H2G2

Douglas Adams and Artificial Intelligence

Deep_Thought

In The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it is revealed that the Earth is a supercomputer designed by Deep Thought, the supercomputer that came before it.

“DEEP THOUGHT: I speak of none but the computer that is to come after me. A computer whose merest operational parameters I am not worthy to calculate – and yet I will design it for you. A computer which can calculate the question to the Ultimate answer, a computer of such infinite and subtle complexity that organic life itself will form part of its operational matrix. And it shall be called The Earth.”

I wonder whether Douglas Adams was influenced by a 1965 paper by British mathematician, Irving John Good, Speculations Concerning the First Ultra-Intelligent Machine.

Good is responding to the commonly held view that a machine could never be as intelligent as a human.

He argues that humans have limitations in intelligence. Ultimately, a machine could be constructed that would match or even exceed a human’s capability.

Good fundamentally believed that computers and their ultra-intelligent machine successors would deliver a benefit to humanity. The opening line of this seminal paper reads:

“The survival of man depends on the early construction of an ultra-intelligent machine.”

In it, he also originated the idea of an “intelligence explosion”:

“Let an ultra-intelligent machine be defined as a machine that can far surpass all the intellectual activities of any man, however clever.

Since the design of machines is one of these intellectual activities, an ultra-intelligent machine could design even better machines; there would then unquestionably be an ‘intelligence explosion,’ and the intelligence of man would be left far behind.

Thus the first ultra-intelligent machine is the last invention that man need ever make, provided that the machine is docile enough to tell us how to keep it under control.”

So is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy supercomputer Earth docile? According to Ford Prefect it is, “Mostly Harmless.”

If you enjoyed this article, and know where your towel is, you might like this episode of The End of the World by Josh Clark:

And you also might like to join my Hitchhikers appreciation group, Stand Up for Towel Day.

Remembering Towel Day 2017

If you’ve RSVP’d to the Save the Rhino event on Towel Day 2020, you might like to know what #Team42 got up to at previous Towel Days*.

The very first Stand Up for Towel Day was in 2017 in the basement of Waterstones in Tottenham Court Road.

My sister, Helen Puddefoot, very kindly made me a towel jacket.

The towel jacket, by Helen Puddefoot

Trystan Mitchell of the Big Foot Studio made us our beautiful logo.

Steve Cross interrogated the original Hitchhiker book to find out which day the world ended for Arthur Dent and the rest of the population of Earth in the book.

You can watch the set in full, here.

Steve Cross. Photo credit: I think possibly I took this with Steve’s camera.

There were Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters courtesy of the Waterstones bar, and Andy Mil of the Cocktail Trading Company, who very kindly gave me the recipe.

Pan Galactic Gargle Blasters. Photo Credit: Stuart Green

Paul Duncan McGarrity materialised as a sperm whale at a probability of 8,767,128 to 1 against.

Paul Duncan McGarrity. Photo credit: Steve Cross

Nell Thomas and Katie Overstall won our costume competition.

Kimberley Freeman, Nell Thomas, Katie Overstall and me. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And John Lloyd joined us to read some extracts from the book he wrote with Douglas in 1983, The Meaning of Liff.

John Lloyd. Photo credit: Steve Cross

And everybody had a generally hoopy time.

Stand Up for Towel Day attendees. Photo credit: Steve Cross

This year’s Towel Day is going to be online and you can sign up to attend here.

And if you’d like to be first in the know about the event on May 25th, you can join our Facebook group.

I’ll be back with a review of 2018’s Towel Day events soon.

* Towel Day is an annual celebration on the 25th of May, as a tribute to the late author Douglas Adams (1952-2001). On that day, fans around the universe carry a towel in his honour.