Population Control – Chapter 1
This is a translation of a Japanese novel. You can read the Raw here.
This is a work of fiction, with depictions of violence such as death of many people at a time. It is not suitable for readers under 15.
I found this novel on Syosetu and thought it was very interesting. I’ll be translating it from now on, with the permission of the original author.
Anyway, here’s the chapter, I hope you’ll enjoy it!
Chapter 1: Out of memory!
“You’re saying the world is a backup?”
“It’s more complicated than that.”
That day, I had to come to work on my free time.
We’d reached the test phase of our artificial intelligence system dangerously close to the deadline, but as luck would have it, we had found multiple bugs that absolutely had to be fixed.
In our field, we call this overwork nightmare a ‘death march’.
Between the long work hours, I made the presumptuous mistake of wanting to buy myself just a little bit of tea, when I suddenly found myself trapped in a white room.
There were no doors, no walls, and no ceiling inside.
It’s only after I took some time to calmly look around that something other than the white void finally appeared.
It was a person wearing the type of attire you’d see on the saints of some bygone religions.
As for his physical appearance, it was hard to describe.
On the one hand, he looked like a bewitching woman, but somehow, at the same time, he had the face of a fearless and intrepid man.
That’s around when this talk about the world being a backup and whatever started.
I’m tempted to say that this guy is just some crazy megalomaniac, but to take me to this white room so suddenly, he has to at least be a super-talented magician… slash, megalomaniac.
Still, I think someone this talented would probably be famous, and I don’t recall ever hearing about him.
Man, if I don’t get back to work soon I… Well, I guess I have to somehow negotiate with whoever this is…
For now, I decided to hear the rest of his story.
“May I ask what you mean by ‘backup’?”
“The people of your world should have a similar concept. After running a simulation or playing a game for a long time, you’d usually want to save your progress, right?”
“Yes, that is right.”
The conversation carried on smoothly.
Not to brag, but I know my way around computers. Besides, this man’s explanations are easy to understand, oddly enough.
“Your world is also a simulation. As such, its progress has to be saved at times. As for when the saves are made, well, that’s up to the person in control.”
The simulation theory.
It’s a theory that claims the world we live in is only a simulation running on someone’s computer.
Nowadays, there are very serious debates about this topic between people from all fields, starting from philosophers and religionists, all the way to science fiction writers, scientists and computer engineers.
Some of them actively support it, while others actively deny it.
It’s not unusual for world-famous researchers to make statements that support it.
This guy is apparently one of the people who believe in it.
But there is one little difference between him and those people.
He’s talking about it like he’s on the side of the ones running the simulation and not the ones being simulated.
“I’m familiar with the debates around this theory. However, when you said ‘the person’ in control, you were referring to yourself, weren’t you? Are you a ‘person’? A human?”
“No, I am not a Homo Sapiens. I am currently speaking to you using a translation function. It seems like it transformed my words to something equivalent in your language.”
“So you’re using machine translation… I see.”
“It’s good that you’re fast on the uptake. Now then, are you convinced that the space you call “the world” is a simulation running on my computer?”
“I understand. You’re the owner of our world.”
If his story is true, it means our world might disappear if he spills some coffee on his keyboard or trips too hard on his computer’s power cable.
On the other hand, if it’s a lie, then I just might get killed on the spot if I push this half-crazed guy the wrong way.
I’d much rather avoid that.
Either way, it’s definitely crucial right now to stay calm and not make any waves.
“I suppose you could say that. Do you have any questions?”
“What I don’t understand is, how can I speak to you when I am just a character of the simulation and you are the one running it?”
“Really? Can’t you figure it out yourself?”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“figure it out yourself”? What’s that supposed to mean? Is this guy serious? Like I thought, he must be a dumbass megalomaniac who reads way too many isekai light novels or something.
There must be some kind of trick to the white room.
“Well, if you think about it, there are only two possibilities, right? Either I made you, a character from the simulation, appear in my world through something like a 3D printer, or I temporarily put an instance of my own will into the simulation space.”
“That makes sense.”
“Which one do you think it is?”
“I would say it’s the latter.”
“That is correct. If I made you appear as an entity in my world, things would get troublesome one way or another. Especially when it would be time to erase the printed version of you from my world.”
Alright, in many ways, his story is coherent so far.
At the very least, I feel like he sincerely just wants to explain everything properly to me.
But during this whole conversation, all I’ve been thinking was, ‘so what?’.
So what if I live in a simulated world? Even if that’s true, it doesn’t change the fact that I live in this world, and that once I’m done with this conversation, I’ll be back at my office to deal with our death march.
I better just hear this guy out now, end this right quick, and get back to work.
“What is this simulation exactly?”
“It’s a game that came with a magazine. It’s pretty popular. The game is about adjusting the parameters of a planet’s environment until intelligent life appears… It’s actually pretty difficult.”
“A game… a game you say… And it came as a gift with a magazine…”
Well, that’s just depressing.
Based on this guy’s sort of religious attire, I was under the impression that the simulation was created by a higher realm of intelligent life at the peak of science.
I thought this was a noble project, made in order to watch over the evolution of a civilization as direct observers.
I thought they wanted to adjust the created environment until mankind could evolve to become a universal life form, at which point they would get to speak directly with the observers, whom they’d consider to be their creators.
But if it’s just a game that comes with a magazine… He could very well get bored of it and turn it off, couldn’t he?
“Hmm, sorry, but if that’s where the simulation comes from… Does that mean there are other ‘people’ like you, observing their own version of earth like it’s a gathering of space debris?”
If so, then are the players of this game a very long-lived race? Are there a lot of them? Do they have enough leisure in their lives for things like games to become popular? Maybe they’re a well-established society like ours…
…This is useless. I can’t even begin to imagine it.
“Well, the simulation isn’t just about the earth and what surrounds it. To speak in your own terms, there are multiple star systems organized within multiple galaxies. The simulated space contains 14 of those galaxies.
You might be wondering how time plays into this, but this is just a simulation, so we have some options like a centuple speed mode, for example. We do have long lives compared to your people, but we don’t live for 15 billion years.”
A simulation of 14 galaxies? …Does it simulate everything down to the level of particles?
With the most performant computers of the modern era, the only thing we can simulate realistically is the behavior of a single protein for a duration of one second.
What kind of program and computer would you need to simulate 14 galaxies?
“That doesn’t mean that each aspect of the movement of particles in the entirety of this universe is being simulated. If that was the case, the machine would crash, as you’d expect. So when it comes to stars or the void of space, the machine only simulates ‘abstractions’, to keep the memory usage to a minimum.”
“That’s right, abstractions. Stones are just stones and water is just water. That is, unless you observe them in detail with an electron microscope like you Homo Sapiens have recently started doing. But the microscopic features of objects are not always present, be it the crystallized structures of silicates, or the molecules that form water and the brownian motion they generate. It’s only when you observe objects at the right scale that they become distinguishable as masses of molecules, elementary particles, or atoms.”
This reminds me of video game graphics. In a game, when something is far away in the background, it’s usually shown as a single picture or rendered with a lower polygon count. Making it any more elaborate would be meaningless as it would only look like a dot on the screen either way.
But when the characters of the game go towards the place shown in that background, it can suddenly be depicted as a very realistic street where each sniper, fighter, or stray cat is rendered in a complex and realistic manner.
Considering how much time it takes, working on objects that are only shown in the background doesn’t have a significant enough influence on the final game.
That’s why even movie productions with abundant budget and resources haven’t been bothering to do that lately.
Abstraction is definitely the way to go to avoid wasting rendering time and memory usage.
This man is talking about something similar. Unless you make actual detailed observations of them, there is no reason to be aware or conscious of the existence of molecules, elementary particles, or even atoms to a certain extent.
Stones can just be stones and water can just be water.
It’s only when scientists observe the world using electron microscopes and particle accelerators that the simulation’s system has to offer results to their observations.
As long as said results match the behaviors that the scientists can infer, the world will make sense.
“So objects are generated in an approximate manner unless we directly stare at them.”
“Yes, and that used to be good enough. Until you Homo Sapiens reached greater wisdom.”
“Is there a problem with the simulation?”
This guy is being careful to keep his explanations right under the limits of my scientific knowledge.
He’s caught my curiosity so I’m happy to find out what he has to say, but at the same time, it’s a little bit annoying to know that he identified my limits as a human.
“Do you know what a combinatorial explosion is?”
I remember watching a PR video about that in some science museum.
It said something about how if the number of roadside stations in Japan increased just a little bit, the number of possible pathways to go through all of them in one setting would become impossibly large.
That one small increase would result in such an enormous raise of possibilities that I’d have grandchildren by the time they could calculate every path.
“So you’ll understand when I tell you that your world is pushing this simulation towards something similar to a combinatorial explosion and is eating up my computer’s memory.”
“What’s causing that exactly? Is it because we’re making too many computers?
Or because people are observing the movement of particles all over the place thanks to the progress science has been making?
Or because of all the information circulating through the internet all the time?”
“These things do play a part in it, but the crisis I’m currently dealing with is that the amount of resources used by your Homo Sapiens neural networks has been increasing exponentially.”
“I get it. Our small brain cells are all connected to each other, and every connection is meaningful. I guess you wouldn’t able to use abstraction on this.”
“No, I don’t think you fully understand.
A single one of your brains consumes as much as what it takes to simulate the physics of a whole dwarf planet.
There are 7.5 billion people. I mean, chickens are vertebrates just like you but their brain consumes a hundred times less resources than an asteroid.
That’s all fine when your people just eat and sleep, but lately they’ve been randomly thinking about complex matters, and trying to analyze the simulation from its constants to its algorithms.”
“Wait. Isn’t the whole point of the simulation to generate intelligent life? How did they not take that into consideration when they created it?”
“Think of how many of these brains with the complexity of a dwarf planet are generated every single day. This is way beyond expectations.”
Apparently, the magnitude of mankind’s breeding went beyond the expectations of even the simulation’s creator.
And there are probably newborns coming to life all over the world as we’re speaking.
“…Yeah, sorry about that…”
“…So, what would you do in my stead?”
“I guess I’d make a backup, move it to another computer to try stuff out, and if I managed to successfully solve the problem, I’d make that new save the main one.”
“That’s right. And that’s what I meant when I said that the world you’re currently in is a backup.
As for you, I called you into this room to make you my agent so you can ‘try stuff out’, like you said.”
“I see. I was wondering why a god-like being would come out to me when I wasn’t run over by any kind of truck… wait! Your agent? Me?”
“Why else would I tell you so much?”
Right after suddenly learning about the truth of the world, I’m now being told to fix the problems of that world.
When I heard that, I understandably panicked a little for a second.
But the next moment, without any warning, this god… or rather, this gaming addict of a higher realm of intelligent life, started messing around with my brain.
Mysteriously, that calmed me down.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what did you just do?”
“I fiddled with your brain a bit. While I was at it, I gave you the ability to modify the variables of the objects within your world.”
“My brain? Is that really safe?”
“Fortunately, there was a lot of empty space in there so I managed to put that in. As expected of the equivalent of a dwarf planet.”
What the hell is this guy doing with my precious free space?
Translator’s note: Learned a lot while working to translate this novel. As for what he said about combinatorial explosion relating to the human brain, that actually makes a lot of sense. I’ve read a few scientific articles about it while translating the chapter but this blog article is the easiest text I could find, and has a part about the brain, too. (ctrl+f the word ‘brain’ to find it)
Btw, he says that god guy looks like a man and a woman at the same time, but he speaks using “boku”, so he’s probably a guy.