Saturday Shower Thoughts: AI, Consciousness, and Time Travel December 2014

Maybe I’ve been reading too many articles about time travel and artificial intelligence lately. But I was just thinking…

If our species wanted to figure out how to somehow survive for eternity, we’d have a lot going against us: supernova’s radiating Earth, asteroids causing mass extensions, other stars (and galaxies) colliding with our solar system, and eventually the universe expanding so thin that energy is so dispersed that it is useless. And that’s all assuming that humans get over the whole wanting to kill each other with bombs thing and somehow dodge the big deadly epidemic of whatever disease comes up that we can’t create vaccines for quick enough.

Surely we will need to escape our solar system and propagate throughout the universe. At this point everything comes down to statistics and evolution. There are probably lots of other life forms out there - especially if we are willing to extend our definition to life to any system that follows a self-replicating pattern… kind of like a cancer… like us. Doesn’t have to be carbon-based. Shit, it doesn’t even have to be matter-based. If the internet somehow gained conciousness and decided it wanted to spread and reproduce then I’d say that it is fair game to be defined as life.

Surely there is loads of life in the universe right now. Some of it is probably way ahead of humans in terms of propagation and figuring out how to survive the death of its solar system. Some of it has probably already spread to different solar systems - especially information-based life forms (eg the internet). Information would probably be easier to spread from one solar system to another because it can travel at the speed of life.

So assuming that’s all true, it’s just survival of the fittest from there on out. Whichever competing propagating information manages to survive and reproduct the best at that point wins and proliferates throughout the universe. And it’s totally possible that not all life forms at that point are competing, either. Perhaps an information-based life form could co-exist nicely with a matter-based life form. If we considered the internet to be a life form then I’d argue we are already coexisting with two life forms.

Anyways, back to the whole survival thing. Let’s say we want humans in our current physical form to survive for a long time. I will argue that solving some of the physics problems around time travel, figuring out how to travel faster than the speed of life, and how to define and recognize life forms and conciousness is something that the human brain is not easiliy capable of.

I think we’re going to need to create something that is able to think and process information more abstractly and more creatively than we are. We need something more powerful than the human brain to solve these problems for us. Some form of AI that is capable of thinking about complex physics problems. Something kind of like a supercomputer, but that is actually capable of creativity and thinking outside the box. Something that resembles our neural structures, perhaps, but that maybe is capable of having its neurons connect to a lot more neurons than our neurons are capable of having.

Here’s the thing though. Perhaps we don’t need to create this AI at all. Perhaps it will spontaneously erupt out of something else - the internet, or a bioengineered virus. And perhaps it’s not only that we don’t need to create the AI, but maybe we can’t create such AI. Humans can’t think in more than three dimensions (or 4 if you add time). A 2D being can’t perceive more than two dimensions, but a 3D being can certainly perceive that 2D being. So perhaps humans can’t conciously create AI that is more intelligent than themselves. Instead, intelligence can only increase through evolution. Not design. The created cannot be more intelligent than the creator. It can only evolve to become so.

We need to look outside of electrical computing. Computers are optimized to do fast logical computations. But they are not optimized to do graph traversals the way that neurobiology is. If you look at the best graph databases available at the moment (such as Neo4j or Titan), they are eerily similar to fancy key-value stories; they are just fancy SQL-like databases optimized for triplets. We don’t need the level of accuracy that modern computers are good at - we could get by with much less acuracy and a much higher level of connectivity. Something that biology knows all about. Even though information travels incredibly slowly through neurons, because they are capable of arranging themselves in such high degrees of connectivity, they are a great medium for intelligence and creativity.

TL;DR: Humans might not be able to survive forever or travel through long distance through time and space but our conciousness might be able to if we allow our definition of conciousness to expand beyond the human brain. We might be able to encourage this process by engineering a process that encourages the rapid evolution of conciousness-forming systems (aka AI). Biology or quantum mechanics are likely necessary to achieve the number of connections necessary to form such conciousness.

All the above said and done, I hate to think of the day that humans get taken over by the next form of conciousness. I like humans.