This is about a time when people still have ideas, but not new ones. You see, in 2114, John L. McIntyre invented the idea machine. He did it on his own, beating out even the Interplanetary Artificial Mind Task Force. Ever since then, no one has had an original idea. No one.
Well, yes, you could say that people have ideas that are new to them. In that sense, it is an original idea that they are thinking for the first time. But that hardly makes the idea itself new, when it has already been conceived, reported, related, and catalogued by the Registrar of Conceivable Notions.
Only a freethinkite would think that you could have a new idea after McIntyre’s machine finished its work. And we all know that the freethinkites will go on thinking so until they perish in 2751, their last holdout fading away with an obstinate whisper of his theory of intransification, while his daughter wipes away three slightly hyposalinic tears from her cheek. It’s pretty obvious.
The idea machine is a holographic knowledge base of all concepts. It contains all sensations, speculations, memories, theories, stories, dreams, hopes, fears, analyses, and beliefs. It’s like the bible, except true. With the information in the device, everyone can live optimally. The discovery of real universal knowledge includes morality – the best ways to act. Which, ever after, people always did. So McIntyre’s device made the laws of morality as predictively valid as the laws of physics.
The last original thought anyone had, by the way, was somewhat akin to that tingling feeling you get in a part of your body when the circulation’s been cut off. Not very exciting, is it? It turns out that a lot of creative thinking is wasteful anyway, and it makes far more sense for a computer to do it. When McIntyre first invented his device, it rapidly spun through the majority of ideas people were then pursuing. After that, the computers did the vast majority of original thinking until all thoughts had been had. A few renegade humans contributed some minor new ideas around the periphery, mostly hobbyists and former project members from the Interplanetary group. When they finished building the Index, everyone accepted it except for the freethinkites.
In the immediate aftermath of the device’s invention, a quick spurt covered most knowledge. The religions fell quickly. Islam first, which set off a firestorm of public engagement. Next went the creative fields, as their practitioners realized the pointlessness of their pursuits. Why bother to think of an idea when you can just look it up by category in the Index of Human-Conceivable Thoughts? (Of course, still less point in looking at the illegible gibberish in the Complete Index.) All the humanities were done. Humans turned out not to be so complicated after all. Technical sciences took slightly longer, but through a combination of bots and volunteers with a passion for learning about the world around them (which turned out to be an irrational passion), they finished in the next five months. Eventually that just left the ineffables – the mysteries of the world, which are still being worked out, but it’s believed the project will be wrapped up in the next fifteen years.
When a young employee at the Mind Task Force suggested mapping metaphysical elements to the cosmic superstructure, his superior immediately responded: “Of course that idea’s been had before! All ideas have been had before. Except for a handful in category cla-1-a5: Axioms, Paradoxes, Unmeasurable Imponderables, and other Paradoxes.”
When the last human-havable idea was had, the result effectively put out of business various science projects, companies, and other sizable institutions. Of course, it also meant never having to solve a problem again, because solving a problem involves thinking originally. Now, if a problem ever comes up, you just look it up in the Index of Problems and their Solutions.
People adapted. It was only a few academics and hobbyists who got upset by the end of new ideas. One sore point for some was an awareness that nature operates in a purely material form which is reducible to a self-proving theorem. A boy came home from school one day complaining about his teacher’s lesson plan, but the father simply answered, “yes, determinism is right.”
Earlier, startup companies and consultants started to formalize thoughts and emotions while building product selection assistants. The developments yielded far more useful results than expected, attracting corporate buyouts. In the run-up to the Information Wars, governments and large corporations batted it out to create the greatest number of original ideas. By that point, regular people just had existing ideas. In the thinking game, only large institutions could afford experts and systematically pump out meaningful results.
You see, when McIntyre’s device went live, on that fateful Friday afternoon, it instantaneously transformed the relationship between knower and knowledge. The holographic information conjoiner began as a small side project, an experiment to test one of his hypotheses while building a fantasy spaceball model for his friends. Yet, flashing to life, the device correctly – that is, accurately and provably – found the solutions to the entire set of one thousand outstanding problems in mathematics that McIntyre fed in as test data. When he rerouted input to the history section of the World Academic Practicon, it instantly spat out human history from the speciation event to accounting records in the Selman—Harfang—Li dispute over argon rights. And then it began to read the future.
McIntyre realized that he had something big, of course. However, before he had a chance to invest foresightedly in the stellar markets, or destroy the unique machine out of hasty fear, he had already scanned the parts of future history accurately describing the major events in his life. He already knew that he would upload a sourcecode megacopy of the idea machine to the infozoom, then replicate himself to over fifteen hundred different wavesets, then announce the device on All|Gen|Sen. From then on, everyone would know.
It was thought that the largest problem would be that after the last human-havable thought was had, humans would still have to go on living, but it turned out that people quite enjoyed having the same thoughts repeatedly. You could actually lead a surprisingly full life without ever having an original thought, as politicians, businesspeople, doctors, film directors, and a large majority of the general public already knew. Especially frequently, people returned to such thoughts as sex fantasies, self-adulation, and the fact that the ref did in fact blow the call in the 2185 spaceball finals.
The largest negative impact of the idea machine, in fact, was the demise of a certain class of people who fancied themselves clever, original, or deep thinkers. They all became athletes. The device didn’t bother to embody all physical motions, although of course it had long ago learned all of the neural correlates of verterbrates performing those actions. Obviously the thought patterns involved in all physical motions were well documented, but the physiological sensations offered more enjoyment than mere abstract contemplation.
Thinking went from something creative and important to something like going to the store. You pick out what kind you want – fast food equivalent, or high thoughts, or anything else that could be thought. The freethinkites didn’t believe that thoughts had run out, and kept trying to have original thoughts but still wound up in the same existing thought loops. A few hobbyists persisted in thinking, for the shear thrill of experiencing what it was like for pre-McIntyre people to come upon ideas unknown to them, by themselves, but most people were satisfied to go through life with a series of previously known thoughts.
Fasties just kept hitting up the easy Most Popular section of the Index, while Pensants enjoyed browsing for complex or difficult thought patterns, or even compiling their own sets. One game involved a group of people agreeing to think on a topic in the same category for, say, three and a half minutes, and then seeing if each of them had chosen the same thought.
Life’s actually pretty good without new thoughts. We have more time for the thoughts we do care about, and overall it’s a great perspective to see exactly how much – or how little – our preconceptions contribute to our outcomes. After the invention of a machine to think for humanity, people kept on going. It just made life a little easier.