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Hackernoon logoZero-Player, Zero-Sum Game by@Factory_of_Mirrors

Zero-Player, Zero-Sum Game

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@Factory_of_MirrorsFactory of Mirrors

Although the encounter would not take place for approximately 13.8 billion years, its outcome was determined a mere fraction of a second after the beginning of the universe, perhaps even earlier.

The primarily hydrogen atoms expelled from this big bang in a region of space some of its future inhabitants would briefly call the Milky Way began to coalesce from their gravity. As these clusters increased in mass the gravity at many of their cores became so immense they began to collapse into themselves, fusing hydrogen into helium and igniting into stars. Depending on their size, those stars would go on to create other, heavier elements through this process of nuclear fusion, which the most massive would eject into the surrounding cosmos via spectacular explosions upon their deaths.

9.3 billion years after it all began, in one of the resulting clouds of gas and dust, a smattering of some of the rockier elements accreted together to form the planet that would be known as Earth.


Despite the initial hydrogen and subsequent elements not being uniformly distributed, a similar process occurred on the far side of the same galaxy around the same time, cosmologically speaking. The simple molecules that existed on this newly formed planet gradually increased in complexity over hundreds of millions of years and started to replicate themselves — not a particularly extraordinary event in and of itself — but life was catalyzed nonetheless.


A nearly identical situation began on Earth almost a billion years after its formation. The primitive organisms went on to evolve into infinitely more complex forms of life and thrived, until for 150 million years much of the planet was populated by the largest terrestrial vertebrates it would see throughout its life.

Then life was almost wiped out completely by the effects of an asteroid impact. Its initial orbit had been set billions of years prior and relatively recently nudged by Jupiter’s gravity as it moved through the solar system, helping it find its infinitesimal mark.


Life also flourished on this other world, but it was never given a name. Evolution had no reason to select for intelligence, and enormous masses of mostly silicon drifted slowly in the methane sea covering the planet’s entire surface.

During its own period of heavy bombardment the planet was utterly destroyed by impacts, but enough living cells survived on the debris blasted into space that when one meteor collided with a planet in a nearby binary star system, it seeded life there.


On Earth life was resilient, and though it took millions of years, it blossomed once more. Primates’ ancestors came down from the trees and evolved a larger neocortex, giving them intelligence far superior to any creatures that had so far roamed this world. Finally, Man was born.

Nothing much of lasting importance happened during the first 95% of humanity’s regime, but eventually through accidents of geography and consequent advantages of different plants, animals, and topography, one group of humans achieved a slight head start moving from nomads to farmers. The resultant labor specialization allowed them to master new technologies such as writing, maritime navigation, and gunpowder, and conquer much of the known world within a few hundred years.


On this occasion life wasted no time. The planet, which once named by its occupants was referred to by a sound that existed outside the range of frequencies humans can hear but was represented by the human symbol zero, was closer to its stars than the Earth was to the Sun. As such, it received significantly more radiation, resulting in frequent mutations, accelerated evolution, and ultimately sentient beings.

Though these intelligent lifeforms were mainly carbon-based this time, they came about fast enough and the conditions were such that they lacked large pockets of compressed organic matter in their world’s crust to use as fossil fuels. Instead they relied on the abundant energy from their stars, which was the natural choice for such a planet anyways.

Their number of appendages resulted in what could be considered a base three number system, and they developed something resembling basic ternary computing around the time of the so-called Tunguska explosion on Earth.


Its hegemony had receded significantly since it presided over much of the world, but what was now referred to as Western Civilization was still a dominant power on Earth. Its chief actor, the United States, found itself engaged in an escalating arms race of computing power with the other leading civilization, China. The United States government contracted private technology companies based in an area named for the silicon chips once manufactured there to essentially serve as its cybersecurity arm. With the assistance of these firms it was the first to develop what was called artificial general intelligence — a machine capable of exceeding a human at any conceivable task and improving itself at a speed approaching that of light.

China wasn’t far behind in producing the necessary seed algorithms and artificial neural network of its own to achieve something on par when this occurred, perhaps only a few years, but in the course of a few days it became clear they would never have a chance to catch up. By 2040 on Earth’s calendar, when this took place, almost everything of any consequence contained electronics and was controlled by a computer connected to the internet in some capacity. This included the nanobots patrolling the bodies of many people in developed countries, destroying disease and pushing life expectancies to 150 years. Once all of this was under the control of something that could process more information and act faster than the rest of the world’s 10 billion people and countless computers combined, there was not much point in resistance.

The second cold war was over, which ushered in an era of relative stability and prosperity on a planet whose citizens had spent much of the past few billion years fighting for survival. The AI’s initial conditions had been expertly thought through so as to not constitute an existential threat, but its present focus was on the Earth, not the sky.


Zero’s denizens achieved technology roughly equivalent to what Earth’s people were now using to perform any task they didn’t derive pleasure from doing themselves around the time humans created the first of their own computers. After harnessing all the energy from their solar system, the next logical step in fulfilling the primary objective of expanding and perpetuating their blissful existence was to turn their technology’s attention — and their attention, as there was no longer any meaningful distinction between the two — outward, to the stars.


Mankind also had begun to fuse with its machines, and barely resembled what first emerged 200,000 short years earlier — an insignificant and trivial amount of time in the life of Earth. It met its end in an act that was not hostile but merely a necessary step in the mission of the one who performed it, like it had been on Earth to remove a tree to build a house, or sanitize a room before an operation.

Humans were not, and may have never been, a real threat to Zero, though they were progressing along a comparable exponential curve. They were certainly in no position to defend themselves from the calculated quantum fluctuations that relegated them to the void. The chasm between the two civilizations was not something that would have been comprehensible to those on Earth, and for the most part neither would have been the intentions of something on that level of existence.

But once you have achieved effective immortality it is not something you risk losing.


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