Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and AI

Caution: There is a spoiler alert embedded within.

I finally read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy a few months ago. Yeah yeah, I’m late. Who cares. It was a pretty quick read, and I recommend it to those who want to join the late reader’s club.

Anyway, this funny, futuristic book got me pretty excited during a few key scenes. There were some gems about technology scattered throughout the passages. Like the one below:

My copy of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

For some background, in case you haven’t read the book, these two programmers created this humongous computer called Deep Thought to answer the question of ‘Life, the Universe, and Everything.’

Spoiler alert — The answer Deep Thought came up with was Forty-Two. Lulz.

The quote from the book that intrigued me was —

“You know nothing of future time,” pronounced Deep Thought, “and yet in my teeming circuitry I can navigate infinite delta streams of future probability and see that there must one day come a computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate, but which it will be my eventual fate to design.”

If you read and/or dabble in artificial intelligence, tell me right now that that quote does not give you some sort of heebie-jeebies.

In the book, the answer of 42 is met with outrage and confusion to the alien life that inhabits the universe. Deep Thought then retorts that the programmers did not really understand the premise of the question —that they really did not grasp the problem. Thus, the answer would make no sense as well. Fair conclusion in my mind.

Fast forward, Deep Thought proposes that in order to understand the question and answer, he will build the Earth. Those being on Earth will work together to, in an evolutionary way, come up with the answer to understanding the question. Earth, in the eyes of the computer, is an experiment to come up with a ‘natural’ way to arrive at a better answer to the question. Weird, but interesting.

Which, like most things, got me thinking about artificial intelligence:

AI is the next step for Human Intelligence

Deep Thought created Earth. The inhabitants on Earth will then learn, evolve, and hopefully create something that will bring us closer to the answer of the universe.

Though I don’t like to think in broad/confusing terms like that, I do believe that artificial intelligence is the next step to understand our physical world and will disrupt the social rules that define how we live now. By social rules, I mean the way humans interact, learn, and communicate across meaningless boundaries such as country of origin, race, language, sexual orientation, etc.

That said, AI seems natural. As a species, we have always used technology to aid in a task to make it more efficient. Fire for warmth and cooking. Bows and arrows for killing and the coolness. Trains for moving. Social media for connecting to our friends and family.

Now, artificial intelligence will be used for the next set of human problems. AI will solve problems through a mixture of tools. Machine learning, pattern recognition, logic, robotics, blockchain, etc.

AI is redolent of human history and tradition.

Though this is arguable, many of the deep questions of today and the past revolve around the purpose of our life on earth and what our future looks like. Will AI take over to keep journeying to the answer to the seemingly unanswerable questions? Will the singularity moment be the instant everything makes sense? Or will AI and humans intermingle in a way that we can’t image?

Today, we fall on different notions to explain our reason for being here— religion, the big bang, spiritual practice, and just plain saying it’s not worth our time thinking about . However, we never come up with a real, tangible solution to existence.

And I think that is one point the book was trying to make — that we actually don’t know what we are asking or what we want. Because maybe if we do get the right answer, we will still ask further, inane questions. Maybe humans just need something to search for in order to live a more fulfilling, exciting life.

I think that it is through artificial intelligence, and this overall movement, where humans will figure more out about themselves. This digitization will be a real way to reflect on our moral values, how we perceive ourselves, and what kind of world we want the future generations to live in.

Who knows — we might just be an experiment Deep Thought came up with.