So assuming their existed an Oracle, what effects would it have on society. Assume that everyone has access to it similar to using a library where the books can't leave.

Properties of the Oracle

  • It can only answer axiomatic (self evident, time independent) questions.
  • It has no concept of 'current time'. Its answers should be always true, regardless of time passed. (Questions about Earth will assume 'average' and 'in this era')
  • The answer will be a short phrase, number, range, or equation in whatever units the user is most comfortable with.
  • The Oracle is smart enough to answer the question you mean, not what you asked. (so no language/meaning problems) And always responds with an unambiguous answer that the user can understand. (Like WolframAlpha, but it knows everything, and better auto-correct, and faster)
  • It can only give answers, not explanations. (the user may understand what the answer is, but not why it is the answer. You can't bypass this by asking 'whats the first/second/ect. reason that was the answer?')
  • No technology can interact with Oracle in any meaningful way.
  • It will only answer questions for curiosity/academics. It is self aware enough to know if someone is trying to directly/indirectly exploit it. (Because reasons not important to this question)
  • The oracle can't be controlled/restricted (it appears to whoever needs it. when they need it).
  • If the oracle can't/won't answer a question, it will tell the user it can't answer. The oracle can give guiding questions to the user though if the problem is that the user doesn't really know what they are asking. (like "what do you consider 'stable'?".)
  • The Oracle can be destroyed, but as far as mortals understand, it is indestructible. (I am adding an exception that the Oracle can't say how it can be destroyed. This knowledge has to be obtained from a god, and none of the gods will let the oracle be destroyed (because the Oracle is part of a set of artifacts, and bad things will happen if the whole set is destroyed, but that is irrelevant to this question.))


Will Answer

  • How to find water (go to the sea), not where it is.
  • 'How long will it take an apple to reach the ground', assuming you mean on Earth, and from an average apple tree, with the answer being an average time and/or time range.
  • "Are there any stable elements in the periodic table after 200?" (Answer will be based on user's definition of 'stable'. If they don't know, the Oracle will till them to figure that out first.)
  • "What equation describes the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics?" (Will answer 'there is none' if it doesn't exist.)

Won't Answer

  • How do I make a better engine? (better is subjective, and answer changes with available technology)
  • How many troops does the enemy have? (This is a time dependent question)
  • What is the fastest way to get rich? (This is a time dependent question)
  • "What is missing from the Standard Model to be a complete description of physics?" (Can't be briefly answered. It will say if it's possible though.)
  • Solution for a Hash output. (Infinite answers. If you ask for 'just one', it will refuse, as 'which one is the answer' is subjective, even if all answers are equally valid)

For religion, there are questions it will and won't answer. Info that is always true (is there a god? yes) will be answered. Info that is not always true won't be. (is there one god? gods can be created and destroyed in this universe so, no answer. (but a few select gods are eternal))

The main questions I'm interested in are

  • Will this stunt or accelerate technological progress? (Will people learn 'why?' faster if they know the answer, or will they not try to find out why if they can just know the answer?)
  • Would this have any noticeable effects on society? (would this encourage/discourage any common philosophies or how people act?)
  • I'm interested in both if this just appeared today or has always existed.

I know this is a bit broad, but I'm looking for the psychological effects access to this Oracle would have on people. I'm not interested in exploits beyond its intended purpose (to be a infinite knowledge database). Please try to avoid answering with opinions!

EDIT: I think I've locked out all potential exploits, but basically it can't be used by machines, or used to gather information that the user couldn't implicitly know as a fact.

  • $\begingroup$ How does it handle: "Are there any stable elements in the periodic table after 200?" and "What is missing from the Standard Model to be a complete description of physics?" and "What equation describes the relationship between gravity and quantum mechanics?" I'm asking these as test questions to get a better sense of the psych impact on researchers and scientists, who strike me as having possibly the most threat to their jobs if such an oracle appeared. $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 17, 2016 at 20:35
  • $\begingroup$ Also, are you looking for impact if such an oracle just appeared one day or if such an oracle had been around since the dawn of humanity? $\endgroup$
    – SRM
    Oct 17, 2016 at 20:36
  • $\begingroup$ What exactly counts as exploiting it? For example, many questions here are asked in order to use the information in stories, gameplays, etc.; would that count as exploiting? What if you try to use it for writing a best seller? What if you use the information to write a scientific article? What if you do that in order to get the Nobel prize? $\endgroup$
    – celtschk
    Oct 17, 2016 at 20:55
  • $\begingroup$ How accepted is this oracle by society? Does it answer questions about religion? $\endgroup$
    – PatJ
    Nov 3, 2016 at 17:52
  • $\begingroup$ @PatJ I image society would view it as 'a natural part of this world'. As for religion, it wouldn't answer most questions since they are not always true (if the answer varies over time, like history questions, it won't answer) $\endgroup$
    – Tezra
    Nov 3, 2016 at 18:30

6 Answers 6


This was already done, when a pan-dimensional race of hyper-intelligent beings developed a computer called Deep Thought. Asked about the ultimate answer to Life, The Universe and Everything, this computer answered plainly: 42.

The machine operators asked if the computer was certain about the answer, and it answered that it carefully checked and rechecked the results. What 42 means is still matter of speculation among scientists, while all puntids — that is to say philosophists, sages, luminaries and other professional thinking persons — are seeing a fantastic surge in their field of work.

Deep thought computer

On a side note :

Most problems involving a superior intelligence revolves around the superior intelligence itself. But, on a communication, something is made "common". I will not delve into the intricacies of the mathematical consequences of such an Oracle, and I know that the mileage of such an endeavour, when limited to the scope of simple objective questions is much greater than its philosophical analog (where answers might not be possible to be answered in objective fashion).

But still, when dealing with superior intelligences, the limitations of the questioner arise :

This "oracle" was created by someone to answer something to someone, it might be utterly and completely effective at understanding the question and to answer it, but this does not mean that the person asking the question is capable of understanding any and all answers, or is able to produce any and all questions that could be solved by such an Oracle. It does not follow that being capable of asking a question and being capable of understanding it are the same and one thing. On the other hand, questions do not exist on a vacuum nor are universal. They are the consequence of a culture or a person, they are evolutive as well. This means that in order to ask something, someone must know a bunch of previous things that lead to asking a question (or else this civilization would be asking "how to eat", "how to walk" etc like a baby...). So, even if the Oracle only answers universal and time-immutable answers, the questions and the capability to produce such questions are not universal nor time-immutable.

A Greek might ask philosophical and mythical questions to such an Oracle, a modern businessman might ask questions about the future of certain business and so on. So the progress of the science is not only the capability of obtaining answers but on the capability of asking questions too. This might sound frustrating, but, progress cannot be directly commanded, because it is a human activity, not an abstract process done separately from reality.

This is not to say that having an Oracle that can perfectly answer objective questions would not produce progress, scientists can check the result of calculations etc. We can predict disasters and avoid it (provided that there exists true free will) and so on. We can limit ourselves, for one, to questions like : Will this engineering design work ? And prevent bridges from falling and people from getting killed. But we might not be able to predict if a bridge falling is not the best outcome possible in the long run. Because the fall of this hypothetical bridge, which might be the worst outcome for those who fall with it, might not be the worst outcome to someone else who might gain from it (as cruel as it might sound). By preventing the world war two from happening - "Will a cruel dictator be born today ? In which country ?" - we might very well prevent unforeseen consequences of such event, good and bad, that, in the example at hand, might not be well understood even today. This might lead to a perpetual loop of questions that recursively develop into more complex ones in a vain pursuit of a perfect question and answer, never reaching the moment where we are sufficiently satisfied with the answer. Or we might stop asking questions when the answer is good enough for some of us but not others, etc...

We might try to question such Oracle "How to produce the most optimal outcome today, that would make everyone happy in every corner of the world, and forever", because in the end of the day this is all that philosophy and science are searching from the dawn of humanity, but this is not an objective question, because it does depend on the subjective concept of happiness, nor a short one, because this might very well be the most complex answer possible, and the whole Britannica Encyclopedia, Wikipedia, etc, and all the libraries of the world, of all time, and all pages of the internet currently, all scientists and philosophers, everything, try to answer, and failed to answer, or at least can only answer partially... And asking such a question might very well result in the same thing that the hyperintelligent pan-dimensional creatures obtained by asking the Deep Thought computer about the answer to Life, The Universe and Everything...



Adams, D. (1985) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy


Well, mathematics would change considerably. Asking it the Clay Prize Problems would be a good start, and mathematicians would have a lot more questions after that. They would still want to prove the results, but knowing the final answer helps a lot with that.

However, its effect on religion will the most important thing. This thing is essentially omniscient for factual information, and will be regarded by many people as a direct line to God, or the work of the Devil. I'd give it about three weeks before someone first seriously tries to destroy it, and maybe another two weeks before a nuke gets used.


There's a class of computational complexity that deals with Oracles.

Oracle machines

The capability to use an Oracle would make whole classes of problems, which are intractable today, easily answerable.

An example is that public key cryptography, and I think cryptography in general, would no longer work.

I think the biggest problem is that having access to an oracle would make the work necessary to answer difficult problems unnecessary. This would have the follow on effect that many of the tools developed to answer tough questions, and the serendipitous discoveries made along the way, would never see the light of day. There's a good chance that society wouldn't have made it past the very earliest of civilizations, technology wise.


I think that the entire Society would be centered around the Orcale. Since having access to the Oracle would give such power (knowledge is power), countries would fight to have control over it. Average people won't be able to access it, only a select few would have access to it. An "Orcale council" would be formed to protect and handle all matters related to the Oracle. This "Orcale council" would have tremendous power and rule society in a similar or even bigger way than the Catholic church in medieval Europe. Acedemic progress would be very slow and people would on average not be as smart as in our current would since they would rely on the Oracle to solve most problems.

Would the Oracle be physically destructible? I think in such a society there would be for sure a group of "rebels" who would want to get rid of the Oracle.

I think that if Artificial intelligene becomes advanced enough (like in the Transcendance movie) it could have a role similar to such an Oracle.

  • $\begingroup$ Largely invalid because I said "The oracle can't be controlled/restricted (it appears to whoever needs it. when they need it)". As for destroying it, it is like trying to destroy god in this world (possible, but no one would believe it is possible. Especially since stabbing it doesn't really do any damage to it) $\endgroup$
    – Tezra
    Nov 4, 2016 at 12:26

First a literature survey:

Deep Thought in Adams was an Oracle giving an impossible answer. To make it worse, it was the only useful answer it gave and computation times were a tad long.

In Niven/Pournelle's Footfall, illustrated tablets were left with tutorials. A morally and culturally uncivilized race became spacefaring conquerers. Various other books work with free knowledge.

In Gerrold's "When Harley was One, Release 2.0", an oracle computer becomes so advanced that people rely on it utterly.

In Niven's "Neutron Star", humanity receives a dictionary of advanced knowledge, each article encrypted with information knowable only once that knowledge is already obtained.

In Asimov's shorts "The Last Question" and "The Last Answer" has an omniscient MultiVac computer integrated into society.


In your view, one would expect a planning commission of talkers to state long problems, like "given the climate records of the last two years of ..., and ..., what is the optimal amount of water to apply to crops of barley." etc.

Perhaps the populace would rebel. No one want to hear "Yes, you asked the price of a new LusterLux refrigerator before the date your husband ordered the refrigerator."

No one likes a know-it-all.


I have some issues with the "no time dependant answer" requirement. It will answer "go to the sea" to the "how to find water" question, even though some seconds after the big bang there were no seas.

How to find water (go to the sea), not where it is.

To me the really time independant answer would be "in every place where one oxigen atom interacts with two hydrogen atoms by covalent bonds and the temperature is within the 0-100°C range". The same with the apple free-fall duration answer: it's supposed to use the average apple tree height and hearth current gravity, but when? Apple trees now are quite different from the neolithic ones. Not only, by answering "go to the sea" it will give only one out thousands equally valid answer.

An "oracle" that doesn't understand/use the concept of time (capable to answer only time indipendent question) should be called with a different label, it will be more like a super encyclopedia rather than an oracle. Anyway, i'll try to answer...

Given these two alternatives, always existed or appeared one day, and in the case you want to investigate the psychological effects, you should receive two answer.

First one, always existed: people get used to it, they have evolved with it, then it won't be a stranger thing than internet for a 2005 kid.

Second one, appeared one day: martial law all over the world.

Seriously, all the other positive effect that some answers could give are worth nothing respect to homeland security. Information and intelligence are crucial and every strategist knows that an enemy that can anticipate your moves is virtually unbeatable. It's not relevant wether the oracle can/will answer to their military questions, as far as the military commanders know that there's an "oracle" they will try to exploit it. We know what can be answered, they don't. Every government will put their best effort to try to control the oracle (unfortunately they also doesn't know they can't). I expect huge propaganda from the government suggesting not to approach the oracle, and military effort to cage it and -since they can't- effort to destroy it -better if destroyed rather than helping the enemy-.

Imagine: if it can answer "how to find water?", why can't it answer "how to find petroleum?" (or gold, or rare hearts, or whatever you need). Maybe it can give a trivial answer (we already know some places) or maybe he can give us unvaluable hints. Moreover: while "how to design a better engine?" is subjective, "how to improve the efficiency of current fossil fuel engines?" is not subjective and it's totally an answerable question with huge economic effect. And what if someone asks "who killed Kennedy?", "Why?", "did someone in the governace neglected something relevant or was even a direct player in the 9/11?" ? I guess that there are numbers of reasons why governments simply can't accept that such an oracle is available to everyone.

Not to mention all the sects and groups of believers that will distort/fake predictions to boost their power, we already know that they are good at it.

I suppose a global political crysis similar to the cold war, with two or more main factions, with the costant fear that something devastating could/will occur. Something that is caused by an aggressive use of the oracle by the "enemy" or something planned by the enemy and just "predicted" by the oracle.

The only possible reason that can end this situation is that everyone realize that the oracle is nothing more than a window opened on an immutable future. In the past, several tales about oracles have been written, and in most of them someone asked something, the oracle answered with a "bad" answer for the asking person, the asking person tried his best to avoid the premonition but in the end the effort didn't change the final outcome.

If the oracle is proven to be a non-time-paradox-generator (it foresees something that can actually be changed, therefore the premonition is falsified) every scholared person will have the personal drama to deal with the fact that "free will" isn't a thing at all. The universe has one and only one "time-path", and no one can alter it.

I doubt that such an oracle will make the humanity happier: depression, violence, deceptions, struggles are most likely outcome. Paradoxically an oracle could cause a tremendous uncertain era.


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