I am looking for the title and/or author of an essay/short story that involves a computer "thinking" of an answer to a question for a long time. By the time the computer answers, no one remembers the question.

I read this story in a science fiction collection in a philosophy class in 1994. I believe the answer was a number and the story was considered a "classic."

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    Deep Thought? – Valorum Sep 26 '15 at 15:49
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    When did you read it? What was the answer it came up with? – Valorum Sep 26 '15 at 15:50
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    Sounds a bit like Asimov's "The Last Question". – SQB Sep 26 '15 at 16:24
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    If it isn't one of the two suggestions offered so far, perhaps you could try adding some details, like when you read it, language, country of origin, other stories that were part of the same collection, etc. – Donald.McLean Sep 26 '15 at 20:13
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    I read this story in a science fiction collection in a philosophy class in 1994. I believe the answer was a number and the story was considered a "classic." – Sally Sep 27 '15 at 16:45

Given your latest comment (which I've taken the liberty of editing into your question), it looks as though the answer is the classic The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (although it's not an essay or short story). Quoting from here:

In the radio series and the first novel, a group of hyper-intelligent pan-dimensional beings demand to learn the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything from the supercomputer, Deep Thought, specially built for this purpose. It takes Deep Thought 7½ million years to compute and check the answer, which turns out to be 42. Deep Thought points out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never actually knew what the Question was.

If the answer wasn't a number, it could also be the short story The Last Question by Isaac Asimov, another classic. Quoting from the Wikipedia summary:

In each of the first six scenes a different character presents the computer with the same question; namely, how the threat to human existence posed by the heat death of the universe can be averted. [...] Humanity asks AC [a super-super-computer] the entropy question one last time, before the last of humanity merges with AC and disappears. AC is still unable to answer, but continues to ponder the question even after space and time cease to exist. Eventually AC discovers the answer, but has nobody to report it to; the universe is already dead.

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    @randalthor it's better to put different answered into separate posts, so if the OP accepts, it's clear which one it is. – SQB Oct 18 '15 at 18:01
  • @SQB Given that there's another answer about the Asimov story, I guess I could just delete the second half of my answer? – Rand al'Thor Oct 18 '15 at 19:53

I know this answer isn't complete, but there was an Isaac Asimov short story about this very topic. Man builds computer to answer question, cut back in a few thousand years later, civ has advanced greatly and still waiting for answer, then cut back in 10s of thousands of years...same thing, rinse repeat 3 or 4 times until everyone is incorporeal or something like that and the answer can only be answered by a new Big Bang.

Is that the one? Let me see if I can't hunt that one down a bit better.

  • Oh nevermind, I didn't read the previous answer completely. I thought his was about hitchhikers and didn't realize the second part had the one I am talking about here – Escoce Oct 3 '15 at 15:39

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