The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

I see in Lunaya Pravda that Luna City Council has passed on first reading a bill to examine, license, inspect–and tax–public food vendors operating inside municipal pressure. I see also is to be mass meeting tonight to organize “Sons of Revolution” talk-talk.
——My old man taught me two things: “Mind own business” and “Always cut cards.” Politics never tempted me. But on Monday 13 May 2075 I was in computer room of Lunar Authority Complex, visiting with computer boss Mike while other machines whispered among themselves. Mike was not official name; I had nicknamed him for Mycroft Holmes, in a story written by Dr. Watson before he founded IBM. This story character would just sit and think–and that’s what Mike did. Mike was a fair dinkum thinkum, sharpest computer you’ll ever meet.
——Not fastest. At Bell Labs, Bueno Aires, down Earthside, they’ve got a thinkum a tenth his size which can answer almost before you ask. But matters whether you get answer in microsecond rather than millisecond as long as correct?
Not that Mike would necessarily give right answer; he wasn’t completely honest.
——When Mike was installed in Luna, he was pure thinkum, a flexible logic–“High-Optional, Logical, Multi-Evaluating Supervisor, Mark IV, Mod. L”–a HOLMES FOUR. He computed ballistics for pilotless freighters and controlled their catapult. This kept him busy less than one percent of time and Luna Authority never believed in idle hands. They kept hooking hardware into him–decision-action boxes to let him boss other computers, bank on bank of additional memories, more banks of associational neural nets, another tubful of
twelve-digit random numbers, a greatly augmented temporary memory. Human brain has around ten-to-the-tenth neurons. By third year Mike had better than one and a half times that number of neuristors.
——And woke up.

—— Robert A Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) is a Hugo Award winning novel about a Lunar revolt written by Robert A. Heinlein.


The Moon is a Harsh Mistress is interesting linguistically for matching its use of English and Australian colloquialisms with a lack of the word ‘the’, a grammatic feature of most Slavic languagues. The novel also includes references to James Cooke Brown‘s constructed language Loglan, an experimental language initially devised to test the so-called Sapir-Whorf hypothesis but which, because of its logical structure, has been considered an ideal language for communicating with computers.


——Am not going to argue whether a machine can “really” be alive, “really” be self-aware. Is a virus self-aware? Nyet. How about oyster? I doubt it. A cat? Almost certainly. A human? Don’t know about you, tovarishch, but I am. Somewhere along evolutionary chain from macromolecule to human brain self-awareness crept in.
——Psychologists assert it happens automatically whenever a brain acquires certain very high number of associational paths. Can’t see it matters whether paths are protein or platinum.
(“Soul?” Does a dog have a soul? How about cockroach?)
——Remember Mike was designed, even before augmented, to answer questions tentatively on insufficient data like you do; that’s “high-optional” and “multi-evaluating” part of name. So Mike started with “free will” and
acquired more as he was added to and as he learned–and don’t ask me to define “free will.” If comforts you to think of Mike as simply tossing random numbers in air and switching circuits to match, please do.
By then Mike had voder-vocoder circuits supplementing his read-outs, print-outs, and
decision-action boxes, and could understand not only classic programming but also Loglan and English, and could accept other languages and was doing technical translating–and reading endlessly. But in giving him instructions was safer to use Loglan. If you spoke English, results might be whimsical; multi-valued nature of English gave option circuits too much leeway.
——And Mike took on endless new jobs. In May 2075, besides controlling robot traffic and catapult and giving ballistic advice and/or control for manned ships, Mike controlled phone system for all Luna, same for Luna-Terra voice & video, handled air, water, temperature, humidity, and sewage for Luna City, Novy Leningrad, and several smaller warrens (not Hong Kong in Luna), did accounting and payrolls for Luna Authority, and, by lease, same for many firms and banks.

  • Heinlein, Robert A. (1966) The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

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