I have been trying to find this short story for years and after Lee SeDol defeated AlphaGo in game 4 yesterday, it really reminded me of it.

The story is about a Utopia that is computer controlled and the AI is considered almost infallible and runs all aspects of life in the city. If any citizen wishes to change the programming, they must challenge the computer to a contest. The challenge consists of 3(?) human vs computer tests. There is a catch though, if you win, you get to rewrite the programming, but if you lose, you are banished from Utopia forever.

Many years go by where no one has challenged the AI. Then one day, a citizen decides he wants to compete against the computer for the right to reprogram it. The first test is a hovercraft race.(not sure). I remember the human loses. The second one is to compose a symphony. The citizen composes a beautiful symphony but still loses. I can't remember the 3rd challenge but the human also loses.

The human challenger is banished forever but he doesn't regret it at all. This is because everyone in the city has a spring in their step because a human was able to compete so closely with the AI.

The cheers and applause that Lee SeDol received after game 4 really reminded of the end of this story. I really want to read it again! :)

Thank you for the help!

Edit: I think I read this short story in a science fiction anthology around 1997.

  • I am also looking for this particular story. possibly from the "Year's Best Science Fiction" anthology from around that time period. Haven't found it yet.
    – jim cross
    Mar 11, 2017 at 13:16

1 Answer 1


I found the story. It is in the anthology Universe 1, published in 1990, and edited by Robert Silverberg and Karen Haber. It is called "The City of Ultimate Freedom" by Geoffrey A. Landis.

Some additional plot points as I remember it:

  • It was certainly a computer controlled utopia where the benevolent computer saw to the needs of every citizen.
  • Any citizen could challenge the computer at any time, but if they lost they would be banished to "the primitive" (basically like living in the woods without the benefit of technology), but I don't think it was forever, maybe for one year and then they could return and challenge again if they wished.
  • One human decided to challenge, but I think he may have done it previously.
  • There was a race of some sort. More of a game of tag played out on a giant 3-D grid where the computer controlled two balls and the human had his ultra fast hovercraft.
  • The human needed to anticipate the action the computer was taking and avoid the balls while remaining in the grid. The game ends when the human realizes he is becoming trapped and just guns it full throttle straight out of the grid. He is saved from harm by the benevolent computer.
  • The next challenge is indeed a symphony. I think the computer composes something that begins simply, disintegrates into white noise and then flows impeccably out of the white noise to a resounding end. The human does something very similar, maybe starting with white noise and building a symphony out of that.

I can't remember the third challenge, if there was one.

  • Any idea how to get a copy of this online? Google just has a few results in libraries far away.
    – Kelderic
    Jun 13, 2017 at 18:31
  • Yes World Cat does show that, but when I actually checked, the closest ones actually don't have it. Purdue University does though, so I may try to get it from there.
    – Kelderic
    Jun 13, 2017 at 20:38
  • This is indeed the story. Thank you so much @jimcross!! I just found the book and re-read the story. There was a 3rd challenge. The human decided to use the same scenario as the first challenge - a maze where the human controls one ball and the computer controls two. The goal is to get at least 1 kilometer away the computer.
    – leok
    Jan 3, 2020 at 23:18

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