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The Quill

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 21st Century


Douglas Adams’s massively popular science fiction franchise, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, tells the adventures of Arthur Dent and his friend Ford Prefect who is secretly an alien. The story showcases their journey as they make their way around the Milky Way. This was not what either Arthur or Ford wanted, but it became their reality after the careless Vogons demolished the Earth for a bypass. Many aspects of modern technology are also present in the novel series: ebooks, artificial intelligence, the Internet, instant language translation, voice-controlled computers, etc. The interesting part is that the original five novels were written between 1979 and 1992.

The similarities begin towards the very start of the series. In fact, the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a fictional encyclopedia and the most prominent book in the franchise, is itself an ebook. Digital books evidently did not exist back when the first novel was published, as Adams explained to his audience at the time what a digital book was and how it functioned. And it doesn’t stop there. The Guide is known for having so many entries that, if it were a printed book, it would take up “several inconveniently large buildings.” Add in the fact that the Guide has many different contributors and it starts to look like the World Wide Web.

Then, we see a spaceship’s computer can be activated by voice, touch, and movement, a species of fish that can translate between any two languages almost instantly, and a robot with complicated AI and its own personality. The technology is an important part of the series, and Adams intended for it to seem ridiculous. For example, a feature of the first novel is an “improbability drive” which travels anywhere instantly by existing at every point in the universe. It is also revealed that the Earth was actually created to compute the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. Perhaps Adams was a bit too advanced even for us when we realize that decades after his series, we still have no idea why 42 is, without a doubt, the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

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