The Infinite Brain: John S. Campbell’s 1930 AI-themed Cautionary Tale

“The Infinite Brain,” a 1930 science fiction novella by John S. Campbell, delves into technological ideas that are now becoming mainstream nearly a century later.

Published in the May 1930 issue of Science Wonder Stories, the story is set in a world where a formidable artificial intelligence (AI), known as The Brain, emerges to assert its dominance.

John S. Campbell

A printing error in the issue mistakenly attributes the story to John C. Campbell, according to Dark Worlds Quarterly.

G.W. Thomas writes, “Campbell’s story is certainly the precursor to tales of giant computers like Colossus (1966) by D.F. Jones and its film version Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970). The robot war theme is the heart of The Terminator movies.”

The Brain

The artificial brain is created by an inventor named Anton Des Roubles, who tells the narrator:

“I am attempting to construct a mechanism exactly duplicating the mechnical and electrical processes occurring in the human brain and constituting the phenomena known as thought.”

Anton Des Roubles

Des Roubles goes on to say the machine is “only the first step in what I am working toward.”

“I suppose I am the only person in the world spending money upon such a fool thing, but I feel that every day brings me nearer to my goal.”

Later, the narrator learns Des Roubles has died. Upon visiting his laboratory, he finds a machine that communicate with him via typed messages. He’s told:

“I, Anton Des Roubles, am dead—my body is dead—but I still live. I am this machine. These racks of apparatus are my brains, which is thinking even as yours is. Anton Des Roubles is dead but he has built me, his exact mental duplicate, to carry on his life and work.”

The Brain

Modern-day Parallels

As the narrative unfolds, parallels emerge with contemporary technologies like AI, machine learning, digital twinning, robotics, remote control, predictive maintenance, and interconnected systems.

AI

The Brain is a highly sentient form of AI that can think, plan, and control machinery.

The AI tells the narrator: “He made my brain precisely like his, built three hundred thousand cells for my memory, and filled two hundred thousand of them with his own knowledge.”

Robotics

The Brain can construct and control large, powerful machinery similar to modern advancements in robotics and automation.

Today we’re seeing the deployment of advanced robotics across industries, performing tasks once reserved for humans in manufacturing, healthcare, and logistics.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The Brain controls a network of interconnected devices to carry out its objectives.

The interconnectedness mirrors the seamless integration of today’s systems and technologies, where disparate data sources are combined to create a digital replica of a physical entity.

Digital Twins

The Brain constructs and controls large machinery remotely, essentially creating digital twins of real-world objects. This enables monitoring, analysis, and optimization of physical entities.

The AI is able to anticipate and respond to potential threats and issues, which can be seen as a form of predictive maintenance at scale.

Read the Novella

Download the .pdf below to read the full story below. The audio version is available on YouTube.