1448: Question

Explain xkcd: It's 'cause you're dumb.
Revision as of 09:53, 17 November 2014 by Roryokane (talk | contribs) (Explanation: completely change explanation – I no reference to The Last Question, but rather a reference to schoolchild notes)
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The universe long dead, Isaac surveyed the formless chaos. At last, he had arrived at an answer. 'I like you,' he declared to the void, 'but I don't LIKE like you.'
Title text: The universe long dead, Isaac surveyed the formless chaos. At last, he had arrived at an answer. 'I like you,' he declared to the void, 'but I don't LIKE like you.'


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The comic depicts a note to “Isaac”. The note asks Isaac whetr Isaac likes the note-writer and asks Isaac to choose either “yes” or “no” as the answer, but Isaac (whose pen is red) has filled in a third answer and selected that one.

Notes of this form – “Do you like me?”, “yes”, “no” are sometimes written by young schoolchildren to each other as a way of gauging or inciting romantic interest. That is, the note-writer is interested in Isaac, or maybe is wondering why Isaac is staring at her so much, and passed him this note to get his answer without the embarassment of asking face-to-face. Isaac is supposed to check an answer and hand the note back.

The joke is that Isaac is overthinking the note, and instead of answering whether he wants to try being friends with that person, answers the literal question by saying that he hasn’t figured out his feelings yet. Part of the joke is that Isaac’s write-in answer uses a complex vocabulary used more often in scientific literature than in notes to classmates. He could have instead written “maybe” (in fact, many notes of this format also include a “maybe” option, though this note did not).

The title text shows that Isaac is overthinking the question so much that he doesn’t give an answer until the universe has lost all of its entropy, which will take trillions of years. Isaac (somehow existing even at this time) gives his answer seriously, even though it is no longer relevant, since the note-writer is presumably dead. “LIKE like” is a childish euphemism for “love” – Isaac is saying he likes the note-writer as a friend, but not as a romantic partner.


[A piece of paper.]
Dear Isaac
Do you like me?
[Written in red.] ☒there is as yet insufficient data for a meaningful answer
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... and I thought the 'LIKE like you' would be a reference to Facebook... Kaa-ching (talk) 08:55, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

I agree, I definitely think the person making that statement is saying that he doesn't embrace the simplified Facebook universe where you can LIKE someone/something by clicking on a LIKE button. --RenniePet (talk) 09:10, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
Personally, I think "LIKE like" is just a euphemism for "love". Isaac is trying to express (awkwardly) that although he enjoys the asker's company, his feeling of affinity is much less intense than that of someone who is obviously too nervous to speak with him in person. --Koveras (talk) 09:24, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
I had a different interpretation again. I thought Isaac was answering that he did like the questioner, but that (presumably as a robot) his interpretation / use of the verb "to like" was different to the (presumably human) questioner's use of the word. --Ab78 (talk) 11:27, 17 November 2014 UTC)
Something like that I had in mind, too. I interpreted "but I don't LIKE like you" as "but I don't like you as you like (me)" or shorter: "but I don't like _as_ you". In that case "LIKE like" wouldn't be an intensification of "like" (like²) but simply a comparison since the word "like" as such is ambiguous without context and in that case both interpretations would be possible. (To be honest, my first interpretation was "I like you, but I don't like that" - but that would be "but I don't LIKE liking you", wouldn't it? So I discarded that idea.) Elektrizikekswerk (talk) 11:57, 17 November 2014 (UTC)
"like like" is an example of what linguists call Contrastive focus reduplication. Since the word "like" has several meanings in English the reduplication serves to indicate the most ideal form of "like", i.e. romantic interest. - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contrastive_focus_reduplication nolandda (no wiki account) 2014.11.17 11:52 (UTC-5)
It is common for schoolchildren in America to use the phrase "LIKE like" as a euphemism for love as described in the first explanation. I think this was clearly Randall's intended meaning. 16:55, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

The comic is a reference to "The Last Question" by Isaac Asimov. 09:58, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

I tend to agree with that -- The explaination should reflect that, clearly pinting out who "IsaAC" really are 01:56, 19 November 2014 (UTC)

Some references showing that schoolchildren notes with “do you like me” is an actual thing:

Roryokane (talk) 10:08, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

Great write-up, thanks guys. Jarod997 (talk) 13:48, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

I think I'll edit the explanation, in a moment. The real life Univac name represents the words "Universal Automatic Computer", not Analogue. Also it's interesting to note the progression of the fictional computers in Asimov's story (with perhaps a little 'wishful interpretation' based on modern knowledge):

  • Multivac (like IRL Univac, but more so; Centralised mainframe archetecture-type typical of the era the story was written in, but writ large)
  • Microvac ('Home' computer, within the family space-ship; entertainment system and general 'housekeeping' controller)
  • Galactic AC (Telecoms-connected central server; central dial-in Bulletin Board System, etc)
  • Universal AC (Virtual internet-based server; run over geographically(/universally) distributed hardware)
  • Cosmic AC (Cloud computing?)
  • AC (Increasingly a whole universe-worth of 'The Internet Of Things' being used as slave nodes for massively parallel computation)

...although Asimov (at the time of writing) really wouldn't have been exposed to much more than Univac-era computing paradigms, so beyond that it's more a matter of reading the story so as to match the subsequent facts. 13:56, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

Follow-up, after deciding to check my own knowledge. ENIAC was "Electronic Numerical Integrator And Computer", but pretty much every other '...AC' that mattered is "...Automatic Computer" in full. 14:10, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

Not likely anything, but this also reminds me of the novelty spinoff of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Pink Floyd, _Marvin I Love You_.Seebert (talk) 14:43, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

The note recipient is IsaAC .... Isaac Asimov maybe? Ask Asimov a question and get an Asimov-ian answer! 16:51, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

From another perspective, I think the comic also refers to pondering to long about whether you like someome until this person or the love is gone or has married somebody else. Sebastian -- 18:14, 17 November 2014 (UTC)

Yet another possible interpretation is that love is as complex as entropy and its full understanding by a machine would require as much effort. (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I was thinking 'Isaac' might either be a reference to the biblical figure, or, relatedly, to the release of the video game Binding of Isaac: Rebirth last week. It's likely a coincidence, but you never know. - 10:50, 18 November 2014 (UTC)

ISAAC THE COMPUTER was the enemy in the Rebelstar computer game (a predecessor of X-COM, very nice game). 19:25, 27 November 2014 (UTC)