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I would likely have read this story in the late 1980s or early 90s. I do not recall if it was novel or short story length. My suspicion is that it was either part of Asimov's "robot" universe or a one-off tale from Arthur C. Clarke.

The problem is that the main scene I recall is that of the scientist demonstrating the capabilities of his new robot and distributed computing/AI design by throwing a box of paper clips at it. The robot's arms are a series of bifurcating limbs (with processing nodes at each joint?) such that it has a huge number of "fingers" and can just reach out and catch all the individual paperclips at once. This ability (and not any of the other work that he has done) finally catches the attention of his superiors.

But if you search for anything to do with AI, robots or computing and paperclips ... you will mostly find results about the "Paperclip Maximiser" problem whereby an AI will accidentally destroy the world by turning it all into paperclips.

My feeling is that it if it were Asimov it would be quite late Asimov as the science and technology was a bit more concrete. i.e. that the real world technology was starting to catch up with the science fiction and so the story contained more "technical details" (albeit still fictional) compared to the earlier Asimov with the generic "positronic brain", etc. This is partly why I am also considering Clarke as the source as his work tended to be more closely related to real world technology (although this is a big generalisation!).

I do not recall anything else of significance about the story so I suspect that I have focussed on this key scene and simply forgotten which novel/short-story it is part of - presumably because this isn't a significant plot point even though the visual image it created for me was striking.

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    Nice pick on the detail with the paperclips. :) And yeah, getting past the "maximizer" entries took some refining.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 21, 2022 at 18:39

1 Answer 1

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"The Turing Option" by Harry Harrison and Marvin Minsky seems a good possibility.

Front cover of The Turing Option

Mind meets microchip as a brilliant young genius develops a machine capable of spontaneous thought. Before he can perfect the machine, terrorists steal his research and put a bullet through his brain. Miraculously revived by methods he pioneered, he must find his lost memory and discover who is trying to kill him.

A quote from this site:

Brian picked up a box of paper clipsand threw them all toward the telerobot. The thing whirred in a blur of motion as it smoothly unfolded and rearranged most of its tendrils into hundreds of little handlike claws. As they spread out they simultaneously caught every one of the paper clips. It put them all down in a neat pile.

Found with a search for science fiction robot "catch paperclips" -maximizer -replicating

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    Yes - as soon as I saw this answer I knew it was correct. Glad I didn't throw you off with the Asimov/Clarke thing! Thanks
    – AdamT
    Feb 21, 2022 at 20:06
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    Of all the awesomeness in that book, the one detail that you remembered is the fact that the AI can catch paperclips?!
    – Stef
    Feb 22, 2022 at 14:11
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    ^_^ Human brains, people... we fixate on the oddest things.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Feb 22, 2022 at 14:12
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    +1 for the search tip
    – Tom
    Feb 23, 2022 at 1:25

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