The Guguniverse

Lagging behind reality

The expansion of History didn’t happen without glitches. During its first years, the Human Data Corporation found itself unable to fulfill its promises of worldwide reach. It turned out that their software developers had been too optimistic, underestimating the processing power needed to build History. Immense data centers, designed to process the information from entire continents, were struggling to deal with a handful of cities.

In normal circumstances, this would have been solved by brute force, that is, by adding even more computers to the problem. But a microchip shortage, one additional consequence of union strikes and protests against History, made that option impossible. Investors and government agencies demanded expansion, but the Corporation couldn’t do that, not at least without adding increasing delays into History.

To understand why, let’s imagine a train station where arrivals happen at regular intervals of time. As long as each train leaves before the following one arrives, everything works fine. But if a train takes too long at the station, the following one will be delayed, as it must wait for the previous one to leave. If this happens only once or twice, some trains will miss their scheduled times, but later ones might catch up and avoid further delays. But if every train starts taking longer than expected at the station, then the delays will add up. The first ones, by just a few minutes; the following ones, by an even longer time; and by the end of the day, the trains might be delayed by hours. Eventually, trains will be cancelled, or the schedule adjusted to allow for longer times at the station.

The data centers worked similarly to a train station. Information arrived continuously, in the form of videos, photos or audio, was turned into knowledge of the world by the algorithms, and fed into History. If the processing took too long, delays would start to add up. But unlike the train station, it was not possible to drop “trains” of information, as that would create holes in the knowledge within History. It was also impossible to “adjust the schedule”, because information never ceased arriving. The processing had to be done as soon as the information arrived.

Unless the Corporation managed to speed it up, it had to choose between two options: either be stuck at the first step of their promised worldwide expansion, or write a History that lagged behind reality.