Debate Magazine

Could Machines Make Discoveries No Human Could Possibly Understand?

Posted on the 28 February 2013 by Reasoningpolitics @reasonpolitics

math-formula-chalkboardAn article at Slate floats a fascinating question: “what happens when machines are so powerful they can make discoveries no human could possibly understand?” What would the implications be if (or when) we reach that point?

But what if it were possible to create discoveries that no human being can ever understand? For example, if I were to give you a set of differential equations, while we have numerical and computational methods of handling these equations, not only could it be difficult to solve them mathematically, but there is a decent chance that no analytical solution even exists.

So what of this? Does such a hint of non-understandable pieces of reasoning and thought mean that eventually there will be answers to the riddle of the universe that are going to be too complicated for us to understand, answers that machines can spit out but we cannot grasp? Quite possibly. We’ve already come close. A computer program known as Eureqa that was designed to find patterns and meaning in large datasets not only has recapitulated fundamental laws of physics but has also found explanatory equations that no one really understands. And certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and no one person actually understands the complete proofs, though we know that they are correct. As the mathematician Steven Strogatz has argued, these could be harbingers of an “end of insight.” We had a wonderful several-hundred-year run of explanatory insight, beginning with the dawn of the Scientific Revolution, but maybe that period is drawing to a close.

So what does this all mean for the future of truth? Is it possible for something to be true but not understandable? I think so, but I don’t think that that is a bad thing. Just as certain mathematical theorems have been proven by computers, and we can trust them, we can also at the same time endeavor to try to create more elegantly constructed, human-understandable, versions of these proofs. Just because something is true, doesn’t mean that we can’t continue to explore it, even if we don’t understand every aspect.

But even if we can’t do this—and we have truly bumped up against our constraints—our limits shouldn’t worry us too much. The non-understandability of science is coming, in certain places and small bits at a time. We’ve grasped the low-hanging fruit of understandability and explanatory elegance, and what’s left might be possible to be exploited, but not necessarily completely understood. That’s going to be tough to stomach, but the sooner we accept this the better we have a chance of allowing society to appreciate how far we’ve come and apply non-understandable truths to our technologies and creations.

What do you think? Could you trust the findings of machines that no human could ever verify?


You Might Also Like :

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

These articles might interest you :

  • Thomas Land | Drayton Manor Park

    Thomas Land Drayton Manor Park

    If living near a theme park was in your criteria for buying a house, then our new house would certainly meet that need. Living about a 3 minute drive from... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Thefoodiecoupleblog
    FOOD & DRINK, RECIPES
  • Your Eye Drops Can Kill You

    Your Drops Kill

    Anything can be a poison, it all depends on the dose. This includes the drops you use to clear your eyes. The active, and dangerous, ingredient in many of... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Dplylemd
    BOOKS, CULTURE, HEALTH, MEDICINE
  • The Wood Brothers: "River Takes the Town" & "Happiness Jones" Dutch TV Live...

    Wood Brothers: "River Takes Town" "Happiness Jones" Dutch Live Videos

    Watch roots trio The Wood Brothers perform River Takes the Town and Happiness Jones two tracks from their latest album One Drop Of Truth for Dutch music show... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Hctf
    ENTERTAINMENT, MUSIC
  • Opera Review: Falling Down

    Opera Review: Falling Down

    The Met opens with a disastrous Samson et Dalila. by Paul J. Pelkonen A world of toil: Robert Alagna does hard time in Samson et Dalila. Photo by Ken Howard ©... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Superconductor
    CULTURE, THEATRE & OPERA
  • Could Neanderthals Speak? Implications of FOXP2

    FOXP2 is one of the most famous genes out there; notable for containing two mutations linked to language in humans. These mutations are also in Neanderthals,... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Reprieve
    BIOLOGY, SCIENCE
  • Diet Doctor Podcast #3 – Dr. Jeffry Gerber and Ivor Cummins

    Ivor Cummins: Great to be here, Bret. Dr. Jeffry Gerber: Thanks, Bret. Bret: The first thing I want to talk to you about is I learned from you guys you have t... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Dietdoctor
    DIET & WEIGHT, HEALTH, HEALTHY LIVING, MEDICINE
  • North American B-25J Mitchell

    North American B-25J Mitchell

    @ Lancaster, CA March 2018 A B-25 makes a photo pass/bomb run during the the LA County Airshow.  This Mitchell, “Photo Fanny”, is part of the Planes of Fame... Read more

    The 25 September 2018 by   Htam
    PHOTOGRAPHY, SOCIETY

Magazines