THE INTELLIGENT UNIVERSE
RAY KURZWEIL: The universe has been set up in an exquisitely specific way so that evolution could produce the people that are sitting here today and we could use our intelligence to talk about the universe. We see a formidable power in the ability to use our minds and the tools we've created to gather evidence, to use our inferential abilities to develop theories, to test the theories, and to understand the universe at increasingly precise levels. That's one role of intelligence. The theories that we heard on cosmology look at the evidence that exists in the world today to make inferences about what existed in the past so that we can develop models of how we got here.
Then, of course, we can run those models and project what might happen in the future. Even if it's a little more difficult to test the future theories, we can at least deduce, or induce, that certain phenomena that we see today are evidence of times past, such as radiation from billions of years ago. We can't really test what will happen billions or trillions of years from now quite as directly, but this line of inquiry is legitimate, in terms of understanding the past and the derivation of the universe. As we heard today, the question of the origin of the universe is certainly not resolved. There are competing theories, and at several times we've had theories that have broken down, once we acquired more precise evidence.
At the same time, however, we don't hear discussion about the role of intelligence in the future. According to common wisdom, intelligence is irrelevant to cosmological thinking. It is just a bit of froth dancing in and out of the crevices of the universe, and has no effect on our ultimate cosmological destiny. That's not my view. The universe has been set up exquisitely enough to have intelligence. There are intelligent entities like ourselves that can contemplate the universe and develop models about it, which is interesting. Intelligence is, in fact, a powerful force and we can see that its power is going to grow not linearly but exponentially, and will ultimately be powerful enough to change the destiny of the universe.
I want to propose a case that intelligence specifically human intelligence, but not necessarily biological human intelligence will trump cosmology, or at least trump the dumb forces of cosmology. The forces that we heard discussed earlier don't have the qualities that we posit in intelligent decision-making. In the grand celestial machinery, forces deplete themselves at a certain point and other forces take over. Essentially you have a universe that's dominated by what I call dumb matter, because it's controlled by fairly simple mechanical processes.
Human civilization possesses a different type of force with a certain scope and a certain power. It's changing the shape and destiny of our planet. Consider, for example, asteroids and meteors. Small ones hit us on a fairly regular basis, but the big ones hit us every some tens of millions of years and have apparently had a big impact on the course of biological evolution. That's not going to happen again. If it happened next year we're not quite ready to deal with it, but it doesn't look like it's going to happen next year. When it does happen again our technology will be quite sufficient. We'll see it coming, and we will deal with it. We'll use our engineering to send up a probe and blast it out of the sky. You can score one for intelligence in terms of trumping the natural unintelligent forces of the universe.
Commanding our local area of the sky is, of course, very small on a cosmological scale, but intelligence can overrule these physical forces, not by literally repealing the natural laws, but by manipulating them in such a supremely sublime and subtle way that it effectively overrules these laws. This is particularly the case when you get machinery that can operate at nano and ultimately femto and pico scales. Whereas the laws of physics still apply, they're being manipulated now to create any outcome the intelligence of this civilization decides on.
Let me back up and talk about how intelligence came about. Wolfram's book has prompted a lot of talk recently on the computational substrate of the universe and on the universe as a computational entity. Earlier today, Seth Lloyd talked about the universe as a computer and its capacity for computation and memory. What Wolfram leaves out in talking about cellular automata is how you get intelligent entities. As you run these cellular automata, they create interesting pictures, but the interesting thing about cellular automata, which was shown long before Wolfram pointed it out, is that you can get apparently random behavior from deterministic processes.
It's more than apparent that you literally can't predict an outcome unless you can simulate the process. If the process under consideration is the whole universe, then presumably you can't simulate it unless you step outside the universe. But when Wolfram says that this explains the complexity we see in nature, it's leaving out one important step. As you run the cellular automata, you don't see the growth in complexity at least, certainly he's never run them long enough to see any growth in what I would call complexity. You need evolution.