Silicon Crisis, (Sci Fi Short Story)

‘OK everyone,’ shaped Ruhazx, ‘commence recording, let’s get started’. He glanced at a small fluctuating object at the corner of his vision. ‘The time is Galactic Rotation 320.15869131 er 27 and we are here to discuss the on-going information storage crisis of the Grand Galactic Computer.’
He opened all channels and eased himself back into a perfect sphere, his most relaxed non-expressive form. As head of Galactic Communication and Information Systems he held one of the most prestigious jobs in the Milky Way and it wasn’t long before the other members at this virtual meeting settled down and focussed. One or two were making minor adjustments to their personalised sensory information systems in the sub-atomic string communication matrix that that was interconnecting them all across the light years that divided them. There were 143 of them altogether, each representing a vast region of galaxy, each communicating in a different way, and now all able to understand one another.
‘So A278A7, brief us on the current situation please’, continued Ruhazx, with a flurry of shape changes. A278A7’s area on everyone’s divergent receptors magnified slightly, to reveal a small pod shaped object floating in a methane sea and communicating using different coloured chemical trails that were squirting out from a mass of tiny capillaries at what appeared to be its rear end. ‘Well sir, our current capacity for information storage is, as you know, restricted by the limited quantities of silicon available in the known universe. Approximately 85% of our silicon quota is now used solely for information storage, 9% is needed to run the computer’s operating systems, which means we have only about 6% to spare, and at current expansion rates we are going to run out in just under a tenth of a galactic rotation. Worse, as we approach the end of available silicon the demands on it will start to compete and, unless we do something about it soon, the entire computer system will slow down even further’. More than a few of those present expressed weariness at this.
‘Which means’, continued A278A7 ‘that we have to find ways of reducing the volume of information stored’
‘Couldn’t we just be more efficient in the way we store things’ asked an animated green pool from an outer galactic region.
‘Nah’ signed A278A7 ‘not significantly. Over the last couple of GRs we have made massive savings in memory through the improved compression of data and the removal of duplication; there are several solar systems working on nothing else, but the rate of technological innovation in this area is falling and we have diminishing returns. Rising demands for storage are far outstripping increased efficiency.’
‘Well then what about increasing available silicon?’ asked the green pool, using ripples on its surface to communicate. A278A7 supressed a yellow squirt of dismay at the naivety of the question: ‘Well, I’ve allowed for some further discoveries of the element but as you know all 300 billion stars in the galaxy and all the various planets, and other objects orbiting them, have now been mined for as much silicon as current technology and finances allow. I don’t think we can have missed much. There remains the possibility of buying silicon from other galaxies but with the great distances involved this is scarcely practical, and becoming less so, as the universe expands. Besides, silicon is in just as much demand in all our local galaxies so it is hugely expensive’
‘So how about using a different element to silicon?’ rippled the green pool. This time A278A7 allowed itself to express a little irritation with two short squirts of clashing red: ‘Really! This kind of thing has been looked into for GRs and I refer you to the many research papers on the subject. As a tetravalent metalloid, silicon forms a better semi-conductor dialectic interface than almost all other material combinations. This factor, together with the fact that it is the ninth most common element, by mass, in the universe, makes it ideally suited for our purposes. Moreover the technological complications of moving to another element would be immense and are certainly not realistic in the short time frame we have. No, we are stuck with silicon. The main point is that demand for it is vastly outstripping supply.’
‘But if it’s really the 9th most common element’ asked a silver spring shaped being, flicking diversely through electromagnetic wave bands, ‘how come it is running out?’ A278A7 violeted: ‘because, of course, it is used for many other purposes besides ours. It is widely used in the construction of a range of artificial materials. It is also essential in the metabolism of almost all known plants. You probably have a high percentage of it in your own body’ it added under a mischievous pink wash. ‘Which means that, despite the fact that Silicon is so common, supplies are running out.’
‘Well what about getting a higher allocation of silicon for our purposes from the galactic authorities?’ asked a formless member, given artificial appearance for everyone’s benefit by a fluctuating two dimensional line.
‘No,’ answered Ruhazx, coming in, much to A278A7’s relief. ‘No, we can’t do that. The allocation of silicon, and indeed all elements, between the competing needs of the galaxy is not the remit of this meeting. I could make representations he added, slightly reluctantly, using stiff shapes, ‘but the process is lengthy and for today’s purposes we are stuck with existing quotas. There’s no avoiding it, we have to be decisive today.’ He assumed the shape of a sharp spike and froze for a moment to allow everyone to absorb his communication. ‘So can we agree’ he continued, moving his forming through a waterfall, then a whirlpool, ‘to the most obvious and easiest solution: that we delete some of the information currently stored on the computer?’ He watched their responses briefly. There were a few affirmations and no dissent. ‘Good, then, thank you A278A7, now who was it who was looking into the criteria for deleting information?’
‘That was me’, replied a soft, pink, antenna nervously fiddling with buttons in front of her.
Ruhazx glanced at his moving reference object which signalled: ‘Volula from section 21’. ‘OK Volula, how did you get on?’
‘Well sir,’ she pulsed ‘I subdivided information into small categories and then weighted each category according to how much it has been accessed throughout history, and how recently. Then I ranked them all. The categories with the highest ranking are those which haven’t been accessed very much in total and definitely not for a very long time. The top trillion categories ranked in this way take up around 5% of our information storage so deleting these would be a good start.’
‘Excellent’, shaped Ruhazx, ‘that sounds like a sensible proposal. Can you give us an example then of one of these information categories so we all have an idea the type of information we might delete? How about you describe the highest one on your list?’
Volula paused briefly to look this up. ‘Yes sir, the highest item is, uh, slightly unrepresentative because it takes up a smaller than average proportion of memory, it hasn’t been accessed for 32 GRs and even at the peak of its demand the total number of times this category was accessed was a vanishingly small fraction of total information requests.’
‘So what’s the category, Volula?’
‘er.. ‘All matters relating to an extinct species known as Homo Sapiens’’
‘What a weird name for a species,’ communicated Ruhazx, moving through a bizarre shape ‘has anyone here any knowledge of them’. No-one responded. ‘Good’, he continued, ‘because if anyone had I would have doubted Volula’s methodology!’ He vibrated gently. ‘So what do we know about them Volula?’
Volula consulted the space around her for a few seconds. ‘Well they didn’t survive for long at all, less than one millionth of a GR, and they died out about 34 GRs ago.’
‘How did they die out?’
‘Oh, um, a combination of resource mismanagement and in-breed fighting’.
‘So they weren’t a very sapiens homo then?’ joked Ruhazx with another little vibration. Moderate amusement communicated back to him. ‘And did they interbreed with any member species?’
‘er – only marginally sir, they have contributed about 10 to the minus seven of our gene pool.’
‘Wow is that all? That is insignificant!’ shaped Ruhazx as he reminded himself privately that his own species currently accounted for nearly 3% of the gene pool and rising. ‘So do any of you have any objection to us deleting this category and all the others in Volula’s 5%?’
‘A being with a huge olfactory artefact for a face, made a ‘No’ with a stale smell of rotting compost. A278A7 joined it, squirting black, Volula made a knot, and all the others communicated agreement in their various ways.
Ruhazx made a hole. ‘Fine, in that case please delete those items now.’

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