This post is an excerpt (prologue and epilogue) from Roger Penrose’s book “The Emperors New Mind”.
Ceremony of the launch of a new computer called Ultronic congregated a huge crowd in a large auditorium. President Pollo has just finished his opening speech. He is glad he’s finally worked off – he doesn’t like such events and he is barely interested in computers. He needs that new thing only because it should let him get a lot of free time. Developers of the Ultronic assured him that on top of everything else this computer will be capable to undertake decision-making function in the matters of state that always bother president. Regarding the amount of money spent on this computer president really hopes this would be the case. He already foretastes hours-long playing on his own golf course – one of a few remaining islands greenery in his tiny country.
Adam is gratified to be among the invited to the ceremony. He is sitting in the 3rd row, while his mother – the head technologist of the Ultronic development – is sitting the next row in front of him. It happened that his father is also in the auditorium, he’s come here with no invitation and is sitting in the last row entirely enclosed by security because he had decided to destroy the computer a while before its launch. He took this task in his own hands being a leader of a small marginal group of militant tendency who described themselves as High Council of Mental Consciousness. Apparently, all his explosive was instantly detected by electronic and chemical sensors the large amount of those were set on in the process of development. For now, as the most pleasant part of his punishment he has to become an involuntary witness of the launch process.
Adam didn’t experience strong feelings neither to his mother nor to father. It seems like such feelings weren’t essential to him anyhow: he grew up with an opulence surrounding him whole his life. This was mainly conditioned by the computer capabilities. He could make any of his wishes come true simply clicking the mouse button – whether that be food or beverages, a group of people, entertainment, or even knowledge – and that was always provided with spectacular illustrations on his monitor. Everything was possible because of his mother’s job position.
And now, the main constructor has almost finished his announce “…more than 10 to the power of 17 logical boxes. This is more than the sum of neurons of all the people living in our country! The level of intelligence is unimaginably high. Fortunately, we don’t have to imagine anything – everyone will have an opportunity to be ascertained in a moment. I would ask the first lady of our Great country, madam Isabella Pollo, to turn on the power supply of our fantastic computer Ultronic!”
President’s wife makes a humble step forward. Being slightly nervous and hesitating she’s pulling the lever of power supply. A quiet rustle, a faint twinkling of indicators – and now 10 to the power of 17 logical boxes have been activated! Everybody has frozen having actually no idea of what to expect. “So, is there someone who wishes to actuate our new computer system Ultronic putting a question to it?” asks the main constructor. All-embracing perplexity pervades the auditorium. Nobody goes for this being afraid of becoming a blockhead for so many people and what’s more important – for the new ubiquitous mind. “Come on, there must be at least someone who wishes to put a question!” the main constructor keeps asking. Everybody is in a whirl feeling the presence of the ubiquitous mind. And only Adam is self-possessed. He is surrounded by computers from his birth. He almost feels what it is to be a computer, or at least he thinks so. In any case, he is intrigued. Adam raises his hand. “Finally, – says the main constructor – a boy in the 3rd row, do you have a question to our… hmm… to our new friend?”
“…do you FEEL? Ooh… quite an interesting question, my boy… hmm… I would like to know the answer myself” – said the main constructor – “Let’s have a look on what our new friend can tell us… hmmm… that’s strange… Ultronic says he has no idea about… he cannot even comprehend what you are asking!” Certain giggles in the auditorium have grown out into a bellow of laughter. Adam felt very embarrassed. They could react howsoever but laughed…
As you may guess the main purpose of the book is to show that according to Roger’s opinion we cannot build a computer possessing consciousness (at least with our modern understanding). And that consciousness isn’t an algorithmic entity. The book considers a lot of interesting questions that may have strong implications to the consciousness phenomenon such as Turing test, Turing machine, algorithms and their functions, computability and uncomputability, deterministic laws of physics and indeterministic reduction of scale vector procedure in quantum mechanics (which you may know as the uncertainty principle), mathematics and reality, Plato’s world, Gödel’s theorem, Schrödinger’s cat, arrow of time, quantum theory of gravitation (which we still haven’t developed), Hawking box, the basic concepts of a real brain, consciousness of a human and of an animal, anthropic principal, quasicrystals and such.
It’s important to emphasize that this is not an initial text from the real book. I’ve read it on Russian and this is my own translation into English which is apparently far from perfect. Nonetheless, I hope I’ve boosted your interest.