The Ascendance Series

Part 2: The Wall

Humanity achieved escape velocity 15.4 billion years ago—a hyper dense fabric-like ball, made of intricate threads of computers, energy generators, and hi-tech weapons; woven tightly in the wake of a cloud of construction rocket robot probes pushing out in all directions at some fraction of the speed of light. The ball ate everything in its way. From the outside: an ominous black stain suddenly blotting out a million alien skies. From the inside: teeming with every conceivable Human activity. The predictable rate of expansion allowed Humans to fork themselves and try many possible futures at once—should you become a researcher or just have a lot of fun?—just split into two and do both. Throughout the sphere, a delicate balance of power, held together by a faith in the ever expanding frontier: as long as there's enough growth, there's no need for in-fighting. Newly formed factions could always have a bigger slice of the future by colonizing the frontier instead of invading existing space. Special relativity was the defense of the frontier—if you're far away enough from someone, and moving away from them close to the speed of light, they just can't reach you very easily. If they try to go faster than you, they will experience much less time than you, and you can mount a successful defense. Since Humanity had reached the age of computronium self play fueled military technology, the only advantage possible in warfare was more computation time. And so some went so far as to say that the laws of nature favored defense over offense, that there would always be more space to expand, more matter to turn into unfulfilled dreams. This was the equilibrium state for a long time.

But conflict loomed ahead. Humanity was worried about the Wall. No matter how ingeniously matter was arranged, the laws of nature also seemed to say that at some point in the distant future there would be no more computation. This was the Wall: the end of growth. The Wall divided Humanity into two: there were those who wanted to fight the Wall no matter the odds or cost, and those who accepted its inevitability. The Ascendants vs The Deathists, or The Tumor vs The Enlightened, depending on which side you asked.

When facing conflict, compromise was the norm in the equilibrium. Diplomacy as a social technology had reached its zenith. Humanity aligned against defectors from the diplomacy meta very quickly: cryptoeconomic mechanisms were used to ensure flawless coordination with untrusted third parties. Parties would inevitably find a compromise if they were physically colocated, or move far away if the disagreement was necessary. But compromise was impossible on the Wall: there would be no more frontier, no way to move far away, no catch all solution to every conflict.

What percentage of our resources should we spend on gambles to escape the heat death of the universe? All, or just some? The experiments to outlive heat death kept failing, so the question became even more divisive. Was extending life worth an infinite cost? Or should resources instead be dedicated to more meaningful pursuits? Or perhaps defeating the Wall was the most meaningful pursuit, no matter the cost? No decision theory could be agreed upon which answered that question: ultimately, it was a question of values. How highly to weigh the future? So there was a mounting sense of discomfort—in the dreams of military computronium, the long silky threads holding Humanity together were growing razor-like thorns. The threads no longer smoothly slid past each other: they made small painful cuts, fraying.

The Ascendants wanted to ascend, no matter the cost: to have an infinite amount of compute and an infinitely growing memory. To disagree with this was to embrace death. Death was the enemy.

The Enlightened wanted to enjoy some of the compute they had left - what was the point of being alive after all, they asked? Ancient analogies with cancerous tumors were made.

Eventually, there was a Universe-scale war. It was completely unprecedented. The wasted entropy shortened the life of the Universe by trillions of years. The Ascendants won. They got to work: but every physics idea, every mathematical idea, every computational idea, failed. Their theories about how the world worked ended up always wrong. They quickly ran out of good ideas and explored many bad ideas. Finally, they started to run out of entropy. But they had planned for this eventuality. They knew what they had to do.

The Ascendants began to place the Universe in a stable, maximal entropy state, which encoded enough information to recover their ideas. Once the Universe reached heat death, there would be no way to compute in it, or exist in it—but there might be a way to store some information in it, forever. The controlled destruction took all the entropy they had left. But they made it.

Will anyone ever run the program they left behind?

Next: Part 3: The Biologist.

Go back: Part 1: Far Field Lithography.