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Computers in Fiction
fictional computing in the 20th century


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Vonnegut, Kurt. Galapagos


medical applications
There were now ten such instruments in the world, nine back in Tokyo, and one which *Zenji had brought along for the cruise. Mandarax, unlike Gokubi, was not only a translator, but also could diagnose with respectable accuracy one thousand of the most common diseases which attacked Homo sapiens, including twelve varieties of nervous breakdown. p 71

The evolutionary sequence from Gokubi to Mandarax, by contrast, was a radical improvement in the contents of a package, but with few perceptible changes in the wrapper. Akiko was protected from sunburn, and from the chilly water when she swam, and the abrasiveness of lava when she chose to sit or lie down—whereas her mother’s bare skin was wholly defenseless against these ordinary hazards of island life. But Gokubi and Mandarax, as different as they were inside, inhabited nearly identical shells of high-impact black plastic, twelve centimeters high, eight wide, and two thick. p

language translation
Gokubi could translate among only ten languages. Mandarax could translate among a thousand. Gokubi had to be told what language it was hearing. Mandarax could identify every one of the thousand languages after hearing only a few words, and begin to translate those words into the operator’s language without being told. p

If you punched out on its back 1802, for example, the year of Charles Darwin’s birth, Mandarax would tell you that Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo were also born then, and that Beethoven completed his Second Symphony, and that France suppressed a Negro rebellion in Santo Domingo, and that Gottfried Treveranus coined the term biology, and that the Health and Morals of Apprentices Act became law in Britain, and on and on. That was also the year in which Napoleon became President of the Italian Republic. p

The uselessness of all its knowledge would so anger the Captain that he threatened to throw it into the ocean. On the last day of his life, when he was eighty-six and Mary was eighty-one, he would actually carry out that threat. As the new Adam, it might be said, his final act was to cast the Apple of Knowledge into the deep blue sea. p

That wonderful Mandarax you’re scratching your ear with now: what is that but an excuse for a mean-spirited egomaniac never to pay or even thank any human being with a knowledge of languages or mathematics or history or medicine or literature or ikebana or anything? p

When the Matsumoto Corporation got through installing computers and robots, only twelve human beings would be able to run everything. So people young enough to have children, or at least ambitious dreams for the future, left town in droves. It was, as Mary Hepburn would say on her eighty-first birthday, two weeks before a great white shark ate her, “… as though the Pied Piper had passed through town.” Suddenly, there were almost no children to educate, and the city was bankrupt for want of taxpayers. So Ilium High School would graduate its last class in June. p

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