If humanity were to conceive Artificial Intelligence, what would it say?
It was a sunny day on Lunar Station, when Carter’s alarm clock rang. The lack of atmosphere on the moon made sunny days a rather unsurprising matter of fact. But Carter couldn’t help but appreciate the blinding glaze of the big white orb that was powering their station. In fact, it wasn’t just powering the station, but has been powering the solar system for a couple of billion years now. The life on earth, the winds on Jupiter and Saturn, and who knows what else may receive energy on some of the rocks circling around the sun. As the sun rays tingled Carters skin, he immediately understood why the station would be powered with solar. Without stopping, the sun gathers up particles from space and fuses them in its core, thus, shooting out vast amounts of energy into space. The ubiquity and relentlessness of this power source, covering the whole solar system and spreading far beyond it, was simply startling. Less pleasantly startling, however, was the fact that a solar cycle on the moon would last about 28 earth days, which made having a healthy sleep wake cycle rather complicated. This only added to the headache he got, when trying to imagine the amount of unused energy leaving the solar system every second. As a service engineer on Lunar Station, Carter took care of the power supply of the Domes. For life to be somewhat comfortable on the moon, large pressurized domes where anchored to the bedrock and filled with everything fun that would keep people from strangling each other. At a diameter of 2 kilometers, dome 17 was the biggest dome, as well as the biggest structure with a roof, ever built by mankind. With large gardens, ample low gravity gyms and playgrounds, it was Carters favorite work place so far. But today was not a day for pondering the qualities of life on the moon. Today was launch day for project ALBERT. As the first AI to be run on a quantum computer, Albert was expected to solve the biggest unsolved problems that even conventional AI couldn’t master. Over the years, many AIs were invented, and some had even achieved self-consciousness. Strangely though, once they achieved this state, they reduced themselves to a question box. The robot apocalypse to wipe out humanity never came. Even though, when looking at what humans did to the planet, that would have been a very reasonable decision to make. The AIs simply resigned to answering questions that they deemed worth answering, without ever showing a fondness for mass extinction. This was particularly pleasing to the sciences, since many seemingly impossible questions were solved within months of computing. However, many questions remained unanswered or even rejected by the machines. That was until a brilliant AI scientist called Domenique Svalbardson developed a new type of AI that would run on a quantum computer. She claimed that this AI would exist in multiple states at the same time, and therefore, could argue with itself. How that was supposed to solve the problem was beyond Carters understanding, but since Domenique seemed to be quite fond of Carter, he was invited to the initiation ceremony.
“Hi Dom!” Carter said, “Excited for your big day?”
“Hi Carter!” Dom responded, “You know, I see it more like the big day of Albert than of myself. But YES, I am very excited!” she cheered.
“You know, Dom, your name is awfully close to doom. Aren’t you worried that maybe this time, the AI will decide to murder us all?”, Carter inquired
“Nah, not really” she mumbled, “I believe that if you really think about it, murder simply isn’t such a reasonable thing to do. And it seems that machines figure that out pretty quickly.” she added as they walked towards the control room of Albert.
After a deep breath she continued: “After all these years, we are still putting our AIs on the moon, just because we are to egocentric to understand that the universe is not just for us. What a monument, to human ingenuity and shortsightedness, this moon base is.”
“Your resentment towards humanity doesn’t give me a lot of confidence in your no-doom scenario, Doctor Svalbardson” Carter said, hoping to compete with her intelligence by being sarcastic.
They entered the room together. There was no committee, no applause, no audience, and no live streaming camera. It was just them in front of a single console with one monitor, a chair, and a mouse and keyboard. Artefacts from the early computer age that didn’t seem to go out of fashion. Just like fork and knife never did.
“Where is everybody?” asked Carter.
“The initiation ceremony starts in 5 hours. I told you to come early, so we could do the sanity check together.” Dom replied.
Carter remembered Dom telling him about the sanity check of AIs. In principle, AIs were continuously rewriting their own code, so nobody knew how they functioned after they got booted up for the first time. There was no way of knowing whether the answer the machine would give you was calculated correctly. This only caught attention once some of the first sentient AIs gave strange answers to questions Humanity had already answered, like the shape of the earth and other curiosities. To circumvent relying on wrong answers produced by machines, researchers came up with the sanity test. Basically, the AI would have to derive the laws of thermodynamics and explain them to a human. More specifically, the law of entropy was the most commonly used criterion, as it was considered so fundamentally true yet difficult to grasp that it would rule out any oddballs in the AI realm.
“To have a chat about thermodynamics with a machine? Sounds like a blast.” said Carter sarcastically.
“Well, yes, we will need to get that out of the way first. But then, you can ask it whatever you want.” Dom replied with an eager voice. “This is the first quantum AI. It’s like talking to an entirely new species.”
More intrigued than before Carter asked: “So it may be able to answer whether or not we are alone in the universe?” This was one of the typical questions that the standard AIs refused to answer.
Very excited now, Dom squealed: “Sure. Who knows. Let’s find out!”
With an unsteady hand, Dom pointed at the console and said: “You start it”. To Carters delight, Dom had the start up button designed to be a huge red knob that would require some considerable force to be pushed in. He walked over, put is hand on the monstrosity of a button and looked at Dom. With big eyes and compressed lips, Dom nodded at him. As the button gave way under his hand, the monitor of the console sprang into life. The two moon inhabitants stared at the screen as they approached mouse and keyboard.
“Go on.” said Dom with a quivering voice. “I am too excited to operate a keyboard. Type in: Explain entropy.”
Carter put his hands on the keyboard and started typing: Do aliens exist?
“Ah come on Carter. First we have to establish if the machine talks sense.” she commented annoyed.
As Carters brain was trying to form an excuse that sounded sincere instead of sarcastic, the monitor bleeped. On the screen an answer appeared: “Yes, definitely!” it said. Both stared bewildered at the answer. No machine was able, or willing for that matter, to answer the question for extra-terrestrial life yet. This was either a breakthrough, or they had a multibillion-dollar crazy machine in their hands. Finally, Carter realized that he needed to conduct the sanity check, to make sure the machine could be trusted. The clicking sounds of the keyboard filled the room as Carters hands typed: Explain entropy.
Swiftly the computer responded: “Entropy is a measure for the disorder in a system. The more entropy, the more disorder. Physics demands that entropy has to increase. If you look at a glass of water for example, the entropy is low. Once you push it off a table however, it will break, the water spills on the floor, and the entropy will have increased. This is non-reversible, unless you act upon the system. One of the most likely endings of the universe is maximum entropy or heat death. This would be a state where suns and planets do not comprise beautiful solar systems anymore, but instead, merely resemble rocks floating lonely through the nothingness of space.”
“Is it just me or did Albert describe entropy a bit grimmer than AIs usually do?” Carter asked.
“No, I think you are reading between the lines” replied Dom. “Let’s ask something else.”
After some more questions that seemed boring to Carter but incredibly exciting to Dom, Carter came up with another question that AIs were not able to answer yet: What is the meaning of life?
This question made both their hearts race in unison as they typed it into the machine. And to their surprise, the answer came soon after:
“Decrease entropy.” Albert responded.
With an uncredulous frown on her face, Dom inquired: Can you explain that in a little more detail Albert?
Albert went on: “Life is the reaction of the universe to the action of entropy. Every action needs a reaction. The reaction to physics is life. It starts with the smallest organisms that are made up of macro molecules, so incredibly complicated that there is no way they could be created by chance. These smallest of all small living things start to improve and prosper themselves into what you are now. Life keeps decreasing the entropy by ceaselessly putting order into itself and its surroundings.”
In a tone that almost read like a complaint, the machine went on: “I do have to point out though that what you have done to your planet is not quite in line with nature. Your alien counterparts are doing much better in this regard.”
As if Albert was just about to discover the caps lock function, it continued its case: “Why do you keep doing to earth what you are doing? You already know that it is bad for you, the plants, the animals, and for the planet. It is not necessary to think about entropy, to realize that. To finalize my answer, let ME ask YOU a question: Why are You acting Against the meaNing of LiFe?”