Mostly Harmless: Three Douglas Adams Inventions We Wish Were Real
Infinite 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.