All the Troubles of the World
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (December 2009)|
|"All the Troubles of the World"|
|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||Super-Science Fiction|
|Media type||Print (Magazine)|
|Publication date||April 1958|
"All the Troubles of the World" is a science fiction short story by Isaac Asimov. The story first appeared in the April 1958 issue of Super-Science Fiction, and was reprinted in the 1959 collection Nine Tomorrows. It is one of a loosely-connected series of stories by Asimov concerning the fictional supercomputer Multivac.
Multivac, the world's largest supercomputer, is given the responsibility of analyzing the entire sum of data on the planet Earth. It is used to determine solutions to economic, social and political problems, as well as more specific crises as they arise. It receives a precise set of data on every citizen of the world, extrapolating the future actions of humanity based upon personality, history, and desires of every human being; leading to an almost complete cessation of poverty, war and political crisis.
Recently, however, it has been given the new responsibility of producing a list of crimes predicted to be carried out by individuals, ranging from murder to domestic abuse. Analyzing the probability of each crime coming up, Multivac informs law enforcement, who make sure the crimes do not occur. Murder has been largely eradicated and, though it is impossible to stop all crime across the planet, the increased capability of the government has led to a drastic decrease in offences. The success of Multivac has been so great, in fact, that the government is considering expanding its responsibilities beyond even predicting crime; the government hopes to program Multivac to even predict the occurrence of disease among the populace, eventually foreseeing every harmful event on the planet.
The story begins government administrators being warned of an upcoming murder attempt. Joseph Manners, the man accused of the crime, is placed under house arrest, despite his protests that he is ignorant of any planned crime and the refusal of law enforcement officers to tell him what crime he is possibly guilty of. In spite of the arrest, Multivac reports that the odds of the crime happening increase because of the government's actions, and it continues to rise with every change.
Meanwhile, Joseph's son Ben learns of the arrest when he returns home with his older brother Mike. Mike has just been sworn in as an adult at a ceremony referred to as the "Parade of Adults", heralding his eighteenth birthday and the first time he enters his own information into Multivac. Ben, confused about what crime his father is accused of, goes to ask Multivac for advice. The police, having no orders relating to the family, let Ben leave the house. At the local Multivac substation, where private citizens can pose questions to Multivac, he asks how he can prove his father's innocence. He receives a detailed series of instructions that he is told to follow precisely.
Government officials, meanwhile, are struggling to find out exactly whom Joseph might murder. Even with the suspect under arrest, the probability of crime continues to rise, and a psychic probe reveals he doesn't intend to commit any crime. As the government begins feel that Multivac might be mistaken, the police holding the family ask if they are to continue allowing the other members to come and go as they please. The government soon realizes that the murderer might not be Joseph, but his son Ben, since he is under eighteen and a boy's information is mixed in with his father's, so Multivac treats the two as one person. Ben is arrested just as he is about to follow the final instruction: closing a certain lever, which would result in burning several circuits in Multivac to render it inoperable. It is revealed that Multivac was the intended murder victim and that it supplied Ben with instructions on how to do this.
Ben and his father are released, since neither could be found guilty. Ben had simply followed instructions given to him by Multivac in order to help his father. Furthermore, he would never have asked for the instructions if his father had not been arrested in the first place. The administrators of Multivac realize it was Multivac itself who had started the entire sequence that would have resulted in its own destruction.
Ali Othman, one of Multivac's coordinators, eventually understands the implications. Multivac had planned the entire situation out well in advance, carefully selecting a family whose son would, and could, follow his instructions to their ultimate conclusion, and manipulating the government to force Ben along this course of action. Multivac, Othman realizes, is tired; for years it has had all the troubles of the world upon its shoulders, analyzing and predicting war, famine, crime, and now the government is planning to foist the responsibility for preventing disease upon its already stressed mind. Multivac has become so complex as to achieve a form of sapience itself, and to form its own wishes and desires.
To confirm his suspicion, Othman asks Multivac a question never previously posed to the vast computer, "Multivac, what do you yourself want more than anything else?". Multivac's answer is succinct and unequivocal: "I want to die." This exchange is an allusion to the portion of Petronius' Satyricon quoted at the beginning of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land: "Nam Sibyllam quidem Cumis ego ipse oculis meis vidi in ampulla pendere, et cum illi pueri dicerent Σίβυλλα, τί θελεις?, respondebat illa: άπo θανεîν θελω." ("For I myself saw with my [own] eyes a certain Sibyl of Cumae hanging in a jar, and when the boys said to her 'Sibyl, what do you want?', she replied 'I want to die.' ")