[ExI] John W. Campbell in 1942 predicts the future

Damien Broderick thespike at satx.rr.com
Mon Jun 14 18:57:48 UTC 2010

On 6/14/2010 10:52 AM, Keith Henson wrote:

> About the same time, AC Clarke wrote into his stories that it would
> take billions of years to generate artificial minds.

No, a million or so in THE CITY AND THE STARS, and it was not your usual 
AI in a box.

"No disembodied intelligence had ever been encountered in the natural 
Universe; the Empire set out to create one. We have forgotten, with so 
much else, the skills and knowledge that made this possible. The 
scientists of the Empire had mastered all the forces of Nature, all the 
secrets of time and space. As our minds are the by-product of an 
immensely intricate arrangement of brain cells, linked together by the 
network of the nervous system, so they strove to create a brain whose 
components were not material, but patterns embossed upon space itself. 
Such a brain, if one can call it that, would use electrical or yet 
higher forces for its operation, and would be completely free from the 
tyranny of matter. It could function with far greater speed than any 
organic intelligence; it could endure as long as there was an erg of 
free energy left in the Universe, and no limit could be seen for its 
powers. Once created, it would develop potentialities which even its 
makers could not foresee.
	"Largely as a result of the experience gained in his own regeneration, 
Man suggested that the creation of such beings should be attempted. It 
was the greatest challenge ever thrown out to intelligence in the 
Universe, and after centuries of debate it was accepted. All the races 
of the Galaxy joined together in its fulfilment.
	"More than a million years were to separate the dream from the reality."

The billion or more happened after the first disembodied AI went feral 
and started to chew up the universe, before it was shoved into what 
sounds very like a black hole.

The key place where Campbell went wrong was supposing that nuclear 
energy would be easy to handle, and ubiquitous (and in 1942 he can't be 
faulted for not knowing--Fermi's first reactor wasn't critical until 
December of that year).

Damien Broderick

More information about the extropy-chat mailing list