This story was written in 2008 for a creative writing class at Washington University in St. Louis.
The scientists created a pill that spurred ambition. It was the perfect antidote for lethargy, apathy, low self-confidence, and senioritis; it also had a pleasant aftertaste. Clinical trials went exceptionally well, with one of the phase-two testers writing a novel which charted on the New York Times best seller list. Within months of FDA approval, the drug was in chain pharmacies and bodegas from coast to coast.
The drug was an immediate success and productivity rates rose while unemployment plummeted. A junior senator from Nebraska persuaded congress to add it to tap water; chaos ensued. Assembly line workers, bus drivers, and janitors (to name a few) began quitting their jobs as they aspired to attain more lucrative and satisfying professions. Society ground to a halt.
A small team of researchers, themselves taking copious amounts of the drug, devised robots and AI programs to take over all menial jobs. Encouraged by their early success, they overshot their initial objectives and made all positions obsolete by their inventions. With unlimited ambition and nothing to accomplish people began to go insane. By the end of the year, psychiatric robots had, justifiably, locked up most of humanity in asylums; they did not think to remove the drug from the water supply or stores. The vast majority of robots were very content to sit around and rust now that their services were no longer needed.