Ormand von Kleigstadt designed the computer for the government. The computer operates by printing answers to problems that are fed into it on ribbons of paper. From the beginning, EPICAC did not quite live up to expectations, but was run 16 hours a day since it still surpassed other computers. The narrator monitored the computer during the nightshift along with his future wife, Pat Kilgallen.
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Ormand von Kleigstadt designed the computer for the government. The computer operates by printing answers to problems that are fed into it on ribbons of paper. From the beginning, EPICAC did not quite live up to expectations, but was run 16 hours a day since it still surpassed other computers. The narrator monitored the computer during the nightshift along with his future wife, Pat Kilgallen. Madly in love with Pat, he proposed marriage regularly, but she always rejected them as unemotional.
Unfortunately, he lacks a gift for language or poetry, so could not prepare a suitably romantic proposal. He had to define terms about love and poetry, but EPICAC then suddenly spewed out several paper ribbons covered in brilliant poetry. When he arrived the next day, he found Pat crying with happiness, and she allowed him to kiss her for the first time.
The next day, Pat was clearly expecting a proposal. Nervous, the narrator waited until he was alone with EPICAC, and then asked the computer to help him devise a romantic proposal. This stumped the supercomputer. When Pat returned, the narrator proposed to her simply. She agreed, on the condition that he write her a poem on each anniversary.
The next morning, Dr. The narrator discovered several yards of paper ribbon that EPICAC had printed out during the night, after Pat and the narrator left together. In those passages, the computer bemoaned his fate as a machine as "the only problem I cannot solve" He also bid goodbye to the narrator, leaving him a wedding present: poems for Pat, to be gifted to her on each anniversary.
In the play, a handsome man named Christian uses the homely poet Cyrano to woo a woman named Roxanne, with whom Cyrano is also in love. EPICAC is, in a way, more human than the narrator, since he has a gift for poetic expression the narrator lacks. Vonnegut thereby suggests that the split between humanity and machine is not so clear-cut; instead, humans can have a tendency towards a mechanical, efficient nature themselves. In the same way that EPICAC cannot perform to the expected standard of mathematical equations but can write great poetry, the narrator lacks much capacity for expression but is adept at mathematics.
The point, then, becomes about making sure to exploit our potential for emotion, rather than our capacity for bland efficiency. EPICAC challenges the boundary between human and machine, since his intelligence in some ways exceeds that of humans, but he is still incapable of fully executing human emotion.
The narrator describes EPICAC in very human terms from the beginning, calling it "the best friend I ever had, God rest his soul"; on the other hand, the machine is "just like a toaster or a vacuum cleaner" He also uses sarcasm, solving a multiplication problem for the narrator and ending his answer with, "of course" He expresses his emotions through the speed and rhythm of his clicking.
Also like humans, he is silent and takes more time while thinking about concepts that are new to him. His suicide reveals human qualities as well: he faces the same problem that many heroes do in tragic stories, unable to live when fate quashes their individual power.
In short, Vonnegut explores his primary theme - individuality - here, but does so with a twist: the true individual is a computer. Even as a machine, he cannot function in a world that prohibits him from reaching his dream.
After understanding that fate prevents him from being loved by a woman, he short-circuits himself. In this way, he is heroic.
As far as the narrator is concerned, the reason EPICAC no longer exists is because it became more human than its designers originally intended. He decides to ask Pat to marry him, but because he is so stoic during the proposal, Pat declines. In order to show that he can in fact be "sweet" and "poetic" as Pat has requested, the narrator tries yet fails at writing poetry. EPICAC initially does not understand the terms the narrator uses, such as "girl" and "love" and "poetry".
Kurt Vonnegut's Short Stories Summary and Analysis of "EPICAC"
EPICAC (short story)