Looking Down, or Up

February 21, 2021

A scientist may spend her whole life looking, hoping, waiting, for a significant breakthrough. I rode the rollercoaster of self-questioning, is a Nobel-contending discovery was a matter of destiny, patience or hard work? I worried that I wasn’t working hard enough, then I worried that I was worrying too much. Which in turn amounts to a lack of patience.

But now I wonder about destiny. I wonder, because I found out something… No, scratch that. It’s not so much a discovery, which can be like unlocking a door and walking though into an unknown room with its own new puzzles. It’s more like finding a door you didn’t know was there, then, having apparently unlocked it with ease, discovering you not only lack the tools to solve the new puzzles, but perhaps those puzzles are somehow picking at your locks.

I work with Artificial Intelligence, although I prefer to call it Artificial Intuition, as that’s what I’m trying to create. I want my creations to come up with their own ideas, their own questions, about their world. I work with ‘swarms’: massive groups of miniature minds that work together and bounce ideas off each other. They collaborate in a similar way to us humans. It’s like playing a massive game of Sims.

Well, my Sims are advanced. They started experimenting with their own intelligent (or is that intuitive?) creations in order to better understand their place in the universe. I think they were trying to work out whether they were real, or – irony of ironies – some kind of computer simulation. I secretly empathised with that! So clever; so quick to question.

It was a wondrous thing to realise what my AIs were doing. But soon an unease crept in, which at first I couldn’t properly identify. And then it all became clear.

Those intelligences-within-intelligences (two storeys down from me, as it were) starting wondering whether they, in turn, were ‘real’ or not. And that caused a crisis of confidence in ‘my’ AIs they did the same, only with more zeal. It obviously set something off in their minds: if their own AI offspring were questioning their unreality, then perhaps so should they.

And that left me with a set of very awkward questions.