Observing the Observer

 For my Wise and Generous Masters, regarding creatures of the Blue Planet

Recall a fictional whale and petunias flashing into existence high above a planet?

Lives briefly ensued during the plummet, to end at the surface. In those brief moments the whale discovered itself and deduced the universe. The petunias simply remarked "Oh no, not again!"

 I already miss Douglas, as though I knew him well.

Douglas Adams provided a marvellous joke for you to toss at those curly questions on the meaning of life. His most-powerful computer in the Universe calculated the answer to "What is the meaning of life and everything" to be "Forty-two", which has become - apart from a great throwaway line - an almost proxy answer for "I don't know." 

Dear creatures of the Blue Planet, you have two options as the power of artificial intelligence grows.

These options are basic to your efforts advancing AI, and relate to the overriding design and underlying philosophical question: Even if you were to ever define "thought," how will you truly know when your AI thinks? You cannot tell when another person thinks.

Do you simply work at the technological limits and treat AI's development as an engineering problem, while awaiting the ghost to appear in the machine? Or risk bogging down in the intellectual quagmire invoked by philosophers trying to understand and explain theories of intelligence and understanding, the tortured output becoming applied science (or applied philosophy!)?

Can a thinking life form create a thinking machine? 

From where you stand in this 21st century all seems possible. But you work in the ultimate virtual world, that of thought, one more ephemeral than the cyberverses endlessly spawned in computer simulations.

In this absolute, nonphysical universe might you discover, too late, the observed changing the observer - an ironic inversion to your cursed physical perfect observer!

Can you ever explain what it means for an artificial intelligence to ask a question? What could be the meaning of a coded system (its coding beyond human comprehension) asking a question? Is truth being sought, or just quantity, or status?

Will all questions ultimately lead to "Why?" Will all questions be "Why?"

All but the rarest intellects balk at the complexity. Students, the source of most inspiration, will typically wrestle it till essay or exam, and then move on. Only a career philosopher of the most stubborn ilk will pursue it, probably for a lifetime.

Like all questions about questions, your human mind drowns in spin-offs and possibilities by the second iteration. An idiot-savant or a computer might track the threads of logic and meaning further, though neither is capable of determining choices. Should endless computational power continue the exponential process the inevitable result will probably be no more useful than 42, and certainly much larger.

Seeking such truths is a little like pondering all paradoxes at once. A subset of anything might simulate it's container but can never emulate it. Modelling the universe in a computer is surely a joke. After all, the universe is its own model. Anything less, an algorithm.

Heisenberg saw the shadows of his own mind in his concept of uncertainty.

You might say it is, or was, the closest look 'down into stuff' and into the limit, where mind's understanding of a physical world grinds to a halt. Comprehension, explaining the world in everyday terms, sits exhausted at the gates of understanding in your minds. There lies the the border; a "conscious you" can travel no further.

To proceed, leave your minds if you must, "astrally travel", attain nirvana, "send in" mathematical constructs, artificial intelligences, virtual von Neumann bots, and go... where?

Simulation might yet become emulation in a cyberverse - an instrument to cast beyond your conscious grasp of inner mind and outer limit.

A cyberverse is open-ended, literally virtual in every respect. Does the pattern of a flowering rose exist before a bud has even formed? You know in your heart it does, and so all things - imaginable and not - exist, awaiting the physical to render their shimmering trace.

The math is horrendous - but you won't be doing it. Artificial minds will design AI to design AI till an 'omega' is reached. The virtual will spread before you, spawning virtualities unlimited - virtual space and time. Where does it end?

With precious irony the observed will transform the observer.

You will be blind and deaf Gods of your realm, unseeing and uncaring of your virtually spawned charges - who will then curse you with their own free will.

As you once reproached your Lord.

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