The Last Question
by Isaac Asimov
reviewed by Annie Shao, age 18
Almost everyone has wondered what it would be like to have a computer that has all the answers. In Isaac Asimov’s short story “The Last Question,” humans in 2061 have already created Multivac, a self-adjusting, self-learning and all-knowing computer. Multivac manages to temporarily solve the problem of Earth’s limited energy resources by harvesting the sun’s energy. Humankind then wonders what will happen when the universe runs out of energy. Multivac answers, “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.”
Asimov takes his readers on a journey through time: the reader experiences the gradual changes in humans as they become more like machines themselves. Finally, all of mankind is reduced to data in a supercomputer called AC.
Across each millennium, as humans become monotonously mechanical, they still arrived at the same question—will the universe end or renew itself? And each time, the all-knowing computer replies, “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER.” When the supercomputer finally acquires sufficient data to answer the question, no humans are left to hear the answer. Asimov then shocks the reader with a clever and ironic ending.
The most profound aspect of Asimov’s short story is his reflection on whether humans are becoming less human and more machine-like as technology advances and becomes more prevalent. Along with speculating how humans’ relationship with computers will develop, Asimov touches on other profound themes. He addresses the fact that the universe continually increases in entropy, or disorder, while harvestable energy decreases. When the universe has no more useable energy, the universe will die.
This short story is rich in scientific details, but it can be equally as appealing to any young adult as it is to a science enthusiast. “The Last Question” truly makes readers reflect on our technology-filled world—and really ponder what humans will become.