Kris Carlson

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Wolfram on the generative Rule for our physical universe

The quest for a Rule that would generate our entire universe is a modern, information-theoretic version of unified field theory or a general, compact theory of the physical universe. Ed Fredkin came up with the idea that there could be a cellular automaton (CA) rule for the physical universe (or as I would put it, the currently-known physical microcosm). But he and Wolfram, and others such as Toffoli and Margolus, and Berkovich, have failed to find it. The early promise of, e.g., the Game of Life, was misleading, as often happens in science.

Wolfram did a more thorough exploration of the CA rule universe than anyone, and organized the field. He then generalized the generative CA Rule idea into mathematical re-write systems, but did not get much cohesive progress toward simulating the physical microcosm there, either. Part of what makes these domains interesting is they are chaotic, in the sense that neighboring parameter settings yield widely divergent results.

Anyway, I wonder what Wolfram means here and how it relates to the conjecture about parallel universes as an interpretation of quantum theory. I think, tho, one general problem for all unified physical theories is they underemphasize (and ignore) the historical trend toward the expansion of our horizons. In other words, history implies that the physical microcosm and macrocosm are far larger than we currently comprehend.

A second

“Still, I think it’s quite possible that we’ll be lucky—and be able to find our universe out in the computational universe. And it’ll be an exciting moment—being able to sort of hold in our hand a little program that is our universe. Of course, then we start wondering why it’s this program, and not another one. And getting concerned about Copernican kinds of issues.

Actually, I have a sneaking suspicion that the final story will be more bizarre than all of that. That there is some generalization of the Principle of Computational Equivalence that will somehow actually mean that with appropriate interpretation, sort of all conceivable universes are in precise detail, our actual universe, and its complete history.”

“The idea of Wolfram|Alpha was to see just how far we can get today with the goal of making the world’s knowledge computable. How much of the world’s data can we curate? How many of the methods and models from science and other areas can we encode? Can we let people access all this using their own free-form human language? And can we show them the results in a way that they can readily understand? Well, I wasn’t sure how difficult it would be. Or whether in the first decade of the 21st century it’d be possible at all. But I’m happy to say that it worked out much better than I’d expected.”

“And by using ideas from NKS—and a lot of hard work—we’ve been able to get seriously started on the problem of understanding the free-form language that we humans walk up to a computer and type in. It’s a different problem than the usual natural-language processing problem. Where one has to understand large chunks of complete text, say on the web. Here we have to take small utterances—sloppily written questions—and see whether one can map them onto the precise symbolic forms that represent the computable knowledge we know.”

Here Wolfram gives an example of the ‘new kind of science’ approach at work:

“In fact, increasingly in Mathematica we are using algorithms that we were not constructed step-by-step by humans, but are instead just found by searching the computational universe. And that’s also been a key methodology in developing Wolfram|Alpha. But going forward, it’s something I think we’ll be able to use on the fly.”

I recommend you read the entire address. There is much more beyond what I excerpted here.

June 21, 2010 - Posted by | Artificial Intelligence, Complexity, Culture, History of Science, Mathematics

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