Previously, on The Trouble with Gerrold…

Science fiction is a unique kind of conversation. It’s not about what is, it’s about what might be. As a literature of the extraordinary, SF does three things well: it is prophetic, it is prophylactic, and it is prescriptive. It predicts the future, it warns against the future, and it suggests remedies for the future.

The computer, even before it was known as “the computer,” has almost always been imagined as the most powerful tool human beings could have. While all of our other tools have been about expanding muscle power, the computer is the only one that expands our brain power.

Expanding human intelligence and taking us to the next level of evolution has long been a staple of science fiction. As we saw in the beginning of this list, from the very beginning, speculative authors have been predicting, warning and attempting to cure the various possibilities of advanced computing technology.

Completing the list, here are the final 25 most memorable computers in science fiction.

Deep Thought. In “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” Douglas Adams mordantly hysterical radio series from 1978 (and eventually a series of books), Deep Thought is the ultimate computer built to answer the ultimate question of “Life, the Universe, and Everything.” Deep Thought constructs the Earth to work out the results. The answer is 42. Unfortunately, the question is “What is 6 x 9?”—which explains why the universe is so screwed up.

Marvin, the Paranoid Android. Also from “The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy,” Marvin may very well be the single most useless—and annoying—machine in science fiction.

MU-TH-R 182 model 2.1 terabyte AI Mainframe/“Mother”. MU-TH-R is the shipboard computer of the spaceship Nostromo, in Ridley Scott’s 1978 movie, “Alien.” Known by the crew as “mother,” the script is by Dan O’Bannon and MU-TH-R is the literary descendant of Dark Star’s “Mother.” (2.1 terabytes?!! Is that all? Ha!)

KITT (Knight Industries Two Thousand). From the 1982 TV series “Knight Rider,” KITT was the brain and operating system of a heavily modified Pontiac Trans-Am, voiced by William Daniels, who was simultaneously starring on “St. Elsewhere” and wisely asked not to be credited in this series. This series starred David Hasselhoff.

Master Control Program. “TRON,” from 1982, was the first motion picture to use computer-generated imagery throughout. A human programmer gets trapped inside a computer world and discovers that programs are self-aware. He must get to the Master Control Program—a gigantic operating system with a very bad attitude (no jokes please, we know what you’re thinking)—and disable it if he is to escape back to his own world.
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WOPR (War Operations Plan Response). Once again, some idiot thinks it would be a terrific idea to put the nation’s nuclear arsenal under the control of a supercomputer. In John Badham’s 1983 movie “War Games,” a teenage (of course) hacker gets online access to the WOPR system and invites it to play Global Thermonuclear War, but after running through all the various scenarios, WOPR wisely realizes that thermonuclear war is a very strange game: “The only winning move is not to play.”

About David Gerrold