Matrioshka Brains: The Next Level
Waking up an entire star system
In Matrioshka Brain: The Ultimate Intelligence, I explained the concept of a Matrioshka Brain. Such a hypothetical structure would encompass an entire star and use the star’s energy output for its computations. Moreover, it would consist of multiple extra shells, each encompassing the previous shell and using the previous shell’s waste energy to perform even more computations. I also explained how a Matrioshka Brain is by definition part of a Kardashev II Civilization: one that uses all the energy of its host star(s). The Kardashev Scale (proposed by Nikolai Kardashev) has two other levels: a Level I Civilization “only” uses all the energy that is available on its planet, and a Level III Civilization uses all the energy available in its host galaxy. Note that humanity is not (yet) at Level I.
Naturally, this got me thinking. A Matrioshka Brain (as noted in my previous article on this subject) is the ultimate intelligence a given planetary system can possibly have, as it uses all the energy available in that planetary system to perform computations. That is, of course, granted that the Matrioshka Brain actually uses its computations for intelligent tasks. Now, since a Matrioshka Brain is the intelligence equivalent of a Kardashev II Civilization, it’s interesting to think about the intelligence equivalent of Kardashev III, which would be the ultimate intelligence a galaxy can have. This would mean using all the energy of an entire galaxy for intelligence and would be partially realized by creating a Matrioshka Brain around every star in a galaxy. I say partially because stars are not the only source of energy in a galaxy — for the purposes of this post, however, we’ll focus on stars.
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Yes, this faces some serious practical and probably even theoretical challenges, but imagine that it could be done. What kind of brain (or collection of brains) would we have?
The computational power of our Galactic Intelligence
We’re going to have to make some estimates here. Say we have a galaxy of a hundred billion stars. These stars average the same energy output as our Sun, which is estimated to be a whopping 3.846 * 10²⁶ watts (or joules per second). Since we have a hundred billion (10¹¹) stars in our fictional galaxy, this makes for a total of 3.846 * 10³⁷ watts. According to the Green500 list, it is currently possible to create 1.5113 * 10¹⁰ FLOPS/W, where a FLOPS (floating-point operations per second) is a unit of computation per second. That means our fictional Matrioshka Brain-filled galaxy can create 3.846 * 10³⁷ * 1.5113 * 10¹⁰ = 5.812 * 10⁴⁷ FLOPS, using the current highest performance of “green” supercomputers.
Let’s put that in perspective. Estimates vary, but we can use 3.68 * 10¹⁶ FLOPS as the amount of computation necessary to simulate a human brain. This would mean our fictional galaxy — or as I like to call it: Galactic Intelligence — could simulate 1.58 * 10³¹ human brains in real-time. Or, it could simulate 7.748 trillion brains (a thousand times our current population) thinking for a period of about 64 billion years (almost five times the age of the Universe) in one second. Pretty astonishing!
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