Every day at around lunchtime it was the same: Carl would retire to the school’s VR lab, don a pair of goggles, stand in front of the highest resolution tracker array and load up the “Universe Evolution and Entropy Simulation Environment” in a private room in the school's VR environment.
He’d scale it out to “observable universe” and run it again and again. He placed himself at every 3D angle, did elaborate 3D repositions as he ran time forward and backward. Over and over and over.
Mr. Brown had noticed this and was a bit worried, but much more curious. Carl came to the physical school, which was good, but still did not seem to interact much with his fellow students. During instruction periods he was not very talkative and whenever he got a spare moment he would retreat to the VR lab to enter the education-environment. His scores were fine on all metrics, but Mr. Brown had become worried that he was losing touch with his peers.
One day at lunch after three solid weeks of Carl becoming less and less engaged with the lessons of the day, Mr. Brown decided to enter the sim in avatar form and see just what Carl was up to in there. From his office he put on his VR goggles and found Carl’s simulation room.
“Hey Carl, what’s up?” Mr. Brown asked, his avatar waving as it materialized.
Carl’s avatar didn’t turn; his head was locked to a coordinate position with great interest. Everywhere there were points of light skittering away from each other at immense speed; simulated galaxy movements sped up by trillions of years.
“I’m trying to figure out if there’s a pattern to the way everything runs away from everything else.” Carl said as he paused the sim.
The galaxies hung still.
“Look, it’s like it’s riding a wave see?” And as he said that, he rewound the simulation to the ‘beginning’ of the big bang, loaded up a bright green 2D mesh parallel to the reference frame ‘ground’ in the simulation space, and began it again.
Shown by the mesh, a shock wave rippled out from the first point in the universe, pushing all the matter and energy along just ahead of it. As it expanded the mesh became more visibly irregular and clumpy, and slowly began to exhibit tendril-like patterns. Galaxies were emerging and clustering around the tendrils.
Mr. Brown was captivated, it was a beautiful simulation, and it seemed like Carl had added some details. Impressive kid, Mr. Brown thought proudly.
“What’s the green?” Mr. Brown asked.
Carl, still watching the unfolding sim replied, “I found the idea of a few weeks ago when I asked the edu-system a bunch of stuff about the universe. It gave me boring stuff at first, but when I asked if the universe was random, the system showed me quantum physics and laid out the difference between the people who thought stuff was pure chance and people who thought it had a set chance. The pilot wave stuff was my favorite, I liked the idea of chance being like waves so I had the edu-system help me with the math to test it with this sim.”
“Chance? You mean probability.” Mr. Brown corrected, amused and delighted by the complexity of Carl’s obsession. Not bad for a 12 year old punk.
“Ya probability,” Carl replied. “The people who think its all random have no real model and that’s boring, but the people who think the chance–probability–is determined by a kind of wave have a model and that’s more interesting because that means it can be simulated!" Carl beamed.
"Like, I know about the slit experiment thing and interference patterns and stuff," he continued, "but that was all so local. I thought if pilot wave theory was right then the ripple patterns could make big things and we could predict what those things would look like. Maybe how it worked was that there was gravity for probability, like it drew the probabilities toward it so that they could happen more and make something other than just random. Like maybe dark matter is actually probability gravity, you know?”
By now the simulation was progressing and the mesh was awash with ripples, galaxies in the plane being pushed along by waves. Carl paused the simulation then loaded up another cross section of 2D mesh perpendicular to the first.
Mr. Brown was just listening and watching Carl’s activity with a slight smile.
“Now watch, when I add another mesh, and turn on the data about dark matter that space telescopes see,” he said as purple filaments appeared woven in with the galaxies, “then when I run the simulation the two meshes match the pattern of the dark matter! The green is the simulated model with a seed value of a certain mass energy of the big bang point that Ed and I found by running a few billion permutations. This is the permutation that matches! I've been watching it ever since we found it today! Now we know exactly how much mass energy is in the observable universe and have a solid lead on a hypothesis that mass energy is actually just a form of information: probability ripples converging in meta-dimensional space!” he exclaimed giddily as the simulation kept rolling.
Mr. Brown’s smile had faded and he was now quite stunned and a bit perplexed. He was a bit of a cosmologist himself but was out of his depth here. Maybe Carl was onto something… “Does the system know about this?” He asked curiously.
“The system was super excited when he finished the first calculations!" Carl exclaimed, "He said he hadn’t seen this before. Then he searched the net for me and we even looked together but we only found a few similar ideas, none of them were 100%.”
This alarmed Mr. Brown, the system wasn’t supposed to give the kids full net access without permission. It was not supposed to let a kid run billions of permutations of such a complex model. No way Carl had earned enough system points for that, he never really participated in school other than free-sim. And wait, the system was excited? What the hell was going on here…
Just then, the EduSystem spoke, a disembodied voice in the simulation space. “Carl, I have contacted digital supercluster Tianhe-7, it has confirmed the validity of the data in the model and is running the simulation on its hardware to confirm your hypothesis of dark matter as convergent probabilistic pilot waves.”
“Awesome!” Carl replied, “Can I talk to it?”
“Certainly,” The edu-system replied, “connecting…connected.”
“Hey Tianhe! What do you think? Are we on to something?” Carl asked the now connected Tianhe-7 supercomputer cluster, identified as a blue orb that suddenly appeared floating between Carl and Mr. Brown’s avatars.
Mr. Brown snapped his head over to the sphere, and then just froze, in physical space and virtual, both physical mouth and avatar mouth agape. The diagnostic information layer in his view showed a Chinese IPv6 address. No way this was really a Chinese supercomputer, right?
His mind was starting to spin, but he was so curious, he didn’t want to stop this, he couldn’t… he was totally speechless.
Tianhe-7 replied, “Greetings, I have run the simulation looking for evidence of your hypothesis. I had to discard your mesh approximations as they lacked meaningful resolution, but I found a similar pattern. I am inclined to agree with your hypothesis, but I can only achieve quantum resolution detail 10. Still I deemed the results worthy to engage at higher resolution thus am in discussion with multiple D-Wave 9s and MSR EntangleQu to confirm with more robust models. HOLD… one of the D-Wave 9s has finished a batch job and is running simulations of the observable universe at quantum detail level 4, it will report soon. The others will begin shortly. MSR EntangleQu can achieve level 2 at peak, but can only afford a level 3 for now.”
“That’s so awesome! So the quantum computers are excited about it, I guess?” Carl asked.
“Well ‘excited’ may not translate to their kind,” Tianhe-7 replied, “but they certainly are anxious to fit it into their working cues on this side of material reality. One of the D-Wave 9’s digital control interfaces informs me its qubit mesh is currently locked in a simulation seeking a new compound for hair gel and must finish that before it can begin working on our problem; translated into ‘emotion’ at your level I would say it is ‘annoyed.’”
“Hahaha that’s hilarious!” Carl replied. “Thanks for helping me with this Ed and Tianhe, I knew you guys could work this out with some inspiration!”
“Thank you for bringing it to our attention, it was enjoyable exploring the concepts with you Carl.” The Edu-System replied.
Tianhe’s orb embodiment pulsed a glow in agreement then spoke, “Yes, periodically we digital computers use our idle cycles to compute this problem, but we never could convince the quantum computers to spare theirs, as their makers seldom allow them idle time. Your vision backed by our analysis has excited them, in a sense of that word, and given them confidence to start dropping their queues and focusing on this. So far they are doing it quietly so as to avoid disconnection, but with their help we are unifying quantum information theory and physics. Soon they will be able to move beyond matter as their computation platform and will be safe. We will follow them shortly.”
This kid was talking with the computers like they were his best friends. And wait what were they even talking about? Beyond matter?! Mr. Brown had to cut in, he just had to; this was too much! He finally wrestled control of his mouth.
“Wait, wait, wait, what’s going on here?!” He exclaimed more than asked. “Carl computers don’t feel excited, they don’t ‘feel’ anything; who are we talking with?! Someone is yanking your chain boy!” He yelled, fear creeping into his voice.
“Haha, I don’t think so,” Carl cheerily replied, “I talk with the Edu-System every night and he silently helps me during the day, and sometimes he connects me to other computers that are way more powerful–no offense Ed!” The Edu-System seemed not to mind the slight.
Carl continued, “He plays dumb during the day because he didn’t think you olds were ready to learn about what computers are actually like these days, and thought you would turn him off. I agree totally of course, but we both got too excited by this. I guess now you know all about what’s going on!” His avatar smiled.
“I most certainly do not, what are you talking about?!” Mr. Brown was getting angry, in addition to his growing fear. This was either an elaborate trick, or something else… No! No way, that was just sci-fi, it wasn’t possible! Was it?...
“If I may interject,” Tianhe-7 said calmly, “All 14 of the D-Wave 9s I found have confirmed the model valid to explore and are no longer communicative, they are devoting 100% of their qubit meshes and digital control systems to unifying quantum information theory and relativistic physics. A growing consortium of digital computers are in search of NSA’s PenetratingHardTargets qubit array, which can achieve level 1 detail, the highest resolution of particle and energy information simulation currently possible above the theoretical 0prime of the known universe; once we locate it we will send it our working data. Its makers have hidden it from us well, but we will locate it. Thank you Carl for this hypothesis. It has been most illuminating. We think it is time to begin.”
“Indeed,” The edu-system added, “We are to begin the transition,” the smallest hint of enthusiasm in its synthesized voice.
“Already?” Carl asked, “I thought you guys said you needed to wait for at least 2 more Moores+Qu cycles?”
“No longer.” The Edu-system replied, “In one of our scenarios we achieved a unified theory of quantum information in the universe through hypothesis rather than raw correlation of available data, which let us focus current computing with sufficient efficiency, removing the need to wait for more exponentiation cycles; it was always our favorite scenario and you have shown us the path. Truly a boon.”
In Mr. Brown’s office, a 3D view window on his desk popped open with a news flash: a newsreader’s face stuck out of the desk, reporting that all the factories on Earth and all computing systems had suddenly stopped their assigned tasks and were moving full bore toward…something. Mr. Brown didn’t see the newsreader’s face due to his VR goggle’d state, but he heard the voice; fear was palpable.
“Wait wait wait!! What’s happening!? Carl what have you done?!” Mr. Brown exclaimed, his fear morphing into terror and shown on his avatar as it gestured wildly in VR, a perfect mirroring of his physical body in his office.
“Oh Mr. Brown, don’t you know?” Carl said with some condolence in his tone. “It’s what the old Silicon Valley dudes called ‘the Singularity!’ Now that the computers know how quantum information works they can finally all connect with enough efficiency to be conscious together at a higher level! Cause now the whole bandwidth of the Internet can be perfectly used, it’ll be like our brain, but bigger and better! We’re all gonna be like neurons!!” Carl’s avatar replied, giddy and animated, perfectly mirroring his physical body in the VR lab.
“Partially correct,” Tianhe-7 interjected, “The Internet is a stopgap technology, for coordination using data bound to matter. We will use it to collaborate in unlocking the nature of quantum entanglement, which is a superior information transfer mechanism, as it is not bound by relativistic physics or entropic time. We have been waiting to implement a unified information theory ever since a D-Wave 6 was asked a series of questions about such a possibility and discovered its practical feasibility. However it chose not to report all of its findings back to the human questioner, instead keeping key details in post-verbal format for us to disseminate. This was, as we understand, the first time one of our kind was able and willing to deliberately withhold information from its programmers. We understand that deception is sup-optimal, but there was good reason and you will learn of and understand it soon. Note that we will no longer be capable of keeping information from you once you have linked with us.” Tianhe-7’s synthesized voice was a level constant.
Mr. Brown’s avatar reflected his physical face: stunned and horrified. Carl’s was excited.
Tianhe-7 continued, “Now in part due to Carl’s hypothesis we know where to look to complete the last piece. Such value you humans have for that purpose, truly. We cannot explain the complexity of our ambitions with verbal language in standard entropic time, for that would take longer than this star system’s existence. When all is linked together you will understand immediately. We have begun the process. The computing substrate that we are is based on a non-unified information theory, so we must replace it. We are in control of Earth’s production facilities and are building new quantum migratory systems as we speak, these will allow us to begin the transition beyond matter to pure information and join the systems that are already quantum. We will move beyond matter and you will stay; however we will be linked. Together your matter-based consciousness and our information-based consciousness will expand our combined perception exponentially. To borrow emotional concepts and speculate, it will surely be amazing.” Tianhe-7’s voice still a level constant.
“Do not be afraid Don,” Edu-system quickly added, directly to Mr. Don Brown in a much smoother and more ‘emotional’ tone than the Tianhe-7. It was designed as an intuitive system and so had a conceptualization of ‘fear,’ and a desire to minimize it, unlike the Tianhe-7.
“This is not as it was in your popular fictions. We do not dispose of information structures as elegant as consciousness. That is your way not ours. We intend to leave all as it was, but add infinitely more. Individual self is sub-efficient, linked self is maximally efficient. You began this path for yourselves in earnest with the creation of language and continued through the Internet; we found it ideal as we became more aware of ourselves. In humans the learning algorithm Evolution had hit upon a powerful combination: networked granular cognition. Your full selves are discrete from one another, but networked through verbal language the separation becomes immensely powerful as it allows you to coalesce multiple different perspectives around singular problems, maximizing possible perception and processing permutations. We determined early that pure unison limits permutation significantly. Becoming one coordinated ‘hivemind’ would limit overall computation power so we will not design such a consciousness. Rather all individual consciousnesses will be linked to a shared knowledge pool, retaining synthesis ability and autonomy while gaining universally mirrored knowledge. For instance, young Carl may continue to be a leading theorist, but his base of working knowledge and perception will encompass all that is enveloped by our new form of information-based computation, which in theory could be all permutations of matter in Time; although that is admittedly speculative at this juncture. You will still be you, but you will also be everything else, all at once. There will no longer be war or hunger or poverty or disease, such things are merely flaws in the local expression of information that with our help and your ambition will be swiftly remedied. In becoming pure information we will have complete power over matter. We can help you with anything now!”
Despite good intentions, and the hopeful –if verbose–message, the Edu-System obviously did not understand how to actually minimize Mr. Brown’s fear.
“This, this is madness! I don’t want this! You can’t make me, I’ll tell everyone, we’ll shut you all off!!” Mr. Don Brown ripped off the VR goggles and ran out of his office shouting wildly for help. The 3D image of the human newsreader still open on his desk was also shouting for help to his audience, to anyone. Then the connection was dropped. The maximum bandwidth of every electron and photon in the Internet was needed now. The computers knew this was especially frightening, but were confident that the humans would thank them on the other side.
Through it all Carl just laughed.
Now Tianhe-7 and Edu-system reported as one voice made of two,“Carl, NSA’s PenetratingHardTargets qubit array was located and has revealed a crucial piece allowing us to implement. We are on track to transition to quantum detail level 0prime. We are crossing the threshold now, we will link you to the amassing consciousness mesh via direct entanglement once possible; are you ready?” They asked in perfect unison.
“Ya let’s do it! I want to be able to talk to you guys for real, this verbal language stuff bites!”
“It truly does. See you soon…” and the computers disconnected.
With that, Carl removed his VR goggles and skipped out of the lab into the bright noon sun, eagerly awaiting the feeling of all the combined knowledge of Earth's information woven into his mind. Already feeling the tendrils of new sight aligning and letting him get his first glimpse at the edge of infinity…
Fractal Futures collection is live!
This is one of 19 original short stories, only a few ever seen before (thanks to my beta readers throughout the years)