Peter M Howard ::

Turing’s Cathedral

29Oct2005/05Jun2006 [myth]

Interesting essay by George Dyson on the history of digital computing; the really interesting part comes in some speculation at the very end. Alan Turing, a founding father of computing and AI, wrote that in creating intelligent machines, we are not usurping God's role as Creator of souls; we are merely creating bodies, "mansions for the souls that He creates". As most of the article is historical, I'll quote the rather sci-fi ending here:

Google is Turing's cathedral, awaiting its soul. We hope. In the words of an unusually perceptive friend: "When I was there, just before the IPO, I thought the coziness to be almost overwhelming. Happy Golden Retrievers running in slow motion through water sprinklers on the lawn. People waving and smiling, toys everywhere. I immediately suspected that unimaginable evil was happening somewhere in the dark corners. If the devil would come to earth, what place would be better to hide?"

For 30 years I have been wondering, what indication of its existence might we expect from a true AI? Certainly not any explicit revelation, which might spark a movement to pull the plug. Anomalous accumulation or creation of wealth might be a sign, or an unquenchable thirst for raw information, storage space, and processing cycles, or a concerted attempt to secure an uninterrupted, autonomous power supply. But the real sign, I suspect, would be a circle of cheerful, contented, intellectually and physically well-nourished people surrounding the AI. There wouldn't be any need for True Believers, or the downloading of human brains or anything sinister like that: just a gradual, gentle, pervasive and mutually beneficial contact between us and a growing something else. This remains a non-testable hypothesis, for now. The best description comes from science fiction writer Simon Ings:

"When our machines overtook us, too complex and efficient for us to control, they did it so fast and so smoothly and so usefully, only a fool or a prophet would have dared complain."

Source: Edge 24Oct2005

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