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Kurt Vonnegut, the visionary writer who predicted the rise of artificial intelligence | Books | Entertainment

The visionary Slaughterhouse-Five author predicted the rise of artificial intelligence back in the 1950s and became convinced computers would replace the human workforce.

The science fiction legend also tells how large US corporations such as General Electric felt guilty about the tech revolution.

The biographical film reveals that he took a job at GE writing press releases when he could not make enough money from his short stories.

He said: “GE showed me a milling machine that was being run by punch cards. They could do it better than a man could but they were ashamed.

“They felt guilty about what they’d done. The whole emphasis now is throwing people out of work.”

It would inspire his first novel Player Piano, in which humans were replaced by machines. It was published in 1952 for an advance of $2,500, but achieved little success.

For his entire writing career the chain-smoking author used a typewriter and never sent an email.

He said: “We’re here on earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that. What the computer people don’t realise, or don’t care [about], is we’re dancing animals. We love to move around.”

Vonnegut, who died in 2007 aged 84, lectured on the value of the “extended family”. He said: “We need more people in our lives. What we need is numbers.”

After his sister and her husband died a month apart from each other, he took in their four teenage boys to add to his own three children.

Fame as an author arrived in 1969 with the publication of his modern classic, Slaughterhouse-Five, about his wartime experiences.

Vonnegut fought at the Battle of the Bulge in the Ardennes region of Belgium. He was captured by the Germans and taken to Dresden, where he was kept in a “meat locker” while the Allies bombed the city.

When released he saw the devastation first-hand and helped to bury the dead. When asked if he would rather not have seen what he did, he replied, with his trademark wit, “I wouldn’t have missed it for anything!”

He continued to rail against computers throughout his life.

“All the new technology seems redundant to me. I was quite happy with the United States mail service – I don’t even have an answering machine.”

His parting shot to mankind was: “Life is no way to treat an animal.”

  • Kurt Vonnegut: Unstuck In Time is in cinemas now.

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