In one of the Banks novels (one outside of the Culture universe, I believe), there is a scene where real-time communication across long distances is supported by a kind of thing referred to as a "cauldron". It offers a kind of pre-compiled chatbot that lets people negotiate without the time-delay back and forth. What book was it from and how did it work?

  • 1
    Probably The Algebraist or Against A Dark Background if it wasn't a Culture book.
    – Shawn
    Commented May 25 at 14:55
  • fyi, Ian Banks and Ian M. Banks were the same person, but he used the first name when writing Non-SciFi books (e.g. "The Wasp Factory"), and the second for his SciFi books (Culture and otherwise). Just in case you're ever confused when picking up an Ian Banks book and not getting the usual (awesome ;) ) SciFi fare.
    – AnoE
    Commented May 27 at 14:12

2 Answers 2


It is not specifically called a "cauldron", but this could well be the "cooking pot" communication device, described in The Algebraist. This Iain M. Banks novel, published in 2004, indeed falls outside his Culture series.

The device is described as:

An incongruous-looking device which looked like an ancient iron cooking pot: a black-bellied urn a couple of metres in diameter, capped with a shallow dome and sitting on a tripod of stubby legs on the buttery sheen of the solid gold floor. Its surface was pinstriped with thin vanes, but otherwise it resembled something almost prehistoric.

The cooking pot device received a transmission in the form of an artificial intelligence construct, which manifested as a hologram of an admiral. Having artificial intelligence, the construct could indeed respond to questions in a limited way, making communication more efficient.


This seems like a mix of two things from The Algebraist: the precompiled chatbot is the "emissarial projection" Fassin talks to which is described as:

a many-branched array of statements, questions and answers, with a set of rules governing the order in which they are expressed, [which] is able to carry out what seems like an intelligent conversation.

I think you're getting the cauldron part from the actual AI that he meets later, which is described as being housed in a 'cooking pot device".

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