Harry Harrison: The Turing Option

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The Turing Option: краткое содержание, описание и аннотация

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Mind meets microchip as a brilliant young genius develops a machine capable of spontaneous thought. Before he can perfect the machine, terrorists steal his research and put a bullet through his brain. Miraculously revived by methods he pioneered, he must find his lost memory and discover who is trying to kill him.

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The Turing Option

by Harry Harrison

and Marvin Minsky

For Julie, Margaret and Henry: Moira and Todd — A story of your tomorrow.


In 1950, Alan M. Turing, one of the earliest pioneers of computer science, considered the question of whether a machine could ever think. But because it is so hard to define thinking he proposed to start with an ordinary digital computer and then asked whether, by increasing its memory and speed, and providing it with a suitable program, it might be made to play the part of a man? His answer:

“The question,Can machines think?’ I believe to be too meaningless to deserve discussion. Nevertheless I believe that at the end of the century the use of words and general, educated opinion will have altered so much that one will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.”

Alan Turing, 1950


Ocotillo Wells, California

February 8, 2023

J. J. Beckworth, the Chairman of Megalobe Industries, was disturbed, though years of control prevented any outward display of his inner concern. He was not worried, not afraid; just disturbed. He turned about in his chair to look at the spectacular desert sunset. The red sky behind the San Ysidro mountain range to the west threw russet light upon the Santa Rosa Mountains that stretched along the northern horizon. The evening shadows of the ocotillo and cactus painted long lines on the gray sands of the desert before him. Normally the stark beauty of this soothed and relaxed him; not today. The gentle ping of the intercom cut through his thoughts.

“What is it?” he said. The machine recognized his voice and turned itself on. His secretary spoke.

“Dr. McCrory is here and would like to speak with you.”

J. J. Beckworth hesitated, knowing what Bill McCrory wanted, and was tempted to keep him waiting. No, better to put him in the picture.

“Send him in.”

The door hummed and McCrory entered, strode the length of the big room, soundlessly, his footsteps muffled by the deep-pile, pure wool Youghal carpet. He was a wiry, angular man, looking thin as a rail beside the stocky, solid form of the Chairman. He did not wear a jacket and his tie was loose around his neck; there was a good deal of informality at the upper levels of Megalobe. But he was wearing a vest, the pockets filled with the pens and pencils so essential for any engineer.

“Sorry to bother you, J.J.” He twisted his fingers together nervously, not wanting to reprimand the Chairman of the company. “But the demonstration is ready.”

“I know, Bill, and I’m sorry to keep you waiting. But something has come up and I can’t get away for the moment.”

“Any delay will cause difficulties with security.”

“Of which I am well aware.” J. J. Beckworth let none of his irritation show; he never did with those below him in the corporate pecking order. Perhaps McCrory did not realize that the Chairman had personally supervised the design and construction of all the security arrangements of this establishment. He smoothed his silk Sulka tie for a moment, his cold silence a reprimand in itself. “But we will just have to wait. There has been a sudden and exceedingly large spurt of buying on the New York exchange. Just before it closed.”

“Our stock, sir?”

“Ours. Tokyo is still open, they have twenty-four-hour trading now, and the same thing seems to be happening there. It makes no financial sense at all. Five of the largest and most powerful electronic corporations in this country founded this company. They control Megalobe absolutely. By law a certain amount of stock must be traded, but there can be no possibility of a takeover bid.”

“Then what could be happening?”

“I wish I knew. Reports from our brokers will be coming in soon. We can get down to your lab then. What is it that you want me to see?”

Bill McCrory smiled nervously. “I think we had better let Brian explain it to you. He says it is the important breakthrough he has been waiting for. I’m afraid that I don’t understand what it is myself. A lot of this artificial intelligence stuff is beyond me. Communications is my field.”

J. J. Beckworth nodded understandingly. Many things were happening now in this research center that had not been allowed for in the original plan. Megalobe had originally been founded for a single purpose; to catch up and hopefully pass the Japanese with HDTV research. High-definition television, which started with a wider screen and well over a thousand scan lines. The United States had almost missed the boat on this one. Only the belated recognition of foreign dominance in the worldwide television market had brought the Megalobe founding corporations and the Pentagon together — but only after the Attorney General had looked the other way while Congress had changed the antitrust laws to make possible this new kind of industrial consortium. As early as the 1980s the Defense Department — or rather one of its very few technically competent departments, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — had identified HDTV not only as an important tool in future warfare but as being vital for industrial progress in future technologies. So even after the years of reduced budgets DARPA had managed to come up with the needed research money.

Once the funding decisions had been made, with utmost speed all the forces of modern technology had been assembled on a barren site in the California Desert. Where before there had only been arid sand — and a few small fruit farms irrigated by subsurface water — there was now a large and modern research center. A number of new and exciting projects had been undertaken, J. J. Beckworth knew, but he was vague about the details of some of them. As Chairman he had other, more urgent responsibilities — with six different bosses to answer to. The red blink of his telephone light cut through his thoughts.


“Mr. Mura, our Japanese broker, is on the line.”

“Put him on.” He turned to the image on the screen before him. “Good afternoon, Mura-san.”

“To you as well, Mr. J. J. Beckworth. I am sorry to disturb you at this late hour.”

“It is always my pleasure to hear from you.” Beckworth controlled his impatience. This was the only way to deal with the Japanese. The formalities had to be covered first. “And surely you would not be calling me now if the matter was of no importance.”

“The importance must be assigned by your illustrious self. As a simple employee I can only report that the spate of buying of Megalobe shares has been reversed. The latest figures are on their way to me now. I expect them on my desk… momentarily.”

For the smallest instant the image on the screen stilled, the lips did not move. This was the first indication that Mura was actually speaking in Japanese, his words swiftly translated into English — while the movement of his face and lips were simulated by the computer to match the words. He turned and was handed a piece of paper, smiled as he read it.

“The news is very good. It indicates that the price has fallen back to its previous level.”

J. J. Beckworth rubbed his jaw. “Any idea of what it was all about?”

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