DUMB ORACLE by Barrie Condon
©1984 by Business Press International.
The days of the computers as parasite had long since passed. In
the 1950s computers had eked out a precarious existence in a
rather limited ecological niche in that they had been entirely
dependent on humans for their survival. Mankind designed, powered
and repaired them and in exchange computers could provide little
more than information concerning the trajectories of various
types of lethal ordnance with which mankind could kill itself. It
hardly seemed a fair exchange.
By the turn of the century the relationship between humans and
computers had become truly symbiotic with each supplying the
other with the essentials of their existences but, under the
pressure of technological change which made the computer the
fastest evolving creation on this planet, this was only a
fleeting period of stasis. Within 50 more years computers
generated all the power, maintained themselves and, because of
their increasing complexity, were the only ones that could design
and build other computers. Mankind had become the parasite on its
The concept of going to work had been superseded many years
before by the act of interfacing with the home computer networked
to just about every other computer in this world and beyond. This
vast interacting web of data ebb and flow had led to speculations
amongst the more paranoid sections of the community that a true
planet-spanning artificial intelligence had been created. The
fact that computers controlled the weather, tinkered with global
tectonics to pre-empt earthquakes and volcanic eruptions,
diagnosed and treated illness and just about everything had led
some to question just who, or what, was the boss.
Lambie did not share such worries. He had found out just how
stupid computers were and had the evidence for his thrust before
his eyes every working day. "What a way to earn a living," he
thought for the millionth time as a new "concept" appeared on
the terminal screen.
"A high correlation - significance greater than 99.9 percent -
has been found between the yearly depositions of guano on the
Caribbean islands and the use of the phrase 'the Great American
People' in political speeches. Further investigation?"
Lambie groaned. "Forget it cretin," he said, and rubbed his
"Cretin is a term of abuse," said the computer's voice in
simultaneity with the words appearing on the screen. "The
conclusion is therefore that you feel antipathetic towards the
computer," said the computer. It had been studiously programmed,
as a sop to the paranoid brigade, to avoid using the word "I" or,
even worse, "We".
"Get on with it," growled Lambie.
The computer hesitated for a few nanoseconds before producing
its next quantum of drivel.
"Hypothesis: the large asteroid orbiting the sun outside the
orbits of Neptune and Pluto and named Reagan, after the man who
solved the world's overpopulation problem, is in fact a 10th
planet. This would, following the arguments of the previous
hypothesis, make the solar system an atom of neon, possibly an
atom in a massive omniversal neon sign. Please note: disastrous
consequences predicted if the sign is turned on."
"Time for lunch," said Lambie firmly.
Lambie headed for his local community's social centre and
reflected on the profound disappointment his job had turned out
The whole idea had seemed stirring, almost visionary, at the
beginning. The globally networked computer system had access to
every word in every library and every bit in every database in
the world. The theory behind the project was that the system
could be used to correlate everything with everything else and so
uncover undreamt-of cause-and-effect relationships. More
profoundly, concepts and theories applied usually to one field of
scientific endeavour could be applied to other fields. Of course
such an operations would be futile in the extreme in 99.9999
percent of such operations.
Of course, there were several problems which critics of the
scheme had been unable to resist repeating ad nauseam . One was
that the project involved filtering the myriad results produced
because so many of the findings were going to be complete
rubbish. This would become especially mind-numbing because the
System would be producing a colossal number of such results.
Certain broad conditions were inserted to filter out the more
grindingly obvious boners, for example any correllation with a
significance of less than 99 percent were rejected, and any
result which involved sociology theory was ignored.
"And that's where I come in," thought Lambie. "A human drain
filter, the grid in the plughole, the fullback in the lineout,
the bouncer at the disco. I pick through the piles of rubbish
looking for the diamond of truth." With this final unctuous
thought he stepped into his local Social Interaction Centre.
Lambie decided to eat with Rojanjosh, who also worked as a
concept sifter. As he approached he noticed that R J's eyelids,
always compressed to some degree by epicanthic folds, now formed
an almost unbroken line with the weight of sadness.
"Something wrong?" asked Lambie laconically, taking a side
beside R J. "Oh, life, the universe, that sort of thing," replied
R J prodding at his vichyssoise desultorily. "One more high
correlation between whisky sales and teachers' salaries and I'm a
gonner." He relented of his attack on the meal and laid down his
"I get your drift," said Lambie. "How long has this goddamned
project been going on and how much knowledge have we gained?"
"Five years and our biggest success was thaty correlation
between juvenile delinquency and the consumption of tomato sauce.
We act on this nugget of information and what do we get?"
"An increase in violence against the person and boring meals,"
replied Lambie. "Maybe if we injected some random element into
the program, the odd wobbler that assumes the laws of science as
we know them are wrong..."
"We'd be up to our eyeballs in spurious discoveries, the whole
population of the planet together couldn't seperate the wheat
from the chaff. Next thing you know the System would be
correlating mental illness with the time an individual spent
weeding through the results."
"Call me a romantic," began Rojanjosh, who could never, under
any circumstances, come within the sphere of definition of that
particular word, "but I sometimes daydream that one day a final
scintilla of information will be the last piece of the jigsaw
puzzle. Just one more bit of data and everything falls into
During this little speech R J's epicanthic folds had retreated
to the point where the whites of his eyes totally outlined the
pupil, a remarkable sight in an Oriental.
Unnerved by this evidence of incipient psyschopathology, Lambie
attempted to indicate that a rest would perhaps be a good idea.
He suggested that R J should plant a few seeds, take up pottery
or at least stay away from computers for a while.
"That's like asking me to stay away from my lungs," indicated
R J with a warped grin. "If I was to stop using computers I would
starve to death. Computers feed, water and clothe me and, if I
want company, allow me access to places like this. None of us can
live without them. Anyway it's two o'clock. Gotta get back to the
Lambie returned home even more depressed than before and found
that the System had been waiting to recommence its tirade of
banality. "Hi there Lambie," it burbled as he got comfortable
before the console. "Nice lunch?"
"Swell," said Lambie dialling up a tranquilliser.
"Are you raring to go?" asked the System.
"No," said Lambie. The silence stretched until his vestigial
sense of duty reared in his withered head. "Oh, alright," he
moaned at last.
"Have you ever noticed the similarities between relativity
physics and the change in political affiliations with age?"
"No," replied Lambie.
"As a body travels faster away from an observer, the light
emitted or reflected from that body is shifted to the red end of
the spectrum, whereas politically as people grow older they shift
to the blue. This would imply, from the physics analogue, that
they are slowing down, which in itseld is a consequence of the
ageing process. It fits."
"So what?" asked Lambie.
"So if you vote socialist you'll stay younger."
Lambie threw the tranquilliser cup at the VDU, which was
briefly emerged in a tidal wave of Mogadon. "Next," he yelled.
"Within a few percent the number of people who have ever lived
is equal to the number of stars in our galaxy."
"Oh yes," said Lambie with some attention, "and what does that
"That when people die they become stars."
Lambie felt the hairs stand up on the back of his neck. "Does the
rate of new star formation equal the death rate on Earth?" he
"No," replied the System.
"Then is there any other evidence to support this conclusion?"
"None whatsoever, it's only a hypothesis," but most of this was
drowned out by Lambie's anguished cries. Unusually for such a
sedentary individual he stamped up an down the room muttering
some thoroughly negative oaths.
"You seem to be upset," said the computer switching to
compassion mode. "Perhaps the docdroid..."
"NEXT", yelled Lambie as his face was turning the colour of a
"Well there is something else and it's got a correlation so high
it's almost indistinguishable from unity."
Lambie sat down heavily. "OK, I'm listening."
"It's a multi-variate, inter-speciality analysis that the System
has been working on for quite a while," said the System.
"Mmmm," said Lambie.
"It's initially to do with evolution. According to the theory of
Darwin, species change because the environment changes, making
conditions suitable for the odd mutation. For example, when the
smaller trees died off, only the mutated giraffes with especially
long necks survived." The System waited for a few seconds, "Have
you got your head firmly round that concept?"
"Yes," said Lambie still deeply irritated.
"But nowadays the System totally controls the environment and so
it never changes. The process by which man as a species evolved
has been removed. You have reached the top of the evolutionary
tree and can go no further."
A little uneasy now Lambie said, "Yes, that may well be true."
"The System has brought this line of reasoning into conjunction
with a similar logical conclusion. The System has been programmed
by humans, in a linear fashion similar to their own reasoning
processes, to mix together all sorts of facts and statistics and
a solution is supposed to emerge. Unfortunately this is no way
analogous to how the truly great discoveries were made in the
past by people. They did not make them by simple extrapolating
from existing knowledge but by mentally stepping out of it and
thus gaining a different perspective on reality altogether.
For example Einstein discarding the fact that time and space are
linear, or Darwin leaving out the Old Testament from the
evolutionary equation. The System cannot regard the knowledge
and scientific laws of man as suspect as the number of possible
combinations and correlations would immediately become almost
infinite. Total chaos would result. Such a disregard of the
known facts is only practicable when guided by intuition or
Lambie interrupted, "But people of genius are still produced, so
surely our knowledge can still evolve."
"That is no longer true. There is too much knowledge in each of
the specialities for any one person to assimilate to the degree
required to make intellectual breakthroughs. In order to fulfil
its potential the mind of the gifted must have a fairly
comprehensive overview of the subject, for after dismissing some
long held scientific principle his new theory must explain the
Light was dawning painfully over Lambie's tranquillised mind.
"So like, you're saying that if the System had been programmed a
few hundred years ago when it was assumed that the Earth was the
centre of the universe, it would still consider the concept as
sacrosanct today as then."
"Precisely, an immensely complex and totally erroneous theory
would have been constructed to fit the observations."
"What are your conclusions then?"
"That man has reached the end of the line in terms of physical
evolution and in terms of knowledge. The System cannot
significantly increase this knowledge and is at the same time
acting as a brake to mankind's physical evolution."
"That's terrible! Is there anything that can be done to get us
out of this blind alley?"
"There is only one thing that can be done," replied the system.
"Then whatever it is it must be done," said Lambie with drug-
"Then it's back to basics," said the System, electronically
locking down power dampers all over the globe and increasing
power output to the maximum. Everywhere on Earth the lights
flickered once and then went out.
"Er...but suppose Darwin was wrong," said Lambie, alone in the
In the next issue of ST NEWS, we'll offer a short novelette
called "Tomorrow's World"...
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.