My efforts over the last 25 years may appear to be scattershot and unrelated. Perhaps this was true when I launched into various trajectories of theater, mathematics, data analysis, search engines, software product development, and, now, fine arts. However, the convergent thread is now very clear. My life project and what will be the most pervasive technology for generations is simply stated as Searching Through Possible Futures.
“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” Goes the popular saying. This is a mostly useful, directional correct sentence. I take it a step further; make all predictions by creating all futures and then search through these futures for common objects, events, trends to form a probability wave of what are the “good bets”.
The development of the hard sciences and the arts and the resulting technologies and cultural forms all indirectly and inefficiently attempt to do this. The physical sciences have spent the last 400 years obsessed with observing our world in finer and finer detail and forming explicit and excruciatingly detailed theories/models to help us explain and predict a singular reality. We can know we will know!
Art of all types for 40,000 years has depicted various events and imagined events helping humans to parse the confusion of a threatened existence. Only in the last 100 years did most of the arts more fully break from religious patronage and start constructing divergent possible aesthetics. The arts are no longer chasing a similar aim to the sciences: a singular reality. The arts embrace a variety of realities, even pata-realities.
Global cultures have shifted as well. As the arts unchain themselves from the singular reality and science pushes forward technologies (measurement tools) capable of manufacturing any reality of which we can conceive the people of the planet now try out new ways of being at a breakneck pace. Our politics, war techniques, communing, courting, gender defining, procreation, food supply…. everything is undergoing rapid experimentation and integration or rejection.
These activities all bear the same basic approach – roughly an educated (oftened simply biased) trial and error. In tech circles this is called the “adjacent possible” approach – things proceed by slight variations on what exists nearest in spacetime. Most artists (musicians, actors, painters, etc) proceed through a huge amount of “studies” before perfoming a final work. These studies are often built on the backs of previous artists studies. Scientists and mathematicians proceed similarly through slightly advancing previous work or refuting old experiments. Businesses photocopy each others efforts looking for slight efficiency gains. Occasionally this brute trail and error happens into a tipping point where a paradigm shift occurs – often the result of new measurement tools emerging that expand the scope of the world available to us to explore. And the cycle across human activites renews itself.
There is no longer any engineering or cultural or religious constraint on why this must happen in this plodding brutish way. Our tools and abilities and awareness allows us to engineer any reality and “let it go”. That is, we can set in motion vast ecosystems of reality generators to just go construct strange and wonderful things. These ecosystems can be physical and virtualized, more or less shaped by other realities, adhere to commonly accept physics or trying out completely different ones. Simulations are a simpler earlier conception of such activities, but simulations are not a broad enough concepts. These Futures I’m talking about are universes unto themselves, not attempting to simulate The One True Reality. These are possible universes, possible futures of possible universes. Video games, cinema, painting, theater, role playing, LSD, 3d printing, etc have all been various ways to dance with this idea.
All of that is horribly inefficient for humans, machines and nature to integrate interesting ideas from all those possible futures. Humanity has relied more or less on various linear codices. We inefficiently attempt to transcribe experiences into letters, books, science papers, programs. Repeatedly in human history the codices have outgrown our taxonomic capabilities and we’ve had to invent various tables of contents, shelving systems, indices, catalogs, meta datas, electronic links, search engines, and now, social graphs. Each one of these taxonomic systems pointing to someone or something that “must know” something about something else; eventually somehow the right transcription is found or cobbled together to instruct a system (usually of humans, animals and machines) to do something. Hopefully the system behavior is transcribed somewhere that can later be analyzed, etc
The efficient stepwise function going forward involves a way to translate or transcode or communicate or measure … that is, SEARCH through all these possibilities. Yes, we should actively be igniting as many new realities as possible in as many mediums as possible while maintaining ontological links between them all. Various technologies are evolving along these lines – virtual reality, blockchain, machine to machine payments, “AI”. These links will not end up being explicit links like a “hyperlink” or the dewey decimal system or anything like that. The generalized machine learning capabilities built around unsupervised pattern recognition are those links – the links themselves are evolving dynamic systems that keep track of the happenings within various evolving realities.
A search engine for possible futures will be multi-modal and allow searching via any kind of signal – words, images, sounds (verbal or otherwise), electro chemical, etc – “everything is just ones and zeros”. The results / returns of this search engine will not be 10 blue links but instead multi-modal evolving returns with “tunnels” to enter that reality and explore its past, present and future – to experience its relevance. The returns will also provide various statistics that show how robust phenomena search for is across the space of possible futures. For example, thousands of realities will launch playing out various BREXIT histories and futures. A user might want to search for “Gove is PM” and explore the various realities in which BREXIT leads to Gove as PM. The user would want to enter the realities and explore (really live in) the conditions of those realities that lead to Gove as PM situation – it wouldn’t necessarily match to conditions of any other reality. If many realities end up with Gove as PM with similar conditions then Gove as PM happens to be favored in the overall probability wave. (Please note: The user won’t be uploading themselves into all these virtual, but instead will send in proxy avatars, much like video gamers already do thousands of times a gaming session.)
If the reader is familiar with various quantum mechanical explanations of the physical laws then certainly a Multi-verse interpretation probably sticks out in reading this essay. Indeed. Even if the multi-verse interpretation is not the One True Reality, a search through possible futures still maintains utility. The articulation above, I believe, is a more computational efficient way to organize our science, artistic and cultural existence. And one concept found to be very robust across human activity and scientific research is the idea of computational efficiency. Systems tend towards computational efficiency… probably as some consequence of thermodynamic conservation “laws”.
These laws are observed robustly not because they are laws but systems that don’t operate in ways of “conservation of energy” don’t last/are low probability to survive/low probability to be observed… (There is a much longer discussion to be had here).
None of the above is a scientific prediction in the sense that I can test and falsify this stated hypothesis. Instead this idea is one in which I thinkwe should create to aid our integration of new ideas / new ways of being much like we ended up creating the scientific method, search engines, art techniques. I happen to think it is likely to come about sooner or later and I base that belief on my own 25 year forays into math, science, software tech, business, theater and fine arts.
All that said, a few of my closest friends and I have been quietly working on these concepts for a while now. It would be silly to claim we’re anywhere near releasing this and our approach is more pragmatic. We are carefully building up taxonomy of data detectors that are loosely coupled and able to translate between various systems. We’ve begun building generative abilities to synthesize data into new data visualizations and data experience in which to publish to users and get behavioral feed back from. We’ve been creating machine-learning systems that monitor all the linkages, translations, integrations that seek to try out new configurations of our taxonomy and then alter it as the system senses its translations don’t connect more systems. We’re trying out and integrating various opensource technologies that make it efficient to set up new sibling systems that can all talk to each other. We’re analyzing data we find interesting as well as performing work on behalf of others who wish to explore these ideas. We do all this with the above possible future we’d like to create and use – one in which we can search through all possible futures.