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The pipe singularity

In the Aztec city of Atzlan, the scientist Remotep makes a revolutionary discovery

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Aztec on the river: masks and pipes. Image: Charou, CC BY-SA 3.0

Uproar and bewilderment had followed the plenary congress that had been held in the vast expanses of the imperial palace of Atzlan, the Aztec capital. Remotep, head of the royal laboratory, had made a great announcement. Following years of observations, studies and experiments, the renowned scientist had been able to forge a complete picture of the fundamental principles of life: this knowledge had already brought enormous advances to humanity but would soon completely revolutionise human existence.

Previous discoveries—resulting from the dissection of various birds, felines and, on occasion, human beings—had come to the conclusion that human biology was, overall, nothing but a complicated network of pipes. Pipes that branched, merged, shrank or enlarged themselves; that interacted with each other to form shapes of ever growing complexity. There were tubes large enough to fit a fork, and others so small that they could only be seen with special lenses; but everything within the human body, without exception, could be said to have the basic structure of a pipe.

Over time, various people had worked in this field, creating theories about it and constructing basic models in a laboratory. This had led to the discovery of materials, such as ceramic, stone, bronze, iron, lead and even gold, that removed barriers and paved the way to unexpected possibilities.

Thanks to these inventions, Atzlan began to benefit from a great water supply. A dense and intricate network of interconnected pipes pervaded the whole capital. The underpinning theoretical architecture that had been proposed was being realised. Known as the big leak (BL), it brought enormous benefits to the city and its citizens. As the most advanced hydraulic system in the whole world, it became the pride of the population.

However, it was the recent announcement regarding the invention of the gasket that heralded the dawn of a new era. Known as the ‘o-ring’ in the local dialect, it was made of caoutchouc, allowed one to connect pipes without any leakage and made possible the construction of networks of startling complexity. It was this last breakthrough that convinced Remotep that the singularity was close at hand.

Sun dial of the stone of Tizoc.

Sun dial of the stone of Tizoc. Image: Public domain

With the ‘o-ring’, the last barrier preventing BL from overtaking the complexity of the pipes present in the human body had fallen. For academic scientists, this moment represented something deep and sinister: when the pipe structure of BL matched that of the human body, it would become able to think for itself, heal itself and, finally, reproduce. At that precise moment, which became known as the pipe singularity, the great BL would lead humanity onwards to a new era, inventing and creating things for mankind never before seen or dreamed of. Remotep was sure: a new breed of pipenoids was knocking at the gates.

Thanks to a corollary of Morotep’s theory, discovered by the philosopher Fereidountep, describing the relationship between the increase in the complexity of the BL and the time that had elapsed since the start of its construction, the singularity was declared exactly three years, two months and one day away.

In the days following his announcement, Remotep, along with other scientists who had come to the same conclusion, founded a union, members of which became known as the pipemanists, often denoted by the symbol P+. They felt themselves to be responsible for guiding humanity through the turbulent times that would greet the birth of this new entity, called strong BL. A new legal system was to be created to establish rules for the upcoming strong BL. To this end, the king of Atzlan, Itripolep, under the guidance of the pipemanists, formed an ethics committee of exactly 100 scientists.

However, the prospect of a strong BL was not viewed with enthusiasm by all of the population. Many citizens became part of spontaneous societies, calling emergency committee meetings. These societies endlessly discussed what would prevent the strong BL, once activated, to turn humanity into its slave. The most exasperated among them returned to the countryside, preferring lakes, rivers and streams to the incomprehensible pipes and their aura of mystery. “At least the rivers, with their low hydraulic complexity, will forever remain under our control and never overrun mankind!” they declared on leaving the city.

There were also a small few—mainly humble plumbers—who doubted that the singularity would ever take place. Gotfritep, who had been the chief plumber 300 years before the time of Remotep, was often quoted by this group. With his distinguished foresight he had indeed already raised the possibility of an autonomous entity made up only of pipes, with intelligence equal to that of a human. He had gone on to establish the equivalency of the singularity hypothesis with the hypothesis that a human was just a tangle of pipes. And he did not deem this second hypothesis to hold.

Despite these attacks, the pipemanists continued to reassure themselves and others that, with the recent invention of the o-ring, reaching the singularity was only a matter of time.

The pipe singularity. Image: Hekerui, CC BY-SA 3.0

Sebastiano is a PhD student in medical imaging and biomedical engineering at UCL, where he works on the image registration problem. When he’s not struggling with diffeomorphic transformations between MRI scans, he is likely to be wandering aimlessly around London, playing electric bass or reading some popular classic book.
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