The answer does not program


Logan’s life is changed when he surrenders an ankh found on a particular runner. Instead being asked to identify, the central computer merely stays quiet a long while as it scans the objects. Then its lights shut off, and Logan has a discussion with the computer he has never had before.

The computer asks him to “approach and identify.” The computer gives him, by name, explicit instructions to sit facing the screen. Lights below the seat illuminate. He identifies in this chair by positioning his lifeclock in a recess in the chair’s arm, and a light above him illuminates. Then a conversation ensues between Logan and the computer.


The computer communicates through a combination of voice and screen, on which it shows blue text and occasional illustrative shapes. The computer’s voice is emotionless and soothing. For the most part it speaks in complete sentences. In contrast, Logan’s responses are stilted and constrained, saying “negative” instead of “no,” and prefacing all questions with the word, “Question,” as in, “Question: What is it?”

On the one hand it’s linguistically sophisticated

Speech recognition and generation would not have a commercially released product for four years after the release of Logan’s Run, but there is an odd inconsistency here even for those unfamiliar with the actual constraints of the technology. The computer is sophisticated enough to generate speech with demonstrative pronouns, referring to the picture of the ankh as “this object” and the label as “that is the name of the object.” It can even communicate with pragmatic meaning. When Logan says,

“Question: Nobody reached renewal,”

…and receives nothing but silence, the computer doesn’t object to the fact that his question is not a question. It infers the most reasonable interpretation, as we see when Logan is cut off during his following objection by the computer’s saying,…

“The question has been answered.”

Despite these linguistic sophistications, it cannot parse anything but the most awkwardly structured inputs? Sadly, this is just an introduction to the silliness that is this interface.

Logan undergoes procedure “033-03,” in which his lifeclock is artificially set to blinking. He is then instructed to become a runner himself and discover where “sanctuary” is. After his adventure in the outside performing the assignment he was forced to accept, he is brought in as a prisoner. The computer traps him in a ring of bars demanding to know the location of sanctuary. Logan reports (correctly) that Santuary doesn’t exist.


On the other hand, it explodes

This freaks the computer out. Seriously. Now, the crazy thing is that the computer actually understands Logan’s answer, because it comments on it. It says, “Unacceptable. The answer does not program [sic].” That means that it’s not a data-type error, as if it got the wrong kind of input. No, the thing heard what Logan was saying. It’s just unsatisfied, and the programmer decided that the best response to dissatisfaction was to engage the heretofore unused red and green pixels in the display, randomly delete letters from the text—and explode. That’s right. He decided that in addition to the Dissatisfaction() subroutine calling the FreakOut(Seriously) subroutine, the FreakOut(Seriously) subroutine in its turn calls Explode(Yourself), Release(The Prisoner), and the WhileYoureAtItRuinAllStructuralIntegrityoftheSurroundingArcitecture() subroutines.


Frankly, if this is the kind of coding that this entire society was built upon, this whole social collapse thing was less deep social commentary and really just a matter of technical debt.


Technical. Debt.

8 thoughts on “The answer does not program

  1. Pingback: Report Card: Logan’s Run | Make It So

  2. You have an error in the procedure code number listed above. It was procedure 033-03 not 03-033. Thanks for building this. Logan’s Run remains one of my all time favorite movies, and I typically watch it 4 or more times a year.

    • Thanks for catching the error, D! (Other readers, it’s now fixed.) You’re welcome of course. Glad you’re enjoying it, and let’s both keep our fingers crossed that the new one is even better.

      • 033-03 refers to him penetrating the city seals and searching outside the dome. The computer directs him to this before he observes that he will not be accepted as a runner because he is a Red 6. The computer then proceeds to conduct a Retrogram.

        The effect of the Retrogram is that his lifeclock begins blinking.

  3. Pingback: Report Card: Colossus: The Forbin Project | Sci-fi interfaces

  4. Think the sandman trying to shoot Logon and misses and hits the blue thing on the wall causes computer to blow up. Before that is prob just a Blue screen error before it reboots. Logon knows to hit the red thing on wall so they must have some knowledge on the system.Great hearing explanations

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