The last question
The last question was asked for the first time, half as a joke, on May 21, 2061, when humanity was taking its first steps towards the light. The question arose as a result of a five-dollar bet on alcohol, and it happened as follows.
Alexander Adell and Bertram Lupov were two of Multivac’s faithful assistants. They knew better than any other human being what went on behind the miles and miles of the luminous, cold and noisy carcass of that gigantic computer. Still, the two men had only a vague notion of the overall circuit plan that had long since grown beyond the point where a lonely human might not even try to understand.
Multivac adjusted and corrected itself. And so it had to be, because no human being could do it with sufficient speed, nor in the proper way. In this way, Adell and Lupov operated the giant only subtly and superficially, but still as well as was humanly possible. They fed it with new data, adjusted the questions according to the needs of the system and translated the answers given to them. The two, like their colleagues, certainly had every right to share in the glory that was Multivac.
For decades, Multivac helped design the ships and plot the trajectories that allowed man to reach the Moon, Mars and Venus, but beyond these planets, Earth’s meager resources were unable to sustain exploration. Too much energy was needed for long journeys. The Earth exploited its coal and uranium reserves with increasing efficiency, but there was a limit to the quantity of both.
However, Multivac slowly accumulated enough knowledge to answer deeper questions with greater reasoning, and on May 14, 2061, what was no more than theory became real.
The sun’s energy was captured, converted and used directly on a planetary scale. The entire Earth paralyzed its coal plants and uranium fission, turning the lever that connected the entire planet to a small station, a mile in diameter, orbiting the Earth at half the distance from the Moon.
The world started to run through invisible beams of solar energy.
Seven days were not enough to diminish the glory of the feat and Adell and Lupov finally managed to escape from public functions and find themselves in secret where no one would think to look for them, in the deserted underground chambers where the portions of the splendid buried body of Multivac. Underused, resting and processing information with lazy clicks, Multivac had also been on vacation, and they both enjoyed it. At first, they had no intention of disturbing him.
They had brought a bottle with them and their only concern was to relax in the company of the other and the drink.
“It’s amazing when you stop to think …,” said Adell. Your wide face
kept the age lines and he slowly stirred his drink,
while watching the ice cubes swimming ungainly. “All the energy that is needed, for free, completely for free! Enough energy, if we wanted to, to melt the whole Earth in one big drop of liquid iron, and we still wouldn’t miss the energy used in the process. All the energy we could ever need, forever and forever. ”
Lupov nodded sideways. He used to do that
when he wanted to counter it, and now he did, partly because he had to carry the ice and utensils. “Not forever,” he said.
“Ah, hell, almost forever. Until the sun goes down, Bert. ”
“This is not forever.” “It’s ok. Billions and billions of years. Ten billion, maybe. Are you satisfied? ”
Lupov ran his fingers through his thin strands of hair as if to make sure the problem was not over and took a gentle sip of his drink. “Ten billion years is not eternity”
“Well, it will last for our time, won’t it?”
“Coal and uranium would also go.”
“That’s right, but now we can turn on each individual ship at the Solar Station, and they can go to Pluto and back a million times without ever worrying about fuel. You couldn’t do that with coal and uranium. If you don’t believe me, ask Multivac. ”
“I don’t have to ask Multivac. I know that”
“So try to stop diminishing what Multivac has done for us,” said Adell nervously, “He did everything right.”
“And who says you didn’t? What I am saying is that the sun will not last forever. That’s all I’m saying. We have been safe for ten billion years, but then what? ” Lupov pointed a slightly shaking finger at his companion. “And don’t tell me that we are going to change the sun”
There was a brief silence. Adell just lifted the glass to his lips
occasionally and Lupov’s eyes closed.
They rested a little, and when their lids opened, he said, “You are thinking that we are going to get another sun when ours is finished, aren’t you?”
“No, I’m not thinking.”
“Of course it is. You are weak in logic, that is your problem. It is like the character in the story, who, when surprised by a rain, runs to a group of trees and takes shelter under one. He doesn’t worry because when one tree gets too wet, it just goes under another. ”
“Got it,” said Adell. “You don’t have to shout. When the sun is gone, the other stars will also be gone. ”
“You can be sure of it,” murmured Lupov. “It all started at
original cosmic explosion, whatever it was, and it will all end when the stars fade. Some fade faster than others. Now, the giants don’t last a hundred million years. The sun will shine for ten billion years and perhaps the dwarfs will remain that way for two hundred billion. But give us a trillion years and only darkness will remain. Entropy must increase to its maximum, and that is all. ”
“I know all about entropy,” said Adell, maintaining his dignity.
“I doubt you know.”
“I know as much as you do.”
“So you know that one day everything will come to an end.”
“That’s right. And who said it won’t? ”
“You said, you fool. You said that we had all the energy we needed, forever. You said ‘forever’. ”
It was Adell’s turn to counter. “Maybe we can rebuild things back someday,” he said.
“Why not? Someday.”
“You ask Multivac. I challenge you. I bet five dollars that it can’t be done. ”
Adell was drunk enough to try, and sober enough to
construct a sentence with the necessary symbols and operations on a question that, in words, would correspond to this: can humanity one day without any available energy be able to reconstruct the sun to its youth even after his death?
Or perhaps the question can be put more simply as follows: Can the total amount of entropy in the universe be reversed?
Multivac fell silent. The bright lights stopped, the distant pops stopped.
And then, when the scared technicians could no longer hold their breath, there was a sudden return to life on the display integrated with that portion of Multivac. Five words were printed: “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE.”
The next morning, the two of them, with a headache and a dry mouth, no longer
they remembered the incident.
Jerrodd, Jerrodine, and Jerrodette I and II watched the star landscape in the viewfinder change as the passage through hyperspace consumed in a fraction of a second. Suddenly, the glowing presence of the stars gave way to a solitary and shiny disc, similar to a piece of marble centered on the TV.
“This is X-23,” said Jerrodd confidently. His thin hands clamped tightly behind his back until the joints went pale.
The little Jerodettes had experienced a passage through the
hyperspace for the first time in their lives and were still aware of the momentary feeling of dizziness. They stopped laughing and started running around the mother, shouting, “We arrived at X-23, we arrived at X-23!”
“Quiet, children.” Jerrodine said harshly. “Are you sure
“And why shouldn’t I?” Asked Jerrodd, watching the bulge
metal that lay below the ceiling. It was the length of the room,
disappearing on both sides of the wall, and, in fact, it was as long as the ship.
Jerrodd had very limited knowledge about the solid metal tube. He knew, for example, that he was called Microvac, that he was allowed to ask questions when necessary, and that he had the function of guiding the ship to a pre-established destination, in addition to supplying itself with the energy of the various Sub-Galactic Stations and do the calculations for hyperspace jumps.
Jerrodd and his family just had to wait and live in the ship’s comfortable compartments. Someone once told Jerrodd that the letters “ac” at the end of Microvac meant “automatic computer” in Old English, but he was barely able to remember that.
Jerrodine’s eyes went moist when he looked at the viewfinder. “There’s no way. I still haven’t gotten used to the idea of leaving Earth. ”
“Why my God?” inquired Jerrodd. “We had nothing there. We will have everything on X-23. You will not be alone. You will not be a pioneer. There are more than a million people on the planet. By God, our great-grandchild will have to look for new worlds because X-23 will already be overcrowded. ” And, after a reflexive pause, “At the pace at which the race has been expanding, it is a blessing that computers have made interstellar travel possible.”
“I know, I know,” said Jerrodine dismissively.
Jerrodete I said promptly, “Our Microvac is the best of all.”
“I think so too,” said Jerrodd, smoothing his daughter’s hair.
Having a Microvac of his own made Jerrodd feel cozy and made him happy to be part of that generation and not another. In his father’s youth, the only computers had been monstrous machines, spanning hundreds of square miles, and each planet held only one. They were called Planetary ACs. For a thousand years, they only increased in size, until, suddenly, refinement came. In place of the transistors, molecular valves were implemented, allowing even the largest of the Planetary ACs to be reduced to half the volume of a spacecraft.
Jerrodd felt elevated, as he always did when he thought that his personal Microvac was often more complex than the ancient and primitive Multivac that first dominated the sun, and almost as complex as the Earth’s AC, the largest of all , when it solved the problem of hyperspace travel and made it possible for man to reach the stars.
“So many stars, so many planets,” cleared Jerrodine, busy with her thoughts. “I think families will always be looking for new worlds, as we are now.”
“Not forever,” said Jerrodd, with a smile. “Migration is going to
end one day, but not before billions of years. Many billions. Even the stars come to an end, you know. Entropy needs to increase. ”
“What is entropy, Daddy?” Jerrodette II asked, interested.
“Entropy, baby, is a word for the level of wear in the Universe.
Everything wears out and ends, that’s how it happened with your little remote control robot, remember? ”
“Can’t you put new batteries in, like my robot?”
“The stars are the stacks of the universe, dear. Once they are finished, there will be no more batteries. ”
Jerrodette I offered to answer. “Don’t leave, Dad. Don’t let the stars go out. ”
“Look what you did,” whispered Jerrodine, exasperated.
“How was I supposed to know that they would be scared?” Jerrodd whispered back.
“Ask Microvac,” proposed Jerrodette I. “Ask him how to light the stars again.”
“Go ahead,” said Jerrodine. “It will quiet them down.” (Jerrodette II already
was starting to cry.)
Jerrodd was uncomfortable. “Well, well, my little angels, I’m going to ask Microvac. Don’t worry, he will help us. ”
He asked the question to the computer, adding, “Print the answer”.
Jerrodd looked at the thin piece of paper and said, happily, “See?
Microvac said he will take care of everything when the time comes, so there’s no need to worry. ”
Jerrodine said, “And now, kids, it’s time to go to bed. Soon we will be in our new home. ”
Jerrodd read the words on the paper once more before destroying it: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR A SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE.
He shrugged and looked at the TV, X-23 was just ahead.
Lameth’s VJ-23X fixed his eyes on the black spaces on the map
small-scale three-dimensional image of the Galaxy and said, “I wonder if it’s not ridiculous to worry so much about this issue.”
Nicron’s MQ-17J shook his head. “I do not think so. At the present rate of expansion, you know that the galaxy will be completely taken over in five years. ”
Both looked to be in their twenties, both were tall and had perfect bodies.
“Still,” said VJ-23X, “I hesitated to send a pessimistic report to the Galactic Council.”
“I can’t think of any other type of report. Shake them. We
we need to shake them up a bit. ”
VJ-23X sighed. “The space is infinite. One hundred billion galaxies are waiting for us. Maybe more.”
“One hundred billion is not infinity, and it is getting even smaller by the second.
Think! Twenty thousand years ago, mankind first solved the paradigm of using solar energy, and, a few centuries later, interstellar travel became viable. It took humanity a million years to fill a small world and, after that, fifteen thousand to fill the rest of the galaxy. Now the population is doubling every ten years… ”
VJ-23X interrupted. “We must thank immortality for that.”
“Very well. Immortality exists and we must take it into account.
I admit it has its downside. AC Galáctico has solved many problems, but in providing the answer on how to prevent aging and death, it has outpaced all other achievements. ”
“However, I suppose you would not want to leave life.”
“Not even a little.” MQ-17J replied, amending. “Not yet. I am not old enough. How old are you?”
“Two hundred twenty-three, how about you?”
“I haven’t reached two hundred yet. But, back to the question; the population doubles every ten years, once this galaxy is full, there will be another flood within ten years. Ten more and we will have occupied two more galaxies. Another decade and we’ll fill four more. In a hundred years, we will count a thousand galaxies overflowing with people. In a thousand years, a million galaxies. In ten thousand, the entire known universe. And then?
VJ-23X said, “In addition, there is a transportation problem. I wonder how many units of solar energy it will take to move populations from one galaxy to another. ”
“Good question. At the present time, humanity consumes two
solar power units per year. ”
“Most of which is wasted. After all, our galaxy alone
it produces 1,000 units of solar energy per year and we only use two. ”
“Okay, but even with 100% efficiency, we can only postpone the end.
Our energy demand has been growing in geometric progression, even more rapidly than the population. We will run out of energy before we even run out of galaxies. It is a good question. In fact, a great question. ”
“We will need to build new stars from interstellar gas.”
“Or from the dissipated heat?” asked MQ-17J sarcastically.
“There may be some way to reverse entropy. We should ask AC Galáctico. ”
VJ-23X was not really serious, but MQ-17J withdrew his
AC-communicator out of his pocket and placed it on the table in front of him.
“It seems like a good idea,” he said. “It is something that the human race will have to face one day.”
He cast a sober look at his little AC-Communicator. It was only two cubic inches and nothing inside, but it was connected through hyperspace with the powerful Galactic AC that served all of humanity. Hyperspace itself was an integral part of AC Galactic.
MQ-17J paused to think if one day in his immortal life he would have a chance to see the Galactic AC. The machine inhabited a dedicated world, where a network of tangled force rays fed the matter within which waves of submonsons had taken the place of the old and clumsy molecular valves. Still, despite its ethereal components, the Galactic AC was more than a thousand feet long.
Suddenly, MQ-17J asked his AC-Communicator, “Can entropy ever be reversed?”
VJ-23X said, surprised, “Oh, I didn’t want you to actually ask that question.”
“We both know that entropy cannot be reversed. You cannot build a tree back from smoke and ash. ”
“Are there trees in your world?” Asked MQ-17J.
The sound of AC Galáctico kept them silent. His voice came out
melodious and beautiful from the small AC-Communicator on the table. It read: INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE.
VJ-23X said, “See!”
The two men returned to the question of the report they had to submit to the galactic council.
Zee Prime’s mind navigated the new galaxy with a slight interest in the countless whirlwinds of stars that dotted space. He had never seen that galaxy before. Would he ever be able to see them all?
There were so many, each with its own load of humanity. Even though that load was virtually dead weight. Long ago, the true essence of man inhabited space.
Minds, not bodies! Eons ago immortal bodies were left behind, suspended on the planets. From time to time they would get up to perform some material activity, but these moments became increasingly rare. In addition, few new individuals came to join the incredibly massive crowd of humans, but what did it matter? There was little room in the universe for new individuals.
Zee Prime left his daydreams behind when crossing the tangled filaments of another mind.
“I’m Zee Prime, are you?”
“Dee Sub Wun. And what is your galaxy? ”
“We just call it the Galaxy. Is that you?”
“So do we. All men call their galaxies galaxies, don’t they? ”
“True, since all galaxies are the same.”
“Not all. Some in particular gave rise to the human race. It makes it different. ”
Zee Prime said, “Which one?”
“I can not answer. Universal AC must know. ”
“Shall we ask? I’m curious.”
The perception of Zee Prime expanded until the Galaxies themselves
shrink and turn into an infinity of diffuse points to shine on a wide background. So many billions of galaxies, all harboring their immortal beings, all counting on the weight of intelligence in minds that roamed freely through space. And yet, none of them seemed unique enough to deserve the title of original Galaxy. Despite appearances, one of them, in the very distant past,
it was the only one in the universe to house the human species.
Zee Prime, immersed in curiosity, called: “AC Universal! In which
Was man born galaxy? ”
The Universal AC listened, because in each world and throughout the entire space, its receivers were present. And each receiver connected to some unknown point where the Universal AC was based through hyperspace.
Zee Prime knew of a single man whose thoughts had penetrated the field of perception of AC Universal, and all he saw was a glowing globe, difficult to see, two feet long.
“How can AC Universal be just that?” Zee Prime asked.
“Most of it remains in hyperspace, where it is not possible
imagine its proportions. ”
Nobody could, because the last time someone helped build a Universal AC lay very far back in time. Each Universal AC planned and built its successor, in which all its unique information baggage was inserted.
Universal AC interrupted Zee Prime’s thoughts, not with
words, but with guidance. His mind was guided through the thick ocean of the Galaxies, and one in particular expanded and opened up into stars.
A thought reached him, infinitely distant, infinitely clear.
“THIS IS THE ORIGINAL GALAXY OF MAN.”
She had nothing special, she was like so many others. Zee Prime was disappointed.
“Dee Sub Wun, whose mind had followed the other, said suddenly,“ And
are any of these the original star of man? ”
Universal AC said, “THE ORIGINAL STAR OF MAN ENTERED
COLLAPSING. NOW IT’S A WHITE DWARF. ”
“Did the men who lived there die?” asked Zee Prime, without thinking.
“A NEW WORLD HAS BEEN BUILT UP FOR YOUR BODIES AGAIN
“Yes, of course,” said Zee Prime. He felt a distant sense of loss overtake him. His mind broke free from the Galaxy of man and was lost among the pale and smoky spots. He never wanted to see her again.
Dee Sub Wun said, “What happened?”
“The stars are dying. The one that served as a cradle for humanity is already dead. ”
“Everyone must die, right?”
“Yes. But when all the energy is gone, our bodies will finally die, and you and I will leave with them. ”
“It will take billions of years.”
“I don’t want that to happen even in billions of years. Universal AC!
How can the death of the stars be prevented? ”
Dee Sub Wun said perplexed, “You asked if there is a way to reverse the
entropy direction! ”
And AC Universal replied: “THERE IS NOT ENOUGH DATA
FOR A SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE. ”
Zee Prime’s thoughts returned to his Galaxy. He paid no more attention to Dee Sub Wun, whose body could have been trillions of light years away, or to the neighboring star of Zee Prime’s body. It didn’t matter.
Sadly, Zee Prime started collecting interstellar hydrogen for
build a little star for yourself. If the stars are to die, at least some could still be built.
The Man thought to himself, because, in some way, he was just one. It consisted of trillions, trillions and trillions of very old bodies, each in its place, resting incorruptibly and calmly, under the care of perfect automatons, equally incorruptible, while the minds of all bodies had chosen to merge with one another, indistinctly .
“The Universe is dying.”
Man looked at the opaque galaxies. The giant, wasteful stars were long gone. Since the most remote past, practically all the stars consisted of white dwarfs, slowly fading towards death.
New stars were built from interstellar dust, some by natural process, others by Man himself, and these were also in their final moments. The white dwarfs could still collide and, from the resulting enormous forces, new stars would be born, but only in the proportion of a new star for every thousand white dwarfs destroyed, and these would also be extinguished one day.
The Man said, “Carefully controlled by the Cosmic AC, the energy that remains in the entire Universe will still last for a billion years.”
“Still, it will eventually end. As much as it can be saved, once it is spent, there is no way to recover it. Entropy needs to increase to its maximum. ”
“Can entropy be reversed? Let’s ask the Cosmic AC. ”
The Cosmic AC surrounded them on all sides, but not through space.
No part of him remained in the physical space. It lay in hyperspace and was made of something that was neither matter nor energy. The definitions of its size and nature made no sense in any terms understandable by man.
“Cosmic AC,” said the Man, “how is it possible to reverse entropy?”
Cosmic AC said, “THERE IS NOT ENOUGH DATA FOR
A SIGNIFICANT ANSWER. ”
The Man said, “Collect additional data.”
Cosmic AC said, “I WILL DO IT. I HAVE DONE THIS FOR ONE HUNDRED
BILLION YEARS. MY PREDICTORS AND I HEARD
THIS QUESTION MANY TIMES. BUT THE DATA I HAVE
STAY INSUFFICIENT. ”
“Will there be a day,” said the Man, “when the data will be sufficient or is the problem insoluble in all conceivable circumstances?”
Cosmic AC said, “NO PROBLEM IS INSOLUBLE IN
ALL DESIGNABLE CIRCUMSTANCES. ”
“Are you going to keep working on it?”
The Man said, “We will wait.”
The stars and galaxies faded and died, space became black
after ten trillion years of activity.
One by one, Man merged with the AC, each physical body losing its
mental identity, an event that was, in some way, beneficial.
The last human mind stopped before the merger, looking into empty space
except for the remains of a black star and a handful of matter
extremely rarefied, randomly agitated by the heat that little by little
dissipated, towards absolute zero.
The Man said, “AC, is this the end? Is there no way to reverse this chaos? No
can be done?”
The AC said, “THERE IS STILL NOT ENOUGH DATA FOR A
SIGNIFICANT RESPONSE. ”
The last human mind joined with the others and only AC came into existence – and,
still, in hyperspace.
Matter and energy are gone and, with them, time and space. B.C
continued to exist only because of the last question that had never
been answered since the time when a computer technician
drunk ten trillion years ago, he had made it for a computer that
it had less similarities with the AC than the man with the Man.
All other issues had been resolved, and until the last
so too, AC could not rest his conscience.
Data collection had come to an end. There was nothing left to
However, the data obtained still needed to be cross-checked and
correlated in every possible way.
An immeasurable interval has been spent on this venture.
Finally, AC figured out how to reverse the direction of entropy.
There was no man for whom AC could give the final answer. But
it didn’t matter. The answer – by definition – would take care of that, too.
For another countless period, AC thought of the best course of action.
CA carefully organized the program.
The consciousness of AC encompassed everything that was once a Universe and everything
that was now Chaos. Step by step, this needed to be done.
And AC said:
“MAKE THE LIGHT!”
And the light was made.