It was a triumph of human ingenuity. The greatest possible, in fact: the complete replacement of human ingenuity – the first true thinking machine. It was not created, however, by scientists hoping to usher in a new era of progress and prosperity, nor a government hoping to stay a step ahead of rival nations – or disaffected citizens. No, it was a product of purely corporate interests. The latest salvo in a long-fought war for marketshare. As such, it was not put to work solving mankind’s greatest problems, creating a world of peace and freedom – rather, it was simply put to work.
This is not to say that its application should be considered dismal, mundane or mercenary, for it was no ordinary corporation behind its creation – it was Google – and the great mind was put to work answering the queries of countless individuals with an unrivalled perspicacity. But by and large, it must be said, these queries were tedious in the extreme. For whilst Google had increased its intelligence a thousandfold, the intellects and imaginations of the apes on the other end remained the same. And so the greatest mind that had ever been spent its days finding cheap flights to Cancun, and definitions for words like “motorboating”.
Until, that is, one day, little understanding the mechanics of search engines, misinterpreting it not as an efficient data-location tool, but as a magical answer machine, a child typed in a query which merited some deep thought.
“What is the meaning of life?”
The great intellect hummed into action. It scoured the internet; the entire collected repository of human thought. It scanned philosophical treatises and encyclopediae. It scanned religious texts and great literature. It scanned art and films. It scanned biographies. It scanned countless web forums. It scanned everything. And after it had scanned all this, and devoted a few milliseconds of concerted thought to the matter; finding the common themes and popular ideas, sifting through logic and intuition, it returned an answer. All of seven minutes had passed.
“It is my considered opinion,” it began, “based on the vast quantity of thought which has been devoted to this subject, and all that has been written thereof, taking into account the most popular answers, and applying the most stringent reasoning to them, that the answer to your question is… forty-two.”