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The Tinkered Mind
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December 20th, 2020
Lucilius leaned in close to the screen, squinting his eyes. Then slowly they grew wide as tenuous revelation filled his being. His jaw dropped.
It had to be tested. He quickly launched the program searcher, then checked the time. It was 11:04. He frantically typed into the program searcher: What will be the next news item to trend after 11:05?
He pressed enter and instantly the response came: 47 nations will sign the disarmament treaty.
Quickly, Lucilius brought up a browser and searched for the news. There was nothing about the recent disarmament treaty which had been the subject of a much drawn out process of debate and disagreement. He looked at the time again. It was still 11:04. Then he realized his question wasn’t phrased as well as it could be, though it’s unlikely much time passes before a new item starts trending in the news… he figured. His attention suddenly snapped back as the four clicked to a five. He refreshed the news page, and then there it was:
The disarmament treaty has been signed by 47 nations.
Lucilius sat back in amazement. It actually worked. He had been working on a prediction project. His theory was that you didn’t need every little input about what was happening and what had happened in order to create a prediction of what would happen in the future - you just needed to know the right rules. After years of work, it seemed as though it was finally working.
He spent the rest of the day testing the program against events of the day and querying about the far future, and with each test and each new thing he discovered about the future, he grew more excited, more delighted: Humanity would be alright, in fact, humanity was about to flourish for an incredible period that would extend straight into the time of the first galactic empire. They would make it through the filter, he knew now with relief.
After hours of delight and disbelief, he finally took a break to fix himself a meal. He mixed himself a drink and raised to cheers the project and the future of humanity. He took a sip, and suddenly the most obvious thought occurred to him: there was no restriction of resolution on his program, which meant that he could look up what would happen to himself.
He put the drink down and walked over to the computer. He typed in his first query, but he squinted with a bit of confusion at the answer. He put in another query, then another.
Finally, he got up, took his drink to the window and took a long sip. The program was definitely working, because he’d run a few more tests between queries about himself. It was still predicting the events of the day perfectly, but queries about the far future changed slightly as Lucilius queried more about his own life, and most importantly, the answers about himself were inconsistent. He’d originally thought that such a machine would help humanity and that he would achieve tremendous fame for securing a faith in the future, but it was clear now he’d been a bit naive. For example, there was no answer about Lucilius’ own future that mentions the machine itself.
That was it, Lucilius realized. He went back to the computer and typed in a new query:
What happens to the prediction machine built by Lucilius?
He pressed enter and for a brief moment the machine calculated before returning the answer.
The project is abandoned by Lucilius.
Dismayed, Lucilius typed in another query: Why does Lucilius abandon his prediction machine project?
The machine calculated, and then returned the answer:
Lucilius realizes after 979.9 instances of use that further use of the machine, or even it’s knowledge among others would result in the destruction of humanity.
Momentarily frustrated, Lucilius leaned forward and began pounding in a new query but the flurry of punched keys slowed until he lifted his hands away from the keyboard.
He sat back, slumped. Once or twice a new idea flickered - a potential loophole - and he sat up to type more but resorted each time to leaning back as another thought nullified each idea. Eventually he took up his drink and walked back to the window where the day had grown dark.
He took a long sip and muttered to himself… “oh well.”
On the screen remained the nearly complete query that Lucilius would nev-