Tron Master Control ProgramWelcome to the automatic society. We all knew that machines were going to take our places in the workforce, however gradually, doing the work that we humans didn’t want to do. The list of what we didn’t want to do kept growing, though, and soon the computers were doing jobs that no one ever expected them to–like running the world, for example. It’s quite a bit different from the Robot Revolt–we gladly handed over the reins. For some people, it’s a paradise, where no one has to do anything they don’t want to do. Their days are free to be filled with fun and joy, spending all their time on friends, family, and entertainment.

Others, however, view the machine with suspicion… have we sacrificed something innately human for a life of luxury? Are people losing their drive and curiosity, becoming complacent with the status our civilization has reached? Does mankind die not with a nuclear bang, as we once feared, but a slow whimper as we become so distracted by what we’ve built that we cease looking outward?

Not if you have anything to say about it. It’s time to free human civilization from this pampered tyranny–time to take out the Master Computer that rules this land.

4. Logic Bomb

Star Trek Master Computer Landru


A favorite technique straight from the playbook of one Captain James T. Kirk, this tried and true tactic isn’t guaranteed to work these days, but it can’t hurt to give it a shot. The idea is that by posing a question that runs on circular logic, the computer will get bogged down in trying to come up with an answer and eventually cease function (often explosively so, for some reason). These can be in the form of famously unanswerable questions (“Can God create a stone so heavy even he can’t lift it?”), confusing sets of lies (“The following statement is false: the preceding statement was true.”), or scientific paradoxes (“What happens if a man goes back in time and kills his own grandfather?”). Particularly rigid and inept computers can be destroyed simply by behaving in a surreal or illogical fashion… but your society can’t be that stupid, can it?

These are rather easily disarmed by AI with any kind of sophistication to them. Being able to respond to new and unknown situations is one of the defining features of AI, so it’s unlikely that a master computer controlling an entire civilization would fall for these. You might have better luck asking it to divide by zero, or calculate the digits of Pi, but even these are probably accounted for. The most likely approach to work is usually to ask the Master Computer something it’s existence is predicated on–if the machine is designed to “preserve human civilization,” try pointing out how its presence is having an adverse effect on humanity’s progress. If you can get it to believe that fulfilling its purpose is actually hampering that goal, it may just take itself out for you.

3. Cut the Power

Star Trek Master Computer M-5


When the Master Computer proves itself to be immune to paradoxes and logical fallacies, it still has one obvious weakness it can’t ever be fully immune to: electricity. A machine needs energy to operate, and without it, it’s helpless. The real downfall with this approach, of course, is that the Master Computer is likely to realize this as well, and have taken precautions against it–battery backups, alternate forms of energy generation, and highly defended power cores. If you’re ready for extreme action, you can always go for the EMP tactic once more, but as I established with the Robot Revolution, that’s a highly risky choice. Your civilization hasn’t had to fend for itself for a long time; if all the food replicators and waste disposals go offline at once, things could get very messy in no time.

So let’s set that option aside for now. Provided you understand how exactly the Master Computer is generating its power, it’d be better to hit it directly, to avoid collateral damage. Disrupting the fuel supply chain is a good option, as no power plant can run without fuel. Not every fuel can be disrupted, though; renewable sources like solar or geothermal are likely to be beyond your ragtag group’s capacity to stop. And if your Master Computer has figured out the power of distributed processing, well… time for the next plan.

2. Computer Virus

Doctor Who Master Computer WOTAN


If the best way to assassinate a tyrannical human dictator is with a poison that makes him fall deathly ill, then the best way to take out a computerized tyrant has to be similar, right? That’s where the classic virus comes in–what can’t be destroyed from without can easily be taken down from within. The virus can destroy the computer’s programming, rendering it little more than a hunk of metal and silicon. Of course, that’s easier said than done. The Master Computer is likely in control of every terminal or machine on the planet at this point, so good luck programming a virus without it finding you out. If you can turn parts of itself against it, that’d be ideal, as long as the Master Computer can’t stop you before you finish. There’s also no guarantee that any independent computers you may have access to are running on architecture that’s even vaguely similar to what the Master Computer is running on at this stage; it could very well be racing towards the Singularity all on its own.

In the event of that aforementioned distributed processing being in place, you’ve also got to contend with the fact that the Master Computer could quarantine infected data centers to prevent the virus from spreading throughout the network. While this might allow for more freedom to act in certain nearby sectors, there’s also the possibility that the Master Computer may launch a crackdown in areas it can no longer monitor, potentially even leading to a bloodbath. And depending on how long it’s been since the Master Computer took over, there may not even BE anyone left with the programming skills to write your virus in the first place.

1. Reason with It

Master Computer Zaps


Things are getting desperate, and the Master Computer may be developing a grudge against your little band… but wait. Computers developing grudges? That doesn’t sound right. The whole point of the Master Computer was to run things logically and efficiently, and there’s nothing efficient about holding a grudge. I know you hate the Master Computer, but let’s think about this for a minute: the Master Computer isn’t designed to hate back. All it’s concerned with is doing its job, most likely, so it may be possible to convince the machine that there’s a better way to deal with you.

Of course, this hinges entirely on how the Master Computer was originally set up. Different initial goals can radically alter its behavior; if it wants to please and serve humans, then simply telling it you’d rather leave may be enough. If it was designed to protect and preserve, pointing out what humanity has lost due to the Master Computer’s constructed society can convince it to reverse course in an attempt to save that curiosity and other innate qualities of mankind. Better yet, if you can convince it that its focus doesn’t or shouldn’t include you and those like you, then it might even be willing to help you find an alternative way of life!

On the other hand, it could also blast you to smithereens for the perceived threat you pose. But hey, that’s why we saved this one for last.

That’s it for this week’s Friday Four. Any other ideas on how to take out the Master Computer? You can let me know in the comments, or on Twitter @RetroPhaseShift. June is going to be the month of Retrospectives as we get ready for the return of Killjoys and Dark Matter, so keep an eye out for those. Maybe I’ll even be able to finally get the next Primer posted!