Butlerian Jihad

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The Butlerian Jihad is an event in the back-story of Frank Herbert's fictional Dune universe. Occurring over 10,000 years before the events chronicled in his 1965 novel Dune, this jihad leads to the outlawing of certain technologies, primarily "thinking machines", a collective term for computers and artificial intelligence of any kind. This prohibition is a key influence on the nature of Herbert's fictional setting.[1] Herbert may have coined the name from 19th-century author Samuel Butler, who wrote the utopian satire "Erewhon." Butler "believed it was the race of the intelligent machines (AI) and not the race of men which would be the next step in evolution." [2]

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The original Dune series

In Terminology of the Imperium, the glossary of 1965's Dune, Frank Herbert provides the following definition:

JIHAD, BUTLERIAN: (see also Great Revolt) — the crusade against computers, thinking machines, and conscious robots begun in 201 B.G. and concluded in 108 B.G. Its chief commandment remains in the O.C. Bible as "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind."

Herbert refers to the Jihad many times in the entire Dune series, but did not give much detail on how he imagined the actual conflict.[3] In God Emperor of Dune (1981), Leto Atreides II indicates that the Jihad had been a semi-religious social upheaval initiated by humans who felt repulsed by how guided and controlled they had become by machines:

"The target of the Jihad was a machine-attitude as much as the machines," Leto said. "Humans had set those machines to usurp our sense of beauty, our necessary selfdom out of which we make living judgments. Naturally, the machines were destroyed."[4]

In the series, Herbert illustrates how the Jihad leads to many profound and long-lasting effects on the socio-political and technological development of humanity. The known universe is purged of all forms of thinking machines, resulting in not only a ban on the re-creation of similar devices (which remains in effect throughout the periods described in the original six Dune novels), but also a great technological reversal for humanity. The chief commandment from the Orange Catholic Bible, "Thou shalt not make a machine in the likeness of a human mind", holds sway, as do the anti-artificial intelligence laws in which the penalty for owning an AI device or developing technology resembling the human mind is immediate death. This leads to the rise of a new feudalistic galactic empire which lasts for over ten thousand years, until the rise of the God Emperor Leto II in 10,217 A.G.[5]

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