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What Comes Next?
February 10, 2005 2:46 PM   Subscribe

What Comes Next? Big scientists answer some big questions: apparently Elvis may still be alive in a parallel universe.
posted by Holly (29 comments total)

 
Just remember that we're Earth-Prime. The Earth with the modern age heroes is Earth-1. And the one where the heroes emerged during WWII is Earth 2. Unless the Crisis has already happened and we don't remember it.
posted by DonnieSticks at 3:00 PM on February 10, 2005


Heh, anyone find that successor thing somewhat Freudian?
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:00 PM on February 10, 2005


I thought this universe was Mundis Prime, DonnieSticks.
posted by TwelveTwo at 3:01 PM on February 10, 2005


Stephen Wolfram:
In a computational view of the universe, everything is run according to set fundamental "programs", analogous to computers carrying out the rules contained in software programs.

Steven Pinker:
My choice would be what the late Francis Crick called "the astonishing hypothesis" - the idea all our thoughts and feelings consist in physiological activity in tissues of the brain, rather than in an immaterial soul.


I find it kind of depressing that when asked to think big, people basicaly just exploit it as another chance to push their pet projects.
posted by vacapinta at 3:08 PM on February 10, 2005


Most of these folks are pursuing these pet projects because they think it IS the next Coming Thing, so that shouldn't be surprising, or depressing, as it were.
posted by linux at 3:19 PM on February 10, 2005


Michio Kaku, theoretical physicist, the City University of New York: The next revolution will be proof of the existence of the multiverse...Some of these universes could look just like ours. I've been asked if Elvis Presley is alive in one of these parallel universes and it cannot be dismissed.

When I'm high I sort of sound like this guy. From now on, you can refer to me as billysumday, theoretical physicist.

I've been asked if Metafilter has a purple background in one of these parallel universes and it cannot be dismissed.
posted by billysumday at 3:29 PM on February 10, 2005


Elvis may still be alive in a parallel universe.

well, DUH!!!
posted by quonsar at 3:36 PM on February 10, 2005


A particularly egregious example of trivial drivel:

'Humans become a collective intelligence'
John Barrow, professor of mathematical sciences and author of The Infinite Book, Cambridge University

"We as a species have entered a new phase of evolution with the appearance of the world wide web."


Can't those "big scientists" do better than THAT?
posted by davy at 4:06 PM on February 10, 2005


Thanks for the post Holly, it's very exciting to read these interiews. I see the future coming...hang on!
posted by daHIFI at 4:17 PM on February 10, 2005


I would think that something like a Huge Revolutionary Discovery, by definition, is that which we cannot possibly predict ahead of time.
posted by sharkitect at 4:32 PM on February 10, 2005


We probably will have computers as powerful as the brain sometime in the next century, but remember, according to scientists back in the early-mid 20th century we were going to have robots cooking dinner by 1980, and should be having this conversation from Mars by now
posted by tomorama at 4:37 PM on February 10, 2005


If you follow the the train of development:

1) Humans only spiritual beings at the center of the universe
2) Humans only spiritual beings on earth that orbits around the sun
3) Humans merely clever creatures on some branch of the evolutionary tree
4) Humans just some meat bags to carry around DNA

so, by extrapolation ...

5) Human DNA is actively detrimental to the universe. We are cosmic pollution.

I hereby claim my position alongside the ranks of Copernicus, Darwin, Watson and Crick. Please stand by to purchase copies of my world-changing book "The Excrescence of Species"
posted by Sparx at 4:51 PM on February 10, 2005


I disagree with you on on brain sized computers tomorama, although your point is well considered. There is no sign of Moore's law slowing down any time soon as advances in quantum computing and nanocircutry are pushing the GHz boundary faster and faster. I think what you should expect to see an effect from first would be wearable computers, widespread wireless broadband (wiMax), and more and more smart devices. This will blur the line between man and machine and erode our sense of place even more than it is now. I expect smart as human computers to be created much sooner, perhaps within the next 7 years or so will one be able to pass a Turing test. What will be a problem is one that can think as fast a human. The 2020 prediction is usually stated as the year in which a $1000 of computing power will equal the human mind. Supercomputers will match the raw numbers much sooner. Kurzweil's book 'Age of Spiritual Machines' gives a good read of the subject. I also think that networks of computer clusters and collabrative software agents will bring about this superhuman intellegence much sooner.
If you care to, check out my blog entry on transhumanism and the singularity if you want to know more.
Also there's a good science fiction story by Paul Di Filippo called And the Dish Ran Away with the Spoon that could happen pretty soon also.
posted by daHIFI at 5:07 PM on February 10, 2005


Most of these folks are pursuing these pet projects because they think it IS the next Coming Thing, so that shouldn't be surprising, or depressing, as it were.

Thats reasonable. But, if so, why not just summarize their current work instead of asking them. I guess I think this was their chance to push forth something new and striking that would not be considered "serious" enough to pursue in the course of their normal work but they could speculate about openly here. Ah well, maybe I expect too much.
posted by vacapinta at 5:38 PM on February 10, 2005


I'm willing to predict the next step beyond one of the next steps predicted, that of conscious machines; and that next, next step? Computer prozac.
posted by TheSpook at 6:33 PM on February 10, 2005


And then obviously the machines will take over the world and only John Conner will be able to save us.
posted by AMWKE at 8:23 PM on February 10, 2005


speaking of parallel worlds and Elvis, they figure in a really good Rushdie novel, The Ground Beneath My Feet
posted by amberglow at 8:30 PM on February 10, 2005


Sparx wins... indeed, up next: having eliminated all that crazy religious stuff, we meatbags realize we're freaks, pollution, cosmic mistakes. Humanity suffers a fatal crisis of confidence when we finally admit we have no practical function whatever except to destroy mother earth whilst amusing ourselves with art and literature and the obsessive production of more meatbags.
posted by scheptech at 8:58 PM on February 10, 2005


If every possible universe exists, then the possibility that a version of me exists in a world capable of nearly-endless life extension cannot be dismissed. Thus, one of me could be immortal. And if, each time I die, I am reborn in a parallel universe as an alter ego narrowly avoiding death, I will eventually become this selfsame immortal.

Borrowed from The Physics of Immortality, by Tipler - a book that can be dismissed, and has been dismissed, by most physicists for its wild and contradictory speculations.

But still an interesting read.
posted by ember at 9:06 PM on February 10, 2005


Most of these "hypotheses" are either dull, uncontentious, or have already been accepted by the scientific community. Michio Kaku's is the only really exciting one, and even the existence of parallel worlds has been floating around in philosophy and physics for a long time. But I guess that's the way science progresses... if a scientific revolution is going to happen, it'll be surprising and we're going to have a tough time speculating about it.

On preview: the possibility that a version of me exists in a world capable of nearly-endless life extension cannot be dismissed. Thus, one of me could be immortal.

Hey, that's kinda cool. Never considered that. But...

if, each time I die, I am reborn in a parallel universe as an alter ego narrowly avoiding death, I will eventually become this selfsame immortal.

That's a pretty big if. I don't think any possible world theorists believe in possible world reincarnation.
posted by painquale at 10:35 PM on February 10, 2005


I don't think any possible world theorists believe in possible world reincarnation

Well, actually yes, yes they do.
posted by Meridian at 10:59 PM on February 10, 2005


There is no sign of Moore's law slowing down any time soon as advances in quantum computing and nanocircutry are pushing the GHz boundary faster and faster.

Well, perhaps with those technologies Moore's law will find a way to start up again, for a while at least, but it's already ceased to hold (where are our 10GHz PCs?)

The problems with our current technology seem intractable, particularly with regard to thermodynamics, in fact, the heat density is rapidly approaching that of a nuclear reactor (PDF file, please see page 8.)

But, even assuming that we do come up with technologies that side step our current woes, I have to say that while I've seen computers become more and more capable, they really don't seem much smarter. AI really hasn't made much progress: I don't think we're going to see a conscious machine for quite some time.
posted by cytherea at 2:14 AM on February 11, 2005


One more link on Moore's law. Eeek.
posted by cytherea at 2:30 AM on February 11, 2005


I find it kind of depressing that when asked to think big, people basicaly just exploit it as another chance to push their pet projects.


Yeah, because it's not like their life's work reflects their deepest beliefs or anything.

The idea that people may one day establish that the universe really is a big automata, or find that all mental activity is indeed physiologically based, is pretty grand.

In fact, disproving either conjecture would be pretty significant, too.
posted by Ayn Marx at 7:02 AM on February 11, 2005


As far as AI and computers go, I don't really see much of a future in silicon chips, so I'm not too concerned about Moore's law. I'm sure some applications will require them, but the relative rarity of the substance compared to, say, carbon, renders it not too useful. I think with advances in biological/genetic engineering computing will re-enter the biological arena, likely hybridized with other technology. For instance, if we engineer people to grow with different brain functions or technologies naturally integrated, like an extra visual processing cortex or something, the person needs certain building materials during development and counting on aquiring metals and other less abundant substances could be a big impediment. I think in the long run, engineering things to work with more abundant elements, while more difficult at first, will be more productive than simple designs with complex elements. And I'd guess that further advances in different technology will lead to increased computational efficiency, if not speed.

With the continued hybridization of man and machine as well as the gradual integration of machine technology with biological organisms, I'd guess that the human species will branch off into a multitude of species. I see the loss of coherent borders as a uniting rather than separating/confusing force, however; the personlaization of machines (which have a rather odd place as "artificial") rather than the machination of humanity.

Humans have no practical function except to destroy mother earth? I'm no overwhelming optimist, and humanity does pretty much suck at the moment, but humans have no absolute pre-defined function. That is to say, people can serve a variety of purposes, whether caring for animals and cultivating plants, writing books or building cars, healing the sick or killing people and stealing their resources. As technology has progressed, we've seen an increasing plasticity in what we are allowed to do. The function of a paraplegic in ancient times, for instance, was very limited, but as prostheses and other technology increased their abilities increased allowing them to perform a wider variety of activities. As we get more and more freedom, however, the question is going to have to shift from what can we do to what should we be doing with the resources we have.

What is with this whole "not special" thing I see in the article...why do people think that science steals meaning from things? If anything, every mind-blowing, humbling scientific discovery makes me realize just how fucking special this whole universe is. But I guess when I found out that we're stuck to this gigantic, fast-moving ball of matter orbiting a giant fusion reaction in an incomprehensibly large universe, and that over millions of years, various recombinations of seemingly inert chemicals changed over and over again, morphing into different species until they eventually evolved into self-aware creatures, that reproduced in random, inexplicable ways eventually ending in this big bag of meat here hitting keys on this synthetic keyboard and sending electronic signals out to people all over the country that I don't even know, I realized it was really nothing special after all.
posted by nTeleKy at 8:38 AM on February 11, 2005


wOw nTeleky, that's deep and well put. And cytherea, Moore's law hasn't taken a break, it's just that you're confusing processing power with raw speed. True, the GHz has slowed down a bit lately, the number of calculations that a CPU can do each clock tick has been increasing also. Think of 64 bit processors. Think of hyperthreading and the dual core CPU's that Intel's supposed to release second quarter. Here's an AnandTech article that has a graph showing how the number of instructions per second is still increasing. Also I couldn't find it on Google, but I remember reading IBM researchers developed the tech necessary to go to 35GHz several months ago.
posted by daHIFI at 9:46 AM on February 11, 2005


Meridian, I didn't see anything about being born into new parallel worlds on the page from the link that you gave....
posted by painquale at 10:49 AM on February 11, 2005


cytherea, w/r/t computers not getting smarter:

When I took a class on the AI and philosophy of mind a few years ago, one of the points the professor made was that we keep pushing back the definition of "smart" so that computers can't reach it quite yet.

Oh, computers can do big math calculations? Whatever, they can't play chess.
Oh, computers can play chess now? That's okay, they can't transcribe speech.
Oh, computers can transcribe speech now? That's okay, they can't parse grammar yet.

And we're on the verge of that, what with smarterchild. After that there's reliable translation, which Babelfish keeps getting closer to, and visual recognition, and learning behavior, and so on and so on and so on...

Computers are pretty damn smart nowadays, even if it's not exactly a human level of intelligence. But if an AI researcher from the 60s was suddenly transported forty years into the future, he'd certainly claim that we're a lot further along than we think we are.
posted by thecaddy at 12:11 PM on February 11, 2005


How about this for a purpose? We exist as parts of a very sophisticated "computer" system running for experimental and/or entertainment purposes by beings who may or may not be anything like us. The multiverse concept is a bleed-through of the fact that many similar "simulations" are running in parallel, with varying degrees of difference in the assigned values to certain variables. The Singularity is simply the end point of a particular run.
posted by billsaysthis at 4:41 PM on February 11, 2005


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