“Ansible” – a science fiction word with Emory origins?

Ursula K. Le Guin

Many Emory IT folks are involved with the automation and control tool Ansible, and with ongoing LITS efforts to incorporate it into our environment. But the name of the product isn’t just a word made up by a marketing consultant somewhere in Silicon Valley.

Decades ago in high school, I ran across the invented word “ansible” in the groundbreaking novel The Left Hand of Darkness. Pioneering author Ursula Le Guin coined the word:

Wikipedia: An ansible is a category of fictional device or technology capable of instantaneous or faster-than-light communication. It can send and receive messages to and from a corresponding device over any distance or obstacle whatsoever with no delay.

As a name for such a device, the word “ansible” first appeared in a 1966 novel by Ursula K. Le Guin. Since that time, the term has been broadly used in the works of numerous science fiction authors, across a variety of settings and continuities.[1]

Using the ansible in Ender’s Game.

The author of a later novel (and more recent film) “Ender’s Game” openly borrowed the word and the device; a character acknowledges the name comes “out of an old book.” The story depends on the ansible to centrally control a huge, complex fleet of distant ships.  Sound like a  familiar problem? That’s where the Ansible automation software founders got the name for their product.

And perhaps the idea of the ansible first formed here at Emory University.  After high school in Berkeley (alongside Philip K. Dick), then Radcliffe and Columbia, Ursula Le Guin gave up on her own PhD in Renaissance Literature to follow her new husband here to Emory University in the 1950’s. She worked here as a departmental secretary while he completed a PhD in History. After the couple moved on to teach elsewhere, she worked for over a decade to get her first novel published, eventually achieving great success and being honored as a literary trailblazer.


This entry was posted in Staff Bytes and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>