Mostly Harmless: Three Douglas Adams Inventions We Wish Were Real

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HeartOfGoldInfinite Improbability Drive
The Infinite Improbability Drive is another of Adam’s preposterous but brilliant solutions to one of science fiction’s biggest problems: namely, how do you traverse the vast distances of interstellar space without having to throw characters — and the narrative — into suspended animation for centuries? Rather than just throwing out “warp speed” or “wormholes,” Adams instead embraces that nigh-insurmountable hurdle in the form of the ingenious MacGuffin known as the Infinite Improbability Drive, a system that makes improbable things happen — the more improbable the better. The device is responsible for saving Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect from dying in open space after being chucked out of a Vogon spaceship, and it also gave us one of the Hitchhiker series’ most memorable sequences when it turned a pair of incoming missiles into a confused sperm whale and a bowl of petunias, respectively. We’ve got a monumental challenge ahead of us if our species is to spread out beyond our home star system, and damned if it wouldn’t be a lot easier if we just had a lousy Infinite Improbability Drive.

The Guide says:

…one day, a student who had been left to sweep up after a particularly unsuccessful party found himself reasoning in this way: If, he thought to himself, such a machine is a virtual impossibility, it must have finite improbability. So all I have to do in order to make one is to work out how exactly improbable it is, feed that figure into the finite improbability generator, give it a fresh cup of really hot tea… and turn it on!

He did this and was rather startled when he managed to create the long sought after golden Infinite Improbability generator. He was even more startled when just after he was awarded the Galactic Institute’s Prize for Extreme Cleverness he was lynched by a rampaging mob of respectable physicists who had realized that one thing they couldn’t stand was a smart-ass.

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  1. Gardner Underhill says:

    You missed the SEP (Somebody Else’s Problem) field generator. It makes anything within the field somebody else’s problem and therefore completely invisible outside observers.

    • Chris K says:

      Never mind that, you forgot something more important!

      You forgot the Pan-Galactic Gargle Blasters!

      • quentin says:

        There was a bar in San Diego years ago that sold a drink called just that. Doubt that it had any Ol’ Janx Spirit in it

  2. Scott Panfil says:

    Love that the 3 inventions are more than three.

  3. Jeff Brewer says:

    Great article. My only quibble is that you used a picture of Marvin from the movie, rather than the BBC MINI-series…

    • quentin says:

      If you watched the movie carefully, they did show the original Marvin for just a few seconds

  4. quentin says:

    Isn’t Google Glass pretty darn close to Peril Sensitive Sunglasses? There might be an app for that

  5. Truth says:

    well i can see this person doesnt read or he’d know it hasnt been a “Trilogy” since nearly the start.

    there are 6 books out there:

    Hitchhiker’s guide
    Resturaunt at the end of the Universe
    Life the Universe and Everything
    So Long and Thanks for all the fish

    Mostly Harmless (released several years later)

    and a lesser known 6th book released after his death:

    And Another Thing (By Eoin Colfer) Dont know if Adams had any contributions to this story

  6. gazinbali says:

    Ohhh Im soooo depressed….

  7. libby says:

    This is what Marvin the Paranoid Robot really does look like.