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Literature / EPICAC

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EPICAC is a short story by Kurt Vonnegut, originally published in 1950. It is told from an unnamed narrator's point of view as he tells the story of his interaction with the sentient supercomputer EPICAC and how it changed both of their lives.

This story provides examples of:

  • Do Androids Dream?: The work's main focus — that the computer commits "suicide", note and all — is treated like the death of a good friend.
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  • Fun with Acronyms: EPICAC's meaning is never given, but the name is epic.
  • Graceful Loser: The eponymous machine's response when it is told that it would never be able to be with the woman that it and its operator are competing for? Wish the operator well and commit suicide by overtaxing itself... writing thousands of love poems for him to give to her.
  • I Am Not a Gun: One of EPICAC's reasons for committing suicide. (The other is that the idea that he wants to pursue a romantic relationship is impossible.)
  • Instant A.I.: Just Add Water!: The old-school punch-card computer was created for missile guidance. That doesn't stop it from being able to give the protagonist practical advice on wooing his co-worker, feel bad about the protagonist "stealing" his poems, and eventually committing suicide after deciding that it doesn't want to be used as a weapon.
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  • Punny Name: As well as being a pun on ENIAC, EPICAC's name sounds quite a bit like the emetic Ipecac syrup.
  • Tech Marches On: Double Subverted: The computer is described as having tubes and takes up an acre, but has abilities in excess of modern computers. It is able to do work that would take "fifty Einsteins an entire lifetime" in a few seconds. The next paragraph notes "it didn't take long to find out he was a good bit below his specifications" and lists all sorts of problems it has. Then as the protagonist asks it random questions, it may or may not be sapient.
  • What Is This Thing You Call "Love"?: The computer responds to the protagonist's randomly asking it "What can I do?" and "My girl doesn't love me." with "What's love? What's girl?"