In the Wikipedia entry for the original 1973 Westworld it mentions the computer scientist scoffing at the idea of 'an infectious virus that affects computers'.

Is there an earlier than this sci fi work (novel or film etc) that mentions a virus that only infects computers?

Extract from the Wikipedia​ entry:

The technicians running Delos notice problems beginning to spread like an infection among the androids: the robots in Romanworld and Medievalworld begin experiencing an increasing number of breakdowns and systemic failures, which are said to have spread to Westworld.

When one of the supervising computer scientists scoffs at the "analogy of an infectious disease," he is told by the chief supervisor "We aren't dealing with ordinary machines here. These are highly complicated pieces of equipment, almost as complicated as living organisms. In some cases, they've been designed by other computers. We don't know exactly how they work."

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    Not an answer: The possibility of self-replicating programs was identified in 1949 by John von Neumann, and the first virus identified in the wild was the Creeper virus in 1971. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Computer_virus
    – cryptarch
    Jan 19, 2019 at 3:16
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    So, assuming that the Westworld of 1973 was set some time in the future of 1973, it seems a little short-sighted to have had a computer scientist in that future scoffing about something that had already been pioneered a year before the script for the original Westworld had even been written (in 1972) :D
    – cryptarch
    Jan 19, 2019 at 3:19
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    Based on the synopsis, though, the Westworld "disease" doesn't seem to have been deliberately designed, which makes it fundamentally different to a computer virus. Also, unless the androids had some sort of Wi-Fi equivalent (?) there would be no way for a computer virus to spread, so I'm not sure that's what the writers had in mind. Jan 19, 2019 at 4:32
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    I've taken the liberty to edit your question a bit with the "first instance of" tweak so that it doesn't fall under too broad. Hope you don't mind :)
    – Jenayah
    Jan 19, 2019 at 10:41
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    @cryptarch - " it seems a little short-sighted to have had a computer scientist in that future scoffing about something that had already been pioneered a year before" - Only if you think that Michael Crichton was well-read in the literature of the field and kept current with new developments. And since the term "computer virus" as we know it was only invented in 1985, it does seem rather demanding to require Crichton to be clairvoyant. Jan 19, 2019 at 23:26

2 Answers 2


Greg Benford's 1970 story "The Scarred Man" uses the term "virus" to describe code that is spread between computers. http://www.gregorybenford.com/extra/the-scarred-man-returns/

“The program he logged in instructed the computer to dial a seven digit telephone number at random. Now, most phones are operated by people. But quite a few belong to computers and are used to transfer information and programming instrucions to other computers. Whenever a computer picks up the receiver — metaphorically, I mean — there’s a special signal that says it’s a computer, not a human. Another computer can recognize the signal, see.

“Sapiro’s computer just kept dialing at random, hanging up on humans, until it got a fellow computer of the same type as itself. Then it would send a signal that said in effect, ‘Do this job and charge it to the charge number you were using when I called.’ And then it would transmit the same program Sapiro tad programmed into it.”

“So that—” I said.

“Right on. The second computer would turn around and start calling at random intervals, trying to find another machine. Eventually it would.”

The flunkies would go in, fiddle with the machine the way Sapiro had told them, and then Sapiro would pop in, dump the program — he called it VIRUS — and take off. The people who owned the machine never suspected anything because it looked like a complicated process; all those assistants were there for hours.


I'm not aware of an earlier work.

As Wikipedia notes in its article on the great British SF writer John Brunner (1934-1995), “Brunner is credited with coining the term 'worm' and predicting the emergence of computer viruses in his 1975 novel The Shockwave Rider, in which he used the term to describe software which reproduces itself across a computer network.”

The Shockwave Rider was impressively ahead of its time and has been described as a precursor to William Gibson's Neuromancer and the cyberpunk movement it inspired.

John Brunner was a writer of remarkable versatility, ambition, and skill who deserves to be better remembered. His death at only 60 years of age was a tragedy for the SF field.

John Brunner, novelist

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    Well, then it's hardly an answer if you mention sth made later then what OP mentions.
    – Mithoron
    Jan 24, 2019 at 16:43

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