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Twisted clock face. Time concept
Twisted clock face. Time concept

Do Time and Space Mean the Same Thing to Humans as to Computers?

Futurist George Gilder tells us, humans don’t treat physical and chemical forces or clock pulses the way computers do

Recently, we have looked at four of the six assumptions that, according to futurist George Gilder in Gaming AI, are generally shared by those who believe that, sometime soon in a Singularity , we will merge with our machines: Four of them are: 1) The brain is a computer and Big Data is a Big Answer (here) and 2) maps are territories and reality follows our rules (here).

Now here are the final two:

The Locality Assumption: Actions of human agents reflect only immediate physical forces impinging directly on them.

The Digital Time Assumption: Time is objective and measured by discrete increments. (p. 50)

Gilder tells us that the Locality Assumption means that “minds respond to local inputs alone rather than to imagined or remembered outcomes and influences elsewhere. In short, only contiguous physical and chemical forces matter.”

So, according to the Singulatarians, who believe that we will merge with our computers by mid-century, the human mind is like a computer that accepts only coded inputs and deals with them according to prearranged programming.

In reality, of course, our minds are not like that at all. We often choose to ignore our immediate surroundings in order to focus on things we think are more important. We might disobey directions or directives if we think we have a good reason.

We might do unpredictable things. Think Flight 93 where passengers unexpectedly fought back against the terrorists and, unable to save themselves, prevented further carnage. Any reasonable understanding of human history must address the fact that we innovate and take our ideas from a variety of sources from other times and places, sorting through them at will.

About the Digital Time assumption, Gilder tells us: “It is that time moves incrementally by discrete steps according to the computer clock pulse rather than in analog continuity with infinite gradations. Time may be both continuous and infinite, not discrete and capped.”

True. We don’t really experience time the way a machine does. Eric Holloway offers a thought: “If our mind is just a computer, then each clock tick makes our mind process another chunk of information, and all minds on the computer will tick in unison.”

Of course, we don’t experience time like that at all. As one of the fundamental dimensions of the universe, time doubtless has a regular flow. But people stuck behind a flock of Canada geese crossing a road don’t experience time in the same way as people rushing to complete a report in time for the Big Board Meeting in two hours. Long, complex dreams may unfold in a few moments of REM sleep, where the passage of time is actually a user illusion. Trying to coordinate time as the pulse of a machine with the human sense of time is not likely to work very well.

But then, there is at least some evidence that fewer people are taking the the Singularity very seriously anyway. As Gilder told computer engineering prof Robert J. Marks in a recent podcast, the Singularity seems to have been postponed or called off. We hear much less about merging with computers than we used to.

Here’s a straw in the wind: The serious end of the automotive industry is working on Level 4, not Level 5, self-driving cars because self-driving under strictly controlled conditions (Level 4) is where the gains are to be made. The less-than-serious end of the industry offers cars that drive other people around while you sleep—always just around the corner, of course. Meanwhile, more people are asking, under what circumstances do self-driving cars of any kind really provide an advantage?

There may be some principle in the history of technology at work here: Vast, apocalyptic, headline-grabbing claims slowly get trimmed back into useful mundane objectives. If so, Gaming AI ( free for download here) is a good place to begin looking at how and why it is happening.

Note: A book The Age of Entanglement (2009) by George Gilder’s daughter, Louisa Gilder, discusses locality issues for the layperson, particularly the way in which the locality assumption is contravened in physics itself.

Here’s our discussion of the first four Singularity assumptions:

The brain is not a computer and Big Data is not a Big Answer. These claims are mere tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI. A neuroscientist and an economics prof show that the claims arise from misunderstandings of how brains and computers work.


Maps are not territories and reality needn’t follow our rules. These assumptions are just two more tales from the AI apocalypse, as George Gilder tells it, in Gaming AI. A scientist who mapped the roundworm’s brain jokes that he knows less now than before. It’s a good map but it’s not the reality.

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Do Time and Space Mean the Same Thing to Humans as to Computers?