Reading this BBC News item reminded me of the TNG episode Ship in a Bottle (episode 6x12, first aired: 25 January 1993) where the holodeck character Moriarty is tricked into moving into an off-line table-top computer running a simulation of the holodeck, Enterprise, and universe, thereby neutralizing his threat to the real ship, Starfleet, and the Federation.

Has the "sandboxing" of an adversarial sentient program into an isolated or quarantined computing environment thereby neutralizing its threat outside of the simulation been used in a science fiction work before this?

It would not have to be related to Star Trek.

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    I was going to mention 3001: The Final Oddysey by Arthur C. Clarke, but that was published in 1997, which was four years after this episode was aired. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/3001:_The_Final_Odyssey
    – RichS
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 20:03
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    @RichS It's hard for me to come to terms with how old TNG really is. I wonder if Clarke had used a similar concept in an earlier story.
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 30, 2017 at 20:06
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    So little activity here; were we not supposed to mention sandboxing in front of the SE bots?
    – uhoh
    Commented Jul 31, 2017 at 9:53
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    Does it necessarily have to be moving the enemy to a DMZ and not, necessarily, putting them into an ordeal that's inescapable without admitting defeat?
    – user40790
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 23:56
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    Perhaps a more salient question is if the SE bots have already sandboxed me!
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 27, 2017 at 5:58

1 Answer 1


"They", a short story by Robert Heinlein (1941).

In it, the main character is confined to a mental institution because he claims the whole world is built just for him, to deceive and distract him from discovering his true self. The end of the story reveals that this theory was correct. The main character is purposely trapped in this simulated world because of a "Treaty" -- the captors openly worry about being "assimilated" by the prisoner.

His minders are a combination of real people and computer/robotic simulacra. The main character explains why he believes his doctor is real, but that others aren't.

"Yes, I think you are probably alive, but you are one of the others — my antagonists. But you have set thousands of others around me whose faces are blank, not lived in,and whose speech is a meaningless reflex of noise."

The exact mechanics of the sandboxing are not explained, but it has some strong similarities with the Star Trek notion of a holodeck, given the rapidity with which cities are created and destroyed:

The Glaroon continued with orders. "Leave structures standing until adjournment. New York City and Harvard University are now dismantled. Divert him from those sectors."

  • Wow - I'd really like to read this! I wonder how I can I find a collection that has it. This certainly sounds like the right general idea. I was expecting the antagonist rather than the hero to be sandboxed, but as far as the question goes either way is fine.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 1:25
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    It's in "The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag", a collection of short stories by Robert Heinlein. Amazon has both the print and Kindle editions.
    – Aeroradish
    Commented Aug 28, 2017 at 1:59
  • OK I've found a copy. This is a fascinating story, wow! It is not an exact match to the "tricked into" aspect of the question, but I think I'm going to accept nonetheless. It's close, much earlier, and a great story too.
    – uhoh
    Commented Aug 29, 2017 at 5:27
  • @uhoh But pardon me for saying, it's essentially an example of quarantine of a person, not a program, which was the actual question. You may then be more interested in the first instance of a quarantine where the person/people being isolated are attempted to be fooled into thinking that they haven't been.
    – Broklynite
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 13:40
  • @Broklynite I understand it's not exactly what I asked for, but after reading the story through a few times, I had the feeling that the difference in the weather on different sides of the house was more likely to be a perception issue (data sent to a program/person) than physically raining on one side and sunny on the other in "the real world". In 1941, in such a short story, there just isn't room to cover the details of what a sentient program would be. However I really got the feeling that this is a reasonable interpretation of the story as told in that era.
    – uhoh
    Commented Sep 12, 2017 at 13:45

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