On Saturday, November 30, 2002, at 01:32  PM, Ben Goertzel wrote:
...
I think this is certainly a plausible prediction of the future, but I see it
as an unlikely one.

I think that intelligent software programs will be brought into existence
within the next 10-50 years, and that among other effects, this will cause a
physics revolution. Furthermore, it will be a revolution in a direction now
wholly unanticipated.
It will be interesting and exciting if you are right, but I think the kind of AI you describe above and below is further off than 10-30 years, though perhaps not 50 years.


Right now we analyze data about the microworld in a very crude way. For
example, we scan Fermilab data for "events" -- but what about all the other
data that isn't "events" but contains meaningful patterns?

Create an AI mind whose sensors and actuators are quantum level, and allow
it to form its own hypotheses, ideas, concepts, ontologies.... Do you
really think it's going to come up with anything as awkward and overcomplex
as our current physics theories?
I have no idea. True, it may come up with all sorts of weird theories. But, absent new experimental evidence, will these new theories actually tell us anything new?

Your point about AIs exploring physics is an interesting one. And you are right that Egan has his AIs, his uploaded Orlandos and even his computer-produced Yatima, looking very much like humans. Not at all like the "Entities" of Vinge's "Deepness," Zindell's "Neverness," or Stephenson's "Hyperion" series. But let us imagine that an advanced AI were to be turned loose on a Newtonian world. I can well imagine that such an entity, left to its own devices, might come up with weird names for inertia, mass, friction, etc. Perhaps even synthetic combinations of what we take to be the basic vectors of classical mechanics. Instead of 3-space being so primal, phase spaces of 6, 18, and even many more dimensions would perhaps be more "natural" to such a mind. (Needless to say, given that today's best AI programs and computers are having a very hard time even doing "naive physics," a la ThingLab and its descendants, I'm not expecting progress very quickly. And ThingLab is more than 20 years old now, so expecting massive breakthroughs in the next 10-20 years seems overly optimistic.)

More importantly, would an AI version of classical physics, complete with incomprehensible (to us) phase spaces and n-categories and so on, including constructs with no known analogs in our current universe of discourse, would this version give any predictions which differ from our own? In short, would the AI's version of physics give us any new physics?

My hunch is no. It might be better at solving some problems, just as the mental architecture of birds may give them much better abilities to solve certain kinds of 3D problems than we have had to evolve, and so on for many other such examples, but would the physics be different or new?

I will grant that had such minds existed earlier in the development of physics they might have anticipated certain things decades or centuries ahead of humans, so I will grant that in this sense they might have found "new physics." And hence I will grant that perhaps an alien mind, or an AI mind, might be able to look at what we have already measured with our machines and may be able to see new physics we have not found.

Interesting topic, to be sure.

(On a tangent, we also have some experience with non-Western cultures coming to modern science with their own "alien intelligence" (to a slight extent, not a fraction of the alien intelligence a non-H. Sapiens would have) and we can examine the question of whether their non-Western outlook gave them any particular insights into science or fresh points of view. My verdict is that no, the non-Western outlooks were not particularly important. Sure, Gell-Mann drew some ideas of the "Eightfold Way," but the group-theoretic developments were there anyway. Ditto for Eastern ideas of other sorts, I think. And ditto for the feminist notion that masculine ideas apparent in physics need to be supplemented with more feminine, nurturing, holistic kinds of crapola. But I am in danger of digressing into political topics, which I don't want to do here on this list.)



I suspect our current physics theories are overcomplex because they're based
on extrapolating into the microworld, mathematics and intuitive concepts
that originated primarily in models of our everyday physical world.
Particle theory... wave theory ... path integrals. There are no particles,
waves or paths down there.... There is no "observation" either.... No
strings. No membranes. Our attempts to project these concepts onto an
inappropriate domain may well strike future quantum-domain-natural minds as
mildly hilarious...
Probably so. But at any given point in time the best we can do is to do the best that we can. We of course cannot just wait for the machines...

Whether there "are" branes and strings and spins and suchlike at the Planck scale is unknown to me, but physicists seem to be making progress in acting as if such things have some meaning.

The universe is not a rubber sheet, either, but it can help to think of gravity with the rubber sheet model (though an Arcturan squid creature might use a Flozzleblet to picture gravity, and an AI might use something entirely different).

It is true that taking the "at hand, all around us" experience we have with physical objects and with the logic of physical objects is problematic at the quantum level. The fact that small things do not behave the way rocks and spoons behave, being either here or not here, having some speed which can be measured, etc., is why quantum mechanics is so weird to newcomers and others. So, yes, the physical world is not really made of rubber sheets or strings or little blue balls called electrons. But the fact that reality is so weird is not, in my opinion, an argument of any kind that we should not try to make some sense of it with the best arsenal of tools and concepts we can gather.


Humans may or may not arrive at a workable TOE before the advent of AI's
with quantum-level sensors and actuators. Following this advent, however,
the progress of fundamental physics will be unimaginably fast, and will move
in humanly-unimaginable directions.

Will mathematics be central to this new physics? Maybe. But not our
mathematics.
I disagree fairly strongly on this point. I think our mathematics is what is most lasting, albeit the mathematical ideas change names and new ideas become more important.

And I expect the mathematics the AIs develop, or that alien cultures may already have, will look like a "coordinate transformation" on our space of mathematical basis vectors. Their categories may be slightly different, but the underlying structure will be similar. (If natural transformations are what "slide" one category and its morphisms into other categories and morphisms, 2-categories, 3-categories, and n-categories in general are the tools for looking at how these natural transformations slide around.)



Anyway, this was part of why I decided to start thinking about AI rather
than fundamental physics ;->
AI remains interesting, but I think new views of physics will be coming from AIs long after other important things come out of AI. Just my opinion.

(For example, some friends of mine are doing interesting work on using systems of several million machine agents to data mine large amounts of financial data. It seems likely that this kind of work on machine learning, pattern extraction, support vector machines, and a plethora of other "AI tools" will have major effects on the world of economics and forecasting. And on creating financial derivatives (synthetics) which are alien to human thinkers/investors.)



I think Greg Egan's fiction is great, but I also think Diaspora is badly
flawed futorology, because his uploaded minds never get tremendously more
intelligent than humans. I don't think that's a very realistic
prognostication, though it makes for easier storytelling.
I totally agree. His characters were all recognizably human. Where were the entities with the equivalent of a truly alien intelligence, or with an IQ of 1000? (Not of course in the sense of thinking 5-7 times faster than the average bright person on this list, but of having many times the difference in conceptualizing power than an Einstein or a Wolfram has over a 100 IQ drone.)

Where were the "Jupiter-sized brains" so beloved of the Extropians and Transhumanists?

Vinge would say, apropos of your "easier storytelling" point, that such minds are on the other side of some flavor of Singularity, with little to say except to say that there are "Entities" out there, brooding and thinking their deep alien thoughts like some kind of unseen Lovecraft monster.

--Tim May



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