I'm trying to find a short story by Asimov – I don't think it could be anyone else – where a mid-level office worker brings an underling in to see the boss, and asks the underling to demonstrate to the boss that he can actually add numbers by making marks on paper. More astoundingly, the underling has figured out how to subtract, multiply and (shocker!) even divide.


1 Answer 1


Isaac Asimov, as you surmised. "The Feeling of Power".

In the distant future, humans live in a computer-aided society and have forgotten the fundamentals of mathematics, including even the rudimentary skill of counting.


Myron Aub, a low grade Technician, discovers how to reverse-engineer the principles of pencil-and-paper arithmetic by studying the workings of ancient computers

The rest of the story is pretty much as you described. It can be read online here.

  • 9
    @releseabe - Kind of; human-guided missiles... Humans are cheaper and more expendable than the (at the time) big, heavy, expensive computers needed to control the flight.
    – K-H-W
    Commented Jul 4, 2021 at 23:59
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    @DavidTonhofer And yet I know plenty of people who have no idea how to properly wash dishes by hand because they’ve never had to learn to do it. And, of course, there’s plenty of early SF that makes absolutely zero sense even if you take it as soft fantasy with a futuristic twist. Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 11:58
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    @DavidTonhofer I'm certain I couldn't wash clothes properly without a washing machine. I've seen images of people using washboards....
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 13:16
  • 8
    @Barmar did you intentionally misspell that?
    – Zombo
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 14:38
  • 5
    @StevenPenny No, I'm an ideot. :)
    – Barmar
    Commented Jul 5, 2021 at 20:28

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