You often hear people say things like, “no science fiction writer could have predicted the Internet,” when they’re talking about science fiction’s lack of predictive power. But actually, writer Murray Leinster did get a lot right about the Internet, in the 1946 story “A Logic Named Joe.”
In Leinster’s story, everyone has a device in their house called a “Logic,” and it provides whatever kind of information you want. Each “Logic” is connected to a “tank” that contains tons of data. But one “Logic,” named Joe, gets too smart and starts to become dangerous—not by trying to wipe out the human race, but by giving us too much information. Including how to poison your spouse without getting caught, how to cover up a drinking binge, and how to rob a bank. Soon other “Logics” all over the city are providing forbidden knowledge, and society is breaking down.
You can see why the Computer History Museum named this story as “one of the most prescient views of the capabilities of computers in a network.”
There’s a fascinating rundown of the story, including all the ways it presages our current debates over the internet, over at the Register. Shaun Nichols writes:
It’s important to note the state of science and technology at this point. The United States had only recently come out of World War II, having dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The Soviet Union would not test its atomic bomb to kick off the Cold War for another three years, and computers only existed as massive projects like the Colossus, Harvard Mark I and ENIAC. The transistor computer would not be built until 1953, and ARPANET would not go online for another 23 years.
Technology in the home, meanwhile, was only beginning to emerge with electric appliances and television was still in its infancy (the BBC had only begun broadcasting TV 10 years prior.) Apple co-founder Steve Jobs was lauded for seeing a market for home computers in the late 1970s. Murray Leinster predicted it nearly a decade before Jobs was even born.
The whole article in the Register is definitely worth reading. And you can read the whole 1946 story here.