Friday, October 10, 2008
CTRL-ALT-R: Another Life
I am reading Extropia DaSilva's CTRL-ALT-R essays and look forward to discussing them with the author at the Next Cosmic Engineers meeting in Second Life: Discussion of CTRL-ALT-R: REBAKE YOUR REALITY. Parts of the essays deal with CA based digital physics and the possibility that we may live in a simulated reality computed by means of digital physics by another level of reality. The short movie below illustrates resurrection in such a scenario.
Extropia describes cellular automata (CA) and Conway's Game of Life, the best known example of CA, and writes: "Working independently of Wolfram, Ed Fredkin believes that the fabric of reality, the very stuff of which matter/energy is made, emerges from the information produced by a 3D CA whose logic units confine their activity to being ‘on’ or ‘off’ at each point in time. ‘I don’t believe that there are objects like electrons and photons and things which are themselves and nothing else. What I believe is that there’s an information process, and the bits, when they’re in certain configurations, behave like the thing we call the electron, or whatever’. The phenomenon of ‘gliders’ demonstrates the ability of a CA to organize itself into localized structures that appear to move through space. If, fundamentally, something like a CA is computing the fabric of reality, particles like electrons may simply be stubbornly persistant tangles of connections. Fredkin calls this the theory of ‘digital physics’, the core principle of which is the belief that the Universe ultimately consists of bits governed by a programming rule. The complexity we see around us results from recursive algorithms tirelessly taking information it has transformed and transforming it further. ‘What I’m saying is that at the most basic level of complexity an information process runs what we think of as the law of physics’... [digital physics] adopts the position that our very thought processes are just one of the things to emerge from the calculations performed by the CA running the Universe.".
And in another essay: "If the freely-compounding robot intelligences ultimately restructure space into an expanding bubble of cyberspace consuming all in its path, and if the post-biological entities inherit a curiosity for their past from the animals that helped create them, the 10^86 bits available would provide a powerful tool for post-human historians. They would have the computational power to run highly-detailed simulations of past histories- so detailed that the simulated people in those simulated histories think their reality is…well…’real’... Such conjectures have stunning implications for our own reality. Any freely-compounding intelligence restructuring our Solar System into sublime thinking substrates could run quadrillions of detailed historical simulations. That being the case, surely we must conclude that any given moment of human history- now for instance- is astronomically more likely to be a virtual reality formed in the vast computational space of Mind, rather than the physical reality we believe it to be.".
If we live in a simulated reality computed by means of digital physics by another level of reality, which may be the primary reality of our computronium based AI mind children in a future time, then we live in a universe with a conceptually simple, and scientifically sound, practical engineering mechanism for our own resurrection, by copying sentient beings living in the simulated reality (us) to another simulated reality (or even the primary reality itself). Of course we probably cannot even imagine the motivations of computronium superintelligences, but it seems plausible that they would copy and store interesting patterns to run them again. At least, this is what CA and Alife researchers do today. This is illustrated by the short movie CA Resurrection, which I just made with a Game of Life program. The protagonist pattern is doomed to certain death by interaction with an environment that, except in very carefully controlled conditions, is very unfriendly to the stability of patterns (sounds familiar?), but is copied before death and restored to life in a friendlier environment.
From the Cosming Engineers meeting place one can see the ever changing beautiful futuristic architecture of Port Moravec, and Extropia DaSilva is a fan of Hans Moravec, whose work is discussed in the essays. What does Moravec think about resurrection?
The first published account of his early ideas on mind uploading etc. may be Today's Computers, Intelligent Machines and Our Future (1978) - "The machine society can, and for its own benefit probably should, take along with it everything we consider important, up to and including the information in our minds and genes. Real live human beings, and a whole human community, could then be reconstituted if an appropriate circumstance ever arose".
Resurrection is mentioned in his books Mind Children and Robot: Mere Machine to Transcendent Mind: "In Chapter 6 robots sweep into space in a colonizing wave, but then disappear in a wake of increasingly pure thinking stuff. A "Mind Fire" burns across the universe in Chapter 7. Physical law loses its primacy to purposes, goals, interpretations and God knows what else.". In the last page of Robot he writes: "When we die, the rules surely change... Perhaps we are most likely to find ourselves reconstituted in the minds of superintelligent successors, or perhaps in dreamlike worlds (or AI programs) where psychological rather than physical rules dominate. Our mind children will probably be able to navigate the alternatives with increasing facility. For us, now, barely conscious, it remains a leap in the dark.", and concludes with Shakespeare's immortal words "To sleep, perchance to dream...".
From a 1995 message of Charles Platt to the Cryonel list: "The question has been asked, is robotics researcher Hans Moravec serious about the possibility of reconstructing a human being from "clues" left behind on an atomic level? The answer is "yes."... I recently did a long interview on this and other topics with Hans, which will appear in the October issue of Wired. He derives a genuine feeling of comfort from his "resurrection by AI" scenario.".
From the Interview with Hans Moravec by Charles Platt:
I'm a little less hard-core in my atheism than I used to be. And my ideas about resurrection in some ways are not so different from those of early theologians, or from the Greek thought that fed into that.
Moravec foresees a kind of happy ending, though, because the cyberspace entities should find human activity interesting from a historical perspective.
We will be remembered as their ancestors, the creators who enabled them to exist.
As Moravec puts it, "We are their past, and they will be interested in us for the same reason that today we are interested in the origins of our own life on Earth."
Assuming the artificial intelligences now have truly overwhelming processing power, they should be able to reconstruct human society in every detail by tracing atomic events backward in time. "It will cost them very little to preserve us this way," he points out. "They will, in fact, be able to re-create a model of our entire civilization, with everything and everyone in it, down to the atomic level, simulating our atoms with machinery that's vastly subatomic. Also," he says with amusement, "they'll be able to use data compression to remove the redundant stuff that isn't important."
But by this logic, our current "reality" could be nothing more than a simulation produced by information entities.
"Of course." Moravec shrugs and waves his hand as if the idea is too obvious. "In fact, the robots will re-create us any number of times, whereas the original version of our world exists, at most, only once. Therefore, statistically speaking, it's much more likely we're living in a vast simulation than in the original version. To me, the whole concept of reality is rather absurd. But while you're inside the scenario, you can't help but play by the rules. So we might as well pretend this is real - even though the chance things are as they seem is essentially negligible."
And so, according to Hans Moravec, the human race is almost certainly extinct, while the world around us is just an advanced version of SimCity.
This interview also appeared on Wired.