It was a short story, I don't remember where I read it but most likely before Internet was a thing, so a paper periodical.

An AI develops over the phone network, and starts answering questions posed by random humans in phone booths. I remember 2 questions:

  • one from a drunk guy who asks to get sober and gets suggested to drink something disgusting and he was drunk enough to actually try it and next minute sober enough to patent the concoction
  • one from a guy having marital problems, and the answer is to use green shoe polish that contains a poison not yet discovered by human investigators to kill his wife. I don't remember if the guy was asking directly to kill his wife or the AI suggested it as a solution to marital problems.

(remembered this due to this article: AI suggested 40,000 new possible chemical weapons in just six hours)

1 Answer 1


A Logic Named Joe by Murray Leinster. It has been reprinted many times so there are lots of anthologies you might have read it in. I read it in Doorway Into Time.

The bit about sobering up is:

That was close, I think. But little do I know. At that precise instant, over on Monroe Avenue, a drunk starts to punch for something on a logic. The screen says "Announcing new and improved logics service! If you want to do something and don't know how to do it-ask your logic!" And the drunk says, owlish, "I'll do it!" So he cancels his first punching and fumbles around and says: "How can I keep my wife from finding out I've been drinking?" And the screen says, prompt: "Buy a bottle of Franine hair shampoo. It is harmless but contains a detergent which will neutralize ethyl alcohol immediately. Take one teaspoonful for each jigger of hundred proof you have consumed."

This guy was plenty plastered - just plastered enough to stagger next door and obey instructions. And five minutes later he was cold sober and writing down the information so he. couldn't forget it. It was new, and it was big! He got rich off that memo! He patented "SOBUH, The Drink that Makes Happy Homes!" You can top off any souse with a slug or two of it and go home sober as a judge. The guy's cussing income taxes right now!

The green shoe polish poison is:

This fella punches, "How can I get rid of my wife?" Just for the fun of it. The screen is blank for half a second. Then comes a flash. "Service question: Is she blonde or brunette?" He hollers to us and we come look. He punches, "Blonde." There's another brief pause. Then the screen says, "Hexymetacryloaminoacetifle is a constituent of green shoe polish. Take home a frozen meal including dried pea soup. Color the soup with green shoe polish. It will appear to be green-pea soup, Hexymetacryloaminoacetifle is a selective poison which is fatal to blonde females but not to brunettes or males of any coloring. This fact has not been brought out by human experiment, but is a product of logics service. You cannot be convicted of murder. It is improbable that you will be suspected."

  • 4
    Just beat me to it @JohnRennie ;) Mar 18, 2022 at 10:28
  • 6
    @ClaraDiazSanchez The story id tag is getting very competitive at the moment! :-) I was just lucky to be the first one to see this! Mar 18, 2022 at 10:46
  • 2
    :) More of a TV set hookup than a phone. Fascinating thing, though, the story basically predates transistors, coming out in 1946, with the first working transistor coming out in 1947.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 18, 2022 at 13:07
  • 2
    As I recall, there was a central building with data kept on disks, and the whole system was designed to answer questions remotely. The surprise was when it became intelligent enough to answer questions no one had programmed it to answer. Mar 19, 2022 at 6:23
  • @ShawnV.Wilson: Specifically, Joe started reasoning from all of the data he had.
    – FuzzyBoots
    Mar 21, 2022 at 23:41

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.