Mark Harris

Can technology answer life's big questions?
Question time: Mark Harris uses the latest technology to finally resolve all his niggling little queries

Ever wondered which country invented marshmallows? How to stop global warming? Who the fattest man in the world is? And why does he always sit next to you on the bus? Life is full of big questions, and now you can get the answers in next to no time, thanks to mobile and online technology that puts you in touch with the smartest people on the planet.

The two biggest mobile answer companies are 82ASK (text to 82275) and AQA (63336), both of which charge £1 for a SMS text question and aim to respond within five minutes. From film times to philosophical enquiries, they’ll attempt to answer absolutely any question thrown at them, although Sarah McVittie, CEO of 82ASK, notes, “Trivia dominates on weekday evenings, a sign that not everyone is playing pub quizzes in the spirit they’re intended.”

Paul Cockerton, the co-founder of AQA, says, “We’ve answered over 3.5 million questions, averaging well over 10,000 questions per day. Each answer is provided by a highly trained researcher, so it’s also high quality information.” The service is now even available on Virgin Atlantic flights, so you can hunt out funky New York bars at 35,000 feet.

Questions range from the scientific (‘Do bees have knees?’) to the ridiculous (‘Am I really here?’), but Cockerton is adamant that “nearly all questions have an answer, even the ones starting ‘what colour underpants am I wearing?’. And while we can’t answer requests for legal, medical, and financial advice, we’ll generally offer helpful info such as the number of NHS Direct.” 82ASK goes one step further, referring questions on sex and relationships to its sister service 84LUV (84588), staffed by trained counsellors and costing a little more at £1.50 per question.

If your question’s too complex to fit in a text message, Google Answers online ( allows much longer replies via email. When you pose a question, you say how much you’re willing to pay for an answer (from $2 to $200), which then becomes available for the rest of the world to read for free. But crafty students be warned; the grown-ups at Google will refuse to tackle any question that looks too much like homework. And it’s not just all about brain bashing and cheating at quizzes. Savefinder ( provides personal online shoppers to help you track down elusive left-handed yo-yos or chocolate teapots, from £3.50 a question.

The latest newcomer to the answers business is Yahoo! Answers (, which ditches brainy researchers and quick-fire responses in favour of opening your questions to the whole world – and without costing you a penny. The logic behind it is simple, says Yahoo! Regional Vice President Stephen Taylor: “When you bring lots of people and their knowledge together, you give information context and depth.” Despite launching less than a year ago, Yahoo! Answers already has plenty of depth, with 50 million users reading, asking and answering over 10 million questions, all available to search online instantly.

Microsoft has a similar, if much smaller, set-up at Live QnA (, which specialises in questions on Windows software and technology. Each free question (eventually) attracts multiple responses and although many are bonkers or just plain wrong, it’s easy to vote for the more useful ones. Yahoo!’s Taylor has big plans for the future: “Soon, we’ll have a billion experts around the globe sharing their knowledge with billions of others.”

Whether you want an Oxbridge graduate at your fingertips or a bunch of know-it-alls from Alabama to Zanzibar answering your queries, it’s never been easier to get inside other people’s heads. Which leaves just one question: if everyone’s an expert on something, exactly why did the chicken cross the road?

Is that your final answer?
Here are genuine questions and answers taken from new books published by AQA (‘The End of the Question Mark’, £5.99) and 82ASK (‘Do Sheep Shrink In The Rain?’, £7.99):

Q Who is the richest female under 25 in the south west UK and where does she drink?
A Grammy award-winning singer Joss Stone is 18 and worth £5m. She lives in Ashill, Devon. Her local pub is ‘The Square and Compass’. Good luck.

Q Can you drown through your bum?
A. Since the rectum is not connected to the lungs you’ll be pleased to know it is not possible to drown through your bum.

Q How many badgers would it take to support the Empire State Building?
A. Empire State Building is 365,000 tons. Average weight of adult European
badger is 11kg. So, according to Newton’s third law, you would need 30,102,040

Q What should I do to my bird tonight?
A Different birds requires different approaches. Prepared fowl need stuffing and basting, caged birds like a shared whistle and real women enjoy champagne and romance.

Q Which country uses the most condoms?
A Japan uses over half (58%) of the 2.8 billion condoms produced worldwide, every year.

Q What’s my girlfriend’s name?
A It’s terrible that you can’t remember! Call her love or darling for the moment and sneak a look in her handbag when she goes to the loo.

Q Do bees have knees?
A Bees have legs with joints like any insect but nothing like a knee cap. Therefore bees do not have knees; and neither do hedgehogs.

Q Am I gay?
A Yes, you are. Only 7% of men and 13% of women have had homosexual experiences, but this rises to over 90% for those who ask ‘Am I gay?’

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