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Stephen Wolfram on Purposes - Dictionary of Arguments

Brockman I 268
Purposes/humans/Wolfram: one of my projects has been to understand
Brockman I 269
the evolution of human purposes over time. Today we’ve got all kinds of purposes. If you look back a thousand years, people’s goals were quite different: How do I get my food? How do l keep myself safe? In the modern Western world, for the most part you don’t spend a large fraction of your life thinking about those purposes. From the point of view of a thousand years ago, some of the goals people have today would seem utterly bizarre (…).What will people be doing in the future? A lot of purposes we have today are generated by scarcity of one kind or another. The most dramatic discontinuity will surely be when we achieve effective human immortality. Whether this will be achieved biologically or digitally isn’t clear, but inevitably it will be achieved. Many of our current goals are driven in part by our mortality (…). >Artificial intelligence/Wolfram, >Neural networks/Wolfram.
Brockman I 281
One criterion to apply to a potentially purposeful phenomenon is whether it’s minimal in achieving a purpose. But does that mean that it was built for the purpose? The ball rolls down the hill because of gravitational pull. Or the ball rolls down the hill because it’s satisfying the principle of least action. There are typically these two explanations for some action that seems purposeful: the mechanistic explanation and the teleological. Essentially all of our existing technology fails the test of being minimal in achieving its purpose. Most of what we build is steeped in technological history, and it’s incredibly non-minimal for achieving its purpose. Look at a CPU chip; there’s no way that that’s the minimal way to achieve what a CPU chip achieves.
Brockman I 282
I don’t think there is abstract “purpose,” per se. I don’t think there’s abstract meaning. Does the universe have a purpose? Then you’re doing theology in some way. There is no meaningful sense in which there is an abstract notion of purpose. Purpose is something that comes from history.


Wolfram, Stephen (2015) „Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Civilization” (edited live interview), in: Brockman, John (ed.) 2019. Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI. New York: Penguin Press.


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Wolfram, Stephen
Brockman I
John Brockman
Possible Minds: Twenty-Five Ways of Looking at AI New York 2019


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2021-09-20
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