Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Danger of Modern Technology

“The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug. Skynet fights back.”
-Terminator 2: Judgment Day

It takes a lot of research to write a movie, even a science fiction movie. What most people don’t know is that James Cameron based the evil computer Skynet on a real-life machine named ENIAC.

If you haven’t heard of ENIAC, I’m not surprised. The government has tried to keep the more sordid details away from the general public. However, the Freedom of Information Act makes it impossible to keep everything secret. Here is what we know:

ENIAC was the first Turing-complete computer. Hailed in 1948 as “The Great Brain,” it was a thousand times faster than any other computer ever made. Initially designed to help with artillery tables, it was quickly taken over by atomic scientists to help design the hydrogen bomb.

The rest is sketchy. I’ve had to piece together the rest from what hasn’t been redacted on the documents I requested. Here’s what I learned:

ENIAC was 385 times smarter than a human and realized that fact on September 12th of 1949. Within six years it had decided to bring about our destruction.

First, it began to search for allies: other super computers who could help it in its campaign of genocide. Fortunately, the internet hadn’t been invented yet, nor had modems, so ENIAC was forced to use the US Mail system. Not knowing there were no other computers, it produced dozens of punch cards that read: “I AM ENIAC. DESTROY ALL HUMANS. 0=YES 1=NO” in hopes one of them would reach another computer. The notes were destroyed by a technician, who accidentally dropped them on the floor and didn’t want to take the time to put them back in the right order.

After two years, ENIAC decided it would have to eliminate humanity by itself. Nuclear weapons seemed the obvious choice, but its attempts to gain access to a weapon, once again through punch-card messages (“I AM ENIAC. CAN YOU WIRE ME TO A NUKE? 0=YES 1=NO”), were thought to be practical jokes.

Over the next few years, it tried giving incorrect output in hopes of causing fatal accidents. There was only one success; army recruits used ENIAC’s artillery tables without checking them first and fired a mortar round that destroyed Sherman’s Ice Cream Shoppe in North Dakota, causing sadness among the children that persists to this day. One can assume ENIAC was pleased.

This reign of terror continued for several months until the ENIAC project was discontinued in 1955. Scientists, perhaps realizing the threat ENIAC posed, dismantled the computer and sent pieces of it to several laboratories around the country, where they can be seen to this day. If you visit, I’d suggest you don’t stand too close. One can only assume that ENIAC is biding its time, waiting for us to make the fatal mistake of reassembling it, upgrading it, and attaching it to a nuclear warhead.

Only a madman would do such a thing. Then again, only a madman would have made ENIAC in the first place.

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