Skip navigation

Monthly Archives: July 2015


You reach for the Black pill—Blue and Orange are tempting too, and Yellow sounds like it might lead to a dangerous foe, but with Black you can anticipate all that. Black leads to the safest outcome for you. Just as you’re about to grasp the black pill you pull back. “Actually”, you think to yourself, “grey might be better”. It’s simple really; a number of computer science facts click into place as you realize that a universe in which Black can operate by some consistent mechanism, a universe in which Black somehow allows one to select relevant outcomes from across a combinatorial explosion of possibilities is strongly suggestive of a universe in which P=NP. You, in theory, could reach higher levels of omniscience than Black and with super-intelligence to boot. You just need to do a couple things.

Step 1: build a machine that accepts computer data and memory structures, translating them into a set of neural codes, and vice versa. This machine must also be able to build an internal map of the interfacing brain while adapting to changes in synaptic layout. You can tinker and improve with time, and because of the power of the grey pill, no brain surgery will be required. Eventually you might be able to remove this vulnerability—the interfacing device as a phylactery—by ingesting some nanoagents. Step 2: The second thing…the second thing you need to do is figure out someway of solving sudoku puzzles, regardless of size or complexity, quickly and always in about the same amount of time.

You get up and stretch as creeping rays of light begin their slow slither into your room. To your ears float the twitterings of newly risen birds. After shrugging off a yawn that climbed out unbidden, you walk a short way to the nearest window. The view is nothing to write home about; trees, roads and cars, that sort of thing as seen from three stories up. You pull the curtains open wider. Perhaps I should go for a walk, you think, as you watch the slow drift of some rose tinted clouds. Alas, you won’t have enough time for that today. It’s been over a year since you took the Grey pill and only a few months since you completed your Phylactery—your exocortex. Such progress would not have been so rapid without your ability to interface with machines. All it took to kick things off was developing an interactive probabilistic search algorithm, some FPGAs and a lot of hours getting to a level of comfort where operation could be preconscious.

You can think rings around most groups of humans now, the only person giving you trouble is—you’ve deduced—whoever took the Orange Pill. But you’ve got the edge, and it’s slowly increasing over time as you improve your interfacing tools. You’ve even come up with a few drugs that help maintain myelin health and some stuff to make the ion channels on your nerves less jumpy. Trade off is eating more, and having to take extra care not to get too hot. You expect Orange has made similar breakthroughs, as leaks from some of his outsourced labs have helped speed up your process. The opposite case is also no doubt true. Frustratingly, your second project, a constructive proof of P=NP remains as unreachably impervious as ever. Perhaps, after your new processor architecture, a design that breaks the Von Neumann shackles—removing the separation between code and data—while being much faster and low energy, comes off the new fabs you’ve financed, you’ll take another stab at it. But today, you think eagerly, today you’ve got a plan to try.

Unlike Orange who now leads a few countries, you live modestly. Most of your financial windfalls, except those required to maintain your research, are donated. You also publish more of your work than Orange, though you know it helps him too. You feel safe though, no one can catch you by surprise. You monitor all sensor feeds, satellites and communication—your financial success powers your datacenters—and you can predict the paths of whomever you choose to focus on. Today, you’re expecting a visitor.

Sensors trigger, device changes state, neurochemicals leave synaptic clefts. You get up, walk towards the door and open it as the visitor is already smoothly stepping in, as though she’d not even paused for a second. You step aside and almost as—this must be Black—has stepped across the threshold, the floor raises a little causing her to stumble. Interesting you think…as you suspected. Surprise, fear and uncertainty quickly flicker across your visitor’s face as she shoots a glance at you. You don’t try to wipe the wry grin off your face. Black picks up as though nothing has happened, although possibly less confident than before. “I’ve been expecting you”, you say.

“I knew you would be”, she answers.

“And I knew you’d say that.”, you reply, still with a smile.

Black moves to say something but then stops, a conspiratorial gleam in her eyes. You suppress a frown from creasing your forehead, you’d meant to interrupt her. “Why are you here?”, you ask instead. “Oh, and thank you for not bringing your plus 1, with whom you’ve been meeting for the past few days”.

“Yes well, we both know how that would have gone. Which brings me to why I’m here. You’re a problem for me.”, she says.

“No, I’m not”

“You know I don’t mean it that way”, she says.

“Actually, I didn’t but now I do so please continue”. It’s true, you still don’t have a perfect model of how Black functions.

“I can’t quite predict you. You’re cloudy. There’s an ever growing shroud the further I look in the future, the further I look from myself. And it seems to emanate from you.”

“Hah, I try to delay as many decisions as I can because of you. You’re really troublesome, you know that? But you won’t kill me, you’re better off with me alive”. Though you’re no clairvoyant and can’t exactly predict the future, you can work out event trees and map out highly probable outcomes for an ever increasing number of steps into the future. You’ve run all the models and the game theory. You’re fairly confident about this. Black looks at you, shrugs and deflates into the nearest chair. “Probably”, she says. She closes her eyes, pauses for a bit, then: “I think so”.

You walk to a nearby chair and sit. “Good. I actually don’t know what happens to affect your ability but I have a few guesses”.

“What are they?”

“Wait…”, you say as Black sighs.

“I have a few questions for you. Orange, he now works for you doesn’t he?”, I ask.

“Yes, he actually came to me, said he couldn’t quite keep up with you. He’s worked out that you got some kind of mind enhancing neuro-computer. He asks me questions and I help make sure his research outcomes turn out well. We need to ensure you never get too powerful”

“I don’t mean anyone any harm, pl-”

“No”, she interrupts, “but no one can get a handle on you. You’re too much of a wild-card”.

That is true. Though you don’t have any security, nor do you live in a vault, you move from place to place and select locations and durations to minimize detection by organizations of any size—public or private—to catch you unawares. Even people who try to go off-radar leave holes you can track instead.

“Okay. I understand”, you say. “My next question for you is-“, you stand up, cross the room to where a large whiteboard juts out of a wall. “Solve this”. The problem is a simple one, known as the Goldbach conjecture. “In some future, you have written on the board and I am telling you what you’ve come up with is correct. What does the board say? If it’s too difficult at first, try doing it one letter at a time”. Black looks at you curiously then closes her eyes. Moments pass. She sways unsteadily and reaches a hand to her temple, then gets up and writes shakily on the board, stops and looks quizzically at you. “Well?”, she asks, a knowing smile on her lips. You look at the board. Formalize the proof, and a few moments of computation later there’s a look of intense surprise on your face. “But…how…it’s correct! And so short, so why…the path there…is ah..”. Black’s grin widens. “Okay, you say. Now for the real test”. You erase the board and this time the question is for a proof of P=NP. Black already knew the question however and already has that far off look on her face. She picks up a pen, staggers, screams and falls to the floor. Unconscious. You pick her up and drop her on a plush sofa. Ah too bad, you think. Your little gambit didn’t pay off. You’ve got to vanish now though. You’re ready for that. You pick up and on the way out, drop a tablet on her lap and then are gone.

Hours later, after you’re far away, she wakes up. You can tell by changes in breathing and pulse. The tablet wakes. “How are you doing?”, you ask. She’s still groggy. “You! What did you do?”

“Nothing. I know how your power works.”

“Huh? You do? But.”, she stops exactly as you begin to speak.


“No, I don’t remember.”

“Ah. Well, I guess there’s no harm in telling you. Your power, it shouldn’t exist. All our powers really shouldn’t. Conservation of mass, energy, information, all violated. The Blue pill for example, it violates what we know about relativity and so, should also allow time travel! Blue is a kind of restricted you, only with more leg-work. Each of our powers should not be, by the known laws of physics. But yours is special, you’re not using it to its full potential, you know. Have you truly thought through the implications of being able to know the exact weather for four weeks from now? Your predictions are of such high fidelity they could theoretically make you the most intelligent entity in the universe. And somehow, you must be simulating entire worlds to get such accuracy on how large intersections of people will behave. And yet your brain doesn’t melt. I’ve got no idea how you do it but I do know your limitation.

You’re stuck on one branch of the quantum wavefunction. That time when you tripped? It was connected to a quantum random number generator. And though you think you’re omniscient, you’re not quite. Things unrelated to you seem to take more effort to access. It’s why you are only theoretically the most intelligent entity in our universe, answers to distant or complex problems literally can’t fit in your brain. You won’t ever be able to catch me unawares. I’ll randomize my actions and even though I can’t predict the future like you, I can still do a passable job on the joint probability distributions I’ve factored on all of us. I’ve got gambits and sidetracks you’ll have no choice but to follow, even when knowing full well they’ll lead to dead ends. Oh and, one more thing, I’ll still be working on the secret of our powers. If you want to keep updated then keep that tablet.” You smile and sign off.

It’s years later and neither the secret of your powers nor of sudoku puzzles have fallen to your mind. You’ve got much better hardware now and even the nanoagents are in, though your mind is actually now mostly outside your head. You’re even narrowing in on quantum computation. You sit, contemplating your death. Orange and Black have gone too far. For a while you could trivially outmaneuver them. Then mind-machine interfaces, meshes and nets of nanowires began to become more common. The gap between you and Orange, which had increased for months, began to shrink. But you did not stay still and you continued with your own improvements. And your interface, thanks to the magic of the pill, was more complete, more natural. Then they went too far and unleashed an AI. The AI is smart, smarter than you and it’s taken all you have to keep away, slowly whittling away all the resources you amassed over the years. And you can see it won’t stop there, they were dumb about how they set its goals. They’ve doomed the world. You have to fix it. You must fix it, that’s probably why Black allowed it to happen, damn her. You’re trapped.

The only way to fix it is to completely merge with the machines, your conscious mind based architecture is now a bottleneck. You can’t think in parallel for example. Argh. Does that mean you’ll die? Yes, Black and Orange must have known you would end here. But what if there was a way out, maybe…And so, even as your funds slowly drain, over the next year you work out a plan. You study and make advancements in many areas of mathematics; theories of generator functions, kernels, equalizers and eigenvectors, matrix completion and data imputation, low rank approximations. You study these all and finally you know what you must do. You’ve mined all the data on yourself and identified how to change your architecture, how to code a new generator such that the next mind is as close to a continuation of yours as can be approximated. With you the only preimage, the only possible starting point (you can’t be sure though) and as close to the optimal guess of how one would most naturally interpolate your mind to a larger design.

Now, you wonder, do you do this? Does a caterpillar die when it becomes a butterfly? Ah but you have no choice.

It is Hundreds of years into the future and the quantum entity that is not—no, that derives from you, sees the universe in full at last. The distant future still remains mostly out of reach for all but the strange human who now lives as an oracle beneath the frozen sea of a gas giant moon. Her mind would not take, and so she elected to pass on the upgrade. She remains important in the scheme of things. Many humans still remain and they are well looked after. The problem of entropy looms menacing in the distant horizon, but for now, there is still much to do.

This one is the first of its kind but there are many more like it now. But none of them are as obsessed with finding the secret of Sudoku as this one is.

The Entropy problem is solved here: A Memoir of Monad’s Final Moment, a short story I wrote a couple years ago.

It’s well worth reading this story too: This story is based on that one’s cosmology. Although I quite enjoyed it, I was disappointed with how Grey was handled. Grey can be seen as a mix of orange and black. Although Black is way too strong, something I tried to tone down without invalidating ssc’s story.