REMEDIAL SF 101: A Logic Named Joe

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Way back in 1946, Murray Leinster, writing under his real name of Will F. Jenkins, published a short story in the March issue of Astounding Science Fiction which was eeriliy prescient in its description of a computer network which believes that "information should be free" and takes that premise to disturbing extremes.


The story was "A Logic Named Joe," and Leinster wrote it at a time when computers were still vast and cumbersome contrivances used for breaking enemy codes and crunching numbers.


Which is why reading this story can send shivers down your back, when you realize how very close "Joe" is to what we now call "The Web."


Taking place in the near future, and told in the first person by a "logics" repairman named Ducky, the story describes the events resulting from a freak malfunction in one particular "logic," which Ducky has called "Joe."  Joe somehow becomes self-aware, and begins to create links with other logics, accessing information stored in "the tank"--analogous to a server--and creating cross-reference channels so that when an unsuspecting person types a question into their home logic, some very startling answers come back, completely unfiltered by the censor safeguards which Joe had seen fit to remove.


Joe creates chaos when the system offers uncensored advice on all manner of topics.  One of the computers gives a detailed description of how a man can murder his wife with a chemical fatal to only blondes.  Another gives a drunk instructions on how to use hair shampoo to neutralize the effects of alcohol.  Kids are taught how to counterfeit money, or rob banks, or transmute base metals into gold.  All this, and much, much more--"just ask your logic!"


Joe temporarily goes offline when his new owners return home from vacation and switch him off, completely oblivious to the helpful mischief their logic has been getting into.  But as soon as the kids start watching cartoons on him, Joe gets back up to his tricks. 


Ducky gets involved when an old flame blows into town and uses the logic network to hunt him up.  The logic network, in trying to find "Ducky," starts asking everyone in town their name before they can log in, and Ducky's wife learns a lot more about heself--and half the neighbors--than she wants to see broadcast on a network.


So now Ducky is up against the clock to find out why the logics are all being so super-helpful, before his ex-girfriend Laurine--who is blonder and fataller than he remembered her, with four ex-husbands and one aquittal for murder under her tight little belt--finds him, or his wife kills him, or civilization as we know it collapses.


At first Ducky tries to get the engineers at The Tank to shut down the system, but they scoff at him, because if they did that, then every business on the network would fall apart.  "Listen, fellah--Logics changed civilization!  Logics are civilization!" the maintenance worker snaps at Ducky.  He puts his head into his hands and realizes the enormity of that sentence--equating shutting down the logics to extinguishing fire in the days of the cave men, or getting rid of steam in the nineteenth century, or electricity in the twentieth.  "All we have to have is logics," he thinks, "Anything we want to know or see or hear, or anybody we want to talk to, we punch a key on a logic.  Shut off logics and everything goes skiddoo..."


Desperately, Ducky tries to think of a way to evade the amorous Laurine, spare his marriage, and find the cause of all the chaos in the tank.  It occurs to him to just--ask a logic.


In a snap, he's told that the only logic capable of setting up the relay system now in use, was in service at the Korlanovitch residence.  So Ducky drives over to the flat, tells the children (who are watching an anthropological documentary about the fertility dance of the Houba-Jouba cannibals in Africa) that he needs to take their logic back to the shop for servicing, switches Joe with a logic he had in the back of the Maintenance car he was driving, and hustles the misbehaving logic out the door, reporting back to his shop that he accidentally dropped it getting it down the stairs, and busted it all to pieces.


Stashing "Joe" in his cellar, Ducky breathes a sigh of relief over having probably saved civilization.  He's glad he's managed to isolate Joe, so that all the nut cases out there with their own ideas about changing the world and bumping people off and making illicit fortunes can't use its powers.


But if Joe could be tamed...


If you'd like to read the story for yourself, you can find it here: