The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything

Like most people [I assume!], from time to time, my mind turns to cosmic matters – as I have commonly written about here. I start to wonder about what it all means; what is life about? Why are we here? Where did the Universe come from? I should say that, although I am not brave enough to be an atheist, I do not subscribe to any specific religion; I am an agnostic and endeavor to be sympathetic and respectful to the faiths of others [so long as they do not impact on my life].

I am not going to talk about religion here, but I have some new thoughts about what it is all about …

All aspects of science and technology interest me. Maybe this is why I have never found a faith that “fits”. It is not that science and religion oppose one another, it is just that most traditional religions are based on very old ideas that pre-date modern scientific thinking. Simpler times needed simpler “stories”. There are a couple of areas of science and technology that have come to mind lately and I have begun to think that maybe they are linked …

There has been a lot of talk about Artificial Intelligence [AI] in the press in recent years, with very mixed views about the possible benefits and drawbacks. There is a strong fear that we could develop machines more intelligent than we are and, thus, render Homo Sapiens obsolete. A while ago, I read Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies by Nick Bostrom, as recommended by Bill Gates, among others. Elon Musk has invested heavily in Bostrom’s research. This all leads me to feel that the fears are not unfounded.

An aspect of AI, that is often mentioned, but nobody is quite sure about, is sentience. Would a very sophisticated AI system develop a sense of “self” – i.e. become sentient? There is no clear answer, but it does seem likely to me. My view of the Human brain is that it is an incredibly powerful computer with some very complex software. I am fitted with one of these things and I am definitely sentient. Of course, I cannot be 100% certain about everyone else, as that is hard to prove.

The other “technology”, that has captivated me all my life, is far older than AI: mathematics. This is a subject where, in my experience, the more you know, the more you are aware that you do not know. A manifestation of this phenomenon, in practical terms, is sub-atomic physics, which is totally dominated by mathematics. It seems that the deeper that scientists go into the structure of matter, the more complexity they find. Originally, there were just indivisible atoms. Then subatomic particles were discovered. These, in turn, break down into quarks and other interesting particles, of which more seem to show up all the time. All of this is held together by mathematics.

The complexity of mathematics and all its beautifully consistent, but sometimes illusive, rules somehow feels that it has been designed/created by somebody. The brilliant Hungarian mathematician, Paul Erdős, talked in terms of “The Book”. He visualized an enormous book, in which God had written all the laws of mathematics. Erdős hoped that, when he died, God might let him look at The Book.

So, here is my thought: If an AI system is a complex bit of software and the rules of mathematics [which lead to the structure of the Universe] are a set of very complex algorithms etc., is it possible that the Universe itself is sentient. In other words, God is actually everywhere – by definition.

This does beg a very big question. If the Universe is one big AI system, then who programmed it … ?

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2 thoughts about “The answer to Life, the Universe and Everything
  • As you already called Nick Bostrom to the table, the last line of your post reminded me of another idea. The one I am a little anguish to think about – are we just living in computer simulation? or an AI model created just to calculate something or answer some questions for someone who started it? During work on my diploma thessis I run multiple optimization experiments with evolutionary algorithms. Thousands of generations of bit-built individuals were created and perished only to help me find better parameters for my forecasting model. Are we like them, but just more complex?
    Ok, enough of it, time to make some coffee, because I seem to dwell too much into it 🙂

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at https://blogs.sw.siemens.com/embedded-software/2018/02/01/the-answer-to-life-the-universe-and-everything/