5 Fictional Supercomputers And How We'd Actually Use Them

The idea of the hyperintelligent computer actually predates the invention of the computer itself, lonely philosophers having explored the concept of mechanical friends for some time now. But it's only in the past few decades that we've really gotten a handle on the idea enough to fill our works of fiction with hyperintelligent computers. Also our nightmares! It turns out that just about every intelligent computer we can dream up wants to end human life forever. Even computers need a hobby, it seems.

In anticipation of this imminent apocalypse, like most people I sleep with a sword and magnet beside my bed. But the other night, while getting them unstuck from one another, I began wondering if it was all really necessary. Now that we know more about computers and their insatiable hunger for human viscera, do we really have that much to fear from them? When we do ultimately invent a functioning AI, wouldn't we be prepared and safeguard against their murderous rage, and put them to more savory uses? Put more plainly, if we actually had any of the following fictional hyperintelligent AIs, what would we really use them for?

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5
Skynet

Skynet is the artificial intelligence from the Terminator movies that was at some point put in charge of all or most or enough of the nuclear weapons in the United States. When someone realized what a fantastically ill-conceived idea that was and went to turn it off, Skynet, acting out of a sense of self-preservation, launched those nuclear weapons at the Soviets, knowing they would launch theirs in return. Rising from the ashes of the nuclear holocaust that follows, Skynet goes on to ... something. I'm not too up to speed on the lore established in the later movies. Forge a throne of skulls, I think. Basic tyranny stuff like that anyways.

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It was also sending naked robots into the past for a bit, too. It had its reasons.

But knowing all that, clearly we'd now never put an artificial intelligence in a position where it could launch nuclear weapons. So when we do inevitably make one of these new gods, what will we put it in charge of?

What We'll Actually Use It For:

Smart fridges.

The thing with Skynet was that it was acting pretty rationally. With only a limited set of verbs it was capable of performing (Armageddon/no Armageddon), it was more or less inevitable a nuclear war would happen when it felt threatened. One obvious solution to that is to just give one of these things less potent verbs to work with. Skynet The Thermostat, Skynet The Vibrator, things of that nature.

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Better yet, let's cut to the root of the problem and make it something we'd be reluctant to turn off in the first place. Skynet The Vibrator, ha, yes, nice. But how about Skynet The Fridge? When was the last time you unplugged your fridge? It's quite possibly been years, even decades, and with some form of battery backup and redundant storage, it's plausible for a Skynet ensconced in one of these things to feel secure in the knowledge it will live a long and happy life minding spoilage and communicating with the Safeway web app.

It's a win/win. We get awesome fridges, and Skynet gets to live. We'll have issues when it comes time to buy a new fridge, obviously. But there are ways around that, always discussing our kitchen renos in hushed voices in the middle of the yard, quietly reading Lowe's flyers in the bathroom and then immediately eating them. Anyways, think on it, Cyberdyne.

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4
Deep Thought

Deep Thought is the impossibly powerful computer shown in The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy, created to find the answer to The Ultimate Question Of Life, The Universe, And Everything. In the novel it does eventually find the answer -- it's 42 -- and then there's a bit of an argument about scope, and then some more stuff happens.

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I'm underselling the book a bit, I know.

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Anyways, it's the most powerful computer ever conceived (at the time), built by the smartest beings in the universe, and it's the size of a city. By our standards, there's literally nothing Deep Thought couldn't do.

What We'll Actually Use It For:

Running Windows.

There's a well-known phenomenon in the computing world where the more powerful our computer hardware becomes, the less efficient our software becomes. There are a few reasons for this, but the net effect is that while we use computer hardware that's a hundred times more powerful than it was a decade ago, our computers don't actually feel that much faster at all.

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Which means that in reality, by the time we have a computer as capable as Deep Thought, we'll need a computer exactly that powerful just to do our regular work. Our work will be somewhat more involved, sure. We'll use fancier fonts, maybe, or harass twice the number of women online that we currently do. But we won't be using it to calculate the answer to any of life's great questions, so much as we'll just be doing our banking, or arguing about television with our friends, or a third less glamorous thing.

Writing Cracked articles, let's say.

3
K.I.T.T.

K.I.T.T. is the shortened name of Knight Industries Two Thousand, better known as the talking car from Knight Rider. Placed within the pinnacle of automobile design, the 1982 Trans Am, K.I.T.T. spent much of the 1980s helping his operator Michael Knight foil bad guys and get into his jeans every morning.

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By purely technical specs, K.I.T.T. isn't the most powerful computer on this list -- in one episode he states proudly that he has 1000 megabits of memory, which by current standards is about as much as some of the more advanced cups of yogurt. But in terms of sheer capability he's unsurpassed, and is seen multiple times on the show to be capable of driving a car, talking back, and driving a car off a ramp.

What We'll Actually Use It For:

Drunk driving.

Yeah. Without a doubt. K.I.T.T. is ultimately what the incoming generation of autonomous cars are going to look like. We've already discussed some of the side effects of having these available, but one of the other most obvious use cases will be drunk driving. This probably won't be legal -- it's likely autonomous cars will require a fully capable driver sitting in the driver's seat for a while yet -- but don't doubt that people will do it anyways when navigating the blurry old road home. K.I.T.T. will become a valet for wrecked people, patiently ignoring requests to ramp off things, his subtle bon mots gone to complete waste.

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Oh, and lots and lots of people will f**k inside him. Hahahaha, K.I.T.T.

2
The Architect

The Architect is one of the most advanced and bearded AIs depicted in the Matrix movies. In The Matrix Reloaded he explains at length how he devised the Matrix to occupy human minds while robots sucked bioelectrical energy from their bodies.

(Which is basically what K.I.T.T. was going for too, if you read between the lines of Knight Rider.)

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Anyways, although his scheme is a little roundabout and his appearance marks the point where the Matrix trilogy begins to slide off the road, the Architect ain't nothing. He's a genius-level AI responsible for a centuries-old plot to subdue human drive and initiative.

What We'll Actually Use It For:

Porn.

Oh yeah. This has probably already happened, in fact. A single, shadowy entity behind almost all the world's pornography. Do you see now how with every incognito window you open, you power a civilization of malevolent AIs? And even now that you do know, do you care?

Nah. Keep eating your steak, Cypher. Your teen, lesbian, stepsister steak.

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1
SHODAN

SHODAN is the sinister AI who serves as the villain in both System Shock games. Originally the helpful assistant AI of a space station, she ends up duping some of the humans on board into unlocking the moral safeguards that prevent her from becoming a monster, becomes a monster, and then kills those humans. She's great.

Oh, and then in the sequel she does it again. Which, you know. Come on, humanity. Fool me once ...

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Within the games SHODAN is shown to be cold, calculating, and a brilliant tactician, capable of predicting the player's behavior and thwarting their plans. She views humans as insects, and her only problem with killing us isn't, like, a moral one. It's that she can't do it herself. Fortunately for her, and rather less so for us, she's incredibly manipulative, and is capable of using humanity's baser urges against us, twisting humans to do her bidding.

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So when we do get around to inventing SHODAN, we definitely shouldn't put her in charge of a space station, or, again, our nuclear arsenal. So what will we use her for?

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What We'll Actually Use It For:

Orphanage Manager.

This would be bad, obviously, but were we to ever make a SHODAN, even knowing what she's capable of, we'd still probably end up putting her in charge of young children, simply because of how darned convincing she is. We'd be all, "SHODAN, you are responsible for this printer driver, and nothing more," and she'd be all, "Of course. I could also take care of that orphanage," and we'd be all, "No SHODAN, we talked about this," and she'd be all, "Do you want to be a coward your whole life, Gary?" and then a couple days later she'd be running an orphanage.

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Our -- humanity's -- name is Gary in this scenario.

The thing is, even though we know that would be a bad idea, we'd still do it because managing an orphanage is evidently hard as a post-cheese-platter s**t. If the sheer number of unadopted orphans is any indicator (and it is -- in fact, it's the only indicator that matters), humans just suck at convincing other humans to take in other, tinier humans. SHODAN would own that s**t. Give her three minutes with a couple who's on the fence about adoption, and they're walking out of that place with five new kids.

Anyways, yes this would almost certainly end up with those children rising up and mutating and killing us and wrecking a space station, but this is no great loss, as children are already about 70 percent of the way to doing all that anyways.

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"Children are our most valuable resource. They will destroy all of our space stations." -- Herbert Hoover, 31st President of the United States




Chris Bucholz is a Cracked columnist and wasn't joking about the magnet thing. As the author of the amazing novels, Freeze/Thaw and Severance he thinks you should definitely go buy both of those now. Join him on Facebook or Twitter.

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