Professor Zygote had finally cracked the automation equation, paving the way for the creation of the ultimate machine, a machine capable of wiping out all forms of crime overnight without the help of guards, policemen, detectives, lawyers, judges, juries, jailers, executioners, parole officers, alarm systems, prisons. or even locks and keys. The very thought was staggering. It would truly be the ultimate machine, the law enforcement machine.
If accepted by the people, the machine would be installed in the nation’s capital. Powered by gigantic thermonuclear dynamos, it would direct an immense laser beam toward a stationary space satellite in the sky over North America. Relay stations evenly spaced over the land would pick up the signals as they bounced off and radiate them out in all directions to be picked up by tiny transistor devices.
These devices were so small that by a simple surgical operation one could be planted under the scalp where it would pick up the signals and send them on into the brain, producing a predetermined response.
“But the rumor is not true,” Dr. Zygote tirelessly pointed out on his exhaustive speaking tours around the land, “that the machine does a person’s thinking for him. Indeed not.” The computer itself was programmed with none other than the laws of the land, and it simply beamed a negative impulse into a person’s brain if he tried to break the law.
The President himself and most of Congress had personally tested a model of the machine, had been delighted, and had recommended to the nation that the Constitution be amended to require every citizen to wear one of the transistor devices.
One Senator. while testing the device, had tried to plunge a knife into one of his colleagues and had found himself “pleased as a child with a new toy” that he had been unable to do so. Professor Zygote’s machine was indeed a miracle.
To be sure, there were questions and objections raised about the law enforcement machine, but the overriding fact was that crime was engulfing the nation, and Professor Zygote’s invention seemed to be the only remedy left.
When the system was completed, it was set in operation by the President himself in a special ceremony. The effect was as startling as it was immediate. Prisons, jails, correctional institutions of all descriptions opened their doors; and the most hardened criminals- each wearing his own transistor device-went out, never to commit another crime. All forms of crime, from corruption of judges and high government officials to muggings on the street, were wiped out overnight. Policemen obtained other jobs. Social workers took vacations. Lock makers went out of business.
Professor Zygote. now a very old man, was honored beyond any other man in history. So complicated were his formulas that nobody else had been able to understand them or knew how his machine worked. He died seeing his “dream come true” — a moral utopia.
A few dissenters were saying that the machine changed only the exterior behavior of a person, but did nothing to change his motives, desires, and impulses. However, no one paid much attention. “After all, crime has been wiped out, hasn’t it?” syndicated a national columnist. “If it works, it’s right!” The statement became a national slogan.
Women walked the streets at night unmolested. Credit was extended to everyone. Because the demand for their products had dropped off so sharply, weapons manufacturers diversified into other lines of business.
But all was not unity and peace in paradise. Despite all disclaimers, many people were extremely unhappy with the law-enforcement machine. Addicts, whose only ways to support their habits were criminal, found themselves without funds. Mobsters were reduced to rags.
Wealthy ladies would wear their jewels into the most depraved slum areas at night, scoffing at the misery and at the men who leaned out of windows yelling, “Woman, if that machine would let me. I’d kill you!”
Psychiatric offices had lines blocks long. Leading psychiatrists were saying more and more that murder and other forms of anti-social behavior, such as child beating, assault and battery. rape, and so forth, had been ways of releasing pent-up hostility. Now, since the machine had closed off these escape hatches; people were going insane.
Mental hospitals were overflowing. All the structures that had formerly been prisons, jails, reformatories, and the like were now converted into mental institutions. And former policemen and detectives, put out of work by the law-enforcement machine, were re-employed to care for the insane.
But those who had money, position, and influence were well off. Nobody could touch them. They used legal methods to get their revenge. The most complicated and subtle legalistic system ever devised was worked out to circumvent the law and make one’s way without it.
Yet no crimes were committed, not because people didn’t want to, but because they couldn’t. Every newborn child was fitted. Every alien entering the country was fitted. Fugitives were quickly tracked down and fitted. Nor could the device, once fitted, be taken out — for the newly-enacted national law would not permit it.
Then one day the machine began to shake, emitting a loud buzzing sound. It grew louder and louder and the shaking more intense until the whole capital city was shaking and the noise had drowned out even the cacophony of the traffic. Frantic technicians slaved in droves around the machine, all to no avail. Terrified scientists searched the late Dr. Zygote’s papers in vain for a clue. Nothing worked. The machine — steel, crystals, wires, transistors — was simply giving out.