Raúl Arrabales Moreno

Cognitive Neuroscience – Artificial Intelligence – Machine Consciousness

Book Review: Calculating God

Calculating God

By Robert J. Sawyer
Tor Science Fiction. 2001
English. 352 pages.
ISBN: 0812580354

First of all, let me explain why I am posting a science fiction novel review to Conscious-Robots.com. For those of you who are familiar with this website, you know CR is a strictly academic and scientific site, so there is usually no room (actually, no time) for other aspects related to consciousness and Machine Consciousness, like Sci-Fi or aesthetics. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the only examples we currently know of fully developed Machine Consciousness implementations are those created by science fiction writers. Actually, we should admit that they constitute a great source of inspiration for some scientific research projects. At least, that is my case. Of course, the flow of inspiration is bidirectional, and I think also science fiction writers are also inspired by current advances in AI.

Many Sci-Fi works are important from the point of view of Machine Consciousness, consider for instance the robotics laws proposed by Asimov. Calculating God is relevant to this field because the origin of intelligence and consciousness is analyzed and discussed from opposing points of view:  Creationism and Darwinism. The key point of the book’s debate is the fact that these two views are not as different as they might appear. God could be not only the creator of this universe as the designer of the fundamental physical constants which appeared with the Big Bang, but also interact with it directly in order to drive evolution in his desired direction. This is the believe of Hollus, an alien from Beta Hydri III who has come to Earth in a scientific mission to discover why several mass extinctions have occurred simultaneously in three different worlds. Hollus will work together with Tom Jericho, a human paleontologist at the Royal Ontario Museum in order to find an answer.

The book is centered on the continuous discussion between Hollus and Tom about creationism, Darwinism, evolution, and God. Furthermore, the protagonists end up considering the possibility of uploading minds to computers, and how that capability could have affected already other civilizations. A good point about the book is that all these scientific and philosophical topics are described without unnecessary technical terns or unreadable musing. On the contrary, the book is quite readable for anyone and easy to understand independently of your academic background.

The arguments covered in the book are well related to the field of Machine Consciousness, as the possibility of transferring consciousness from a human to a machine is one of the open questions. I consider this book a quite enjoyable way to get an introduction to the implications of the creation of conscious machines. We (scientists) are very prone to forget about implications while working on a project, but that’s something to be carefully taken into account.



Raúl Arrabales

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