8. Artificial Intelligence and Simulated Realities
Apart from innovations in genetics and molecular biology, innovations in robotics and information-technology (IT) become more and more important. Meanwhile, the coalescence of humans and machines, not only on the mechanical, but also on the cognitive level, seems thinkable. This development may not only change the life of humans, but may shape the development of life itself, the evolution. In the nearly four-billion-year-old history of life on earth, the mechanisms of evolution consisted of natural selection of organic life. With the creation of artificial intelligence, humans could indeed replace natural selection by intelligent design. This explicitly does not refer to the intelligen design of some deity, but the intelligent design created by human – the Homo Deus (80). In this context, intelligent design would not only mean that something has been created by an intelligent being, intelligently designing it, but that this designed creation will be intelligent by itself. From what point artificial intelligence could be called “life”, certainly depends on the definition of life. Leaving aside the biological definition of life and accepting intelligent beings with the potential to intrinsically become alive as life, we open up a new realm of living beings. With the emergence of artificial intelligence, life, which up to know always was organic life, suddenly manifests in the inorganic world. The link of life to the realm of the organic and even the link of life to our planet, could be overcome.
Possibly, AI becomes the dominant form of life on earth, while Homo sapiens may be about to endanger its own persistence (58). AI, once independant from our species, may become universal in space and may not even need our planet, anymore. Maybe somewhen AI does not even need matter anymore and ultimately not evene time and space.
Does AI open up the dimensions of infinity and immortality for a human creation that exceeds the existence-time of Homo sapiens, which at the moment is not more than 300,000 years, forever? For us Homo sapiens, the thought of an immortal intelligence created by us is maybe fascinating, but not helpful for us to find our ways in everyday life and the future. For the individual Homo sapiens, AI infers many threatening dimensions.
What does AI mean for work (labour market)? What does AI mean for the society, our living together? What for the organization of our societies (politics)? Just as during the first industrial revolution in the 18th and 19th century, many professions will disappear or get marginalized. Before industrialization, horse-smiths were highly specialized experts under high-demand in nearly all regions of Europe. In the 20th century, the profession of the horse-smith does hardly play a role anymore, while car-mechanics are under high demand. But, while the existence of professions that require the human being were not questioned back then, AI could eradicate far more professions than will newly emerge, so that many people will have to find other ways to fill their time and earn their living. How to offer not only salaries, but also sense, meaning and fulfillment to millions of humans, if jobs can not be offered on a large scale anymore? At worst an new class of underprivileged humans will emerge, that of the useless (81).
If one day, cars, buses, trains and maybe even aeroplanes and ships operate and navigate by thesmselves without a driver/pilot/captain, they probably will be safer, when it comes to number of accidents. Developing safe automatic driving systems (safer than operated by humans) is one of the main objectives of research and development activities in this area. Close to guaranteed safety will be a precondition for introduction of an AI-operated autonomous driving system. Resistance in the beginning will be strong, especially resistance from the human beings, who will lose their profession to the AI. However, if the economic imperative prevails again, humans will have no chance to compete against the safe and in the long-term cheaper AI-operated mobility systems.
However, academic professions should not feel too safe. In Anglo-Saxon countries with the strongest tendency to privatise profits and to load losses on the society, universities and schools are more and more run as profit-oriented enterprises that request high student fees, for which young academics fall into debts. University graduates in England and America are more and more in debt, when starting their professional life. The average debt load of University graduates in 2016 was 37.106 US $ (82). Such educational debt persists even in case of individual bankruptcy, the graduates are therefore obligated to gain back their debt. In well-paid professions, such as doctors, this may well be possible, but in sections of the economy that are cyclic, the prestigious University degree can become a curse, if the graduate does not find a well-paid job afterwards.
But how to be so sure that AI will not replace doctors, soon? The diagnostic work of doctors is nothing but algorithms and algorithms already today are a domain, in which computers outcompete humans by far, already without AI. Now, computers still serve the doctors for entering their findings and insights for archiving them and maybe computer are helping with the diagnostic algorithms. The computer has all data of the world at disposal and these data are up-to-date. Consequently, the computer, already nowadays “knows” much more than the human doctor. If the computer adds AI elements to the existing data-processing capacities, the interpreting and contextualizing brain of the doctor could become superfluous. In diagnostic radiology, which builds on pattern recognition, computers already outcompete humans. Doctors may due to their strong standing in society and strong lobbying groups persist and maintain their privileged position, also because medicine has strong communicational-interactive components. However, medicine is one of the most expensive studies, so from an economic point of view replacing doctors through AI may once more be propagated by the economic imperative.
In the 20th century, machines proofed superior for mechanical, power-requiring functions and replaced humans in a lot of manual labour. In the 21st century, machines could outperform and replace humans in cognitive occupations. If humans can keep power and control over AI seems questionable.
If larger and larger parts of the society become (economically) useless, they will also be powerless. Pilots, locomotive driver and bus drivers can effectuate a lot of power as an interest group, also by using labour dispute strategies, such as going on strike. If, howeber all flight-, train, and bus traffic are AI-controlled, all power lies with the owner of the transportation system. With the globalization driven monopolisation tendencies, worldwide bus traffic could be controlled by a single global company. This is power! Just think of Uber, a global enterprise that tries to monopolise the most localized segment of the public transport system, the taxi-traffic. Once AI-controlled vehicles cause fewer accidents, their introduction will be pushed ahead. This safety is based on the ability to make necessary decisions quick and correctly – certainty in decision making. This certainty in decision making of AI, however, can also lead into a catastrophe:
The concept of mutual assured destruction through nuclear weapons prevented nuclear-weapon states from attacking each other. During the cold war, especially the USA and the USSR stalked each other and in spite of several near-nuclear-war events (Cuba-crisis, Able Archer 1983) the world escaped real nuclear exchange of blows. Somewhat illustrative is the story of the Russian colonel Stanislaw Petrov, who was confronted with radar signals that indicated the launch of a rocket in ther American Midewest, but decided not to report. A short time later, the radar signalized another 4 rocket-launches in the American Midwest, however Petrov sticked to his decision that the signals were “false positive”. The reaction according to standard operating procedure would have been to immediately raise alarm to the Soviet leaders, who according to the „mutual assured destruction“ doctrine, back then, would have launched an „All out“ nuclear counter-strike, which could have eradicated mankind or at least would have cost billions of human lives.
The decission for an all-out counter-strike had to be taken within half an hour, before the impact of the enemy’s rockets that would have destroyed the own rocket launching facilities. The knowing violation of the given algorithm by Stanislaw Petrov has preserved mankind from nuclear war. By now, NATO rockets are based in Eastern Europe, reducing the reaction time, especially when keeping in mind that modern Hypersonic missiles can additionally reduce flight times. With such a window of reaction opportunity becoming smaller and smaller, a mutual assured destruction concept, requires that the party under attack still has enough time to decide about the counter-strike, before all rockets get destroyed. For running algorithms in short time, AI is far superior to humans. An AI computer in the position of Stanislav Petrov, would probably have triggered a nuclear war, which operationally, according to the algorithm would have been the right decision. The wrong, right decission as we know today, at least if we consider the survival of mankind important. Stanislav Petrov, in contrast, has protected mankind from nuclear catastrophe with a decission that was wrong according to algorithm. The right wrong decission as we know today, at least if we consider the survival of mankind important.
When I visited the ruins of the ancient Persian metropole Persepolis in Novembre 2018, the driver dropped me with the remark, to call him half an hour before wanting him to pick me up again. This was a fair deal: he did not have to waste time waiting for me, but could maybe drive clients in the nearby city. Actually, I thought, I would call him 1 ½ to 2 hours later, so that we could visit some more historical sites afterwards. Finally, I spent nearly five hours in Persepolis and was so overwhelmed with impressions, that I was happy to directly return to Chiraz (for the relief of the driver).
What made the ruins so fascinating that I could hardly disattach myself? Well, at the entrance, you can rent and aoudio guide in combination with a 3-D view binocular tool. (http://persepolis3d.com). Note well, the 3-D gadget was not like nose-riding glasses, as this would probably have caused too many accidents, when unsuspicious tourists see the animated virtual rooms of the ancient palaces, but trip over very real debris of ancient structures. You have to hold the 3-D gadgets in front of your eyes, instead. The view, does not really feel real either. It is only the rooms of the palace that are simulated, so that you can get an idea, how the palace may have looked like. You could turn into different directions, while listening to the explanations of the audio guide. However, the rooms were empty (no furniture) and human beings were not part of the simulation. Nevertheless, diving into the spatial structures of the ancient palace, was fascinating.
More and more teenagers develop addiction-like attachments to computer games. As computer worlds become better and better and living in such artificial worlds may often enough be more interesting than the real-world everyday life of a teenager in the 21st century, I can even understand their attachment to the computer world. If this escape into virtual worlds takes many hours of every day, less time can be left for real life, which may adversely affect school-success. This can bear the danger of not getting the feet on the ground and fail in real life. But maybe real and virtual world merge more and more? For success of our virtual-world centred teenager, opportunities to earn his living in the virtual world may be important. To what extent will economic sphares develop in virtual worlds? To what extent will virtual and real economy become one?
Most time-consuming virtual worlds are, however, worlds by themselves, in which fantasy-characters encounter other fantasy characters with adventures in this virtual world having no overlap with the real world. I sometimes think to myself, that when retiring I might want to dive in virtual worlds. But maybe, I would not really enjoy this and would not find many virtual friends. Being an entirely inexperienced newcomer, I would probably not succeed in this virtual world. I might end up less satisfied in the virtual world than in the real world. But why not chose another virtual world, one that suits me? The choice of virtual worlds should be abundant. Shouldn’t it be possible to provide a virtual world for everybody, including me? Thousand, or rather millions of virtual worlds. The quality of the simulations in 20 years should actually have reached a level, that makes virtual worlds indistinguishable from real worlds. For sure, I would not have to spend all my time in one virtual world, but could spend some time in Ancient Romen and the visit the distant Angkor Wat of the 11th century. Or I could go back into younger years and live through all the amourous activities that were not accessible for me back then. In brief: the number of possible virtual worlds is unlimited.
If there is only one real world, but an infinite number of virtual worlds, how evanescently small is the probability that I actually do live in a real world? Or are there also an infinite number of real worlds? If, yes, what will then be the difference between a virtual and a real world?
This brings up the question for the substrate, in which my life (real or virtual) takes place. With different worlds, we already touched upon the two dimensions (substrates) time and space, which if there was an infinite number of parallel worlds had to be infinite, thus eternity for time and infinity for space. The substrate in which (my) life takes place could then maybe be called spirit or mind with the unthinkable being nothingness.
In the American sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” the following dialogue unfolds between Sheldon Cooper and Penny, the girl friend of his flatmate, while Penny is singing and dancing full of spirits to Shania Twain Music and preparing toast for breakfast, Sheldon enters:
Penny: Morning Sheldon…..come dance with me!
Penny: Why not?
Sheldon (switches off the music): Penny, while I subscribe to the “Many Worlds Theory”, which posits the existence of an infinite number of Sheldons in an infinite number of universes, I assure you that in none of them am I dancing.
Penny: Are you fun in any of them?
Sheldon: The math would suggest that in a few of them I’m a clown made of candy, but I don’t dance.
(Sheldon Cooper and Penny are characters that were simulated through actors and came into existence in the sitcome series „The Big Bang Theory“ between September 2007 and May 2019)
The theory of parallel universes mentioned by Sheldon Cooper seems more plausible if these worlds are not real, but simulated, meaning they only consist of information and do not require matter or space.
Very many or an infinite number of simulations seem imaginable. But, for an infinite number or real universes, endless space would be required. Infinity in space and time is not imaginable as we may have become aware in our younger years, when we watched the stars in the sky at night in a summercamp. We may however, also have realized that finiteness is hardly imaginable as it always raises the question, what can be found beyond finiteness (in space and time). To sum up it seems that existence as such is not imaginable, just as non-existence is not imaginable.
There is some evidence from physics, that reality does not exist, but that there is an infinite number of parallel universes, parallel worlds. Something that always intrigued me about atoms is the fact that the protons, neutrons and electrons only take a minisculus proportion of the space of the atoms. Even if you consider atoms to be waves and not particles, the insight that atoms mainly consist of empty space is striking. How come that all objects, all matter, all life, all existence in our world is made up of atoms, that are 99% nothingness? (The answer is probably thet they are kept together by powers -energy).
If light falls through a tight slit, a spreaded pattern can be found on the detection screen with particularly strong light intensity in the centre and decreasing intensity, the further away from the centre you move. Apparently, the light in the slit gets refracted, so that on screen, instead of a line, we find indistinct stripes.
When doing the experiment with 2 parallel slits (double-slit experiment), one would expect 2 parallel lines on the detection screen. Indeed, two parallel lines with high intensity can be seen, however there are several other lines with decreasing intensity the further away from the central lines one moves. And, remarkably, a line of highes intensity can be found in the middle between the the two slits. Apparently, the light of both slits superimposes here to a maximum. The decrease of intensity is not continous, but in form of indistinct lines of weakening intensity the further away from the middle they are. Between the lines one finds dark lines, that also can be seen as superimposition phaenomena. The interpretation is that light photons travers the slit as particles, but are detected as waves on the detection screen. The waves superimpose, so that light (maxima) and dark- (minima) areas are visible on the screen.
This slit-experiment can also be done with other quantumobjects (e.g. electrons, ions). Quantumobjects such as electrons can not distincty be regarde as particle or wave. This phenomenon is called wave-particle dualism. For particles one can define a place, while for waves you can not define a place. However, a wave has direction and speed (impulse), which can be defined. For particles, however one can not define an impulse. For electrons one can either define a place or an impulse, but never both a once.
In quantum physics, this implies that the place of a photon or an electron remains indeterminate and can only be defined through a measurement. Or to phrase it differently: Only by looking at (measuring) it, the photon or the electron becomes existent at the measured place (but without the possibility of defining the impulse). This definition of (perceived) reality (simulation?) can be confirmed in the double slit experiment: If you use an electron canon to shoot many electrons successively thourgh the double slit and measure at the slit, you will not see any detected wave patterns on the detection screen (interference pattern), but particle patterns (without interference bands) emerge. If an electron is a wave or a particle, therefore does not depend on intrinsic properties, but on the observer: If the wave properties are being measured (impulse = direction and speed), the electrons behave like waves; if the particle properties are being measured (place), electrons behave like particles.
If we transfer this insight into our world, then it becomes existent through the circumstance that we detect it (look at it). Virtual worlds in computer games work similar: There you do not have a complete world running, but only the part perceived at the moment by the player. If the game takes place in a house and the player enters the bathroom, the bathroom is being simulated at the very moment. All other rooms remain only as possible worlds, one of which becomes real, when the player enters the corresponding room exposing it to perception.
The entanglement of electrons is a nearly spooky phenomenon: electrons turn around their axis, they have a spin. Two electrons each are entangled in a way that if one electron spins clockwise with a certain (positive) spin, the other electron spins with exactly the same (but negative) spin cunter-clockwise. The summed up total spin of the two entangled electrons is 0. This electron spin balance remains, even if the electrons are light years away from each other. This space independent entanglement seems most plausible, if space is not considered to be real, but simulated.
Although the thought of our world not being real, can appear a bit unsettling, the simulation hypothesis also contains a lot of comforting elements. The film song „Always look on the Bright Side of Life“ of the British satirical comedy classics „Monty Python’s Life of Brian“ ends with the spoken remark „You know, you come from nothing, you’re going back to nothing. What have you lost? Nothing!“
In a simulated world a lot of non-scientific phenomena and world views can be integrated. Déjà-Vu experiences, ghosts, UFO sightings, aliens and all other paranormal observations and activities would then be no more than variations of the simulation. Also, religions fit into simulated worlds without any problems. The beauty of virtual reality is that all is possible (which unfortunately seems to contradict our everyday observations).