Our eyes see only a tiny band of the electromagnetic spectrum. Matter is mostly empty space, but we see and feel it as continuous solid. Why don't we comprehend the world as it really is? It is because evolution has prepared us to survive and reproduce. Evolution has no interest in preparing us to see the world as it is. There is no reproductive value in seeing the whole truth. The only people who push toward that truth are mystics and physicists - and who wants to mate with THEM?

So should we incentivize A.I.s to comprehend the world and to invent technologies based on their advanced cosmological insights? Could result in powerful tools. But when we'd then ask A.I.s to explain the science, they'd have to dumb it down for us and say some stupid s*** like "The universe is like a cucumber."

That was a bit of whimsy. Of course we know people who have willingly mated with mystics and physicists! But a serious question is, will A.I. ultimately be able to be more perceptive than humans? Humans are a 'subset' of the universe, hence our perceptions are limited. A.I.s are built by humans, hence a subset of us, so they may or may not be able to surpass us. They do perform a number of specific tasks as well as humans – including integrating massive amounts of data to reach totally erroneous conclusions. But the kind of “general A.I.” that would enable them to grasp the essence of the universe?

Asimov wrote a chilling story in which an A.I. did come to comprehend the entire universe. A man then asked the A.I., "Is there a God?" The A.I. answered, "There is now."

A recent cartoon https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=664582441697549&set=a.276287187193745 delivers a less grandiose vision: An unemployed manager muses that an A.I. became smart enough not to want to do the job it had taken away from him.

Having detoured into matters of A.I., let’s now return to the topic that opened this column: Does Darwinian evolution favor organisms that achieve deeper knowledge of the universe? The answer lies in “group selection,” a once-discredited idea that is now back in fashion (see Wilson 1983).

Because we have made communication the sine qua non of science and technology, inventions are quickly diffused across the world’s human population. One result is greater reproductive advantage for brainiacs, relative to muscled he-men. Another is that technology has allowed the human population to balloon and (due to air conditioning, for example) to occupy formerly inhospitable regions of the planet. Like Florida. This is group selection.

Today's musing was spurred by a 'time travel' panel I joined for fun, https://lnkd.in/g3m2ZkQe.


Salvatore Basile, Cool: How air conditioning changed everything. ISBN: 082326176X

F. Phillips, “Perspectives on Big Data.” Science and Public Policy, 44(5) 2017, 730-737. doi: 10.1093/scipol/scx012

F. Phillips, Y.-S. Su, Advances in evolution and genetics: Implications for technology strategy, Technol. Forecast. Soc. Change (2008), doi:10.1016/j.techfore.2008.08.006

D.S. Wilson, The group selection controversy: history and current status, Ann. Rev. Ecolog. Syst. 14 (1983) 159–187.