Supercomputers in Love

By Edward Cone  |  Posted Friday, August 20, 2010 18:08 PM

by Tim Moran

"Agnes has broken down and we can't seem to find the trouble."

"Probably her subroutines need debugging."

So begins a quaint episode of "The Twilight Zone," originally broadcast on Valentine's Day, February 14, 1964, titled "From Agnes--With Love." Submitted for your approval is this IT classic I stumbled upon the other late night while clicking around cable.

The episode stars Wally Cox as James Elwood, "master programmer, in charge of Mark 502-741, commonly known as Agnes, the world's most advanced electronic computer." It seems that Agnes has been "out of her mind for a week," much to the chagrin of the crazed, white-coated computer operator, Fred, who we encounter draped in tape and looking bug-eyed as Elwood comes to the rescue. Before he stumbles off mumbling, Fred has some prophetic words of warning for Elwood: "Press all the buttons you want. I tell ya, nothing's going to help. Agnes. Watch out for that female. Look out for that femme fatale."

Elwood initially brings Agnes to her senses as he interacts with her by speaking into a huge microphone; Agnes responds by opening the flaps of her mechanical window--picture the way Jeopardy answers are revealed--to show what she's saying.

The plot is simple enough: Elwood has designs on Millie, who works with him at SuperData. Millie shows little interest in Elwood, but he pursues her anyway--with Agnes's help. Of course, Agnes's dating advice does nothing but get poor Elwood into trouble with Millie: "No other computer contains as much recorded knowledge as you," he tells Agnes. "You're the star of all mechanical brains. But whenever I follow your advice I seem to louse things up."

That's because--you're ahead of me here, right?--Agnes has the hots for Elwood: "Millie is a square. Better girl loves you. Me," she tells poor Elwood. It's all downhill from there for our master computer programmer. Watch it and see for yourself.

But if any of you have become too intimately involved with your NEC Express5800/A1080a-E, or PRIMERGY RX600 S5, or IBM System x3850 X5 (like calling them Lindsay or Mamasox or Snookie), then heed the sage words of the Bard of Binghamton, Rod Serling: "Advice to all future male scientists--be sure you understand the opposite sex, especially if you intend to be a computer expert. Otherwise you may find yourself like poor Elwood, defeated by a jealous machine, the most dangerous sort of female, whose victims are forever banished to the Twilight Zone."