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"Genux-B is capable of learning; that's why we make use of it."

Holy Quarrel” explores the threat of machine learning that of human ideology. It was originally published in Worlds of Tomorrow in May 1966. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 135–155.[1]


The manuscript for "Holy Quarrel" arrived at the SMLA on Sep 13, 1965 – the same day as that for the ms of "We Can Remember It for You Wholesale". In May 1966 the story was published in Worlds Of Tomorrow. It was never anthologized or collected until publication of the fifth volume of THE COLLECTED STORIES OF PHILIP K. DICK in 1987.[2]


Sometime after the year 1990, a Genux-B supercomputer has declared a state of red alert and plans to obliterate Northern California. Frantic repairmen learn only that the computer wishes to destroy one Herb Sousa and his chain of gum-ball machines. Genux-B believes the gum-balls are alive and that Herb Sousa is the devil incarnate.[2]


Holy Quarrel explores machine learning, the basis for artificial intelligence. It bears the question: can a computer (AI, singularity) differentiate mythology from real life? After a supercomputer had processed certain data, it deteremined that an individual in Sacramento posed an existential threat, and thus began measures for a nuclear strike on Northern California to contain said threat. A specialist was called to run a diagnostics. In an effort to isolate the problem, the specialist unwittingly gave inputs that caused the supercomputer to “learn” of human mythology. Since the computer cannot differentiate what is real and what is unreal, it basis its “decision” making processes as if everything it “learns” is not only in realtime, but its level of threat—whether the subject is considered mythological or not.

Machine learning[]

The following points, shows the path in how the supercomputer “learned” what it did:

  • The engineer points out, "it'll analyze everything out and accept the most probable chain."
  • A control statement (falsity) is fed into the supercomputer by a specialist, which ends up equating the human target, Herbert Sousa as a “mythological person”. Unbeknownst to the specialist, the computer theoretically formulates: 1. Threat = real-time, 2. Threat ≠ Herbert Sousa 3. Herbert Sousa = mythological person; therefore... Threat must = mythological person
Specialist’s input


Suggested, or likely computer processing

1. Threat = real-time, 2. Threat ≠ Herbert Sousa
3. Herbert Sousa = mythological person

Threat must = mythological person


At face value, Holy Quarrel is taken as a humerous battle of wits between computer and human, delving into religious mythology. However, because of exponential progress in real-time artificial intelligence, folks interested in the Singularity theorem will now find this story to be a horrorifying potentially true-story scenario. Can AI, even accidentally, learn human ideology and thus make human-life threatening decisions as if mythological concepts were real?

Since the story was first written in 1966, many of the computer terms and systems are antiquated, which may make it difficult for computer analysts to read through. However, the principles of machine learning and the potential risk for advanced artificial intelligence, permeates well throughout the story. PKD gives hints along the way, as to how the computer learned what it did, rather than just say that one day it just came up with it on its own.

PKD universe[]

  • Genux-B are computers (supercomputers), developed prior to 1980, that calculate war scenarios, can determine potential homeland threats, and are capable of initiating strikes. There are eight Genux-B computers on Terra (Earth), and only three in North America. One GB had gone rogue?,[Needs verification] flashing a Red Alert, scrambled SAC, and began a 'counterattack.' It also appeared to be responsible for America having initiated a strike against France in 1982, and little Israel in 1989.


  1. Philip Dick Review, Holy Quarrel, Story background
  2. 2.0 2.1 Philip Dick Fans, Holy Quarrel, history