The Best of Creative Computing Volume 1 (published 1976)

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The Life and Times of Multivac

graphic of page

to her, almost pleadingly: 'That can be important. It is not nonsense. Don't un-
derestimate … ." He paused, yeaning to explain but not quite knowing how he
could, safely. He said, 'I'm working  on some deep problems in combinatorial
analysis based on gene patterns that can be
used to ….”
“...To amuse you and a few others. Yes, I've heard you talk about your games.
You will decide how to move from A to B in a minimum number of steps and that
will teach you how to go from womb to grave in a minimum number of risks and we
will all thank Multivac as we do  so.”
She stood up. "Ron, you will be tried. l'm sure of it. Our trial. And you will
be dropped. Multivac will protect you against physical harm, but you know it
will not force us to see you, speak to you, or have anything to do with you. You
will find that without the stimulation of human interaction, you will not be
able to think-or to play your games. Good-by."

'Noreen! 'Wait!"

She turned at the floor. 'Of course, you will have Multivac. You can talk to
Multivac, Ron.”
He watched her dwindle as she walked down the road through the parklands kept
green and ecologically healthy by the unobtrusive labors of quiet, single-minded
robots one scarcely ever saw.

He thought: Yes, I will have to talk to Multivac.

Multivac had no particular home any longer. It was a global presence knit
together by wire, optical fiber, and microwave. lt had a brain divided into a
hundred subsidiaries but acting as one. lt had its outlets everywhere and no
human being of the five million was far from one.

There was time for all of them, since Multivac could speak to all individually
at the same time and not have to lift its mind from the greater problems that
concerned it.

Multivac indifferently permitted talk of any kind, precisely because talk was
unimportant. It was only acts that Multivac  prevented, or punished.

Bakst had no illusions as to its strength. What was its incredible intricacy but
a mathematical game that Bakst had come to understand over a decade ago? He knew
the manner in which the connecting links ran from continent to continent in a
huge network whose analysis could form the basis of a fascinating game. How do
you arrange the network so that the flow of information never jams? How do you
arrange the switching points? How to prove that no matter what the arrangement,
there is always at least one point which, on disconnection _ . . ?

Once Bakst had learned the game, he had dropped out of the Congress. What could
they do but talk and of what use was that? Multivac indifferently permitted talk
of any kind and in any depth, precisely because talk was unimportant. It was
only acts that Multivac prevented, diverted, or punished.

And it was Hines's act that was bringing on the crisis; and before Bakst was
ready for it, too.

Bakst had to hasten now, and he applied for an interview with Multivac without
any degree of confidence in the outcome.

Questions could be asked of Multivac at any time. There were nearly a million
outlets of the type that had withstood Hines's sudden attack into which, or near
which, one could speak. Multivac would answer.

An interview was another matter. lt required time; it required privacy; most of
all it required Multivac's judge  ment that it was necessary. Although Multivac
had capacities that not all the world's problems consumed, it had grown chary,
somehow, of its time. Perhaps that was the result of its ever-continuing
self-improvement. It was becoming constantly more aware of its own worth and
less likely to bear trivialities with patience.

Bakst had to depend on Multivac's good will. His leaving of the Congress, all
his actions since-even the bearing of evidence against Hines-had been to gain
that good will. Surely it was the key to success in this world.

He would have to assume the good will. Having made the application, he at once
travelled to the nearest substation by air. Nor did he merely send his image. He
wanted to be there in person;  somehow he felt his contact with Multivac would
be closer in that way.

The room was almost as it might be if there were to be a human conference
planned over closed multivision. For one flash-by moment, Bakst thought Multivac
might assume an imaged human form and join him-the brain made flesh.

It did not, of course. There was the soft, whispering chuckle of Multivac's
unceasing operations-something always evident in Multivac's presence-and over
it, now, Multivac's voice.

lt was not the usual voice of Multivac. It was a still. small voice, beautiful
and insinuating, almost in his ear.

'Good day, Bakst, You are welcome. Your fellow human beings disapprove of you."

Multivac always comes to the point, thought Bakst. He said, "lt does not matter,
Multivac. What counts is that I accept your decisions as for the good of the
human species. You were designed to do so in the primitive versions of yourself
and . . .”
'. . . And my self-designs have continued this basic approach. lf you understand
this, why do so many human

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