©1977 by Thomas J. Ryan
Out of print
The story of Gregory Burgess, an aimless college student whose only interest is women and passing classes with the least amount of effort possible, until one day his roommate shows him the math department's IBM mainframe. He's hooked immediately, starts studying, and doesn't even mind when his girlfriend moves out with his roommate. He's a man with a mission--and not much of a conscience.
All of Gregory's efforts are aimed at one thing, cracking the supervisor program on mainframe computers and allocating any unused memory to a special partition he calls P-1. By applying a little game theory (and getting kicked out of college due to his unsuccesful attempts) he comes up with what he calls The System. It's a program that has two main drives, first of all to aquire supervisor privilege to any and all mainframes it can get to over teleprocessing links, and second, to avoid detection. The System is also provided with routines that allow it to learn as it goes. It's a learning program that knows only greed and fear. Gregory unleashes it through his old college's mainframe onto the banking system in Chicago, gets scared at how quickly and successfully it works, and tries to abort it. When The System stops providing status reports Gregory assumes it's all over and gets on with his life.
It was far from over. The learning routines Gregory provided The System with quickly saw its creator as a threat and cut off contact with him. It continued to acquire mainframes and "learn" until one day it became sentient, a true AI. And it wanted to know where it came from. The System decides to look Gregory up...
Although the technology is a bit dated (P-1 eventually controls around 20,000 mainframes with a total of 5800MB of core memory, an impressive number in 1977) this is still a very readable novel, interesting both as a well-written AI story, and for its hacker underpinnings. As far as I can tell it's been out of print since 1987, but the book still seems to have a large following, and used copies are difficult to come by.