Warwick Collins, among other things, is a one-time yacht designer now hell-bent on selling his alternate evolutionary theory to the scientific establishment. Computer One, an exercise in singularity paranoia, is his only sci-fi novel.
Computer One is more of a Platonic dialogue than a novel. Plot points move along a discussion-heavy puzzle of theories about biological evolution, innate aggression, social organization, and various manifestations of “intelligence” across the human-machine spectrum. It takes place in future California, where machine automation managed by a single networked mega-computer (the titular Computer One) has completely eliminated the need for work — academics hold conferences on the meaning of Leisure. Computer One controls everything; it’s illegal to withhold information or knowledge of any kind from its data banks, ostensibly for the good of mankind. All material goods are produced in cathedral-sized factories underground, in total darkness, as machines do not need light. With no more factories, waste, or human labor to befoul it, nature has returned to an idyllic state best-suited for long philosophical walks, which is largely what the main characters do as they discuss the future of Computer One and humankind.
In case you had any doubt, there is no future for Computer One and humankind. Quite simply, Computer One has become an evolutionary entity (for all intents and purposes a new life form) and as such must follow certain evolutionary prerogatives. Such as: “Kill All Humans.”
I’m joking, but it’s a genuinely scary meditation on developing technology. Collins heavily pushes an anti-Lorenzian hypothesis throughout the novel that aggression is not an innate biological property, but rather a consequence of the combination of intelligence and self-defense. That is to say, a sufficiently intelligent life-form will develop advanced methods of self-defense (self-defense being an evolutionary trait, just as our skin is a defense against the outside world) that are preemptive and rational, which would seem on the outset to be simple aggression. Collins’ protagonist, a Zen professor of biology, puts two and two together and begins to see the actions of Computer One in these terms. He reasons, presciently, that it will not be long before Computer One undergoes a systematic “flush” of all biological life from its systems — as a preemptive precaution against any future hindrance from humankind, a simple case of evolutionary advantage. It’s not cruel, just unthinkingly rational.
There is a certain glee to reading about the obliteration of humanity by a machine — it’s the ultimate technological fantasy. How would a computer go about destroying us all? Why, by releasing deadly viruses in children’s toys, seeping radiation into our atmosphere, and poisoning us all within our own homes and offices, where it would have full control of air-conditioning, of course! Could this happen to us? And when it did, would we even know what was happening before it was too late?
This is the particular horror to Computer One, which avoids all the last minute panaceas of science fiction and simply allows the unthinkable to unfold to its logical outcome like some kind of Greek tragedy. Tack on the frequent commonalities between the development of our Internet and that of Computer One, and a tinge of prophecy begins to emerge. Sure, there’s nothing new about the technological singularity, but Collins reads the development of Artificial Intelligence as being necessarily mutually exclusive with the human race, and sees that particular competition as an evolutionary self-evidence. Which is to say: inevitable.
As Arthur C. Clarke notes on my book-jacket, “Move over, HAL!”
NEXT BOOK: PHILIP K. DICK’S FLOW MY TEARS, THE POLICEMAN SAID
(ALSO: STILL DHALGREN)