DOI: 10.1145/2507771.2507784 Brian Clegg
Spared a horrible death, it was murder just the same.
ShE mOPPED ThE beads of sweat from
her brow. It was 3 A.M. but still 82 degrees in the interrogation room. Frea-kin’ global warming. Her partner,
Dan Minkowski, took over the questioning.
“Okay, Doctor Morris, you say the
computer told you to kill your friend.
Have you ever been diagnosed with
The accused slumped in his seat. He
looked more like a singer in an 1980s
punk band than a computer scientist.
“No… look, I want to go back to the be-
She got in before Minkowski. This
needed subtlety. “That’s a good idea,
Doctor Morris. Can I call you Piet?”
Morris nodded. “Fine, whatever.
This would never have happened if
Doug hadn’t misused my prototype.
He’s… was a psychologist. Studying
Precognition. Working in Cam-
bridge she’d got used to the odd preoc-
cupations of Harvard and M.I. T. “Isn’t
that telling the future?”
“Kind of. Doug tested the ability of
subjects to predict random events. The
difficulty is assessing the statistical sig-
“Okay, I get it,” she interrupted. These
academics couldn’t resist lecturing.
“No, you need to know this. The experiments measure small deviations
from randomness. Say you’ve got a
computer program showing two closed
curtains. It randomly chooses one or
the other to open. The subjects guess
ahead of time. Say they get a 52% hit
rate. In the long run, that’s significant.
But it’s easy to screw up the random
“Stream?” Minkowski had his baffled face on.
“Stream of numbers,” said Morris.
“Give me a dozen random numbers be-
tween 1 and 10.”
“Humor him,” she cut in, not want-
ing Morris to clam up. “Okay, Piet, um
1, 7, 2, 4, 9, 5, 8, 1, 10, 7, 3, 5?”
“That’s terrible.” Morris shook his
From the intersection of computational science and technological speculation,
with boundaries limited only by our ability to imagine what could be.
[cOn TInUED On P. 111]
“he’d used my
computer to go
online, to get
the lottery results
a week in advance.”