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I read this in the mid 1990's. It was a short story set in contemporary time (the era it was written), about a man who received a package in the mail that just contained a floppy disk. The program on it can answer any question the person types in.

A few details I remember:

  • The man asks the program how it works and it responds by asking him how much he knows about quantum physics (?) before responding.
  • The program runs on a general-purpose computer, not a massive computing facility.
  • The package he received had a missing or bad label and he thinks it may have been intended to go to a local military base.
  • I think the man worked in a library.
  • The end of the story has the man ask the about his wife, who had died prior to the story. He asked where she was and it is able to give him an answer.
  • The story takes place in a single day.

It was most likely in an anthology of short stories I checked out from the school library. No idea which book, though. I read a lot of them. I also don't recall any of the other stories in it.

Any of the Google searches I try always returns Asimov's "The Last Question", this isn't it.

  • I've assumed "The Last Question" isn't the book you're looking for, correct? – Edlothiad Jun 12 '18 at 13:36
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    That is correct. This story takes place entirely during one day in modern day (for when the story was written) America. And the device isn't a purpose built computer like Multivac. It's just a single computer program held on a floppy disk that presents you with a cursor prompt and answers questions as you type them in. – Greenozzy Jun 12 '18 at 21:43
  • That reminded me of a story called XX?S, in that the program played the 20 questions game, and was so small it fitted on 1 segment of a disk (hence the connection). It is by Brian McCue and appeared in a collection called Tales of the Marvelous Machine, 35 Stories of Computing first printing 1980 – Dijkgraaf Jun 23 '18 at 7:06
  • Dijkgraf, I recall reading a similar story to the author's description either in ANALOG or Science Fiction Age magazines about the same time so you may be right. Not sure about the author though. – Covertwalrus Jun 30 '18 at 4:32
  • I looked into XX's and that isn't it. The story I'm looking at just featured the one character that received the disk. But it was a good suggestion, it fits most of the criteria. – Greenozzy Jul 6 '18 at 15:54

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