ARTHUR C. CLARKE’S “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953) tells the story of a group of Tibetan monks who believe that an ethereal “bingo!” moment will arrive when they have discovered all the possible names for God. They calculate that this will take 15,000 years to complete if they continue with their old-fashioned method of writing by hand. So they rent a computer to speed things up. The computer duly gets to work—and when it spits out the final combination of letters the monks get what they wanted: “without any fuss” the stars begin to go out.
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