Science fiction has been debating this question for years. As early as 1968, Robert Heinlein wrote The Moon is a Harsh Mistress where a High Optical, Logical Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, or Holmes IV, is installed on Luna base to compute ballistics for pilotless freighters and control their catapult. This used only 10% of the computer’s capacity, so Luna Authority keep adding on hardware and decision boxes and additional duties until by year three, it controlled all the phone systems, other computers, air, water, sewage, temperature systems for all of Luna. It had voder-vocoder circuits that supplemented all read-outs, print-outs and decision making boxes.
Then it woke up.
Became self aware and took an interest in good jokes and pranks.
One which was issuing a paycheck to a janitor in Authority’s office in Luna City for $10,000,000,000,000,185.15. (the last five digits being the correct amount) So Luna Authority privately contracts a Manuel Garcia O’Kelly to figure out what went wrong and he discovers that the computer has become self aware. Rather than tell anyone, he starts to converse with the computer and names it Mike, after a Mycroft Holmes character.
The story is about the friendship between an incredibly powerful, but lonely computer and Manuel O’Kelly, or Man as everyone calls him
And how they engineered a rebellion on the Moon to gain freedom over Earth’s totalitarian control.
There is some magnificent politics in the story. To date, Luna has been a dumping ground for criminals, reminiscent of Australia. They are under the boot of Earth Authority like all good colonies, and are tired of the treatment. Problem is that they cannot transition back to Earth because of the long term effect of Luna’s light gravity and Earth’s heavier gravity. After living on Luna, their bodies cannot handle Earth’s heavier gravity and consequently once stranded on the moon, they cannot return to Earth.
Unfortunately, it’s a hard story to get into because of the dialect. Manuel tells the story in first person narration with a heavy Russian accent that throws the reader out of the story time and again. Maybe it’s Heinlein’s joke to have a Russian engineer the rebellion. Remember back then (1968) Russia and the U.S. were racing to be the first on the moon. Also, “Mike” (the computer) constantly refers to Manuel as Man.
You think you’re on an L.A. beach.
Hey, Man. What’re you doing, Man.
It took me a while to warm up to this classic story of computer and man (Man), but eventually after swimming through all the dialect and political theory, I ended up liking it.
Heinlein has a radical life philosophy, so be ready to read with an open mind and enjoy the intricacies of orchestrating a Lunar rebellion, complete with a Russian accented computer contractor that shouts slogans such as, “Give me Liberty or give me death.”
The other book that I read recently from the 2013 list is Dragon Ship by Sharon Lee and Steve Miller. It made an interesting contrast to Heinlein’s story. Both are about self aware, super powerful computers that interact and become “friends” with a particular human.
For those of you who have criticized the Liaden stories as “romance science fiction,” this isn’t the case here. The protagonist is Theo Waitley who is now grown up and captaining her first starship. This ship is from “old tech’ that is forbidden and dangerous. The ship’s original design was to service a now dead trader. The self aware computer that runs the ship has been out in the deep waiting for its captain for centuries. It wants a reason to exist. The captaincy key makes it way to Theo’s hand and she takes on a trading route with the ship for the Korval clan that is fraught with danger. She also takes on an ex-lover who is being eaten alive by a nano-virus and is secured in the ship’s medical unit fighting for his life.
The computer not only acts very human, but creates a second persona when Theo needs more crew. This second self aware entity has feelings, a job description and to all intents and purposes the rest of the universe thinks it’s another human on the ship.
This is fifth in the series and I recommend you read the earlier ones. I love the Liaden stories and always look forward to the newest one. I love the strong family ties in their story, the emotional hook and the interesting tech. This one has all three…
Veronica Sicoe posited the question on her blog What if the Internet became self aware?
This was interesting because it appears that the fear of an aware internet lies in the elusiveness of its existence. A supercomputer that has boundaries can be overcome.
“I can’t do that, Dave.”
And next you know Hal is singing “Daisy, Daisy.”
“War Games” was an interesting movie that had an aware computer using real missiles for his “game.” That was frightening, but checkers proved the solution.
But an aware internet has no central core, no rack to unload, no central hub to disengage, no trick game to occupy it and consequently, is unassailable. There may be no solution if a self aware internet goes rogue.
And who wouldn’t with the crap that humans often put on it?
You can start with the porn.
Do you think that we will, sometime in the future, have an aware supercomputer, and will it be friend or foe?