Retrograde. Bamboozlement! More Bamboozlement!

Tripping on Asimov

"In 2002, a survey carried out by the Nobel Institute on 100 of the world’s best authors from 54 countries led to Don Quixote being declared the best book of all time. Newspapers trumpeted the news. But how does one arrive at the “best book of all time”? A year later, Salman Rushdie, one of the writers who took part in the survey, claimed the writers who took part in the survey were asked to list, in no particular order, 10 of their favourite books, then this list was fed into a computer. In the end, the computer declared Don Quixote to be the greatest and most meaningful book of all time. Only decades ago, the fact that a machine was deciding matters of art may have raised some eyebrows and maybe given rise to some interesting critique of the methodology. But not a whisper was heard.

Compare this to the plot of Asimov’s 1955 story Franchise and the debut of Multivac. The story is about the US election in 2008. The election was a simple affair. Computer selected a man, a representative of the electorate, and asked him a few questions. Based on this one man’s answers, a President was elected. With all that computational power at hand, it probably was not hard for Asimov to guess which route humanity will take. At the start of this story, the protagonist is weary of the computer-driven election process but by the time the process is over, and after he has exercised his vote, he feels: “In this imperfect world, the sovereign citizens of the first and greatest Electronic Democracy had, through Norman Muller (through him!) exercised once again its free, untrammeled franchise.”
DownToEarth magazine's Science Fiction special issue (Jan 1-15, 2012) has a piece by me on Isaac Asimov's visions of future. Here's me tripping on Asimov: From cache.

If you are a science fiction buff or even fiction buff, you might as well check out these brilliant articles from the issue:
Arvind Mishra and Harish Goyal on origin of Science Fiction in Hindi.
Debjani Sengupta on Industrialisation, modernity and science fiction in Bengal.



  1. Congrats on getting published.

    Speaking of Asimov, one of my favourite Quiz trivia questions (unguessable if you don't know it),
    A) Issac Asimov and Arthur C Clarke were walking down Park Avenue. They decided that whenever either of them would be asked who their favourite Science Fiction author was, they would mention each others name.

  2. I actually 'borrowed' works of Asimov from you place last year :) So thanks you! And no I couldn't have guess it.


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