tag: Supercomputers

The Day Mr. Computer Fell Out Of Its Tree

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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When Joe Contemptible wakes up he finds Mr. Bed has dumped him on the floor, Mr. Closet won’t give him the correct clothes, Mr. Coffeepot serves him a cup of soapy water and Mr. Door won’t let him go anywhere. These problems are going on worldwide as the centralized computer source (aptly named Mr. Computer) has a psychotic episode. 

To solve this global catastrophe Joan Simpson, the head of World Mental Health who has been kept in suspended animation in the center of the Earth for just these scenarios, is brought forth to cure Mr. Computer. She determines Joe, lonely and on the verge of suicide, is the reason for Mr. Computer’s breakdown. The police round up Joe and she agrees to take him with her back down into the center of the Earth, giving them both companionship and setting Mr. Computer back to normal. 

Cast of characters

  • Joe Contemptible
  • Joan Simpson – the head of World Mental Health and the name of Dick’s real-life girlfriend at this time
  • Fred Doubledome – a computer tech?
  • Dr. Pacemaker – brings Joan out of suspended animation

Holy Quarrel

The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Worlds of Tomorrow May 1966

The Genux-B supercomputer wants to nuke Northern California based on a premise that doesn’t make any sense. An engineer jams the computer’s take up reel with a screwdriver and the FBI brings in the computer repairman Joseph Stafford to help them figure out what is wrong with the Genux-B before it ends up starting another war. 

The Genux-B thinks Herb Sousa, a man who operates a penny gum ball machine business in California, is a threat who needs to be eliminated. Stafford and the others feed data into the computer in an attempt to figure out why it has targeted Sousa, and the output they eventually receive from Genux-B is that Herb Sousa is the devil. 

At that point they conclude the Genux-B is severely malfunctioning and shut it down. Stafford returns to his apartment with a couple of Sousa’s gum balls in his pocket that they had picked up in order to rule out all possibilities of a threat. In the morning the gum balls have multiplied. In a few days 15,000 gum balls are spilling from his apartment and when Stafford tries to contact the FBI they are no longer able to answer the phone.

Should we trust computers completely? Do we even have a choice anymore? “Holy Quarrel” is a fun (and creepy) read.

Cast of characters

  • Joseph Stafford – Genux-B computer repairman
  • Unnamed computer engineer
  • Three unnamed FBI agents

The Great C

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Cosmos Science Fiction #1 Sep 1953

In a post-apocalyptic, far-off future an artificial intelligence responsible for the Earth’s nuclear destruction demands a yearly sacrifice from the planet’s surviving humans. A youth from one of the tribes makes the long trek out to speak to the Great C to attempt to stump it with three questions. The Great C easily answers these questions (where does rain come from, what keeps the sun moving through the sky, and how did the world begin) and the youth is dissolved in a vat of acid providing fuel for the Great C for another year.

Both Tibor and Pete encounter the Great C in Dick’s Zelazny collaboration Deus Irae, although in that book the Great C is more of a trickster trying to feed on passerby.

In 2018 Secret Location released a VR movie based on this story that also borrows the idea of the computer’s female avatar from Deus Irae

Cast of characters

  • Walter Kent – the tribe leader
  • Tim Meredith – that year’s sacrifice to the Great C
  • Bill Gustavson, Anne Fry, John Page – members of the tribe

The Variable Man

Paycheck and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick
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First published in Space Science Fiction Sep 1953

A failed experiment with faster-than-light travel shows promise as a potential bomb that could instantly destroy the Centaurans, but the problem of the central control unit has so far been unsolvable. This all changes when Thomas Cole, an itinerant handyman with the uncanny ability to fix anything, is accidentally brought forward to the present from the year 1913.

The statistical computer can no longer reliably compute odds of victory at all once this ‘variable man’ is around. Security commissioner Reinhart wants Cole killed before the Council realizes the odds of winning the war are no longer in their favor, while the Military Design director Sherikov wants Cole to help him fix the control unit of the so-called Icarus bomb. Cole does eventually ‘fix’ the bomb by figuring out why it wasn’t working as a ftl drive in the first place. Reinhart still tries to kill Cole, Earth loses the war with Centarus when the bomb doesn’t explode (which doesn’t really matter since now Earth possesses the knowledge of faster-than-light travel), the scheming Reinhart is removed from power and Sherikov promises to send Cole back to his own time.

Cast of characters

  • Eric Reinhart – the security commissioner
  • Kaplan – lab organizer
  • Peter Sherikov – director of Military Designs
  • Thomas Cole – handyman from 1913 with the intuitive ability to fix anything
  • Margaret Duffe – President of the Council
  • Joseph Dixon – Reinhart’s second in command


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First published in Amazing Oct 1963

The human stand-by for the President of the United States (a job held by the supercomputer Unicephalon 40-D) is a union post, and when the current stand-by dies, union officials choose layabout Max Fischer as his successor.

No one expects Unicephalon 40-D to fail, because it never has, but that’s before an army of aliens attacks, knocking out Unicephalon and promoting Fischer to Commander-and-Chief.

Fischer bungles the job, and news clown Jim Briskin claims Fischer isn’t legally President since he was never elected. Briskin then pushes for an election and announces his own candidacy. As Fischer moves to have the FBI silence Briskin, Unicephalon returns to power, declares war with the aliens and puts an end to these presidential shenanigans.

Cast of characters

  • Jim Briskin – everyone’s favorite news clown. Briskin also makes a bid for the Presidency in The Crack in Space.
  • Unicephalon 40-D – supercomputer / President of the United States
  • Maximilian Fischer – union member chosen to be the next stand-by POTUS
  • General Tompkins – chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff
  • Leon Lait – Fischer’s cousin and Attorney General while Fischer is in charge

Vulcan’s Hammer

Vulcan's Hammer
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This is a by-the-numbers potboiler about two supercomputers that plot to destroy each other and the humans, who have put too much faith in these machines, who get caught in the middle.

We have a couple of hints at a religious allegory. Managing Director Jason Dill, the only man allowed to communicate with Vulcan 3, resembles a single high priest who is granted permission to talk to God, and Marion Fields, Father Fields’ wise-beyond-her-years daughter, pipes up in class that the Libson Laws dethroned God. Beyond that, not too much to recommend with this one.

Cast of characters

  • William Barris – Unity’s North American director
  • Jason Dill – Unity’s Managing Director. The only human allowed to communicate directly with Vulcan 3
  • Father Fields – one of the founders of the Healers
  • Arthur Pitt – Unity employee who is killed by a mob in the first chapter
  • Rachel Pitt – Arthur Pitt’s widow
  • Marion Fields – nine-year-old daughter of Father Fields
  • Agnes Parker – Marion Fields’ schoolteacher

Other things to know

  • Unity – Earth’s “rational world order” that came into being after the end of the Atomic War in 1992. Eleven divisions, each with its own director
  • Vulcan 3 – a supercomputer built during the war following Vulcan 1 and Vulcan 2 built in the 1970s. Named for the glowing red power lines that reminded the computer’s creator of the Roman god’s forge
  • Libson Laws of 1993 – after the destruction of the war all the world’s nations agreed to give absolute power to the objective and impartial supercomputers. According to Dill: “To subordinate themselves in a realistic manner—not in the idealistic manner of the UN days—to a common supranational authority, for the good of all mankind”
  • The Healers – a vague mystical group in opposition to Unity