The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Here Comes the Rain Again

pexels-photo

It’s raining.

South London, reset to factory settings.

In the fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novel, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish, there’s a character called Rob Mckenna, a Rain God.

He’s a lorry driver and it rains on him every day.

As he drove on, the rainclouds dragged down the sky after him, for, though he did not know it, Rob McKenna was a Rain God.

All he knew was that his working days were miserable and he had a succession of lousy holidays.

All the clouds knew was that they loved him and wanted to be near him, to cherish him, and to water him.”

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Rob Mckenna ends up making good money being paid by a tour operator “not to go to Malaga this year”.

Here are some types of rain listed in the book:

33 (light pricking drizzle which made the roads slippery), 39 (heavy spotting), 47 to 51 (vertical light drizzle through to sharply slanting light to moderate drizzle freshening), 87 and 88 (two finely distinguished varieties of vertical torrential downpour), 100 (post-downpour squalling, cold), all the seastorm types between 192 and 213 at once, 123, 124, 126, 127 (mild and intermediate cold gusting, regular and syncopated cab-drumming), 11 (breezy droplets) and now his least favourite of all, 17.

Rain type 17 was a dirty blatter battering against his windscreen so hard that it didn’t make much odds whether he had his wipers on or off.”

Douglas Adams, So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

My favourite is characterised by huge droplets, or ‘froglets’ of water, which you cannot stand in for more than 5 minutes without getting soaked to the skin. I’m going to call that number 42.

Is it raining with you?

Douglas Adams and Artificial Intelligence

Deep_Thought

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is revealed that the Earth is a supercomputer designed by Deep Thought, the supercomputer that came before it.

“DEEP THOUGHT: I speak of none but the computer that is to come after me. A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate – and yet I will design it for you. A computer which can calculate the question to the Ultimate answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself will form part of its operational matrix. And it shall be called The Earth.”

I wonder whether Douglas Adams was influenced by a 1965 paper by British mathematician, Irving John Good, Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-Intelligent Machine.

Good is responding to the commonly held view that a machine could never be as intelligent as a human.

He argues that humans have limitations in intelligence. Ultimately, a machine could be constructed that would match or even exceed a human’s capability.

Good fundamentally believed that computers and their ultra-intelligent machine successors would deliver a benefit to humanity. The opening line of this seminal paper reads:

“The survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultra-intelligent machine.”

In it, he also originated the idea of an “intelligence explosion”:

“Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man, however clever.

Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.

Thus the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

So is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy supercomputer Earth docile? According to Ford Prefect it is, “Mostly Harmless.”

If you enjoyed this article, and know where your towel is, you might like this episode of The End of the World by Josh Clark:

And you also might like to join my Hitchhikers appreciation group, Stand Up for Towel Day.