Are We All Just Trapped in a Self-Conscious Supercomputer?

Two words: Artificial Intelligence. Most people have heard about it. Perhaps you have read science-fiction books or seen science-fiction movies about it. What is it in the ideal fictional case? A computer that is able to learn and adapt on its own. If it becomes self-aware, it can legitimately be considered another life form or even another universe.

Science fiction? No! Look at real-life results from the last 15 years.

In 1997, IBM’s chess-playing computer “Deep Blue” became the first computer to beat world-class chess champion, Garry Kasparov. In a six-game match, Deep Blue prevailed by two wins to one with three draws. Until this point, no computer was able to beat a chess grandmaster. This garnered headlines worldwide, and was a milestone that embedded the reality of artificial intelligence into the consciousness of the average person.

In 2005, a robot conceived and developed at California’s Stanford University, was able to drive autonomously for 131 miles along an unrehearsed desert trail, winning the DARPA Grand Challenge (the government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency prize for a driverless vehicle).

In 2007, Carnegie Mellon University’s self-driving SUV called Boss made history by swiftly and safely driving 55 miles in an urban setting while sharing the road with human drivers. It, too, won the DARPA Urban Challenge.

In 2011, on an exhibition match on the popular TV quiz show, Jeopardy! , IBM’s computer “Watson,” defeated both of Jeopardy! greatest champions, Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings.

Today, we take artificial intelligence (AI) for granted. For example, computers and even smart phones have sophisticated chess-playing software. AI is part of the Xbox 360’s algorithms for games. However, have we reached the point where a computer replicates a human mind? Not yet. One test held as the “gold standard” for this is the Turing test, proposed in 1950 by Alan Turing, an English mathematician, logician, cryptanalyst, and computer scientist. Turing is widely acknowledged as the father of computer science and artificial intelligence. In fact, Turing developed an electromechanical machine during WWII that helped break the German Enigma machine’s code. The Turing test, which a computer must pass to demonstrate the computer replicates the human mind. The test requires that a machine (for example, a computer with voice synthesis) carry on a conversation with a human, and that other humans are able to hear the conversation (and not see the participants), and cannot distinguish the machine from the human.

Apple’s Seri application for the iPhone is a small step in that direction. If you see Apple’s TV commercials, people are talking to their phones, and phones are talking back. The conversations consist of the phone owners asking questions or giving simple commands to their iPhones. The commercial makes it appear that the iPhone passes the Turing test, but in reality, the conversations are limited to simple questions and simple commands. However, imagine what conversations with the iPhone will be like in about 20 years. The iPhone, and smart phones like it, will almost certainly pass the Turing test.

How close are we to a true artificial life form (similar to Lt. Commander Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation)? Most scientists believe we are extremely close. In fact, Ray Kurzweil (American author, scientist, inventor and futurist) has used Moore’s law to calculate that desktop computers will be equivalent to human brains by the year 2029. Moore’s law states the number of transistors that can be placed inexpensively on an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. By 2045, Kurzweil predicts, artificial intelligence will be able to improve itself faster than anything we can conceive. If this is true, by the mid Twenty-First Century, we may appear no smarter than insects to those machines. This is sometimes the theme of “how-will-the-world-end” type of documentaries, science-fiction books and movies. This is the whole premise behind the popular Terminator movies.

Now, we will return to our main point of a supercomputer universe. If indeed, computers one day will replicate a human mind, one can postulate that with time, it can replicate millions and eventually billions of such minds, each with its own self-awareness and personality. The minds inside the “machine” think they are real, and are in a universe. As more time passes, the machine can create another “universe.” This scenario can continue forever, or until an unknown entity pulls the plug.

Could we be those people (minds inside a computer)? If you have a religious belief in a supreme being, in effect, we are those people in God’s computer. If you do not hold religious beliefs, we could be those people in a race of advanced aliens’ computer. In this scenario, a supernatural being or technology-advanced aliens gave the command to begin our existence. The command was simply, “Let there be light,” and the super-computer program, simulating our existence and reality, began to run. If this is true, do we exist? The answer to that question depends on your viewpoint. We do not exist in the way we think we exist. We are all part of a sophisticated computer program in a supercomputer. If this is our reality, we are trapped in a supercomputer capable of replicating human minds, and imposing the construct of a universe on those minds.

At this point, I am going back to Occam’s razor, namely, the simplest of two competing theories is to be preferred. With that as my guiding premise, I postulate our universe is real (exactly the way we experience it), we are real, and this post is real.

Source: Unraveling the Universe’s Mysteries (2012) Louis A. Del Monte

Image: Wikimedia Commons – The Blue Gene/P supercomputer at Argonne National Labruns over 250,000 processors using normal data center air conditioning, grouped in 72 racks/cabinets connected by a high-speed optical network