What Would a Machine as Smart as God Want >>>
Physicist Freeman Dyson is my favorite practitioner. In 1979 he published “Time Without End: Physics and Biology in an Open Universe” in Reviews of Modern Physics. Dyson wrote the paper to counter physicist Steven Weinberg’s infamous remark that “the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless.”
No universe with intelligence is pointless, Dyson retorted. He sought to show that even in an eternally expanding universe, intelligence could persist virtually forever and ward off heat death through shrewd conservation of energy.
In his 1988 essay collection Infinite in All Directions, Dyson envisioned intelligence spreading through the entire universe, transforming it into a vast cosmic mind. “What will mind choose to do when it informs and controls the universe?” Dyson asked. We “cannot hope to answer” this question definitively, he suggested, because it is theological rather than scientific:
“I do not make any clear distinction between mind and God. God is what mind becomes when it has passed beyond the scale of our comprehension. God may be considered to be either a world-soul or a collection of world souls. We are the chief inlets of God on this planet at the present stage in his development. We may later grow with him as he grows, or we may be left behind.”
Dyson’s musings were inspired by the science-fiction writer (and philosopher) Olaf Stapledon, who died in 1950. In his books Last and First Men and Starmaker, Stapledon imagined what mind would become after millions or billions of years. He postulated that a cosmic mind will want to create. It will become an artist, whose works are entire universes.
That’s a cool idea (and it implies that we live in one of those works of art), but I prefer Dyson’s hypothesis. He guessed that a cosmic mind would be not an artist but a scientist, a knowledge-seeker. When I interviewed Dyson in 1993, he expressed confidence that the quest for knowledge would never end, because knowledge is infinite.
His optimism derived in part from Godel’s theorem, which demonstrates that every system of axioms poses questions that cannot be answered with those axioms. The theorem implies that mathematics is open-ended and hence can continue forever.
“Since we know the laws of physics are mathematical,” Dyson told me, “and we know that mathematics is an inconsistent system, it’s sort of plausible that physics will also be inconsistent” and therefore open-ended.
I have a hard time imagining the cosmic computer at the end of time—a.k.a. “God”—fussing over math or physics puzzles. My idea (admittedly drug-inspired) is that It will ponder the riddle of Its own origin. Here’s the meta-question: Will It solve that mystery of mysteries, or will It be forever stumped?