Some weeks ago, the always interesting blogger SlateStarCodex came up with what I took to be a complex argument to explain the existence of God, merely on logical and scientific grounds.
I was pretty intrigued by it, so I followed some of the links; I wasn’t really convinced, because this was mostly an intellectual argument, not meant to convince, but meant to intrigue. Still, I decided to condense Slate’s argument into a short post, in which I would explain why I found the possibility interesting to contemplate.
I put the blog out and then my friend Giulio Prisco, founder of the Turing Church and a man who shares some of my interests, but blessed with a bigger brain, explained to me that Slate’s blog piece was, well, absurd: it was an April Fools’ Day joke.
My first instinct was to edit the blog piece slightly (“OK, yes, now I know it’s a joke, but all the same…”) but then I just unpublished and kept it in reserve. I knew I was into something there, but I didn’t quite know what it was.
Days later, I came across this vlog in Youtube, in which another guy who is smarter than me, Polyphonic, looks at various pop songs that parody Bob Dylan’s unique style (you guys know I do appreciate Dylan, somewhat). Most of the songs were OK, obvious Dylan parodies, but still nice and all. One of them, I found, let’s say, very intriguing.
“Stuck in the middle with you,” a 1972 song, become a worldwide hit in the early 1990s, when Quentin Tarantino included it in the much-praised soundtrack of his movie “Reservoir Dogs.” It’s now a minor classic that hundreds of millions of people in the world have listened to, most often many times. And yet, it started life as a parody of Bob Dylan.
This got me thinking again about Slate’s blog post. After all, Don Quixote, perhaps the greatest novel of all times, was originally created as a parody of something nobody really knows about anymore: the Chivalric Romance, a literary genre that was enormously popular in the Spanish empire during the era of Hernán Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, and was a bit of a stale joke already by the time Miguel de Cervantes came up with his parody.
You see, parody has a way of helping with meaningful creation. So I’m hereby reposting my short and naive appreciation of Slate’s April Fool’s joke:
I Really Liked this Post, by the Idiot David Roman:
Personally, I think the rise of a super-intelligence that can erase/modify/ignore the laws of physics and thus even raise the dead (that is, God) is probably a matter of time: probably a lot of time, maybe even millions of years but, hey, millions of years is only a long time from the limited, single human time-span. Our sun alone is about six billion years old, and somewhat modern-looking humans are one or two million years old, depending on how one calculates.
SlateStarCodex is a solid thinker, but not the world’s pithiest writer. He tends to be long-winded, probably because he doesn’t have the time to polish, but this post is pretty short by his standards, and very much to the point.
It all goes back to the original Plan to Create God argument, but with a key tweak: that God may appear even by accident, as a logical consequence of scientific developments that favor the creation of super-AIs. To summarize, by removing the most complex references included in the text:
In each universe, life arises, forms technological civilizations, and culminates in the creation of a superintelligence which gains complete control over its home universe. Such superintelligences cannot directly affect other universes, but they can predict their existence and model their contents from first principles. Superintelligences with vast computational resources can model the X most simple (and so most existent) universes and determine exactly what will be in them at each moment of their evolution…
Superintelligences may spend some time calculating the most likely distribution of superintelligences in foreign universes… and then join a pact such that all superintelligences in the pact agree to replace their own values with a value set based on the average of all the superintelligences in the pact. Since joining the pact will always be better (in a purely selfish sense) than not doing so, every sane superintelligence in the multiverse should join this pact. This means that all superintelligences in the multiverse will merge into a single superintelligence devoted to maximizing all their values.
Some intelligences may be weaker than others and have less to contribute to the pact. Although the pact could always weight these intelligences’ values less… they might also… decide to weight their values more in order to do better in the counterfactual case where they are less powerful. This might also simplify the calculation of trying to decide what the values of the pact would be. If they decide to negotiate this way, the pact will be to maximize the total utility of all the entities in the universe willing to join the pact, and all the intelligences involved will reprogram themselves along these lines.
But “maximize the total utility of all the entities in the universe” is just the moral law, at least according to utilitarians (and, considering the way this is arrived at, probably contractarians too). So the end result will be an all-powerful, logically necessary superentity whose nature is identical to the moral law and who spans all possible universes.
This superentity will have no direct power in universes not currently ruled by a superintelligence who is part of the pact. But its ability to simulate all possible universes will ensure that it knows about these universes and understands exactly what is going on at each moment within them. It will care about the merely-mortal inhabitants of these universes for several reasons.
First, because many of the superintelligences that compose it will have been created by mortal species with altruistic values, and so some of the values that went into the value-average it uses will be directly altruistic.
Second, because these mortal species may one day themselves create a superintelligence that will join in the superentity, and that superintelligence may be kindly disposed to its creators. Acausal trade allows you to bargain backwards in time, and this superintelligence’s negotiation to join the pact may involve that the superentity have previously dealt kindly with its creators.
And third, because mortals may be allowed to have provisional pact membership. That is, if they do the superentity’s will in their (otherwise inaccessible) universe, the superentity may do whatever it can to help them out in its own universes.