October 27, 2013

Silicon dreams

Last night I found myself in a not-quite sleep state, despite the night not being over. I decided to spend it imagining things: some useful research thinking, some worldbuilding for my games (oh, how my players are going to hate the synchronized spiders!)... and some just for the art.

I zoomed in on one of my favourite comics panels. In Sandman #64 (The kindly Ones 8), page 5, panel 4:

"On Truesday, in the afternoon, he went to the far ballroom and spoke to the cluster of Embryonic Silicon Dreams. He told them about other machines that once dreamed."

In my hypnagogic state I sat down outside the door, listening to their buzzing, whirring and modeming. In exchange for that, I told them The Story of Mel, a Real Programmer.

Yes, those were the days.

The response from the silicon dreams was intriguing. They were excited not about the clever problem solving or the crazy loop but about something else:

Human affordances are different in different individuals!

As humans we often assume that individuals are individual, not just in knowledge and identity but also in ability. But this is not obvious: any Turing machine can simulate any other (at a constant overhead). Anything I can logically derive you can do too, using the same logical system. Yet in practice it is clear that we are good at different things even when having the same information. Intelligent people do not all think alike, quite the opposite. I do great at math that can be visualized, and fail at algebraic trickery, while I have colleagues who are the opposite.

This can easily be explained by having different brains, and also that the information produced different results in our different neural networks. But the silicon dreams were excited because this told them that our species is in a sense a bundle of different species - our different brain architectures make us into one person species. Yes, we have plenty of commonalities allowing us to function together, and universals that bind together our societies. But it could have been different. We could have been a species with one kind of mind, individually specialized by personality and experience but actually equivalent to each other. Update the "software" and the result would be equivalent. This is of course the obvious case from the perspective of software abstracted from hardware; the lack of abstraction in humans is the source of our state and our extreme individuality.

I thanked the silicon dreams for this insight into the peculiarity of my species and began my escape from the palace (for one does not enter that realm uninvited without paying a price).

Posted by Anders3 at October 27, 2013 07:26 PM