When it comes to our fear of super computers and robots, it’s not as though everyone has ignored it. Science fiction writers and the film industry have had a field day.
The Terminator and Matrix movies showed us something to be afraid of. More recently came the Daniel Wilson novel, Robopocalypse, another war of machines vs humans that is just as unforgettable, and will terrify us more if Steven Spielberg ever gets the film version finished.
But my favorite warning comes from a 1960s short story by SF writer Cordwainer Smith, Mark Elf.
In 1945 with the Russians closing in from the east and the allied armies from the west, a Nazi general / rocket scientist puts his teenage daughter Carlotta into a hibernation capsule and sends her into orbit to protect her. But instead of coming down in 10 years or so when it is safe, she is accidentally left up there for 16,000 years. When she comes down it’s night, she is in a forest and too weak to stand up. A man comes, who says he is a Moron, and wants to help her, but they hear a strange noise coming through the trees – the Moron is terrified, tells her to run, then runs off himself. Then an ancient tank with 10 rotating heads rolls into view and stops when it sees her. She crawls over to it and asks:
“What are you?”
“I am the death of all men who oppose the Sixth German Reich,”
Then, recognizing her as a German, it allows her to read its identity on its ‘carapace’, which says that it is – “Menschenjäger Mark Elf”, and its date of construction is 2495 AD, over 13,000 years earlier.
She faints from weakness, then the machine, wanting to leave to kill some Morons it hears running by but torn by the need to protect her, says:
“You are German. It has been long since there has been any German anywhere. I have gone around the world two thousand, three hundred and twenty-eight times. I have killed seventeen thousand, four hundred and sixty-nine enemies of the Sixth German Reich for sure, and I have probably killed forty-two thousand and seven additional ones. I have been back to the automatic restoration center eleven times. The enemies who call themselves the True Men always elude me. One of them I have not killed for three thousand years. The ordinary men who some call the Unforgiven are the ones I kill most of all, but frequently I catch Morons and kill them too. I am fighting for Germany, but I cannot find Germans anywhere. I accept orders from no one but a German, yet there have been no Germans anywhere, no Germans anywhere, no Germans anywhere…….
Carlotta leaves with the machine talking to itself. As she walks away she hears it still going on behind her – “I can fight forever…….”
I don’t remember the rest of the story. I believe Carlotta meets up with a “true man”, but it is this strange machine that has remained in my memory for years now. Though Cordwainer Smith wrote that story in the 1960s, I don’t think the meeting with the machine has lost a bit of its mesmerizing power in the the 50-60 years that have gone by.
That gives us something to think about doesn’t it? The future could be a real nightmare if we’re not careful.