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"I think we could solve our problems more easily through strength of character; but that's always been a commodity in extremely short supply."
- Gregory Benford

Thorsen Memory Tube  
  Computer component that allows a machine to learn through experience.  

Here is where the Thorsen memory tubes came in. The intercontinental missiles we had struck back with "thought" with Thorsen tubes, and traffic-control systems in places like Los Angeles used an idiot form of them. No need to go into theory of an electronic tube that even Bell Labs doesn't understand too well, the point is that you can hook a Thorsen tube into a control circuit, direct the machine through an operation by manual control, and the tube will "remember" what was done and can direct the operation without a human supervisor a second time, or any number of times.

For an automated machine tool this is enough; for guided missiles and for Flexible Frank you add side circuits that give the machine "judgment." Actually it isn't judgment (in my opinion a machine can never have judgment); the side circuit is a hunting circuit, the programming of which says "look for so-and-so within such-and-such limits; when you find it, carry out your basic instruction." The basic instruction can be as complicated as you can crowd into one Thorsen memory tube-which is a very wide limit indeed!-and you can program so that your "judgment" circuits (moronic back-seat drivers, they are) can interrupt the basic instructions any time the cycle does not match that originally impressed into the Thorsen tube. This meant that you need cause Flexible Frank to clear the table and scrape the dishes and load them into the dishwasher only once, and from then on he could cope with any dirty dishes he ever encountered.

Better still, he could have an electronically duplicated Thorsen tube stuck into his head and could handle dirty dishes the first time he ever encountered them . . - and never break a dish. Stick another "memorized" tube alongside the first one and he could change a wet baby first time, and never, never, never stick a pin in the baby. Frank's square head could easily hold a hundred Thorsen tubes, each with an electronic "memory" of a different household task. Then throw a guard circuit around all the "judgment" circuits, a circuit which required him to hold still and squawl for help if he ran into something not covered by his instructions-that way you wouldn't use up babies or dishes.

From The Door Into Summer, by Robert Heinlein.
Published by Unknown in 1956
Additional resources -

This is an extension of Heinlein's idea expressed in his 1941 short story Waldo. In the story, the main character teaches other people to use waldoes on a lathe by taking control of the waldo glove worn by the craftsman. The craftsman being taught experiences what the main character is doing.

Compare to the Laminated Mouse Brain Computer from Think Blue, Count Two (1962) by Cordwainer Smith, the neuristor from The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966) by Heinlein and the artificial brain from The Metal Giants (1926) by Edmond Hamilton.

See also usuform robot learning from Q.U.R. (1943) by Anthony Boucher.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Door Into Summer
  More Ideas and Technology by Robert Heinlein
  Tech news articles related to The Door Into Summer
  Tech news articles related to works by Robert Heinlein

Thorsen Memory Tube-related news articles:
  - Toyota Robot Maid Learns From Mistakes
  - Dish Washing Robot Arm
  - Loihi Chip Mimics Human Brain's Neurons And Synapses

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