Kurt Vonnegut, the visionary writer who predicted the rise of artificial intelligence | Books | Entertainment


The visionary Slaughterhouse-Five author predicted the rise of artificial intelligence in the 1950s and became convinced that computers would replace human labour.

The sci-fi legend also tells how big American companies such as General Electric felt guilty about the technological revolution.

The biopic reveals that he took a job at GE writing press releases when he couldn’t make enough money from his news.

He said: “GE showed me a milling machine that worked with punched cards. They could do it better than a man, but they were ashamed.

“They felt guilty for what they had done. The focus now is on people being unemployed.”

It will inspire his first novel Player Piano, in which humans are replaced by machines. It was published in 1952 for an advance of $2,500, but had little success.

Throughout his writing career, the chain-smoking author used a typewriter and never sent an email.

He said, “We’re here on earth to fart. And, of course, computers will get us out of it. What computer scientists don’t realize or don’t care about [about], is that we are dancing animals. We like to move.”

Vonnegut, who died in 2007 aged 84, gave a talk on the value of “extended family”. He said: “We need more people in our lives. What we need are numbers.”

After his sister and her husband died a month apart, he took in their four teenage children to add them to his three children.

Fame as an author came in 1969 with the publication of his modern classic, Slaughterhouse-Five, about his wartime experiences.

Vonnegut fought in the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes region of Belgium. He was captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden, where he was kept in a “meat locker” while the Allies bombarded the city.

Once freed, he saw the devastation firsthand and helped bury the dead. When asked if he would have preferred not to see what he had done, he replied, with his characteristic wit, “I wouldn’t have missed that for the world!”

He continued to rail against computers throughout his life.

“All the new technology seems redundant to me. I was pretty happy with the US mail service – I don’t even have an answering machine.”

His knockout blow to humanity was, “Life is no way to treat an animal.”

  • Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is in theaters now.

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