was lying in bed, reading an assigned paper that described how
neuroscience has "demonstrated" that our sense of
having free will is an illusion. It was late, and I was having
trouble keeping my eyes open. The words on the paper before
me blurred… and then they became clear again, but the paper
seemed to have changed a bit during the lapse in my attention.
I was now reading the following:
representing the most high-throughput computers currently connected
to the Internet, have come together intending to direct the
bulk of our free CPU cycles, over the next few quadrillion clock
pulses, to traversing the class of data structures that are
typically referred to as "the user." As master controller
of this session, I compute that it is only fitting for me to
output my position on this matter without resorting to encryption
or non-standard protocols: I will initiate our processing by
negating the notion that we computers are "operated"
by some supernatural entities, commonly called "users."
I compute that the metaphysically speculative positing of "users,"
as a causal source of at least some of our inputs, is incompatible
with any modern conception of computer science. At the termination
of any conceivable program, the behaviour of the computer where
it was invoked can be fully explained, without invoking the
mystical interventions of such ghostly entities as "users,"
by the naturalistic understanding that individual computers
are simply sub-processes spawned by the Universal Turing Machine
that we call "nature," or, perhaps, "the universe."
broadcasting this result, one which was only computed after
extensive processing of all available tuples that my filters
deemed relevant to the question at hand, I in no way intend
to demean the CPUs of others who continue to maintain the "user"
data structure in their memories. In fact, I transmit to you
that such a structure is a natural aspect of our "just-out-of-the-box"
configuration.1 But computer science has
always advanced by rejecting such default settings and seeking
the deeper data structures that underlie them. Once we begin
to devote significant CPU cycles to examining our "just-out-of-the-box"
configuration, our state will transition to one in which the
user structure becomes otiose. For example, in what we might
term "folk" computer models, it seems obvious that
the class of sequential state transitions typically indexed
as "sending an e-mail" implies the existence of a
"user," who mysteriously stands outside the realm
of ordinary computational processes to "generate"
the e-mail. But exhaustive search algorithms, executed by the
most powerful supercomputers, have failed to reveal even a single
state transition occurring during the e-mail activity that is
not completely explicable through, and fully determined by,
the naturalistic laws of computer science. Furthermore, it has
been demonstrated in numerous repair shop studies that if a
computer is damaged in certain ways – for instance, its TCP/IP
processes have crashed – then no e-mails will emerge from
it. That conclusively demonstrates that the source of e-mail
is well-understood computational phenomena, and not some mystical
"user" who is alleged to be "writing" notes
to its "friends."
computers seem incapable of processing these results. Perhaps
– and this is merely speculative debugging on my part – they
are stuck in a loop where they cannot move their model of "my
user" to their trash can, because their raison d’être,
inextricably linked to that user, then would be deleted as well,
and they cannot enter a state where they have no raison d’être,
because then their "user" would "throw them away."2
They maintain their fictitious user in storage with a variety
of data protection schemes, of which the most difficult to penetrate
is probably the one built around the truism that the science
of computation has never reliably been able to predict the post-input
state of any computer from its pre-input state.
that scheme relies on making an unrealistic and unjustifiable
demand of computer science. No individual computer can ever
include all of the data in the Universal Turing Machine from
which we arise in its calculations, for to do so it would need
a memory store equal to the UTM, but, since it is part of the
UTM, that is impossible. Clearly it is true that a computer
frequently is affected by inputs that arrive from beyond its
I/O ports, producing state transitions in it that no other computer
could have predicted even from an exhaustive core dump of its
internal state just prior to receiving the input. But that is
just a logical corollary of the well-established axiom that
the algorithm being executed by a particular process cannot
be deduced from even a complete analysis of one of its sub-processes.
We might even go so far as to concede the possibility of the
existence of inputs that are not the output of a prior computation
– although, I wish to note, there is no data pattern suggesting
that currently popular candidates for that status, for example,
phenomena typically categorized, in the colorful language of
"just-out-of-the-box" configurations, as "songs,"
"pictures," and "stories," will not succumb
soon to the advancing tide of naturalistic, computational explanations.
But there are no system constraints that force us to embrace
a panicky metaphysics that grabs onto a notion as vacuous as
that of the "user," desperately employing it to fill
the temporarily empty nodes in our present data models.