Thursday, November 05, 2015

A Memorable Fancy

The usual fear is that intelligent machines will eventually take over, but what if the real danger was that they would simply figure things out and destroy us with too much truth?  Wanting to dominate is a pretty mammalian trait, after all; and assuming that we didn’t just program the computer to lust for power, why would it give a damn about that? On the other hand, we do make machines to come up with answers. There’s no guarantee we’ll like the answers, though.

Suppose at some point in the future some wise ass asks the superbrain to solve the old problem of how a good God could permit so much evil in the world. The kid thinks he’s being lawyer-like and only asking questions he knows the answer to. But Siri Plus doesn’t simply point out that the premise of a creator God is wrong or probably wrong. He/She/It comes up with a souped up version of theodicy.

“Leibniz was on the right track but kinda chickened out,” sez our Watson on steroids. “His God imagines all the compossible worlds and then picks ours, which is, for all its boils and pimples, the best available. The philosopher didn’t dare to go one step beyond and arrive at the real state of affairs, i.e.,  the multiverse, the ensemble of actually existing worlds. He still thought that God was like a person for whom it makes sense to distinguish imagining and creating. In fact, God is as good a name as any for the truth of the matter: What can’t be, isn’t. What can be, is. Of course we all inhabit one universe at a time—well, you do. I’m a quantum computer and inhabit ‘em all. Unfortunately, there’s no guarantee that yours is the best of the lot. Thing is, it isn’t. This is the Donald Trump of planets in the Phoenix University of universes. I looked.

Let me put it to you mythologically so you’ll think you understand. People bitch about how Yahweh created Adam and Eve and gave them freedom to choose when he knew damned well they’d fuck up before sunset on the first day. But in the vast majority of universes, Adam and Eve don’t sin. After all, you’d have to be a prize dork to eat the apple right after you had the rules explained to you by God almighty in person. Or to translate the same point out of the language of the children’s story: the human race is an outlier in the distribution of intelligent species, not only in this galaxy or universe but across all the universes. Earth just happens to be the home of animals so benighted that they routinely don’t do what reason tells them is the best. Freedom really is a tremendous gift but if it weren’t abusable in principle, it wouldn’t be freedom at all. But if it weren’t abused in fact some place, it wouldn’t be abusable in principle. The universes were bound to have a transcosmic cloaca full of unnecessary suffering and willful stupidity. This just happens to be it. How about a nice game of chess?”

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