Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
Murray Leinster (1896-1975) was a nom de plume of William Fitzgerald Jenkins, a famous American writer of science fiction and alternate history. He wrote and published over 1500 short stories and articles, 14 movie scripts, and hundreds of radio scripts and television plays.
In the March 1946 issue of the American science fiction magazine Astounding Science Fiction was published Murray Leinster’s short story “A Logic Named Joe”. The story actually appeared under Leinster’s real name, Will F. Jenkins, since that issue of Astounding also included a story under the Leinster pseudonym called “Adapter”. In this story, Leinster made one of the first descriptions of a personal computer (called a “logic”) in science fiction. Moreover, in the story, Leinster imaged a global network, connecting logics, a real forerunner of the now ubiquitous Internet.
Leinster envisioned logics in every home, linked through a distributed system of servers (called “tanks”), to provide communications, entertainment, data access, and even commerce. One of his characters says that logics are civilization.
The story’s narrator is a logic maintenance man, working for the Logics Company, nicknamed Ducky. In the story, a logic named Joe develops some degree of sapience and ambition. Joe proceeds to switch around a few relays in the tank (tank one of a distributed set of central information repositories, something similar to the web servers on the World Wide Web), and cross-correlate all information ever assembled (massive data-mining)—yielding highly unexpected results. Joe then proceeds to freely disseminate all of those results to everyone on demand (and simultaneously disabling all of the content-filtering protocols). Logics everywhere begin offering up unexpected assistance, offering to solve generally all human problems—from designing custom chemicals to alleviate inebriation, to giving sex advice to small children, to plotting the perfect murder. Information runs rampant as every logic worldwide crunches away at problems too vast in scope for human minds to have attempted. Societal chaos quickly ensues, and the situation became critical.
And finally, what Ducky was supposed to do in this situation? Neither more nor less than to save civilization, disconnecting Joe and putting the logic down in the cellar. It was a simple and effective solution, wasn’t it? Sometimes I wish we have a similar solution 😉