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What’s Expected of Us by Ted Chiang

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“What’s Expected of Us” is a 2005 science fiction short story by Ted Chiang. It is about a device that predicts when a person will push a button, and the devastating effect it has upon society.

Non-Spoiler Summary In A Nutshell:

A keyless remote!What if there was device that could predict the future? Even if it was just a little toy that could only predict one second in the future, what kind of consequences would that device have on humankind? How might people react to it? Would it affect their mental health? Hmm… maybe it would bring legions of people to their knees – both mentally and physically. This story delves into those fascinating “what-if’s” as we are treated to a letter from someone who has been there and done that.

By now you’ve probably seen a Predictor; millions of them have been sold by the time you’re reading this. For those who haven’t seen one, it’s a small device, like a remote for opening your car door. Its only features are a button and a big green LED. The light flashes if you press the button. Specifically, the light flashes one second before you press the button.

My Two Cents:

• The good:

  • Like all Ted Chiang stories, this one makes you think – you know, really stretch your mind. That is one of my favorite things about reading SF!
  • The idea of a Predictor was cool. It reminded me of when I was little and would always try to figure out those metal ring and wooden block puzzles. Ah… the good old days when I actually stuck with puzzles until I finished them!
  • Half the fun of reading “What’s Expected of Us” was looking up all scientific and literature references in it. (Yes, several of the concepts in this story are real.)

• The bad:

  • Actually, I enjoyed this entire story. I just wonder if something like the Predictors would actually cause akinetic mutism… hmmm, maybe. I guess that’s why its called “speculative fiction” huh?

Fact Sheet:
• Page Count: 2
• Word Count: 876

Where you can find “What’s Expected of Us”:

  • This short story first appeared in the July 5, 2005 issue of the scientific journal Nature.
  • “What’s Expected of Us” is included in Year’s Best SF 11 .
  • You can read this story online for free at the concatenation.org web site.

Some Interesting Links:

Craving More Stories?
If you enjoyed this story then you might also like Radiant Doors, about a woman who receives a mysterious gadget from the tyrannical leaders of the future, by Michael Swanwick.