I just read the following short-story written by Isaac Asimov entitled The Last Question. Before continuing, I would encourage everyone to read it. But if you wish not to, I’ll give a brief synopsis (that doesn’t do it any justice).
The story is composed as a series of several very short stories. The entire setting is futuristic and each subsequent story is set more and more in the future; even hundreds of thousands of years from now. Throughout each story, there are a few parallels. The first, over-arching one is that of a large computer that has harnessed the power of the Sun in order to provide energy for all mankind. With each progressing story, the name of this self-intelligent computer changes (Multivac, Microvac, Galactic AC, Cosmic AC, etc.) and the range it can reach expands as well. This computer also serves as an intelligent platform through which humans can ask any question and expect an accurate response.
The mini-short stories represent a conversation between two humans in each throughout time and every single one grapples with the finite number of years mankind will exist. That even though this super-computer can harness the energy of all of the suns in the entire Universe, there will come a time when all of the energy will be expended. Therefore, the predominant question asked to this supreme machine is along the lines of: how can we restore this energy and replenish it to ensure we will continue to survive? Each time, the computer responds by saying that it cannot answer because it does not have enough data.
Eventually, the penultimate story represents ‘Man’ meaning all of the human race. The humans are at the end and are, one-by-one, being uploaded into the AC (which is no described as an entity that is not matter nor energy, it just exists) and the last man left in the entire Universe asks the question, one last time. The computer responds the same way it always did and there ends all of humankind.
The end of the story is where the real twist is. The AC figures out how to reverse the depleting universe, but there are no human to which to report this information to. This is the ending of the story:
The consciousness of AC encompassed all of what had once been a Universe and brooded over what was now Chaos. Step by step, it must be done.
And AC said, “LET THERE BE LIGHT!”
And there was light –
Reminds me of a lot of the readings we have had. Especially Lanier when the story speaks of a computer existing at a time when no human actually exists; is that even possible? Do we not need human kind to experience the computer in order for it to really matter?