Dyson: We have created this expanding computational universe, and it’s open to the evolution of all kinds of things. It’s cycling faster and faster, and it’s way, way, way more than doubling in scale every year. Even with the help of Google and YouTube and Facebook, we can’t consume it all. And we aren’t really aware what this vast space is filling up with. From the human perspective, computers are idle 99 percent of the time, just waiting for the next instruction. While they’re waiting for us to come up with instructions, more and more computation is happening without us, as computers write instructions for each other. And as Turing showed mathematically, this space can’t be supervised. As the digital universe expands, so does this wild, undomesticated side.
Wired: If this is true, what’s the takeaway?
Dyson: Hire biologists! It doesn’t make sense for a high tech company to have 3,000 software engineers but no biologists.
Wired: One last question: What do you mean by “Turing’s cathedral”?
Dyson: In Turing’s 1950 paper, “Computing Machinery and Intelligence,” he argued that when we build intelligent machines, we will not be creating souls but building the mansions for the souls that God creates. When I first visited Google, right about the time it went public, I walked around and saw what they were doing and realized they were building a very large distributed AI, much as Turing had predicted. And I thought, my God, this is not Turing’s mansion—this is Turing’s cathedral. Cathedrals were built over hundreds of years by thousands of nameless people, each one carving a little corner somewhere or adding one little stone. That’s how I feel about the whole computational universe. Everybody is putting these small stones in place, incrementally creating this cathedral that no one could even imagine doing on their own.