“The Last Question”, a short story by Isaac Asimov (1956)

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Isaac Asimov considered “The Last Question” one of his best science fiction works, and rightfully so. For those who haven’t read it – go on, it takes roughly just 15 minutes. For those who have – it would be great to know your thoughts on it as it touches very complex matters, such as ageing, biomechanics, what is immortality, interstellar travel and many others…

Spoilers below (just highlight the text):

  • Do you think this kind of scenario is plausible? That first we live longer, than we become immortal, then, bored by the immortality and getting used to the environment, we start to separate from our physical bodies?
  • Do you think that names that combine letters and numbers are a cliche? VJ-23X, THX 1138… I think it is a cliche, although it doesn’t mean it was so in 1956.
  • How do you interpret the ending?
  • Here’ s a good discussion.

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i-robot

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The last question was asked for the first time, half in jest, on May 21, 2061, at a time when humanity first stepped into the light. The question came about as a result of a five dollar bet over highballs, and it happened this way:

Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of the faithful attendants of Multivac. As well as any human beings could, they knew what lay behind the cold, clicking, flashing face — miles and miles of face — of that giant computer. They had at least a vague notion of the general plan of relays and circuits that had long since grown past the point where any single human could possibly have a firm grasp of the whole.

Multivac was self-adjusting and self-correcting. It had to be, for nothing human could adjust and correct it quickly enough or even adequately enough — so Adell and Lupov attended the monstrous giant only lightly and superficially, yet as well as any men could. They fed it data, adjusted questions to its needs and translated the answers that were issued. Certainly they, and all others like them, were fully entitled to share In the glory that was Multivac’s. Continue reading