Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Mark Trent's "Question Answered" (short story, free): Computer, save the human civilization, please

Illustration by Martin Frew accompanying the original publication in Nebula Science Fiction magazine of short story Question Answered by Mark Trent
While the story itself is minor, it's among the rare ones that require that the idea of Man - what's essential about Man - to be described to a computer (as if one could even describe it to a person)!

Story summary.

Someone has noticed cycles of human civilization - Man rises from a primitive, goes through technology evolution, & eventually falls back to primitiveness. And the cycle repeats. End of current cycle is likely to come a decade from now!

So a question is posed to the great computer: how to escape this cycle? Computer breaks down. Many iterations happen, with different ways of posing the problem. Computer always breaks down. The culprit is imprecise data defining "what is man"?

Later, a session with an expert of humanity will reveal the key to describing man - only telling this key to computer means end of humanity forever, to be succeeded by a computer civilization...


  1. "A machine is a tool--a tool to deal with our environment. It's maker is always beyond it's comprehension. If he's not ... it's no longer a machine."

Fact sheet.

First published: Nebula Science Fiction, #14 (November 1955).
Download full text as part of the scans of the magazine it originally appeared in.
Rating: B.