Many of us have trouble from time to time with our machines. The digital world surrounds us and with each new spectacular innovation we become more and more dependent on them. Of course, it wasn’t always that way. Recently, I edited an old novel of mine from 1992, called The Fifth Essence, that was never published. I was actually offered an advance , but I turned it down after my agent at the time assured me that she could do better. She didn’t and the novel went into the closet and vanished for years. I considered updating the story, but decided against it. I liked that private investigator Nicholas Pierce (Crystal Skull) didn’t have a cell phone. He stops at a restaurant at one point to use a pay phone. Try to find one now. Somewhere there must be a vast pay phone booth graveyard.
In Stephen King’s 11/22/63, a time travel novel recently adapted into an 8-part mini-series, Jake Epping, a high school teacher played by James Franco, has a chance to travel into the past to change history. At one point, his new girlfriend who is initially skeptical about his claim that he’s from the 21st century, quizzes him about the future. Epping says, “Everybody carries their telephone around with them all day long and keep looking at.” The girlfriend finds that hilarious and thinks he’s joking. How the world has changed.
So, considering all that, how crazy is this next story from Russia in which we are supposed to believe that a computer was accused of intentionally killing a man? Allegedly, a Soviet supercomputer electrocuted a man who beat it in a chess game. According to the story, which Dean Rabin relates in The Conscious Universe, the supercomputer was ordered to stand trial for the murder of a chess champion who was electrocuted when he touched the metal board that he and the machine were playing on. Soviet police inspector Alexis Shainev reportedly told reporters in Moscow, “This was no accident – it was cold-blooded murder.”
Shainev supposedly said: “The computer was programmed to win at chess, and when it couldn’t do that legitimately, it killed its opponent.” He added: “It might sound ridiculous to bring a machine to trail for murder, but a machine that can solve problems and think faster than any human must be held accountable for its actions.”
The story sounds like something out of Weekly World News or The Onion. Or maybe a Russian fake news outlet. The dead chess player is only identified as Gudkov. Radin, in fact, calls the story ridiculous, but uses it to make a point about our close relationship with machines and how they are acting more and more like humans, though much smarter in many ways. Which leads me to wonder if computers might soon be capable of creating fake news stories of their own volition. Now that’s a scary idea!