Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 636
Kurt Vonnegut's dystopian novel Player Piano is set in a future post waves of industrial revolution, where all the workers have been replaced by machines that are more efficient. The only human capital consists in highly skilled 'Doctors'—of Real Estate, of Engineering, etc. However, these are all people who lack physical prowess and have never done the kind of work that machines have rendered obsolete. The protagonist of the novel, Paul, who has never done manual work in his life and has also never known the war (which immediately precedes the events of the book) regrets the kind of life he leads, even though he is highly successful at Ilium Works:
"Paul wished he had gone to the front, and heard the senseless tumult and thunder, and seen the wounded and dead, and maybe got a piece of shrapnel through his leg. Maybe he'd be able to understand then how good everything now was by comparison, to see what seemed so clear to others—that what he was doing, had done, and would do as a manager and engineer was vital, above reproach, and had, in fact, brought on a golden age. Of late, his job, the system, and organizational politics had left him variously annoyed, bored, or queasy."
In this conversation with his secretary, Katharine Finch, Paul and Katharine wonder if there will be yet another industrial revolution; in the dystopian future of the book, there have already been two:
“'Do you suppose there'll be a Third Industrial Revolution?'
Paul paused in his office doorway. 'A third one? What would that be like?'
'I don't know exactly. The first and second ones must have been sort of inconceivable at one time.'
'To the people who were going to be replaced by machines, maybe. A third one, eh? In a way, I guess the third one's been going on for some time, if you mean thinking machines. That would be the third revolution, I guess— machines that devaluate human thinking. Some of the big computers like EPICAC do that all right, in specialized fields.'"
When one thinks about the Turing Test and all the research into Artificial Intelligence which has followed from it, this quote seems all the more timely, even decades after the book was written.
The author has a character say this in sincerity; it can be read as a wry and bitter remark on the role on culture in the brave new world created after the...
(The entire section contains 636 words.)
Unlock This Study Guide Now
Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this Player Piano study guide. You'll get access to all of the Player Piano content, as well as access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.
- Critical Essays