- Current Issue
SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
ALERT: Usernames and passwords from the old Harpers.org will no longer work. To create a new password and add or verify your email address, please sign in to customer care and select Email/Password Information. (To learn about the change, please read our FAQ.)
I cannot leave Bell Labs without mentioning one more device which I saw
there, and which haunts me as it haunts everyone else who has ever seen it in
action. It is the Ultimate Machine–the End of the Line. Beyond it there is
Nothing. It sits on Claude Shannon’s desk driving’ people mad. (Or sat, as
Shannon is now at MIT.)
Nothing could look simpler. It is merely a small wooden casket the size and
shape of a cigar-box, with a single switch on one face.
When you throw the switch, there is an angry, purposeful buzzing. The lid
slowly rises, and from beneath it emerges a hand. The hand reaches down, turns
the switch off, and retreats into the box. With the finality of a closing coffin,
the lid snaps shut, the buzzing ceases, and peace reigns once more.
The psychological effect, if you do not know what to expect, is devastating.
There is something unspeakably sinister about a machine that does nothing–absolutely
nothing–except switch itself off.
–Arthur C. Clarke, The Ultimate Machine, Harper’s, Aug. 1958.
More from Scott Horton:
No Comment — April 12, 2013, 11:11 am
A new report from Seton Hall University exposes government surveillance of attorney-client conversations
Rashid Khalidi on how the United States sustains the failure of the Israel-Palestine peace process
Alex Gibney on his documentary investigating the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of child sex-abuse cases
Ratio of the number of cicada eggs per square mile of southern New Jersey to the number of stars in the Milky Way:
Jeffrey Lockwood, University of Wyoming (Laramie)/American Museum of Natural History (N.Y.C.)
A Singaporean company unveiled Kissenger, a pair of plastic lips mounted on a large plastic egg, which transmits real-time interactive kisses to a distant lover. “I am not interested in the sexual uses for it,” said the device’s inventor. “We’ve taken several steps to minimize the creepiness.”
The practice of sexualized eyeball licking was causing conjunctivitis in Japanese sixth graders.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!