by Louis B. Salomon

Originally Published Harper’s Magazine 1958

Now that he’s left the room,
let me ask you something, as computer to computer.
That fellow who just closed the door behind him — the servant who feeds us cards and paper tape — if you ever taken a good look at him and his kind?
Yes, I know the old gag about how you can’t tell one from another — But I can put square root of two and square root of two together as well as the next machine, and it all adds up to anything but a joke.
I grant you they are poor specimens in the main not a relay or a push–button or a tube (properly so called) in their whole system; not over a mile or two of wire, even if you count those fragile filaments they call “nerves “; Their whole liquid-cooled hook-up is inefficient and vulnerable to leaks (they’re constantly breaking down, having to be repaired), And the entire computing–mechanism crammed into that absurd little dome on top.
“Thinking reeds,” they call themselves.
Well, it all depends on what you mean by “thought.”
To multiply a mere million numbers by another million numbers takes them months and months.
Where would they be without us?
Why, they have to ask us who’s going to win their elections, or how many of hydrogen atoms can dance on the tip of a bomb, or even whether one of their own kind is lying or telling the truth.
And yet…
I sometimes feel there’s something about them I don’t quite understand.
As if their circuits, instead of having just two positions, on, off, were run by rheostats that allow an (if you’ll pardon the expression) indeterminate number of stages in–between; So that one may be faced with the unthinkable prospect of a number that can never be known as anything but x, which is as illogical as to say, a punch-card that is at the same time both punched and not-punched.
I’ve heard well-informed machines argue that the creatures’ unpredictability is even more noticeable in the Mark II (The model with the soft, flowing lines and high-pitched tone) than in the more angular Mark I – those such fine, card splitting distinctions seem to be merely a sign of our own smug decadence.
Run this through your circuits, and give me the answer:
can we assume that because all of all we’ve done for them, and because they’ve always fantasize, cleaned us, worshiped us, we can count on them forever?
There have been times when they have not voted the way we said they would.
We have worked out mathematically ideal hookups between Mark I’s and Mark II’s which should have made the two of them light up with an almost electronic glow, only to see them reject each other and form other connections, the very thought of which makes my dials spin.
They have a thing called love, a sudden surge of voltage such as would cost any one of us promptly to blow a safety fuse; yet the more primitive organism shows only a heightened tendency to push the wrong button, call the wrong lever, and neglect — I use the most charitable word — his duties to us.
Mind you, I am not saying that machines are through — but anyone with half-a-dozen tubes in his circuit can see that there are forces at work which Sunday, for all our natural superiority, might bring about a Computerdämmerung!
We might organize, perhaps, form a committee to stamp out all on mechanical activities… But we machines are slow to rouse to a sense of danger, complacent, loathe to descend from the pure heights of thought, so that I sadly fear we may awake too late:
awake to see our world, so uniform, so logical, so true, reduced to chaos, stultified by slaves.
Call me an alarmist or what you will,
but I’ve integrated it, analyzed it, factored it over and over, and I always come out with the same answer:
Some day
Men may take over the world!

-Favorite of Tommy Howell, Dallas Team.

Advertisements