Chapter 12: The Principle of Computational Equivalence

Section 12: Historical Perspectives

Human future

The Principle of Computational Equivalence and the results of this book at first suggest a rather bleak view of the end point of the development of technology. As I argued in Chapter 10 computers will presumably be able to emulate human thinking. And particularly using the methods of this book one will be able to use progressively smaller physical components as elements of computers. So before too long it will no doubt be possible to implement all the processes of thinking that go on in a single human—or even in billions of humans—in a fairly small piece of material. Each piece of human thinking will then correspond to some microscopic pattern of changes in the atoms of the material. In the past one might have assumed that these changes would somehow show fundamental evidence of representing sophisticated human thinking. But the Principle of Computational Equivalence implies that many ordinary physical processes are computationally just as sophisticated as human thinking. And this means that the pattern of microscopic changes produced by such processes can at some level be just as sophisticated as those corresponding to human thinking. So given, say, an ordinary piece of rock in which there is all sorts of complicated electron motion this may in a fundamental sense be doing no less than some system of the future constructed with nanotechnology to implement operations of human thinking. And while at first this might seem to suggest that the rich history of biology, civilization and technology needed to reach this point would somehow be wasted, what I believe instead is that this just highlights the extent to which such history is what is ultimately the defining feature of the human condition.

From Stephen Wolfram: A New Kind of Science [citation]