Berserkers are mighty, killing machines, They are unmanned spaceships that have been integrated with a form of artificial intelligence referred to as The Co-ordinator. The onboard machines, auxiliary robots, and missiles allow Berserkers to execute their mission - wipe out all biological life in the universe.
I don't normally read fiction. I am more of a "stick to the facts" kind of guy; however, my friend and neighbor, Francis Walsh, is an astronomy buff. I met him one night when he set up telescopes at our community park so neighboring children and adults could peer at the stars. His plan was to do this on the 20th of every month. Alas, the COVID-19 pandemic dashed his plans. Even without these regular meetings, Francis and I have been corresponding. He loaned me his copy.
Berserker Man was written by Fred Saberhagen in 1979. The story centers around a fair-haired eleven-year-old boy with a narrow face and large, washed-out looking eyes who is humanity's only hope to defeat the Berserkers. Though set thousands of years in the future with space travel, massive data processing and storage, and powerful technology as part of the setting, the story is a human one. Saberhagen does not get mired in the technological details of the time period. Instead, parallel plots advance with each page. In the end, the plots intersect, and the true relationship between man and machine is revealed — quite philosophical.
"Studies find that reading fiction significantly increases empathy towards others, including people of a different race or religion. And the more absorbed in a story the reader is, the more empathetically they behave in real life... Another study concluded that literary fiction 'uniquely engages the psychological processes needed to gain access to the characters' subjective experiences.' That's to say, if you read novels, you can probably read emotions, vital skills for forming cooperative societies."
— Transcendence, Gaia Vince, 2020, page 94.
The members of our Autodesk Strategic Foresight team are frequent science fiction readers. Fiction provides a glimpse of possible futures. For example, many believe the cellphone was inspired by the communicator on Star Trek. Although our team looks 10 years into the future and not thousands, empathy for our technology users is one ingredient in forecasting change that will affect Autodesk customers and help the company prepare for those opportunities and threats.
Forethought is alive in the lab.