Famed Science Fiction author, Isaac Asimov, is quoted as saying ‘The Last Question’ is his favorite short story he has ever written, and that’s why it’s the subject of this week’s Throwback Thursday, ScienceFiction.com’s celebration of the great science fiction of the past.
For those of you who are familiar with ‘I, Robot’, ‘The Last Question’ certainly has the same narrative structure. Where in ‘I, Robot’, every short story is focused on the Rules of Robotics and their unintended consequences, ‘The Last Question’ is series of flash fictions all centered around asking a super computer, Multivac, a vital question:
How can the net amount of entropy of the universe be massively decreased?
Supposedly, this is the simplest way to ask the question “How can we stop the universe from dying eventually?” It starts off as a question asked to the computer as a bet, one person thinking the computer can’t answer the question, and the other thinking it can. However, as each flash comes closer and closer to the universe dying out, the question becomes more and more desperately asked, each to the outcome:
INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER
What the two drunks making a bet billions and billions of years before the universe dies don’t realize is that they set in motion a massive set of calculations and data collection that ultimately results in Multivac kickstarting the Big Bang, the final lines being “‘Let there be light!’ And there was light–‘.
In short, it’s a pretty cool story about artificial intelligence (a computer so intelligent that it becomes exponentially more intelligent), scientific theory about the universe expanding and entropy, and one that addresses humanity’s inability to accept that the universe will come to end.
It’s a good read and a piece of classic science fiction. If you haven’t read it, be sure you do! It can be found in the Robot Dreams collection of Asimov’s short stories, found here.