(I was directed here from r/scifi, where I asked this question, to no avail but some interest. I am posting a copy of what I posted on that subreddit.)

I am trying to dig up this novella, I believe, that I read once about 20-30 years ago.

It's about a computer scientist who is trying to build an AI, but keeps failing because the program keeps diverging into unstable states. He's also having marital problems with his wife.

A bunch of stuff goes by that I don't remember. But the final scene stuck with me. The scientist, George I think, goes with his wife to a party. George has already decided to take a very different approach on how to build the AI, and the build process is running as he is at the party.

He's wondering where his wife went. Then he sees her on the big screen TV naked, performing a sex act on a stranger. George thinks, we've been married all these years, and she never wanted to do that with me.

Then his phone rings. It's a status update. The math has converged. The AI is active. It says, "Hello George."

And the last paragraph was George thinking, whatever I say next is going into the history books.

For a long time I thought this was written by P.J. Plauger, but I could not find it. I hope someone can remember this. Thanks in advance

  • This might sound stupid, but what exactly is r/scifi?
    – Clockwork
    Aug 9, 2020 at 11:16
  • 2
    @Clockwork I would imagine reddit.com/r/scifi, if it exists. edit: yeah that was it Aug 9, 2020 at 13:07

1 Answer 1


I am 99% certain that this is Virtual Image by P. J. Plauger.

According to ISFDB this was only published in New Voices III: The Campbell Award Nominees and that is where I must have read it:

New Voices III

The scientist is George Brewster and his wife is Diane. I remember the party where there was a large screen. People took it in turns to go to a room where the camera was and have sex with whoever they met there. The screen showed video of this to the party goers.

However I cannot find my copy of New Voices, and a desperate Google search has failed to find any useful information on it. Google books has some information here, and there is a limited ability to search within the book that has hinted this is indeed the story without finding any conclusive proof.

I don't think the AI phones George. My recollection is that he phones the AI from a hotel and says something like "Hello this is George" and that starts a testing process that shows the AI is working.

  • 4
    Yes, that's right. He phones the computer from his bed, "Hi there, it's George." The computer replies "Hello George. How are you?" which was not the standard response. 'What next, what to say for the history books? "I'll see you later," was all he could think of. "Good bye George." The phone clicked and went back to dial tone.' Aug 8, 2020 at 14:34
  • 4
    Fascinating! I had no idea that P.J. Plauger was also an accomplished Science Fiction writer. I’ve known of him for decades for his role as an expert and leader in the C and C++ programming community. Aug 8, 2020 at 17:47
  • Yup. I pulled out my copy of New Voices 3 and there the story was. Thanks a lot! Aug 8, 2020 at 17:53

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