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Communications of the ACM


Created Computed Universe

Created Computed Universe, illustration

Credit: Attila Alexovics

In 1956, justa few years after the birth of computing, Isaac Asimov published a story called the "Last Question."1 In the story, he envisions a computer-based superintelligence will eventually emerge. The story's highlight is its brilliant ending, in which computing crosses into cosmology, philosophy, and the atheism-creationism debates. Starting from Asimov's story, this Viewpoint discusses how speculation about the future of computing reshapes our perspective on the nature of reality, makes a strong case for agnosticism, and elevates mind and computing into primary cosmological forces.

In Asimov's story, in the year 2150 humanity has solved its energy problems by efficiently harvesting solar energy. A supercomputer, named AC, is the key enabler of this solar energy technology. But two technicians of AC still worry that humanity will eventually die, when the sun and all other energy sources finally exhaust themselves. Since AC has plenty of spare computing cycles it is given the question: How can we keep humanity alive forever? AC replies "INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR MEANINGFUL ANSWER" but keeps thinking on it. Centuries pass and AC becomes a vast superintelligent mind that occupies the mass of whole planets. Still no answer. Myriad years pass, AC becomes a vast superintelligent mind. Every human's mind is uploaded on it. Millions of years pass and AC's computation is a pattern of energy spread out in the whole space, much alike the alien race in Arthur Clarke's 2001: A Space Odyssey and in the spirit of Ray Kurzweil's prediction11 that it is the fate of humanity to produce a superintelligent mind, whose computation will eventually consume the matter and energy of vast areas of the universe. Still no answer.


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