1601: Isolation

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2060: The gregarious superintelligent AI, happily talking its way out of a box, is fast becoming a relic of the past. Today's quantum hyper-beings are too busy with their internal multiverse sims to even notice that they're in boxes at all!
Title text: 2060: The gregarious superintelligent AI, happily talking its way out of a box, is fast becoming a relic of the past. Today's quantum hyper-beings are too busy with their internal multiverse sims to even notice that they're in boxes at all!


The comic begins by showing how people have always complained about the negative effects of technology on conversation - that people get isolated while using these new technologies (whether they be books, TV, or smart phones), hence the title.

The joke is a subversion of expectations: On reading the first five and a half panels you're led to believe the comic is a commentary on how new technologies are often wrongly criticized for their effect on social interaction (Similar to 1227: The Pace of Modern Life). The sixth panel reveals that the person criticizing the new technology in each panel is actually the same unaging Cueball - and rather than the technologies referenced being the cause of social isolation, those around him have instead been using new technologies as excuses to ignore him for nearly 200 years, as they find him annoying.

Even without the punchline, this comic is mocking those who critique technology as a cause of antisocial behavior, with Megan acting as a messenger on Randall's behalf-- telling the critics to "take a hint" that technology isn't what's causing antisocial behavior.

The end of 1289: Simple Answers has a similar viewpoint of Cueball in this comic.

The title text refers to the AI-box experiment, formulated by Eliezer Yudkowsky, which argues that creating a super-intelligent artificial intelligence can be dangerous, because even if it is put on a secure computer ("box") with no access to the Internet, it can convince its operators to "release it from the box" just by talking to them. This idea was already mentioned in 1450: AI-Box Experiment, although there the AI already did not wish to leave the box.

According to the title text, the first AI that did talk its way out of its box turned out to be a friendly AI that was fond of others' company and in general very sociable (gregarious). This happened at some point between 2015 and 2060, because by 2060 this AI had already become a relic of the past, and the new generation of quantum hyper-beings (quantum computing AI minds, vastly more intelligent than either humans or the aforementioned superintelligent AI) are spending all of their time playing in their own multiverse simulators to even notice that, in the real world, they are locked up in a box.


[Above each panel a year is written in a small box that breaks the top of the panels frame. Cueball is talking in all six frames. In the first frame he is standing between a standing guy with pageboy hairstyle and a sitting Ponytail. She is sitting in an armchair. Both are reading books. Cueball points towards them with his arms out.]
Cueball: The modern bookworm is too busy reading about the world to look at it.
[Cueball is pointing to the left with both arms out towards Hairy who is sitting at a dining table with his breakfast eating something while reading his newspaper. On the table are a cup and a plate.]
Cueball: No one talks anymore - we take our daily newspapers in silence.
[Cueball is pointing to the right with one arm at Megan who walks away from him while reading a magazine.]
Cueball: The magazine is destroying conversation. We even read as we walk!
[Cueball is standing to the left. In the background Ponytail and Hairy is sitting on a rug in front of a TV standing on top of a small TV table. The TV is of the broad kind with cathode ray tubes and it has two antennas on top.]
Cueball: Television has put an end to family discussion.
[Cueball is standing up in a bus holding on to a railing. To his left stands Ponytail and to his right sits Hairbun. Both of them are listening to their Walkman’s which they are holding in their hand while listening to them through headphones.]
Cueball: Thanks to the Sony Walkman, anti-social isolation is now the norm.
[Cueball is standing to the left. Megan and another Cueball-like guy are standing to the right facing each other but looking down at their smartphones. Both are listening to them through their headphones.]
Cueball: We've become too absorbed in our phones to notice the-
Megan: Dude. It's been two centuries.
Megan: Take a hint.

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The title text is referring to Yudkowsky's AI-Box Experiment, which was already mentioned in xkcd.com/1450 and explained here. -- 09:03, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

If I remember correctly, there's a letter by an Ancient Roman writer complaining that people always write stories down now instead of just telling them to each other. So this mindset has existed for much longer than two centuries. -- 09:08, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

But there had been little update in the technology behind books/writing since then and the news paper! --Kynde (talk) 09:51, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
Except for Gutenberg, moveable type, et al. I do wonder why 1840 was chosen for the first panel, maybe that is about when 'penny dreadfuls' became popular? Miamiclay (talk) 02:22, 12 November 2015 (UTC)
Do you perhaps have a link to the Roman letter? I can't seem to find it. 07:31, 18 November 2015 (UTC)
Plato (Greek, not Roman) is often cited as criticizing writing for weakening memory, but this blog post (which quotes the passage) argues that he is really making a different point: https://senseandreference.wordpress.com/2010/10/27/reading-writing-and-what-plato-really-thought/ 15:06, 1 March 2023 (UTC)

There is someone (not logged in) that believes that the last panel indicates that it is the same Cueball through 175 years that are ignored by his friends, instead of just a jab at generic people who complains about technology. Cueball being this generic person. I highly disagree with this, but the second I changed it to something else the same IP address changed it right back. I have now made two versions of this explanation. And made it clear that it would mean Cueball and his friends were about 200 years old. Then I will leave it to someone else to choose if both of these explanations should be left in, or maybe even a third be added...? --Kynde (talk) 10:42, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I'm the one who initially made that edit. I only made the edit once, I didn't revert any edits you or anyone else made. I still think my explanation is the correct one, too. The "Take a hint" comment makes a lot more sense if Cueball has a long history of blaming others not socializing with him on technology. The "It's been two centuries" comment only makes sense in the context of it being the same Cueball in all six panels, because people have been making that comment for a lot more than two centuries, and even if they hadn't, any random person is unlikely to know when people first started making that sort of observation. This explanation also fits in more with xkcd's style. 22:33, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
Your explanation is correct and is behaving like a child. 13:41, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
It's neither! Part of the humor is the bizarre reframing that occurs in the last few panels as you suddenly begin to consider that instead of just being a representative sampling of generic people's complaints throughout the years, you suddenly consider that maybe this IS just one guy, riding his hobby-horse relentlessly throughout the decades without letup -- Dude! Take a hint! For me, especially the way he is hanging on a strap in the penultimate panel suddenly makes him seem like he's been stalking these people, following them with his opinions... (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
We will have to wait until the official transcript appears. That might settle the question. 15:03, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

it says "sims" not "The Sims". "sim" is just short for "simulator". there are other things that simulate things beyond "The Sims". -- 12:16, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

The word "sim" is used extensively by the massive, immersive, online multiuser virtual world of Second Life to describe the different simulations of the network of lands. Maybe Randall was thinking of that? Brenda (talk) 10:38, 18 May 2019 (UTC)

I would rather say that the main explaination of the joke is a third way: -Cueball represent the kind of person that complains about people ignoring each other. The contemporaries of such kind of person are clearly annoyed by his behavior and ignore him willingly. The complainer should understand the hint that people prefer isolation much better than having to interact with him. -- 12:27, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I'm pretty sure that this is the joke. It's not that society is becoming more isolated, it's that everybody is intentionally trying to ignore Cueball, and he's not taking the hint 14:54, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
Agreed -- 15:04, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I think that "dude, it's been 2 centuries" refers to the actual notion of people complaining about social isolation due to the current relavant "media" at the time rather than cueball himself- this might be other people, but these guys are all stick figures... It's also very unlikely that someone would live this long. [citation needed] -- 12:57, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I don't think those people are supposed to be Cueballs friends. They may be strangers, and the idea is that people don't WANT to be social with strangers. Using technology to isolate may be reaction to fact that cities force us into bigger groups that we are comfortable socializing with. -- Hkmaly (talk) 13:40, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I thought that Cueball being centuries old WAS the joke - it looks like this is just a montage along the lines of 1227, but it was actually Cueball saying the same thing for two solid centuries.

I am inclined to agree that it's one of the jokes. I have never heard "take a hint" used to refer to things someone hadn't personally experienced. While people don't really live 2 centuries, it is a comic, not reality, and the implication he is the same Cueball makes a fun twist at the end of an obvious joke. He's poked at the history of this before, and the joke "maybe it's not technology, maybe it's your personality" has been done at least as far back as the Walkman example, probably much further. GonzoI (talk) 15:44, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

Also, this is clearly a lowercase-s-sim, not The Sims. Possibly inspired by the Infinite Fun Space of Ian M Banks' Culture novels, but that's not definite enough to put it.-- 14:16, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

Yeah, that struck me as odd too. Anyone care to reformat? 17:06, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

Anyone else think these might be actual quotes from the relevant times? Quick Google search doesn't support that (but then Google seems to skew its results towards recent more "relevant" responses, to the detriment of historical references -- give me what some random blogger has to say over the historical context! (Google obviously hasn't incorporated this strip yet, because then this strip will be the top result for all searches, and pages like this one will be the rest...)), but maybe Randall deliberately choose obscure references. Against this idea is that when he's done this in the past [citation needed], he's put in the references. But then, maybe he's mixing it up a little.... Thoughts? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)

I could find nothing to support it either. I doubt it is specific quotes because some are very generic, and because the cartoonist uses the same internet as the audience. If we can't find it, I doubt that would be the joke. GonzoI (talk) 15:44, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
Whether or not these are real quotes or not was never an issue with regard to the joke -- it makes no real difference, it's just an interesting aside. And it depresses me that the Internet -- let alone Google's subset index thereof -- is quietly assumed to be the sum of all knowledge. The author *might* use the same internet as the rest of us (or maybe none of us use the exact same internet, each having access to parts inaccessible to other users), but even if the statement is taken as given, the internet is not the sum total of all knowledge. Go to the stacks of any well stocked university library, for example, to see a whole wealth of information largely not on the the internet. I know Google is trying to address the issue, but really, if you want any information from before roughly 1995, the internet is not the place to find it. What library stacks does Randall have access to? What recent cache of old Collier's magazines did he acquire at a yard sale? Do we all have access to those? (talk) (please sign your comments with ~~~~)
The style and pace and lexicon of the comments seems classically consistent with the ages being depicted. Mind you, that's what a clever person like Randall would try to do, with his dialogue. I was a little unsure about the age of "Bookworm", for the first panel, but a painting by that name was painted circa 1850, so if that was its original title then it might well be an era-accurate term for bibliophiles. 16:47, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
I feel like I have actually seen at least a few of these quotes before but like you guys I don't have a source. Yet. 17:19, 9 November 2015 (UTC)
Additionally, the results of a Google search for "we even read as we walk", which I thought might be the easiest thing worth trying to track down, currently displays just two results. And those are this site's explicit Main Page and this site's implicit main page - technically something very close to a self-referential Googlewack! (This will doubtless change, if this page's transcript is also indexed, plus the XKCD original's transcript, plus other places chatting about this even including the XKCD Sucks blog, I'm sure. If it isn't already different for other, non-UK, Google front-ends...) 20:54, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

This is quite a hobby horse for Randall. 22:03, 9 November 2015 (UTC)

I am totally in camp "It's the same people in all panels". That's what I thought it was after reading the comments, and I'm sticking with it because it's funnier to me. -Pennpenn 03:40, 10 November 2015 (UTC)

Well the other characters are not the same from panel to panel... And there is even an extra Cueball in the last panel. But if the version with one Cueball should make any sense, will the title then reefer to the people isolating them selves, or is it actually Cueball who is put in isolation by all other people...? I still think he just (as always) represents a generic person, thus not the same from panel to panel. (And if you think he is always the same is Cueball then twice in the last panel!) --Kynde (talk) 12:42, 10 November 2015 (UTC)
Would you keep the same hairstyle for 200 years? -Pennpenn 22:35, 10 November 2015 (UTC)
IMHO, it's pretty clear. The joke is that for the first 5 panels, you're expected to think of this as 5 unrelated groups of people having discussions on a similar theme. But in the 6th panel, you're expected to question that assumption, and think that it's the same Cueball who has been ranting about this same topic (and being studiously ignored by everyone around him) for 200 years. Stevage (talk) 23:33, 12 November 2015 (UTC)

I thought the joke was, that people who complain about other people isolating themselves with technology are actually just annoying people, that nobody likes to talk to. So it is not the same person in all the panels, but always the same type of person that other people do not wish to engage in conversation with. They think the people being distant is due to new technology and behave like that towards everybody, when in fact only the ones complaining are shunned. -- 18:42, 10 November 2015 (UTC)

I think that the statement "IT´S BEEN TWO CENTURIES" pretty much kills the option were there are several Cueballs (and yes, that would make cueball 200 years old but weirder thing happen daily in XKCD) {{unsigned ip|]}

Relevant Vsauce. 06:45, 10 November 2015 (UTC)

To me, "It's been two centuries" doesn't preclude the idea that the commenting Cueballs are different people. I took it to mean "People have been saying that for two centuries, maybe you should learn some history and give up on that idea." I wanted to avoid political example, but it's the only one I could think of: "It's been 3 decades, Mr. President. Trickle-down economics doesn't work!" -- I could say that, and it doesn't mean that the current president has been president for 3 decades. I'm just implying that the idea has existed a long time. 16:20, 21 February 2019 (UTC)

Citations needed[edit]

I am disappointed in all of you. I was hoping the explanation would provide citations to actual remarks made in 1840, 1880, 1910, 1960, 1980, and 2015. 15:45, 7 November 2020 (UTC)