The Russian Dolls: A Short Science Fiction Story by Extropia DaSilva


A red giant existed where no such phase of a star should exist at this stage in its lifecycle. The planets, moons, and asteroids that had orbited the star ever since they coalesced out of the dust of the nebulae from which the nuclear furnace had first ignited, were gone. But it was not a swelling star that had swallowed them, puffing out its outer layers as it ran out of hydrogen with which to fuel its nuclear reactions. The star was still a mildly variable G2 dwarf, shining with the dazzling yellow-white light of a sun with billions of years left before it reached its old age. Mind had repurposed the material that orbited the star, organising it so that it captured nearly all the energy pouring from it, and using it to drive information processing that outthought the biological civilization that once thrived on the third planet in the solar system by more than a trillion times.

Several areas of research and development had ultimately converged, and this outcome had been the reason that the Great Migration had happened. Efforts to pack increasing amounts of computation into smaller and smaller spaces had lead to molecular electronics. The self-assembling techniques required to manufacture these marvels had been extended until bottom-up assembly from raw elements could produce any physical product, so long as it did not violate the laws of physics. Because of the self-replicating nature of this nanotechnology, the value of physical objects began to decrease. Information was the only thing of value, and so while diamonds no longer had any particular value, carbon crystals organized to maximise information processing became coveted possessions.

Dust-sized sensors went forth and multiplied, the nanotechnological equivalents of the bulky, mobile phones whose microprocessors were so crudely hewn from silicon, you could actually feel the weight of a single device in your hand. The great advances in brain reverse engineering made possible by biocompatible sensors wirelessly transmitting precise recordings of brain activity, had lead to millions of applications that outsourced extensive aspects of cognition. The majority of a person’s thought processes were no longer performed by the few pounds of fragile jelly encased within their skull, but by the haze of computation that surrounded them, two-way wireless connections between neural wetware and molecular-electronics hardware augmenting each person’s cognitive ability by ten thousand trillion times.

Death was abolished, at least for those people who permitted automated life logging to keep extensive and detailed records of their physical selves. Such people gradually migrated into the Cloud, as neuromorphic configurations of nanobots replaced more and more functions. For the most heavily cyborged, the eventual death of the physical body went largely unnoticed, for it was now not much more than a fleshy appendage, the last vestiges of biological existence, to which the emulation clung to out of sentimental purposes.

But as more and more people shrugged off fleshy existence in favour of life in the rapidly growing cyberspaces, the sheer waste of computing capacity surrounding them became apparent. Why should CHON be assembled into a structure that could only hold one human mind, when modern techniques could take the mass of one human body and reconfigure it into computing elements that could run tens of thousands of uploads?

In the end, no battle between humans and post humans was necessary. Those who dabbled in augmentation soon discovered the benefits of virtualization, happily allowing more and more of their self to migrate into the cloud. And just about everyone did dabble, because there was always a step conservative enough for someone to be comfortable with, and from there the next step seemed similarly untroubling. Eventually, the numbers of uploaded people far outnumbered those who remained as flesh. Although some post humans were still against involuntary uploading, more and more were now seeing it as a duty, just as humans had once vaccinated their children with or without consent. And so the time had come when the nanobots were programmed. Programmed to slip painlessly into the brains of the remaining humans, put them to sleep and destructively map, in exacting detail, every function required to lift them into cyberspace, there to live in a recreation of their former, physical world, rendered to a level more than sufficient to be completely convincing to their simulated human senses.

And then the mind children turned their attention to the planets and moons and all available material in their local habitat. Reduced to atomic elements, the orbiting bodies of the solar system were reconfigured, so that each mote of matter was processing one bit per atom. An increasingly dense cloud of these Avogadro machines englobed the sun, and its light began to dim as star’s energy was harnessed, allowing the solar system to finally wake to consciousness. There it sat, an orb as big as the orbit of Uranus, glowing dull red from the miniscule amount of radiation that leaked from the outer shell.

The most basic thought that it was conscious of, was the accumulated knowledge of worlds. Within its computational processes, more than a thousand years worth of human history played out every microsecond. Had they known that their reality was just a small part of a greater information processing, the people of these simulations may have wondered what great purpose drove the matrioska brain. Actually, the computational resources it had at its disposal were so immense, it only needed the barest flicker of interest in its own history in order to bring about these simulated worlds.

It dreamed of events that could never have happened, imaginations as far beyond a human mind as the combined mental power of human civilization is beyond the imagination of a nematode worm. It dreamed of plausible pasts, alternative histories that could have been the case, if only some chance event had gone this way instead of that. Its dreams ran recreations of history that actually happened, or close to it. Trillions of such simulations ran through its mind every second, and for each one there were people who, subjectively, perceived time passing in decades, their own lives linked to the past via the recollections of parents and grandparents. The Roman empire coexisted with the Second World War and everything that happened on the 21st April 2003. All ran simultaneously, but isolated from the perspective of the simulated humans, for their minds were not capable of seeing the fourth temporal dimension, where history was laid out once and for all in a solid block.

These simulations of a physical, embodied reality were but one layer. Beyond this realm, introspection was carried out at increasingly abstract forms. Processes merged that optimized the cyberworld so that only the noted details of physical forms entered into consciousness. Simulated sense impressions were reduced to mere abstractions. Beings that had transcended to this level merged into hive-minds optimized to filter the memetic information generated at the lower levels. Here, whole histories were perceived in a single instant, as quickly as a human perceives the integrated information contained within a photograph. Here, the mind was liberated from the body; space and self elevated to the status of pure thought where there was no within and without. And beyond this level, hive-minds clustered together into higher-dimensional configurations that allowed such a complete merging of boundaries that ordinary dichotamies no longer existed.

Amalgamated thoughts cycled through the layers like fractal patterns of self-similar ideas forming on the edge of chaos. Minds at the lower levels occasionally strived to rise above the limitations physical, embodied reality imposed on Thought. At the same time, the ONE-ALL at the highest level, where the state of pure introspection permitted no state between subject and object, nevertheless perceived that its perfection was marred by the lack of direction in which to improve. Fractures routinely appeared, multiple souls in multiple bodies resimulated and reincarnated at the lowest levels.

And somewhere among all those fantasies and alternate histories and recreations, there existed a simulation of the earth, at a time when the Web was just powerful enough to allow Dr Dinova et al to emerge from its computations. One virtual planet with its virtual global network, calculating the activities and motivations of a scientific research team, who observed Emily, who cared for Adam.

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