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Zim: Computer, give me all the information on the Eff Bee Eye!

Computer: The F.B.I is a government law enforcement agency.

Zim: Continue.

Computer: Insufficient data.

Zim: Insufficient data? Can't you just make an educated guess?

Computer: Okay... umm... Founded in 1492 by... uh, demons? ... the F.B.I is a crack law enforcement agency designed to... uh... I dunno... fight aliens?

Zim: I knew it!
Invader Zim, "FBI Warning Of Doom"

These days it's commonplace to go straight to Google when you have a question, and this was true in fiction even before there was a Google. Or an Internet, for that matter. When in need of plot critical Exposition characters will frequently find a computer and use it to fill the role of Mr. Exposition. They may type their questions and read answers on a screen, but typically it's a computer with a voice, (monotone or not) and an ability to answer freeform questions in plain spoken English. Because of these traits the computer will frequently at least be a Magical Computer and possibly even a true Artificial Intelligence.

The Expositron 9000 will give one of three answers to whatever question it's given: an accurate answer based on available data and number crunching, a Bat Deduction that is unerringly accurate despite lack of data ... or admitting that it lacks the info needed to answer the question. That said, it may still make amazingly accurate predictions based on what limited data it does have. However it's often the case that the computer's sensors have already recorded all the relevant information needed or it already had files on the topic. This is done to avoid boring the audience and dragging the plot, though the character asking the computer may bring data they've recorded themselves to show some effort. Because of this accuracy, a computer giving a flat out wrong answer would be a subversion.

Examples:


Anime and Manga

  • In episode 43 of Taiyou Sentai Sun Vulcan, the villains create and hand out devices that can answer any question, with the hope of making local kids rely on them for all their knowledge and become too stupid to resist them as a result. They end up being Hoist By Their Own Petard as Vul Eagle manages to get one of the devices and uses it to find where the villains are hiding. (However, when he tries it again later, it doesn't work because the villains have put up a shield around their van.)

Film

  • Alien.
    • When Captain Dallas tried to get information out of Mother (the Nostromo's computer) about the title monster he got the "Insufficient Data" type response.

 Dallas: Request evaluation of current procedures to terminate alien

Mother: Unable To Compute

Dallas: Request options for possible procedure

Mother: Available Data Insufficient

Dallas: What are my chances?

Mother: Does Not Compute

    • When Ripley tried the same thing later, Mother's first response was just as unhelpful but Ripley got lucky and got some Accurate Answers.
  • In The Thing, Blair asks the base computer what The Thing would do if it escapes out of the arctic, and it projects total global infection in a matter of weeks.
  • In Sunshine the cast asked the computer, Icarus, whether their plan to dump a dark matter bomb into the sun to reignite it would work. Which it said would be impossible to compute as the variables increase too quickly the closer the simulation got to the sun. Because of this uncertainty they decide to make a detour and get the bomb from the Ghost Ship Icarus 1 and double their chances.
  • In The Fly (1986 with Jeff Goldblum), once Dr. Brundle realizes he's not really 100% human any more he asks the computer what's going on, and it exposits that he's fused with fly DNA and will eventually mutate into a hideous creature.


Literature

  • The whole point of Murray Leinster's eerily-prophetic short story "A Logic Named Joe". Written in 1946, this story offhandedly predicted the Internet, search engines, and Censorware -- and imagined a possibly-sentient search engine that had no compunctions about answering anything to the best of its ability.

Live Action TV

 Janeway: Computer, what's causing that Negative Space Wedgie?

Computer: Insufficent data.

Janeway: Computer, hypothesize.

Computer: [Very detailed explanation, which was usually right.]

  • Done often on Time Trax with Lambert asking SELMA, his credit-card-sized computer programmed with all knowledge of the 20th century, to extrapolate from known data into unknown territory. She is always reluctant to do this and gives percentages of how right she might be.

Tabletop RPG

  • In Paranoia, a character with the Data Analysis skill can ask Friend Computer to analyze the situation. He probably doesn't have a high enough clearance to be told the answer, but he can still ask.

Video Games

  • Mass Effect 2: In addition to being a Do Anything AI, EDI is this. Whenever anyone wants plot-relevant information, they just need to ask.

Western Animation

  • Happens in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse of all places where a series of lights coming from Mars is deduced by the Mousekadoer to be a distress signal and/or invitation.
  • Courage the Cowardly Dog did this a lot, though Courage would type in the questions, despite the fact that he would regularly speak to the audience.
  • In Homestar Runner, Strong Bad's computers have a tendency for this.
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