When i was living in the Bay Area, I used to meet up with my friend Jaron Lanier to explore the implications of spectacularly bizarre thought experiments.
Strange thought experiments have been essential in the intellectual history of science, but the point is not the strangeness itself. The reward for thinking about strange things like Schrödinger’s cat, the infamous cat who is alive and dead at the same time, is not necessarily that we should then “believe” in the existence of such a cat. Instead, we can hope that unusual ideas will illuminate the dark margins of our thoughts; in the case of Schrödinger’s cat, dealing with the question of superposition. The point is not to confuse or confuse people, but to ultimately find a way of thinking that makes more sense and is a little less cloudy.
The bizarre notion I want to consider here came from a discussion of finding alien life forms. There are a variety of ways to look for signs of alien life in the universe, usually involving a wide array of telescopes. One approach is based on the hope that perhaps astronomers will be lucky and be lucky enough to have an alien radio broadcast. But in the thought experiment that Lanier and I explored, we envisioned a different and far more dramatic possibility.
Suppose there are a lot of alien civilizations running extremely large quantum computers of the type that Google and others are just starting to build here on Earth. This leads to a very strange question: Would an extreme amount of very distant quantum computations result in an astronomically observable effect? Could we humans see evidence of a universe teeming with quantum computers by closely examining the night sky?
We thought about different ways this could be possible, but in the end we focused on a wonderful possibility. So there you have it: First, alien quantum computers could explain the mystery of dark energy, because the calculation performed by multitudes of alien creatures across the universe bends (or rather unfolds) the universe as a whole. Because we can observe the effect of dark energy, accelerating the expansion of the universe, it implies that we have already seen evidence that our universe is alive beyond us – we simply don’t have it. not recognized as such! And we have found, fortunately, that contemplating this almost imponderable notion has a practical benefit on a human scale: it helps us clarify our way of thinking about the plausible relationships between gravity and quantum information. (If you think this is weird, you should read some of the competing ideas. A recent article suggests that dark energy is actually a sign that time is about to cease to be time and transform itself. in space. We would then be frozen in time, but being in four dimensions. In relation to that, our proposition, the aliens and all, is practically tame.)
Let’s go through the step-by-step argument: What is a quantum computer and why would aliens use it?
Suppose, just like us, many alien civilizations will want the best possible computers for one purpose or another. For the sake of argument, we’ll assume that aliens want to enjoy high-quality virtual reality, and so they build computers to make it happen. If the computers that run alien virtual reality are of the classic type we use today (based on the mathematical framework established in the mid-20th century by computer pioneers John von Neumann and Alan Turing), then aliens would suffer usually an inferior type. of the virtual world experience. You might think classic computers should be up to the task – after all, special effects in movies get pretty realistic and classic computers are able to calculate those effects – but they aren’t. Remember that the films are prepared in advance. Virtual reality, however, must create sensations for the human body on the fly and as quickly as reality.
Conventional computers cannot run that fast. In addition, there are cases when the human body is able to respond to reality with the highest possible level of sensitivity. For example, the retina can in some cases generate a single-photon neural response. In a case like this, the human body has become as discriminating as physics can allow. Just as conventional computers can’t be as fast as the universe, neither can they be as demanding. If we assume that aliens elsewhere have also evolved to be as sensitive to this ultimate, quantum level of reality in some special cases as we are to light, then when they are trying to design a non-quantum supercomputer and VR device that could simulating reality at the ultimate level of detail, they would have encountered problems. This is one of the reasons why we think discerning aliens would seek out the power of quantum computers to run their virtual worlds.