White mars by Brian W. Aldiss & Roger Penrose. Chapter 19, 20

White mars. Chapter 19, 20


The R&A Hospital

On the following day, when I was resting, Dayo came to visit me again. He tried to persuade me to see what ‘the computer people’, as he called them, were doing. I could not resist his blandishments for ever, and got myself up.

Going with him to the control room, I found that Dayo was popular there too. He had been learning to work on the big quantputer with the mainly American contingent who staffed the machines. The striking patterns on his tiles for the Lower Ground had been devised using it.

The mainframe had originally been programmed to handle the running of the Martian outpost – its humidity, atmospheric pressure, chemical contents, temperature levels and so forth. Now all these factors were being handled by a single rejigged laptop quantputer.

I was astonished, but the bearded Steve Rollins, the man in charge of the programme under Arnold Poulsen, explained they had evolved a formula whereby interrelated factors could all be grouped under one easily computable formula. Our survival and comfort were being controlled by the laptop. The change-over had taken place at the ‘X’ hour, during a night some five months previously. No one had noticed a shade of difference, while the big mainframe had been freed for more ambitious things.

And what things! I had wondered why the control staff took so little interest in our forums and the Utopian society. Here was the answer: they had been otherwise engaged.

At Dayo’s prompting, Steve showed me the programme they were running. He spoke in an easy drawl.

‘You may think this is unorthodox use of equipment,’

Steve said, stroking his whiskers with a gesture he had and grinning at me. ‘But as that great old musician, Count Basie, said, “You just gotta keep on keeping on”. If you regard science as a duel with nature, you must never drop your guard. Stuck here on this Ayers Rock in the sky, we must keep on keeping on or we stagnate. Guess you know that.’

‘Guess I do.’

‘As a kid I used to play a game called Sim Galaxy on my old computer. It produced simulations of real phenomena, from people to planetary systems. If you kept at it long enough, fighting entropy and natural disasters, it was possible to get to rule over a populated galaxy.’

Steve said that his team had adapted a more modest version of the game, into which they had fed all the quantputer records, sedulously kept, of every person and event on Mars. The simulation had become more and more accurate as the programme was refined. Every detail of our Mars habitation, every detail of each person in the habitation, was precisely represented in the simulation. They called the programme Sim White Mars.

We watched on a widescreen monitor. There people lived and moved and had their being. Our small Martian world was totally emulated; the one item missing was Olympus, a being as yet incomputable.

I fought against the suspicion that this was not a true emulation but a trick, until Steve mentioned casually that they were using a new modified quantputer that computed faster, fuzzier, than the old conventional quantputer – certainly than any of the quantcomps people carry around with them.

The scale of the thing made me feel dizzy. Dayo was immediately at hand, fetching me a stool.

In full colour, recognisable people went about their business, around the settlement and in the laboratory. They seemed to move in real time.

The scene flipped to a schoolroom, where Belle Rivers was talking with a jeuwu class of ten children. Steve moved a pointer on to Belle, touched a key, and at once a scroll of characteristics came up: Belle’s birth date and place, her entire CV and many other details. They flashed on the screen and were gone at another touch of a key.

‘We call these simulated objects and people emulations, they are so precise,’ said Steve. ‘To them, their world is perfectly real. They sure think and act like real.’

‘But they are mere electronic images. They can’t be said to think.’

Steve laughed. ‘Guess they don’t realise they’re just a sequence of numbers and colours in a computer, if that’s what you mean.’ He added, in lower key, ‘How often do we realise we’re also just a sequence in another key?’

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Categories: Aldiss, Brian