Saturday, June 4, 2016

"It Was Only a Matter of Time Until a Criminal, a Really Clever One, Saw Through the System—and Reverted"

"We're Friends Now."
By Henry Hasse (1913-77).
First appearance: Amazing Stories, April 1960.
Novelette (70 pages).
Online at Project Gutenberg HERE and ManyBooks HERE.
(Parental caution: Strong language.)
"The little man stood in front of the monstrous machine as the synaptic drone heightened to a scream. No ... no, he whispered. Don't you understand...."
Amos Carmack, a very wealthy man indeed, is no more:

   "'Now here,' he touched a spool labelled in red, 'is your Basic Invariant. Carmack—Amos T. Murdered man. Found bludgeoned in library of his home, night of April 4. Age 56, held all outstanding patents on ECAIAC, worth millions, and'—he looked up, beaming—'leaves beautiful wife'."

In the not too distant future, a supercomputer dubbed ECAIAC ("Ekky," for short) is assigned the task of "cybernetic detection," with the old methods of criminal investigation only dimly remembered from the faded pages of whodunits:

   "Oh, I grant you it used to hold true—principle beneficiary was always prime suspect. Fiction especially was full of it. Queen, Dickson Carr, Boucher—you know the ilk. But with ECAIAC we've gotten away from all that, haven't we?"

So policemen like Raoul Beardsley, once an important man in law enforcement, have no choice but to adapt to this new normal:

   . . . there was something about Raoul Beardsley that eternally evoked amusement—an air of vacuous innocence and a remote forlornness. He gave the appearance of a person who sold shoes during the day, washed his wife's dishes at night and then solved two or three galacti-gram puzzles before turning off the light precisely at ten. Few, if any, remembered that this nervous little man had once been top Inspector of New York City's Homicide Bureau ... but that was a dozen long years ago. Since then he had seen the antiquated detective methods of 1960 disappear, and he had died a little, too, seeing his Homicide Bureau relegated to a mere subsidiary with the growth of the Coördinate and Mechanical Divisions.

For Beardsley, working for Crime-Central has become about as interesting as selling insurance, and there's this feeling of nostalgia that he can't seem to shake:

   Seven weeks! He clutched the bulging briefcase with a wearisome horror. Twenty-two persona-tapes from Central File, all neatly processed and ready for ECAIAC. End result of the endless chart sifts, emphasis (as always!) on parietosomatic recession, the slow emergence of minor constants, the inexorable trend toward Price Factor and then verification, verifica-tion, to each his own, with all the subtle and shaded values of the Augment Index brought finally to focus on the relevance-graph Carmack.
   Sure, thought Beardsley. A thing of augment-indexing and psych-tapes, quite without possibility of error. Now in the old days of crime detection—it might have taken them seven months instead of weeks, not to mention frustration and leg-work and false-leads and sweat, but—

Beardsley finds that even working with ECAIAC, a massive electronic brain, can be an unsettling experience:

   There was something about the sight and sound and feel of ECAIAC that got to him, that seeped beneath flesh and bone and into his brain and sent his senses singing. Beardsley managed to gulp, as he observed the shiny black colossus that filled the entire length of the ninety-foot room; a dozen techs scurried around it, taking notes, attentive to the flashing lights in red-and-green and the faint clicking of thousands of relays that rose in susurration.
   But more than that arose. It was something that pervaded the room, not a pulsing but a presence, a sort of snapping intangible intelligence that reached beyond the audible and sheared at Beardsley's nerve-ends.

Finding who killed Amos Carmack should be easy for ECAIAC, with all the data that Beardsley and his division have amassed in the past two months; after all, they've finally managed to narrow down the suspects to . . .

   "Fifteen possibles, four Logicals and three Primes—" Beardsley stopped abruptly. "Twenty-two who knew Carmack," he went on. "That includes associational as well as motive-oppor-tunity factors, with a probability sphere of .004...."

There's only one problem: As carefully compiled and scientific as that list is, the murderer isn't on it . . .
Random passages:

   "And the penalty was in his eyes, if one cared to look beyond the thick-lensed glasses. No one ever did. They were remote eyes, a little bewildered, a little hurt ... a mirror gone dull from times remembered but irretrievably lost."

   "'The idea appeals to me! Beardsley versus ECAIAC ... socio-archaism opposed to the machina-ratiocinatrix. Why, it's delicious!'"

   "ECAIAC was in finest fettle again as the tapes sped through. Circuits were activated. Codes gave meaning. Synaptic cells summed and integrated, cancelled and compared and with saucy assurance sent the findings on toward Cumulative. The murmur was soft and sustained and somehow apologetic, as if ECAIAC were quite aware that she had failed in her duty but would be just pleased to make amends this time."

   "'Ah, yes. The obvious,' Beardsley said with a grimace. 'But you know, I learned a long time ago that the obvious can be a mighty tricky thing. A dangerous thing. The forceps of the mind are greedy, and inclined to crush a little in the seizing....'"

Typo: "the black metal sheathe of the monster"

- You'll find entries for Henry Hasse at the SFE HERE and the ISFDb HERE.
- Hardly a day goes by when Hollywood and science fiction writers don't use computers and artificial intelligence as plot devices; here's a micro-list dealing with those particular tropes:
  ~ A.I. science fiction HERE
  ~ Wikipedia HERE
  ~ "Computers in Fiction" by H. Bruce Franklin HERE
  ~ and TV Tropes HERE.

The bottom line: "Never trust a computer you can't throw out a window."
Steve Wozniak

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