Saturday, January 27, 2018

a Universe Built on Questions

More and more, it seems that if you want a good answer to any question, you ask a computer. Machines are really good at giving answers — and not just simple answers. They are getting better and better at dealing with really complicated issues.

But machines are not very good at asking questions. What we'll never have enough of are good questions. Good questions are like a discovery - a way of exploring “what if?” But it turns out that questions are not very efficient. We have this world of the Internet and smart phones and GPS where answers have become cheap and ubiquitous and pervasive, and unimaginably abundant. Machines are really good at all the things where efficiency counts, where productivity and efficiency count; those are the kinds of tasks we give to the machines.

What we’re left with as humans are the things that are inefficient, which also happens to be the things that we enjoy most, like discovery or innovation. Innovation is inherently not efficient, or science for that matter. Science is inherently inefficient, because if you are 100 percent efficient as a scientist, you’re not learning anything new. So humans are good at trial and error - there’s the error part; there’s the failure; there’s the dead ends; there’s the trials of prototypes. And humans are essentially really good at wasting time. We’re expert at all the things where efficiency and program-ability don’t count for much. All of these things that are an essential part of exploring, trying, and discovering, which are all inherently inefficient, are the things we are good at.

As the robots and the AIs rise — this may be one of the answers to the quandary about what we are going to do when the machines replace most of us in the workforce. There may be ultimately more opportunity for us to explore, curate, invent, innovate, love, chat, experience things, all of which are inherently inefficient and not things that machines are good at. We may have much more time to ask questions, which should lead to even greater invention and innovation.

In some ways, this resonates with the structure of the universe — which is more likely built upon a question, rather than an answer; it’s very likely that the universe is really a kind of a question, rather than the answer to anything. The answer to a good question is always more and better questions. And that may be why we resonate so much with asking questions, rather than just being satisfied with smart answers.

One can only hope that the rise of the machine leads us as a species to the point where questions become more important ultimately than the answers. The quality of asking good questions may, perhaps, become more appreciated than the quality of all the machine's answers. And just maybe the humans that generate the best questions are going to be the most valued thing in a world that is ultimately run by machines with all the answers.

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