In the story I'm trying to recall, everybody on their thirteenth birthday (?) is assigned by some kind of brain analysis method a profession and given some kind of pill (?) that instantly (?) grants them the required knowledge and skills to start working immediately. Some professions are more sought after than others, especially in view of the olympic (?) games regularly held on a profession-by-profession basis.

The protagonist, however, is turned down from this system and dismissed with some general reason and has to work his way to adulthood the boring old way: studying from books. Eventually he rejects from his status as a "special" student and goes on the run, hiding from the teachers and envying the normal people.

Eventually, it turns out that the protagonist was actually smart enough that being spoonfed premade information was a waste. What he actually was assigned to was advancing the bundles of knowledge themselves, as well as being front line in the technological progress.
"Somebody has to write those textbooks! You can infuse knowledge about how to use today's technology, but you can't do that for tomorrow's - people that get assigned a profession become tied with their assigned technology and are only as relevant as that. If you want more, you must learn how things actually work, and there's no shortcut for that." (not an actual quote, but a specific passage as I remember it.)
The troubles the protagonists underwent were actually planned and necessary for him to acknowledge and accept his role in society.

This story was certainly longer than a couple pages, but it wasn't very long either. If it's a short story, it was probably written by Asimov, but I can't be sure. It rings me of Brave New World given the theme of government-issued population planning, but it certainly doesn't fit with anything else in the actual plot. Any idea?

  • 1
    Sounds kinda like The Giver, but probably not.
    – Nick T
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:31
  • Nope, the Giver isn't it.
    – badp
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:32

1 Answer 1


It sounds like Profession by Isaac Asimov. In the future, Earth residents are pre-fed knowledge, but some people, due to their brain formation, are unable to do this. The main character is one of those that can't use the system. All those who are "imprinted" participate in The Olympics, where the off-world colonies purchase the best skilled to work on their colony. Those that aren't imprinted to use the latest equipment end up going to less well-off colonies. All colonies have to keep coming back to get newly trained professionals when Earth starts sending out updated equipment that previously trained people can't use.

Ultimately he finds that Earth needs people like him because they have the creativity to keep the system going. Earth has designed the system to force the colonies to keep "buying" trained people from them and they need creative people like him to keep the system going.

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    Nailed it! I'd completely forgotten about the colony stuff, but it came back to mind as you mentioned it.
    – badp
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:43
  • Actually, isn't the title "Profession"? This authorized copy online of the novel as I found it by googling "The Olympics by Isaac Asimov" seems to match.
    – badp
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:45
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    I remembered the part about the olympics, but once I found the summary, and the correct title, I changed that in the answer. I guess my memory of titles isn't as perfect as I thought!
    – Tango
    Commented Nov 4, 2011 at 1:47
  • I reread this story recently, and it's not that the protagonist can't be taped with a profession, it's that he's one of the very few capable of independent original thought. Taping his brain would wipe that capability, so he's forced to learn "the old way", but in doing so can invent new technologies for sale to the colonies.
    – Bevan
    Commented Feb 20, 2012 at 0:30
  • He is told he can't be taped with a profession, though, and so is everyone else. It's only toward the end that he's told the real reason he doesn't get taped.
    – Darael
    Commented May 19, 2012 at 21:35

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