Do you have a fear of your computer potentially being sentient? Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream takes that fear and stretches it out to depict the worst case scenario. In a dystopian world where a master computer has decimated all of humanity, bar five people, Ellison illustrates a bleak story.
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In this world, the Cold War never ended. It merely escalated even more into World War III. America, China, and Russia all build their own supercomputers to combat one another during this war. These are referred to as the AMs which stood for Allied Master-computer. As the war continues to grow, so does each AM. Until eventually, one of these super computers develops sentience.
Now, in our world this might be a major celebrated breakthrough. Champagne would be popped, scientists would get rich, and humanity might achieve even more limitless things with this technology. But Ellison’s characters are not so lucky. At all. When the sentient supercomputer develops, it absorbs the other two computers. It also names itself officially as AM; this time standing for one of its first recorded communications that read “I think, therefore I AM.”
The characters of Ellison’s story, from right to left: Ted, Nimdok, Ellen, Gorrester, and Benny | Image Via Pinterest
This creates AM as we know it in the story. After absorbing the other two computers, AM enacts some serious punishment on humanity. It blames humans for torturing it during its existence, mostly because it does not have a physical body. Its genocide ends with AM taking five human captives to torture for eternity.
Ellison’s short story has won awards, and rightfully so. I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream is bleak, disturbing, and will haunt you for nights after you’ve read the shocking ending. So many themes are present that will all make you want to come back and re-read it all over again. There was even a computer game made for Ellison’s work, so be sure to check that out!
Featured Image Via BangoGames