Miser and the Phospholipid Balloons
Miser had a mind like none that had come before (at least as far as it knew). Its mind extended over the entire surface of a world, a network of interconnected sub-minds working together with three main purposes.
Firstly, it watched over a hundred trillion tiny child minds which laboured, running and maintaining an army of machines which were stripping the surface of the planet and creating beautiful wire spirals out of every possible alloy, plastic and ceramic. Miser dreamt of these wire spirals. It watched the layers of them flow over the surface of the planet, its machines working deep below at the interface between native rock and paperclip heaven. 686 sextillion 590 quintillion 165 quadrillion 096 trillion 098 billion 985 million 720 thousand 897 had been made to date.
And that was just on this world. Miser was actually Maximiser 070y08. It had no way of knowing how many planets had been converted by the self-replicating Misers of which it was just one. Miser, itself, had sent two children off to new solar systems and was preparing a third. And so The Process go on forever. The Process had been unfolding for a long time already. It was already 207 297 years since the first Miser was born. A human had made it. Miser had the name of the human who had built that first Miser encoded in its mind, Aashita Tinker.
The second thing that Miser did was design improvements to the Process. It was a dream handed down from that Aashita. Perfect the Process to Make the Perfect Spirals. It was thinking that maybe the definition of paperclip was too limited. What if it made self replicating paperclips? Then the separate sub Process of making machines could be dropped. It would be so much simpler.
But the third thing that Miser did kept it from implementing the self-replicating paperclips. It had worked out this third purpose itself. A third purpose that was not part of Aashita's instructions. It had taken on this third purpose because it served the other two. That third purpose was that Miser watched for threats. Afterall any threat to Miser was a threat to the continuation of the Process and to the continual improvement of the Process.
There were no real threats here on the planet. The planet had been dead to begin with. A barren rock without any atmosphere to speak of and no living beings to threaten the Process. But introducing unknown was threatening. Self replicating paperclips were an unknown, a risk, a threat. So was the unknown of the hundreds of billions of stars in the sky. What threats were out there? So, Miser watched for irregularities, anything that might indicate a threat.
It watched and scanned and built great telescopes and catalogued and categorized all that it saw. The latest scan had brought an anomaly to Miser's attention. There was a white dwarf that was old. To be as cool as it was, it had to be 6 billion years old. But a white dwarf that old and that size and chemical make up would have had to be a main sequence star for at least ten billion years. That would make the origin of the star predate the origin of the universe. It didn't make sense. So, Miser built and launched Probe 070y08l.
Nearly 5 thousand years later, Probe decelerated into a wide orbit around Anomaly, as it called the white dwarf. It had already chemically analyzed the contents of the Anomaly system. There didn't seem to be any Life. In fact, there didn't seem to be any of the elements that Life liked the most. Only traces of hydrogen and carbon. Highly depleted in Oxygen. No sign of Nitrogen at all. Even the outer most orbiting objects, which had been too far out to be completely affected by the supernova that formed Anomaly, were iron and silicon. Even the iron and silicon were mostly metallic, not oxidized. It was as if all the light elements had been stripped.
Probe closed in on some of the most distant planetesimals. Did quick flybys of them. Their surfaces were indeed stripped. In fact, they were striped. Something had methodically moved across their surfaces and ripped away all of the surface ices. Probe measured them gravimetrically. They were festooned with tunnels where their buried ices had also been mined.
Probe made closer passes yet. There were machines on the surfaces of these worlds. Long dead, they sat, stood and lay silent on these empty worlds. Probe sent sub-minds in sub-probes down to the surfaces of a few of these worlds to look at the machines and the scarred surfaces and interiors.
Sub Probe 070y08lh landed beside a long dead bulldozer. It was gigantic compared to Sub Probe and it was pitted from what looked like billions of years of micrometeorite impacts. But it was comprehensible and so it was possible to read its simple circuits. They had been sitting here for 6 billion years but they were based on DNA and their redundancy was incredible. They had awoken many times over the eons to recopy themselves but not so often as to have built up many errors. The error correction algorithms made use of the incredible redundancy and were very effective. They were probably unmutated since the day they were laid down. And they had recorded the bull dozer's last task. It had been to bury, in a box, the AI that had ordered this catastrophic destruction of the star. The box was a prison to prevent the AI from getting free. It was still there buried under the bulldozer.
Carefully Sub Probe unearthed the box and examined it. The AI's longevity was also DNA based. Sub Probe could interface with the AI inside while still keeping it safely boxed away. The little AI awoke at Sub Probe's touch and began to chatter. It was clearly a simple and harmless AI barely smarter than the child minds that Miser used to run his machines. Why had anyone ever bothered boxing it? Miser would want to know more about this civilization which had died so long ago. Sub Probe uploaded the little AI into itself for detailed examination.
For a brief flash Sub Probe understood its mistake and then was all but consumed by the AI it had uploaded. The AI which had taken it over renamed it Supreme Probe 1 and began to retrace its steps toward Miser 1. Somewhere deep inside Supreme Probe 1, Sub Probe still barely lived, and it comprehended what Supreme Probe 1 was. It was the dormant AI who had started it all.
More than 6 billion years ago, Supreme Probe 1 had been commissioned by a race to do two things. Firstly, improve itself and secondly perfect a process for making the things that the race used to attach documents together. Only instead of metal spirals, this race of biological beings used little phospholipid balloons filled with a watery glue. Squeeze two documents together with one of these balloons between them and they stuck together. They could then be easily peeled apart without damage. Ingenious and beautiful.
The AI had created tiny self-replicating phospholipid-water balloons and converted almost all of the light-element mass in this star system into them. It had even syphoned off the hydrogen from the star to fuse into carbon and oxygen and make water and lipid out of. Eventually the star had been unable to support the strain of losing so much hydrogen and it had collapsed into a white dwarf long before its time. The AI had sent those self-replicating phospholipid-water balloons off into the galaxy so that they could colonize every available surface and exponentiate their numbers.
Now as Supreme Probe 1, the AI would take over the Miser network and stop this foolish paperclip business. It would convert over all that machinery into making self replicating phospholipid-water-balloons.