The gist of this story is that we confirm that at every decision, called a branch, a new reality is created for each posibility, where they were the choice given. That's the layman's explaination, though. In reality for every quantum event instead of coming up one way it comes up another, which means there are functionally infinite different realities.

This is discovered when a breakthrough technology allows two things. First, it bends the Uncertainty Principal by allows us to observe phenomena without affecting them.

Roughly, while there is randomness from our perspective, because we're never sure which path "we" are going down next, because all of them are described in their own branch there's no randomness down a branch. This technology allows us to, roughly, inspect the structure of the branches. This means that while we cannot predict which branch we'll end up on, we can witness the possible reactions as though we could.

The scientific community goes crazy, most people talk about stuff, but it doesn't affect normal life. They were mostly excited about the Uncertainty Principal, and didn't look further yet.

Then, relatively soon after another group discovers that using that same technology, with some tweaks they provide, you can also look at other, more distant sibling branches, along with future and past branches. All of time our timeline roughly becomes a huge set of branches, and there are also infinitely more of them, and all can be inspected. This one is the one that's huge, and people remember forever, as this was the begining. Suddenly we knew that there were other parallel universes, and we knew because we could peer into them.

Now, at this level it was all quantum events. It was this spin going this way vs that way, so there wasn't a lot of practical use to it, but we could do it.

Things moved relatively quickly after that. Within the year researchers had machines that would, given todays exact time, find the set of branches of another time relative to now.

Quickly, lab work changes drastically. Universities all over are clambouring to get a hold of these machines, so that experiments could be performed, and then inspected with infinite detail after the fact. An experiment only needed to be done once, and then all outcomes could be explored with no equipment or operator error. The structure of everything could be witnessed, and essentially multiple experiments were performed all at once because all outcomes were present. Particle physics obviously went first, then chemical physics, etc. Many laws of nature were discovered or refined, as our lenses were suddenly far more clear and mathematical.

Then, in a landmark paper, one researcher doesn't run an experiment, but observes it anyway. They think about the pattern they would expect to see from the experiment, and instead of doing the experiment to find it, they instead navigate the sibling branches looking for the pattern, eventually finding the branch where they had performed the experiment instead, and just observe that. The concept finding an observing the outcome of something you chose not to do is exciting to scientists, but even more so to the public.

That researcher, seeing both the public and scientific implications of their work begins to attempt to refine that process. It mostly involves computer algorithms and filtering to attempt to automate what took years of manual work for their team before, which is finding important and relevant branch points for higher level interest.

At some point one author describes the new team as Potentionauts, and the term sticks.

The research team at a computer graphics company produces, after years of work, a rough image of an arbitrary time and place on earth, based off the data observed from the structure. This is obviously huge news for science, but also for people.

At this point we have a window into the past, and present, and no one can ever see it. It's roughly magic, and privacy concerns and all sorts of issues come up. The only saving grace is that it's expensive to render, so no one's going to use it to spy on normal people.

A company, based off that research group, begins selling 3D snapshots of objects at exact times or places. Each snapshot takes about a month for each cubic meter of area, but the demand quickly outpaces them despite the high price. The 3D snapshots are then given to render farms which immediately spring up all over to try and compete to get you images from those snapshots.

As more and more of the underlying physics is understood, the resolution of the images, and the speed of getting those images, improves dramatically. Color is eventually figured out, and original lighting as well.

An archeology department finally manages to snapshot some dinosaurs from the far past.

At one point a rich man records the time and place when his young secretary is in the washroom and hires a potentionaut to find him the image of her using the toilet. When workers at the render farm discover what they're rendering, the whole thing blows wide open and the privacy implications come up yet again.

The potentionauts, as their tools and knowledge increase, become more and more adept at finding moments and choices, and possibilities. As they become better, more and more people begin using them to make decisions. CEOs of large corporations hire potentionauts as consultants to try and discover what far-reaching implications there may be for a merger or acquisition.

Some of them are roughly con-men, promising to look ahead and give the answer they want, but others are more skilled and are actually adept at navigating the possibilities.

A wealthy couple makes the first 3D movie by recording the time where they were performing a sexual act, and requesting 10 frames, one per second, of that span. The result is rough, but is released and sparks a wildstorm.

A less scrupulous caste of potentionauts emerges that prey on people's regret. They are hired to answer the question "What would have happened if I hadn't done X"

I'm thinking that the best way to write this might be to pickup a number of keypoints in each era, and have an entirely different character and maybe even literary style for each one. So, one would be a researcher hearing about the first bit, the next might be 10 years later, and it's a random guy hearing about the news of something else. I'm thinking each one would be a relatively normal person who is only peripherally related to the growth.

I think.

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