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Computers in Fiction
fictional computing in the 20th century

short story

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Mitchell, Edward Page. The Ablest Man in the World


NY Sun May 4 1879. Published in Stories by American Authors, Volume 10 etext

Topics: artificial intelligence
Themes: (artificial) intelligence, ambition, infallibility, man vs machine
Motifs: cyborg, computer implant

artificial intelligence - infallibility
"My endeavors in mechanism had resulted in a machine which went far beyond Babbage's in its powers of calculation. Given the data, there was no limit to the possibilities in this direction. Babbage's cogwheels and pinions calculated logarithms, calculated an eclipse. It was fed with figures, and produced results in figures. Now, the relations of cause and effect are as fixed and unalterable as the laws of arithmetic. Logic is, or should be, as exact a science as mathematics. My new machine was fed with facts, and produced conclusions. In short, it reasoned; and the results of its reasoning were always true, while the results of human reasoning are often, if not always, false. The source of error in human logic is what the philosophers call the 'personal equation.' My machine eliminated the personal equation; it proceeded from cause to effect, from premise to conclusion, with steady precision. The human intellect is fallible; my machine was, and is, infallible in its processes."


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