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Literature / Point of View

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First published in Boys Life (July 1975 issue) by Isaac Asimov, this Short Story is about a boy who helps his father solve a difficult problem facing Multivac.

Roger's father works for/at Multivac and doesn't usually work on Sundays. But today is a Sunday and he's not home. Roger goes to visit him because he's worried. Despite normally being able to answer all of humanity's problems, today they've noticed that Multivac is giving the wrong answers.

Atkins is given time off to go eat with his son, and the two go to the Multivac commissary, getting burgers and fries. He describes the problem to his son, in layman's terms, and why they can't turn Multivac off to check where the problem is, mechanically. Roger suggests that they can fix it by not giving Multivac as much work, letting it "play" for a couple hours each day.

"Point of View" has been republished twice; Isaac Asimovs Science Fiction Magazine (April 1979 issue) and The Complete Robot (1982).

Not to be confused with a Half-Life mod of the same name.

"Point of View" contains examples of:

  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Roger's head gets tousled by his father when he gets worried that Multivac will be shut down due to errors. His father is trying to reassure him that everything will be fine.
  • A.I. Is a Crapshoot: Multivac, the computer as large as a city, is malfunctioning in some unknown way, causing it to give the wrong answers to the problems given to it. Roger's dad describes it as being half-smart; smart enough to go wrong in very complicated ways, but not smart enough to identify what it is doing wrong. Unless they can figure out a way to make sure Multivac is working correctly, they won't be able to use it at all because they can't really tell when Multivac is wrong, only when it's inconsistent.
  • Androids Are People, Too: Roger humanizes Multivac by describing it as another kid, and as anyone knows, a kid's got to play, too.
  • Beeping Computers: Roger hears Multivac "chuckling and whirring all about" when he visits. We know that Multivac is working because of all the noise.
  • Benevolent A.I.: Multivac is designed to answer all of humanity's problems. Unfortunately, it is currently giving wrong answers to the questions being put to it. They can't afford to shut it down because they depend on the answers too much.
  • Computer Equals Tapedrive: When the story was published in Boys Life, it was accompanied by an illustration of the heads of Roger and Atkins floating in front of circuit boards and a tapedrive.
  • Floating Head Syndrome: When the story was published in Boys Life, it was accompanied by an illustration of the heads of Roger and Atkins floating in front of circuit boards and a tapedrive.
  • Master Computer: Multivac is so large that the programmers and support personnel live in the property, and there's enough people that it counts as a small city. For just one computer.
    [A]ll the people who worked with Multivac, the giant computer, lived with their families right on the grounds. They made up a little city by themselves, a city of people that solved all the world's problems.
  • In-Series Nickname: Roger's father calls him "old sport", a common nickname for kids in the 1950s.
  • Only One Name: The two main characters are a boy (Roger) and his father (Atkins). It is unclear if Atkins is their family name (which would make the father an Unnamed Parent) or if that is his first name (which would mean we only know Roger's first name).
  • Orwellian Retcon: Between the original publication in Boys Life magazine and republishing the story in The Complete Robot, Dr Asimov added in a few more words/sentences, such as "The corridors were a lot emptier than on weekdays, so it was easy to find where the people were working." The changes don't affect the story much, aside from making it slightly longer (the original story all fit on one page).
  • Super Intelligence: Atkins, explaining how smart Multivac is to his son, describes it as being made with the "wrong smartness". It can figure out answers that would take the programmers a thousand years to calculate, but can go wrong in unexpected ways. He claims Multivac is half-smart; smart as a man would be able to explain what's wrong, dumb as a machine and it could only go wrong in predictable ways. This is a realistic depiction of a basic Artificial General Superintelligence.
  • Technobabble: There are two fictional programmer tools for the Multivac engineers to use; current-pattern analyzer and Platt-integrals. Technically, a pocket-computer was also fictional at the time, but has become a pervasive feature of life since then.
  • Title Drop: Roger's dad initially describes Multivac's half-smart mistakes as being an idiot. Roger suggests that maybe it's more like being a kid, and his father says, "That's an interesting point of view" and asks him to elaborate.