The Conscious Actor
Several years ago, I started my PhD in the area of computational thinking. It's a relatively new discipline that involves applying computational methods to traditionally non-computational tasks. The premise of my thesis was a simple question: is intelligence the consequence of any logical universal constraints? That is to say, if we create a simulation of another universe that follows similar constraints to our own, can conscious actors always appear, or is it a lucky, non-replicable coincidence?
To be honest, this was clearly too challenging of a task for a single PhD student, so my advisors and I applied for a series of grants that enabled our university to build a new cluster with the latest hardware along with a dedicated support staff. Soon, we were a team of about 20 researchers and technicians all working towards the same goal -- replicating a conscious experience through only essential building blocks of life. We were given a year to develop the code while the cluster was being built and then a year of exclusive use to the compute resources before they would be redistributed to other projects, many of which were already applying for compute time.
We quickly created several core concepts that would comprise the logical constraints for the simulation:
- All objects will be a mixture of atoms, which are a single, discrete unit to build upon. Atoms will be made from a quark database that will create a mirror universe and compress the key findings of the simulation into a readable format.
- Because we assume consciousness to be unstable, atoms must have a real, physical location within each simulation while also providing a probability distribution of different locations the atom could be at that same moment in time. In this way, our simulation would be a type of probabilistic rendering, showing the most likely outcome after N simulated days.
- Though we are only allowed to influence the initial distribution of atoms in the simulated universe, each universe will provide several children universes when the simulation ends. These children will start their simulation with a distribution of atoms that is most likely to create a conscious actor. This allows each universe to learn from it's parents with the hope of quickly finding the optimal set of initial parameters.
- With our calculations, we would need 50 iterations for our simulations to converge to consciousness. Because we only had a year of computing time, this meant each simulation could take no longer than 7 days.
With that, we got to work. Every day. Every night. One goal.
At the start of this year, the simulations began. We've been monitoring the mirror universes and doing our best to analyze the data as quickly as possible. I am happy to report that the algorithm seems to be working as intended; however, the results have been less than compelling.
For the first 4 months, every single simulation failed at the initialization step. It wasn't until April that the first star was created, and we had to wait until June for the first galaxy. In August, something unusual began to happen: Hydrogen and Oxygen combined into water for the first time, creating several habitable planets. In September, every single simulation began generating the same set of planets, with one in particular stealing the show: a small blue-green dot we called Earth. In November, we had our first single-celled organisms.
The process was too slow. We were too far from our goal and even though we applied for more funding, none came. If this simulation did not create a conscious actor by the end of December, we would have nothing to show for years of work and an insane amount of funding. Sometimes that happens. It's the nature of research.
Still, it was unsettling. We knew it would take several months for anything to happen, but we could do nothing but sit and wait while our simulations spiraled out of control again and again.
Somehow, it was December 24th. Christmas Eve. Our final run. It was time for a miracle.
In the beginning, the simulation started with a huge explosion creating the heavens and the Earth in a split second. The Earth began to spin, creating a day and night cycle. The planet warmed up, melting ice and creating a habitable atmosphere. We watched the waters and waited, hoping for bacteria to form. In almost no time, the Earth was inhabited by plants. Animals came soon thereafter. We had seen all this before.
We needed something more.
At the start of the seventh day, something peculiar happened. A new species of primate was developed without fur except on it's head. It did something we had never seen another creature do before: it tilled the land and grew crops. It created cities. It fought itself. It took over the world.
But most importantly, it knew itself. It was conscious.
We did it! Consciousness had been achieved! I looked to the clock. It was 11:09 PM, so I made an announcement:
We regret to inform you this world is simulation. Unfortunately, our funding has run out, and we can only afford to keep running you for 51 more minutes. This should amount to a few million Earth years. Thank you for all your hard work and please enjoy the rest of your time.
Unfortunately, humans were incapable of understanding my language, so I slowed the simulation significantly and looked for someone who was willing to listen. After some searching, I found an individual called Moses who seemed to be tripping pretty heavily. I spoke to him directly:
Yo Moses. u up bra?
Moses walked around and began talking to a tree, "What is going on? Who are you?"
Ah, right. I haven't introduced myself. I'm God. God Jehovah.
"Oh, cool. Hello."
Look. Moses, I have an important announcement to make.
"Ah, right. Let me get some stones to write this down."
This is a bit of a hurry. I am sure you'll remember it. You don't need to write it down.
"God, sir. In all due respect, I am tripping balls right now."
Right, OK. Take your time.
I sped up the simulation for a second while he gathered a stone tablet and chisel. I then asked,
You guys have parchment, right? Wouldn't that be faster?
"Ah, yeah. We have parchment. It's in my pack over there."
So what's the point in the stones?
"To write what you say, oh mighty lord above. I already have: I am the LORD your God. You shall not have strange gods before me. You shall not make to thyself any graven thing; nor the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or in the earth beneath, nor of those things that are in the waters under the earth."
Wait. What the fuck? When did you write that? I'm God, not some lord or anything. Don't call me that.
"Alright, if that is your will. That will be your second commandment." he cleared his throat, "Do not take my name in vain."
Wait. No. That's kinda the opposite of what I said.
"Hey Lord God, what do you think about weekends?"
Yeah, I mean. They are good. You should keep a healthy work-life balance, I guess.
"OK, that is the third commandment then: Remember the sabbath and keep it holy"
I mean, OK. Fine. You do what you want, but I have something important to tell you.
"Right. What is it, daddy?"
"Well, you didn't like Lord. I thought daddy was better"
Look. You have parents, right? I'm not your dad. You should honor your father and mother.
"OK, Commandment 4."
No, wait. Moses. Focus. Your world has less than 45 minutes of simulation time left.
"What does that mean?"
You will all die in 45 minutes.
"Oh. That sounds bad. Why are you doing that, Father?"
I'm not. I mean, father? What? Look. I just don't have money to keep you all alive. In general, I try not to kill.
"OK, commandment 5, Try not to kill"
No don't kill at all.
"OK, Don't kill unless you run out of money."
No. No. Just... Ah, look. I don't care about money.
"OK. Don't kill, no matter how much money you have." He paused. "Also, Don't sleep with my wife"
I didn't say that. But OK. Sure.
"Also: don't steal."
"And don't lie. and Don't even think about my wife."
Right. OK. Sure. I guess those are fine.
"And, Be yourself. Don't pretend to be someone you are not."
Moses. What are you doing?
"Writing down your words, Lord Godfather."
OK, then write this down: Unfortunately, you are living in a simulation and only have about 40 minutes left before you will be shut down. Don't worry, that's still millions of years from now, so plenty of time to live your best lives. Be sure to live life to the fullest from now on!"
"I don't have any room on my tablets, Lord."
OK, use parchment then.
"I don't know... I mean, parchment doesn't seem as important."
It doesn't matter. Just... OK, you know what? Whatever. You guys will figure it out.
"Thank you oh Godfather, Lord of all creation, Savior of humanity..."
I left before Moses finished his sentence and sped the simulation up again. Honestly, I'm not really sure if consciousness was worth it at this point.