Monday, April 5, 2021

1963: "The Incredible Thinking Machines"

This informational article aimed at kids appears between tales in Gold Key's July 1963 issue of the comic book Boris Karloff Tales of Mystery. (The stories inside are "Something from the Past," "The Menace of the Missing Mummy," "Lo! The Mighty Hunter," and "Burn, Witch, Burn."1

The article is accompanied by an spooky illustration that would be at home on the cover of any of that decade's sci-fi paperbacks. Is that pro-Skynet personified? A humanoid-shaped artificial intelligence eyeing Earth menacingly? (Or maybe he wants to eat the Earth, though this is three years before Galactus made his debut.)

For context, this 1963 article was published about 10 years after Grace Hopper devised the first computer programming language; one year before Douglas Engelbart unveiled a prototype of the all-important graphic user interface; and 10 years before Xerox PARC came up with the Ethernet, which allowed for wide-ranging computer networks and communications.

Here are some excerpts from the article:
  • "For years scientists have been telling us that the machine is the servant of man! But in this increasingly complicated world the tables may soon be turned. Before long mechanical monsters may be telling us what to do!"2
  • "Electronic computers perform a thousand daily scientific tasks!"
  • "There are thinking machines which have been taught to play chess and can foresee the game's progress twenty moves ahead."
  • "Tomorrow there may be thinking machines which build other thinking machines! Who knows when these mechanical Frankensteins may decide to take over the Earth and do away with Man himself?"
1. Karloff concludes that tale by noting, "This is the 20th century, and we certainly don't believe in witches any more — or do we? — ask Duke and Joe."
2. Okay, the more I think about, I have some discomfort about the fact that the illustration features an ominous, mostly-black entity and the article discusses servants turning the tables on man. Words and images matter. And this was 1963.

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