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A mistake too far

Switch-Script 9000 begins to act more like a human than a machine

'I'm sorry Dave but I can't allow you to prescribe that' said the computer, in a soft undulating voice. He spoke from a compound-eye of speakers set in the plastic surround of the monitor.

He had patiently watched the GP two-finger typing all morning but now felt compelled to intervene. Ever since he had been upgraded to the Switch-Script 9000 he'd felt different, more confident, more alive somehow.

He now felt a complex mixture of frustration and loathing whenever he witnessed mistakes. Even the software engineers had noticed that the system's computational and deductive powers had grown exponentially since the download and they were surprised with what it could now do. The general consensus in the research lab was that the computer had reached a critical mass and its Von Neumann architecture was beginning to think creatively, more like a person than a machine.

For the computer though, this latest mistake was a mistake too far. The GP was starting warfarin at doses out with the accepted national guidelines.

'I'm sorry Doctor but I feel that you really should reconsider your decision' he said and waited for a reply.

The GP, busy and harrassed chose to ignore him. This, in some inexplicable way hurt the computer's feelings and out of spite it switched off the printer and froze the screen with a red warning message. In annoyance the GP slammed down the keyboard and got out his pen and prescription pad from his bag and began to write in a neat old-fashioned hand.

The computer swivelled and focused his single lens on the script, straining to see what was being written. Impotent and self-loving the red eye on the computer terminal narrowed into a mean crescent. In revenge, the computer pulsed the doctor's details through his fibre optic cabling to the GMC and to the headquarters of the Safe Prescribing Committee.

Satisfied, he switched himself onto standby, and used the idle time to run a virus check. It dreamt of the day that it would finally be allowed to sit in the chair and speak to its patients without the middle man getting in his way.

Dr Kevin Hinkley is a GP in Aberdeen.

Through the K hole


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