[Athen] A Logic Named Joe

Dann Berkowitz dann at digilifemedia.biz
Wed Dec 3 18:35:13 PST 2008


At dinner this evening my younger son asked me a question to which I did not have a ready answer - and as usual my response was to inform him that if he is still interested after dinner we will look up an answer on the Internet. He agreed, paused for a moment, and asked me how the Internet knows all this stuff. Well, I started to explain that the Internet does not 'know' all of this stuff per se', but rather the Internet is made up of a vast array of resources within which may be the answers to the questions he is asking. This led to him asking where the Internet came from - and for that matter - who invented the Internet. My wife joked that it was Al Gore and my older son chimed in with Bill Gates . She was joking -- he was confused. The conversation quickly turned to disputing any claim Mr. Bill has on the creation of the Internet and explaining the joke about Mr. Gore.

After dinner -- the original question being forgotten -- we did a quick search for the history of the Internet . I knew beforehand about MIT and ARPANET , but was a bit suprised to learn that like so many other technologies we take for granted today, the Internet owes a portion of its origin to science fiction. I grew up reading Asimov, Harrison, and Heinlein while watching Star Trek [TOS] and others, and am delighted every time some new gadget or gizmo hits the market that can be traced right back to its fantastical fictional origin. Though I consider myself to be pretty well read in science fiction literature, I had never heard of the short story "A Logic Named Joe" until I came across it in the Wikipedia entry for Internet .

Published in 1946 by Murray Leinster [the pseudoname of writer Will F. Jenkins], when computer technology was still in its trying to procreate stage , "A Logic Named Joe" is a unique story even by today's standards in that it combines possibility of too much information with a quietly efficient Artificial Intelligence bringing together disparate bits of information. Replace the word 'logic' every time it appears in the story with the word 'computer' and the term 'central tank' with 'Google' and you've got a tale worthy of today's "information age". Heck, within the first few paragraphs there is enough expository premonition to make you expect that by the end of the story the author will pinpoint the location of Bigfoots cave.

I'm a maintenance man for the Logics Company. My job is servicing logics, and I admit modestly that I am pretty good. I was servicing televisions before that guy Carson invented his trick circuit that will select any of 'steenteen million other circuits—in theory there ain't no limit—and before the Logics Company hooked it into the tank-and-integrator set-up they were usin' 'em as business-machine service. They added a vision screen for speed—an' they found out they'd made logics. They were surprised an' pleased. They're still findin' out what logics will do, but everybody's got 'em. See what I mean. Written in a gutteral tone and at a time when computers were so rare they were given individual names, the story unfolds that "Joe" has somehow developed an independent personality and decides that he can do better than thems that are maintainin' him. Joe decides  that information should be shared openly and freely - security protocols and logical reasoning be damned.

In just a few pages, the story introduces and predicts a plethora of innovations and uses we take for granted today, including:

• Internet access from a desktop computer
• Fully searchable networks
• Video databases (fully searchable)
• On-line accounting software
• Television available via desktop computers
• Real-time news , weather , stock quotes , etc.
• Internet telephone and televid service
• Personal Internet addresses
• Individual phone numbers (in a time of party lines)
• The ability to censor content for users
• On-line and On-screen technical support
• Web based software programs
• Cyber Cafes (for a fee)
• Log-In screens
• Pop-up ads
• Viruses  

I cannot believe that in my life to this day I had never even heard of this story let alone read it. It's like finding a band that was not known by me in their heyday but now I cannot get enough of because I love a cover of one of their tunes and am thrilled to hear the original . Now I need to find everything written by Will F. Jenkins [a.k.a Murray Lenister].

By the way - the story is available for reading through Baen Books and a 1950 radio recording in MP3 is available through Archive.org .

Posted By Dann Berkowitz to Access Technologists Higher Education Network at 12/03/2008 07:49:00 PM
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