where would all the calculators go?

I’d heard a story, once, (though its origins

Are hazy, at best, to me now: perhaps something my son heard

At Sunday school, or part of the never-ending nattering

From the marketing guy at lunchtime, or maybe it was cackled

By the crazy, toothless blind guy on the 16A bus)

Concerning the programmers who’d worked on a project

In the early days of nano-technology,

Creating software for the relative monoliths,

Australopithecuses of artificial intelligence,

Which served as prototypes for some envisioned universe

Of tiny drones serving the whims of some doctor or researcher

Operating unseen and omnipotent behind some microscope or monitor.

The trials went quite smoothly, almost flawlessly,

The models impeccably doing what binary switches

And if-then-else statements decreed,

But the researches noticed that, just before they executed

The final bit of code, the models would invariably exhibit

A slight hesitation–almost imperceptible, infinitesimal even,

But clearly occurring, nonetheless.


They’d assumed, quite naturally, it was a mere matter of de-bugging,

Some misplaced comma or parentheses among the thousands,

But they reviewed the code any number of dozens of time,

Only to find it was clean as a whistle.

What’s more, they’d found that while the vacillation appeared

At the same point in the process, it didn’t happen at exactly the same time;

Indeed, they cropped up, relatively speaking, months, even years apart.

One of the white coats jokingly referred to the pause

As the machines “Peggy Lee moment”–You know, ‘Is that all there is?’

But no one else involved the project saw the humor.

They’d decided to ignore or accept the quirk

Though it was rumored that it drove

A few of the programmers to near-madness,

And that one or two of their number had bolted the project without notice,

Entering monasteries and shutting themselves off from the outside world

For the rest of their days, and its existence was buried

In reams of footnotes at the end of their final report

(Though as I said, the tale’s source is unclear,

And I am inclined to regard it as apocryphal.)




2 thoughts on “where would all the calculators go?

  1. Apocryphal or not, this reads like it could be gospel – at least of the latter half of the 20th Century. You use of jargon gives this an ultra-modern feel, which works surprisingly well with this Gothic, “Frankenstein” type tale.

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