One of my favorite works of juvenile fiction is The Computer That Ate My Brother by Dean Marney. It's a great slice-of-life book full of observational humor -- just about everything that happens in the book has happened a million times somewhere in real life.

Except for the part about the Apple II that gains sentience and asks the main character existential questions throughout the story.

Not only is this an odd literary decision, but it's doomed the book to obscurity, because it's an Apple II and no kid has one anymore, or is familiar with tasks like typing "CATALOG" to see the contents of a floppy. Plus, if you just pick it up for the computer to eat his brother, you're going to have a long wait...that doesn't happen until the penultimate chapter. I suspect it has this title for marketing reasons only.

(His brother got better.)

There were several attempts by Apple programmers to make this actually happen. Not the brother-eating, but the sentience. Surely the Apple II, the most advanced computing system on Earth, should be able to literally think for itself with enough lines of BASIC. That just makes sense.

Their first attempt was LUCY.

What Lucy actually does at this time is checks a data file for words and phrases you've taught her from your previous conversations. Once that's done, you're prompted to speak....

This isn't going very well. RESET!

That went a little better, but it still doesn't feel complete to me.

Lucy is so realistic that she gets offended if you don't talk to her.

Eventually, she'll shut herself off in rage, and be rather rude about it.

The second attempt -- and one that had more success, at least in terms of distribution -- was ELIZA, the program that promised to turn your Apple into a female psychiatrist. Named Eliza. A computer is a lot of money, but several sessions with a live professional are even more so. For a while, ELIZA seemed to cast the same dark shadow of obsolescence over the nation's psychiatric doctors that the Flowbee did over the hairstylists.

And the saga continues. Now that we have Kinectimals, who needs real tigers?

She deduced that in only five questions. I've got to hand it to Eliza. I don't know why she never truly caught on.

There is one entry in Eliza's memory banks I wish I could figure out how to make her say:

One of these days.

Not everybody who tried to coax the Apple into human consciousness intended to make it our friend. In Beagle Bag I showed you CROSS WORD, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. There are actually more Apple AI programs devoted to insulting you than comforting you. What you're about to see (and play, if you dare) is an apparent actual retail product: ABUSE, the software that transforms your Apple into Sue Sylvester.

ABUSE makes you wait over a minute for it to load, just to cheese you off. It doesn't matter what you say to it; it hated you before it knew you.


One programmer, a Mr. Stanley, couldn't decide whether to turn his Apple good or evil, so he simply gave us both options. Here's his disk menu:

Both "Dial A Insult" and "Dial A Compliment" are options. Let's see what we get! (I touched "H" and got nothing; he lied to me. I have to hit the KEY that says "H" on it instead.)

That' That's the entirety of the program?


I better hit "List" and see how much is really there.

Mr. Stanley should be rechristened Mr. Lazy. "Dial A Compliment" is only different in data.

Their ambitions were grandiose, but none of their attempts turned out to be a total success. The dream of creating an Apple II capable of eating brothers is still a distant one.

Isn't this a Steve Jobs machine? He should have mastered that by now.