If you’re a fan of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) and the Fermi Paradox, then it’s likely you’ve heard of a concept known as the Great Filter. In brief, it states that life in the Universe may be doomed to extinction, either as a result of cataclysmic events or due to circumstances of its own making (i.e., nuclear war, climate change, etc.) In recent years, it has been the subject of a lot of talk and speculation, and not just in academic circles.
Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have also weighed in on the issue, claiming that humanity’s only chance at long-term survival is to become “interplanetary.” Addressing this very possibility, a research team led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) recently created a timeline for potential human expansion beyond Earth. According to their findings, we have the potential of going interplanetary by the end of the century and intragalactic by the end of the 24th!
Okay, so this may not be important breaking news about astronomy, but it may answer a burning question posed by most people who have watched or read “2001: A Space Odyssey”: that is, why does the computer HAL-9000 sing the song ‘Daisy Bell’ as the astronaut Dave Bowman takes him apart? Well, Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke made HAL’s final act in the world this song as a tribute to HAL’s great ancestor, the first IBM computer to ever sing. Click below for more on this geeky topic!
In 1962 Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote the novel – and co-wrote the screenplay for the movie – “2001: A Space Odyssey”, visited Bell Labs before putting the finishing touches on the work. There, he was treated to a performance of the song ‘Daisy Bell’ (or, ‘A Bicycle Built for Two’) by the IBM 704 computer. This evidently inspired him to have HAL sing the song as an homage to the programmers of the 704 at Bell Labs, John L. Kelly, Carol Lockbaum, and Max Mathews. Kelly and Lockbaum programmed the lyrics, and Mathews the accompaniment.
‘Daisy Bell‘ was originally composed in 1892 by Henry Dacre, and English composer. Upon coming to the U.S., he was charged a duty fee for his bicycle. A friend remarked that it was lucky that he didn’t bring a bicycle built for two, or he would have had to pay double duty. Taken by the phrase, he used in in a song to acclaim both before it became a smash hit with computers with a penchant for song, and after.
Here’s a recording of the 704 talking and singing the song. If you want to sing along karaoke style to the original singer, here’s a video of the 704 doing its ditty (ignore the different model name and year – the 7094 exists but can’t even sing backup):
And, of course, here is HAL-9000 in his death throes with a more maniacal version of the classic:
What if the Universe was in fact a simulation? A product of some information processor, creating space and time, energy and matter? What if the Big Bang was the whole simulation booting up, beginning billions of years of space and time calculations? Can we possibly understand our consciousness as a subroutine in an advanced number crunching machine? A new paper published by the Centre for Discrete Mathematics and Theoretical Computer Science, University of Auckland, asks us to keep an open mind and suggests if we look at the complexity of physical laws of our known universe, many paradoxes may be explained if we view our physical reality as a virtual reality.
Virtual reality is a term that has been used frequently in sci-fi novels and movies since the early 1980’s but the term artificial reality can be traced back to the 1970’s. Movies such as Tron, The Matrix and Lawnmower Man centre around the possibility of fully immersible virtual realities. It is only very recently however, with advanced interactive gaming systems and the design of complex virtual worlds online and on home computers, that we can experience worlds of sufficient detail that we can be fooled into believing what we are experiencing approximates physical reality. Additional systems have been engineered to provide the user with feedback from the virtual world they are interacting with (whether it is a rumble in the joypad or wired gloves giving the user a sense of touch), enhancing the experience beyond purely a visual one.
Taking a look at physics in our universe, many paradoxes and uncertainties exist. Quantum physics is one such field highlighted in Brian Whitworth’s research and considered to be “strange” physics, giving some justification to his theory we might actually be immersed in a virtual reality world:
“While virtual reality theory seems strange, so do other current theories of physics, e.g. the many-world view of quantum physics proposes that each quantum choice divides the universe into parallel universes. […] Even relatively main-stream physics theories are quite strange.” – The Physical World as a Virtual Reality.
Although this research pushes the envelope of the most outlandish physics theories, it is not so hard to imagine that advanced information processing may be complex enough to govern the dynamics of an entire universe (if the information processor was advanced enough). Our physical universe, after all, is approximated through physical equations and mathematical reasoning, why can’t the laws of our “physical” reality be approximated by virtual reality? If this can be done, do we actually exist in a virtual world?