Monday, August 6, 2007

Ted Chiang's "What's Expected of Us": sf meets philosophy!

This very short story - without characters or dialogs - is actually a very accessible argument on what ability to communicating with past implies about the nature of free will. Imagine what actual time travel will mean!

Full text of this story is available as a free download.

Story summary.
A new electronic toy comes to market, & is an instant rage. Predictor is "a small device, like a remote for opening your car door. Its only features are a button and a big green LED. The light flashes if you press the button. Specifically, the light flashes one second before you press the button."

Whatever you do trying to fool the device - waiting for light to come, doing it very quickly, whatever - you cannot beat it.

Isn't it a demonstration that there is no free will - everything is predetermined? What does this demonstration mean for society at large?

Fact sheet.
"What's Expected of Us", short story, review
First published: Nature magazine, 7 July 2005
Rating: A
Related: All stories of Ted Chiang.

See also.

  1. Much of this story appears a part of the plot in Chiang's later novella, "Story of Your Life".