an exhaustive search for the truth

short stories collection - a compilation of my short stories.

Summary

The project had started out with a simple question: would it be faster to assemble complete knowledge about all truths past, present, and future through scientific inquiry or via brute force computation?

The number of draft short stories has been piling up without any being put up on the site. To get around this, i'm trying a new style of writing: finish writing in a single sitting and with around (or less than) 1500 words. This should allow me to get more stories out while i work on the longer ones. Here's the first of the bunch, inspired by a conversation in lab.

The terminal blinked. PASSWORD?. The words shouted in an unnecessary show of non-verbal anger. Many synthetic systems had begun to do that. Gather a whiff of personality about them. Bad programming on part of a human? Error in some aspect of the self-modifying code? No one could say. The systems had become too complex. Too weighed down by generations of various programming styles, syntaxes, and other oddities. The best one could hope for was that the person before you had done their job.

I had finished punching in the password. Bits streamed from the central server with the block of texts i was to analyze. The task? Checking several hundred thousand documents each day. I looked for information: people’s names living and dead, pieces of scientific or cultural knowledge, strings of text that followed valid grammar and spelling rules (and thus might contain yet undiscovered information), and various other tidbits. The job had begun when i was only seven. They trained people early as the lifespan of a human was short and the amount of knowledge of be sifted through immense.

The project had started out with a simple question: would it be faster to assemble complete knowledge about all truths past, present, and future through scientific inquiry or via brute force computation?

The debate began to rage. As it did the simple math was worked out and the project started in secret. Least humanity lose valuable time. The symbol system chosen was the Latin alphabet1 plus punctuation. This lead to around forty-two symbols chosen for the initial run.2 At the time, scientific papers rarely ran over 100 pages. And if they did, were likely in need of a bit of shortening. Anyways, it was decided that this would be the number of pages for each ‘book’ or combination of the forty-four letters. Printed text contained about 3000 characters per page. Thus, each ‘book’ would contain about 300,000 characters. And we wanted to elucidate all possible knowledge within this defined space. This would mean 42300, 000 possible books.

Written like that (and it was always written that way in project documents) the number always seemed small. And, to anyone reading this little entry of mine, you surely don’t need a lesson in why it is so immense as to squash any hope of actually finishing the project. But basic science was floundering then. Nearly all possible sounds that could be interpreted and found pleasing to the human ear had been created and produced. Culturally the world was in a decades long retro-spree in search of the Next-Big-Thing. So the project was given the green light. Many hoped that qubits and other exotic forms of computation along with improved algorithms would reduce the sear size of the problem. They have not.

So here i was in a dank warehouse on the outskirts of a rotting North American city with thousands of other sorry souls. Attempting to do the impossible.

“Hey, hey Bow Hunter,” someone called out from behind me. I continued to type away at the terminal. “HEY! Hey Big Willow, Blue Corn, Bog Sailer. Hey, hey,” the voice drew closer. Jule was coming. He always had a new nickname for people. Was his way to spicing up proceedings.

“The second round of books is coming. Rather be out of here before then.” I muttered and continued staring at the screen. “No sleep past couple of days.”

He grinned a little as i said that. He never slept. He was always on some combination of drone, p-light, tomnonic, and who knows what else.

“Been having some ideas lately, you know? About how to take what we’re doing to level nine. Hell, they’d level up this whole goddamn country if word got out we implemented it,” he said, leaning on the waist-high glass wall that separated each desk-unit. He was really into old retro videogames. The early 1990s shit. People had been pretty good at archiving that stuff. For some reason.

“...”

“Hey, hey now Bacon Bits. You need to hear this out. Hear this ouuuuttttt,” he said excitedly and drew out the last word. I looked over at him. He appeared sound of mind at the moment. Noticing he had my attention, he grabbed a chair from a nearby empty desk-unit. His arms were always an array of black, blue, and red. He scribbled on them. A lot. Even though we’d gotten to the point were you could train an EMG-style headset to convert thoughts to electronic form. Albeit, in a highly error prone way. Anyways, he began to speak.

“Alright, alright, alright,” he said. His arms gestured wildly the entire time. “Know how we are trying to shift through all possible bits of useful information within a bound of...you know...say around 300,000 characters?”

“Yep. I do this everyday Jule.”

“Okay, okay. Yeah...I know, okay,” he was fidgeting a bit now. “Okay, okay, here me out. You listening Bug Lyme?”

“Bug Lyme?”

“Bed Burner. Happy? Now, now...okay hear this out. So we have videos, right? You know CCTV, drones, porn, the tellyyyyyy...” he drew that one out. He tried to intersperse British-isms sometimes. Found it annoying. “...monitors, phones, and all that jazz. You know? Alright, so hear this out. What if we took a combination of all possible videos...”

My eyes had begun to widen. Someone must have already thought of that. It was too simple. To easy. To obvious.

“Ahhhhh, i can see the cogs turning in that old V2 you call a brain. Now, think about this. Think about it. What if we just threw out an entire spectrum of the search space and ONLY,” he leaned in as he said this. Both his index fingers were pointed at me. He did that sometimes. Have not made sense of why or where he had picked up that mannerism. “ONLY look at the combinations of pixels that produced videos with time stamps. Of important historical dates. Ones a week, two months, centuries before or from now. IMAGINE! We could know every event...”

“That has ever happened or will happen,” i finished for him. “This was exactly why the project was started. You have read the original executive report?”

“Yes, yes. I know, okay. I know. Hear me out. Describe my arm.”

“What? White and hair with scribbles. A lot of scribbles. Some burn marks here and there...”

“Stop, STOP. See? How long would it take you to really describe my arm? Everything about it? No, you need a picture for that, a movie,” he had gotten up by now and was pacing in front of my desk. “Imagine. Imagine. What if we made one minute movies, you know? One minute movies that contained every combination of red, blue, and green pixel values at every pixel at 10k by 10k resolution,” he always thought big. His monitor was 2 meters on a side. His notepads were nearly as large. “Then we just have people watch. You know, this could be it.”

“Yeah. I get it.”

“No, no, no. I don’t think you do,” his voice carried a hint of annoyance. “This could be the ticket out of the malaise, you know? We could have people just WATCH. You know? What if a movie was one frame? We could re-create every possible painting. You know? Fantastic stuff like Oath of the Horatii to some shit like Orange, Red, Yellow. EVERYTHING. We could re-create every telly show...”

“Can you stop using British words?”

“Stop being such a bloody wanking chav,” he grinned. He then continued on as if i had not said a word. “We could sell this to the military. You know? They could just search the database for terrorists’ faces and see all possible scenarios they might undertake.”

“Search space is still too large. Not very convenient.”

“Then narrow it down based on current facts of the world. It’s brilliant. What do you say? Let’s start a company,” he immediately saw the mix of skepticism and horror creep into my features. “On the side, on the side. We can still get our bills here. But, hey, hey Bulging Bison. Look at me. That terminal will be there when I’m gone. What do you say? Want to do this? 50-50, we’ll split it even.”

“I will think it over. I want to leave here early.”

“Yeah yea, I know. But hear me out. Think about it Billowing Crow. There’s life in the idea.”

Author’s Addendum:

You are unlikely to be reading this except as a record of where the idea for Enumerate originated. Or maybe, in some far distant future, the computer’s have spit out a book with this exact story written inside of it. That thought never stopped bothering me. Nearly drove me made. Happened all over again when we started doing video. And not just to me. A lot transpired after the idea was made public. But that is for another entry. I sign off now. Good night.


  1. The project began around the late 21st century, during the waning years of the United States (and by extension English’s) technological preeminence

  2. Yes. Initial run. They had the completely asinine assumption that humanity would be around for version two of the project.

-biafra
bahanonu [at] alum.mit.edu

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©2006-2017 | biafra ahanonu | updated 12 december 2017
biafra ahanonu