horizon. Dolmansaxlil's nefarious plan involved hastening that point for the people of Brontital by building a shoe-shop intensifier ray.

EvilSE share price: In the short term, excellent. But after the Shoe Event Horizon, the people of Brontital forsook walking altogether and evolved into birds -- and could no longer speak of anything to do with feet or shoes. By which point Dolmansaxlil's execs had probably long since retired with bonuses the size of Betelgeuse.

*Cyberdyne wasn't evil -- it just created a product that went wrong. Wiping out every single potential customer wasn't on the roadmap.

Omni Consumer Products (RoboCop)

Business model: In the 1980s, the flipside of the Wall Street 'greed is good' philosophy was the science-fiction nightmare of the megacorporation. OCP was one such company, a rapacious organisation with its grasping fingers in every industry, in every aspect of public and private life. As CEO Dick Jones put it, "Take a close look at the track record of this company, and you'll see that we've gambled in markets traditionally regarded as non-profit: hospitals, prisons, space exploration. I say good business is where you find it."

In practice, this meant privatising the entire city of Detroit and rebuilding it into a monetised utopia called Delta City. But first, OCP turned a dead cop into an implacable killing machine called RoboCop. Not so much tough on the causes of crime as excessively violent on anyone stepping out of line, RoboCop was supposed to effect bullet-riddled slum clearance before the bulldozers moved in. Not a bad idea on paper, but as can happen so often, the technology wasn't quite ready.

EvilSE share price: With the 80s villainous dream team of Ronny Cox, Kurtwood Smith and Miguel Ferrer on board, shareholder confidence was high, until Officer Murphy started getting his pesky memories back.

Blue Sun (Firefly)

Business model: Described by Firefly creator Joss Whedon as a combination of Coca Cola and Microsoft, Blue Sun seems to have its logo on everything. The show ended before we got a glimpse of the full extent of Blue Sun's corporatised evilness, but we do know that it was involved with the experiments that tied River Tam's noodle in a knot. Her subsequent discovery of serious bad-assedness in Serenity suggests Blue Sun may have been yet another big company trying to work out how to weaponise human beings. On top of the horrific violation of delicate young things like River, Blue Sun employed the Blue-Handed Men, troubleshooters that fire people with the sort of extreme prejudice that would make Alan 'Suralan' Sugar wet himself.

EvilSE share price: Not so hot. It turns out that monkeying with people's heads to make them into ultimate badasses may be a great investment opportunity on paper, but someone's got burned on just about every such scheme, from OCP to Treadstone to Rekall to the Universal Soldier programme. Probably time to knock that idea on the head, as it were.

Springfield Nuclear Power Plant (The Simpsons)

Business model: An evil figurehead and incompetent employees. No, not Microsoft, we're talking about Charles Montgomery Burns' Springfield Power Plant. The century-old and impossibly wealthy Mr Burns never misses an opportunity for dastardliness, from the everyday soul-crushing of constantly forgetting Homer's name, to polluting Springfield Lake with toxic waste. His most diabolical scheme involved blocking out the sun over Springfield to create round-the-clock demand for the power required to light the town. As if that wasn't enough, he ended the day by trying to take candy from a baby... a baby who promptly shot him. Burns' corner-cutting nature trickles down to his under-motivated workforce, keeping Springfield Nuclear Power Plant constantly teetering on the edge of meltdown...

EvilSE share price: Excellent.

Zorin Enterprises (A View To A Kill)

Business model: Played by Christopher Walken in Roger Moore's final Bond outing A View To A Kill, KGB agent Max Zorin has a weird blond bouffant and was originally set to be played by David Bowie. (David Bowie and Grace Jones together as Bond villains? Brilliant!) Microchip magnate Zorin is also a genetically perfect superman. Much like Steve Jobs. Moving on from doping horses, Zorin plans to flood Silicon Valley to wipe out his competitors. And this was in 1985, so we wouldn't have iPods.

EvilSE share price: Middling. A slightly odd plan, given that competitors could just set up somewhere else. Still, at least it had an actual financial goal in mind -- and it would shut Michael Arrington up.

Cybus (Doctor Who)

Business model: Headed by John Lumic, Cybus Industries had in fact done a lot of good on the parallel Earth visited by the Doctor, Rose and Mickey in 2006. As well as airships, Cybus manufactured a ubiquitous communications device, which was then revealed to turn everyone into a mindless drone, happily marching to the corporate message... nothing at all like the iPhone then. Oh, all right, the fact that they're called EarPods means this satire is worn on its sleeve. Behind the scenes, Lumic is busy having tramps kidnapped and converted into 'human 2.0': the emotionless Cybermen. If you want broadly painted parables about the dangers to our soul of the constant aspirational desire to upgrade our technology, you've come to the wrong Web site.

EvilSE share price: Weak. Lumic attempted to get his 'ultimate upgrade' through the Ethics Committee of Great Britain first, only turning to evil when all business channels are exhausted. As if shareholders have that kind of time.

Aperture Science (Portal)

Business model: Many companies began life doing something very different. Nintendo made playing cards. Lamborghini made tractors. Aperture Science made shower curtains for the US Army. Founded in 1953 by Cave Johnson, Aperture later became one of those companies that embarks on a military contract that goes totally pear-shaped. As if developing the Heimlich Counter-Maneuver and Take-A-Wish Foundation weren't barmy enough, Aperture began work on a "man-sized ad-hoc quantum tunnel through physical space with possible applications as a shower curtain". That's a gun that shoots holes in stuff.

EvilSE share price: Surprisingly strong: the portal gun is actually a pretty viable product -- and in fact is way more sensible than the many tech companies preoccupied with building implacable killing machines or mucking about with deadly viruses or developing artificial intelligences that go utterly hatstand. But Aperture just didn't know when it was well off, developing GLaDOS: you guessed it, an artificial intelligence that went utterly cakestand.

MAD (Inspector Gadget)

Business model: MAD was an organisation headed by the villainous Dr Claw, camera-shy nemesis of stumbling cybernetic shamus Inspector Gadget. MAD stands apart from other evil organisations because of its ubiquitous branding. MAD agents were covered in more logos than Jenson Button, right down to the MAD-branded underwear.

EvilSE share price: In the toilet. The recession is likely to do what Gadget never could, and smash MAD for good. Look out for a glut of MAD-branded underwear on eBay.

Advanced Idea Mechanics (Marvel comics)

Business model: Originally the research and development arm of the evil HYDRA organisation, AIM has evolved into a manufacturer of exotic weapons. Members are required to have a Master's degree, if not a PhD, but they still look daft in their ridiculous yellow helmets. One of the company's biggest achievements was MODOK, or Mobile/Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing. Perhaps unsure how to monetise a giant brain floating around shrieking at people, AIM eventually gave up on creations like Ms MODOK, but is still plagued by meddling superheroes.

EvilSE share price: Would be stronger if those pesky supergeeks didn't keep kicking in the windows and chinning everybody with any managerial direction. Shares in capes, tights and pants with belts remain bullish.

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About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

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