The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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The Life and Times of Multivac

graphic of page

Hines had been an incredible idiot to attempt actual action-as though one could
think of walking up to a Multivac outlet and smashing it, as though he didn't
know a world-girdling computer, the world-girdling Computer with millions of
robots at its command, could protect itself. And even if the outlet had been
smashed, what would that have accomplished?

And Hines did it in Bakst's physical presence,

He was called, precisely on schedule: 'Ronald
Bakst will give evidence now."

Multivac's voice was beautiful, with a beauty
that never quite vanished no matter how often it was heard. Its timbre was
neither quite male nor, for that matter, female, and it spoke in whatever
language its hearer understood best.

"I am ready to give evidence,” Bakst said.

There was no way to say anything but what he
had to say. Hines could not avoid conviction. In
the days when Hines would have had to face his fellow human beings, he would
have been convicted more quickly and less fairly-and would have been punished
more crudely.

Fifteen Days passed, days during which Bakst
was quite alone. Physical aloneness was not a
difficult thing to envisage in the world of Multivac. Hordes had died in the
days of the great catastrophes; it had been the computers that had saved what
was left and directed the recovery-and improved their own designs till all were
merged into Multivac. Five million human beings were left on Earth to live in
perfect comfort.

But those five million were scattered and the chances of one seeing another
outside the immediate circle, except by design, were not great. No one was
designing to see Bakst, not even by television.

For the time, Bakst could endure the isolation.

'He buried himself in his chosen way-which happened to be, these last 23 years,
the designing of mathematical games. Every man and woman on Earth could develop
a way of life to self-suit, provided always that Multivac, weighing all of human
affairs with perfect skill, did not judge the chosen way to be subtractive to
human happiness.

But what could be subtractive in mathematical
games? It was purely abstract, pleased Bakst,
harmed no one else.

He did not expect the isolation to continue. The Congress would not isolate him
permanently without a trial-a different kind of trial from that which Hines had
experienced, of course, one without Multivac's tyranny of absolute justice.

Still, he was relieved when it ended, and pleased that it was Noreen's coming
back that ended it. She came trudging over the hill toward him and he started
toward her, smiling. It had been a successful five-year period during which they
had been together. Even the occasional meetings with her two children and two
grandchildren had been pleasant.

He said, "Thank you for being back."

She said, 'lam not back." She looked tired. Her
brown hair was windblown, her prominent cheeks a trifle rough and sunbumed,

Bakst pressed the combination for a light lunch
and coffee. He knew what he liked. She didn't stop him, and though she hesitated
for a moment, she ate.

She said, 'I've come to talk to you. The Congress sent me."

'The Congress!" he said. "Fourteen men and women. Self-appointed and
You didn't think so when you were a member."

l've grown older. I've learned."

'At least you've learned to betray your friends." "There was no betrayal. Hines
tried to damage Multivac; a foolish, impossible thing for him to try ..

"You accused him."

'I had to, Multivac knew the facts without my
accusation, and without my accusation, I would have been an accessory. Hines
would not have gained, but I would have lost."

'Without a human witness, Multivac would have suspended sentence."

'Not in the case of an anti-Multivac act. This
wasn't a case of illegal parenthood or life-work
without permission. I couldn't take the chance." 
'So you let Simon be deprived of all work permits for two years."

'He deserved it."

'A consoling thought. You may have lost the confidence of the Congress, but you
have gained the confidence of Multivac."

"'The confidence of Multivac is important in the world as it is," said Bakst
seriously. He was suddenly conscious of not being as tall as Noreen.

She looked angry enough to strike him; her lips
pressed whitely together. But then she had passed her 80th birthday-no longer
young-and the habit of nonviolence was too ingrained, Except for fools like

"ls that all you have to say, then?" she asked.

"There could be a great deal to say. Have you
forgotten? Have you all forgotten? Do you remember how it once was? Do you
remember the 20th century? We live long now; we live securely now; we live
happily now."

'We live worthlessly now."

"Do you want to go back to what the world was like once?"

Noreen shook her head violently. 'Demon tales
to frighten us. We have learned our lesson, With the help of Multivac we have
come through, but we don't need that help any longer. Further help will soften
us to death. Without Multivac, we will run the robots, we will direct the farms
and mines and factories.

'How well?"

'Well enough. Better, with practice. We need the stimulation of it in any case,
or we will all die.”
Bakst said. 'We have our work, Noreen; whatever work we choose."

'Whatever we choose, as long as it's unimportant, and even that can be taken
away at will-as with Hines. And what's your work, Ron? Mathematical games?
Drawing lines on paper? Choosing number combinations?"

Bakst's hand reached out (Continued

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