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Literature / The Machine That Won the War

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First published in The Magazine Of Fantasy And Science Fiction (October 1961 issue), by Isaac Asimov, and republished in the UK version of the same magazine (February 1962 issue). This Short Story features Multivac as part of America's winning strategy, calling it "The Machine That Won the War".

While the rest of the Federation celebrates the declaration of peace at the end of a Forever War, three humans quietly throw off the stress and guilt of managing the war effort. Lamar Swift, Executive Director of the Solar Federation, is deep inside the computer Multivac with two of his assistants; John Henderson, Multivac's Chief Programmer, and Max Jablonski, Multivac's Chief Interpreter.

Multivac is currently turned off; giving it as much a chance to rest as the humans who have been working in/around it for a decade; feeding it data, keeping it in operation, and carrying out its instructions. In this private moment, Henderson admits to the other two his crime of feeding Multivac false data because he was convinced the data he was getting had too much bias from the people collecting it. Jablonski dismisses it, admitting his own crime of altering Multivac's results, since he knew that his staff wasn't able to keep Multivac working due to his lack of quality technicians and components.

With the amazing revelations from the other two, Swift considers the whole thing a farce, and reveals his sin; instead of trusting Multivac with his decisions, he pulled out a small coin, which he had trusted instead.

"The Machine That Won the War" has been republished several times; The Best From Fantasy And Science Fiction: Eleventh Series (1962), Fiction (issue #98, January 1962), Saturn Im Morgenlicht (1963), Nightfall and Other Stories (1969), Best SF Seven: Science Fiction Stories (1970), Urania (issue #570, July 1971), The Golden Age Of Science Fiction (1981), Robot Dreams Collection (1986), Battlefields Beyond Tomorrow: Science Fiction War Stories (1987), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990), and The SF Collection (1994).

"The Machine That Won the War" contains examples of:

  • Benevolent A.I.: Publicity-wise, Multivac is being widely hailed as winning the war on humanity's behalf. However, this story is about how the highest-ranked people didn't trust it.
  • Casual Interstellar Travel: Implied to exist since the Solar Federation has successfully launched attacks against Deneb, a star system about three thousand light-years away. They have space-warping and hyperspace technology.
  • Exact Words: The story builds up to a reveal where Multivac wasn't actually responsible for winning a war, but it was won by a machine, a coin, giving a random Yes/No to Multivac's advice is considered responsible.
    Swift: (while looking at a coin) A machine did win the war, John; at least a very simple computing device did; one that I used every time I had a particularly hard decision to make.
  • Faster-Than-Light Travel: Their interstellar travel has been weaponized as part of the Forever War between the Solar Federation and Deneb. They've used interstellar warping to swallow planets and they also have hyperspace technology allowing them to spy on normal space.
  • Forever War: The war between the Solar Federation and the Denebians had been going on for at least a decade by the time it was over, with Planet Destroyer weapons being developed to threaten even the homeworlds.
  • Global Currency: The Solar Federation, the government for Earth, The Moon, Mars, and Titan, utilizes a credit system tied to the computer-complex Multivac. It's purely electronic, due to recent metal shortages.
  • Master Computer: Multivac is described as having vast underground chambers, and in one of them the leaders of the Solar Federation discuss the machine's operation and its part in the Forever War they'd just won.
  • Mythology Gag: A previous story, "The Feeling of Power", also features a stalemated war between Earth's Federation and Deneb. "Power" proposes that computer-guided missiles be replaced by manned missiles, which did occur in "Won the War". However, it is clear that these two stories do not share continuity, because Multivac isn't mentioned in the earlier story and this story establishes that the Denebians didn't have a computer like Multivac, which gave Earth a slight advantage in their conflict.
  • One World Order: Earth shares a government with The Moon, Mars, and Titan, called the Solar Federation.
  • Planet Destroyer: One of the weapons developed during the Federation-Deneb war was using interstellar warps to eliminate planets.
  • Title Drop: Jablonsky, just before admitting his part in falsifying/correcting the information being given to the Master Computer, cries out, "Let Multivac be the machine that won the war, if it pleases them." It turns out, however, that Multivac didn't win the war... a coin did.
  • We Will Spend Credits in the Future: The Solar Federation moved on to a purely electronic currency due to metal shortages during their Forever War against Deneb. Since they had Multivac, they tied their credit system to the computer-complex.