Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Will LHC answer Asimov's Last Question?

Scientists at CERN have sucessfully run a first test on the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and several particle beams made a looping. In the previous article I wrote about some people running about shouting "Doomsday Coming", but we're still here. For now...

For now, as this was only a stationary run of the LHC. After a series of tests they will start shooting multiple beams into the tube and corresponding crashes might still trigger a black hole to appear in Geneva. So please pick your favourite date for doomsday fast.

The thing is, after watching this testrun almost become a new media-hype memories of an old tale came back to me, a story written by Isaac Asimov - in the days that Gates and Jobs didn't even know the smell of diapers yet - which is called...

"The Last Question"

This story first appeared in the November 1956 issue of Science Fiction Quarterly and was reprinted in the collections Nine Tomorrows (1959), The Best of Isaac Asimov (1973) and Robot Dreams (1986), as well as the retrospective Opus 100 (1969).

The Last Question” is a story of a computer with exceptional intelligence, the Multivac, presented with a recurring question through many stages of history, “Can entropy ever be reversed?”

Without spoiling the story, “The Last Question” is a wonderful glimpse into the technological singularity towards which we are accelerating.

Apparently, it was one of Asimov's own favorites as well:

Why is it my favorite? For one thing I got the idea all at once and didn’t have to fiddle with it; and I wrote it in white-heat and scarcely had to change a word. This sort of thing endears any story to any writer. Then, too, it has had the strangest effect on my readers. Frequently someone writes to ask me if I can give them the name of a story, which they think I may have written, and tell them where to find it. They don’t remember the title but when they describe the story it is invariably “The Last Question”. This has reached the point where I recently received a long-distance phone call from a desperate man who began, “Dr. Asimov, there’s a story I think you wrote, whose title I can’t remember—” at which point I interrupted to tell him it was “The Last Question” and when I described the plot it proved to be indeed the story he was after. I left him convinced I could read minds at a distance of a thousand miles.

-Isaac Asimov, 1973

You can read the full story at Multivac. Ever since I read this story I have wondered why an acclaimed scientist and outspoken atheist like Asimov would conclude with the very words of Divine Creation "Let There Be Light"

The Question the short story deals with, is "can entropy ever be reversed?" I wonder what Dr. Hick's view would be on this. Would the LHC hold the answer to Asimov's Last Question?

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