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Jul 21

Vision of the Future — Gray Goo and Exponentially Expanding Consciousness

Image2In the deep future I see, machines of inconceivable complexity radiate outward from the Earth like rays from the Sun. They are tiny, sophisticated, self-replicating seeds with the sole objective of converting all matter they come in to contact with in to exact replicas of themselves. Their purpose is to wake up the “dumb matter” of the universe by taking cold, unstructured matter and restructuring it in to computational substrate.

Why?

Because the only thing that really ever matters is computation. We can easily convince ourselves of this by seeing that consciousness is a form of computation, and further that consciousness is the canvas on which all other experience is painted on. If any kind of experience is important to us, then consciousness, and therefore computation, must surely be more important.

One might argue that claiming “consciousness is all that matters because all of our experiences are felt through the medium of consciousness” is to ignore why consciousness is important to us in the first place: the experiences. Without experience consciousness is empty. In analogous words, a blank canvas is not interesting to look at. This quickly degrades into a “chicken-or-the-egg” problem. Without consciousness, experience is impossible, but without experience consciousness is boring. Therefore, one cannot be more important than the other. And, this may be true, but the reason computation is so valuable is because not only does it encompass consciousness, but it can also produce and simulate experience. Computation supersedes both. Regardless of which precedes the other, consciousness or experience, it makes no difference since computation realizes both.

What is likely the most amazing fact that I can think of, and one that I happen to spend a significant amount of time thinking about, is that consciousness seems to be a built-in feature of the universe. There’s nothing truly mysterious about consciousness (in the sense that it’s not supernatural or scientifically unknowable), it’s simply the emergent property of arranging physical chunks of the universe in just the right way. Sure the details of how to arrange those chunks are a little more complicated, but from a high-level overview, that’s essentially what consciousness is. You can take a relatively small amount of hydrogen, and given enough time, produce an entity that can think about the fact that it used to be a relatively small amount of hydrogen. Consciousness is, quite literally, the universe conceptualizing itself.

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