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"There's a poetry in the materials we use to construct our world of artifacts; it speaks of our long history as a technological species."
- William Gibson

Vulcan 3  
  Artificially intelligent self-modifying supercomputer.  

In the near-future Earth of the novel, Vulcan 3 is the final authority for the people of the world.

Ahead of him, lights switched on. Behind him, enormous reinforced doors slid shut to fill in the chamber's single entrance. The huge calculator rose in front of him, the immense tower of receptor banks and indicators. He was alone with it - alone with Vulcan 3.

Very little of the computer was visible; its bulk disappeared into regions which he had never seen, which in fact no human had ever seen... Their only check on the growth and development of Vulcan 3 lay in two clues: the amount of rock thrown up to the surface, to be carted off, and the variety, amount, and nature of the raw materials and tools and parts which the computer requested.

The financial cost of supporting Vulcan 3 was immense... At the latest estimate, Vulcan 3's share of the the taxes came to about forty-three percent.

Beneath his feet the floor vibrated... What lay down there? Energy, tubes and pipes, wiring, transformers, self-contained machinery... He had a mental image of relentless activity... worn-out parts replaced, new parts invented; superior designs replaced obsolete designs. And how far had it spread? Miles?

Vulcan 3 was aware of him. Across the vast impersonal face of metal an acknowledgment gleamed, a ribbon of fluid letters that appeared briefly and then vanished.

From Vulcan's Hammer, by Philip K. Dick.
Published by Ace Books in 1960
Additional resources -

Vulcan 3 was named after the image created by its glowing power lines:

...Power lines glowed red - the origin of the series name. The rumblings and dull flashes of red had reminded Nathaniel Greenstreet of the ancient god's forge, the lame god who had created the thunderbolts for Jupiter, in an age long past.

Director Jason Dill explained the rationale behind the construction of Vulcan 3:

"But who would watch the Guardians? How could we be sure this supranational body would be free of the hate and bias, the animal passions that had set man against man throughout the centuries?

...There was one answer. For years we had been using computers, giant constructs put together by the labor and talent of hundreds of trained experts, built to exact standards. Machines were free of the poisoning bias of self-interest and feeling that gnawed at man; they were capable of performing the objective calculations that for man would remain only an ideal, never a reality."

The games Machine from AE van Vogt's World of Null-A is a clear predecessor to the Vulcan 3 computer. Enjoy comparing Vulcan 3 to other computers large enough to run whole planets or societies: see the City Fathers from James Blish's Cities in Flight, Watchdog from Jack Haldeman's story of the same name, and Deep Thought from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

See also the way computers design computers in Isaac Asimov's 1958 short story The Feeling of Power.

The oldest reference I know about is the Government Machine from Mechanocracy (1932) by Miles J. Breuer.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Vulcan's Hammer
  More Ideas and Technology by Philip K. Dick
  Tech news articles related to Vulcan's Hammer
  Tech news articles related to works by Philip K. Dick

Vulcan 3-related news articles:
  - Robot Brain Grows As It Learns
  - FAST Program AIs Search For Human 'Malintent'
  - Google Engineers Not Sure What Google RankBrain AI Is Doing
  - Google Now Expects Chips To Design Themselves

Articles related to Artificial Intelligence
A.I. Jesus Proclaims Machine Gospel
Tesla Autopilot: What Does An Autonomous Car See When It Looks At The Road?
Blurry Face Photos Made 60 Times Sharper
Clarke Was Right, Artificial Intelligences DO Dream

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