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Two Plus Two Makes Crazy   By: (1917-)

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Walt Sheldon is bitter bright in this imaginative short satire of Man's sell out by a group of staunch believers in the infallibility of numbers.

two plus two makes crazy

by ... Walt Sheldon

The Computer could do no wrong. Then it was asked a simple little question by a simple little man.

The little man had a head like an old fashioned light bulb and a smile that seemed to say he had secrets from the rest of the world. He didn't talk much, just an occasional "Oh," "Mm" or "Ah." Krayton figured he must be all right, though. After all he'd been sent to Computer City by the Information Department itself, and his credentials must have been checked in a hundred ways and places.

"Essentially each computer is the same," said Krayton, "but adjusted to translate problems into the special terms of the division it serves."

Krayton had a pleasant, well behaved impersonal voice. He was in his thirties and mildly handsome. He considered himself a master of the technique of building a career in Computer City he knew how to stay within the limits of directives and regulations and still make decisions, or rather to relay computer decisions that kept his responsibility to a minimum.

Now Krayton spoke easily and freely to the little man. As public liaison officer he had explained the computer system hundreds of times. He knew it like a tech manual.

"But is there any real central control, say in case of a breakdown or something of that sort?" The little man's voice was dry as lava ash, dry as the wastes between and beyond the cities. Tanter, was the name he'd given Mr. Tanter. His contact lenses were so thick they made his eyes seem to bulge grotesquely. He had a faint stoop and wore a black tunic which made his look like one of the reconstructed models of prehistoric birds called crows that Krayton had seen in museums.

"Of course, of course," said Krayton, answering the question. "It's never necessary to use the All circuit. But we could very easily in case of a great emergency."

"The All circuit? What is that?" Mr. Tanter asked.

Krayton gestured and led the little man down the long control bank. Their steps made precise clicks on the layaplast floor. The stainless steel walls threw back tinny echoes. The chromium molding glistened, always pointing the way the straight and mathematical way. They were in the topmost section of the topmost building of Computer City. The several hundred clean, solid, wedding cake structures of the town could be seen from the polaflex window.

"The All circuit puts every machine in the city to work on any selection problem that's fed into our master control here. Each machine will give its answer in its own special terms, but actually they will all work on the same problem. To use a grossly simple example, let us say we wish to know the results of two and two, but we wish to know it in terms of total security . That is, we wish to know that two plus two means twice as many nourishment units for the Department of Foods, twice as many weapons for the Department of War, but is perhaps not necessarily true according to the current situational adjustment in the Department of Public Information.

"At any rate, we would set up our problem on the master, pushing the button Two , then the button Plus , and the button Two again as on a primitive adding machine. Then we would merely throw the All switch. A short time later the total answer to our problem would be relayed back from every computer, and the cross comparison factors canceled out, so that we would have the result in terms of the familiar Verdict Statement . And, as everyone knows, the electronically filed Verdict Statements make the complete record of directives for the behavior of our society."

"Very interesting," said Mr. Tanter, the little crow like man. He blinked rapidly, stared at the switch marked All that Krayton was pointing out to him... Continue reading book >>

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